Sunday, July 30, 2006

I'll be Your Waiter This Evening

I like good food. I like a chef that understands his/her ingredients. Sadly, we're not wealthy. Places that have a chef that will prepare things properly, buying in whole ingredients, making his own sauces are usually well outside our price range. We have to go to much more modest places.

One of the places that we can afford is a wonderful little Thai restaurant up in the hills outside Dumfries. Its a charming place and there isn't a dish served that hasn't been prepared from actual ingredients. No dried packets or jars of sauce will be found in this pantry. Nothing is thawed out or microwaved to order here. Out in the back, by the bins you will see the cardboard boxes from the produce delivery stacked and waiting collection.

The way this Thai restaurant started is a charming story. The restaurant started out as a local village pub. Nothing spectacular about it. Almost every village has a pub like it. These local pubs will invariably have a pub menu. Simple easy to prepare (thaw and fry) food that will fill you up and/or line your stomach so you can continue drinking.

The owner of the pub went on a holiday to Thailand. When he came back, he had a wife. This is not an unusual occurrence in Thailand. Thai brides are a big export. When she arrived in Scotland, to keep from being bored out of her skull she asked if she could put a few Thai dishes on the end of the pub menu. This was a big success. Our Thai bride got an entire page of Thai dishes onto the menu.

Next, a back room of the pub was dedicated as a Thai restaurant. It was adjacent to the pub but it was a proper separate business with its own menu. The pub menu was reduced to a back page on the menu of the new Thai Orchid. It was very popular. Henry and I discovered the place at this point. You really had to book ahead if you wanted to get a table there. The couple in addition to creating this new restaurant on the side of the pub also had a baby, a pretty little girl.

A couple of years ago they made a few more changes, expanding the restaurant, knocking a wall through and adding a back room. The original village pub is no longer recognisable. It is now all the Thai Orchid. There is still a bar, but it is stuck out in the new back room. A second baby was added too. This time a little boy. They have also become a chain. They bought a little place in Dumfries. A great place to go for a special lunch when you're in town.

George is a fool for their fishcakes and noodles. Henry loves the soups. I try something new each time I go there. Unlike The Man of the Place, I am not bound by the constraints of being a vegetarian. I have yet to be disappointed. We love how the food is presented. Somebody spends hours carving delicate flowers from carrots, parsnips and radishes and one of these decorations is placed on each entree. The old pub menu is still available. It has to stay there for the locals. This is the only place to eat for miles around. Some of the old farmers and their wives just can't be doing with foreign food. They just want plain meat and potatoes, perhaps a bit of fried fish.

The service is either by our friend the Thai bride, a member of her family that is visiting from Thailand or some sweet faced local girl. The local girls are so charming and unsophisticated that they are always forgiven for little blunders. They do try to do well and that goes a long way. A few years ago when I ordered a glass of chardonnay, I was asked by the apple cheeked waitress if I wanted the red or the white chardonnay. I smiled sweetly and said that I would like the white chardonnay if you please.

I was thinking about the different styles of service that one receives in restaurants here and in the US. I really marvel at French and Italian waiters. They have mastered the art of hovering without being at your elbow. It will be noticed that you have stopped eating or conversation has ceased and will materialize at your table to see what you need. They are confident enough in the food that they serve that they will not interrupt you five minutes after the food is served to check that you like it. They also don't tell me their name. I know that it is policy in restaurants in the US for the wait staff to introduce themselves, but I don't really require an introduction. I know what they do for a living, they are working in a restaurant and I know this will sound crabby, but I don't care what their names are.

Bad service is unforgivable. I think everybody has a horror story or two of bad waiters and waitresses. I remember in a pizza place we stumbled into one winter's night after a movie. We actually stood up and waved our menus over our heads in order for somebody to come over and take our order. We would have gone somewhere else, but the small child we had with us was immovable. Unsurprisingly this pizza place is no longer in business.

Saturday, July 29, 2006


When I was a teenager in Iowa one of the rites of passage was the summer job de-tasseling corn. I did that for a couple of summers until I was old enough (16) to get a job that wasn't out in the fields. Detasseling is hard work but you won't get a better paying job when you're 14.

I am always reminded of the summers I spent in the fields when ever I see a field of corn.

Detasseling is part of the process of making hybrid seed. A seed company will plant two rows of variety A and six rows of variety B. We detasselers would walk down the six rows of variety B and pull off all the pollen tassels (pictured above) . This way all the corn will be pollinated by variety A and a hybrid is formed.

What we had to eat in our lunch wasn't very important. It was usually some sandwich that would get partially crushed before lunch. More important was what we brought to drink. Sally and I used to pack our lunch and make up our drinks the night before. Lemonade was best. We put our chosen drink in a clean plastic gallon milk jug and popped it into the freezer. In the morning it would be frozen solid. I can't remember if the two of us shared a gallon jug or if we each had our own. I think it would have made more sense to have our own.

We had to get up very early to walk with our lunch and drinks to the pick-up point. A big yellow school bus, usually a really old one, would collect us at the pick-up point and after it had hit all the pick-up points, the bus drove us out to the fields. Always being so sleepy at this part in the proceedings, I hardly remember being picked up or waiting for the buses.

The fields were cool in the morning and the stalks of corn would be damp with dew. A long sleeved shirt protected you a bit from the chill. There would be a quick morning break. During the morning break a little bit of the frozen lemonade would have thawed. Enough to give us a drink before we started working again.

Generally after the first break, the dew will have gone. The long sleeved shirt can be tied around your waist and you can work away in your shorts and swimming suit top. I do remember wearing those baseball style caps that the seed corn companies we were working for handed out. I don't remember wearing any sunscreen at all. I was very cavalier with my skin back then.

The company that we always worked for was Pioneer Seed Corn. My theory was that the infinity symbol on the company logo represented the length of the corn rows. They had HUGE fields. It took so long to reach the end of them. Sometimes we'd just get down one row and it would be break time. A second row, going back brought us near to our starting point and lunch time.

At lunchtime, the gallon of frozen lemonade would be mostly thawed leaving a little for the end of the day. After lunch the long sleeved shirt went back on to protect your skin from the worst of the sun's rays. It would get very hot out there. With the corn surrounding us any cooling breeze was deflected by the tall corn. Towards the end of the detasseling season, some pollen would be out and flying. It would stick to our sweaty skin and itch.

By the late afternoon we were finished. That last little drop in the gallon jug had melted in the summer heat and was warm. Looking back now it was probably good that the last drink wasn't chilled. We were often overheated by this time.

After the bus had dropped us off and we had dumped our stuff at the house we would make straight for the town's swimming pool. A cooling afternoon dip in the pool was exactly what was needed. I don't think I have had a more refreshing swim since.

It is no wonder I used to eat like a horse. Working in the fields, then walking to the pool and swimming. That's a lot of physical activity.

As hard as that it, I think perhaps walking beans is worse. Walking beans is where you walk down rows of soya beans with a very sharp "corn knife". I found a picture of one under Bean Hook. The inside curve is sharpened to cut like a scalpel. The flat bit on the outside curve is sharp too. It is used to hook and slice carry over corn that has popped up in a newly planted soya bean field. It will go right through the sole of your shoe if you accidentally step on it.

When walking beans, the sun beats down on you from early morning and you can't wear shorts. I tried wearing shorts the first day. I discovered that the bean leaves brushing against your legs starts out being unpleasant and before you get half way down one row, begins to hurt. You then have to get back to the end of the row where your jeans were. Not an experience you ever wish to repeat. You wear your trousers while walking beans.

This sort of work builds character. Because I had these hard manual labour type jobs as a teenager, I now have loads of character. I also have a dodgy shoulder that still hurts if I move it wrong.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Summer of 65

Here is a photo of two sweet little girls visiting their grandma and grandpa. The one being held by Grandpa is my sister Sally. Grandma is holding me. I must have been about three and Sally, two. Katie and Tom weren't born yet. Katie comes along just after the following Christmas. Tom comes in later when I am seven.

Our parents had driven all the way from North Dakota to Northern Wisconsin for this visit. I can only imagine what that long journey was like with two lively tots and NO car seats. Those boiler suits/coveralls must have been very practical.

This was the Grandma that had the cookie jar that was never empty. She would bake chocolate chip cookies all the time when we weren't there and freeze them in old bread bags. When the hoards of grandchildren arrived, she would just go to the basement and get another bag of cookies to put upstairs in the cookie jar. We got very good at taking cookies without the jar lid making a sound. Sally has that cookie jar now and makes cookies JUST like Grandma.

Grandpa died when we were very young. I don't think Tom was born yet. He had the only reclining chair I had ever seen. He used to let us sit on his lap and the recline the chair waaaay back. I remember squealing with laughter when we got a ride in the chair. (didn't take much to thrill us back then)

This faded photograph was taken that same day. Me and Grandma. Its a shame it is faded and damaged because I love it so. Both of these photos are actually framed up and on the wall. They were taken down to be scanned for inclusion in this blog. I remember the aluminium cups they had very well. My favourite was the blue one.

As these photos are obviously taken during high summer, it could have very well been my birthday. Just like today.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Where I've Been So Far

I found this great site. You can mark up a map of the world and a little map is created. The US States are all lumped together are all Canadian provinces. That covers most of North America, especially if you've been to Tijuana and can tick the box marked Mexico.

It does seem that I concentrate on countries that border the Mediterannean. There is a reason for that. They're fabulous!

I have made one little foray down to the Southern Hemisphere. I must say that it threw my sense of direction all to hell. I was just starting to get used to it when it was time to fly home. South Africa was great for the bird watching life list amongst other things.

There are some compelling reasons to visit Australia and New Zealand soon. Henry has a cousin and an aged aunt in Brisbane and we have some friends that have moved to New Zealand's south island. As far as ticking places on the map, then we could then add in Dubai or Singapore as they are the two most used places to refuel.

George and I are setting out our stall in a campaign for a holiday in France next year. We haven't been there as a family for a number of years and I miss France. However, we could be persuaded to go to Italy instead of France next summer.

This is all in the pre-planning stage. With the extension still chugging along we may not be able to afford to go anywhere.

I love to travel. I love airports and getting stamps in my passport. I enjoy packing and seeing how little I can take and still be comfortable. Now that I've been home for over 10 days, I'm ready to go again.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


It might actually be my favourite time of year. The sneezing is passed and I always lose weight in the summer. We can keep the doors and windows open. Fruit comes into season and is not only dee-lish, it costs less too! There are flowers and vegetables in the garden. All is right with the world. When the weather is nice, this place is paradise! We're not the only ones that know this. The summer people have arrived. Up here in the north, there are loads of holiday caravans and cottages. This time of year, the get booked up with people from The South. They're clogging the supermarkets and grizzling because their favourite brand of olive oil isn't on the shelves and they can't find that anywhere sells sun-dried tomatoes. So they stock up on white bread and ice cream and go give our community it's summer injection of cash. We're having a barbeque tonight. George is in charge of getting the coals ready. I'm in charge of everything else and H is working away on the extension. This is The Man of the Place beavering away while I cook dinner and take photos. Please note the new plaster in our extension. It was put on the walls while we were away. Now we can start to think about paint colours. The colour that is second from the right is the current favourite. The third from the left seemed nice, but is almost the same colour as the plaster!

George came with me on the trip to the supermarket this afternoon after work. Its funny how I always spend a bit more when I take a boy with me. Marshmallows seem to feature into the reason for the increased amount at the check out.

The chickens are moulting now. Moulting - sounds a lot like moulding. It makes them look a bit unkempt. The new feathers are great though. They're shiny and un-sunbleached like the old feathers are. I'm just glad that the chickens are going through this NOW. They were always late moulters before. Maybe they'll finish their moult and go back to laying more eggs. They slow down or stop laying when they are in the business of growing new feathers.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

14th Anniversary

The Man of the Place and I are celebrating 14 years of marriage today. We got married at Hickory Hill Park in Iowa City. We rented out the pavilion in the park, had Hy-Vee cater a picnic and invited a few friends and family. It was a bit one sided on the friends and family front. All Henry's family and friends were in England and couldn't make it over.

It was a busy week for us, getting married, I had a birthday and then me and my boys moved to a new country to start a new life here in the UK.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

My Dad

A lot of my family photos were damaged in a fire. The few that I have tend to be damaged so they live in an envelope up in the loft. The following photos are a tribute to my dear darling Daddy.

Most of the early photos will have been taken in Elcho, Wisconsin. This is my dad's mother, Julia holding her first born up for the photo.
This another one of my dad as a baby. I guess he is about one as he seems pretty unsteady and needs to hold on to the highchair.

He seems to be a bit of a show-off even way back then.

As I mentioned, my dad is the first born of his family. His arrival in the world was followed by his sister, my Aunt Mary Ellen. Good pose there Don!

After seeing the appearance of a sister, my dad watches as his parents produce two more children, my Uncle Jim and Uncle Paul. This is the most damaged of all the photos, but it is so darling, I couldn't bring myself to throw it out. From left to right: Don, Paul and Jim.

My dad and his brother Jim seemed to have the closest relationship. Indeed Dad was always going to visit his brother Jim. When Jim got married, it was he, our Aunt Joyce and their children Mike, Paul and Steve that we saw the most. Sadly both my Uncle Jim and Uncle Paul are no longer with us. They are greatly missed.

As you can see from the very damaged photo of the three boys above, fishing took up a lot of leisure time both in the summer and winter (ice fishing - yuck!) The other activity that seems to go hand in hand with fishing in Northern Wisconsin is hunting. My Grandpa (left) and Dad with a couple of nice fat deer. They're posing outside the garage behind the family home in Elcho.

Children grow up, as children do. They learn manners, join the military and then they get girlfriends or boyfriends. After that they get married and have children of their own. From left to right, Dad, Mary Ellen, Jim and Paul.

My parents had moved into my grandparent's home in Wisconsin as my dad had just left the army. My mother went and had their first baby while staying there. Me! The above photo are the shell shocked new parents. Doesn't my mom have great legs? She's looking pretty glam for having just had a baby. This is my dad back in 1965. My Uncle Jim can be seen on the left edge of this photo. I can't help but think that Dad looks a bit like Drew Carey. These are the oldest photos I have of my dad. He had a birthday this week. Happy Birthday Dad. I love you. Peg

Friday, July 21, 2006

This Week at The Whitelees

Red Admiral sunning itself early this morning on the east wall of Whitelees.

I was going to start by saying that it's been a quiet old week here at Whitelees, but then I thought that might sound a little to much like Garrison Keillor. It has however been a week that whizzes by before I can even draw breath. Man!

We've had some beautiful warm weather. So warm in fact that I've had to get out there and water the garden. In addition to this blossom end rot on the tomatoes. A sure sign of patchy watering. I've seen some fruit and blossom dropping from the beans and tomatoes, a sign that things are far too dry. I sure hope I don't get any further blossom end rot on my tomatoes. I have been really plagued with that in the past. So frequent watering to prevent blossom end rot and blossom/fruit dropping off.

These are examples where the fruit and or blossom drops off because of lack of water .
Runner beans - See the stalks with no flowers at the ends?
Tomatoes - same thing.

Incidently, congratulations to my cousin Susan who has harvested her first tomato. Mine that haven't dropped off or have rot are still too green and bullet like.

There is one thing that is doing well in the heat (It's not really that hot by continental standards. Its only been in the high 80's but that is very hot for Scotland!) My corn!

You can see that is has perked up a bit since I last showed it to you.
The corn looking better is making me feel better about the infant beans and tomatoes dropping off the vines in the warm weather. It looks like I may even have some cobs on this one! Woo hoo!
Here is one more thing that has annoyed me in the Whitelees garden this week. Remember that pumpkin plant I purchased from the lifestyle store/garden centre. Well not only did it turn out not to be a pumpkin. It was a courgette (zucchini). This week I have discovered that it is a MINI-courgette plant. Producing little bitty miniature courgettes. Aarrgh! Pumpkin from SEED next year! Here are the courgettes right next to my keys so you can see the scale properly. What the heck is the purpose of mini-vegetables? Granted the plants are a bit smaller but you've got to tend them just the same as full sized plants. The vegetables are too small to use. Is it a cuteness thing?

The wild raspberries are ready to be picked. I have taken a photo of them to illustrate how ready the wild raspberries near our place are. I noticed them yesterday evening as I walked the quarter mile up to the neighbours to deliver some sweet peas. I have to pick sweet peas almost every day now so that they'll continue to produce.

Its turning into a sweet pea jungle!

The lettuces are doing well. Lolla Rossa is doing a bit better than the Little Gem which had sparse germination too. I see that the Lolla Rossa could do with a bit of weeding. Will do that right after breakfast.

While I am sitting here writing up this blog, the rest of the family is still asleep. Polly is patiently waiting by my chair for her breakfast and the blackbirds (member of the thrush family over here in the UK and Europe) are clearing my cherry tree in the front garden of all cherries. I have yet to have a single ripe cherry from this tree as the blackbirds get every single one every year. I guess if I could be bothered, I would put a net over the tree (Lazy Gardener!).

The swallows that I was so worried about after we had denied them their nest sites by modernising the cottages have built nests. Yesterday I noticed that a swallow was taking fluffy things into the newest nest in the roof peak above our bedroom window.

When I mentioned this to The Man of the Place, he said that the swallows had built a nest on the other side of the house too. I went around this morning to check. Sure enough. There was another swallow nest. It was obvious that this one had already been home to a brood of chicks by the amount of guano on the roof. It seems that all the swallows are preparing to start their second batch. Go swallows go! There are more than enough flying insects around at the moment for them to eat.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Funny Spelling

When English isn't the first language but most of the tourists speak and read English any place that is geared toward tourists must have signs and menus in English.

Because it isn't their native language, there are some very funny results.

I'm sure they didn't really make dinner from our favourite Disney pals and transposing the "r" and the "e" isn't the worst mistake we've seen.
The Creme Cramel looks yummy. Oriontal Pastry is perhaps shaped like the constellation Orion. Gelly?

After a day of fending off merchants, a very early start and dealing with the intense heat, we were a little giddy when we checked into hotel. This sign gave us a serious case of the giggles.

We foreign gusets find the oddest things to laugh about.

Just before you think that we walked around mocking the attempt of our Egyptian hosts to make us feel comfortable by employing our language, their English puts my attempts at Arabic to shame. I only know a handful of words and can NOT get to grips with written Arabic. We only laughed at this stuff in private.

There were many times I was wishing I had the camera with me or times when I had the camera but it was inappropriate to take a photo.

The only two places to not have a single spelling mistake was The Hard Rock Cafe and a place called The Little Buddha. They also had the best cocktails and cleanest toilets. Not the cheapest though.

Gosh! Remember these?

We noticed straight off that the cans of cold drinks had old fashioned ring pulls. This is Lipton's Peach Iced Tea (in Arabic). It was purchased while we were filling in our dive log books. You can see George's hand scribbling away in the corner. Emily and George had never come across them before and needed to be shown how they worked. We old folks explained that when we were young (back in the olden days) all cans opened like this.

Waxing nostalgic we told them how once you had opened your can you could do a number of things with the ring pull. You could tuck it into the can. Most mothers hated when you did that because "you could swallow it". I recommended that they just lay the ring pull on the table and put it inside the can after finishing the contents. You could collect a bunch of ring pulls and make a chain out of them. I tried to demonstrate this, but my clumsy old fingers couldn't do it and I sliced my thumb quite badly. I needed a bandage for a couple of days. See? The old ways were not necessarily the best. These ring pulls can be dangerous in the hands of people who feel the need to fiddle with small bits of sharp metal.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Sweet or Sour

George has car a game that he has played for years, Sweet or Sour. He smiles and waves to people from his car or bus window. If they smile and wave back, they're sweet. If they see him and don't wave back, sour. He discovered that he had a very high sweet strike rate when we were coming into Cairo in our little bus. He was especially happy with the sweet armed guards in their dull turrets. They always gave him a smile and wave back. Sometimes he even got a thumbs up.

He had a great time playing Sweet or Sour on the way back from Cairo to Sharm El Sheikh because we got stuck in a traffic jam just after we came through the tunnel under the Suez Canal. (no photographs are allowed at this tunnel) There was a truck or something that had overturned on the Sinai side of the Suez tunnel blocking traffic in both directions. It was very backed up. We had wondered why it took us so long to get through the tunnel. There were a mixture of western tourists, Egyptians on their own holidays, and ordinary commercial traffic going in the other direction.

This is what things looked like on the Sinai side of the tunnel while George was playing his game. People were getting out of their cars and busses to see what was going on and to get some air. It was towards the end of the day so thankfully the teeth had gone out of the heat. George got loads of smiles and waves, so much so that his hand and arm were getting tired. He even got a wave from some high ranking Egyptian Army guy (lots of stars on his shoulders and had his own driver) who came to organize the mayhem (perhapsh he was stuck in this traffic too) but he wouldn't allow his photo to be taken.

It helped that we had a beautiful blonde 17 year old girl in the bus. She was a star attraction. People (young men) would walk along side our bus to smile, and admire her. Here are some of Emily's admirers.

By the time we got passed the accident George got 102 sweet waves. Our driver put some Egyptian music on and it was a real party atmosphere. We celebrated getting passed the jam by having the chilled melon that we got at the fruit stall earlier. It tasted of pears. Odd but not unpleasant. Suez sunset

Fruit Stall

We were pleased to get out of the hustle and bustle of the big city. The open road is much quieter for one. Cairo is a big dirty noisy city. As fun as it was to visit, we are country folk and we're not accustomed to city life. What we all wanted was a shower and I could forsee a squabble over who got the first shower when we got back to the hotel in Sharm El Sheikh.

Once we had settled in George showed us his mosquito bites. At least I hope they are mosquito bites. Two on his arm and one on each knee. He's not used to having mosquito bites. We don't have many in our part of Scotland.

While still in the fertile Nile region, I noticed fruit stalls by the side of the road. Because I merely mentioned it, the bus pulled over so I could have a better look. I could really get used to being indulged like this. This fruit stand sold mangoes and two different varieties of melon. A yellow smooth skinned one (not a honeydew) and dear old watermelon. The watermelons were proper sized too. Not the bitty things that we get imported to the UK.

There were some goats being fed in a little makeshift sun shelter. The expensive cardboard boxes were to hold fruit going into the city. The other fruits were kept in homemade crates. I kept thinking of The Birdman of Alcatraz when I saw these crates. Remember in that movie how Burt Lancaster had made a bird cage by carefully slicing up a crate? There was a similar thing going on here.

They grew these mangoes and melons nearby. The mangoes were ripe and ready for eating.

Henry bought some mangoes to eat on the way down the road. They were only £1.5 per kilo (tourist price). Back in the UK they are £1.5 each and the never reach that super sweet tree ripened perfection that we've got at this fruit stall. The stall owner, probably the farmer himself peeled a couple of mangoes and handed them around. You've never seen a bunch of happier stickier faces.

Here is our guide having a nice mango. This guy speaks Arabic, Russian and English. Another graduate from the University of Cairo, working in the tourist industry. I think he told me that his degree was in Russian. Handy as there are loads of Russian tourists in Sharm El Sheikh.

I am grateful that we always travel with baby wipes. We really needed them to de-stickify after our festival of fruit. One of the yellow melons was purchased, sliced and put into our cooler for later.

Fuzzy photo of farmers with donkey cart across the road from the fruit stall. There were some women, dressed from head to foot in black herding some goats through the dusty scrub, but I failed to get a good or even blurry photo of them. After we left this area, we didn't see green in the landscape again.