Another month is drwaing to a close and life carries on running away with us.

At the start of the ‘season’ a few of us decided that as a fundraising venture we would open our village hall kitchen on a Sunday and run a Community Teashop. We’ve done six of them now and they are building in busyness every week. The idea is simple – there are six teams of volunteers who take it in turns to open the hall up for refreshments between 11am and 3pm on a Sunday. You have a £10 budget (more if you think you can do really well and recoup your costs) to spend and need to offer something sweet and something savoury along with tea, coffee and squash.

Every week has been a really different offering so far. Ady and I did the first week and brought along home made soup, freshly baked bread rolls, quiche as an offering from the croft (made with our free range eggs), two types of cakes and some flapjacks. It was a fairly traditional home made tea shop type deal and we did pretty well.

We took our second turn last weekend and had morphed a little into more sophisticated flatbreads served hot or cold, a different home made soup with rolls and a choice of cakes again. If we do a third turn we have a plan to do a foraged teashop option serving up wild foods from the island.

We’ve had all sorts of different pop up teashops for the duration of the venture so far, really reflecting the personality, culinary and hosting skills of the islanders running it. We’ve had different music playing according to taste, a variety of hot and cold specialist dishes with more or less ambitious options. We’ve had people drafting in family members who were visiting and putting on really impressive menus.

Best of all though we have so far raised about £500 towards repairing our village hall.

It’s not been without it’s frustrations; a shared use hall and kitchen space means different people feel differing levels of ownership towards the space and there are the inevitable quibbles about who left things in what state. There have been issues with people being unable to take their turn when they were supposed to so others standing in for them.There have been minor moans and groans about the advertised Monday to Saturday teashop menu not being available and people appearing after the Sunday teashop is closed hoping for a cup of tea and finding everything packed up and the residents who have already given five hours of their Sunday up for nothing ready to go home rather than unpack everything for the sake a quid for a cup of tea.

But it’s been a victory overall. A fabulous community spirit building, money making, fun enterprise for those who have been involved. Either in volunteering and running it or as has increasingly been happening as the weeks have gone by in coming along to patronise and support it.

It’s another of the many things on Rum I am very proud to be part of and be involved in.

Dance as though no one is watching

At least once every day I am reminded of how lucky we are to live here, on our croft, on Rum.

I was talking to a new friend at the weekend about what an amazing place this is for Davies and Scarlett to grow up. About how although they miss being with other kids all the time the opportunities they have living here far and away make up for that.

Yesterday we were supposed to be going up a mountain to help monitor shearwater chicks. The weather was just too hot to be climbing mountains though so instead we helped out on an equally fun and interesting quest which was moving a pregnant Rum pony and a newly born foal and her mum to a different field.

Davies got to lead the pregnant pony

Scarlett was spotter for the foal, guiding her whenever she got a bit wobbly about realising that the whole world was not just that field she’d been living in for the last 2 days, which she’d only just gotten used to being the whole world outside of her mummy!

I think it’s safe to say they fell in love…

I meanwhile worked on my slight fear of ponies. I’ve done a great job these last few years of conquering my fear of dogs to the point that I am now a dog owner, I’m working really hard on the horse / pony thing. Plus I’m about to sign up to be a volunteer for various tasks on-island which will include leading the cattle around. Once I’ve done that a few times I can confidently say I’m over all the animal doubts. Sort of….

Some other random photos:

A freshly caught crab we were given in exchange for eggs, caught off the shores of Rum. brought home, cooked and eaten within the day. Sea to plate in hours.

From my island cruise on Saturday where I took in all the Small Isles – twice – I give you….

some shots of where I live. It was an amazing seven hours on the boat on Saturday. The weather was glorious, the skies and sea were glimmering blue, I saw whales, puffins and other seabirds and was just desperate to point things out to my fellow passengers – ‘quick a shearwater’ ‘that’s Rum, I live there’ ‘see that dorsal fin you just pointed out to your husband and claimed was a dolphin? actually it was a minke whale which is even more exciting!’. I didn’t. Because people would have edged away from me and I’d have gained ‘nutter on the ferry’ status, but I wanted to.

Instead I spent the time reflecting on how lucky I was to be spending this time on a boat basically circumnavigating the place I call home, where every stunning view was just the other side of the mountain from where I live, but most of the other folk on the ferry were on holiday, taking furious snapshots to show people where they’d been, gasping at the wildlife, drinking in the scenery.

The internet is slow, apparently we have a Small Isle -wide issue with servers or something technical and broadbandy that I don’t understand so photos are taking forever to load up. But I do have more to share soon.

I’ll leave you with Scarlett swimming in the river. It’s what summer afternoons when you are ten are pretty much made for I reckon…

Where to start….

Blogging gaps are never good. You wind up trying to decide whether you should catch up, make excuses or gloss over the absence. And all too often you put off blogging even longer while you decide which course of action is best making the gap between posts yawn all the wider.

So do I try and catch up – well no. Not possible. Life moves so fast and yet so slow I would do it a serious injustice to try and summarise or post some lengthy tomb bringing things up to date.

Do I make excuses? I could. I could tell you about how busy we’ve been – a visit from my parents followed by the Small Isle games all tangled up with life in general but that veers dangerously close to a catch up post after all.

I could gloss over, except in posting the paragraphs above I have already acknowledged the absence so I’ve failed rather in the glossing over stakes.

I guess I’ll do a sort of highlights type post instead.

My parents came. It was fab to see them, we do miss them so very much.

It was almost like having WWOOFers as they did loads of helping out. Mum spent ages cutting the grass around the willow fence. Dad spent lots of time down by the river side and with the animals. I love how much my Mum and Dad love Rum. I wish it were closer to where they live, I wish they lived closer to where we are. I am eternally grateful that while we are unable to get down to visit them in Sussex (600 miles and a ferry, four people and a dog plus a whole host of livestock and crops to arrange to have looked after is way trickier than two adults booking one lot of time off work and getting in their car to drive here) they are able to get up here to visit us.

We had a visit from a researcher who is also a blog reader so a big wave at Sarah and my favourite thing I think I learned this month comes courtesy of her – Rum is almost exactly the same size as Paris. I don’t need to give you all the stats about the many ways in which Rum is nothing like Paris; population size, wildlife, landscape, culture etc.

We had some hatchlings – four ducklings hatched out of the seven eggs Mrs Broody Duck was sat on. She still has one. I am coming to terms with this rather poor rate of survival at the same time as being very reticent in getting too attached to the remaining one as we have to accept it’s odds are pretty poor. We have created all sorts of mesh lidded pens and duckling number four was found dead next to her, apparently unharmed which suggests either natural causes or siblingicide I think. Numbers three and two simply disappeared, both from the mesh lidded areas. Sadly as much as we make them safe from crows from above the rats come in at night and create duckling sized rat holes which the little ones can go out of and get nabbed by the crows. We lost one during the day and one at night so I guess rats or crows could both be responsible.

It hits hard losing livestock as I’ve said before. There is guilt for not protecting them properly and possibly subjecting them to a grim, predator death, financial and mental waste as small scale farmers that we have failed and a simple disheartenment that our dream is being snatched from under our noses by creatures cleverer and more streetwise than us with a more fierce sense of survival.

It’s far from all gloom and doom though. The piglets are doing really well and two will be off to their new home in the next week or so. The two we are keeping are about half way through fattening so we’ll be swotting up on how that all works.

The eight turkeys are doing well, growing loads, getting used to us and having some free range time every day with the aim of totally free ranging them in the coming weeks.

The goslings are doing amazingly well and run with the two adult geese all the time. They have grown so much it takes quite a bit of looking at the eight of them to work out which are the originals. I’m hoping the two ganders will be identifiable soon.

We currently have three broody chickens which is bad for egg production bringing us down to six laying hens but good for potential livestock. Ten days to go until hatchwatch begins again!

We’ve been eating salad, strawberries and lots of herbs, harvested out first potatoes today and have tomatoes and peas looking good in the polytunnel. I’ve been learning more about foraged and wild foods and have a new friend coming over again this week who will hopefully teach me more about this exciting area I have only dabbled in before with a view to doing loads more in that area.

I made my first jar of jam of the year – raspberry 🙂

Market Day has gone well so far – three down, three to go. My scarves are selling really well as are Davies’ postcards. Seaglass and resin jewelery is slower but baking is going down a storm. Learning all the time.

Ady and I did our second Community Sunday Teashop and made over £100 so a nice healthy contribution for the hall fundraising.

I have become a rep for the Small Isles Community Council which started with a seven hour trip on the boat yesterday for a two hour meeting on Eigg. Lovely to hug a few of my favourite Eigg folk, do a bit of inter island networking and have a yummy pie before coming back again via all the islands. It was a fab day for such a long boat trip though and I saw lots of minke whales and some close puffins along with my first sighting of a diving gannet this year which is my favourite seabird sight.

Rum hosted the Small Isles games which included Rum victorious in the tug of war which I understand is the real decider of the winners! I wrote a bit for the Isle of Rum website which saves me writing about it again. Very proud of both our children for running and doing so well in the hill race 🙂 It was a fabulous weekend with wonderful weather and a real sense of being part of a wider community with the other Small Isles.

I have lots of photos but in the interests of breaking the silence and catching up I’ll post this and follow up with some photos soon.

When I grow up…

Facebook asked me today to fill in details about where I went to university and where I grew up. Given I have yet to do either of those things I was unable to fill in the answers….

Davies was asked recently about whether he wants to be an artist when he grows up from someone who had seen his postcards on sale in Rum Craft shop  – the correct answer to this rather silly question is of course ‘I already am artist, I don’t need to wait until I grow up’.

Last summer both children watched me start to work out what sold at the Market days here on Rum. They have been involved every step of the way with discussions about business plans, earning enough money to cover our costs and deciding which direction to head in with investments of time, energy and money. While WWOOFing we all four learnt lots about finding your market and being clever about meeting your customers needs. One of the most inspiring hosts we stayed with was a farm in Devon which sold at various farmers markets in the local area – fresh meat and eggs one week, meat pies and pasties made with unsold meat the following week. Davies and Scarlett have been a party to talks about adding value, minimising costs, only doing things you love.

From when the children were tiny we have always encouraged them to follow their passions and interests, do things they love and ignore more or less everything else. I have this theory that left to our own devices, freed from expectations and unnecessary distractions we are all gifted at something. That if celebrated footballers were not allowed to practise kicking a ball about until they had finished their geography homework they may never have played for England, that if celebrated pianists had to chop firewood or dig up potatoes instead of spend hours at the piano they may not have honed their skills to such a degree. That lucky individuals get their talent spotted, or encouraged rather than belittled or disregarded and that is what allows them to rise above average and towards spectacular. I’m not talking about encouraging deluded dreams for celebrity or fame as we all too often see on TV talent shows, rather children being supported and allowed to focus on what comes naturally to them as an interest or spark of a talent.

I believe that if you do what you love you will love what you do and therefore be successful, productive and fulfilled by it. First and foremost I believe in intrinsic reward, in getting the biggest kick out of simply doing whatever it is you are doing rather than the end result. But I am also not naive enough to think we can survive on fresh air and a feeling of fulfillment – I know we need to earn money to feed, clothe and shelter ourselves. I just think that with a few exceptions we should more or less be able to achieve earning enough by doing what we love if we do it well enough. I think life is too short to spend time doing things we don’t love and that rewards such as nice cars, holidays, gadgets and fancy clothes will never make up enough for spending our precious time engaged in things we don’t love just for themselves.

Which is why we live in an off grid caravan on a remote Scottish island of course… I practice what I preach! The trade off for our freedom to live how we wish, spend our time enjoying life, only doing things we love is living in a way that has such low living expenses that we are not obliged to work doing things we don’t love in order to pay the bills.

A question we are often asked as Home Educators as what happens to Davies and Scarlett in the future. What about qualifications? What about jobs? My answer is that what  I have taught them from the beginning is that they need to do things they love, do them well and find a way of making that provide for them.

For Davies this is art. He has been an artist since the first time he grabbed a chunky crayon and aimed it at a sheet of paper and created a mark. Since the first time he decided to make a sculpture out of his mashed potato at dinner time rather than eat it. On family picnics Davies would take the wax packaging from babybel cheeses and create little figures, he’d make sand creations on the beach, bubble towers in the bath and endlessly, ceaselessly draw.  When I read those towering piles of picture books to the kids it was the illustrations that told the stories to Davies not the words. His heroes are Quentin Blake, Rolf Harris, Colin Thompson.

When we arrived on Rum Davies was quick to begin capturing his view of Rum on paper – landscapes, wildlife, people. So when it came to him thinking about launching a business it was obvious that he’d sell art of some sort. The staple item for an artist living in a tourist destination is postcards. The first step was research – working out the landmarks and iconic images of Rum, sizing up the competition already on offer in photography and other gifts being sold on the island, staying true to his own style and creating a product he believed in and enjoyed doing. The first step in market research was a budget line of Christmas cards – line drawn, photocopied and stuck onto card blanks then coloured in. These sold out but proved labour intensive and while fine for a short season (only really sold in December) a fairly disposable product. Davies learnt that humour sold well, as did using easily recognisable images of Rum. He also discovered that people love buying off children and that selling a sliver of himself with every card is a small price to pay.

So market tested, product ideas developed and a clear vision created Davies Designs was ready to launch. An interest free business loan of £30 from me and he was off. Investing in four different postcard designs to see which sold best Davies bought 40 postcards. He negotiated a spot in Rum Crafts on a no commission basis in exchange for agreeing to sweep out the shop every so often. The retail price was set by the wholesale price having discussed mark ups, profit, turnover and worked out how many would need to be sold in order to reinvest. Davies created his brand and did some posters to advertise.

Sales have been steady and with excellent feedback including a commission to create postcards of neighbouring Isle of Eigg from someone. The postcards have proven popular with islanders and tourists alike and stocks are running low. With that in mind and with careful monitoring of popularity of design Davies collected his first takings which covered the cost of his first stock purchase. He redid his designs to make them bolder and improved upon his first series scaling down to just two designs based on the most popular designs so far – a map of Rum and Kinloch castle.

Further branding and redesign of the poster to take in the most important information and today Davies reinvested all his takings so far. By choosing just two designs rather than four he was able to purchase larger quantities of both and therefore get a cheaper price. A special offer on the website meant he was able to get a further ten of each design at a real knocked down price so his profits on the next batch of postcards will be about double what they have been on the first lot. He is on track to have money to replenish stocks and clear his loan from me in his first season of trading.

Already Davies is considering diversification into different products showcasing his artwork to increase his offering and extend his brand. He has discussed additional outlets for his stock and is constantly looking for inspiration for his art.

Most importantly though none of this is hard work. It’s drawing, which he adores, talking to people and building short term customer / vendor relationships or longer term agent / outlet relationships, all of which he is good at and enjoys. He is learning all the time and is gaining really important skills in promotions and marketing – sound transferable skills which he can use regardless of what path he takes in life. None of this feels like work, tedious, containing, restrictive or boring.

I’m incredibly proud of Davies for all of this. I have obviously encouraged, facilitated and helped along the way, sometimes gently guiding and supporting, at other times when it is an area I have experience and knowledge in I have shared that and advised but this is very much his project, his baby, his passion.

Back to where you once belonged

Today was my first day of not working. I worked Tuesday to Friday mornings at the primary school. I didn’t think 12 hours a week would feel like much out of our lives. I used to work 11 hours a week at the local library back in our old lives and that was a fulfilling, worthwhile and meaningful way of earning a bit of cash and reasserting an identify for me away from Ady, Davies and Scarlett, our house, our Home Education, our allotment etc. In short that was somewhere that I was able to be a different part of me that was not part of the rest of my world.

I’ve been reading a lot lately, by coincidence (although I increasingly question just whether coincidence exists actually, so many things seem to be inserted into life at key moments for reasons which later can look quite contrived) about the challenges of early motherhood. As Davies is just weeks away from teenagerhood and Scarlett is into double figures it does start to feel a very long time ago indeed that I had babies and toddlers. I can recall with fond memories the times that Scarlett emptied a whole tub of sudocrem on her bedroom carpet and Davies redecorated his bedroom with baby powder. The whiff of playdoh is likely to have me smiling in memory of hours spent admiring a creation that was not actually identifiable to anyone but them but to me was the most beautiful sculpture ever rather than fretting about the best way to remove mashed up playdoh from clothing or rugs. It is years since I wiped a bottom or a nose, I’m more likely now to have to engage in a long and teary conversation to sort out troubles than be able to kiss things better. I loved the days of Incy Wincy Spider, raspberries on tummies at nappy changes, carrying sleeping children from the back of the car. I adored being there for first steps, wobbly teeth, milestone moments. But I love having bigger children more. And I was missing out in those 12 hours each week.

So today it rained all day and that was just fine with me. This morning we talked about marketing and advertising, mind mapping and important messages to get across, we looked at poster design and talked about business opportunities. We all listened to Popmaster. Scarlett sorted out her seaglass stash and decided on some new jewelery to make. I made soup, soda bread, cheese scones and bread dough. We all had lunch and chatted and listened to music. Conversations too wide reaching, diverse and numerous to mention or even recall happened and everything felt back on track and in it’s natural place once mor
I nipped down to the polytunnel to water and do a bit of fiddling about for an hour and then we all went to the village to listen to a talk from a woman visiting Rum for a few days who happens to be a foraging expert and wanted to share her passion, knowledge and enthusiasm and teach us a bit about the resources here on Rum. She was fascinating, really exciting to be in the company of and a timely reminder of the wealth of opportunity and possibility here on Rum. It was fab to feel inspired and enlivened once again about what we’re doing now and most importantly what we can do in the future.