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Another Rum birthday

All four of us have now celebrated three birthdays each here on Rum. Ady was first – 48, 49, 50, then Davies – 12, 13, 14, Scarlett 10, 11, 12 and finally me 39, 40 and yesterday 41.

Age is so relative – to Davies and Scarlett 41 is a whole lifetime three times over, to my parents it’s barely half a lifetime. Of course when you look in the mirror or at a photograph of yourself you just see the signs of age – the lines around your eyes and mouth, the first few strands of grey hair announcing themselves.

I’m viewing those lines as echoes of all the laughter and smiling I have done over the course of the last 41 years, those grey hairs and tiny memories of the things which at some point have caused me worry, long since forgotten and lived through.

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The first week of January is pretty full on for most people, you do a whole lot of taking stock of your life as the year turns but with a birthday in the same week this is magnified and yesterday during a moment alone chopping firewood my mind wandered and surrounded by the amazing views I live with but never take forgranted I counted my blessings:

My health; my wonderful 22 year relationship with Ady which has never faltered and must surely have proved those naysayers who said would never last wrong; my fantastic, amazing, fabulous children who every day find a new way to astound and delight me; our croft – 8 acres of land on one of the most beautiful parts of the country, somewhere people flock to visit and photograph every year but we get to call home, to live alongside these landscapes, this wildlife and this beauty; my family – my supportive, loving parents, grandmother, my brother and his family, my brother in law and his family; my friends – friends who live here and I see every day, friends I stay in touch with online, scattered all around the UK (and further afield) but never far from my thoughts.

My birthday yesterday perfectly summed up my life – I was overwhelmed with texts, phonecalls, emails, facebook messages from family and friends, Ady and the children gave me fab presents and we spent the evening down in the village where every single person currently on the island came and had a drink (or several!) with us. There was fizz, singing, music playing, birthday cake and candles and a stack of presents, mostly home made and all thoughtful and touching.

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Slip sliding

We are in the throes of putting together a proper timeline plan for the cob house build, with schedules, and people planned in and everything. But in the meantime we have drawn up our Croft 3 2015 Masterplan (mwah ha ha!). It is on a big piece of pink card and is tacked up on the wall underneath the calendar. We did the same last year and most of the things on it happened, there were a few which slipped off so they have made it onto this years.

We have split the masterplan into five categories: Animals, Crops, Building & Infrastructure, Business and Fun. Obviously we have a real bias toward the building and infrastructure this year and hope to really pick up on animals, crops and business in 2016 but Fun is still very important. We have been talking about how best to structure our time and decided to dedicate one day a week to animals, one to crops, one to work and business (this will be the day which Ady and I both work the morning of currently – Ady at the castle / hostel and me at the shop / post office so really only half a day after that, one to fun and three to building and infrastructure as this is the most important thing for us this year.

Under the animals category we have:

Piglets to pork – hopefully Barbara pig is pregnant already, which means piglets by March. We need to spend some time before that creating a maternity pen, work out when she is actually due to farrow and go on a rota between us to check her hourly during that period to try and increase our live birth rate with the piglets. Then replicate our success this year with slaughter, butchering and processing later in the year.

Sheep – We should have the opportunity to buy some lambs from our crofting neighbours here on Rum later this year so although it is a little ahead of our planned timescales we will take a small flock, practice mob grazing with them and rear them for meat. We should be able to process them ourselves as we did with the pigs. We should also be able to make use of the fleeces in some way – be it spinning for wool if the fleeces are suitable or felting if they are not.

Eggs We want to improve the animal housing to encouraging the birds to lay in places we can find all the eggs rather than racing the crows to them each morning. This will likely mean penning the birds overnight after their evening feed and then releasing them later in the morning after they have laid. We need to be collecting ALL the eggs for selling this year.

Breeding / Rearing / Fattening – we do not intend buying in any more birds but have high hopes for all of the current stock of chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese and guinea fowl breeding. They have all (aside from guinea fowl) demonstrated they can do it, we just need to be more hands on once they go broody to ensure the young reach adulthood by creating nursery pens around them. We’d like to increase our flocks for greater future egg production and also for fattened male birds for our own consumption.

Crops:

Fruit Cage – this is now fully stocked with a large amount of raspberries, tayberry, logan berry, gooseberry, cranberry, blueberry, black, white and red currants. Apple trees, pear, plum and cherry trees. It is bird proof although the netted roof needs some repair and we could probably do with a better gate. Mostly though it needs some TLC in terms of mulch and feed for the trees and bushes and keeping the grass down during the spring and summer. It is early days for all of the trees and bushes in there but it would be nice to think we may get some produce yield from it this year, if only for our own consumption.

Raised Beds – this area is now properly constructed although we need to build some netted frames to go over the beds and repair the parts of the fence which were blown down in the recent weather bomb winds. So a couple of days on structural stuff and then some time spent on gathering seaweed to create feed getting the beds ready to recieve seedlings from the polytunnel later in the year.

Polytunnel – More of the same as last year really. It’s a productive space for us and now it has water it is even easier to make use of. There is tidy up operation due in there and then the start of sowing seeds.

Infrastructure & Building:

Cob house – obviously!

Energy – we would love to improve our off grid energy harnessing, increasing our capacity with wind, solar and hydro. This will likely be done along with the house build but my dream is to be able to run our chest freezer up here on the croft using renewable enegry.

Work / Business:

Davies Designs and Scarlett’s Moods of Rum Candles – working on strengthening their brands, increasing their range and their stockholding and doing more business this coming tourist season. This will involve looking at marketing and advertising I suspect.

Sales to Tourists – our regular market days, honesty larder at the croft, selling through Rum Crafts. This will likely not grow much this year with other focus taking our time but if we can have ready stocks of scarves and midge jewelery ready to sell to go with the many jars of jam we made last season then we are at least fully stocked ready to go.

Writing work – I know it’s a busy year but the fact is I will be writing about it all anyway for the blog and for myself so if the opportunity arises for some more paid writing work I will definitely be keeping my eyes peeled.

Fun! (Definitely the most important category!)

More a list of things we want to do / see / experience in 2015: Royal Highland Show, Solstice celebrating (winter and summer, The Sea is Alive (Sheerwater boat trips), Fishing, Small Isles Games, Red Deer Rut, Outward Bound weekend, trip to Edinburgh, friends visiting.

It’s ambitious, it’ll need lots more breaking into bite sized bits ready to consume but it’s a plan and it looks like a pretty good year coming up on paper at least.

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New Years Revolutions

A couple of people have asked me the last two days if I made any new years resolutions. I replied that no, I had not, but explained our bad, good, learnt, hopes tradition so said I had made 5 hopes for the coming year instead.

I’ve never really done new year resolutions. I am not much of a one for self denial and would far rather wrap up a year feeling positive and self congratulatory about what I have achieved in the previous 12 months than doing the hatchet job on myself and finding all sorts of lacking areas to strive to put right in the year ahead.

I did however once decide to do 12 positive things over the coming year and start each month with a pledge of ‘this month I will ….’ in a health improving manner. I only committed to each for the month and then hoped it would become habit forming and continue or I would at least see the benefit in the change, but if not then I could let it go after the month ended knowing I had met the goal I’d set myself. I don’t recall all of them but I know one was to eat more fruit and vegetables – historically I had been almost exclusively carb or protein based in my diet so I set out to find more fruit and veg dishes that I liked. I tried things I had never tried before, gave another go to things I had already decided I didn’t like and found some new favourites. It led to growing more fruit and veg in the garden and then to the allotment and I guess in some small way to where we are now.

The second month I decided to drink more water. For every cup of tea I made I drank a glass of water while the kettle boiled. Before I went to bed each night I would drink a glass of water. In theory it would lessen the volume of both tea and wine I would drink was the idea. I’m not sure it did that but to this day I still have a pint glass of water as my last drink of the day. Probably still not the recommended amount of water per day but better than I used to be.

Another month long commitment that year was to get more exercise. I tried running but I am not built for running. I am busty and asthmatic and it just hurt my knees. I did more walking – walking to work but pounding pavements was not for me. Then I started swimming, doing lengths while the kids had their weekly swimming lessons. I found myself signing up for a swimathon – fundraising for charity and agreeing to swim 2.5km in 2 hours. Ady and the kids came and cheered me along, I got a medal and raised several hundred pounds for charity. I improved my stamina if not my speed and then signed up to swim the channel – 12 weeks, 22 miles in installments. In my local swimming pool that was 1073 lengths, so I would go and swim for an hour or more each week (sometimes twice) for the 12 week period. I’ve not swum much since (it took months before the faint whiff of chlorine left my hair!) but I am certainly fitter and more exercised now than I was back then.

So, no new years resolutions for me this year. They don’t work. You are unlikely to give up smoking, or drinking, or stick to a diet or drop a dress size or run a marathon based on a whimsical promise made during the darkest, bleakest time of the year. But new year revolutions – a single positive change, for a nice finite period… maybe worth a go?