Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Monday, February 27, 2006
I did manage to sweet talk Michael (guy from our village) to give the front gates a temporary fix so that new dog can't get out when she's in the front garden. I also hauled some firewood from the front woodpile around to the back of the house. That is it. Doing my job, cooking and trailing after the puppy with armloads of kitchen roll is taking up all my time.
Its raining now - bit of hail too. I'm happy to have the fire going in the back room near the computer. I am also happy that we are not sheep farmers. Those poor slobs are out in this stuff. It's lambing season again.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
George and I took Polly to a picnic today. It was the Northern Stafforshire Bull Terrier Rescue Picnic Club's monthly walk. I was in two minds about going because I really want Polly to get settled in. I'm glad I decided to go. The three of us had a great time. Polly is shattered. She's sound asleep in front of the fire here in the back room. She likes that spot, as is traditional for a family dog.
We had a lovely walk down by the River Eden, in Wetheral, (near Carlisle) Cumbria. Polly got to meet more of her kind. At 15 weeks old and one of the youngest dogs there, she was everybody's darling. Who can resist something as cute as a puppy? I'll tell you who can't resist, Staffie enthusiasts when seeing a Staffie pup.
George walking Polly in the front left of the photo. I'm wearing a purple fleece and beret.
This is by the River Eden with lovely old brick Victorian viaduct behind us. George and Polly are right in front again. See if you can spot me!
Saturday, February 25, 2006
I would like to take this opportunity to tell you that we have welcomed Polly into our home! She is a pretty, brindle and white Staffordshire Bull Terrier (Staffie). She shares the same birthday as my Mom, December 1st. This makes her about 15 weeks old.
She has come to us through Northern Staffordshire Bull Terrier Rescue (NSBTR). I had researched the breed and decided that perhaps this would a very suitable breed for us. What we needed was a dog that would:
Keep me company in the car as I drive around SW Scotland.
Not chase our neighbour's sheep
Not eat the cat or chickens or rabbit
Not embarrass my husband by being a Bichon Frise or some other "yapper type dog"
Be completely reliable with children - the children at Whitelees have grown to become adults and have gone OR in the case of George, quite sensible but I have some friends with very small children and they should be able to visit without fear.
I talked over our requirements with the guy who runs NSBTR out of Cumbria (The English Lake District to you Yankees) - not that far south from us. He said that even though Staffies can be a bit crap with cats, if we got a young one it could be trained not to eat the cat.
So, on Sunday as I was driving across to Tynemouth to finish up my diving course, I had a call from NSBTR about one of the dogs they had for adoption. It was a very young one they had called "Lucy". I had seen the photo on the website and indeed had pointed her out to The Man of the Place. The woman at the rescue asked me a few further questions that weren't on my original application form. I must have answered them correctly as she then said that someone would be calling me to set up a home visit.
We had the home visit early on Friday morning before work and got the thumbs up. They won't give a dog that needs re-homing to just anybody. There are a few criteria that must be met. You have to have an enclosed garden to start and then you have to be a sensible type of person (fooled the inspector on that one). There is an agreement that this pup will get neutered when she's old enough. If, for any reason we can no longer care for her, we must return her to NSBTR. They retain ownership of Polly but kindly let us keep her at Whitelees.
After work, I collected George and off we went for the almost two hour drive into darkest Cumbria to get her. When we got there, we met Polly, immediately became besotted with her, filled out more forms, activated the puppy insurance, and bundled her into the car. We now have a piddling, chewing beautiful brindle Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy. Polly has some work to do. She needs to learn about peeing outside, not chewing on things. She needs to learn about walking on a lead (leash). I am now going to go and get dressed and take Polly on her first walk to greet her public.
Where is my breakfast??
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
I've always been a keen birdwatcher. It started years ago on nature walks with my father. When I was five years old we moved to a place on the edge of town in Bismarck, North Dakota. It was a grand place with a huge garden/yard, a stable and corral. (no photo available)
The place is still there, but sadly, the town has grown around it. Even while we lived there, we knew that the town was creeping nearer. Not long after we moved there, a golf course was built down the road. There used to be rodeo grounds across the dirt road from this place. The grounds got moved to a spot near the river to make room for baseball fields. How fun do you think it was to have only to walk across the road to see a rodeo? There are no more fields out the back of the old place or enormous piles of cottonwood logs to climb around on and the herds of deer have moved on.
When we lived there it was paradise for a small girl. Dad used to take us kids on walks down the dirt road or through the woods to the river banks. The Missouri river is really one of the prettiest rivers in the entire United States. I guess the river gets yellow further on down stream, but in North Dakota and Bismarck in particular, with its sandy banks, its beautiful. We would walk through the woods that are almost exclusively cottonwood trees. To this day the cottonwood tree is my all time favourite. When they are grouped together like they are along the river bottoms, there is a perfume that no other tree can match.
We found a badger set once during a walk. By the way Dad behaved when we ever so carefully peeked down the hole, I knew this was a proper wild animal, worthy of respect. Wild asparagus could be found in the spring on the forest floors and Dad taught us the names of the wild flowers. Most of all, we learned to walk quietly. He'd get us to hush so we could listen to the chickadees sing and the woodpeckers knocking away.
By the time I was seven I could do a very good imitation of a meadow lark. I remember getting one to answer me back and we called back and forth a couple of times. There were always owls to be heard at night. The Great Horned Owl does have the best night time call of all the owls on earth. In the winter, we could see where the prairie chickens had taken off from their overnight spots in the snow. We saw the prints that their wing tips made in the snow when they took off into the air. I guess it is this time that my love of nature was imprinted on me.
I will always want to know what it is that I have seen. Here at Whitelees, I know exactly where the binoculars are and where the field guides can be found on the bookshelves. Some people tease me and call me "Identi-Lady" when we're all out for a jaunt in the countryside. I've taken the name to heart. Two summers ago, in the Greek Islands, I kept wanting to know what little lizards were running about. There were bright green ones and loads of speedy little brown ones. I made up my own field guide for them to help me in identification.
Here at the house as I have done in all the houses I've ever lived in, I have a little list of birds that come flying into and past the place.
Long Tailed Tit
Short Eared Owl
Golden Eagle (only once)
This isn't a complete list, but it's a good chunk of the birds. I know there are a few other birds to go on, mostly little warblers and gulls in winter plumage that are tough to ID properly. If we get any other visitors, and you are even remotely interested. I'll post the sighting here.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
There are more than a few things to consider when planning our family's annual summer vacation. Not only the things you know you have to work out like time, money and where to go. The desires of all family members come into the equation. Do extended family members want to join us? The Man of the Place and George want "stuff to do" and I just want to relax.
We live in Scotland and Scottish school systems run a little bit different to English school systems. Our kids get out of school a couple of weeks before the English kids get out. If we go on holiday immediately, we avoid the crushing crowds. The other part of this is that tour operators haven't hiked their prices up just yet, matching time when English schools break up for the summer. This means we have a two week window at the very start of the summer holidays when the prices for travel may still be affordable. Some tour operators will raise their prices up a little bit to coincide with Scottish schools letting out, but really they wait a couple weeks. So, going on our family vacation the day that school lets out is what we usually do.
When the children were smaller and there were more of them at home, missing a bit of school wasn't such an awful thing. It is my firm belief that a couple of weeks in a foreign country, with a different culture and we have to try to use a new language is just as valuable as time spent in a classroom. We used to take them out of school in September for a trip to France.
Please don't think that the kids escaped school altogether. We had homework time too. Each evening while we adults sat in the sun, sipping some wonderful Burgundy, the kids did their homework and filled in their holiday diaries. Ticket stubs and leaflets from our daily activites were pasted in to illustrate the journal entry du jour. I still have George's first holiday diaries. They were great souvenirs of the holiday.
The weather in France is still lovely in September AND the prices of travel and accommodation have plummeted. We love the French countryside and their local market days in the small towns. We went to France, mostly in Brittany, for years. Aside from the old diaries in the loft, I find that we don't have many souvenirs of those vacations in the house. It seems that we used all our spending money on food and wine.
Its been almost three years since we've been back to France. I miss it. I used to fantasize about buying some little rural place and spending the rest of my life growing rows of purple lavender and big fat tomatoes outside (Tomatoes, cucumbers and melons have to be grown in a greenhouse here in Scotland - not enough sun). There have been enough books on the subject of chucking ones life in Britain for the pleasures of living in rural France or Italy. I content myself with those. It's less disruptive.
A couple of years ago, we found that a self-catering holiday on the Greek islands was going to be less expensive than driving all the way to France. It also meant almost no driving and over all less work for me and The Man of the Place.
This is our beautiful boy. It was taken while returning from a dive trip, July 2005.
Last year our vacation on the Greek island of Skiathos was very affordable. With the money we saved booking this vacation, we spent the extra money on diving lessons. We three became completely hooked on diving. Now inexpensive holidays where we can dive are what we focus on.
Now, here is my latest dilemma. My Dad will be in Europe this summer. He has expressed a desire to join us for a bit while we're on vacation. This will be fantastic! I love my dad, he's great fun. However, I have found that it will only be an extra £150 for us to be in Egypt, specifically Sharm el Sheikh on the Red Sea. There is some of the best diving in the world there. I've investigated this change of venue. In comparable price ranges, we'd have nicer accommodation in Egypt compared to Greece and breakfast is thrown in. Hmmm, better diving, nicer rooms (with AIR CONDITIONING!) and breakfast cooked for me each morning . . . . .
I'm just going to have to phone Dad and talk this over with him. He might be unwilling to go to Egypt because there was a bomb exploded in a tourist hotel just up the road.
This is us on a holiday in the Greek island of Skiathos. July 2005 Left to right - Man of the Place, Me, Jay - my sister's husband and my beautiful sister Sarah.
Saturday, February 18, 2006
I got some of the thorn clippings picked up. They had been lying around since the hedge was trimmed at the end of January. Thick leather gloves were required for this. I also rearranged the recycling containers and reinstated the two compost bins.
After the thorn clippings were piled up, I moved some plastic ground cover around. While I was doing this, I noted that the strawberry plants will really need to be moved as soon as the ground conditions permit. Most of the strawberry plants are now in full shade with the addition of the new base for the oil tank. They will never recover from the winter enough to deliver strawberries if they don't get some light. They won't get any light unless they're moved.
I've just realized something. When the oil tank arrives, it is going to put even more of the vegetable garden into shade. This is a problem. There aren't a lot of vegetables that are willing to grow in the shade. Do you know of any vegetables that will grow in the shade? I don't. Vegetables insist on full sun. Now I'm going to have to re-think the vegetable plot.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Is it me? Do you see a theme developing here? The toys are all in big tall cans!
The cans all had tin bottoms. I believe this was no accident of design. When ordered to go tidy up your room, parents could tell you were actually cleaning and not just shoving stuff under the bed. They could hear the plink plink of small plastic objects, or in the case of Lincoln Logs, wooden objects hitting the bottom of the can.
Looking at these pictures reminds me of putting my toys away. I learned that when putting away Lincoln Logs, you really had to put the big ones in first or you'd never get it all back in the can. The order of returning the bits to the can was true for the Tinkertoys as well, but to a lesser degree. It just wasn't an issue for Ringa-majigs.
Back in the 60's and 70's, we didn't have Gameboys, Nintendo, home computers. Its hard to explain to the children, but we didn't even have a VCR until the end of the 1979. We had these toys. We couldn't be bothered with instructions so we used our imagination. We made loads of cool things. When it all got too much, we went outside and terrorized the midwest on our bikes. I was as skinny as a rake back then.
The best toy of all was this girl. Malibu Barbie. The queen of my toy box! Her hair got cut, her poseable knees were broken and my little brother Tom scribbled on her fair arms with ball point pen, but I never thought ill of her for that.
I remember looking at the Barbie clothes that could be purchased in Woolworths. They'd be on those cards in such dazzling colours. If I had the money, my Barbie would have been the best dressed, broken kneed Barbie around.
My memory is fuzzy about how many outfits I could actually afford to purchase for my Barbies. I do, however remember making a lot of her clothes. My mom bought me a jr sewing machine one year. You didn't use real needles and thread with this machine. It used a cartridge that glued the pieces together. It seemed to work okay for a little while. The sewing machine also included some patterns for Barbie clothes. This was the very start of my interest in sewing. When I was in 7th or 8th grade, I learned to use a real machine and the machine that used glue was shoved to the back of the closet or went into the basement to mildew into obscurity.
I don't know what ever happened to my Barbies. I don't remember making a conscious decision to get rid of them. I had loads of stuff. I think they went when we had a small fire at the house. The fire was just after my freshman year in high school, 1978. Lots of stuff was just thrown out and I'm sure the childhood toys went then. By the time of the fire, I am sure I thought I was far too grown up to play with dolls and they were not missed.
I have actually got a new collection of Barbies. I keep them in my closet and get them out from time to time. The nice thing about having a Barbie collection as an adult is that I can afford to get any outfits I want for them. I don't want or need Barbie castles, or cars or boats, I'm just into the clothes. Sadly, Mattel have cut back on Barbie fashions. Seems now, if you want a really good outfit for your Barbie, you have to buy the doll that is wearing it. You can get some fashions for Barbie, but there doesn't seem to be the dizzying selection that was available in my childhood. Its still fun though. The clothes and shoes are still sewn onto stiff card and covered in plastic. I love clipping the strings and freeing the clothes, shoes and other accessories. Its part of the magic.
I think I may go and bid on some Lincoln Logs . . .
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
In the autumn, my hens go through the moult. For the non-chicken owner, this is where the old feathers fall out, making way for the new ones. When they go into moult, they stop laying eggs. I don't blame them. I would too. They don't really start laying eggs again until the days get longer. The days are noticably longer now, the extension of daylight hours has gotten through to their tiny chicken brains and told them it is time to start laying eggs again. So, in addition to the beautiful red tulips and pink roses from The Man of the Place, I got three eggy Valentines.
There were three eggs in the hen house when I fed them before work this morning. They must have been laid the day before. Small, brown and perfectly formed, they mark the end of the season of having to purchase eggs. I hate having to buy eggs when I have my own flock of hens. Something about getting a dog and barking myself comes to mind. Not only are the eggs puchased in supermarkets not nearly as nice as ours, the chickens still eat when they're not laying. Hmmm
Store-bought eggs have a very pale yellow yolk and the albumen or egg whites are runny. I'm talking about free-range, organic eggs here because I won't buy any other kind. The Whitelees egg yolks are orange and the albumen stands firm and doesn't run.
I'm also getting ready to do a cull of excess male chickens. The cockrels that were hatched in the summer, have reached a size suitable for the table. As they were fighting the other day and will never lay an egg, it is time. I really must gear myself up for this job. Its a mess with all the plucking and cleaning.
Monday, February 13, 2006
This photo was taken by Curt McConnell during an annual camping trip to Matsell Bridge on the banks of the Wapsipinicon River (people who are NOT from Iowa may need that word pronounced for them) near Anamosa and Stone City, Iowa. The trip was always scheduled during the Mothers' Day weekend. It seemed that we were all available that weekend and it wasn't too terribly cold. We're all wearing rain gear in the picture, so it had obviously been raining. If anybody can give me a specific date, I'd be grateful. By the age of my children I would place this photo at about 1990.
I have very vivid memories of poison ivy on the path down to the river and this spot being the first and only time I've ever heard a whipoorwill sing just before dawn. They're loud!
You'll spot a youthful me in the middle of the photo (standing 8th from left) with and open mouthed Sean and Ian.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
This is a photo of dear old Barney.
The fact that the garden is not secure means that any loose livestock can just wander in at any time. It seems that we had woolly visitors a few nights ago. It was still very dark in the morning when we all left for our jobs and school. We didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. . . . I was the first one home later that day. Checking on the rabbit and chickens, I noticed quite a few small cloven hoof prints in the soft lawn. The grass had been made short and there were wisps of wool on the corner of the rabbit hutch. "Hmmm, I think we've had visitors " I said to myself. From the number of hoof prints and little deposits, the sheep had been there for some considerable time. The visiting sheep only ate some grass and left a few droppings. Sheep in the garden, especially at this time of year when most things are dormant, don't cause too much damage. Having twenty plus Aberdeen Angus in the garden, as happened a few years ago, will cause a bit more damage. The droppings are bigger too.
We live in an area that could only be described as rural. In fact, if you looked up the word "rural" in the dictionary, you'd probably see a picture of our place.
In the very first post on the blog I have about the extension, you will see the a nice photo of our place. The northern and eastern boundaries of Whitelees Cottage face pasture where North Country Cheviot sheep, Aberdeen Angus and Galloway cattle live. This bit of land has never been plowed. The fact that it has never been plowed allows another feature to be visible. There is a Roman Road that goes right through the field. When we've had a frost, it is much more prominent. The old Roman road runs from the hill fort that was located on the hill about two miles from here all the way to Carlisle. Carlisle was the terminus for Hadrian's Wall.
The southern side of the place is yet another field. This field, belonging to a different farm to the other field, is sometimes winter wheat and sometimes silage. From time to time, there will be sheep in there too. The western boundary faces onto the road.
Across the road is a pine woods. In the evening we can hear at least three different kinds of owls. Apart from many many birds, there are red squirrels (becoming quite rare now) foxes, deer and badgers. Its a great place to go for a walk.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
This is a photo of my grandfather, Francis Thomas Dwyer and his elder sister Ellen. As he looks to be about one year old, I am guessing that this photo was taken in 1895. Ellen went on to join the convent as Sr. Mary Mark.
They look like they must have been sweet children.
My dear cousin Susan has been sending me old photos of relatives. I'm using these photos to help illustrate the family tree that I have been in the process of creating for a while.
I was quite young when Grandpa Dwyer died so I don't have many memories of him, but the smell of pipe tobacco always makes me remember him.
Here is a early photo of Grandma, Mary Redder Dwyer. I think this must be her high school gradution photo.
From the stories I hear from my mother and from older cousins, she was a terrific cook and was quite handy at sewing.
Here is how I remember my mother's parents. This photo was taken before I was born in about 1960 at their place on the shores of Lake Sally, near Detriot Lakes, Minnesota. This is such a lovely smiley photo of the two of them. I'm happy to have it.
I was just saying to The Man of The Place this morning that it is such a shame that when we were children, we didn’t treasure the fact that we had time to spend with our grandparents. When we were children with childish ways, we thought more about ourselves and our own amusement. I remember whining so much when having to go and visit grandparents. What would I give now for a weekend in their company? We don’t realize that when they go, we don’t get them back and our middle aged, adult selves will be wishing with all our hearts that we knew them better. I'll never know how to make canned pheasant like grandma and I'll never know what it was like for grandpa to work for Bell Telephone since before the depression.
The roads are constantly wet even if it hasn't rained. Its okay if you are on the road and there are no other drivers but put just one other car on the road and that car will always be in front of you, driving very slowly kicking up spray.
As an experienced motorist in the UK, I have found it essential to drive around with a gallon container in the boot (trunk) of the car with some screen wash in it. The windscreen washer fluid runs empty on a weekly basis in my car. Other people may not have to re-fill this often, but I drive a lot for work. I also have to drive past a number of quarries. I have a rare talent for finding a quarry truck to follow. Those quarry trucks are brilliant for spattering what ever car is behind them with a fine layer of mud.
Its muddy at Whitelees too. The old pavement that used to cover the back drive is all but gone. It got crushed by delivery lorries and visiting tractors. Then it was dug up to put in drains. Some gravel was put down where things were dug up for drains, but for the most part, the back way into our house is a muddy mess.
The path to the hen house is a good indicator of the conditions. Late in the summer, there is a grass margin around the chicken run that I mow. The path to the door of the run and the door of the chicken coop is clear and covered in grass. By this time in winter, the grass has gone. No matter how careful I try to be, it always gets worn away. By February, the path is really muddy. If it has rained, then the mud is slick. If we've had a dry spell, the mud will be firmer and not so slippy.
The consolation that I have during this mud season is that the snowdrops have come out. They're bonny wee things. They really brighten up any spot they've been planted. One of the farms up the road has snowdrops lining the curved drive up to the farm house. It is very pretty indeed. For all their beauty, snowdrops are tough. I've seen them get completely covered by feet of snow by a late winter snowstorm and not be bothered one little bit. They look as fresh and delicate after the snow melts as before the snow showed up. Where we live, snow is rare. If it shows up, it will be in February.
The daffodil shoots are poking through too. Today they are about 3 to four inches up. I can't wait for them to be open. There were lots of daffodils already here when we moved to Whitelees and The Man of The Place planted more.
I'm off to work now, but I think a detour past a car wash is in order.
Saturday, February 04, 2006
The Man of The Place trimmed the thorn hedge on the east boundary last weekend. It looks a bit like a roller coaster ride, but at least it's done.
I had the petrol driven hedgetrimmer repaired over the winter. It had its poor gears stripped when somebody hit a bit of wire fence while trimming hedges almost two years ago. Its fixed now and in tip top condition.
I went out this morning with the thought of getting that dirt pile moved about, but as there are wellie piercing thorn branches all over the place and its cold and damp, I'm going to leave this job for a warmer, perhaps even slightly sunnier day. Really, all I need to do is move the rocks, move the plastic, spread all that lovely black topsoil evenly and then re-cover things. Not today. Its a day for sitting inside, studying my manual for the dry suit diving course that begins tomorrow.
You can see in the photo that there is a lot of black plastic being weighted down by old cinder blocks and rocks. This is my weed suppression system. Its great! Once the vegetable harvest is hauled in, merely cover the whole lot with black plastic, weight it down and bingo! No digging AND no weeds. It also affords quick and easy planting in the spring.
There is somebody else + pet who are enjoying the cozy comforts of indoor Scotland. :-)
George and Flossie
Thursday, February 02, 2006
The old red hen must have been about five or six. Good going for a chicken. She was an ISA Brown, a British hybrid layer. I got her from one of the farms in the village that sold point of lay pullets. The farm I got her from no longer sells them. She was a pretty darned good layer and I'll miss her regular supply of eggs. She was however the meanest of all the chickens and a real bully to any newcomers to the flock. Perhaps I will now have a peaceful flock.
I'm pleased that she had a good life here. She never got eaten by a fox (though a few of her sisters did) and grew to a ripe old age. She was the smartest chicken I had. She knew exactly how to go back into the run when I was rounding them up after being out all day and the first to come to me when I have treats from the kitchen. I have a couple of her children pecking around in the garden now. As they are chickens, they don't seem to care that she is gone. I wonder how the pecking order will go now that the old meany is gone.