The cousins are here!

It’s always interesting to see our island – and indeed our lives, through others’ eyes. Sometimes we see the bleaker side of our current existence; life off grid is tough. No toilet, no guaranteed always on power, a two mile round trip to get laundry done, diesel and petrol and food at the mercy of the ferry, the post, the weather. At othe times you see the very best of our lives reflected back at us through other people though. The freedom for the children to roam, safe, adventuring, discovering, exploring. The interactions they have with fellow islanders, always happy to share a story, some knowledge, listen to the children’s chatter. You see the wonder of the islands nature and beauty and unspoilt qualities – the amazing wildlife, stunning scenery. In an afternoon working alongside and chatting yesterday we saw a herd of red deer wander across the hillside from the static window and later an eagle soaring overhead.

We lost all three of the newly hatched chicks. We’re not sure how or why – it could be they were taken by predators – hooded crows or maybe bigger birds, they may have been lost to rats or perhaps the in places knee deep mud claimed their little lives. Losing lives is a sad fact of keeping livestock – the cost is financial in terms of feed, potential sales of eggs or meat. The cost is emotional in terms of any life lost being sad. With life comes death however and the opportunities to learn, to move on and to change things for next time are also there. So yesterday we moved the chicken house to a drier patch of the croft. The current animal corner is decimated from a year of animal and person foot traffic and while continually moving them on will eventually trash the entire 8 acres if we didn’t have a proper plan we can certainly spare the space to move the animals for now while we work on our plan. A new reinforced floor, a path around the front made of stones to prevent a huge puddle forming and this morning our efforts were rewarded with a newly hatched chick. The mother hen is a resiliant, determined type and despite already having lost four chicks she continues to sit on her clutch of eggs, even with the move and the improvements going on around her yesterday afternoon. To her this is a simple process where she will keep trying until the fittest chick finally hatches and survives. I think there is a lot to be learnt from her.

The Great Pig Move is next on the agenda. We’ve been debating the various options for pig housing, both short and long term as we currently need a house for Tom and another for Barbara and the piglets. We are hoping to get another sow before too long so need to have flexible housing options for the future possibility of two sows with litters one day. Creative thinking, clever use of cast out building materials and scrap stuff will hopefully lead to solutions over the coming week and the pigs will be moved to their next earmarked spot before the fortnight is out.

In the meantime island life marches on – seeds continue to sprout in the polytunnel. Plans for a mainland visit to the dentist, possible trip to the country show and visit to a neighbouring island for some puffin watching are all on the agenda. Directors meetings, a visit from the new island doctor, talk of the community run bunkhouse, whether we should buy a tractor or a manitou for the community’s use, planning for various events in the summer and remaining ever hopeful for news from Sussex that our house has sold are all keeping us fully occupied this week.

Oh and the rain stopped and the sun came out yesterday!

Chicks, rain, planning

It’s continued to rain today. And by continued to rain I mean didn’t really stop raining pretty much all day. The river is high, the ground is sodden and the mud is taking over. Even a year on we are still in awe of the changes to the landscape that nature brings about in an hour, a day, a week. Back on the mainland in Sussex nothing really changed regardless of the weather. You might turn the heating up a little, have to dry the washing indoors rather than on the line, put off or bring forward mowing the lawn by a week or so. Here a lot of rain means the car has to stay the other side of the river, getting food, firewood, animal feed up to the static becomes more of a challenge and takes more time. Wearing full on waterproofs takes longer to tog up, means a brief nip to the bottom of the croft to feed the animals takes twice as long and you need to have a space cleared to take off those waterproofs and somewhere to put them to dry off. Today has been one of those days I long for a bath to soak in, warm up and a washing machine to take dripping wet, muddy clothes off and chuck them straight in to.

Another egg has hatched bringing the chick tally to three so far. We’re still hopeful for more and very chuffed. Star is particularly delighted as the cousins arrive for a two week stay on Monday and she is just desperate to show cousin M the piglets and the chicks. Much discussion these last few days about rearing livestock for food has gone on. This afternoon when Star came with me to deliver some eggs to the village and collect something from the freezer for Sunday Roast tomorrow she requested the chicken that Bonnie attacked earlier this year and has been in the freezer ever since. There is not much meat on it so we took out a second chicken with the intention of roasting both and making curry with the leftovers and soup with the bones. I’m proud of Star for her considered, informed and educated choices in her diet.

Ady has been working with one of our fellow islanders who is a talented joiner making some beds for one of the neighbouring Small Isles which has a hunting lodge about to open. They are beautiful works of art, each a unique creation making the most of the beauty of the wood they have been crafted from. Ady is enjoying both the learning experience of working alongside someone with a skill he is in awe of but also the camaraderie of working with a group of blokes. There are four of them at times as two other islanders have been helping out as well. He was there this morning while the kids and I did various things. Star and I made some candles, I did some work on the Rum community newsletter, sent some emails on various things and tried to make some headway with the Rum Venison website design. Star did some painting, she’s working on her landscapes just now so we talked about perspective, distance and how moving away from drawing a quarter of a circle in one upper corner of the paper to be the sun is a real milestone art moment. She took that leap today and proudly went to bed declaring ‘I am better at art tonight than I was when I woke up this morning!’. Dragon worked on a new postcard design as his current four have been selling well and he has two additional places to sell them from lined up so needs some more stock and thought he’d take the opportunity to create a new design based on customer feedback, sales and seeing what the finished printed products look like compared to his originals. I think he has a real winner this time so will get him some more stock ordered next week.

Ady came home for lunch and then we sat down with pen and paper and did some Planning. Planning for this year about housing, planning for the short and long term on the croft for horticulture and livestock and long term planning including what we’d love to do to earn an income, working out just what it costs us to live here and what is worth earning more for and what isn’t. Dragon and Star also participated in the conversations talking about business ideas they might want to explore. Currently Dragon wants to learn more about herbs – growing them and the possible uses for them. I have a couple of books on the subject, various packets of seeds and some small plants already on their way and a plan for a herb spiral or two. Dragon knows that there are herbal remedies, aromatherapy aswell as culinary uses for herbs and wants to know more about all of them. He also wants to do more bushcraft type stuff with a long term view to teaching it or holding survival based retreats here on Rum.  Star wants to learn more about rare breed animals, particularly birds and see if there is scope for breeding them here and a market for them afterwards. Ady wants to further explore the idea of a mobile slaughterhouse business and I am still wanting to do something educational to do with self sufficiency.

The upshot of our plans is loads more research – energy, water, permaculture training courses, maybe some more books for reading. We have an updated croft map plan and renewed excitement for how much Rum and Croft 3 has to offer. Not easy, not without challenges but certainly the right direction. Re-evaluating once again what our priorities are, what our bare minimums are and why we are doing what we’re doing is always a helpful and valid exercise.

Our tenants were due to move out of our house in Sussex today, I assume they have. This is both scary in as much as we now have an empty house with a mortgage to be paid but exciting in that hopefully an empty house is much more saleable than one with tenants in it. Fingers crossed we get some interest and things start to move so we can finally say goodbye to those last few ties of our old lives and fully throw ourselves at this one.

Raining Cows

Today’s news:

Chicks hatch on Croft 3. Our second celebration of new life in as many weeks. The broody hen has been tenacious in her efforts, bloody minded in her will to succeed and determined to make this happen despite what gets chucked at her in the way of weather. She reminds me of someone….

Ady found a dead chick beside her this morning when he went to feed the animals. Chickens will do a very brutal cull themselves on chicks they think won’t make it. Infact the broody hen often casts out eggs mid incubation which when we have cracked open we have found to have part formed chicks inside. We have always assumed the broody hen has some sort of spooky sixth sense about whether the chick is healthy and makes a decision. We have known several at-hatch culls at the hands (beaks?!) of the mother hen in the past too and they seem to know what they are doing no matter how brutal it seems to us. As Star said matter of factly earlier ‘she needs all her time and energy to dedicate to the healthy chicks that will make it, she can’t be worrying about the ones that won’t survive without loads of help’. So evil Tory hen or natural at it’s most efficient finest – you decide… In the past we have removed an ailing and picked on chick and raised it ourselves which if we’d been around this morning to witness the hatching and events afterwards we may well have done but we weren’t and while livestock losses always hit us hard emotionally with a lesser financial impact we are philosophical about the reality of this way of life.

Anyway, when I returned home after lunch and checked on the animals I was delighted to see two fluffy, healthy chicks in the coop.

I had official confirmation that my job at the school will end at the end of term. I have not enjoyed it and am very relieved to have got an end date; it has felt like a compromise too far for the balance between being here for Dragon and Star and making things happen on the croft. It has also demonstrated to me anew just why the school environment is not one I am happy, comfortable or at ease with. While many would consider a tiny school like we have here on Rum to be the best possible school experience but for me a school is a school is a school. The structured environment, focus on extrinsic reward systems and early indoctrination into the system is all so against everything I believe in. I also think that a school as small as two pupils is actually the worst of all worlds. Anyway, good news all round that I have only weeks left and will then be able to re-focus on the reasons we gave up so much to come here and live our dreams.
I spent the afternoon at the static, having watered the plants in the polytunnel and checked on the animals on the way home. I made bread, made tortilla flour wraps to go with dinner and then spent the afternoon crafting with the kids. We did some needle felting – I made some colourful midges using material scraps and beads – Dragon made a chicken badge and Star a little representation of me 🙂

Dragon also did some fab sketches – one of a red deer stag infront of Hallival, another of the view from where he was sitting looking out through the window. Both children are really coming on in leaps and bounds with their art, developing their own unique styles and creating pieces of art they are justly proud of. I guess with inspirational landscapes and material like they have constant access to it makes it easy!

Sown up

Another lovely afternoon down in the polytunnel for me yesterday. Sun shining, enough breeze blowing through from the open doors either end to keep me from overheating, compost under my nails, surrounded by seed packets. Bliss.

I rearranged things in there again – funny how my outdoors housekeeping is always so much better than my indoors! I dismantled the shelf units as they were casting shadows on the shelf below and I ambitiously hope that plants may grow taller than the space between shelves eventually. So a little modification, some tying legs to the polytunnel frame (the shelving legs, not mine!) and I think it works really well.

With the exception of £20 spent on these shelf units all of the other containers are foraged or free. Several of the fish boxes have been scavanged off the beaches here on Rum, washed up after storms or high tides. The white and grey containers you see on the shelves are ice cream tubs donated from the castle kitchens for us to re-use. There is a cat litter tray I bought for use during our very brief period of cat ownership last year, the plastic base from Star’s hamster Humphrey’s outgrown cage and the pair of old wellies.

Some of my seedlings are sprouting which is very exciting. I have transfered some of the wee seedlings I planted in egg boxes into larger containers now. Here is some coriander

 And some onions and salad leaves that I put in fish boxes

I replanted the cucumbers, courgettes and peas that had been moused. I also put in some carrots and parsnips in deeper boxes. some garlic in another fish box and checked on the progress of various tomatoes and chillis. Those that had done nothing were leaving it too late to germinate so I have started again with those too. I now have a whole tray of peas in egg boxes, raised off the ground and am planning to spray the sides of the box with WD40 which Ady tells me is not only a nasty smell for mice it is also very slippery so stops them scurrying up the box. We’ll see…

In other news today has been meeting-tastic with a board meeting of the IRCT directors this afternoon and then the Rum Community Association monthly meeting this evening. Nearly four hours of meetings means I’ll no doubt dream of minutes and action plans! It’s rained and rained and rained today which has meant walking to and from school and the village several times has not been a delightful experience but the river is running high which always pleases me as I love the extremes of it and I still found time to visit the piglets, water the things in the polytunnel and chat to the birds as I walked up the croft earlier.

We’re not odd, it’s everyone else!

A Home Educator, particularly one like me who didn’t use curriculums, phonics schemes or fret about key stage development milestones with my pre-school and early years educational provision is often heard using the phrase ‘Learning Through Play’ to justify why colouring, playdoh, lego, jigsaw puzzles, splashing in puddles and finger painting is more than sufficient.

I’m not sure if we borrowed it from the education system or whether they nicked it off us but I hear it all the time in my current (temporary) incarnation as someone who sits in a school four mornings a week.

I know that children do learn through play but I also think they play through learning. Children who are ‘let be’ and left to explore their world with more autonomy and control over which direction things take are fascinating creatures to observe. I mentioned in yesterdays post how much our wee piglets are reminding me of Dragon and Star in the early years. It’s a behaviour that happens naturally in all mammal infants – kittens, puppies, fox cubs and our litter of piglets. Exploring their world, testing, interacting, building the skills they’ll need to survive and navigate their way through their life. [As an aside I have a whole other rant about how we have this dreadful tendancy to step in with our children in a way that animal mothers never do – ‘share’ (why should you, if it’s yours, it’s yours!), ‘say sorry’ (even when you’re not remotely sorry), ‘don’t shout’ (but you want your voice heard and no one is listening so it’s natural to make it louder) but that’s for another time.]

I can’t be the only parent who has watched and listened to my children ‘play out’ their lives. From the very early copying parenting to their toys, to making their characters have the same experiences they have ‘today we’re going to Legoland! For a picnic! To the beach! Today we’re going to the doctors for an injection, to the supermarket to do the food shopping, to the bank to pay money in.’ Even at 10 and 12 Dragon and Star (when not plugged into tablets or games consoles, or listening to music and watching youtube clips – they are pre-teens just like many others) spend hours each day playing. A current passion is Minecraft – something I happily confess makes me feel old because I don’t really get it and find myself saying things like ‘isn’t that clever, you couldn’t do things like that in my day!’. Lots of their time is spent on Minecraft building houses and then showing us their designs and features. They also keep animals, breed them and scoff at how limited the scope for a pig on Minecraft is when they are so aware of the full possibilities. They used to play games where characters lived in a campervan and traveled around. I also recall how books I’d read them or films they’d watched would have a similar impact on their games. See ‘play through learning’ along with learning through play. They have never yet played ‘schools’….

So back to my title – I’m not really suggesting everyone else is odd, although sometimes I am heard to mutter that when I hear the traffic report on the radio or scary news coverage or think of people working in jobs they hate so they can buy a bigger plasma TV or nicer car. I’m just reassuring myself that despite different stimulus and inspiration the same process is being ‘played out’ with Dragon and Star as with kids everywhere. They take their lives and experiences and rationalise them, get them straight in their heads and manipulate them into ways that make sense to them and enable them to extract the most from them. Last week Dragon and I spent a couple of hours making charts and graphs because he’d not previously understood how to create them or what they meant. We used hours of sunshine per day as our data. He is learning about supply and demand, market research and various other business skills with his postcard sales and both have been party to current discussions about getting another sow to increase our piglet yield now we know we have a market. Star has been busily planting and tending seeds with me and we’ve had long conversations about the ethics of meat eating. Basic skills, learning what they need to get through their lives. They know about gathering firewood, food and water, growing crops, rearing livestock and are learning along with us about building shelter. They are finding ways to use their skills and their time to earn money for the things they cannot provide themselves and they are getting daily examples of working with others, being a neighbour, helping where you can as is the nature of life on Rum.

Those piglets are getting perfectly equipped for their lives, learning all they’ll need to know. They would struggle if suddenly they were expected to dwell in trees or live aboard a sailing boat. I asked Star yesterday who’s life she looks at and thinks she might like to one day have and her answer was back like a shot ‘well our’s of course!’. On that basis I think their current training is pretty much perfect.


My memories of infant school (as it was back then – infant school, junior school, middle school and senior school – I’ve never got my head round key stages, Y2 and flatly refuse to even try and understand the P2 and S3 stuff here in Scotland!) have that hazy quality of long ago times and are almost flashback style moments, smells, sounds and recalled emotions, just snapshots. I do have a memory of maypole dancing on May 1st. I could have only been 5 and I suspect 30 odd years have messed with the memory a little and there was not 20 odd children dancing, weaving in and out of each other in a coordinated fashion to create a multi coloured pattern around a pole. My experience of small children tells me that you’d have more luck herding cats than organising double figures of little people clutching ribbon in different directions with any other result than fallen children, tangled ribbons and at least three people in tears!

Infact a few years ago the children and I attended a fabulous May day event at a fellow Home Educators house where we made May flower willow crowns and danced around a Maypole.

So 1st of May is here again, the sun is shining and the croft is a carpet of celandines, a soggy carpet it’s true with large patches of mud but pretty nonetheless. Yesterday I spent a happy hour or so in the polytunnel, cooing over my sprouted seedlings – some coriander, thyme, majoram, chives and basil. My herb spiral will happen yet! Plenty of baby salad leaves, lettuces, rocket and spicy salad. Star and I couldn’t resist nipping a tiny corner off a couple of the leaves and nibbling at them, fresh and fragrant and exciting. There are also shoots in the onion box and the potatoes in sacks were ready for a fresh load of compost to cover the shoots. A couple of the tomatoes have sprouted but still no signs in the chillis and peppers. We sowed some more peas (mice seem to have nicked all the first lot!), some carrots, chard and broccoli in boxes and some courgettes in egg boxes. Star planted up a pair of her old wellies with sunflower seeds. She told me that often when people retire they seem to start spending lots of time gardening and growing things and she loved the idea that her wellies have retired and are going to do the same. I love her, and her wonderful way of making inanimate objects come to life makes me smile and wonder just when I lost that childish gift. I’ve put some shelf units up which should curtail mouse activity a little and bring my seedlings that little bit closer to the sky aswell as giving more space in my little plot.

There is loads more to do to the polytunnel – it needs a channel digging around it for drainage and to cover the edges of the polythene. We also need to create a stone path from the croft fence to the polytunnel doors, like every bit of the crofts heavy foot traffic quickly turns it to mud. But it’s a lovely space, regardless of what the weather chooses to do outside it’s a dry place to work and it’s so exciting to be finally growing food.

I’m planning to get back in there this afternoon and sow some more stuff, do some more labelling and maybe try and make up some tables and frames to create more multi-layered space.
The piglets are doing fine, venturing slightly further every day. We gave them their first taste of feed yesterday as when we put in some more bedding in the form of shredded paper the boldest little pink girl tried munching it so we decided they might be ready. Sure enough she was the first to snuffle a few mouthfuls and reminded me so much of Dragon and Star with their first surprised expression after a taste of pureed apple and baby rice. We’ve whiled away hours these last few days just watching them exploring their little world. They are such entertaining company. They all have such different little characters and personalities. Barbara tends to brave the electric fence several times a day to hang out with Tom, returning to the piglets whenever the maternal urge strikes her which seems to be working well. I did wonder what would happen about reintroducing them after a few weeks apart but they seem to be dealing with it perfectly well without our interference – rather like her giving birth!
Ady has strimmed (we call it strum!) a large outline for us to move the whole family over to a different space on the croft which will become their permanent area sometime in the next week or so. We’re thinking about housing and planning it fully before we do it. It’s definitely time to revisit that croft plan and tweak things here and there.

one brave little pig decides mum’s back is the best place to bask in the sun

quickly followed by his sister