Saturday, September 30, 2006


No, this isn't a blog entry about all the Buzzards that circle Whitelees on fine days like today.

Today, The Iowa Hawkeyes football team go up against the Ohio Buckeyes. This is American football not to be confused with soccer (or as Joe puts it, metric football).

Ohio are a top ranked Big Ten football team, but Iowa are looking good this year. It will be a close fought game. Ohio shouldn't be overly confident about their ranking because they're going into an arena filled to capacity with well-fed and screaming Iowans. Kinnick Stadium is a mighty fortress and when the Hawkeyes are on their game, very few visiting teams walk away with a victory.

This football helmet was a gift to George from his eldest brother Ian who works for the company who makes professional football helmets.

I have a couple of friends who live near Kinnick Stadium. They can make a bit extra by allowing football fans to park on their property. D & R - I hope all the folks you have today pay double what they should and drink half of what they might.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Zones of Hardiness

When I was living in the US, zones of hardiness as set out by the United States Department of Agriculture or USDA were quite important when figuring out what would live or die in your garden. These zones were so important in the northern states where I'm originally from that other things like acidity levels in the soil weren't discussed much. I didn't realize until I moved to the UK that some plants just didn't like living on chalky soil.

I was too little when we lived in North Dakota to take notice of what was in people's gardens. In Minnesota, I watched as each autumn, our neighbour wrapped up her roses, then covered the wrapped plants in straw and finally put a big Styrofoam cone over the whole thing. Other people buried the roses in a shallow grave, unearthing them in the spring. I don't know if I would go to all that trouble, as much as I like roses. I watched my mom and dad plant lovely perennials in the back garden hoping that in the spring these plants will have made it through. Some did, some didn't. If the plant lived through a Minnesota winter then it had earned its place in the back yard. In Iowa, I just had a few pots of flowers and annuals. The deer ate the tulips, so I gave up on perennials.

Years later, after a move to the UK, I belonged to a UK gardening newsgroup. One of the things that really annoyed the UK gardeners were Americans coming in to the newsgroup and asking questions about hardiness zones. The US based gardening newsgroups were so busy and full that it was hard to get a question answered. Americans then turned to the smaller and knowlegable UK newsgroup. The UK gardeners were also annoyed when asked about how to deal with raccoons. Questions about racoons and zones usually resulted in the friendly gardening American being sent rude, flaming responses. It was a shame because the gardening newsgroup was a nice group. They just got tired of saying that racoons and hardiness zones weren't something they could talk about. Most UK gardeners have had no experience with a system that was set up by the US government.

Anyway, back to zones. The higher the number, the warmer the winter temperature. That's about it.

Please have a look at the official site.

In the US, the zones can be quite specific. Des Moines has a higher zone that the areas surrounding it. That makes sense as cities usually have a warmer micro-climate thing going on. Your local gardening centre in the US will always know exactly what the local zone will be.

You can see on this map of the UK that we only have a few zones to deal with. Here at Whitelees we are in Zone 8. If we were a few miles downhill towards the coast and we'd be in 7. However, as far north as we are (about 55 N) we don't enjoy the same light levels that somebody in Georgia or Texas has, even though we share the same zone of hardiness. We also get a whole heck of a lot more rain.

Winters are not that cold but the flip side is that summers aren't that hot. Not hot enough to grow things like corn and tomatoes without a little help. Folks in Texas don't have to grow tomatoes in a greenhouse to keep them warm. Imagine not being able to grow corn in Georgia! When thinking of growing something here in the UK, I don't really worry about hardiness. I worry more about the length of my growing season and the low light levels during the growing season. I think that this is one of the big reasons why the US system just isn't appropriate for us over here in the UK.

Having a short growing season is where greenhouses come into their own. A very large proportion of UK gardeners have one. I need mine to get things started in the spring. I germinate most of the vegetables in there before I transfer them to the outside on the first of June. I also use them to protect some things that have difficulty in the dark wet winters. My big pot of rosemary goes back into the greenhouse in the autumn. The fuchsias go in there too.

If the rain stays off today, I might be able to get out there and tidy up a few things. If the rain stays off until Saturday, I may even get the lawn mowed!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Travel Bug

I am REALLY ready to go on another trip.

We sometimes take a week away somewhere in October. I don't think we'll be able to swing it this year. We've got a lot of expenses coming up with the extension. It's almost finished.

In any case, we've got a voucher for three days diving in Egypt. That would be a day of diving for the three of us. . . . It has to be used before July of next year though.

I know when it is time to go on another trip. I start watching those programmes on the telly where people stop making that daily commute through soul destroying traffic, sell up and move to France to make cheese for a living or move to Italy and squeeze oil out of olives instead of working as a sales manager.

Grow tomatoes year round without the aid of a greenhouse . . . . (sigh)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sally and George

Thirteen years ago George was born. It also happened to be the same day that my sister Sally was having her birthday! So, happy birthday to two of my favourite blondes.

These photos were taken when we lived in Bismarck. I'm sure my mother will remember the address of the place we had in town before we moved out to the big place just out town. The desk behind us was later painted orange. I think that Katie has that desk now and has stripped the orange paint back off.
Whose birthday cake is this? Mine? Sally's ? Sally is on the left, I am on the right.

This is Easter Sunday in North Dakota. From our ages and the fact that Katie hasn't put in an appearance yet, it must be 1965. I am on the left and little blonde Sally is on the right. My mother is almost out of shot on the far left. Dressing up for Easter Sunday. We wore little white gloves to Mass quite a bit. I remember if a t-shirt wasn't worn underneath these dresses, the net that held out our skirts would itch terribly.

Sally and I are 14 months apart in age so I don't ever remember not having her as a sister. As far as sisters go, she's one of the good ones.

Sal on the left and me on the right.

Love you Sal!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Hedge trimming and apple butter

When I first moved to the UK about 14 years ago I knew that there would be things that would no longer be available to me. One of those things was apple butter.

Not being satisfied with this, I dug out all my American cook books and found a recipe for apple butter. You know what? I like my own homemade version better than any that I've ever tasted.

Recently I was given about a bushel of cooking apples. Half of them have already been turned into apple butter.

Later on in the week, I'll get the other half bushel peeled - peeler pictured above with the newly brewed apple butter - and cooked down. I'm out of cinnamon at the moment and will need to get some when I'm in town.

Yesterday saw the return of hedge trimming guy. He has promised to get to the other hedges before he leaves the area, but the front hedge has been trimmed. It looks better doesn't it?


After - So straight too!!

Note: This is how our hedges are usually trimmed. Tractor with attachment. The tractor guy can get it done a lot faster than we can.

Party Party Party!!

It is George's 13th birthday on Monday. As everybody has to go to school or work on Monday, we thought we'd bring the festivities forward a couple of days and celebrate George's birthday on Saturday.

You will notice that the birthday cake is decorated with lots of pink decorations. There is a reason for this. I make a chocolate layer cake for everybody's birthday. As everybody I make a cake for is a boy, the "boy" cake decorations get used up. As I was making George's cake, I noticed that all I had were really feminine birthday cake decorations e.g. pink fairy castles, flowers, stars and pink sugar paste bears. George then stated that he really didn't mind if I used up all the girly decorations on this year's birthday cake. So that's what I did. George had a lovely chocolate layer cake with loads of girly pink birthday decorations on it. He thought it was cool. You know what? All the friends that George invited over thought it was cool too.

George made a request to take some of his friends to Laser Quest in Carlisle. This is great! I love Laser Quest.

Here we are signing in for our game and choosing the names under which we will fight. I usually fight under the name of Xena. I came in 2nd. I rule! You wouldn't believe how much fun you can have shooting your own children with a laser. "Mom! Stop shooting me!"

We then made our way to The Golden Arches. Not the healthiest food on the planet, but it is cheap and I don't have to prepare anything. The mess stays there.

Back at Whitelees, the boys had a football (soccer) game in the front garden.
Johnny, Adam, Scott, George, Gordon, Laura and Sean.

George, Sean and Laura on the sofa this morning.

The nice thing about this weekend is that Sean, my middle boy has come home for a visit. We don't see him nearly as much as I'd like. University life in Glasgow, soon to be moving to Edinburgh keeps him very busy.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Things that were in the house this morning

A very dead computer screen. Turns out it was just the screen that had died. It has been replaced by the huge ass old screen from the former computer in the attic. (please notice the official Cubs baseball - sent in by my son Ian)

The computer screen is lying in state on the sofa in the back sitting room. It will be there all afternoon if people want to come by and pay their last respects to a handsome computer screen that has passed away much too soon.

When I got up this morning, first thing I do is let Polly out for a pee. Then I go into the bathroom to do the same myself. This is what I noticed upon turning on the light. I'm glad I didn't go stumbling in without turning on the lights as I sometimes do.

I transferred this little frog outside where things will be a bit better for him. How did it get in the bathroom?
While straightening up the kitchen and moving a dishtowel. THIS came falling out of the dish towel. This huge orange and black beetle! It is inside a teaspoon so that you can get the right sense of scale. It wasn't moving much so I didn't feel the need to be startled, just rather surprised. I've never seen this bug before. Does anybody know what it is?
Sorry the frog and beetle photos are a bit blurry. My bifocals aren't' ready yet. I'm getting the varifocal style without the tell tale "lines" in them.
Dishwasher and computer are both running again. Thanks Paddy!!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Rotten Luck

I've broken a tooth, the dishwasher is broken (faulty intake valve) and my work laptop was behaving badly. My dog chewed a seat belt in the back seat of the company car to bits. That repair has to be paid for by yours truly. Then the cat died and yesterday screen on the home computer went dark and won't display anything. Now it makes a soft clicking sound while remaining dark. To top it all off, I had an eye exam today and discovered that I need bifocals. (insert foul word here)

Now the work laptop is back from head office where they had a good look at my e-mail outbox and checked to see how many non-work websites I visited. The laptop seems to be okay again.

I now have a temporary patch on my tooth while I wait for my appointment at the dentist to come around.

My friend (and electrician) Patrick a/k/a Paddy will be here tomorrow at 9 to see about the dishwasher and the computer.

Polly can no longer be left in the car without a muzzle. I hate that, but I hate chewing damage more.

I don't smoke anymore, but some days I really miss it. I don't really drink that much anymore either. It is my hatred of hangovers that stopped that. Perhaps I just need some time off. I'd love to run away and walk the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. I'd get right with Jesus, and lose some weight.

Forgive the grumble. I get over this stuff pretty quickly.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Mid-September and all is well.

There was a small window of opportunity yesterday to get the grass in the back garden cut. It does look a whole lot better out there. Naturally the window has closed. It is raining again.

I've washed and put away the cat dish. Any reminder just makes George sad. He's slowly getting over it and has mentioned getting a new cat. Perhaps in the spring . . .

It has been hinted that we will have some fine weather on the weekend. If this is the case, the lawn in the front garden could really do with another cut. Now that the days are getting shorter up here in the north, the growth rate of the grass has slowed waaaay down.

If we do get some nice weather, I will try to get the vegetable plot cleared a bit. The area where the peas, cabbages and sweet peas grew can be dug over and covered. If I am truthful, the corn stalks can come out and I can lift that one potato plant that has carried over from last year or even from the year before. It's a pink fir apple potato. Oddly shaped and bumpy potatoes that are at their best cold in potato salads. Pink fir apple potatoes are "waxy" potatoes rather than the floury variety.

I also need to trim the spurs on the rooster's feet and give the chickens some fresh bedding. I like to make sure they have nice fresh bedding as the cold, wet weather rolls in. The hens were ever so slow with eggs this year. I really do miss Old Meany's eggs. Don't say anything to the chickens, but they could be getting replaced very soon with better laying stock.

Lots of stuff to do in the garden. I just need to get out there and get it done.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sad Day

Yesterday afternoon, our cat Flossie was struck by a car. The person driving the car was somebody we know. He stopped and asked if we had a dark coloured cat as he had just hit one with his car.

After a short hunt, we found Flossie hiding under one of our parked cars. At first glance we knew that her back had been broken. She was already in shock (breathing through her mouth). We needed to get her some quick help.

I have the vet's number on my mobile (cell) phone and I was dialing them as Henry and I got into the car with our wounded cat. The vet said that she would meet us at the surgery. Leaving George with a visiting friend, I drove and Henry held the cat.

When we got to the surgery, it was evident that there was nothing we could do for our cat except end her pain. That's what happened.
George is very upset as it was his cat. Flossie slept next to George most nights as George's loft bed is well out of the way of pesky dogs. The mice, birds and field voles can now rest easy in their beds.

This is the service being held under the cedar tree. Flossie rests there with her brother Jim and our other ex-cat Dora.
We are comforted to know that she had a good life. She was a fit and very healthy 10 year old cat until the very end. Good bye Flossie dear. You were a good pet.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Tynemouth Priory

While The Man of the Place and our little one were at the footie, I nipped up north of Newcastle to Tynemouth. I had to drop my diving regulator off at the dive shop and get some beeswax for Henry's dry suit zip. That took about 10 minutes and then I had some time to kill. I had been planning to walk Polly along the shore but it was too foggy.

This is the High Street in Tynemouth. You can see it was a foggy day. The dive shop is on the left side of the street, half way up. On the way to our walk to the sea we met Jake who was going our way. He was a very friendly fellow carrying his favourite toy. His owners would throw the toy down the embankment of the castle's earth fortifications and Jake would run after it and then bring it back up. Good way to exercise the dog without breaking a sweat!
Imagine that while you are walking up to this old Priory on a cliff overlooking the North Sea, the fog horn is going off at very regular intervals. It made it very atmospheric.

These are the earthworks in front of the Priory.

This is the beautiful Tynemouth Priory in the fog.

The North Sea from the cliff.

What the wind will do if it blows against a stone wall for hundreds of years.

With all this glorious fog and ancient ruins, I was compelled to pay the entrance fee and go in.

I knew there was a huge cemetery just on the other side and I knew it was going to look fabulous in this thick fog.

Time and wind have carried away most of the decoration, but left their own.

This must have been a beautiful part of the Priory.

Most of the large headstones are from the Victorian age. The wind has rendered some of the headstones illegible. I remember being here years ago and there were some tombstones with holes in them, I couldn't find those.

There were some that were from the1700's but they were difficult to photograph.

You can still make out some of the words on this tombstone. The names William and Joseph are still legible.

It is a beautiful place to spend all of eternity and a wonderful place to walk your dog on a foggy September Saturday afternoon.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Auntie Phyllis

Since Henry's mother passed away a few years ago, I have all but ceased going with them to Sunderland every other Saturday. I would visit Vicky, Henry's mum and they would go to the game. I'd pick them up after the game, and we'd drive home.

Today, there was a visit to be made before the game and I decided to go along.

Henry's Auntie Phyllis is 92 and is as bright as a button. She's slowed down a bit now. She gave up smoking only recently because she couldn't get to the shops anymore.

Phyllis was married to Henry's father's brother, Will. We've made arrangements to get over to see her again very soon. She's so much fun!

Sorry about the picture quality. Auntie Phyllis was sitting on the sofa with the big picture window behind it. I wasn't going to ask her to move, so we just have to deal with the photo being back lit.

Friday, September 15, 2006


It was so beautiful this afternoon, that I was compelled to go for a long walk with Polly, my faithful hound. She had a grand time, especially when we got to the forest, climbed over the stile and I could unhook her from her lead. This is the road as seen from our drive going north. If you walk up that road a bit to Charlie's place, this is the view of Whitelees. Whitelees is to the right and you can see the hills of the Lake District in the distance. It's beautiful in the winter when they're all snow capped. The English Lake District, home to Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth. Visit in the spring and you can wander lonely as a cloud as you go to view a host of golden daff-o-dils.

These are some of the mushrooms I saw on my walk. Its that time of year again. Most of the mushrooms were found under beech trees and had been nibbled. I'll post the names of them if and when I figure them out. I must have seen over a dozen different varieties.
When we got to the woods, the air was wonderful! It smelled like walking through a Christmas tree farm. Very piney. I could feel the roses being put on my cheeks.

The ponds up by the hunting hides.

As you know from my blog entry yesterday, it has been rainy. I really should have worn my wellies, but I didn't. This a photo of the mud -
There were other creatures walking in the same mud. . .




and Polly

I have been inspired by fellow bloggers to try adding in a bit of video footage. Here is my daft dog on our walk. I sure hope this works. . .