Thursday, August 31, 2006


While mowing the lawn this evening, I noticed that the swallows weren't around.

After that big gathering this morning, they really have gone south. Safe journey my little friends. I'll see you again in the spring.
I'm so glad now that I left the back door light on so they could fatten up on those crane flies.

Emma, have yours gone too?
1st September 2006: OK, they're still here this morning, but a lot fewer today than yesterday. I thought it might be a bit early for them to go.

You Guys Ready?

It is a grey and rainy day here in my corner of Scotland, but even grey and rainy days have merit. I looked out the bedroom window this morning to see this, a huge flock of swallows!
The swallows are clumping up into bigger and bigger groups. It only means one thing, they're going any time now.
Those babies in the Whitelees nests moved out of the nest the day before yesterday so I guess everybody is set to go. They were flying in and out of their old nest yesterday and making clumsy mistakes. They'll get more graceful as each day passes. Now that they've left the nest and that's the last batch for this year, I can scrape off the pile of unpleasantness that has accumulated on my window sill.
The biggest flock I have seen up until now was 34. I blew this photo up and counted 108 swallows. Naturally there were a few birds not in the photo. They flew onto the wires afterwards. "Sorry we're late. We were having breakfast. Did we miss the picture?"

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


The blackberries or as they are sometimes called, brambles are ripening. Tonight we will have our first Bramble Crumble of the year. I love blackberries. They are the easiest wild fruit around here to pick. Wild raspberries are very small as are the wild strawberries. Brambles hold their big fat berries right out there for the picking.

It's nice that we're having them this year. We've been able to pick them for the past three or four years. Some years, there just isn't enough sunlight up here and the berries don't ripen before the first frosts hit. Once there has been a frost, you can forget it. The berries aren't worth picking. I have my favourite berry picking patches and I always get them cleaned out before anybody from the village makes their way up toward our place.
I have posted the recipe for Bramble Crumble on my recipe blog.

In Defense of the Turkish Toilet

If you travel abroad to any country that borders the Mediterranean Sea or Asia you may find yourself confronted with this upon entering a public toilet. This won't happen to you if you surround yourself in Four Season's luxury and dine in places with no fewer than three Michelin Stars, but for the rest of us this is what we will face. They will be found in all road side rest areas and some bars.

I was speaking to a district nurse recently and the subject was constipation. She always recommends that if one of her patients is constipated, the closer they get to a squatting position when trying to have a movement, the easier things will be on your backside. Same with children. If they're "bound up" get their old potty back out. The squatting position will aid things immeasurably.

In the meantime, if you're faced with this style of public convenience, behave like a seasoned traveller and pretend that it doesn't bother you. Millions of people, clean people, use them every day without pitching a fit about it. Anybody who has ever been camping should be cool. What are you going to do in there anyway, eat your lunch? Just try not to splash your shoes or let your trouser legs get damp.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Hey, nice tiles!

There was a time in my life when I and my inebriated friends were stumbling back to somebody's house after the pub had closed. As we rolled down the high street we noticed a tile shop. My drunken friends and I were sickened by this terrible misuse of commercial space. There could have been another pub there! We poured scorn upon this tile shop and railed against all it's customers with their sad, tile buying lives.

Time marches on. Now years later, The Man of the Place and I are on the down-hill slope of our extension project. We have to now buy tiles. I haven't been into a pub in ages (possibly years) and spend more time than is necessary searching out tile shops.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Cream Teas

This is the last Sunday that cream teas will be held in any village hall near us. For me it marks the end of the summer. I forgot to bring my camera last week. This final week, I remembered. You can see what I have been getting up to on Sunday afternoons from 2 until 4.The floral arrangments on the tables are made by the local women with flowers that grow in local gardens. Isn't that pretty?

When one first walk in to the entry way of the village hall one is greeted by the kindly fellow minding the door and taking admissions, £2.50. As one enters the main room of the hall, the sale tables are off to the left. Home garden produce and baking are on offer. Further down is the second-hand book table. I always buy some things to take home. Last week it was strawberry jam, drop scones and three cucumbers. This week, gingerbread, battenburg cake and more drop scones. Don't feel bad about missing out on something at the sale tables. There is always a dazzling display of cakes and biscuits (cookies to the Yanks) on the table. The cakes are included in the price of admission along with your scone with jam and cream.The scones and cream don't last long.

There is also the raffle table. Nice prizes. The under 18's aren't allowed to have raffle tickets as there are plenty of "bottled prizes" available. I saw a few things that I would have liked, but I forgot to get a ticket before I left the hall. There was also a big box of organically grown vegetables. (Kicking self for forgetting to get a ticket.)

The cream teas are run by local women to raise money for the village hall and church coffers. These women are the backbone of our little community.
The above is a photo of Pauline. One of my favourite people. Not only is she the mother of my friend Tina, but she bakes like a dream, has an immaculate house and plays the piano/organ for the church. You can see by this picture that she is also a lot of fun to hang around. When she saw that I was taking pictures of the cream teas, she insisted that I take a photo of the gals in the kitchen. When none of the other women wanted to be in the photo (shy), she picked up the half empty jar of jam and posed wearing her big pink "hearts" apron.

Not a lot of room

These birds are just minutes off coming out of the nest.

Look how crowded it is!
Note 30th August 2006 - the baby swallows were in the nest yesterday evening, but this morning, they are out! Bon Voyage!

National smells?

All this week I have been getting up a little bit earlier to see to young Florent's lunch. One morning, I thought as I was up I'd warm through some croissant and pains au chocolat in the oven (please don't ever put these things in the microwave) . When George got up for school and had his morning hug, he said, "You smell like France" and gave me a lovely smile.

Then later on in the week, I was popping some popcorn and Henry said that it smelled of certain shops in the US. I don't know what sort of shop he is talking about, but you will rarely get a whiff of freshly popped popcorn, the ultimate movie goer's smell, here in the UK. You will however get a whiff of popcorn here at Whitelees. I love the stuff.

This has led me to the question; Do nations have a defining smell? answers on a postcard please

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Weather Report

The title of this entry is a nod to Milt Rebmann, author or Milt's Muse. Sadly Milt's blog has been removed. We're still thinking about you Milt old buddy. As he has terminal cancer, we're (fellow bloggers) are a bit concerned with the sudden removal of his blog.

Please check out other weather report tributes to Milt on Time Goes By, by Ronnie Bennett, Saz Secrets by Saz and Blogging in Paris by Claude Covo-Farchi.


The weather today was overcast and drizzly. This didn't deter us from getting out into it though. If we who are fortunate enough to live in Scotland stayed in when it was overcast, and drizzly, nothing would ever get done around here.

Today was The Moffat Agricultural Show. Our neighbour was showing his sheep there today and we went along to show support. We see his sheep every day of our lives, we feel we should be there when these familiar sheep get put into a ring for judging. "We" did very well. This ewe won first prize, grand champion and best of breed. The ewe in the next pen, also "ours", won a first prize and reserve champion. Not bad eh? There were loads of other first prizes, a few second and third prizes as well.

Before we drove across to the Moffat Show, we stopped by to visit our friends Helen and Antony. We brought them some blueberry muffins that young Florent helped me to make this morning.

Helen was due to have a baby earlier this week. She is now officially overdue. This is her on the phone telling another friend that she will contact her with any news. I know how rubbish it is to be over due (George was 10 days late). Everybody phones with the same question, "Haven't you had that baby YET?". I made a point of NOT phoning with that question. I only phoned about non-baby things. There was a terrific excuse to visit them today. They took delivery of a pig!

This is the new girl, Bluebell. She is a Gloucester Old Spot. She's a young girl who hasn't had a litter of piglets yet, but that is to come sometime in the future. She is also very talkative. She grunted away when we showed up. I gave her a little treat (muffin). I really like pigs, but I don't want to get attached. We all wish Bluebell all the best in her new huge pen and fancy new hut.

NOTE: Helen had her baby at 04:00 this morning. A lovely little boy. Mum and baby are doing well.

Who was that?

I was driving up our country road and a car passed me. As this is a very rural road, I usually know everyone that might pass me on this road. There are four farms and a couple of cottages on this road and I know everybody that lives in them on a first name basis. There is also lots of tractor and other assorted traffic associated with rural life, e.g. agricultural feeds, oil tankers, livestock carrying lorries etc. . . I don't need to know everyone on the road but I know most folk. As a friendly person I always wave, just in case I know them. I'd hate to drive past and not wave, so everybody gets at least a small wave.
Yesterday, as I was taking a young neighbour boy up to his farm, a car passed me. It looked for all the world like Bruce Willis. It probably wasn't, but even young George who was sitting next to me made a comment about the driver looking like Bruce Willis.

I also learned yesterday that the French word for chopsticks is baguette.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Leaving the back door light on

I like leaving the light above our back door on at night. Its the next best thing to having a real moth trap. We've seen some beautiful moths on the pebble-dashed wall the mornings after the light has been left on all night. We discovered that if the morning is cloudy, there will be more moths on the walls than if the sun is full out.

I left the light on last night in the hope that there would be some good moths. There was just one moth amongst the flappy throng of crane flies this morning and I had this moth identififed the other day by Mostlymacro as a Rosy Rustic.

But here is the big story. . . . I woke up at a very unsociable hour, 03:45 for some reason. I got up and stumbled to the kitchen for a drink of water. Looking out the kitchen window into the partially lighted back garden, I saw that the air was alive with bats! There must have been dozens bats of different sizes. Note to self: Ask for bat detector for Christmas.

It is peak crane fly season and leaving the light on at night this time of year attracts the crane flies. The bats were there harvesting the crane fly bounty and were zipping around in a very business like manner. It was obvious that the bats were getting a good feed.

This morning the bats were gone but they were replaced by dozens of Chaffinches. I haven't seen so many Chaffinches all summer. Where the heck had all these birds come from? It dawned on me pretty quickly that these birds were feasting on the crane flies that were missed by the bats and were on the ground in the shrubbery.

We also had swallows picking off crane flies from the walls and windows all morning. On a very regular basis, I'd hear a muted thump on the windows around the house where a swallow had misjudged things a bit. Thankfully all the swallows have flown off unhurt. When we had a big Wood Pigeon crash into the front room window the noise made me jump out of my skin! The pigeon also left a big powdery pigeon shaped print on the glass. Sadly that pigeon didn't make it.

I also saw my little warblers again, three of them this time. Now I know that my little brown birds are in fact Chiffchaffs and not Wood Warblers. Thanks to Bird Woman and her blog for the correct identification! You rock Emma!

Now that I know that leaving the light on will not only attract moths but help bats and Chaffinches fatten up for the winter, I will be leaving it on more often.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Floss Picks

These are great! The above brand is my personal favourite.

I use them all the time. I've got a box of them here at the house and a box in the car.

I floss while driving and now I have gums like iron! I started flossing in the car a couple of years ago. I made a New Year's resolution to increase the number of times I floss my teeth. I bought a box of floss picks so that I could keep a couple in my handbag. Beef between your teeth in a restaurant is too annoying for words. A quick visit to the ladies' and *ping* the floss pick has done its job. I didn't remember to refill my handbag with new floss picks so I decided to keep a box of them in the car.

Flossing your teeth while driving is slightly more socially acceptable than picking ones nose, a very popular driving activity.

Improve your oral health and prevent gum disease by flossing regularly! More people lose their teeth to gum disease than they do to decay. (its a fact!)

Florent est arrivé

Not only is this the first day of school, we also have an exchange student this week.

-Florent and George-

The above is a photo of George all shiney and ready for the next academic year standing next to Florent Vieules. Florent is from Figeac in the Midi-Pyrenees.

George's school and Florent's school have an ongoing exchange programme so Florent is not our first exchange student from Figeac. George's older brother, Sean took part in this same exchange programme when he was at school and we hosted young Pierre Rigale three times. Now it is George's turn to take part in the exchange programme. Next August George will go across for his first trip to France without his family.

This is Florent's first time away from his family and first time in an English speaking country. I am quite sensitive to this and am trying to make things as easy as possible. He was very nervous but as we go along, I can see his confidence growing. The Man of the Place is almost fluent in French. George's French and mine need a lot of work.

Florent is a delightful boy and it seems that he and George have a lot in common; music, computer games, love of pizza. Here he is feeding the chickens, another first for him.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Swallow watch

The swallows are starting to clump up on the wires. I counted thirty four this morning on the wires outside our bedroom window. I love their happy chatter. The swallows will line up in bigger and bigger groups and then one morning we will notice that the swallows just aren't around anymore. It's always sad when the swallows go.

There are two nests full of swallow chicks that are yet to fledge. One in each roof peak here at Whitelees. The chicks are noisy and hungry. Judging by the activity of the busy swallow parents, the chicks will be fledging just in time to make the grand migration.

There were a couple of moths at the back door this morning. I don't know what they are because I can't find my stooopid field guide. They were pretty good though. There were two of these. This guy was above the back door. I didn't realize that there was a hint of green in the wings until I enlarged the photo.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Skunk Anniversary

The Man of the Place and I were both on camping holidays in August 1991 when we met at the Grand Canyon. He had just arrived at The Canyon and I had been there a couple of days. He just arrived that morning on the bus from Flagstaff and asked where he could find the office for camp sites. I just put my sister Kate on that same bus going back to Flagstaff where she lived and went to college. I was on the way back to the camp sites, I said that he should follow me and I'd show him the office.

To make a long story short, we hit it off right away. We kept bumping into each other that day.

The next evening I invited him over for dinner. He was backpacking and only had a bare minimum of supplies and I drove to Arizona. That meant that I had a camp stove, a big cooler for food, etc. That night after dinner we walked down to the edge of the Canyon. It was very romantic.

While we were sitting on a big rock admiring the canyon filled with moonlight, a skunk waddled in front of us. Henry had never seen a skunk before and was full of excitement and questions. I whispered that yes, it would spray us if it felt threatened and we should just sit still. The skunk ambled off without incident.

11 months later we were married.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Saturday Morning - August 19th

We are over run with beans!

The runner beans are hitting their stride and cranking out more beans than I can handle.

This monster was discovered in the vines this week. I took the photograph of the bean next to a tin whistle. The bean is longer!

This female sparrow is perching on the bean frame next to her young male son who is busy fluffing his feathers.

The sun was out for a moment this morning and the butterflies took advantage of the respite from the rain. The above is a Peacock butterfly, one of my favourites. Isn't it beautiful?

Having a buddleia is worth having in your garden. Its a hardy flowering shrub with open foliage. It is the late summer when buddleia come into their own. They attract their weight in butterflies! I can just sit by the east window of our place and watch them for ages.

In the greenhouse, the grapes are still forming. Because we are so far north and sunlight is at a premium, grapes don't ripen very well. When they do, the purple grapes in my greenhouse are nice to eat.

Through the glass in the greenhouse

Friday, August 18, 2006

Trashy Stuff I Like

Ok, so he finishes his sentences with prepositions and he has seriously dodgy mullet hair, but Dog the Bounty Hunter and his super platinum, buxom wife Beth are great! They are so brassy, up front and have no sense of irony about acrylic nails so long that they impede normal finger use and the arm bands on muscular, poly-tattooed arms.

Not only does Dog revel in his lifestyle with all its accompanying sound bites, good vs evil and bravado, the series has been instrumental in illustrating to not only my youngest son, but the neighbour kids how important it is to NEVER end sentences with a preposition.

Every time Dog or one of his "posse" asks, "Where does he live at?". The kids all turn to me (we make a thing of watching together) and smile, recognising the grammatical error. Victory! The "at" is not needed at the end of the sentence. I can't tell you how it makes me cringe when anybody puts "at" on the end of their sentence.

Somebody may argue that ending a sentence with a preposition is local dialect and perfectly okay in some areas and I will concede this point if it is proven by considered study but until then, to me they will just sound thick.

When I first saw a broadcasted Dog the Bounty Hunter programme, my jaw dropped. These people are from another world! Coarse language, macho male posturing and dressing like Van Halen roadies. After further viewing I could see that they were actually kind hearted people, trying to make a living in the scary world of bail bondsmen. The hardness they show protects them from people who are violent criminals and prey on the weak.

I have come to realize that Duane "Dog" Chapman is the ultimate alpha male. Have you ever seen him with his shirt off? Glory be!

His wife, Beth is absolutely his equal. She's just as tough and manages in that testosterone soaked environment on her own terms. She is almost a Marvel comic come to life.

History tells us that Dog was on the other side of the law years ago and he now uses that to identify with people that he has to track down. He and Beth are both deeply committed to each other and their children and that shows in the way they live their lives (it is also mentioned in every single episode). I can't wait for the wedding episode to be aired here in the UK - please don't tell me I've missed it.

Other trashy stuff I like:

Gossip magazines
Asti Spumante
costume jewellry
Lynyrd Skynyrd
acrylic nails
fake tan

I have tried to convince The Man of the Place that he should try adopting Dog's style in his job as a child care social worker. It would work! I could then have free reign to be a lot blonder, get my nails done every week and mince around in short denim skirts and kitten heels. I don't know if I could carry the look off though. I always wanted to be a rock chick, but I fear that ship has sailed.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Wood Warblers Visit

There is some flat leaved parsley and marjoram on the south side of Whitelees. (this is the view from the window) It has gone to seed in a spectacular way this August. If you go and inspect the seed heads, one can see that there are loads of little insects stuck to the seed heads. When the sun is out, the place is alive with bees and butterflies too.

As I was looking out the window this morning, sipping my tea and counting the blackbirds (6) a flutter of activity nearer the window caught my attention. A Wood Warbler! It is such a delicate and beautiful bird. I called The Man of the Place over to the window so he could see too, hoping that my calling him won't frighten the bird away. While we were admiring this little guy, it was joined by a second Wood Warbler! They were hopping around from parsley stem to parsley stem, cleaning the insects off the flower heads. SEE! My gardening slothfulness has been vindicated! If I had tidied up that herb bed like I should have ages ago, the warblers would have had to go elsewhere for an easy meal. As it stands now, I can now be found most mornings tea in hand, camera at the ready waiting for the return of the warblers.

The above photo is courtesy of the BBC website and not one of my own.
I also took a photo of a wren who showed up at the same time but as you can see, the photo was terribly blurred. I'll get the hang of this camera if it kills me! The grass behind the wren is in perfect focus.

It was such a gift to see these birds while having our breakfast.

Get Well Soon!

My poor dad is in the hospital. Let's hope his stay is a short one.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Having been inspired by Claude and Eric, I thought I'd show you a few shots from a trip to Paris.
Paris contains what I believe to be the best cemetery in the world. I don't know how I or my surviving loved ones would manage it, but I'd love to be buried there.If I can't have it for my final resting place, I at least want this crypt with the big bronze mourning women.t Isn't that a great family crypt? I don't think it would stand out too much in the a Scottish country graveyard. The Parisians have a sense of style that is hard to better, even in death.

If I can't have a plot in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, can I at least have these shoes? They were in the Armani window on Avenue Georges V. No price was listed. I figure that if you have to ask . . .

In addition to being a beautiful spot in Paris with exquisite crypts, statues and tombstones, the company in Pere Lachaise is peerless.

Jim Morrison - Didn't get that close as we didn't want to upset the visiting children of the 60's. I am told that now The Lizard King's grave is chained off and you can't get this close anymore. The families of people buried next to him were annoyed at all the disrespect and spill over vandalism.

Edith Piaf - still terribly missed.

Sartre and Beauvior

and my ultimate fantasy dinner guest, Oscar Wilde with all the kisses on his tomb

Friday, August 11, 2006

Ouch again!

My dear dog has broken her toe! I know it isn't all that serious, but it has got to hurt! Polly is going to have to stay in her crate all day long for at least two weeks. She can only get out to eat and the other thing that dogs do so well. While she is out for food and relief, she has to stay on the lead. This way she can't run around, preventing her toe from healing properly. This is really going to suck for such a bouncy good natured puppy. I hope this doesn't cause her to hate her crate.

We have no idea how this happened. She was tearing around the garden like a mad thing and then a few minutes later she was walking around the corner of the house on three legs, favouring her left hind leg so much she wouldn't let it touch the ground. Either somebody has stepped on her and hasn't confessed to me OR a big rock or other heavy object has fallen on her foot.

Thank God for pet insurance.

The Reason I Like Summer!

I mean, look at that. Pretty flowers. Vegetables. Warm weather. Its all here and it goes by too quickly. I can't believe it's the second week in August already. The cloudy sky is normal for us.

By the way, our French doors have arrived! Workmen are to arrive tomorrow to knock a hole in the walls - we have to get ready for the dust!

Now that the doors are in, I can see all the weeds in the front that I have been ignoring all summer. I was thinking that if you can't see them, they aren't there. Well, I can see them now. If it doesn't rain tomorrow . . . .

I was away this week. I was stuck in a hotel in the middle of England for work. I don't like being away from home. To be fair though, the company always puts us in very nice hotels with leisure facilities. It goes a long way to compensate us for being away from home.

As I was driving past Birmingham, I was going to stop by our favourite place and get a bunch of curry boxed up and bring it home. However, I took a wrong turn on the M6 motorway. I ended up on the M6 toll road and not the ordinary M6 that goes near the centre of Birmingham. The signs aren't very clear where the M6 splits and I made a mistake. Not really wanting to turn around, I just kept on driving north and home. I'll get double curry next time.