Earth stood hard as iron

So sang I as I stomped down the croft hill this morning to feed the pigs and birds. Yes that’s right stomped. Not because I was in a bad mood – far from it, my first cup of tea of the morning had been made for me, the woodburner had already been lit when I got up and I’d left cosy sleepy children still tucked up slumbering in bed having whispered in their ears and roused them before them mumbled ‘love you too’ and went back to sleep. It was another gorgeous sunrise morning and winkle picking lay ahead. I stomped because the ground was hard as iron and stomping was possible, as opposed to the usual splashing, squelching and squodging of mud underfoot.

Yes thanks to another heavy frost the earth stood hard as iron and the water was like a stone. So I sang, and I stomped and I fed the animals and smashed the stoney water so they could have a drink.

And I took a few photos so you can all see just how it looked too.

looking southeast out over the sea

looking north west

looking south towards Hallival

hoar frost on the grass

the colour has been washed out of the land, the chickens and ducks and geese are still in full colour though!

Ady joined me and we headed down to the village, parked up and set off with buckets in hand. Those winkles won’t pick themselves!

waiting for Ady at the croft gate

arriving at the beach, looking out over Loch Scresort

a successful mornings pickings, earth still hard as iron!

Another good days picking. Fingers numb, nail varnish chipped but buckets decanted twice into bags making my bag too heavy for me to carry which can only be a good thing when I have a lovely husband to carry it for me and we’re getting paid by weight!

The cold is all well and good – I’ll take it over the rain any day, it’s beautiful with clear skies meaning amazing sunrise, sunset and starry, starry nights. The sun shines and best of all the ground is hard to walk on but it means our water pipes are freezing and our bottle gas is playing up so the boiler, fridge and cooker are all being tricky. We’ve been shaking the bottles, lagged the valve and covered the bottles with blankets and so far today it’s been fine. It makes us grateful we’re not relying on the gas for heating any more. We can make do with boiling water on the wood burner and when it’s this cold we don’t even need a fridge. We have a wee stove we could bring in to cook on if needs be but it makes me realise when you live this close to nature every season and weather condition brings it’s highs and lows. If it’s not midges it’s wind, if it’s not cold then it is wet. On balance I am happy with what we have just now – I’d gotten bored of singing in the rain, there are five whole verses of In the Bleak Midwinter to keep me going!

December will be magic again

As a child, particularly a school attending one this time of year meant you were almost insane with build up excitement for Christmas when I was a kid. 30 years ago Christmas did only really start in December. I remember practising and performing for the carol concerts (I was in the school choir all the way through school and the thrill of singing beautiful songs with a group is one of my greatest festive pleasures to this day), the hustle and bustle of late night Chrismas shopping in the days when shopping was only done on the high street and staying open beyond 530pm was a very rare thing reserved only for a few nights prior to Christmas when the high street would play host to the Salvation Army brass band playing carols, street vendors selling roasted chestnuts and toasted marshmallows, kids would run wild with snow spray and silly string and Cliff Richard songs would be playing in all the shops.

As a young adult Christmas was very much about the work Christmas party; what I’d be wearing, who I might dance with, first experiences of being out clubbing on Christmas Eve and seeing Christmas Day in on the dancefloor, planning New Years Eve and deciding just where the party should be at. Then Ady and I got together and began creating Christmas traditions of our own. A takeaway meal every Christmas Eve, bucks fizz on Christmas morning. Pre-children Christmas was actually very hard work – with both of us working in retail management we got to see the very worst of human nature that sadly this time of year can bring out. The squabbling of staff forced to work either Christmas or New Year, to stay late on Christmas Eve marking down stock and putting up signage ready to launch the sale on Boxing Day. Only Christmas Day itself off which was often spend feeling rough due to catching every germ going and being exhausted through crazy working hours, stress and lack of daylight exposure. Christmas shoppers are the most demanding, impatient, stressed and uncheery folk you can imagine, all scurrying around fighting their own germs, ticking things off their to do list, spending money they don’t have on a day they have long since lost the meaning of. Christmas Eve stood behind a till whether in a DIY superstore, high street department store or card and gift retailer is about as lacking in the true meaning of Christmas as anything I can think of.

As parents we began to reclaim some of the magic and start creating more traditions – a night time walk around the neighbourhood to look at people’s lights, attending a carol concert at the local church, a drive to deliver all localish Christmas cards a few days before Christmas calling in to see various friends as we went. Last year although we were living at my parents we managed a fair few of our usual traditions including a Christmas shopping trip for Ady and I to get stuff for the kids.

This year is very different. All shopping has been done online. We debated a mainland trip in December to do some Christmas shopping but decided we’d be better saving money and having a trip in January instead. There will be no last minute dash for bargains or top up gifts, if it’s not ordered and delivered within the next week then it will be too late. Food shopping is mostly seeing what festive delights Jinty gets in the Rum shop (so far it’s been quite a few, we have chestnuts roasting on our fire and satsumas aplenty!).

Today we were winkle picking again. Which is why I have rambled on so much, because scrambing around for wee winkles on your hands and knees while frost sparkles on the seaweed and the sun has still not quite staggered over the cuillins despite it being gone 9am gives you a lot of headspace and scope for reflecting of Christmasses past compared to Christmas present. No TV hype, no knowing what this years top toy might be and while we are not religious and our Christmas celebration has always been more to do with peace, love and time spent with family and friends this year it will be a real return to celebrating the shortest days of the year, the turning of the seasons, brightening our homes with bringing some of nature indoors – our tree, holly, ivy, smells of woodsmoke, cinnamon, oranges and cloves.

Ady and I chatted while we picked – reminding ourselves of how we may not be able to feel our fingers due to the cold but there were many Decembers when we couldn’t feel our feet for standing up all day at work. How lovely it was to look up and see the snowcapped peaks on the mainland, feel the sun warming us when it finally reached up high enough in the sky, hear the gulls and curlews and geese around us when this time of year used to mean you arrived at work in the dark and left work in the dark with no real idea of what the weather had been doing outside all day other than how much defrosting of the car windscreen you needed to do before driving to and from work and home.

I think winkle picking might be a bit like having therapy except I imagine a couch would be more comfortable than a rocky shoreline. But it’s cheaper, and we’re earning money as we go. Another sack picked today!

Memories are made of this…

I didn’t even know Ady had taken this photo until it popped up in my flickr stream this evening. It’s a bit blurry round the edges, mostly black and quite possibly without my picking it out and explaining it a bit wouldn’t really mean much. In some ways it reminds me of a scan photo of an unborn baby. A grainy image in which some people can see the whole world, hopes, dreams, possibility and future. Certainly when looked back on 10 or 12 odd years later as I am now able to do at Dragon and Star’s scan pictures it is with a sense of wonder that such a collection of pixels is able to hold the promise of the person they now are.

So let me paint some words around the picture above. It’s taken from the outside looking in at the space that we currently call home. You’ve seen the inside looking out images on previous blogposts – a cluttered living space, busy with four noisy (you can’t hear us but I bet you can imagine how loud we are!) people, a dog and a hamster. Scene of all the drama that unfolds here in our lives. Still fairly miraculous to be up here perched on this hill at all, nestled in some of natures most fantastic backdrops. Off grid yes but thanks to the wonder of satellite broadband, mobile phones, petrol generator, iplayer, solar power, water butts and rather a lot of walking up and down the muddy hill carrying heavy things a home. A home with light, internet, the ability to cook dinners, boil kettles, take hot showers, watch Attenborough documentaries, listen to Christmas music, watch Christmas films on lovefilm instant, blog, bake bread, laugh, dance, sing, argue, play with lego, read stories, draw pictures, knit, close the door on the rest of the world and make plans for next week, next year, the rest of our lives.

Home.

What else can you see through that window? Our Christmas tree. Selected, cut down and brought home from a spot I can see out of the window while sitting on the sofa. Adorned with battery powered fairy lights, candy canes from ebay, chocolate decorations from Jinty’s shop, orange slices dried out on the woodburner. A selection of home made decorations- some by me, some by Dragon and Star, some swapped with Fliss after last weeks Christmas Fayre when we bartered my snowflakes and trees for her robins. Some, most touchingly arrived on the ferry yesterday when the Christmas camp I’d been feeling sad about not being at this year arrived in a box! Friends had missed us enough being there in person to put together a huge parcel for us. It contained a ‘snowman in a box – just add snow!’ hat, scarf, shiny pebbles for eyes, nose, mouth and buttons. A selection of my personal weakness – chocolate liqueurs, some small isle inspired fudge including Rum, Eigg (advocaar), Muck (chocolate), wristbands for Dragon and Star, a miniature bottle of whisky for Ady and a whole load of home made tree decorations including lavender hearts, cinnamon stick trees, crocheted wire snowflake and flowers.  So our tree has stuff made by us, stuff given to us by old friends and stuff from new friends aswell as sweet things to sneakily take off and snaffle when no one is watching! It is topped with a willow star I made from a switch of Rum willow covered with some orange garden twine. The collective plastic decorations of 20 Christmasses together including an artificial tree are currently in the loft space of our house in Sussex along with tinsel, hanging decorations and many sets of fairy lights. I love that this, our first Christmas in our new life starts with brand new decorations to admire and put away for next year already with their own stories to tell when we bring them back out year after year.

This week we’ll be busy putting final touches to our Secret Santa gifts for fellow islanders ready for a Christmas party next weekend. Plans are underway for a communal dinner for Hogmanay and an event for Burns Night. We won’t be with family this Christmas which will be hard indeed but at least we’ll be getting the very best of the reasons we left life living close to family behind – to be part of this community living in this beautiful place, building a whole new life for ourselves based on our dreams.

Third Rum birthday

Only me still to go and we’ll all four have celebrated a circling round the sun here on Rum. Mine is only a month away, the other side of Christmas and new year by which time we’ll be starting to hurtle towards having lived here for a full year.

But today was about Star, and not just any birthday, this was celebrating reaching double figures – her first decade.

We have a whole collection of pictures of the children holding up how many fingers old they are on their birthdays. Today is the last one – they have both now run out of fingers. 

Ten years have passed with so many memories, adventures, twists and turns of life. For Star it’s been her whole lifetime.

The day has been celebrated with gifts, cards, favourite meals: cinnamon french toast for breakfast, cheese, crackers, olives and twiglets for lunch, fishcakes and chips followed by jelly and cream for dinner and a home made chocolate orange cake with ten candles shared with friend on Rum down at the shop this evening.

Star had a great selection of gifts from fellow islanders including two sets of animal bones people had found (she is very well known!), lots and lots of chocolate and some fab tiger gloves she had been coveting in the shop. She saw her birthday in (still being awake at midnight) and she saw it out again (still being awake at midnight).

Now we turn our attention fully to Christmas. I think we’ve ordered all the various gifts for Dragon and Star, now we wait for things to arrive on the ferry. The tree will come inside this weekend and be adorned with (battery powered) fairy lights and home made decorations. Bring on the jingle bells and let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

I got life

We are running to keep up with wood collecting just now – we’re hoping to spend a good few hours on it tomorrow and start building up reserves as although it’s a very pleasurable way to spend an hour or so outdoors gathering wood and getting fresh air it would be nice to be able to not venture out on the rainier days when they come. Our plan is to spent time this week creating a stash.

There is a certain pleasure in spending your days just providing for your basic needs though – one of the things we most loved about some of our WWOOFing hosts was their simplistic lives – spending their days growing food, collecting or chopping wood for fuel. Not working to set hours or involved in a pointless transfer of funds from one pocket to the next with no productive use of time or real price paid for things. We are not at that stage yet and the need for another pint of milk is still met with a walk down to the village rather than a twice daily close encounter with a cow but we are definitely stripped back from the days of driving around in company cars, attending meetings and paying supermarkets to provide our food, water authorities to pipe in our water and energy companies to burn fossil fuels on our behalf!

Yesterday I drove the car across the river as rain was forecast in the night so I wanted to ensure it was the right side of the river and I thought about how happy driving along that bumpy track and splashing through the river makes me. No need to worry whether the car will pass an MOT, simply whether it is up to the couple of miles a week we ask of it and if not whether we can barter or learn alongside someone on island who can fix it for us to keep it going. Our road fund contribution each year goes direct to keeping the road surfaces intact and the work of doing so goes to islanders who in turn spend most of it on island themselves in the shop, to the guy who spends his days chopping firewood, to buy venison killed and processed here on Rum. Our community dream is a self sufficient island, coming close to moneyless wherever possible. Our diverse skills and abilities make this a possibility one day. It’s very exciting to be part of that.

We’ve been doing some reorganising inside the static to make space for our Christmas tree which we selected and chopped down yesterday ready to bring in later in the week. The first time we’ve ever felled our own Christmas tree – a real Charlie Brown Christmas special magical moment that :). We’re experimenting with different energy now that the genny has to be on every day as the solar panels are not keeping us topped up enough. It means a walk down the hill every few days to charge up batteries so we have smaller less powerful power packs which may not last so long but don’t cause quite so much grunting and puffing when Ady has to cart them up and down the hill. We regularly remind ourselves that this will be our toughest winter and as yet although it is proving challenging it is certainly not breaking us so far.

There is a cold germ doing the rounds on the island. I am very much hoping we all avoid it.

something magical about selecting a tree, cutting it down and bringing it home all within sight of your house!

sunrise yesterday

Looking across our croft this morning. You can’t see the peak of Hallival due to cloud but it is snow capped now.

Festive festivities

It’s felt like a really long week.

We had a couple of very early mornings butchering venison, which began with a still moonlit walk down the croft land to the village. We did some winkle picking. We did lots of collecting wood for the burner. I did ever such a lot of chocolate making, baking, finishing off crafts and preparing for the Rum Christmas Fayre.

Today we had our first snow here in the village (we had a fall earlier in the high peaks but nothing you could run outside shrieking to dance about in!) and we set up the community hall with all our festive wares. We had mince pies and mulled wine, handmade chocolates and truffles, fudge, knitted and crocheted and felted tree decorations, various scarves, hats, gloves and socks, soaps, scrubs and body butter lotions and potions and a range of Rum Christmas cards from Dragon. Various islanders brought along things to sell but the main offering was from Fliss and I which we have spent the last few weeks beavering away to create.

It all looked, smelt and tasted delicious!

moonlit mornings

welcome to the Rum Christmas Fayre

crochet Christmas tree treasures

snowflakes, trees, robins and oranges dried out on our logburner

twinkly things

chocolate truffles

chocolate creams

chocolate creams

chocolate creams

scarves inspired by Rum – October, Sunset, Stormy Skies, the sea is alive!

roll up, roll up!

hot chocolate

Dragon with his range of Rum inspired Christmas cards, a top seller!

snow! yes she does have bare feet!

Highlight of the afternoon was the mince pie competition – we had 8 entries I think ranging from traditional shortcrust with icing sugar dusting to mincemeat muffins and pasties and a HUGE pie from Jinty. We roped in Doug the ghillie to taste test and judge and he proclaimed Izzy the winner!

I love days like today – lots of the community turning out, various people doing what they do best – some making and baking, some trying and buying. In our old life we would be travelling to our annual Christmas camp in the next few days to spend a week with friends, exchanging gifts, singing Christmas songs, enjoying being together in the run up to Christmas. We’re not able to do that any more but today was a great start to the new traditions and customs for us in our new lives. Bring on the tinsel, Christmas is a-coming!