Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween

This is a pumpkin that George and I carved two years ago. We actually won the village pumpkin carving contest that year with this one!

Because we live way out in the country, we don't ever get that many children visiting on Halloween. Sometimes my friends will come out, dragging their children with them. I'll always make it worth while and load the country-stranded children down with way too much candy. The first year we lived here, I bought bags and bags of candy to pass out. I was certain that we'd get trick-or-treaters. Nobody showed up. As all my two older boys still lived at home, it was easy enough to divide the fun sized candy bars between them. George was just a baby so he didn't get any. Well, maybe one or two.
Now years later, we still don't get any children coming to the door and we are down to one kid still living at home. So, I buy smaller bags of my favourite, mini Bounty bars. I can nibble on those for days and days. If I keep them on a bottom shelf, in the back behind all the cans of beans and the seldom used kitchen appliances, I find that I won't eat them all at once. I'm not hiding them, really! Incidentally, out here in the UK, most of the costumes are horror costumes. You must be a ghost, zombie, witch etc . . . I initially followed US tradition of dress up as anything. It didn't take me long to figure out that most folks thought I was a bit odd. "What is scary about Bo Peep?"
Happy birthday to my brother-in-law! Jay, I don't know how you can continue to have birthdays like the rest of us mere mortals and still maintain your boyish good looks.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


George and I are here on our own this weekend while The Man of the Place goes off diving in Loch Long with his pals in the Carlisle Subaqua Scuba Club.
Late in the morning, I asked G if he wanted to come with me to do a little birdwatching at Caerlaverock Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust out along the Solway coast.

We left the house about noon and headed towards the direction of Dumfries.

After stopping off at the supermarket to get a picnic lunch we headed out toward the coast. It must be said that the coast here in Dumfries & Galloway doesn't look like coasts anywhere else. Its mud flats for as far as the eye can see when the tide is out. When the tide comes in, and it comes in very very quickly, all those mud flats are covered in shallow water. This is great for migrating birds, but not so great for a seaside picnic and sandcastle building. You can't walk on the mud flats because the mud can hide quicksand. If you want a seaside with a recognisable beach you have to travel further north or south. There are a few places where there is some sand along the Dumfries & Galloway coast, but they're pretty rare. Further north in Ayrshire there are some lovely beaches with sand and even some picturesque cliffs, but here at home, we've got mud flats.
We got to Caerlaverock just in time to watch them feed the swans. The staff at the wildfowl trust try to have it so that the same person feeds the swans each day so that the wild swans aren't alarmed more than they need to be by the appearance of somebody they don't recognise.
In jockeying for supremacy, the whooper swans bob their necks up and down, honk quite a bit and take nips at each other. There were a couple of Mute Swans there too, but the bulk were migrating whooper swans. The Whoopers that have just returned to these winter feeding grounds from Iceland still have very stained feathers. Their heads and the feathers below the water line are discoloured from the tannins and minerals in certain areas of Iceland where they spend the summer, raising their families.
Here is an entire family of Whooper Swans just arriving. Mum, Dad and five mostly grown cygnets. If the adult swans are sporting leg bands, the number will be read in due time and logged in. The number will then be looked up to see where the swan first received its leg band and any further information that might be held.
Here is the family of new arrivals making their way towards the food. I bet they're hungry after that long flight.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my son George who has taken most of the photos of the swans that I have posted today. He also took this photo of a Wigeon and the photo of the Roe deer. The young buck was on the other side of the swan pond and was completely unfazed by the noise and commotion of all the birds. The photo is fuzzy because the deer was pretty far away and I had to crop the picture quite heavily to get him to a decent size. George also is quite fun to take birdwatching now. He is older and understands that being quiet is very important. He also has the makings of a great nature photographer because he'll wait and wait for a bird to be in the right position for a good photograph. He was getting quite annoyed at the swans and ducks for dipping their heads in the water to get food or turning their backs to him when he was spending so much effort getting a shot in focus. After the swans, ducks and geese had been given their dinner, we walked down to one of the big bird watching stations. It has a sod roof! On the way we managed to get a couple of photos of the thousands upon thousands of Barnacle Geese that make The Solway their winter home.

It is a pretty good place to watch birds in comfort. Its not heated, but its out of the wind and rain.

Two birds I added to my life list today are the Shoveler (pictured above) and the European snipe (too far away to get a good picture).

George managed to get a couple of photos of me while we were out.

This one should be entitled, "What's that smell".

I normally don't like photos of me, but this one turned out okay. Thanks for a nice day out George.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Dork Alert

My mother has posted some photos across on her blog in response to me saying that I wished there was a photo of me and Sushi. Here we are in about 1977. It is 8th grade graduation for me and Sushi. The line up is Sushi, me and Sally in our front garden in NE Minneapolis. I wished that I had more grace back then. I see that I still have braces on my teeth but the unfortunate perm that burnt my hair I had earlier in the year has mercifully grown out and been cut off.
When I look at Sally in this photo, all I can think of is her middle child Sam. You can plainly see where he got his sense of silliness and fun!
We really were such good girls. There were episodes of high-spiritedness but mostly we tried so hard to do the right thing and be good.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Remember Me

I'm sure I'm not the only person who subscribes to things on the internet. You create a sign in name. A sign in name is similar to the name you will be fighting under in Laserquest or your wrestling name if you were a professional wrestler. Then you create a password. blah blah blah

I think there must be about a dozen passwords that I must remember floating around in cyberspace at any one time. Does it help to use the same password for more than one thing? It sure does! I'm sure that somebody will no doubt tell me that that isn't safe and I should have separate passwords for everything. Well so what! I have to balance computer safety with memorability and the small amount of space in my brain that can feasibly be dedicated to remembering passwords. Don't even talk to me about a P.I.N. - personal identity number that must be remembered if I want to use my bank card or credit card!

With websites that asks you to create a sign in name and a password, there is often a little box you can tick if you want the profile to be recognised the next time you log on. This will excuse you from having to sign in with your password. Naturally, if you're logging in from the computer at the local library, you don't want any old Tom, Dick and Harry getting into it so don't have this ticked when you're not at your home (safe) computer. The Washington Post remembers me when I log in as does the Chicago Tribune. E-bay remembers me too, this is good because I don't know if I remember what my password is for that one. The one website that I use most frequently at the moment is blogger-beta and it never remembers me. I always tick the "remember me" box but it never does remember me. It might have something to do with "settings" but I don't want to go messing with THOSE again. I just get left ticking the remember me box, knowing full well that the next time I have to sign in, I'll have to type in my user name and password again. It's like I'm not worth remembering.


Here is somebody who has remembered who I am for well over 30 years. My old friend Sushumna or Sushi for short. She's a childhood friend from the time that me and my family spent in NE Minneapolis. We attended the same school, Holy Cross and were in the same class. She has just posted these photos to me. I was so pleased to get them! Sushi still lives in Minneapolis, not too far from where we lived when we were children. From these pictures I can see that she hasn't changed a bit! She is still stunningly beautiful and just as kind as she is pretty.

We have known each other since the age of about 12. I always thought that she was much more exotic than the rest of my Minnesota playmates. For one, she had this beautiful brown hair and skin. Her name was unusual and most exotic of all, she was a vegetarian! Her father had founded the Meditation Centre on University Avenue. All my other friends' fathers did things like work in factories, or were mailmen, plumbers and policemen. They weren't nearly so interesting as to deliver lectures on yoga and meditation. I wonder if there are any photos floating around of the two of us way back then . . .

We lost touch for years and years. In the time that we were out of contact, I got married again and moved overseas. Odd that I should be the one of us to be the far flung one.

It was due to hanging out with Sushi and her family that started my love for Bollywood movies. I tagged along with Sushi and her family when they went to showings of these movies at the University of Minnesota. I even wore a sari to one of the movies once. I remember not having that much confidence that it would stay up. There was lots of folding and tucking in involved. The sari did stay up but I remember feeling not so overly confident about it.

I found Sushi through the Internet. Her brother is a blogger and I stumbled upon his blog in a late night search. He was kind enough to pass my e-mail address on to her and now we're in contact again. It is comforting to have contact with her again.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Arran in October

Covering my territory completely involves a trip across to the Island of Arran on the west coast of Scotland a couple times a year. I'll only go when I have an appointment with all the health centres on the island. It isn't worth the price of the ferry crossing unless I have a full dance card.

I go to the island twice a year. I either have to go the night before OR have a very early start depending on the ferry times. Today, I started early.

Very early.

I caught the 7 am ferry. When the ferry was loading, it was still dark. That's Scotland in the winter for you.

Once I was on the ferry, I walked up to one of the passenger decks and went to sleep for an hour. I hope I didn't snore or drool.

Going across to Shiskine in the middle of the island, you drive up and over a hill, along a road that has this view of a beautiful glaciated valley. There were two buzzards and another small bird of prey, probably a kestrel on the way down. When I stopped along the roadside to take this photo there was a waterfall on the other side of the road. All I could hear was the sound of rushing water. Beautiful!Once I've seen the doctor in Shiskine, it's back up and over the hill towards the town of Brodick. This is the view of Brodick Bay. Basking sharks are sometimes seen in this bay in the summer.

Between the first and second appointments, I've got two hours to kill. I drove across to the far end of Brodick bay where the seals hang out. The seals in Scotland have their pups in the autumn and I was hoping to get a glimpse of some fluffy baby seals. Sadly, there was only one seal there this time. A lone young male. Perhaps the seals have gone off to a more private place while they have their babies. There were some birds though.

This is the curlew. He didn't seem to be bothered by me in the least. I sat in the car with the passenger window down and got these fuzzy photos.

This is a redshank. Look how red his legs are! This camera can be very annoying. I get everything all focused but when I press the shutter, the photo comes out blurred! Grrr!! I would really love a digiscope so that I could take better bird photos.

After my third appointment, giving the doctors of this fair island a sample of my dazzling promotional skills, I went off to buy island stuff.

My first stop was Arran Aromatics. The soap factory on the island. (no photo available - I forgot) I got stocked up on some really nice bubble bath and hand lotion.

Then I had a cheese experience. I watched through a window as islanders dip cheeses into melted black wax.

I skipped the brewery and the distillery this time around (wasn't thirsty).

I did however, get to The Arran Chocolate Factory.

As with all other factories on this island, there is a viewing window.

I don't know what sort of loveliness she was putting together, but she was very nice about me taking her photo.

I bought a couple of these chocolates for myself, a box of assorted goodies for The Man of the Place and a chocolate frog for George.

Leaving the store, I noticed that the 2pm ferry was fast approaching.

I was booked to go back on the 4 pm ferry, but I thought I'd try to get on the earlier one instead.

They let me on. That meant that I got home at 5:30, two hours earlier than planned.


Thanks to the Caledonian & MacBrayne Ferries who always get me to and from this island with no hassle. The ride is always smooth and the guys who work on the ferry are nice and will smile and wave at you if you make eye contact with them as you're driving off the boat.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

This is Spinal Tap

Last night, just as the sun was setting, a low fog formed covering the ground.

I thought it looked like a fog machine had gone berzerk at a rock concert. I wonder how much dry ice they'd need to fog up an entire farm.
It was funny because toward nightfall, the sheep were obscured by the fog, but the backs of the cows were still visible.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Thanks Apple Eaters!

I'd like to thank all the apple eaters who throw their cores out of their car windows.

There are loads of self-set apple trees all along the highways. In the spring, I get to enjoy the trees in flower. This time of year they are loaded with apples. I imagine that the wildlife will thank you too.
I think we should all throw apple cores out our car windows as often as possible. The world never has enough apple trees.
There are a whole bunch of apple trees, with green and red apples near the Ecclefechan exit (north bound) on the M74. I hope somebody can go and get all those apples safely. They look beautiful.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Away for the weekend

A change is as good as a rest. The Man of the Place and I along with our youngest boy went down south for the weekend. After dropping Polly off at the kennels first thing on Saturday morning, we motored down to Preston for the Sunderland v Preston football game. Our lads didn't do so well and Preston won 4-1. It put a damper on the rest of the afternoon as we drove further south to Birmingham.

Once in Birmingham, the mood lightened a bit as we drove to our favourite curry house, Saleem's. You may remember me writing about Saleems before. After a late dinner we retired to the cozy beds of the Premier Travel Inn in Sutton Coldfield. It's not an expensive chain of hotels, but they do have the most comfortable beds of any hotel chain I've been in.

Waking up in the morning, we had our breakfast and headed towards Birmingham again and the National Exhibition Centre or N.E.C. . The Dive Show was this weekend and we wanted to see what it was all about.

The Dive Show is the conference for the diving industry in the UK. Being held at the N.E.C. over two days it attracts divers from all over the world as well as the UK. There were manufacturers of diving gear and equipment, retailers, tourist boards, travel agents, boat manufacturers, publishers and training agencies.

We saw so many wonderful new toys. The new compressors looked so shiny, but even though this house holds three divers, it doesn't justify the expense of our own compressor. There was a stall selling new tanks. Tanks of every size and for any sort of diving gas were available. You could buy your new tanks and then leave them there, picking them up as you left to go home. We're all okay for diving equipment. My regulators are off being serviced due to a little bit of air escaping and really, Henry's BCD could do with being replaced, but all in all, we have all the gear necessary to dive.

Most of the travel agency booths had competitions where, if we filled out a card, we were put into a draw for a diving holiday. If we filled out one of those, we filled out twenty. We also filled out cards to go into draws for dive computers and courses to learn to be a rescue diver. Our name, however wasn't drawn in any of the competitions. Maybe next year, huh?

By the time we were getting ready to go, we were absolutely laden with brochures to dive tropical islands on both hemispheres. The consensus was that there wasn't a place we didn't want to dive. The glaring exception is perhaps Belfast harbour and possibly Norway. George is quite keen to dive in Norway, but his parents don't want to go.

We attended a lecture in one of the syndicate rooms during the conference. It was on diving in Norway. Going to this lecture accomplished a couple of things; 1. I got to sit in a darkened room for a little while and 2. George got to find out about diving in Norway. Before I nodded off I did find the slide show very interesting. I almost forgot that those gin clear waters in the fjords were less than 10 degrees Centigrade. There is an explosion of wildlife in the water up there, the visibility is good if you don't dive in July and August and it's not crowded. The down side is that it is way too close to the arctic circle for my liking.

The gals in the Jamaica Tourist Board stand were so friendly. They gave George a nice little travel pouch with his brochures. I liked hanging around the Caribbean Island areas. They had some steel drums and made me feel like I was in the Bahamas for a second or two.

Our fingers were quite sore too from holding all the plastic bags full of magazines, brochures, fridge magnets and pens that were thrust upon us. We walked SO much on Sunday, I even got a blister on the top of my toe! I've never had a blister there before. One of my socks had wrinkle in it and that's where my foot blistered.

We did get a couple of heavy duty hangers for diving equipment. Chunky plastic ones that won't corrode on contact with salt water. Henry also got some new dive gloves but that's it for purchases.

There are no photos available from this weekend. I forgot my camera. I guess I had a vacation from my blog too.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


I've just come back from a small conference in the seaside resort town of Blackpool. I was so excited a few weeks ago when I was told that this was going to be our destination! Even though it isn't very far from us, I've never been. I've heard countless stories about Blackpool from my husband and his family, neighbours and friends but this was going to be my first visit.

Blackpool is famous in the UK as a destination for traditional British seaside holidays. Historically it was where the Lancashire mill workers and miners from the North East went on their holidays. Families and couples would join holiday clubs, paying subscriptions or save weekly for their annual seaside holiday. These people couldn't afford cars and would come by bus and train. Indeed, The Man of The Place has had numerous holidays with his mum and dad. His parents as well as his grandparents went on holidays to Blackpool.
This is an old photo of Henry's mother, taken during a wartime holiday to Blackpool. We have a picture of her mother, Henry's grandmother in the same wacky scene but I couldn't find it. During my brief stay, I looked for this "Bongo" board or anything similar so I could report back but I didn't see anything.

Here is another war time photo. Henry's uncle Harry is second on the left (dark hair and glasses) and Henry's mother, Victoria on the far right. You can see that the weather is pretty foul in this photo but The Tower is still visible in the background.
Because of there are still grand ballrooms here in beautiful condition, international ballroom dancing competitions are held here.
This is the Grand Ballroom at the bottom of Blackpool Tower. There is another one like this at The Winter Gardens.

Blackpool is the annual destination for political party conferences. With all the hotels there, its one of the few places in Britain that can accommodate such an event.
The place is falling on hard times and struggles to compete for business with the foreign bargains that are available to holiday makers. Indeed it costs the same to fly to a Greek island as a week in Blackpool with a greater chance of warm weather. Its a shame that this is happening as this town has a unique culture. Stag nights and hen parties still choose Blackpool as a destination. In fact, a few of the guesthouses I passed when I first arrived had these notices in the window: I think that the groups of women and men on a celebration weekend can get too raucous for ordinary folk. I imagine that they would disturb other guests and possibly damage things while being high spirited.

Improvements are being made all the time. I think the days when grumpy boarding house owners turf the guests out at 9 am forbidding them reentry until 4, have gone. Gone also are the polyester sheets that were included in the stories of my husband's holidays.

The Blackpool Illuminations are still going strong. The Promenade is lit up like Las Vegas every evening . I got to see the Promenade at night when it was all lit up. I also got to ride on one of the trams. This was very fun.
There were lots of things I missed during this brief stay. I missed going to The Pleasure Beach where all the rides are. I didn't get to a fish and chip shop. I didn't buy any Blackpool rock (candy) or visit an arcade. I didn't get to go dancing in one of the grand ballrooms and I didn't get on to any of the three piers. It is a little seedy and rough around the edges, but it is still a place that can be enjoyed by the whole family. I'm going to have to go back.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Glasgow Bloggers Meeting

You may or may not have noticed my little Scottish Blog badge here on my blog. I joined Scottish Blogs almost immediately after I started my first blog. There was a Bloggers Meeting scheduled for Saturday and I went along.
I drove up and despite heavy game day traffic, managed to get parked up by 1:30. The multi-level car park where I had stored my little Civic closes at 6:00. I figured I had plenty of time to meet these people and be back to release my car before the gates locked for the night. After a lovely walk in the sunshine, through the bustling streets of Glasgow, I came to the venue for the meeting. Translated that means that the streets were heaving with drunken Glaswegians as Scotland were playing against France in Glasgow in football (soccer).

When I arrived at the hotel, I started to lose my confidence. I didn't know anybody. After telling myself that if I was to lose my confidence I should have done it 95 miles ago, I went in.

After a little stumbling around, trying to locate somebody, anybody who might look like a blogger (?) I found the small group of Scottish Bloggers.

These guys turned out to really great! I had such a nice time that at 5:00 when I had originally planned to excuse myself, I merely went to move my car so I could stay longer.
This is Chameleon (who is utterly charming) and one of the Richards (who does actually sound a bit Somerset after a few pints) drooling over a really beautiful camera. There were a couple of bloggers with excellent cameras. With motors and flashes, it looked like we were a pack of paparazzi waiting for the Beckhams to walk through the lobby.

I have a whole new set of blogs to add to my list of blogs to patrol. I'll put them up in due time.

Chameleon taking a photo of what can only be described as a very poor game of billiards.

In the meantime. Thanks to Gordon for organizing things. He and everyone else made me feel very welcome. They also answered some beginner type questions and gave me a bit of insight to ads on blogs.

If you didn't know, Scotland beat France 1-0! BTW, I heartily approve of wearing kilts with Timberland boots.

Barnacle Geese

We live about ten miles, as the crow flies from the Solway Firth. The Solway Firth in SW Scotland is a very important overwintering site for waterfowl. I mention this because quite often in the last few days when going out to do something, I have heard the honk of the Barnacle Goose as the birds migrate right over Whitelees. I'll hear their calls long before I see a big "V" of migrating geese. The flock sizes seem to be around thirty birds, give or take ten birds. The honk of a Barnacle Goose is similar to that of the Canada Goose but "squeakier".
The geese seemed to be flying higher in the past couple of days, like they are in a big hurry. I can always hear them long before I spot the flock. Judging by the foul wind and rain outside at the moment, I can understand why they've been flying high and fast.
When the weather is like this, I always wonder why the overwintering geese and swans aren't found in the fields around here. We're a bit more sheltered here than down by the sea.
I've put this photo of George walking home back in to point out the trees. See how they're bent from the prevailing winds from the Irish Sea? The more exposed a tree is to these ferocious winds, the more bent they are. Near the Solway, every tree is sculpted and stunted by the winter winds.
The Barnacle Goose flocks are amassing down along the shore now in mega-flocks of thousands upon thousands of birds. A large portion of the Solway has been designated as a refuge for the overwintering norther waterfowl by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Caerlaverock. As well as the Barnacle Goose there are swans coming back with the cygnets that they've produced earlier. You can always tell which swans have come down from Iceland. Aside from the leg rings, their feathers that have been below the waterline all summer as well as their heads have been stained from the tannins in the water.