What time is love?

We’ve been watching Tudor Monastery Farm on the iplayer and really enjoying it.

Firstly it is filmed at the Weald and Downland Museum in Sussex, very near where we used to live. I went on school trips there myself as a child and we had family membership there for several years and attended various events throughout the year including Christmas Fayres, the 12 days of Christmas event over the festive period, the heavy horse shows and more. We saw a couple of plays there and the kids went along to several workshops including a Victorian Christmas where they made traditional decorations, cards and learnt about how Christmas was celebrated in the past and a breadmaking session where they learnt about making flour from the mill and baking it into bread. It’s a fabulous place which we were very fortunate to live close to and make full use of over the years. So it’s lovely to see it on TV being such a familiar place.

Secondly we have a lot of friends who participate in the Kentwell re-enactment events set in Tudor times. Although it has never appealed to us as something to do it is something many of our friends have got a huge amount from being part of and it always sounds like a fab day trip even if we are not keen to make our own costumes and live like Tudors for a couple of weeks….

Which brings me nicely to why I think we are most enjoying the BBC series, because actually I suspect a lot of the time we are living a bit like Tudors every day up here on our muddy hill! Tudors with many home comforts and access to BBC iplayer of course! We’ve picked up some great ideas from the series so far and are very keen to have a go at wattling (which we have done before on a trip to Butser Ancient Farm, another localish to us place back in our old lives which we visited several times for practical hands on history lessons) and make some brushes out of goose feathers. Mostly though I think we are enjoying the portrayal of life in Tudor times where folk worked hard, made merry and enjoyed socialising, drinking, dancing, singing and being with friends, everything had a purpose and plenty of ingenious skills were used, many of which seem sadly lost today.

In the most recent episode we have watched there is a church bell with a clockwork ringer to chime when it is time to pray. It is weighted so that the summer days and winter nights are longer than the summer nights and winter days to account for extended and reduced daylight according to the season. At a time when we have barely 6 hours of daylight in poor weather at this time of year, compared to 20 hours of daylight during the summer that strikes a real chord with us. 6pm in December and January is a very different time of day to 6pm in June or July.

The pictures below show some of what we’re up to this week. The turkeys are in their final stages of fattening – we will definitely be enjoying one for our own Christmas dinner and are taking orders for preparing any more. We only have  3 more to sell really as we plan to keep one stag and all the hens for breeding / egg production next year so we have not widely advertised them. The geese, although fat, are not for eating at the moment, they are our grazers / lawn mowers and egg producers rather than meat. We have decided to dispatch our two young boy pigs fairly soon and have a tin bath on it’s way to us for part of the process. Currently it all sounds rather like black magic and pagan sacrifice rituals but I’m sure it will all make sense in practice!

We’ve been busy sorting out produce for the Christmas Fayre this weekend – Davies has hand made Christmas cards, Scarlett has some festive home made candles, I have some scarves, some Christmas decorations and some sweets and chocolates.

My fruit trees, ordered way back in August or September finally went into their dormant state and were able to be dug up and shipped to me arriving this week. So today I braved the wind and planted them all out in the fruit cage. It is now fully stocked with 21 red, white and blackcurrants, 9 gooseberries bushes, 2 blueberry, 2 cranberry and a honey berry bush and 16 raspberry canes. Fingers crossed for a productive harvest in 2014. I need to repair the netting on the top between now and fruiting time as the turkeys tried to roost on top of it and fell through, tearing the cheap thin netting I had used but I have plenty of time to find a cheap option to do that with.

More wood collecting, splitting and stacking has been going on; we’re trying to replenish what we burn each week so that if a very bad weather period came in, heaven forbid one of us got hurt or ill and was unable to carry wood up the hill or wield an axe then we would be okay for wood. Hopefully none of those happen and we just go into next winter with an excellent supply of well weathered firewood – either way we’re on top of things and well prepared which is a nice feeling.

We’ve all been getting outside as often as possible to make the most of the limited daylight and but the days are noticeably shorter with every passing day and snuggling up inside the static with the logburner and a good book is one of the justifiable luxuries of this time of year.

Fat Geese

Like it or not the festive season is hurtling towards us. Before Christmas hits fully it’s Scarlett’s birthday and of course living here on Rum we are properly shielded from mainland Christmas craziness where there is tinsel in the shops from August!

We’re feeling edgy about not having gotten hold of our contact from last year for winkle picking. He did tell us last year that he might not be doing it again and judging by the lack of response to several answerphone messages we’ve left that may be the case. Sadly we just don’t have any other contacts and no real way of finding anyone else who might be prepared to collect winkles off the ferry if we send them off. That is a real shame as not only was the money we made going to kickstart our Shelter Fund I was actually looking forward to winkle picking again for a few weeks. We’ll try a couple more times to get hold of Winkle Man and have put the word out that we are keen to pick but I suspect we may not do it this year. We had already started by the end of November last year.

Meanwhile we are doing various Christmas making activities – Scarlett has some fabulous sparkly candles and Davies’ Christmas cards arrived in the post today, I have some crocheted decorations and will make some chocolates and sweets all for sale this weekend at the Christmas Fair on Sunday. It is also Ady and my turn to do Community Teashop so we’ll have a festive theme with some seasonal food and drink on offer. We are all four in the nativity play and today I spent some time making a Christmas song playlist on my phone. Davies and Scarlett asked for advent calendars (Lego and Playmobil) from Granny and Grandad as Christmas presents to be given early and they arrived a few weeks ago and are stashed ready to come out this weekend.

After several very still days the wind came back today so we’ve enjoyed lots of power from the wind turbine – it felt very appropriate to watch Twister on dvd this evening! We have mostly been ensuring we get some fresh air and exercise every day when the weather is kind enough to be out in, keeping the animals fed and looked after and then coming back indoors to read, craft and listen to the radio.

And ooh, rather excitingly I have just learnt a new and very relevant word:

pluviophile –
A person who takes great joy and comfort in rainy days.

Adventures on Croft 3

Way too much of the deep stuff of late and not nearly enough of the frivilous, frippery, fluffiness. So what else have we been up to in and around the angsting about this time next year, this time last year and everything inbetween?

I made some home made Baileys. It’s gorgeous. I admit to being a liqueur nightcap sort of woman and Baileys or Amaretto are my tipple of choice to do that warming from within before heading to the arctic end of the static. Except I’ve only ever really bought store own brand versions of both and that is not an option here on Rum where despite being a fabulously well stocked shop RumShop does not stock own brand of anything.

So I found recipes online for home made amaretto which I have been doing for months now and then it occurred to me that maybe Baileys-a-like can be made at home too and sure enough it can. And I had all the ingredients to do so. So I did, and it’s lovely.

I’ve also been steeping some ginger in vodka for several weeks. I sampled a bit tonight and it’s divine – sort of fiery vodka. I’m planning to keep half as ginger vodka and the other half to be a ginger liqueur by adding some syrup solution. I might even think about making a ginger cream liqueur – oh the possibilities!

But it’s not just about the booze up here. I’ve also made some jars of preserved ginger and two massive jars of pickled onions. And our Christmas cake is being regularly fed with brandy and my mincemeat is looking and smelling divine ready to make the first batches of mince pies as soon as December arrives.

Craft wise I have been mightily distracted by my patchwork fleece which is about half covered in autumn shade rectangles. It will be gorgeous when it is done but is very time consuming. I am torn between wanting to do that and nothing else so that I finish it in time to get some wear out of it this winter and knowing that there are other crafty makes I should be getting on with to top up supplies of home made items for sale next year.

Davies ordered his Christmas cards today – he’s invested about half of his postcard profits from this year in a design of Rum Christmas cards. I’ve already bought some of him to send to family and friends and am confident he will sell out. We looked at speculating to accumulate, investing in stockholding, pricing to sell vs pricing to make most money and debated quality vs price. He’s going for high end – that boy has luxury taste in card finishes!

Much excitement here last night when Ady popped his head out of the static and called us all to come and look at the snow. SNOW!!!! We love snow. It then gave way to heavy hail but when we all went to bed it was snowing again and this morning Rum was even prettier than usual with a heavy dose of frosting on top.

It’s all of our animals first experience of the white stuff as although we saw snow on Rum last winter it was only on the higher peaks and never made it as low as the croft.

They all seemed fine with it. Meanwhile Davies and Scarlett did what any self respecting children do when snow falls overnight – wake up early, shriek, put on warm clothes and go outside to play in it until tingly fingers, rosy cheeks and pink noses drove them back indoors for hot chocolate.

They walked down to the village while Ady and I listened to Popmaster and we caught them up in the car to meet the ferry.

Lots of Rum folk were bemoaning the cold but either we are rough tough crofter types these days or the no sense no feeling idea has finally kicked in because we are staying toasty warm indoors with our log burner. We’ve stopped measuring the wind in mph and moved to watts generated from the wind turbine.

Rum Hacks

If you google the term ‘life hacks’ you will turn up pages of tips for making life easier. Some are not relevant to most people, some are geographically specific but many are the sort of useful little ideas that make your day that little bit more straightforward.

Permaculture appeals to me because it works a bit like that, it just makes sense, falls into place and all rubs along really well together. It’s about making the most of what you’ve got, finding the easier path and living alongside what already exists wherever possible.

We are always looking for ways here to make our life that wee bit easier, find the positives and make the most of what we’ve got. One of our biggest expenses and faffs each week is the laundry. Back in mainland land we would have the washing machine going most days and getting the washing done was a constant concern while we were WWOOFing.

We have way less washing these days, mostly because we have way less clothes and way less reasons to wear anything other than jeans. No weekly swimming lessons, different uniforms for Badgers, Beavers,Rainbows, Sea Scouts. We all wear wellies more or less all of the time and given the first time you step outside the front door of the static you are going to get mud splatters up your legs you tend to only change your jeans because they smell or because you have actually fallen over and got properly muddy. But there is still a good couple of (laundrette sized) loads every week to do and getting it down to the village a mile away, through the washing machine and tumble drier and back up to the croft again can write off most of a whole day every week, or at least mean you are walking down to the village and back multiple times to swap loads between washer and dryer, not to mention the cost (£2.50 per load to wash, about £3.00 per load to dry).

Last week I fell over, baoth knees, in the mud. I happened to be on my way to swap over laundry so in the style of that old Levi ad I stripped off the dirty jeans and bunged them in the wash and put on a pair of clean ones fresh out of the dryer. Except they didn’t actually get very clean. So I brought them back up and stuck them on the washing line where they spent the next five days getting rained on, hailed on and blown about in the wind. Today they were clean, rinsed and almost dry so we bought them in to air infront of the log burner. Which gave us the idea that instead of taking the full basket down to process for the best part of £20 we seperated it out. The pants, socks, t shirts, pyjamas have all been handwashed in the shower and then hung on the line for a final rinse, the stuff like jeans and jumpers which require more of a freshen than an actual wash have just been hung straight out on the line.

I still yearn for a washing machine and one day soon might even have one, but for now this feels a lot less hassle than slipping down the muddy hill with a load of laundry.

Master Plan

There is a definite pattern emerging to this blog I think – during the spring and summer it was all doing posts – exciting things we’d seen, done, experienced. People who had visited and new leaps forward we’d made. During the winter it is clearly a time for taking stock, evaluating, thinking and planning. I was watching something earlier on iplayer which talked about the Four Seasons In Farming and it is true, I have mentioned before how much we feel the seasons here.

Many years ago I used to have a Plan, a two year plan, a five year plan, a list of things I wanted to do before I was 30. In about six weeks time I will turn 40, a bit of a landmark birthday. A few months after that Ady will turn 50, another landmark birthday. Our son turned 13 this year, Ady and I celebrated 20 years together. This week marked the two year anniversary of the first time we ever came to Rum. Lots of milestones. Many opportunities to take stock, to mark time, to measure where we are against where we thought, hoped, dreamed, planned we might be.

So where are we? Hard to say really given how many times Ady and I have moved our goalposts about in the last 20 years…. once upon a time we were planning to be mortgage free by now, maybe considering early retirement and doing some traveling. I guess we sort of achieved that in a much as we are no longer paying a mortgage, we don’t work for anyone other than ourselves any more and we spent a whole year traveling the UK. Except I never thought I’d be waking up on the morning of my 40th birthday in a damp static caravan so I don’t think too much self congratulation on meeting that particular goal is in order.

Let’s get a bit more up to date with our life plans then – when we left Sussex in search of somewhere different to settle we had a fairly clear wish list; somewhere beautiful – tick, somewhere with a sense of community – tick, somewhere with space enough to grow food, keep livestock, not look out of every window and see a different neighbour – tick, tick, tick. We wanted to be lower impact and maybe even off grid – tick with both although the low impact is a tricky one, for all our personal green credentials we are still far from self sufficient and our geographic locations means we have a way larger carbon footprint than I’d like. Our food travels a long old way to reach us, I can no longer make ethical choices about a lot of my shopping and my preference for local seasonal food is massively compromised. We might not personally travel a lot of miles but a lot of miles are traveled in our name both in family and friends visiting and in the deliveries that come with our address on them by land and sea.

One of the ways in which Ady and I, and latterly Davies and Scarlett too, have always evaluated our current situation is to think about what we’d do instead if we weren’t doing this. It’s the way we shaped the educational path we have trodden with the children, jobs Ady and I have taken and how we quite literally picked our route back in 2011. We try on different scenarios to see if they’d be a better fit, discuss how we might make things work and how that might feel. We look at what we could be doing better and work out ways in which we can make that happen. We test how we’d feel if we stopped doing what we’re doing now to experiment with whether this is right. Not sure whether to apply for that job? Think about how you’d feel after the closing date if you didn’t apply? Relieved it’s now passed and you don’t have it hanging over you or kicking yourself at a potential missed opportunity?

This has been an amazing, challenging, learning experience. It has ticked every box and offered opportunities we didn’t even imagine might present themselves. We are so proud of all we have achieved here and every single day we are reminded of another new reason why we are so lucky to be doing this. Whenever we re-evaluate we remain sure that for now this is the right place for us to be and there is nowhere and nothing else we would rather be investing our time, energy and lives in.

But it is time to recognise the shortcomings and downfalls of our current situation and the areas that need improving. We need to face the things that we find hard and find solutions and answers to making them better. Maybe not a Master Plan but a new wish list, a new sheet of boxes to tick, a chance to shape what my introspective blogpost for this time next year might be celebrating!

First on our list is a better shelter – not necessarily a Forever Home just yet, we recognise we are still honing that vision and learning the necessary skills to build it. But something that ticks the following boxes:

  • Bigger – we need more indoor space. We need room enough for a bath – we all miss baths. We have our long days working outside making our muscles ache or doing things in the cold and rain and feeling chilled to the bone. Water is no problem here, even hot water is no problem here but we simply don’t have enough space in the static for a bath and we all want one. Davies and Scarlett need bigger bedrooms – they need enough room to have friend to come and stay in their rooms, to have all their stuff out where they can get to it all the time, space to spread out and make their own. We really want a washing machine in our house rather than a mile away in the village and somewhere indoors to dry wet things.
  • More weatherproof against Rum elements – we need a shelter which is not such a daunting place to be when the wind blows. Somewhere that the roof is sound, the doors don’t whistle, the walls don’t flex and you feel as though you have left the outside outside. We need better insulation so that the instant you stop burning firewood the temperature does not plummet and somewhere that the windows and walls don’t run with condensation and things kept in cupboards don’t go moldy.

Next on our list is more people:

  • More visitors – more family and friends to stay with us, more trips off to stay with them. We miss people. 40 people in Rum is plenty of people to have relationships with, learn from, interact with, spend time together, social with. But we lack like minded people – our family who love us simply for being us, our friends who are fellow Home Educators, people who share our passions, interests and ideas. We used to spend most of our time with people who were like us, sometimes it’s hard being a minority within a minority! 
  • More new friends – we have to be very realistic about the possibilities of more people moving to Rum. There have been new people move here even in the short time we have been here and it is very exciting and we hope for more in the coming months and years. There are regular influxes of tourists and other short term visitors and we enjoy meeting them, talking to them and sharing stories with people. 
  • More help! We always planned to be WWOOF hosts, both to give back some of what we gained from our WWOOFing experience, to share our land and our island with others and to get some help with the many tasks on the croft – to get assistance with chopping wood, carrying things up the hill, feeding and tending to the animals, planting and harvesting crops.  

Third on our list is getting closer to our idelogies in low impact and self sufficient living:

  • We want to grow more crops next year – we are learning about what does and doesn’t grow here and last year was a great experiment with the polytunnel and the raised beds. This coming season we are hoping for some abundance in crops and are planning in more detail what we grow. We are intending to grow some crops for animal feed, more herbs, more crops that can be sold, stored and turned into value added produce such as soft fruits for jam.
  • We have a couple more experimental poultry plans and I am still hankering after goats but it is our intention within the next year to be close to self sufficient in meat, along with Rum venison of course. Our pigs and poultry, along with some time spent fishing and our own eggs should mean our protein needs are all met here on Rum – that would be a massive leap forward in terms of our animal welfare philosophies, our food miles and of course our shopping bill.

Finally we want to carry on with our learning adventures, continue gathering new skills, new ideas and increasing our knowledge. We’re looking at training courses, ways to learn more from our fellow islanders and others within our local community and to swap skills with visitors and WWOOFers too.

The first step to all of these plans is the shelter. In moving out of the static we would free it up to house WWOOFers  and other visitors, it would mean we could arrange croft sitters to enable us to get away to visit family and friends or go for training. If we had more space we could have more people to stay with us more often. More people mean more hands to make the crop growing and livestock tending easier to do.

We have a few ideas of low cost shelters that might tick all of those boxes and are doing research into various options with a view to ticking that off our list as soon as we can. More on that as we firm up our plans. It feels good to have a bit of direction other than the one the wind is blowing in.