Friday, March 31, 2006

Beautiful Scotland

I had a very long day. I've not been in the house long. While I am waiting for dinner to be ready, I thought I'd get this stuff onto the blog.

I was out very early this morning. Driving 100 miles to Ardrossan and the ferry terminal to catch the crossing to Brodick on Arran.

These are the photos of the ferry coming in.

Then, being bored I took a photo of my faithful canine companion. She is looking very alert and interested in what is going on. Polly is a terrific car dog. She spends most of the time asleep. You can see her fancy dog harness. I use this to clip her to the seatbelt. Safety first!

When we got to the island, the clouds parted and the sun came out. There were still a few picturesque wisps of cloud on Goatfell. I think the island tourist board commission somebody to keep a wisp or two on the top for visitors' photos.

For me however it was nose to the grindstone. Off to Shiskine to see the Doctors Grassie on their last day of practicing medicine on the island. This husband and wife pair of GPs have now retired. A delightful couple that have managed a nice practice at the centre of this island for many many years. It will be a shame not to see them anymore. I hope that the new husband and wife pair, the Hamils and their little girls that are filling the Grassie shoes find the same contentment there.

This is the view coming back from Shiskine. Looking down onto Brodick Bay. Basking sharks can be seen in this bay on still warm summer days.

After my other appointments it was well past lunch time. After giving Polly a nice walk, a pee and a sniff at a gull carcase, I went off to buy an overpriced pre-packaged sandwich and some pop. I drove on over to a point at the end of Brodick Bay where the seals hang out. It can be a bit of a hit or miss thing with the seals. Naturally when I was there with my family, there wasn't a seal to be found. Today however with just a sleeping dog for company, I had much better luck. There were up to 13 seals at their hangout today. I took some photos, but I could never get all of them in at one time.
You can see it turned out to be a beautiful afternoon.

On the way over to this point where I view the seals, I had to brake for two partridges then again for another red squirrel. While I was watching the seals and listening to them bark to each other, there was a little nuthatch hopping up and down the trunk of a tree (the same tree that owns the branch in the above photo). The seals were doing that thing where they leap in and out of the water that I have only ever seen dolphins do before. It was very nice to eat my late lunch and watch all of this.

Arran is a wonderful place. They make so many fine things on the island. They raise their own beef there, make cheese, brew beer and distil whiskey. There is also a chocolatier and Arran Aromatics, makers of really really nice soaps, bath oils etc. I picked up a few souvenirs to take back to the mainland. Let's overlook for the moment that our mainland is just a larger island.

This is the last picture I took today. Compare it with the one up near the top of this posting with the wisps of cloud. Isn't Arran is a beautiful island?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Bad mood

What, I ask is the point of it being spring if I'm too busy to enjoy it properly? Things are budding, the earth is coming back to life and I've got my nose to the grindstone. Winter is over, it has lost its teeth. This week that is wizzing by has been very wet but mild. I only notice the weather when I am feeding the chickens, walking the dog and running from building to car and then from car to building over and over again until it is Friday evening once again.

The summer vacation seems too far away and I've got too much stuff to do between now and then.

I am grateful however for the nature around the house. As I am dashing about being very busy and doing all these important things that demand my attention, I get distracted by a cloud of starlings in the field. There are so many of them sometimes that it sounds like roaring rapids. And earlier this week, we had that terrific squirrel.

I'd really rather sit at home tomorrow with mug after mug of tea and biscuits (cookies) and look out the window with my binoculars at the ready. Then if it isn't raining, I could take the bouncy puppy for a long walk.

Tomorrow its an early start. 4am! I've got to drive to Ardrossan and catch the ferry to Arran. Its a beautiful little island. There are seals that sit on the rocks near Brodick Bay. Last year there was a little seal pup amongst the big ones. There are eider ducks floating in the water too. I love their funny heads. I do like going to Arran. I just don't like the early start and the long day that I know it is going to be.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Red Squirrel!!

Coming home from work today, I had the best surprise. I looked out the front window and there was something big at the bird table, the new bird table that I got yesterday for Mothers' Day. I wasn't sure what it was, so I went to another room where the binoculars live to have a better look. It was a red squirrel! He is eating the fat ball as I type this!!

The bird table now stays where it is. I was going to move it closer to the house, but I'll not now.

Red squirrels are becoming a rare sight in this country. The North American grey squirrel is displacing them. As a native North American, I'd like to take this opportunity to say I'm terribly sorry about all of this. The grey squirrels are bolder, more vigorous and are taking the food and breeding spots away from the smaller native British red. The greys also carry a disease that infects the more delicate red squirrels. There are pockets where populations of red squirrels are still holding out. One of these rare hold out places is right here at Whitelees!

Guess who will always put peanuts and fat balls out on her bird table from now on? Answer: me

Watch Out For That Toad!

Sunday was Mothers' Day here in the UK. I had a lovely day thanks to my family. I got a couple of very nice Mothers' Day cards from my boys. George, the youngest got me some flowers (I love flowers) and a new bird table (bird feeder)! I was very happy with those things.

On Sunday evening, we tucked into some take away Thai food from an exquisite Thai restaurant not too terribly far away (only about 14 miles). Coming home with the food at about 8pm I was horrified at the number of toads in the road. Last night when I was making the trip into town to return some movies, again there were many toads in the road. I would hate to run over them but I'm sure I must have hit a couple. There are SO many. As they are just coming out of hibernation, they must be going onto the road for the little bit of residual heat.

I do try to miss them, but sometimes, you don't see them until it's too late. Then of course, if there is oncoming traffic, one doesn't like to swerve into the path of an approaching car just to save a toad. What I would really like is for the The Man of the Place to drive so that each time we see a toad in the road at night, the car can be stopped so that I can run out and rescue the toads from an untimely squish.

We did just that on our long walk on Sunday afternoon. There is bit of forest just up the road from us. In the middle of the trees, a gamekeeper has a nice sized pond, some rearing pens for pheasants and other gamekeeping things. Its a great place to take the dog for a walk. Its all fenced in and there will be nobody else there and we can unclip Polly from her lead for a bit.

The track going up to the pond and the pens is really rutted. The soil up there is full of clay. That means that this time of year, its so slippery and if you go through it, the tyres will make huge ruts in the road. These ruts will fill up with water, making big long puddles that are not draining very well. We wasted a lot of time on our walk cutting little channels with our wellies so that the puddles could drain.

Do you remember when you were small and you could waste a whole day making dams and them breaking them to watch the water rush out? This was very similar only the dams had already been made and filled, we just needed to do the dambuster part.

Again, there were toads in some of the puddles. I found most of them because I was walking in front. I was worried that if they didn't move and the gamekeeper came back with his big 4x4, they'd be mush. So, I picked them up to move them.

After I had picked up the first one, I realized that it was so cold the little thing could barely move. It must suck to be cold blooded in Scotland. I decided to keep it in my hand until we made it up to the big pond and warm the little thing up a bit.

We were half way up to the pond and I handed the first two toads over to Henry. This was good because it freed my hands to get the next two. By the time I got to the pond I had three new toads warming in my rapidly cooling hands. I discovered that if I held my hands up near my ears, you could hear them making tiny little clicking sounds. Then one of them started croaking. We all heard that!

I let them go at the edge of the pond. Two of the three toads had decided they liked the look of each other and were paired up. Not only was the track up to the pond and pens clear of toads for a while, we were instrumental in a pair of toads finding each other. I guess if we can ever help in any way . . .

Polly was covered in bits of wet clay and sand and soaked through when we returned. She went straight into the tub for a dog bath. I don't think she minds those now. We certainly don't mind them. Her coat is so soft after a bath and she smells a lot less doggy.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A Great Postman Retires (plus some toad love)

Sandy Paterson has been our postman for as long as we've lived at Whitelees. (no photo available) He has certainly been a postman for a lot longer than 11+ years. Today was his last round. He is retiring.

There was a retirement party for him at the Bankshill Village hall on Tuesday. Sandy was born in Bankshill and he really hasn't travelled very far. The hall had been filled with his family and work colleagues. What made the small hall burst at the seams were all the people, old and young from his postal round.

The Man of the Place has made up CDs for him in the past. Sandy is a fan of Scottish Dance bands. Jimmy Shand and the like. I must admit, I'm a big fan of The Bluebell Polka. When the postal service upgraded the post vans a couple of years ago, the sound systems went from cassette tape to CD. Sandy's carefully selected collection of car tapes were no longer of any use to him during the day. Henry (that's my husband's name) transfered them to CD for him, accepting no payment for the service.

Sandy was all that postmen should be. He knew all the people on his rural route and we knew and loved him. He was the kind of postman that had sweeties in his pocket for all the small children on the route. If the tot was napping when the post was delivered, then he would leave the candy on top of the letters. He used to be the supplier of Christmas raffle tickets for some noble group of philanthropists in Lockerbie. We bought a book of them every year and every year we failed to win. Any new postman will have some rather large and beloved shoes to fill. We hope that the next postman will be as good natured, child friendly and dog neutral as Sandy was.


While I was waiting for this important post to arrive (sadly I missed him), I decided to haul the last of the firewood around from the front of the house to a spot more convenient. Having a bit of a clear up after the winds from yesterday, I disturbed two toads at the back of the house. They were doing what toads do best at this time of year.
I was worried that Polly, our new puppy would find these two a quick meal or at the least something to torment. I decided that because they were pretty far away from any water it was best to move them to the pond. I scooped the pair up and walked around to the front garden and over to the pond. I know I should have wet my hands first, but I thought that the safety of the toads was much more important and immediate.
Here is a photo of the two of them safe at the water's edge.

This time of year, the pond gets very full of toad spawn. In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking that the pond gets so full of the stuff it seems as though you could almost walk across the top of the pond. It is so full of toad spawn that you run no risk of getting your feet wet. I'll keep you updated on the progress of our toads-to-be.

Friday, March 24, 2006

It's Raining - plus new bird spotted

The weather report said that we were going to get some nice warm weather up from the south. What we have is rain. Cold rain. The house is cold. It gets especially cold in the mornings as the fire in the range has gone low and on occasion, out. I fire up the range as soon as I am up. I'm an early riser. By the time the rest of the family is stirring, the house has lost the bulk of its chill. I couldn't feel the toes in my right foot until I'd been in the car with the heater on "blast" and I had driven about 20 miles.

I was in some shops this morning. I'm looking for some replacement cologne for The Man of the Place. His has run out. I got him Fendi for men a few years ago on a trip to Rome. It's great stuff. I like it and he likes it. We had seen a few stray bottles in a well known discount chain nearby. Alas they don't have it any longer.

I wandered down to the next shop along which is a pet place. I got some bird food for the wild birds here at Whitelees. Some dee-lux fat balls with added insects for the birds that like that sort of stuff. I'll let you know if the birds like it better than the ordinary suet with peanuts. It could be a marketing ploy for middle class bird watchers to be parted with more of their income.

Did I tell you that I have finally SEEN a woodpecker. I've been hearing them drum away for weeks and yesterday morning, I finally saw one while walking the dog before work. It was a Great Spotted Woodpecker. It was in the beech trees along the road. It then flew off to drum away at the electricity pole in the field. (not a bright bird) My pal Helen has seen one at her bird feeders for months now. Naturally, it never comes around when I am visiting. Happiness and relief is what I am feeling. I can now add this woodpecker onto my list. Everyone else had seen one except me. Getting a dog was a good idea. I've lost almost 8 pounds in weight in less than a month and I'm seeing more wildlife.

I stopped at the supermarket on the way back and now have no reason to leave Whitelees until Monday. That feels great! I'll go out later and wire up the new food and feeder to the cable in the back garden so we can see it from the bedroom window but not this minute. I really must get a new bird table. The old one broke a while back and I just haven't gotten around . . . . .

The rain is being blown sideways. I'd much rather sit here at the computer and be warmed by the fire that I've just lit in the back room here. The wind outside, the fire's gentle crackle and the dog's snore is all the noise that there needs to be.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sorry Dr Ken Scott!

I have changed it from Scotland, United Kingdom to Scotland, (not specified). Europe wasn't an option. Those Unionists (spit on floor) must be getting everywhere. Again, I am most humbly sorry. I hope that in the fullness of time, you will see your way clear to forgiving me.

Haircut Haircut

Guys really have it so much easier when it comes to getting a haircut. For the most part, fashion dictates that men have short hair. Men go to the barber shop, sit on the bench and wait their turn. When the time has come and it is your turn, you sit in the big swivelly chair for what seems like five minutes and you're done! At least that's how it is in Annan. Haircuts don't cost that much either. I think I pay about £7 for George's regular "short back and sides". I don't think guys worry that they can't budget for a haircut this month.

I don't envy men the hair loss thing. It must suck. I'm quite vain about my hair and I would be destroyed if it started to fall out. Pals of mine who are men and used to have long hair now have short hair because long hair that is rapidly thinning was making them sad. Our friend John used to have a head full of red dreadlocks. In photos of him in his youth, he looked like the Wild Man of Borneo. As he grew older and his hair started thinning, he said that from time to time he would wake up in the morning to find a ginger dreadlock on the pillow. He just cut it all off and has worn it short ever since.

The unwritten rule that has men having short hair and women having longer hair has an addendum to it. Women of "a certain age" have to stop having long hair. Think about it! How many women over the age of 35 do you know that have long hair? Answer: Not many

I am well over the age of 35 now and still have long hair. I like having long hair. There are no grey hairs in there (thanks Mom and Dad) and its still pretty thick. I still have to have it cut from time to time. Having long hair is one thing. Having long hair that looks uncared for is quite another.

I found a great hairdresser in Dumfries a few years ago. I told him that I didn't want to go the route of all women my age and have short hair. It was up to him to make it look good. Bless his heart, that's just what he did. I would leave the place feeling like a movie star. One good haircut can be just as good as about six months or more of therapy. Then the time to get an appointment grew longer and longer so he started hiking his prices up. The first two price hikes, I could still justify the expense. But the third price hike ended it for me. I wasn't going to wait six weeks in advance for an appointment and then have to pay through the nose for it. Don't even mention the price of getting my hair coloured! I'll only get the colour tweaked if I'm bored because as previously mentioned there are no greys. I'm not in the entertainment business and I don't live in London. This is Dumfries for heaven's sake! Who pays £48 for a cut and blowdry in Dumfries! It might be more than that now as I have stopped going to him. I've stayed with his salon though. I have a fear of a new salon destroying my hair.

With the Man of the Place boasting about how little he pays for his haircuts, and with all the expense we face with the extension I just couldn't justify the cost anymore. I had to start going to my hairdresser's understudies and employees instead. I was told that the haircuts would be just as good. Overall, I like the salon. You get service. They take your coat, ask you if you'd like a cup of tea or a soft drink or mineral water and you get to look at magazines. I love magazines. However the haircuts are not quite as good as when I went to the original guy. I guess you get what you pay for. They're not so disappointing that I'll switch salons. I've got an appointment with them this afternoon.

I know when I need a haircut because my hair hangs in my eyes and I have loads of split ends. Its not rocket science, it's time to go. Naturally on the morning of the day I have an appointment, my hair is looking great!. It's not hanging in my eyes that badly and the ends look fine. In fact it looks quite luxuriant. I am tempted to cancel the appointment on the back of how great my hair looks this morning. However, I know that by tonight it will be lank, hanging in my eyes once again and driving me nuts. I sure hope they can recapture some of that sparkle that I used to get after a truly great haircut.

16:30 - Just home from work and I have had my haircut. It's pretty good actually. I feel relief. Do you think anyone will notice????

Monday, March 20, 2006

Nostalgia in the nose!

Its amazing how ones sense of smell and taste are so closely linked to ones memory. A few years ago, The Man of the Place and I took our youngest boy, George to Bordeaux on our family holiday. We had a great time zipping around a very nice part of France and collecting some magnificent wines to take back with us.

While we were there for the two weeks, we stayed in a mobile home/carvan that was located on a site dedicated to families on vacation. It was clean, near to everything we were hoping to see and just isolated enough that we didn't feel hemmed in. We discovered that a bakery nearby made THE best pain de campagne and we made daily trips to this boulangerie to get some. We noticed this place because there was a queue of French people waiting for bread. You know if they're willing to stand in line, it's gotta be good! During this holiday, we had this new soap that we used when showering. It was a fancy bar of green tea soap. It had a wonderful light fresh almost lemony fragrance and it was so nice to use after a day of being at the beach and we were feeling salty, sandy and overdone by the sun and wind. Months later, when we adults were back at the daily grind and George was at school, I unearthed a bottle of green tea bubble bath, made by the same manufacturers of the soap. I had George close his eyes and take a sniff. While his eyes were closed, I asked him, "What does that remind you of?" He immediately said "France!" The same thing sprang to my mind too. As soon as I took a whiff, I was transported to a caravan in Bordeaux, tucked away under pine trees.

Earlier this winter, I had gone to a garden centre to get some bird seed or fish food (this garden centre sells tropical fish too). As I was walking in to the main building, I noticed some small plants in pots near the door. They were low, alpine type plants with shiney green leaves and bright red berries. I made a double take. It was wintergreen, I was sure of it! I pinched a berry off one of the plants just to make certain. As I crushed it the very familiar wintergreen scent hit my nose. As I ate the berry, I wasn't a grown woman anymore. I was a kid on a camping holiday with my family on Madeline Island.

Madeline Island is one of the Wisconsin Apostle Islands in Lake Superior. We used to go there on camping holidays. It was near enough to Grandma and Grandpa's house in Elcho so that they got a lunchtime visit as we drove north.

Going there was the first time I had ever been on a ferry. It was SO exciting. The island, like a great deal of that part of Northern Wisconsin has thin, sandy, slightly acid soil. Nice for pine trees, but many hardwoods struggle up there. Maple trees do okay and so do birch trees. I think birch trees are classified as a soft wood. Somebody correct me if I'm wrong.

In any case, Madeline Island was great in the summer for berries. There are wild strawberries, wild blueberries and raspberries. We picked bowls full of blueberries. The wild ones are so small it takes ages to get an amount that is enough for putting in a recipe (pancakes!!)

Wild blueberries!

The blueberries used to grow just in from the big beach on Madeline Island underneath the pine trees and before it started to get swampy further in. Alongside the blueberries, wintergreen berries also grew. The bright red berries had white insides like mini apples. They tasted like unsweetened versions of pink wintergreen lozenges. I don't know of any recipe where wintergreen is used. I do know it is used in Wint-o-green Lifesavers, the best flavour of all the Lifesavers. We used to do the trick of getting a fresh tube of Wint-o-green Lifesavers, turn out the lights and crunch them in the dark to see the tiny blue sparks. You take your pleasures as you find them in the north.

This is wintergreen.

So, I bought two little wintergreen plants at the garden centre. I gleefully told my family about it but really, they couldn't get very excited about two plain little green plants. The soil here at Whitelees is far from sandy, but it is certainly acid. Lets hope I can get the little guys to flourish. The cranberry plant was a disaster a few years ago. I've got just the place for these little emigrant plants.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

More Feeding the Wildlife

Visiting my grandparents in Northern Wisconsin was always an adventure when we were small. It was like a holiday camp. My dad and his brothers and sister would try to show up at Grandma and Grandpa's house the same week in July. It was a huge house. The adults and any babies got to stay in the bedrooms upstairs and us and the cousins would have places in sleeping bags on the porch or in the dining room. We went picking wild strawberries then made homemade icecream and put those teeny strawberries in. I remember all of us squabbling over whose turn it was to turn the crank on the ice cream freezer. I bet that my dad or one of my uncles had to get Grandpa's old pharmaceutical scales out when dishing out the ice cream to make sure that NO cousin or sibling got a gram more or less ice cream than anyone else.

We'd get taken fishing. Us kids usually fished at the lake shore for little sunfish. When we got bored of that, we started catching crawdads (crayfish). We discovered that if you dropped your hooked worm between the rocks on the shore, a crawdad would come up and pinch it with its claws. Then if you were very careful not to jiggle the line and pulled up very carefully, you could pull the crawdad out of the water. Then once you had the crawdad suspended over a bucket and gave the line a little jiggle, the crawdad would release its claw and fall into the bucket. The worm could be reused all afternoon to harvest crawdads. It was much more rewarding than fishing which was very hit and miss at our skill level. We had to put a board and a rock on the top of the bucket to prevent the little crustaceans from crawling out. What was done with that huge white plastic pickle bucket full of live crawdads, I don't remember. Perhaps one of the adults drove it back to the lake and released them. Its a shame we didn't eat them. I think the aunts got a bit squeamish.

My Grandpa Carew died when I was still very small so the memories I have of him are few. They are really good memories though! My Grandpa was a pharmacist in that small town. He had a wonderful drugstore. It was one of those old fashioned drug stores that had a soda fountain. I have a photograph of my Uncle Paul behind the counter at the soda fountain. Uncle Paul had a "flat top" haircut. It made the place look like a 1950's movie set. Pharmacies have a very specific smell to them. I don't know if it is the medicines or the capsules or a combination of all the things in those back rooms, but they DO have a specific smell to them. It has given me a positive association with pharmacies that has lasted my whole life. I can't go into a pharmacy without thinking of Grandpa's place.

Grandpa used to open the pharmacy for a short while on Sunday so that if anybody really needed to, they could get thier prescriptions filled. According to my mother, when we were visiting and went into the drugstore after Mass on Sunday to see Grandpa, he would give out free chocolate sodas to his pretty little granddaughters. We would still be in our nice clothes from church with the little white gloves and Mom was less than pleased to know that we were going to get everything covered in chocolate AND spoil our dinner. Who wouldn't love a grandfather like that?

When Grandma and Grandpa had lots of visitors, the rubbish in their trash cans got full way before the town's garbage truck was due to empty them. Grandpa would then have to take their rubbish to the dump which was way out of town in an old pot belly sink hole that is common for that part of the country. Grandpa would make the "trip to the dump" in his old WWII Army surplus Willis jeep. That jeep had the best horn! It went "AaaROOgaaa" and when riding we pestered Grandpa to hit the horn as much as possible. If Grandpa knew we were coming for a visit, he'd hold off on his trip to the dump and wait unti we got there. I'm sure that old jeep was a death trap. They were known for their instability and they tipped over all the time so you had to take corners carefully. As a kid you don't know about these things and you always feel safe when you're with your Grandpa. He sat my sister Sally and I in to our seats - no seat belts and told us to sit still. He then loaded up the rubbish into the back of the jeep.

It was after dinner when we went to the dump and it was starting to get dark. Grandpa had to turn on the headlights. What a jolly trip that was. Smelly old garbage in the back, squealing little girls in the seats in the middle encouraging the driver to sound the horn again and again, and a happy Grandpa driving. When we got to the dump there were BEARS down in the pit! That was the reason we had come after dinner. Grandpa wanted us to see the bears. Bears are omnivorous and will take advantage of any easy food. These North American Black Bears were quite docile but we were not allowed out of the jeep. Grandpa moved the jeep so that the light from the headlights shone down onto the bears. I rememer seeing one bear with an old jar of mayonnaise. I was fearful that the glass would break and cut the bear. Grandpa threw our garbage down into the pit and returned to the jeep. We watched for a little while longer and then turned around and went back along the road to the house. Naturally, we wanted to go every night after that, but we were told there wasn't enough garbage to justify a trip to the dump.

With modern garbage collection, I am sure that this new crop of children in Wisconsin are being denied a rare treat.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Feeding the Wildlife

The snow has driven more birds to our bird feeders here at Whitelees. I like seeing the different varieties of birds. The UK birds still delight me. I can't distinguish them by their song like I can with US birds. I think I need to get someone to come out with me to help identify the separate songs.

We had about 30 curlew fly overhead this morning while I was walking the dog. I also heard a woodpecker very close by. I still haven't seen it, but I haven't heard so much woodpecker activity as I have this winter. Trees are here all day long, why is there only drumming in the early part of the day?

We've been getting blackbirds at the fat balls this week. We've never seen them at the feeder like this. I guess hunger will get them to do things they wouldn't normally do. Its fun to observe behaviour. When little Bluetits are at the feeder they don't seem to mind sharing and being crowded in. If a Great Tit arrives, everybody else has to go. Those Great Tits eat alone.


I had some leftover puff pastry from dinner the other night. I baked it up and put it out near the bird feeders. The sparrows loved it. Sparrows are not common in our garden anymore. Chaffinches and Dunnocks are much more common.

Feeding birds reminds me of when my Dad and I fed the eagles. (nostalgia warning!)

Up in Northern Wisconsin in the winter, all birds have to fight for survival. The winters are cold and very very snowy. The bald eagles will hunt near rivers for fish where there is a better chance of open water. However, if everything is frozen over, they become scavengers and learn where they are more likely to get an easy meal.

Dad had taken me ice fishing. He thought I might like it. He drove our car out onto the ice and parked up for our afternoon's fishing. Dad had an ice auger and drilled a hole in the very thick ice. Then he carefully scooped out all the little ice chips with an impliment that looked like it had been taken from grandma's kitchen. We then stood on the ice and watched a bobber in the hopes that a desperate fish would take the bait we had ploppped down into the hole.

Ice fishing is cold. I mean really really cold. If you don't have a little fishing shack, you have to sit in the car or stand outside. If you stand outside, the chill from the ice will work its way through your boots, up past your two layers of socks and to your little pink piggies making them numb. If you manage to catch a fish and its too small, what do you do then? You can't really poke it back through the hole in the ice. The little fish has had it, too small or not. Dad and I threw our too small fish way out on the ice as far as we could throw them. The bald eagles that had been lurking in the pines at the edge of the lake then came swooping down, and grabbed these fish and flew back to the trees. It was great! I stopped caring that I couldn't feel my feet and wished for more undersized fish! I would have given them all the fish. Feeding pidgeons in the park would always pale in comparison to this!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Visit From David

David Graber is an old friend from high school. I think we may be the only people in our little circle of friends from Mount Vernon, Iowa who now live in Europe. David lives in Berlin. He arrived on Thursday evening with his flatmate Viola.

I hadn't seen dear David in about 25 years! He and Viola are here at Whitelees for a long weekend. I took Friday and Monday off work to have more time with them. We're having a great time catching up. For the most part, he hasn't changed a bit. Naturally the two of us are older, but Dave is still the kind, sweet person I knew in high school.

He didn't even complain when we made him eat haggis. Before dinner I made a half hearted attempt at reading Ode to a Haggis by Robert Burns, but really, the least said about THAT the better. The poem is great, especially when read by a native Scots speaker like my neighbour, Charlie who is asked to give recitations at Burn's Night Suppers. The haggis truly is "the great cheiftain of the pudding race".

On Saturday, during the day we went to Edinburgh. We walked all over the centre of Ediburgh, had a pub lunch, looked at the architecture and generally had a nice day wandering about the place. The drive up the A701 was very pretty. The higher elevations had lots of snow. It was like the landscape had been especially decorated for photographs destined to be postcards and jigsaw puzzles.

It snowed overnight on Saturday night. We were going to go "do stuff" on Sunday but the snow gave us the excuse to stay inside to watch movies, drink tea and eat popcorn. We all took the dog for a walk down to the village and back in the snow to work off lunch. George is getting really good at snowballs. Mostly we stayed under quilts on the sofa.

This is a photo of Dave, George and Viola watching Pride and Prejudice (the BBC/Colin Firth version). See the snow out the window!? When I was taking this picture, David said, "Margaret! If this photograph goes on the internet, you're dead!" Sorry my darling, there it is.

Here is the two of us old high school pals - taken today, Sunday the 12th of March.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Note to J-Funk and her dear old dad

"Thank you for the nice comments about me! They brightened up my busy weekend. My husband drew the cartoon of me. He says I look a lot like my dad but you can't tell because my dad is so hairy. Are you friends with my dad from Cornell? I barely remember Cornell, but I do remember the Matsell Bridge trip.

I'm sure that for the most part you do look like your dad. I haven't seen you since that Matsell Bridge weekend. I haven't seen your dad in that long either if I'm thinking about it.

I knew your dad before he went to Cornell.

Are we all sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin. . . .

A long long time ago in the seventies (I think it must have been 1977) and I was a young girl of 14/15. My parents who were living in Minneapolis split up. The thing is, they didn't really tell us right away that they were splitting up. My mom was to attend the Iowa Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa. Very cool for mom.

Mom set herself up in a very small little apartment at Black's Gaslight Village. We should have realized that she wasn't coming back when we started visiting her in Iowa City rather than her coming home to Minneapolis. ANYWAY . . . that's not the story

In the summer my sisters, my little brother and I came down to Iowa to spend summer vacation in Iowa City with mom. Apart from a stint where my sister Sally and I de-tasselled corn, we didn't do much. We lurked around Black's Gaslight Village and pestered the students living there. One of the students was your dad.

He was really nice to me. I remember playing Spades with him in his small box of a room with the big window open. He once cooked me breakfast and he put oregano on eggs! That was SO exotic for a kid like me. Isn't it funny what the brain will remember? Your dad never made me feel like a pest and I have always liked him for that.

It must have been around that time that I think your parents fell for each other. I would be so scandalized when rounding a corner in this rabbit warren of a place to find them kissing. Remember, I'm just a squirrelly kid at this time.

That summer ended and we moved from Black's Gaslight Village in Iowa City out to Mount Vernon, Iowa. I was to live there until leaving home after graduation from high school.

For a couple of years I had an after school job in the Cornell College food service. I made many good friends there who are still my friends today. Who should enroll at Cornell College one year but my old friend Tom from Iowa City! This time he had a wonderful little surprise, YOU. This bubbly little tot called Josie who would come and visit her daddy.

That is how I know your Dad. I know your mother as well, but to a much lesser degree.

That's why, when I saw the cartoon of you, I thought it looked like your mother circa 1977. At least that's how I remember her when she was your age. I'm sure that for the most part, you favour your father, but Derek must have caught you in a certain light to capture a part of you that looks just how your mom looked.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Luggage Madness!!

I am going to have a little rant here. WHY do people over pack? It is maddening!! Suitcases are getting bigger and bigger. They're the size of coffins as it is! When will it all end?

This is how suitcases used to look.

Nobody used to complain about those. The worst thing that happened was that it would get confused with the others that looked just like it. You got everything you really needed in there and didn't really miss anything did you?

The baggage claim area is a great leveler. I've seen overpackers in baggage claim areas upset because their suitcase zips have split, the wheels have broken and the handles have come away in their hands. Some of these oversized suitcases aren't designed well enough to carry the weight that the size suggests they carry. If these behemoths are packed to capacity they will fall apart.

This is a photo of an offensively huge suitcase. It has its own zip code. In my own private world, you could only use this if; 1) you are going away for the entire summer 2) leaving your spouse 3) you're emigrating 4) your diving equipment is in there. You can't use a suitcase of this size if you are going away for a week. Don't even think about using this case if you're going away for the weekend!

quote from my mom -

"Oh, I HATE those things! It was a sad day when they put wheels on suitcases. When the day comes that I can't carry what I need in one small, light bag, I'm gonna either quit travelling or hire a bearer...."

You think these people were going away for months on The Grand Tour of Europe. However, they're only going for a week or less. Geeze, get a grip! You can't really need all that junk!

This is an example of a normal modern suitcases. I'm not putting in an ad for suitcases, this photo just had the best examples.

The larger suitcase in the above photo is what The Man of The Place and I share for our annual vacation. We do go to hot places where lots of warm clothing isn't needed. We like to save our luggage allowance for the diving gear. The smaller one is a perfect weekend size and is fine for carry on. Now please don't think the larger blue case is okay for carry on. Its just too big.

I'm just hoping beyond hope that at least one overpacker will see this and re-think what they need to bring along next time.

It Snowed - and there are no eggs

It snowed on Friday night and again last night (Monday night). It is the only snow we've had this winter. I like snow. I wish we had a bit more of it in southern Scotland. We only seem to get snow at the end of the winter in February and March. I'm sure this has nothing to do with the fact that those chickens are very poor layers.

I bumped into a woman who lives at a farm outside our village. I can see the roof of their place from our east window. They have a commercial flock of hens and supply free-range eggs to the supermarkets. She said that in April, she's getting rid of her older hens. I am welcome to go and help myself. I know from experience that hybrid layers still lay very well in their second and subsequent laying seasons. I am now thinking that I might give away or butcher the chickens that I have now and go get me some second hand hybrid layers. It would make sense because I'd have more eggs. That's the reason that I keep the things in the first place.

I've just talked myself into doing that. I'll phone her today and ask her to mark me down for 10 hens.

Going to go get changed and walk the dog before work.

P.S. There is ONE egg - but one egg a month isn't going to cut it. Also, if your happily typing away and you don't know where the puppy is, she may be in the front room chewing on your work shoes!!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Buster Brown!

Remember those shoes? Did you know that there was a comic strip of the same name at the beginning of the last century?

This image of the small, blonde boy and his faithful dog was very popular around 1904. Do you recognise the breed? How many dogs do you know with that "smile"? Its a Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

It seemed the look that Buster Brown had was all the rage for small boys at that time. I have this photo of my Grandpa Carew and his brothers and Grandpa is wearing this very same style of suit.

This is a photo of Clifford (aged 4) Murray - my Grandpa - (aged 3) and John (8 months) Carew. Manawa, Wisconsin. Photo is circa 1904.

The other thing that was popular, was the breed of dog. Known for its loyalty and reliability with small children the Staffordshire Bull Terrier was a very well loved family pet for many families.

(not a family photo)

Bull and Terrier breeds were believed to have arrived in North America sometime in the mid-1880's. In the US they developed along different lines with a heavier, taller dog being the end result.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Two Thirds Quieter

I finally got it done. My dear friend Helen came around early this afternoon and assisted/watched me dispose of the two young cockrels here at Whitelees. I had three crowing boys earlier and now we're back to having only one. The place is 2/3 quieter.

Before Helen got here I set out the tools needed for the afternoon's work:
Bucket for blood to drip into
sharp axe (I can never kill them by snapping their necks - I just don't have the knack)
sharp knives
string to tie the legs up
Lots of hot water - makes the plucking easier

We got them killed and plucked outside. Its a pleasant sort of day. There was a light snowfall yesterday and today is clear and bright. We worked in the poly-tunnel outside for the killing and plucking. We cleaned them inside at the kitchen sink where there is plenty of running water. Clean running water is important.

Now I'm just waiting for Helen to phone me to say that she's ready for me to go over and help her with her slaughter. She has less to kill today than she had yesterday. They had a visit from a fox last night and it made off with four of their hens.

I think if you're prepared to eat chicken, you really shouldn't be squeamish about how it gets from live bird to fried drumstick. The harsh realities of farm life have never bothered me. These chickens have a pretty good, predator free life here. Until that is, one cold morning in March . . . .

Satisfying Your Curiosity on Google

Its fun to look up old friends on the internet. I even look up people who weren't friends but I am curious about what has happened to them.

I've found that old boyfriends have become published authors and geology professors in Michigan. Old friends are found in Mexico, Japan and Germany. One high school pal is now a hot steel guitar player in Minneapolis. Who knew?

One guy I knew from high school is now a Major in the US Army. I saw him on tv and impressed my family by telling them a story of this kid, now an Army Major, who has always been fiercely competitive. I was playing badminton with him in gym class and he spiked the shuttlecock straight at me. It hit my stomach with such force that it left a mark that lasted for a week. Glad he's under George Bush's control, huh?

Google and assorted people search engines thingies are great. I had lost a friend of mine. She moves around a bit. After she had moved to Georgia, I lost her new phone numbers. Not unusual for me, however ten minutes on the computer found her through a chamber of commerce in her new town. Being very civic minded, she joined not long after she got there. I had her address and phone numbers again. If I hadn't searched on the computer, I would have had to wait and hope that she called or wrote. A lot of times you loose contact of friends that way.

If you remember what they were doing when you last saw them, it makes the hunt a little easier. Joe was working as an accountant in Des Moines and Vickie was a teacher. I found them instantly through Joe's work. They now have a second boy that I didn't know about. Old pal Bill has been found in West Virginia of all places! I found Tom through his work too. He's still looks the same and still liking that banjo. Now he's got this lovely new wife and shiny new additions to his family. His eldest daughter, Josie is this successful bright young thing in Minneapolis. I only knew her when she was a little tot and visiting her dad in his Cornell dorm room. (By the way Josie, that cartoon illustration of yourself on your blog could very easily be your mom at the same age.)

Some friends have just fallen off the face of the earth. No amount of digging will turn them up. I've searched under past hobbies, old addresses, former states of residence, nothing. I'm just going to have to stay put and hope that they find me. They'll of course have to know that I live in Scotland . . . .

Thursday, March 02, 2006

March, coming in like a lamb?

We've had some beautiful days this week. High pressure at this time of year can give us one of two things, clear bright weather that is bitterly cold OR fog. We're getting the bright, dry cold days. Its been great. I blew the cobwebs off my sunglasses this afternoon and got some use out of them.

This morning while taking Polly for a walk, I heard a woodpecker pounding away at one of the old beech trees in the forest across the road from Whitelees. I haven't heard a woodpecker drumming in years and years. Tonight, while I was waiting for Polly to do her business, I heard foxes yelping. There was more than one going at it. One fox sounded like it was down by the burn (stream). The other fox yelps sounded like they were coming from the woods. I made sure that the door to the hen run was wired up tightly. Those foxes will have new kits right about now. This means that they'll be looking for extra food for those babies in a short while. Not my chickens they don't! Having said that, I've only had six eggs since Valentine's Day. hmm. . . Their egg production better kick into a higher gear soon or they may get replaced with better layers!

I like this kind of weather. The firewood is dry. It is much more pleasant to stack when its not slimy and smelling of mushrooms. If the firewood is too sodden, I just leave it and burn coal. Coal will burn nicely even if its been out in the rain for years!

Its not even nine o'clock yet, but I think I am ready to hit the hay. Thank God tomorrow is Friday.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Crunchy Puddles

A good crunchy puddle is the best part about a cold snap. The puddles freeze and it seems that the puddles keep draining away after the top has frozen. This leaves that irresistable ice layer for the walker to crunch.

It's just after six in the morning. I'm going to go walk the dog before work and I'm going to get to break all the puddles along the way. I'll leave some in the drive for George to break.

. . . . .5 minutes later . That was quick! The dog DID NOT want to walk in the almost dark and frozen countryside. I had to almost drag her out of the nice warm house. We got to the road and a pheasant cock flew up with its loud squawks and really frightened her. I was startled too, but not nearly as much as the pup. She pulled so hard to get back to the house. I had mercy. We're now back by the fire. So much for having a good long walk before work.