Thursday, March 27, 2014

Under the Sun


               Sunrise 28thMarch 2014
                           06.00 am

Feb, Jan, Dec
Nov, Oct, Sept

Noon 28th March 2014

Feb, Jan, Dec
Nov, Oct, Sept

Sunset 27th March 18.55

Feb, Jan, Dec
Nov, Oct, Sept

Just a quick Under the Sun post before we go. Hopefully you can see how the world is turning as we move past the vernal equinox - days and nights are equal again, but the light will soon take over. When I get home, the clocks will have moved forward, and those long days will return 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Random Scenes

A few snapshots from the last few days - just scenes from life:

Glorious colours of this primula braving the storms
A new "lookout" post has been created - nothing will get by this pair of intrepid warriors.
A tiny lamb hiding
James and his friend walking round the village for Sports Relief
And I just liked this old bus, being used as a hen hut - Crofter's are the original permaculturists.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Our Crofting Year

The year rolls on, and we await the arrival of a new season. There are signs of Spring out there - some green shoots and buds appearing, and a very occasional hint of softness in the air. The equinoctial gales have been blasting us for what seems like months now, and battling the wind and horizontal rain seem to be permanent features of our day. Not much has been happening then, as we wait for this annual battle of Winter and Spring to be over. The land is so wet just now, I can't imagine ever being able to work it again, but a few weeks of dry weather and it will happen.

The sheep have all been given their fluke dose, the pregnant ewes are on the croft near the house, and the others are on the hill. We wont be lambing until the beginning of May this year, as we are going away on holiday next week, but already little snowy bundles are appearing in fields here and there.

The new hens have settled in, and the fight between Elvis and Cliff seems to have resolved itself. Cliff hadn't lost an eye, as I feared, and he seems back to his usual self. Maybe next year he will take over the crown, but for now Elvis is still the King. I currently have the broody hen sitting on a clutch of eggs, so we will see what happens there.

The cattle are still near the house, sheltering from the weather as much as they can. They are being fed a bale of silage every day as there won't be enough new grass anywhere for another couple of months. Then, they will be moved to some fresh grazing, and the field will get a rest.

The area around the garden boundary has been pretty churned up by hungry livestock over these Winter months. We are, in fact, thinking of bringing some of this area into crop production anyway, so we will plough it over and grow potatoes and possibly some oats. This needs to be done soon though, so some temporary fencing will be going up as soon as we get back from our trip.

The polytunnel has survived the gales, although the windbreak bore the brunt. I have to say I thought John was being a bit over the top with the amount of time and effort he spent building that windbreak, but oh how glad I am now that he was so fastidious. I haven't sown any tomatoes or chillies yet, because we are going to be away for a couple of weeks, so I have ordered plants which will be ready in mid-April. The sowing and planting will be starting then too, and, of course, this will be the best year yet!

So - you might have noticed a few mentions of an impending holiday in this post. At the end of next week we will be heading over to Switzerland to visit family - very excited about that. We travel home via Paris, where we will stay for a few days, before catching up with more family in Edinburgh - very excited about that too. Our neighbour is going to look after the animals for us, and it is the perfect time for a break before the real busyness kicks off. Lots to get organised over the next few days, so blogging may be a bit erratic - but I'll be sure to send plenty of postcards. xx

p.s you can hear me read part of this post at :)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What I am making.

I made fennel liqueur. Last August I filled a litre kilner jar with herb fennel from the garden, and topped it up with vodka. It infused for three months and the fennel liquor was mixed with a sugar syrup and left to mature for another few months. It is the most gloriously spicy, herby, warming drink you could imagine. Perfect for after-dinner sipping

I am still making this ripple blanket. It is very much a famine or feast sort of project - either I am working on it every night, or it is bundled away out of the road and forgotten. Just now it is back in progress - a row added here and there as I get a chance. I think I am probably 15-20 stripes away from it being the size I want before I attempt a border.

I am making lots of things with eggs.

I am making a tunic top in grey linen, using the pattern from here

I am making Summer plans.

I am making this cardigan

and I am making a new blog, to contain my views on the Independence Referendum. It is such an important and historic time for us, in Scotland, as we look towards September, and I want to make my own comments on the process. I have decided to create a new space for those musings; It is still very much in its early stages - only 2 posts and one is copied from here, but  I very much hope you will visit me there, as well as here. x

Saturday, March 8, 2014

In my shoes.


Today is International Women's Day - a celebration of the achievements of women around the world. I thought I would add my own tribute by inviting you to spend a day in my shoes.

The crowing of Elvis the cockerel gets me out of bed these lighter mornings, rather than the alarm I hunt around for my slippers and shuffle through to the kitchen to make the first cup of the day. Before too long, I hear the sound of small feet padding along the hall, and my son says a sleepy good morning.
Do you like my slippers? I bought them almost a year ago, on a shopping trip to Inverness. I got them in Primark - I think they cost maybe £2.99, but in real terms they are worth so much more than that. Just a few weeks later, a garment factory in Bangladesh, which supplied Primark with clothing, collapsed, killing over 1,000 workers - mostly women. Primark is not a place I usually go to – the 4 hour journey is probably a factor, but, anyway, I was in there,saw these, and well, three quid is really quite a bargain, and I needed slippers. They are soft and comfy and keep my feet warm on the cold morning floors.
But, I tell you this - every single time I put these on my feet, I wonder if the woman who stitched them, was killed in that disaster - who she was - did she have a son who came sleepily through to greet her in the morning? Did she and her colleagues even have time to spend with their children before they left for that sweatshop?  I remember these unknown women each and every day, and I wear these slippers with a mix of shame and pride.
85% of workers in the global garment trade are women, and the conditions they work in are terrible -" a daily grind of excessive hours, forced overtime, lack of job security, poverty wages, denial of trade union rights, poor health, exhaustion, sexual harassment and hazardous working places." Visit the Clean Clothes Campaign for more information and see how you can help.

Three mornings a week I go for a run, and this is a running day. Once J is safely on the school bus, I go and meet my friend and running mate - either down at the community gym, or up on the back road behind the village, and we follow our training programme. We are six weeks into this, and already beginning to feel the benefit. I have known for sometime that my fitness levels were going down, as my weight went up, If I want to remain active and healthy then it is up to me to do something about it. Women in Scotland are at risk of chronic disease because of obesity and lack of exercise. It is hard to find the time to look after your own needs when you have a busy life, working, running a home and looking after others. And lets not kid ourselves that years and years of being told we are too wee/poor/stupid, as a nation, to govern ourselves does not have an impact on how we see our personal choices - especially our own well-being.
I certainly did not think I had the time to fritter away exercising, and besides, I told myself that I had an active enough life. Yet, there were days when I felt myself hobbling around like  - well - an old woman - managing to get the chores done but with effort. It's the beginning of a slippery slope towards health problems though, and I can't afford to let that happen. Anyway, as it turns out - starting this programme - half an hour running three times a week, has hardly impacted on my day, and as my fitness increases, I feel so much better and have more energy - it's certainly worth it.

Back from the run, it is time to get the wellies on and the livestock seen to. The cattle need a bale of silage and some concentrate everyday, just now - there will be no real grazing for them until May at the earliest. Even though the ground is covered in surface water just now, after this horrendously wet winter, they still need their drinking trough replenished with fresh water every day. Sheep will happily drink from puddles and ditches, but cows like a good long drink of the freshly drawn stuff. Everywhere is just a sea of mud right now. The ewes come along and share in the silage bale, but they get their own feed of concentrate and flaked barley too.
The hens are always hungry, the way they come rushing up anytime I appear outside, but at least they are laying well again.
I am always a bit stuck when I am asked to state my occupation - the "What do you do?" question. I usually mutter something like housewife and crofter. I am not actually doing any "paid" work, although I have had many jobs over the years. At the moment I work around the home and croft, and take care of our mildly disabled son (he said I could mention that). I do sometimes feel guilty that I am not rushing back into the workplace now that he is in school, but it would be too difficult for us as a family. I read a lot about government pledges to increase childcare more and more, but that is not always the best thing for children and families - particularly in remote areas. Sometimes I feel a bit undervalued, but mostly I am happy being a housewife/crofter - its a fine job description, and I have acquired some very useful skills in the process,I can tell you.

Then it is back in, quick shower, and rush about, doing the dishes, tidying around and getting a washing on. It's a never ending job just now, what with dogs, mud and wet clothes all the time. Crocs are my default footwear - they are just the most practical shoes ever invented. In the Summer I practically live in them, and the rest of the time they are my indoor working shoes. 
It's strange that our division of labour has followed the typical gender stereotype - me doing most of the housework and gardening, and John tackling the heavier outside work, and construction. It just seemed to happen that way, once I stopped working - with a baby to breastfeed and later on a high needs toddler, it seemed easier for me to assume that role. But now that J is settled at school, I can get involved in some of the heavier tasks, and John has always been happy to push the vacuum around and wash up. The croft is our workplace as well as our home, though, and I suppose we have come to regard each other's role as equally valuable, as we gradually build it up to a sustainable level.  We try to see ourselves as a unit of production rather than consumption, though it doesn't always seem to work out that way...

The weather is about to take a turn for the worse over the weekend, so I decide to take a quick trip into Stornoway to stock up on a few things. A change into town shoes then, and off I go. There is a good fruit and vegetable stall in the square on Fridays  and Saturdays, so I am glad to catch them. Then a visit to the delicatessen, where, happily, there is a special cheese tasting going on, before popping into the supermarket on the way home. I've not been into Stornoway for a couple of weeks now, so I'm not doing too badly with my balance of consumption/production. 
 It's 20 miles to the town from where we live, so not very handy if you run out of anything. There is a garage about 15 minutes drive away, but the prices are high. A lot of things are more expensive here, because of the transport costs, and at this time of year, when the ferries have often been cancelled, there isn't always a great selection of food. The fresh healthy food sells out first - the fruit, veg and milk.We are used to making do though, and often turn to online ordering. Even then, many companies charge a high delivery premium for the Islands - some won't even deliver here at all! The privatisation of Royal Mail has had an impact here already, as more companies turn to couriers to deliver their goods, and the universal postal rate is threatened. 

There is a foodbank in town though. These have been springing up all over the country, caused, in great part,  by the UK government welfare reforms, Poverty and hunger have expanded now to encompass the "working poor" - those who work hard, but their wages are so low that they fall into poverty. A report published just a few days ago showed that 870,000 people in Scotland are living in poverty. That's nearly a million! 1 in 5 people are living below the breadline. In the last 6 months, 23,000 people have needed an emergency food package from a foodbank in Scotland. I find it so hard to get my head around the scale of this, that I end up despairing. 

So - anyway, back home and back into the crocs. It's time to put away the shopping, and start on dinner preparations. Not really much to do, as I had made a lamb curry yesterday and there are enough leftovers to heat up for tonight. I am still thinking about these statistics, and about the mothers of the 1 in 5 children living in poverty right now, who have no answer to the "what's for dinner, Mum?" question. Even if they have been given a foodbank donation, they may not be able to afford to turn on the electricity to cook it. Women in these circumstances are likely to be denying their own needs, so that their family can eat the food that doesn't need to be heated.  How desperately worried and miserable they must be. How amazingly strong they must be too. The Scottish government have recently passed a bill which will provide all schoolchildren in Primary 1-3  with free school  meals. That will ease some of the burden on some families, but it is only the tip of the iceberg, and 'astonishingly', there was and still is political opposition to it.

The end of the day, and I can relax by the fire, put my slippered feet up and have a read or do a wee bit of crochet,  maybe. But its hard to forget that there are women out there in the world, working in terrible conditions to keep my feet cosy. Nearer home, there are women struggling to feed their children and keep them warm, women who are worried about what the next day will bring. In a country as rich as ours, we should not even contemplate this as being the case,  yet, we seem to be in the midst of a real humanitarian crisis. How did we allow this to happen?

Over the years, Scotland has had to suffer the policies of a government we did not vote for. The current incumbents are wreaking havoc on the most vulnerable in our society, and they have pledged to continue! We need change urgently - and, in the Referendum for Independence, on 18th September, we have the chance to do just that -  but it seems that many of us are not likely to take it. Women in Scotland make up 52% of the population - we can make a real difference to the outcome, yet we are, apparently, the least likely to vote, and, most likely to vote no. I've no idea why that is the case, but what I do know us that, it's not about a political party, it's definitely not about one man, its not about size or lack of talent - it's about the opportunity to create a fairer  more equal society -

one where people work in decent, safe conditions and are paid a fair living wage,
one where we can feel good about ourselves and our society
one where our contributions are valued
one where none of our children go to bed hungry
one where families can enjoy life, without the constant stress and worry that poverty brings
one where all the people benefit from the riches that our country has, instead of a tiny percentage
one where the solutions to  the problems in our society are not too big to tackle.
one where we have the chance to get the government we, in Scotland, vote for.

I'm not saying that these things will magically appear after a Yes vote - but at least we will have the chance to build a society fit for our needs.  To make real change happen, we need to take control of that process - other questions can and will be resolved, but first - we need to step out in faith.

Today, on International Women's Day - imagine walking in the shoes of these brave women. Imagine all the women of Scotland reaching out to them, and to each other. What will we say? Let us say "sorry."  and let us say "We know this is wrong and we won't put up with it any longer!"

Make it real -make it happen - use your vote.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


Tuesday was such a beautiful day. After what has seemed like months of rain and wind, we awoke to a bright blue morning, birdsong, and a just detectable hint of softness in the air. After seeing the rest of the household off to their respective destinations,and rushing through the essential chores, I was left with the delicious prospect of a morning on my own. A perfect time for a leisurely ramble around the neighbourhood, to see what's doing - let's go.

Stopping at the gate, I noticed a wee clump of daffodils peeking out from the bank. I planted quite a few of my spare bulbs here, last Autumn, so it is good to see them showing - a promise of Spring indeed.

I turn South and head up the road toward the standing stones.

At the top of the hill, I have a choice - should I walk through the Stone Circle, and down the path towards the visitor's centre, or go down the steep hill to the shore? Ho-hum - if I go down past the centre just now, I might be tempted to go in for a coffee, and then I could miss the best of the day. Later, I think.

So, I head down the twisting slope towards the shore road.. I love this view of the sea-loch and the old house on the peninsula.

Spring is a lot more advanced in the sheltered hillside gardens here, and this splash of purple is a cheering sight as I walk down in the warm sunshine.

Down on the flat, I wander along the road to the pier. The sun reflecting on the still blue water of the loch is so beautiful, that I feel as if I could gaze at it forever. Was it Thoreau who described a lake as the Earth's eye? I can well imagine. I pass boats pulled high on the shoreline, still happed up against the Winter weather, and a pile of lobster pots spill over onto the seaweed.

On the other side of the road, a neighbour's piglets are rooting around, enjoying some sun on their backs, while their mother dozes at the entrance to the sty in the other corner of the field. I am struck by the mosaic pattern of the lichens and mosses growing on a rock, while patches of smashed shells are strewn here and there along the path, dropped from a height by hungry gulls, eager to eat the contents. As I walk along, something lying on the road glints in the sunlight. A drab brown dog whelk shell has broken open, revealing it's dazzling purple interior. I trace my fingers over the exquisite contours, feeling the smoothness of the newly exposed inside of the shell - marvelling at this tiny glimpse of heaven in my hand.

Tucking my shining treasure carefully into my pocket, I continue on to the pier at the end of the road, and take in the view. I decide to walk round to the other shore and have a look at the new camping pods, so I retrace my steps a little way, before veering off to the west, and following the path over. The ground is so wet - water is lying everywhere, and the ditches are overflowing. But I squelch on and soon I am sitting on the verandah of one of the pods, enjoying the view.

The air is still, and the silence is broken only by the sound of the waves lapping gently on the rocks and the occasional bark from a couple of gulls wheeling around on the warm currents. There is a sudden altercation, and two sheld ducks go scuttling low over the water, hooting loudly, as if in protest - but it is too nice a day for quarrelling, and peace soon returns to the inlet.

I sit for a while, just soaking in the sunshine - feeling the stillness. Silence has a different quality outdoors, and I am aware of it permeating my mind - calming my thoughts.  After a time, I think about heading home, but the sight of the Visitor Centre reminds me of that coffee I promised myself on the way down. I wander back along the shore road. A flock of geese are floating serenely on the loch as I pass. One gives a squawk and the rest mutter in reply - I wonder if it was a good joke. 

Suitably refreshed by good coffee - and maybe a slice of home-made cake, I wend my way up the hill towards the stones again, and back home. The brightness has gone from the day, and it feels just a little bit colder. I remember the prediction from the school-bus driver that it would rain before the day's end, and think he might be right. Ah well, I have had this glorious morning, and my heart feels so much lighter for that.


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