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…….
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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…
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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…
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