First Christmas

Our first Rum Christmas. Managing to sum up all that our life has been thus far on Rum in just these few days over the festive period. New friends, extreme weather, off grid, low impact, low consumerism living, amazing views, our close little family unit cosy and warm and mopping up constant condensation!

Christmas Eve was lovely. Dragon and Star spent a couple of hours doing a treasure hunt all around the croft and surrounding area that our lovely Rum friend Vikki had organised for them as a Christmas present.

Thanks Vikki 🙂

We met the boat which brought us a pile of Christmas cards and the very last present I’d been hoping might arrive, we met up with various people for mulled wine and mince pies at the village hall, we tracked Santa on google earth and then we came home. We had venison steak for dinner and watched festive TV on the laptop while I iced the Christmas cake. Traditional Christmas Eve pressie of new pjs and then we attempted an early night for Dragon and Star which was probably as successful as every other parent the world over attempting early Christmas Eve nights for their children! We started a new Christmas Eve tradition of bacon sandwiches post midnight and finally went to bed around 2am.

Christmas Day started very early with present opening, cinnamon rolls for breakfast and bucks fizz.

The day was spent listening to the radio, putting together lego, playmobile, looking at books, exploring new gadgets, sticking new glow in the dark stars onto bedroom ceilings, wearing new T shirts and socks, eating chocolate and twiglets. Ady cooked a HUGE turkey (it’s done another three dinners so far!), we spoke to family on the phone, watched various Christmas specials on TV (Top of the Pops made us feel old – we only knew about two of the songs and Robbie Williams looked like someone’s dad instead of a former boy band pin up star!). I had a plan of a new tradition of leisurely feeding the croft animals and surveying our land but it was bitterly cold so instead I lobbed food at them and dashed back inside quick!

Genuinely early nights all round.

Boxing Day was a late start, we had a walk on the beach around Loch Scresort to blow away some cobwebs and work off some of the chocolate.

I love seeing this sight – my two children, deep in conversation with each other, dog by their side.

if the dog doesn’t ruin the shot the stray branch will!

moonrise over the loch

The following day we went to Kilmory – one of the beaches on the other side of the island. It’s walkable (a 10 mile round trip), we did it twice earlier in the year but we drove this time in order to have longer at the beach. It was bitter – it actually snowed on the beach which is pretty unusual, seeing snow fall on sand is always a bit odd. Dragon and Star played chase the waves, Bonnie mostly barked at the sea, Ady and I had a cup of tea laced with brandy and once no one could feel their fingers, toes or noses any more we came home. A couple of hours had been long enough for snow to cover the peaks including the hills behind the croft which we’ve not seen snow on before. Very exciting, but sadly heavy rain saw it all melt away overnight.

crazy barking puppy

playing chicken with the waves, only one possibly result!

there are Goddards under those waterproofs!

footprints in the sand – red deer, Rum ponies and seabirds.

Today has been about preparing for stormy weather. We are currently having winds of in excess of 70mph and for the first time I actually have packed a bag incase we need to do a moonlit dash to safety down in the village. We were offered beds in various houses but would rather see it out up here in the static if we can. Our friend Sandy and Ady lashed the roof with some straps which has indeed preventing some of the roof rattles but is now creating a vibration noise which sounds like whale song. I envisage a whole pod of cetaceans circling the island in response to whatever it is saying!

Merry Christmas Everyone

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the static
Dragon and Star were all excited and manic
we don’t have a chimney just a log burner flue
so stockings are dangling from door handles x 2

The children are fired up on chocolate and sweets
they’ll not sleep for hours thanks to festive treats
Ady and I still  have wrapping to do
it’s less like Santa’s workshop and more like a zoo

Santa is coming, through the night sky
hoping the red deer or Rum ponies can fly
turning left at Kinloch castle and straight up the glen
to where the Rum crofters are, tucked up in our den

We’re not wanting playstations or plasmas TVs
not much point really, we’ve no electricity
no fancy new clothing or things made of plastic
although some new wellies would be just fantastic

Santa creeps in, puts gifts under the tree
something for Dragon, Star, Ady and me
It’s been raining all night, his red clothes are all sodden
he creeps out the door and sneaks across the sporran

Gets back in his sleigh, gives his reindeer the cue
time to get going, there’s lots more work to do
but it’s a false start, there’s a crash, then a thud
the sleigh and the reindeer are stuck in the mud

But it’s Christmas Eve magic is all around
snow started falling and covered the ground
the frost hardened the earth and with one mighty tug
the reindeer pulled the sleigh free from the mud

away into the sky Santa flew once again
this time amid snowflakes instead of the rain
over the cuillins, a most magical sight
calling ‘to all a Merry Christmas and to all a good night’

We’ve been so good here on Rum…

That Santa has already been here twice this year, with another visit scheduled for Monday night!

Today was the Rum Childrens’ Christmas Party. All nine island children (4 tinies, 3 usually at school on the mainland and Dragon and Star in the middle). We had pass the parcel, musical statues, musical chairs, pin the nose on Rudolph and an hilarious blindfold game of drawing a snowman which many of the grown ups also joined in with.

We may only have 40 people living here and we have had a big exodus yesterday when it felt like about half the island headed off to spend Christmas with family elsewhere but just like everywhere else at this time of year there seems to be a party a day just now.

Tomorrow is vegetable order day, so the boat should be coming laden with carrots, tatties, parsnips and chestnuts for everyone’s Christmas dinners, no doubt a festive tipple will be shared down at the shop when we go to collect them. On Christmas Eve there is a tradition of mulled wine and mince pies together before everyone heads home to hang up their stockings. If you listen carefully you can hear sleigh bells ringing…

Good day at the office

It’s a long time since I had a proper career type job title, certainly one with ‘Manager’ in it which is something which used to matter to me. It was once my ambition to have a BMW by the time I was 30, even better if it had been a company car. I did have a BMW for my 30th birthday, but it was a dinky toy, silver convertible. By then I had two children and very different priorities.

It’s just over a year until I am 40. I’m not even going to start trying to formulate a list of where I’d like to be and what I want to be doing then, let alone begin coveting material possessions. I know now that even if we do have a job title for 40 hours of our week that is not what defines us or makes us who we are. In the last 24 hours I have collected firewood, baked bread, cooked two dinners, made cookies for the Christmas party, parented, dried tears, given cuddles, been a daughter (by phone), a wife, a mother, a friend. I’ve mopped a floor, mulled some wine, fed the animals, sent off some venison and replied to emails regarding sales of venison, done a bit of fencing work. Oh and I accepted a job to work at the primary school here on Rum as the clerical assistant. Enough boxes don’t exist to tick the many things that make me who I am these days.

But I still have pretty nails.

Postcode Lottery

Since we have lived on Rum we have had very little in the way of ferry disruption. We have heard tales of folk stranded here, or worst still stranded on the mainland instead of here, of no boats running for a week at a time but as yet it has not happened to us. We arrived on the Small Isles back in October 2011 in the middle of some ferry disruption and were affected by more when we left Rum from our interview which was a first taste of the weather, the Small Isles, Island life and ferry chaos. This time last year there were plenty of cancelled ferries, delays and stranded folk but so far this winter we have gotten off very lightly.

As such we have not really accounted for potential problems and have gaily carried on booking things to and fro on scheduled ferry crossings. We have winkle money arriving tomorrow along with festive food shopping. We have empty petrol cans being sent off to be returned full on Christmas Eve so our generator keeps running. On Saturday we’re sending off venison and expecting the return of diesel to keep our car running. We still have a couple of gifts to arrive too and have placed orders with Jinty’s Emporium for coal, pate and festive cheeses which are all dependent on the weather allowing the boat to run. It was disrupted today to Muck and Eigg, we have heard it will be disrupted tomorrow to Rum and Canna. Call us innocent newcommers but we still find all this quite exciting. And if it means we’ll not be able to drive the car and have to spread marmite on our crackers instead of stilton I suspect we will still be quite taken with the lottery that living here on and island seems to be.

Count down

Christmas Day one week today. Wow. We’re done in terms of preparation. Everything that need sending off has gone, everything that was essential to have here in advance is here – our turkey arrived today as did supplies of animal feed.  We have diesel coming on Saturday’s boat, petrol on Monday’s, more food shopping on Thursday’s. We sent the winkles off today, we have venison going off on Saturday – all weather permitting of course!

I’ve wrapped up all of the gifts for Dragon and Star. We have a kids Christmas party for the nine Rum children on Friday (schooled ones arrive home for the holidays on Thursday) and we even worked out a daily prompter for things like taking the turkey out to defrost and thought ahead about getting ingredients to make turkey curry, turkey soup, turkey surprise…
Now if we could just get a nice fall of snow on Monday that would be about perfect!

Raising on Rum

As this year draws to a close we’re starting to think about next year; what we’d like to achieve, which direction our lives should head in next. 2012 has been another amazing year for us and we know that 2013 will bring yet more changes and new paths. New friends, new challenges, new lessons.

January has always seen us sit down as a family and talk about what we want to get out of the year ahead. What new things we want to learn, new experiences we hope to have, dreams we’d like to realise. In preparation for that we’ve been talking about bucket list type stuff the last few days. Although we all love our life here on Rum and probably already have more than enough adventure and life living here just in our day to day existence we’ve been talking about sights we’d like to see, experiences we’d love to have and stuff we’d love to tick off our personal lists of ‘one day I’d love to…’ and found that there are a fair few which make it onto all four of our lists. We’d all love to see the northern lights, see a blue whale, swim with dolphins. It’s very exciting that a fair few of the things on our lists could well happen right here where we live already and certainly another sign that we are in the right place.

Both Dragon and Star have a lot of travel based ambitions and I am hoping they retain that wanderlust and head off on many globe trotting adventures in years to come. Infact it is these lists that I am encouraging them to use as the basis for what direction they take their young lives in next. As I’ve said before we don’t work towards formal qualifications or curricula, choosing instead to follow passions, interests and what comes up in life as we go along to shape what gets learned but a list of hopes, dreams and ambitions is a really good place to start in shaping what happens next and which way to head in the general direction of. It is these sorts of discussions and creations of lists that led us to head off WWOOFing in 2011 and brought us to our croft on Rum in 2012. I think that being able to come up with a list of what you really want and then finding the best possible fit for achieving that is the very best way of shaping what direction to head in and how to get there, even if it’s ever evolving and changing and growing and is an organic working document with the allowance to change your mind as you go along!

Star remains wildlife, nature and animal focussed. She wants to ride an elephant, swim with dolphins, see lions, tigers, penguins and polar bears in the wild. These ambitions alone would take her to every corner of the globe. She continues to devour every single thing David Attenborough says, films or puts his name to. Next year she is hoping to get even more hands on with livestock of her own and learn more about the island wildlife from the various experts here on Rum. She is already doing a Junior Ranger programme and I know she is keen to learn more from the Red Deer research project and the National Nature Research team. Sealife tours will continue to be part of our life next summer and she intends spending more time in the rivers and on the beaches.

Dragon is starting to think about income generation and buoyed by positive feedback from his Christmas card range and drawings of local scenery he and I are looking at some artistic business opportunities for the coming year. We’ve been talking marketing, packaging, set up costs, materials and pricing for his time. At worst he’ll begin to have a grasp of profit and loss, cash flow and business planning. At best he’ll be starting up his own small business doing something he loves and learning as he goes. His plans are all travel related – and very much based on the wonders of the world – natural and man made. Great buildings, bridges, monuments, natural phenomena and spectacles. He is brimming over with ideas for stories, illustrations and artistic creations.

Both children are now in that middle age of double figures but not quite teens where challenges in parenting shift and alter again. The toddler issues of sleeping through the night, saying please and thank you, toilet training and not running off in crowded places have passed. The teen issues of sex and drugs and rock n roll are yet to be reached. Here we have a whole extra dimension meaning the usual issues of road safety, stranger danger, internet protocol are just not on our agenda. Instead we have children who are in many ways more responsible, able to be left alone to feed themselves and find productive things to do, trusted to feed the animals, keep the woodburner alight, get the kettle on and made a cup of tea for us while we’re working that their peers might be. Sometimes mini adults, their lives so closely lived alongside ours with no stresses about homework, what trainers are coolest to wear to school and limited screen time, other times still childish where their same aged mainland, schooled equivalents may not be, happy to play imaginary games with their lego for hours on end. Who knows who they would have been if their lives had been more mainstream. They only know how to be themselves.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Today was the Christmas Party where we said goodbye to some of the seasonal staff who are off this week and those of us who participated in Secret Santa exchanged our gifts. We had a secret santa come along to distribute presents, we mulled wine, played festive tunes and ate yummy food. Some really thoughtful, home made and well purchased gifts were exchanged. It was lovely.

The hall was not looking very festive at all when we arrived down there but a group of people with a ladder, some tinsel and Wham’s Last Christmas playing can make a lot happen pretty quickly and while it’s no santa’s grotto it’s looking pretty Christmassy now.

Up at home I have wrapped all the presents and we are just waiting for odd bits and pieces to arrive this coming week which I will wrap as they come. It’s a modest Christmas for us here but there will still be a small invasion of plastic, electrical appliances and the very small bit of disposable tat. Pared down but still aware that we have a 10 and a 12 year old. We’ve made all our own Christmas cards and tomorrow we’ll get them posted off to family and friends around the country. We have a few parcels to send too, various handmade goodies. This week we’ll be collecting wood to build up a bit of a stash to see us through any rainy days, tidying up the static a bit and sending off venison to meet the few orders we’ve had come in from the mainland for Christmas feasts. Oh and sending off the last of the winkles and making arrangements for our mainland trip in January.

Winkled Out

We’ve done our last winkling for the year I think. There is about half a tide tomorrow but we’ll be busy at the Rum Christmas party, exchanging secret santa gifts, drinking mulled wine and maybe even singing a festive tune or two.

It’s been a productive week of picking, we have lots of sacks ready to be sent off to the mainland next week. We had one tough day but otherwise it has been a nice way to spend the week, lots of fresh air, exercise and enjoying the views.

The cold snap has ended and the ground is soft and muddy once again. It was a very welcome reprieve and as I said before we’d happily take cold and frosty over warm and wet. While it lasted we truly resided in a winter wonderland!

in the bleak midwinter

I took this shot of the view from the sofa one morning

while Ady had taken a shot from the kitchen. It makes washing up less of a chore if this is your view

swamped by nature

home sweet home

Where mountain meets ocean

We’re nearing the end of winkle picking. Yesterday was really tough, having actively enjoyed the first three days I really hit a wall with it and barely an hour in I was struggling (it’s a four hour ‘shift’ – two hours before and two hours after low tide, you chase the tide out and it chases you back in again, like a salt water based version of ‘chicken’). I was cold, really cold. I’d lost feeling in my fingers and toes, my knees got wet when I knelt down and there was icy sleety rain falling which collected on my hood and dropped onto my nose.

I should have danced and sung to bring my blood circulation back to life. I should have gone and worked next to Ady for moral support and laughs. I should have bloody jacked it in and gone home to drink hot chocolate! Instead I stuck it out and although I was far from my usual 5stone of winkles I still brought home a respectable sack. I felt much better when I looked around and realised all the peaks were covered in a hefty dump of snow and then Ady said he’d found it the coldest, toughest day yet too. Turns out I can cope with being a wuss as long as other people are being wussy with me! A friend then later told me she had been cold all week just going about her normal, mainland, house dwelling business let alone crawling around in icy coastline rockpools so I felt totally vindicated!

Today was much easier. Star even came down and picked for a short while. We are very lucky to have lovely friends living right on the beach who are happy for Dragon and Star to go and watch TV in their house with their children and then make us cups of tea to warm up after winkle picking. Sometimes it’s very hard to tear ourselves away from their house to go back to the croft…

But once we’re home it quickly feels cosy and well, home, again. Friday night is always pizza night here at Croft 3, so music on, fairy lights on, wood burner lit and all is well with the world. Simple needs, easily met.