The new normal

What a madly busy week we’ve had.

Last Saturday we did our cleaning job in the morning and then as the weather was so glorious we collected Davies and Bonnie and some ice lollies in a bag of ice and headed down to the beach near our house. We are about half a mile up a track through oak woodlands off the ‘main’ road with a loch the other side of the road. The loch is tidal and low tide reveals a beach. It’s rocky, sandy, seaweedy with plenty of good foraging if we wanted a seashore feast but that day we were out collecting rocks to tumble and any plastic or other litter to collect and bring back to the rubbish bins.

The following day was just as glorious which was perfect as it was the local water festival. Organised by the local community it was a day celebrating our loch-side location with a whole host of taster sessions for various watery activities including paddle boarding, skiff rowing, canoeing, kayaking, open water swimming and more. On shore there was food and drink, music, an open tank displaying creatures collected from the deep of the loch including lobster, crabs, starfish, sea sponges and more.

Scarlett had been keen to try kayaking for a while so we had signed her up for a session and as she is under 18 she needed an accompanying adult. Davies and Ady declined which left me signed up too. I’ve never kayaked and although I am a confident swimmer I am not a confident getter in and out of boats so I confess to being slightly nervous. I was right, it was not at all elegant getting in or out (Ady kindly videoed me doing both, I won’t be sharing those clips!). It was however hugely fun, amazing to get that different perspective out on the loch of this beautiful area and excellent to challenge myself with something I was unsure of.

Scarlett adored it and we’ve been googling inflatable kayaks ever since. I forsee a purchase once we have sorted out finances out a bit with some more work.

The next day was Ady’s birthday. 55 years young. His gifts included lots of biscuits, a book and a kitchen gadget! And of course a mention from Ken Bruce on his radio show.

Ady has been desperate to go and find the mines up in the hills above Strontian, which is our nearest village ever since he heard about them. It was these lead mines where strontium was collected and Ady was very keen to see if we could find some. So we googled the route and set off with a picnic. We ended up driving a road we’d not even known existed, let alone realised could lead so far showing our lack of local geography. It was a spectacular route up, up and over the hills and then back down ending near a loch. We parked up and took our picnic for a wander along a brilliantly maintained track which led up and over another big hill for walkers and bikes. We paused a short way in to sit next to a winding river and eat our lunch.

Then we back tracked along the route a little way as we suspected we had missed the landmark for the start of the walk to the mines. Sure enough we happened upon it. We had bookmarked the link to the route on our phones but not anticipated having no phone signal to check it again so were relying on half remembered hastily read through directions which almost had us turning back as we felt we had gone wrong, but we decided to turn one last corner and suddenly we spied the landmark building ruins we recalled so carried on further.

Scarlett was the only one tenacious enough to carry on looking after the rest of us had sat down to rest. While Ady and Davies spent time finding likely looking rocks to contain seams of strontium and smashing them open like people, from Time Team, Scarlett climbed a bit further and was rewarded with the discover of the opening of a mine.

We gathered up quite the haul of rocks showing quartz and traces of the mineral and then walked back the way we had come to the car, retracing the gorgeous drive back home.

Then it was time for cider and cake in the sunshine.

We had earmarked Tuesday as postal voting day. Davies’ first vote. We’ve had postal votes ever since we moved to Rum and although we are now close enough to a poling station to go and vote in person it seemed sensible to stick to a postal vote for now when we all registered living here just incase voting clashes with working or visiting Rum or something else in the way. Davies and I spent several hours online watching videos about what MEPs do, how the numbers of MEPs are allocated to various countries and areas within countries, doing some political compass quizzes and looking at how MEPs had voted on past issues over recent years to see who we would be most aligned with. We talked about tactical voting, how you may vote differently in local, general, European, council elections and in referendums. How you may vote on single issues or feel more closely aligned with the political ideals of a particular party or candidate, how to engage politically via contact with your councillor, MP, MSP or MEP even if you didn’t vote for them and so on. We talked about what votes might mean in this rather unusual European election and how you might want to use your voice to make a statement. It was the sort of exercise I have done with every time I’ve voted but honestly never quite in so much detail and with so much thought.

This was all followed by the complicated origami that is putting ballot paper into one envelope, into another envelope with not all of them fitting without folding and then requiring licking and sticking…. if the political research had not left us with a bitter taste in our mouths then the envelope glue certainly did!

The next three days and two nights were a home alone adventure for Davies and Scarlett left looking after the house, the pets and each other while Ady and I headed to Rum for a couple of days.

We planted trees, dug up strawberries, caught up with friends, checked all was well on the croft, got up my hill, tidied up the shed and removed a wasps nest, sorted out the water, attended to the boiler, changed a tyre and were generally very productive and efficient.

Once home we’ve repeated ourselves with back to holiday cottage cleaning and mammoth volumes of laundry this weekend.

It’s alright you know this new normal. Busy, lots of opportunities for new things, new adventures, new skills and new challenges. Just what we were looking for!

Part time at everything

Life here is starting to shape into what it might look like moving ahead. And it’s a whole lot of part time somethings. Which suits us perfectly. No chance to get bored or feel like we are spending too much time doing any one thing. Life on Rum was a whole lot of part time somethings; working on crops, working with the animals, home education, crafting, writing, working at various jobs including clerical at the school, post office, cleaning, castle tours, ghilly work, directors and other voluntary roles. That life style really suited us there and I think it’s going to suit us here.

Davies is studying part time. He’s about to start working on the final essay of this years module, which is due in at the end of this month. He’s enjoyed this first year and got consistently high scores in all his assessments as he’s worked through the year. He will be starting the Introduction to Psychology module in the autumn and is looking forward to the summer off studying to focus on other part time interests. He has signed up to be a volunteer with a local charity and will have some training sessions for that before he gets started. Another part time role.

Scarlett is working with Ady (and sometimes me) doing cleaning of holiday cottages part time, mostly at the weekends. She has continued her Rum past time of collecting litter, mostly plastics off the beaches here. There is thankfully not too much litter around the shores of the loch here but enough that she has never come back from one of her walks empty handed. Scarlett had her first taster session of kayaking last weekend, something she has wanted to try for a while and she loved it. We’re looking into how she can get more time out on the water doing that along with a couple of other volunteering opportunities that might be interesting for her. She will also do some short online courses over the summer, part – time of course!

Ady is still looking for more part time work. He does the cleaning with Scarlett and narrowly missed out on a cruise guide job which he applied for after we returned from holiday as we were away for a couple of weeks. The reply back was that he sounded as though he would have been perfect for the job, they would keep his details and it was a shame he’d not got in touch before we went away. Ah well. He has been thinking about what type of part time work he would like to do and come up with a few ideas. We’ve chatted to a few friends who work in a similar field, been emailing with a contact they put us in touch with and signed up for various email alerts for work in that area. Ady has also signed up to be a volunteer (with expenses) for a local initiative which is both a little income and something he will enjoy and is helping people. He has also been looking at some courses and training.

I have been helping the others with the cleaning, signed up to volunteer for the same charity as Davies, been talking to a few local retailers about stocking my crafts and been looking at part time work too. I’ve been offered a job working in youth support which I am thrilled about. It is part time, naturally, and is a sessional post (fancy way of saying I only get paid for when I work, bit like zero hour contracts) and while I’m waiting for my references and working with vulnerable groups checks to come through I am yet to start and find out just how many hours that might be before I can look for other part time things too.

Meanwhile we are still part time crofters. This week Ady and I spent a couple of days and nights on Rum. We finally finished planting this years trees, over 1000 this time, with us getting about 400 of those in this week. That brings our total so far to well over 6000 trees planted on the croft, a legacy project for sure. We topped up the stocks in the shed, which is continuing to bring in a trickle of income and Ady chatted to a visitor walking around the croft who asked if she could come in and see around, so she got a personal croft tour and met some of the creatures. The remaining croft 3 creatures are all thriving under the watchful eye of our friend David who is keeping things ticking over while we’re not there. We will be rehoming the chicken flock in the coming weeks – some are coming over here with us for a new mainland life, the rest are going to a friend on Rum, so will migrate slightly east to a beachfront location! The geese and sheep will remain, happily grazing. Sheep shearing is on the agenda for our next visit back.

We checked over the crops still on Rum – mostly orchard and soft fruit which is all doing very well and looking like it might be a good crop this year, so fruit harvesting is also part of the part time plan for the year ahead. We did do the annual thinning of the strawberry bed to allow the plants room to spread. This year though instead of increasing the space for strawberries on the croft we bought the thinned plants back here with us so that we can enjoy strawberry picking part time over here too.

It was good to be back on Rum for a couple of nights, to catch up with Rum friends, to nip up my hill one afternoon, to wake up and pull the curtains on the sunrise over the croft and go to bed after the sunset over the other side of the croft. Good also to remind ourselves of all we achieved in our time on Rum and why it will always be special and have a place in us. Rum can be such a bubble; when you are there it is as though the rest of the world doesn’t really exist and when you are not there it can feel as though Rum doesn’t carry on without you. It was quite strange to have Ady and I there while Davies and Scarlett were here, living simultaneous old and new lives in both our part time locations.

We all walk through life wearing all these part time hats, it’s these many roles and facets to our personalities that make us humans so interesting. We wear so many labels and are so many different things to so many people, all added together to make up our self and who we are. In the end our full time lives on Rum were lacking sufficient to make up a whole life for each of us. It is lovely to still have the part time versions of our Rum selves and our Rum lives to add to the mix of these new versions of us as we find all the new part time components to piece together to make the next incarnations.

All you can’t leave behind

For various reasons I’ve found myself talking about me a lot the last week or so. OK, I concede I talk about myself a lot generally but usually that is more habit than actually being asked! The last couple of weeks have meant introducing myself a fair few times – at my friend’s Book Club while in Northern Ireland, at a job interview this week and while meeting the co-ordinator for the phone helpline for a local mental health and wellbeing charity that Davies and I have signed up to be volunteers for.

So I’ve found myself answering the ‘How did you end up on Rum?’, ‘What is Home Education all about?’, ‘What jobs have you done before?’ and ‘How are you settling in?’ questions a fair few times in various different circumstance. The way I may have approached the answers has varied but in essence it’s been the same replies. I’ve covered most of those areas here on this blog before save for the ‘how are you settling in?’ one. I have a collaborative post with the others for our usual bad, good, learnt type format about how we are finding it here in this next adventure planned but for now on what is our two month anniversary of arriving here in this house you will have to make do with my musings.

The title of this post is all you can’t leave behind because it echoes the essence of my answer to that question about how we have settled in, which is that so far this feels like all of the best bits of what we loved about life, with some of the tougher bits removed and more opportunities available. So what could we not leave behind? The elements of my life that I most loved were the freedom to choose what to do with my time and the luxury of mostly only doing things I loved. I love being with my family, exercising my creative muscles with arts, crafts, music and cooking. I love being in nature and encountering wildlife. I love light, laughter, family and friends. I love learning and adventure and people. I love new challenges and new experiences and discovering something new every day.

So far I’m ticking all of those boxes. There are buzzards flying overhead daily here. We get woodpeckers on our bird table. There are seals in the loch we can walk to and watch. Last night I saw my first red deer from the house, today we watched a hind in the woodland just outside. I was woken at dawn by a tawny owl calling from the tree just outside our bedroom window. Our house has windows on every side flooding the rooms with light, the views are amazing filled with endless skies, hills in the background, oak trees bursting with life, woodlands carpeted with bluebells and primroses. My wildlife, nature, sunshine and light quotas are more than matched.

I have space for my craft materials, currently there is no market for things I can make but I have a new home to make my own and I am on my second blanket to adorn the sofa. My ukulele has a stand and the radio is always playing bringing me new songs to be inspired to learn or trigger new tunes and lyrics to write my own. I have a bath to linger and dream in, free for my mind to wander and come up with new ways to be creative.

People are everywhere! New faces all the time. Just this week I have been for a job interview – which I got ! More on that soon, Davies and I have signed up as volunteers. We went to the library where the librarian remembered us from when we joined up weeks ago, the re-use shop where we bought new glasses in our second week here to buy a small table and were remembered again from our last visit. To our landlords to collect clean laundry for our cleaning job where we chatted about our holiday. Two sets of friends have visited just this week. We are putting down roots, making our place, building our lives.

There are things about Rum that I miss. Our livestock, putting my hands in the soil and tending crops, my shed filled with things I made, my friends, my hill.

Looking forward though and finding the ways to bring with me what I can’t leave behind, or as much of them as I can.

And swoosh, a month went by!

Although we have spent less than half of it here in our new house as we’ve been off gallivanting about.

To be fair if we had known in advance that we would be here then we may well have not had quite so many adventures during April as we’d have been happy to be settling in here, getting on with finding work and busy with the work we have found and probably had family to visit us for Easter rather than the other way round. But we had planned this trip way back last year and the travel and pet arrangements were such that it was easier to go with what we already had booked than try and rearrange things.

The first half of April saw us having another trip back to Rum. This time just a day trip and just Ady and I. We collected some more belongings, emptied our freezer, gathered up Mrs Turkey who has now come over to the mainland to take up residence with our landlords who had a lonely Mr Turkey so that was a happy matchmaking opportunity.

We had an overnight visit from a friend which was lovely and she bought her son who stayed for a longer visit. He and Davies have been friends since they were 4 and it was lovely to have him here with us for a few nights slotting back in as though he’d only been with us last week.

We’ve been busy doing new house admin type stuff like setting up direct debits, changing our address, registering with the doctor and so on, which all take up time in phone calls, emails and visits to the nurse to be weighed and measured. It is now official that Davies is the tallest and the lightest. I am the shortest and the heaviest…..

We have been getting out and about familiarising ourselves with the local area for walks and wildlife and discovered a lovely circular walk through some woodland which looks likely to be ever changing through the seasons. We spotted the first bluebell on our second trip 3 weeks ago and this week walked through a carpet of them. I’m looking forward to seeing how that landscape changes through the year.

We also enjoyed recreating an old picture from a bluebell walk of the past…

The second half of April had us heading south. First stop Sussex for a week with my family.

We happened to fluke being there at the same time as one of Ady’s oldest friends from school days so met up with him for a couple of hours which was both lovely and surreal.

We spent a lovely few hours lazing on a rug in a park that my sister in law and I used to take our children when they were tiny and was the backdrop for many long, lazy afternoons in the sunshine while the children played and had adventures, and semi-regular stressful half hours when two of the cousins (Scarlett I’m looking at you as one of them here….) used to get themselves lost too. Lovely to lounge about with the teens joining us for our surreal conversations and slightly hysterical nonsense, although now it is middle age rather than small children invoked sleep deprivation driving the nonsense!

cousins playing from long ago

Another memory lane trip was the local park with my brother and his son for an hour in the sunshine too. He and I would play there as children, I used to take Davies and Scarlett when they were small and now we stood and watched my small nephew. The play equipment has changed with the times but the open grass and feels of the park has not.

To add further to the retro feel Davies and Scarlett persuaded my brother and I to go head to head on a tetris game. Frazer beat me 2 games to 1 but we were pretty evenly matched, just as Davies and Scarlett are, albeit at a much higher level than my brother and I. We tried to tell them about how we were the first generation to play that game, when we were younger than them before they were even thought about let alone born but they ignored us and went back to beating our very best scores with barely one eye on the screen!

Not too old and jaded for an Easter egg hunt though. I’ll let you decide whether that is them or me who is not too old as I suspect I enjoyed writing the clues and hiding the eggs more than they enjoyed finding them. It’s good to be indulged!

Never too old for a cup full of 2p pieces at the amusement arcade on the pier though…

Scarlett, Bonnie and I had a lovely evening walk up the downs looking at the signs of spring on the way too.

Then to the second leg of our time away, which was leaving Bonnie the dog and Kira the cat in the loving care of my parents while we four headed over to Northern Ireland, which is rapidly achieving second home status for us. Despite the obvious downsides of air travel it was the cheapest option by far and I promise we do plenty to offset the carbon footprint.

Ady swapped seats with me so I could sit with Davies and Scarlett (the plane was split down the aisle with blocks of three seats either side) but then he ended up with nobody sat in either of the two seats in his block, so I moved over and we swapped mid flight for a go at the window seat.

We realised it was the very first time all four of us had travelled by plane together. Ady, Davies and I flew to Manchester for a weekend when Davies was very tiny, Davies and I had flown from Edinburgh to Gatwick to collect a car to drive back to Rum and Scarlett and I had flown to Northern Ireland two years ago but this was a first for all four of us. We did take part in the Heathrow Terminal 5 trial runs a few years ago as an educational day out which had us going through testing the security set up, boarding pretend flights and at one point even taxi-ing along the runway but never up in the air all at the same time. Our flight over was daytime and our flight back was night time so that was a nice contrast for amazing views.

Our time in NI was fabulous as always. This time we were not really doing any touristy stuff, just spending time with our friends. But with amazing weather like we enjoyed for the first few days, their gorgeous house and fantastic hospitality you don’t really want to leave the house anyway!

We were persuaded by the teens into Belfast city one afternoon…. we accompanied them on the bus, saw them to the main centre and then decided that as we didn’t need to drive anywhere or be anywhere and the price of two pints and a bowl of chips to share was pretty much the same as a fast food lunch we’d do that instead. It’s nice to see that there is definitely Life After Parenting!

We also persuaded our lovely friends into a pint or three on the Saturday afternoon at their local. When in Northern Ireland….

A highlight was being invited along to the monthly neighbourhood book group which happened to be while we were visiting so I had read the book and went along. I do envy my friend her local social life and it’s definitely something I am hoping to find some degree of here once we are settled in. Choir, book groups and other semi-regular social get togethers are all things they have in abundance where they live, I hope we can start to get some of that back in our lives now we are not quite so remote.

All too soon the time there had come to an end so it was back in the sky for us again. The flight back was busy and our hand luggage ended up having to go in the hold. This was both a pain as it meant having to hang around to collect it rather than walking straight off, we had also bought some crockery from a charity shop and had packed it carefully enough for our own handling of our hand luggage but not up to baggage handler lobbing stuff about standards so there was one casualty of glassware, thankfully contained in bubblewrap. The plus side was that Davies and Scarlett got to see baggage reclaim in action and pluck their cases off the moving conveyor belt!

Back to Sussex to be reunited with our pets, have a day of packing up, an oil change and new tyre for our car and goodbyes with my parents and brother before the long drive back north. We spent two whole days in April like this:

Both drives were uneventful from our perspectives although our drive back up to Scotland was lengthened by a rogue swan on the M6 near Birmingham for whom the road was closed as he was guided back off the carriageway. Swans eh? If they are not breaking your arm they are breaking your journey!

It was a lovely couple of weeks. Massive thanks to the family and friends who managed to spend time with us, host us, look after us and our animals, do our laundry, feed us and generally have lots of fun with us. It was lovely to be away, to see you all.
It’s also lovely to be back here. But that is taking me into May, which is definitely for another blog post.