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First Quarter

January, February and March have already passed, the year is both flying by and already one of our most eventful ever all at once. We certainly seem to have had our share of challenges and tricky times so far this year with at least one drama a month. Meanwhile though life carries on with daily reminders of how fortunate we are and the promise of new adventures ahead.

The polytunnel is springing in to life – strawberries under plastic at the front are spreading like crazy, bright green and healthy looking, several trays of seedlings have already germinated and the garlic I planted out in the raised beds outside is already poking through the soil. The rhubarb I had given up on last year has all come back and I really, really must get the asparagus crowns planted out this week. There are buds and shoots on most of the soft fruit bushes and orchard trees in the fruit cage.

peas and beans

chervilgerminating

The weather has kept us indoors a fair bit so I have been busy with my crochet hook – I have been making more Moods of Rum scarves to sell in the shed – I now have four different designs in a full rainbow of different colours and plenty of yarn to get hooking with more. I did a stocktake today, thanks to my Mum for bringing up another sackful of balls when my parents visited this last week I have five big bags full all sorted into colours and packed into vacuum bags awaiting my attention.

I also finished my February and March blanket – I made one in January while Ady was in hospital and it inspired me to make something bigger and more ‘me’. One big bag of wool later and hours of making up random patterns and colour mixes I have created something bigger than a kingsize bedspread filled with colours, patterns, shapes and sizes.

blanket

The photo doesn’t really do it justice, I love it, have learned loads about different stitches, the maths sides of crochet patterns ad different textures.

I found some of last years midges set in resin so have been making more keyrings for the shop – only a few weeks until the 2016 midge population is upon us.

The shed has already been doing well with the first real trickle of summer season visitors, a steady trade in jam, eggs, postcards and candles is making for a promising looking first year. I have had several orders for freshly baked bread and pies too.

And visitors! My parents first visit of 2016 – blighted by bad weather and possible cancelled ferries it looked as though they may not get here and then they had to leave earlier than planned in advance of yet more bad weather forecast for this weekend but it was fantastic to see them for real life hugs, chats and catching up – phonecalls over hundreds of miles simply don’t ever take the place of being together in person.

grandparents

More friends arrive next week, another a week or so after that and I had a surprise email this week from an old friend who is hoping to visit later in the year.

The brighter, longer days are definitely on their way.

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Spring, I believe

Looks like we made another winter. As our fourth year here draws to a close and we start to go into our fifth year on Rum we have passed the anniversary of setting off on our WWOOFing adventure five years ago. Five years ago we had already finished at our first WWOOF host and were already at our second, life was already changing forever and our eyes were being opened to a whole new world out there. That very first host Steward Wood has recently been making headlines in the press and had a fantastic, amazing success in their crowdfunding target to raise cash to help with their planning appeal and continued work on their community and projects. Steward Wood was a really pivotal place for us and one we talk of frequently five years on.

Here on the croft there are new signs of spring every day. I spotted the first primrose last week, we’re collecting chicken and duck eggs daily, have found at least one goose nest (and moved a protective enclosure over it to protect the eggs from the crows and give the goose shelter and protection when she goes broody), got our first broody chicken of the season and been watching the mating fever of the various birds. There are buds out on the fruit trees and the first tiny seedlings poked their heads out of the soil from the seeds I sowed last week in the polytunnel. So far parsley and salad leaves have germinated, I will no doubt be spotting something new every day over the coming weeks and need to get sowing the next lot soon.

primrose

We’ve taken delivery of more postcards, finished the jam cupboard front, got eggs for sale in the shed and sold several more jars of jam, postcards and candles.

postcards2

egg sign

postcards

jam cupboard

In other Rum news our monthly bring and share community meal had a cheese theme this month so on Friday islanders and a few guests gathered in the hall for quiches, macaroni cheese, cheesy chips, cheese bread, cheese and oakcakes, cheesy stars and cheese and onion crisps. We had some fairly cheesy songs playing and of course for the group photo we all said ‘cheese’

cheese night

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‘Sow’ grateful

Two days of T shirt weather in a row mean everything feels possible! There is no denying (despite not dwelling on it) that we deal with some challenges to enjoy our life here. Sat at the foot of the croft hill currently is a big gas bottle waiting for either sufficient drying out of the mud to wheel it up on a sack truck or an energetic hour of rolling it uphill for Ady and I. We get through a gas bottle approximately once every 2 months so getting them up the hill is not a new challenge or one we have not faced before. It’s a good reminder on days like these to see it there and appreciate these glorious sunny days as our reward for the tough bits of our life here.

And thankful we have been. And busy! Ady has finally found a dry, still day (which are in fairly short supply) with nothing more pressing to do and managed to fix up the replacement wind turbine which has been waiting for months for such a day. We got it here before Christmas but it’s taken this long for the right conditions and nothing more important to be doing instead. A large part of our life here is taken up with the basic business of surviving.

I could wait no longer and having cleared all the ground in the polytunnel, tidied up and got everything prepared I finally got to spend time sowing seeds. I think I might enjoy that even more than harvesting the crops! I sowed until I ran out of room! I sowed herbs – basil, sage, thyme, oregano, mint, chives, dill, garlic chives, parsley, coriander, wild garlic. I sowed tomatoes, chilli peppers and sweet peppers, I sowed peas and beans, some flowers – borage and nasturium along with some sweet peas as they are Ady’s favourite. I sowed leeks, celeriac, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, chard, broccoli all into trays ready to bring on and either plant outside into raised beds when the soil is warmer or to plant into bigger pots and containers to stay in the polytunnel. Direct into the ground on one side I sowed a variety of lettuces and salad leaves. I sowed cucumbers, courgettes, pumpkin and celery.

seed packets

polytunnel

peas and beans

I have some old emergency lighting casings which I am planning on using as mini propgators for the next round of sowing and have various roots (parnips, swede, carrots) which I will sow direct along with some asparagus crowns which need to go in.

We turned the water supply on to the hose which leads down there (it’s been off all winter) and I did some clearing up of the crate which holds my supplies of netting, containers and other bits and pieces.

Meanwhile on the croft the chickens have finally started laying again, we even found the first duck eggs of the year today. Which means eggs are back on the menu again – quiche for dinner tonight!

quiche

Short sleeves and cups of tea outside in the sunshine

tshirts

And Mr and Mrs Turkey are also feeling the spring along with all the other birds on the croft showing signs of mating and getting ready to raise young.

turkeys

It’s days like this which remind us why we don’t want to be sitting in traffic on our way to and from the office, cooped up in an office, a shop or a meeting like we might have been a few years ago on a sunny Tuesday in March. Days like this which make those testing times worthwhile.

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More down than up

Down as in the village rather than up as in on the croft. It hasn’t been more really but this has been a village heavy week for us. I’ve been covering Post Office three mornings, Ady’s had a couple of shifts of hostel cleaning and two Saturday nights in a row we’ve been out for the evening at friends’ houses down in the village plus the first Rum Cinema of the year and a regular Crafternoon tea, chats and crochet.

A real mix of weather with a few sunny days, a few hard frosty nights and then two solid days of rain reminding us that it doesn’t do to get complacent about leaving coats airing on the washing line…

Ady has finished the new pig pen and I’ve dug over and cleared the whole ground of the polytunnel and emptied out the old spent compost so a nice blank slate to start this years sowing awaits me.

I’m provisionally booked onto a beekeeping course in May and we’ve started making plans towards getting our first sheep this year. We have several folk booked on to all our volunteer events already and we are mere days away from our first visitors of the year. Bring on the spring!

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Days

Sunday was Mothers Day. Tuesday was International Women’s Day. Both cause for celebration and contemplation I think.

Many years ago in a different life I was the manager of a branch of a well known high street card and gift store. It was actually one of my favourite jobs, I had a great team of staff, we worked really well together, all playing to our strengths and supporting each other with learning more. I enjoyed a good relationship with the management team above me and felt respected and valued by them and was given a lot of freedom and autonomy to run the shop how I chose. I was ambitious for a high powered career back then so after 18 months or so I was searching for the next opportunity but that remains one of the employment periods I look back on most fondly. Working in retail, which was largely what I did during my years as an employee I was used to a seasonal feel to my year. Retail management is rarely about the days of the week, you certainly don’t get the celebrated Friday feeling as the chances are you will be working the weekend. You don’t do the 9-5 either, a typical working day for me back then was 730am -630pm with lunch taken after the lunch time rush if at all. Late nights, early mornings and back to back shifts were a matter of course with Christmas being the busiest period of all. We lurched from one peak period of trading to the next with workload heavy times such as stock takes or paperwork scheduled in for the quieter times meaning even they were fraught and stressful. In that particular job though there were graded times of busyness – Christmas was by far our biggest ‘season’ when from October onwards we would be rearranging the shop weekly to expand the footage given over to Christmas until it took over half the shop. The next biggest season came directly afterwards in the shape of Valentines Day, from which we lurched straight into Mothers Day. There were other seasons – Fathers Day and Easter were probably the main secondary ones with the period from May to August deemed Wedding Season when we would extend the footage given over to invites, wedding cards, anniversary cards and thank you cards, July seeing us put out stands for Thanking Teachers, Congratulations on exam results and so on. This is nearly 20 years ago but we were already starting to capitalise on St Patricks Day, Nurses Day and some of the religious festivals of faiths other than Christianity.

Working in that environment gave me a cynicism for these largely manufactured events and excuses to make money – and chop down trees – to celebrate these days. There were certain types of customer – the smug, early bird types who were in purchasing all their Christmas cards in October (or worse still, those who purchased them in the January half price sale and would be able to find those stashed bargain cards 11 months later!), the last minute types (we always kept Valentines and Mothers Day cards out for a few days and always, always sold them after the event!) , the customers who looked at the price tag or the ostentatiousness of the card choosing the biggest, sparkliest or most expensive, or the considered ones who stood for ages reading the words, comparing several options and really putting thought into their choice. I too, for many years fell into one or all of those categories and it is fairly recently that we have eschewed all purchased greetings and celebration cards in favour of home made or not at all.

I have read some backlash comments against Mothers Day this year, about how we don’t need celebrations of motherhood or excuses to buy flowers and cards and turn the role of mother into something consumer driven. I tend to agree with this, we don’t celebrate Valentines Day for just that reason but I did send a card to my Mum, along with a message to someone I consider my second Mum and have wished a Happy Mothers Day for several years. Mothers Day has become something Davies and Scarlett mark though, utterly of their own volition. While motherhood certainly does not define me – it is a massive, massive part of my life. As a Home Educator I have spent the whole 15 years of my parent in the company of my children and it has been the most enlightening, rewarding, educational, exciting, fun and happy time. The fact that both my children go to such lengths – not just on Mothers Day, but every single day – to demonstrate how much they feel the same fills my heart with joy. Mothers Day gives them the opportunity to celebrate specifically and this year they presented me with chocolates, a gorgeous tumbler and most precious of all hand made cards. Scarlett was the organiser of the gifts my capable thoughtful, doer of a daughter who makes things happen. Davies once again reduced me to tears (as he does pretty much every birthday and Mothers Day) with one of his amazing cards. A complete labour of love with illustrations, words straight from the heart and a testament to everything I have done for the last 15 years and why I have done it. The words he has written about what I mean to him and why he loves me are wonderful and had me sobbing, but I think what meant the most was not that their acts were directed at me (as very lovely as that was) but that they are capable of such acts, able to articulate themselves and feel such love, demonstrate such kindness and thoughtfulness, be such amazing people. I am so proud of them, proud to be their mother, proud to know them and have them in my life.

Which brings me to International Womens Day which I celebrated this year by telling 25 of the women I know why I think they are amazing on facebook. And that was barely a quarter of the amazing women I know, who I could spend the rest of my life enthusing about and listing all the reasons they are wonderful.

Those ‘special’ days to mark events can just be an excuse to spend money, or feel bad for not doing so. They can also, quite rightly, be a celebration of more than that, a prompt to tell someone just why they are wonderful and what they mean to you. And of course we should do that anyway, regardless of whether that is marked off on the calendar as an opportunity to celebrate mothers, women or love but in busy days in busy lives it is easy to get distracted from doing so.

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Spring

So far March has been mostly kind to us here on Rum. We’ve been out and about on the croft getting things happening – artichokes planted in what is now termed ‘Artichoke Corner’ aka the top left corner of the croft. One of our plans for this year is to grow more animal feed rather than buying it in and I am reliably informed that artichokes welcome abuse, grow anywhere in any soil and are almost impossible to dig up entirely meaning once you have planted them once you have them forever. Challenge accepted! We have a mix of gifted artichokes from a friend here on Rum who does indeed seem to have cultivated a forest of them and some bought in ones. They are in a boggy corner of the croft which we will turn the pigs onto once they have cropped so if they manage to grow they will be comprehensively harvested. I’ll keep you updated…

artichokes

In other pigs news we may be increasing our porcine holding in the new few weeks. Barbara and the two girls are doing well and Ady has been busy building a new pen for the potential newcomers. More on that as it happens.

pigs

pigpen

I’ve finally used my Christmas gift of a kneeler which sat in pristine condition for months and now looks far more like something I own as it is covered in mud! I spent a very happy couple of hours this morning in the polytunnel weeding. I’ve decided to grow direct in the ground in there so will be creating beds along each side along with the shelves I use for sowing seeds. The ground has previously been conditioned by the pigs and is worm ridden and pretty well drained (by Croft 3 standards anyway!) so I would rather work on improving the soil in there over time than continually growing in containers in there. So I’m digging out the roots of the reeds and levelling the tussocky bits in there which is a slow but quite theraputic process. Today I was in the excellent company of Elton John, Cher and two hens. Elton and Cher provided the tunes to sing along to while the hens assisted with slug patrol and dust bathed in some of the containers!

hens in polytunnel

kneeler

Elsewhere we have sold more jam from the shed and had some great customer feedback, had our first chats of the season with visiting tourists, a lovely sunny day out at Harris Beach on the other side of the island and celebrated Mothers Day.

harris 4

d harris

s at harris

d at harris

harris

newshoes

choch

tumbler

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Landmark Moments

Today has mostly felt like pushing wheelbarrows about. We are down to one vehicle and so can only get as far as the fork in the road, meaning a further half a mile along a very rough track and up a very muddy hill before we reach the croft. Animal feed, compost (we buy in a small amount each year from our animal feed supplier to start off seedlings), veg box all arrived today, along with a couple of bales of straw for pig bedding and bird house bedding (we cut and dry rushes during the summer for that but last years has long since run out for want of a dry space to store over winter). So that was four trips each for Ady and I with loaded up wheelbarrows, sacks on shoulders across the unwheelbarrowable terrain and maybe the odd mumble under our breath here and there.

It was also about discovering that both Davies and Scarlett are taller than me now.

tall surely a landmark moment for any parent.

We had our very first customer in the Shed, purchasing a jar of bramble and cinnamon jam and having a chat with me as I happened to be mid wheelbarrow load sitting on the bench at the croft gate catching my breath and enjoying the view.

We found the first chicken eggs of the season, a round half dozen nestled in a forgotten small coop which was in the fruit cage and is now back close to the caravan again.

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From Small Beginnings…

I have shared pics of the shed progress as we have gone along but today on the 1st of March we unveiled the signs leading folk to the shop so I guess it can be declared officially open for business. I found a local celebrity to do the honours!

local celeb

sign unveiling

We have signs leading people from the village up to the croft and when they arrive they will find ‘Croft 3 In The Shed’. I still have a few twirls and whirls to add, the cold weather prevented me from finishing that off last year, but I’ll get to it in the next few weeks.

shedpainting

shed

Inside it is filled with crochet bunting and solar fairy lights, repurposed driftwood, slates, wood and branches cut from the woodland nearby, picnic baskets and quirky old display ideas we have gathered. I suspect this will also continue to be a work in progress as we have brainwaves or find more stuff to get creative with. I guess the shed itself and the fixtures and fittings are as much a reflection of what we’re about as the items we’re selling.

Scarves are displayed on two branches creating rails, midges in resin hung on a branch, candles inside a picnic basket, pot pourri in a basket I made years ago on a basket weaving course, Davies’ Designs and Ady’s photography have been captured in postcards (we endlessly brainstormed for display ideas for these but succumbed to traditional bought in stands for now), jams are on a shelf unit.

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12799150_10205843743521220_2994211768743082697_ncandles

postcards

midges in resin

There is plenty of space for more items as we come up with them – I have plans for basket making but events overtook me this winter despite getting out and cutting down the hedgerow material to make the baskets. Scarlett has a plan for croft 3 clay creatures, Ady and Davies have plans for further lines using their art and photography. There will be more produce for sale as it is harvested including free range eggs and we have a whole range of midge inspired items planned.

This shop is a bit of a landmark for us, the realisation and fruition of our business plan and dreams when we first arrived here. The embodiment of the way we have raised Davies and Scarlett (nurturing their talents, creativity and ideas, facilitating their entrepreneurial spirits and helping them create opportunities, learning about business skills, marketing, advertising, profits and margins) and the creative outlet for all four of us. This is just what we came here to do, to find ways to follow our passions and put out there what we are about. It showcases each of us as individuals with different skills and styles but also demonstrates our cohesion as a unit and how the sum of the four of us is greater than our individual parts.

To the shed – may it continue to bring us joy and hopefully bring us a bit of cash this year too!