Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Monday, May 29, 2006
This is the photo of the logs that our pal Michael delivered yesterday. It turns out that Michael and I are only three days apart in age!
It has stopped raining but it is very cold. I was outside just now talking to our neighbour and shivering. Yes, before you ask, I had my jacket on. Walking back to the house, I noted that all this wood is actually, firewood. What is the primary function of firewood? It's for burning. Now next to a nice fire.
Note that behind the pile of logs (mostly beech) is the vegetable patch. The beans went out yesterday and you can just see them next to their cane frames. The strawberries have been netted too. Corn still to go in. Those plants will keep until the next weekend.
It is very odd for an Iowa girl to have to start the corn in the greenhouse. The first year here at Whitelees, I tried sewing directly in the soil. It was ok. I had luck with the weather that year. I tried sewing the corn in the big plastic tunnel that we have last summer, but it turns out that there wasn't enough sun and the corn was stunted and gave us NO corn. The plastic was too opaque.
This year I am trying to extend the growing season by starting the plants in the greenhouse and transplanting them out when warm enough. Today is NOT warm enough.
Perhaps next year I will try corn in the little greenhouse, but that's where I grow my tomatoes. One year, I'll grow the tomatoes in the bigger greenhouse and the corn in the smaller greenhouse because it has a gravel floor. The larger greenhouse has a concrete floor. I'm thinking the gravel in the smaller greenhouse can be moved to one side for one growing season.
For those of you thinking about turning on the air conditioning, just shut up. It's freezing here and I envy you.
I know that I could also warm up by getting those logs shifted, but it's 7:50 pm and I'm not going to do it now. I'll get it done later on. Tomorrow if the rain stays away.
Polly is still so excitable. We guess that she is about six months old now. It took three of us to hold her while the vet clipped the stitches. I thought we were going to have to sedate her, but the vet, who has done this thing before managed to get them out pretty quickly. It seems that if we put her on her back, she gets anxious and wiggles. The same for when she's on her side. So, if Polly is standing and I am holding her head and jaws and the vet assistant holding her back feet, the stitches can be clipped and pulled out in record time.
I am completely TIRED of rain. However, I live in Scotland and it always rains here. A positive way to look at this rain would be that I am grateful we are not suffering the drought that is happening down south in England. Hosepipe (garden hose) bans and emergency water conservation measures have been put into place. I really wish they'd stop banging on about the drought especially as it is cold and rainy here.
The wood isn't going to stack itself. I can either stack it in the rain (not likely) or just be patient and wait. I am resigned to the fact that this place almost always looks like hillbillies live here.
Sunday, May 28, 2006
First of all, you have to make sure that nobody involved in the planning will inadvertently let the cat out of the bag. This means that when your husband volunteers to go get the dog from the kennels on the Monday, you have to phone the kennel to make sure the staff doesn't say "See you on Friday" and arouse suspicion.
The Man of the Place has the kind of job where you can't just shut your computer down and go. Absences must be planned in advance. This meant that if I wanted to spirit him away, I needed to get his immediate manager involved in the birthday conspiracy. His manager was quite happy to create a meeting for that Friday that started at lunchtime and went through to the end of the working day. Henry would have to have all his work for the week finished up before this spurious meeting started. I merely had to put in a call to my own boss to book the time off. Mischief managed!
Before I go any further with this story, let me say that Henry's birthday is on January 6th. This means that his birthday follows Christmas every year and every year we are broke by the time his birthday rolls around. It isn't just bad planning, it is also rotten luck. From the start of December through to Henry's birthday is one big round of expense. My mother's birthday is December 1st. It is followed by my eldest boy Ian's birthday on the 19th. A year and five days after my first child was born my second child, Sean was born, giving him an unfortunate Christmas Eve birthday. (See? Britany Spears and I will have something in common.) Then there is Christmas with all its expense. My sister Katie's birthday is December 30th then last of all is Henry on the Feast of the Epiphany. This means that every year, Henry's birthday gets a sort of last gasp of recognition. We have usually run out of money and desire to celebrate anything. I didn't want that for him and his big Five-O.
Early on in December, I was at the airport for a work reason. As I was walking past the EasyJet desk, a thought came to me. "Take Henry to Paris!" He has mentioned it in the past. I sauntered over to the desk and asked about flights to Paris. No problem. Pretty cheap too. I had the cheque book . . . . I booked three round trip tickets to The City of Light for the weekend immediately following his birthday. In the UK, the bank statements merely give you the check number and amount. As it was close to Christmas, I knew I could write a cheque for this amount without too many questions being asked.
I also ordered the Euros from the bank early on. This meant that the money for the flights and the spending cash were taken care of. The only part of the whole weekend that needed to go on a credit card was the hotel bill, but what a hotel!
Early on in his youth, when he was sitting around with his friends, Henry and his friends discussed how they would like to be spending their 50th birthdays. Henry had said back then that he would want to spend his 50th birthday at the George V Hotel in Paris. I think it had something to do with the Beatles staying there way back when. He had told me about these plans that had been hatched up in his youth and when Henry was telling me about everyone's far fetched plans he had said them in a way that said that he knew it would never come to fruition. I stored this knowledge away in a little corner of my memory. Years later after returning home from buying plane tickets, I got the number for the George V Hotel and rang them up. I mentioned the weekend I wanted, and that there would be three of us sharing a room. It was "No problem at all Madame".
Actually, there was a slight problem. If we wanted to have a child's bed in our room, we were going to have to book a premier room. (gulp) It was just below a suite in price. Oh well, we're just staying two nights. . . .
This is a photo of a premier room. The only thing that kept me going when booking this opulent room was pure nerve. I just knew that if I told Henry any part of this secret, he'd make me cancel it and I so wanted him to have this.
It was while I was booking the hotel that George came home from school. I was so excited by the prospect of going to Paris and giving Henry this surprise that I actually told George everything. George was SO cool about it all. We had a great time with what was now our secret. All through Christmas that year, we would grin wildly at each other behind Henry's back. He did really well for a 10 year old. He never hinted or let anything slip throughout the entire Christmas holiday. Well done George. You can be my secret keeper anytime!
So, on the day of the big surprise, it went like this. Get up and get ready for work. (husband comments on my good mood) George gets uniform on and has breakfast. After breakfast he gets on the bus to school and winks at his mother when Dad isn't looking. Henry then leaves for work. As soon as Henry pulls out of the drive, I jump into my car and run around to the school and scoop George out of the playground because he's not actually going to go to school today.
Back at the house, I expertly pack three small weekend bags, grab the passports, shove cases, child and dog into the car. I then drive our dog to the kennels and drop him off. George and I go over to the bank to retrieve our Euros but not before we tell the bank tellers the entire story of our fabulous plans. Ok. Now everything is ready, but we've screwed up our timing. We've got way too much time on our hands. We can't go over to Henry's office for another hour and a half. I guess our excitement caused us to get too speedy.
No problem, we just walked over to our favourite cafe in Lockerbie, The Rendezvous. Naturally we have to tell Bob and Elaine Sturgeon who own the place our story and explain why George was not in school. We are wished a bon voyage as we left.
It was noon. We hopped into the car and drove down the street to Henry's office. He was very surprised to see us, even more surprised when we told him that he really didn't have a big oxygen depleting meeting to go to in five minutes, he was off to Paris!
This is what Henry's face looked like when he discovered that just about everyone knew about his big birthday surprise. He was very impressed by the completeness of all the plans and the depths that our deception had gone to.
This is George on the flight over. He is giving you an example of the kind of grins we were doing behind Henry's back over Christmas. Please note the stripey Breton fisherman's shirt - attention to detail!
This is a photo that George took of his parents. We're wearing the fluffy complimentary robes that are in this wonderful room. There was a mille fuille birthday cake in the room for Henry PLUS a big bottle of champagne courtesy of my dear sister Sally and her husband Jay.
George reading before he goes to sleep (The Little Prince - naturally) That bed is looking particuarly comfortable.If you walk down to the end of Avenue George V you come to the river. Across the river is a beautiful park and a tower that seems to be a bit of a tourist attraction.George along the Seine in January. We decided that going to the top is a must. Travelling with a ten year old really has benefits! They make you do stuff that normally you wouldn't do. We didn't stay up there long. Cloud rolled in and obscured the view. So on to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, The Louvre and one of my all time favourite parts of Paris, La Marche au Puce (flea market).
They really do great cemeteries in Paris. I think I'd like big bronze mourning statues on my grave . Who wouldn't!
This is Oscar Wilde's grave. The touching thing is all the lipstick kisses all over the gravestone. Bless him.
There's some good stuff in the Louvre if you've got the time to look.
It was a wonderful weekend. The sad part about the end of the birthday weekend was that we didn't have any surprises afterward. It was as fun to look forward to this as it was actually being there.
George was away with one of his friends to Blackpool for the day. This means that all three of us are advanced divers. When we get to the Red Sea, we won't have to do any training and can just play. Some of the dives that we would like to do in the Red Sea require that the divers are experienced as there will be currents and other challenges. Best to get the training out of the way first.
We rounded our day off by going to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo. I even managed to stay awake. Not that they're boring, its just that we'd been diving in cold water all day and the auditorium was dark and warm. Perfect recipe for snoozing through a concert. I've fallen asleep at some pretty good concerts over the years. Ladysmith Black Mambazo was supported by The Mahotella Queens. Both were superb and we really enjoyed the concert.
It stopped raining this afternoon. Because of the lack of rain, I got the beans planted out. I was going to have to plant them rain or shine. They really needed to be out. If it is dry tomorrow, the corn is going out too. The forecast is for rain in the afternoon. I'll have to get out early I think.
I sprayed some weeds again and fished about 3 kilos of duck weed out of the pond. I disturbed two newts and many wiggly tadpoles. The tadpoles don't have any leg buds yet, but I am sure it won't be long.
A load of firewood was delivered this evening. I suppose I'll find a good spot to store it. That will all have to be stacked before I can cut the grass.
I didn't get a chance to cut grass last weekend because of the rain. I may be able to cut it tomorrow before the next band of rain comes through. A good rule of thumb when it comes to rain and cutting the lawn is three days with no rain and I can cut it. Failing that, I do the squish test. If I can walk across the lawn without it going "squish", it is dry enough to mow.
I'll get a chance to do all these things tomorrow as I don't have to go to work. Yippee! Three day weekend.
Friday, May 26, 2006
As I was going past Birmingham on the way home, I thought I'd be nice and pick up a bunch of Henry's favourite foods and bring them home. When I got there about 6.30 I decided to stay and have my dinner before I had that long drive home. I had a balti chicken. It was very very good. Complex and spicy with loads of big chunks of chicken breast. Quite a few curry restaurants start off with very good food but as time goes by, indifference creeps in and the food suffers. This hasn't happened at Saleems. Loads of fresh coriander (cilantro) is added in. I love it when I get a big "hit" of coriander while eating a curry. There is heat in the balti chicken, but it isn't painful. I think that one can order a curry here with the heat adjusted. The naan bread that was delivered up with my food was just out of the oven and still steaming. MAN how wonderful was that? I make my own here from time to time, but I will never get the naan perfection that is achieved at Saleem's. It is substantial without being heavy and the texture is open and doesn't get chewy as it cools. I'd love to be an unpaid assistant in their kitchen for a week just so I could get the knack of making this naan bread.
This is the burfi that I purchased yesterday evening at Saleem's. I bought loads, too much in fact. Henry is taking most of it to work so that it isn't lurking around Whitelees over the upcoming three day weekend. I'll only eat it if it is in the house. It won't do me any favours. Henry's favourite is the green pistachio burfi. I think the best one is the caramel-y ones (you can't see them so well in this photo- NO I haven't already eaten them) Like most really good deserts, they're mostly made up of fat and sugar, two of my favourite food groups. I always ask them not to tape the box up so that if I need to, I can pick a chunk out and nibble while I'm driving north.
Saleem's is where Henry took me on my first visit to the UK. I had my first curry in there. The same is true for Ian and Sean. It was where we took my dad on his first visit to the UK. George was maybe all of two weeks old, so it was George's first time out not only his first restaurant.
This is a photo taken on Christmas Day, 1993. Going out for a curry is infinitely better than slaving over a stove for hours and then having loads of leftovers that will languish in the fridge until you throw them out after the New Year. George would have been three months old. Ian and Sean have just finished eating their gulab jaman (another desert). Cousin Helen, did we take you there?
We had a party there on Henry's 50th birthday too. George was thrilled as we had enough people with us to order The Family Naan. As you can see, it is a huge naan bread. George is pointing to the best drink ever invented, mango lassi. Made with among other things mango pulp and yoghurt.
Here are some of our friends. Bigsy, his brother Lal, me, George (slightly obscured) Jameel and his then new bride Mahrukh. Jameel and Mahrukh have since had a beautiful little girl who has just turned one called Hana.
This place covered so many different dietary needs. We needed a place where a vegetarian birthday boy could enjoy himself without having to resort to typical vegetarian restaurant food, "some sort of pasta dish" and our pals needed a place that was halaal. We had such a great time that night. You can see from the 1993 photo and the birthday photos taken in 2004, that the wallpaper had changed. It has since changed again. Have a look on the Saleem's website or better yet stop by this place if you're ever in Birmingham. You won't be sorry.
Monday, May 22, 2006
It was been like this most of the weekend too. It was a bit nicer on Saturday, so I went out thinking that the worst of the weather was over, to spray weeds. A few hours later, the heavens opened up again. I am sure that all the glyphosate I expensively lavished on our weeds has been washed off.
I thought we were done with the central heating for the season. It is near the end of May. But today, both the open fire in the back room and the range (that heats the radiators) have been re-lit. (blurry photo of the range)
I am really glad that I didn't plant out the corn and the beans. They will not like these cool and damp conditions. I am sure that there would be all sorts of nasty fungi waiting to attack tender plants that are languishing in temperatures too cold for them to thrive. I got the rest of the bean frames up though. Bamboo canes won't rot in the rain. They're pretty sturdy that way.
I also finished that Granny skirt I have to wear on Wednesday night. It turned out pretty well.
I was thinking that with the current fashion of big floaty skirts, I might get away with wearing this skirt out in public. Then I tried it on. I decided that it is definately NOT fashionable and this skirt will not see ordinary use. Then I went and stuck on two pockets in the front to make sure I didn't change my mind about wearing it in public. (those pockets are actually perfectly aligned. They just look crooked in the photo)
Sunday, May 21, 2006
This sales meeting will include a Theme Night. Each regional team will come dressed as a TV family. Our regional team are going to be The Beverly Hillbillies. Sadly, I am passed the age where I can get away with being the Elly May character. I am going to be Granny Clampet. Least wise I can shoot anybody wearing Yankee blue and that jug of rheumatiz medicine will come in handy.
I didn't have a costume that would work, so I am making a long Granny type skirt over this weekend. I've got it half done at the moment. I should get it done tonight. I've modified a pattern that I have here at the house. I'm doing the gathers in the ruffle at the moment. I forgot how long it takes to do that. It's been a while since I have made a garment. I forgot how much I like to sew.
Friday, May 19, 2006
There was head rubbing and licking going on for ages. I was worried that the cows might take a notion to push the fence over. They could if they wanted to you know.Look, she even rolled over onto her back. It shows that she really didn't want to attack them at all. Now Polly smells a bit. Ew mud and cow slobber!
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Because I really need contact with the natural world, I inflicted nature walks on the boys. One lovely Saturday morning after breakfast, I decided that a walk down to the beach would be fun. It was a bit of a hike for the boys as we lived just across Old Dixie Highway so I organized some drinks to take along in a back pack and off we went. We crossed the highway and strolled east toward the sea. We walked past some beautiful old Floridian homes with lovely mature gardens. The gardens were so mature that they had big holes in them. Some of these big holes were near the sidewalk and we could see that inside the big holes were big blue land crabs! The boys were interested in poking the crabs with sticks. This only drove the crabs further into their holes. While the boys were tormenting these crabs, I noticed that Sean's shoe was untied. I walked over, knelt down to tie it for him. He must have been about four or five at the time. After about 30 seconds I noticed that I was under attack. Fire ants!
It is my theory that fire ants hold off on their stings until a large percentage of the ants have climbed onto their victim. Then some unheard command is issued and they all sting at once. I must have had about 30 stings. Man it's painful. Poor little Sean was stung too, but only once or twice. You really have to watch where you step when walking to the beach.
We brushed off all the ants and continued down to the beach. We were pretty close and I could smell the salt air. As the morning progressed, I started to feel unwell. I suggested going home as I was feeling rubbish. On the walk home, I discovered that I was breaking out in a rash. I knew right away that this was an allergic reaction to the ant stings. I had some antihistamine at the house and I would take it as soon as I got back. By the time I had unlocked the front door my skin was looking like hamburger. Its not a good look for me. It took some hours before the antihistamine got the better of my reaction to the ant stings, but I have always been ultra careful when walking in the south ever since.
A better story about my brief stay in Florida also involves a walk. On Thanksgiving Day, after we had stuffed ourselves, we walked down to the Intercoastal Waterway. While we were talking to some fishermen on this cloudy day, two manatees rolled by. They were sure on the move. It was spectacular! We followed them as far as we could walking along the path parallel to the water. As it was November, and I had two small children in tow, I didn't dive in.
About 18 months later, I did get to swim with a manatee. It was off the coast of Boca Raton. I was just horsing around in the surf with the boys and a bunch of grown men started running into the water. Frightened that there might be something dangerous, I grabbed the kids to me and asked what was up to one of the passing men. They said, "manatee". It is not normal for manatees to be out in the open sea. They like quieter places in amongst the mangroves, but there it was. I rounded the boys up to the shore and went back out myself to have a better look. I got to swim next to it for a few yards. I was glad that nobody was being a knucklehead and trying to ride the animal. Nobody even touched it or blocked its intended path. It was excellent to see a member of this endangered species and such a healthy adult as well. I hope that their numbers have stabilized. The world would be a poorer place without these gentle creatures.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Along this theme, there is a variety of camomile that grows here that is sometimes called "pineapple weed". This is because . . . . you guessed it, the odd little flowers smell of pineapple. You have to crush them to get the whole pineapple experience, just sniffing won't do.
Finally, in this misplaced smell odyssey, while dumping the lawn clippings into the chicken run, I got a very distinct whiff of banana. It happened two weeks ago and then again on Sunday. If anybody knows where this might be coming from, I would sure be interested in hearing your theory. I did check to see if there was a stray banana peel lurking in the mower. So, we've got coconut, pineapple and banana smells all here in a most unlikely location, SW Scotland.
The other thing in bloom here are the bluebells. I was looking for a good bluebell shot today while I was out at work, but I didn't find the vista I was looking for. My effort is shown above. There are a lot of bluebells on the road to Stranraer, but I am not planning to be on that road any time soon. I was just up there, naturally without the camera. The spectacular vision of all those delicate blue flowers covering a forest floors like a blue mist is really a sight to behold.
Monday, May 15, 2006
When we first moved to Whitelees, the front garden was all raised vegetable beds. They were all pretty weedy and the wood used to make them wasn't treated properly. I had planted this cherry tree in amongst some blackcurrant bushes. It all got a bit too much for us so we flattened the lot, saving this tree and reverted the whole front garden back to lawn. Not only did it cut down the weeding by 99/100ths it gave the boys a home football pitch. I do miss the blackcurrant bushes. I may plant some again someday.
The last is this delicate little azalea. It lives in a pot by our back door. It is misshapen because once a young girl visited on the back of her pony. While I was in the house getting the pony a carrot or apple, the pony started to eat my little azalea. I love it anyway. The flowers are such a shocking and garish pink. I've had this one for about 11 years. In fact, the pot it is in was a housewarming gift from our friends Anne and Raymond Blackburn who live in London. That's how I remember how long I've had it.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
The Man of the Place used to have an allotment years ago when he lived down south. He was quite a garden head back then and would turn everything into compost. It was during this time that he also made homemade wine. I'm told that some of it wasn't too bad but there isn't an old bottle of his efforts to be found anywhere.
The reason I am mentioning allotments is that I find that allotments and allotment holders can harbour a core of dedicated and knowledgeable gardeners. You get gardeners clumped together like that in a municipal allotment site and they'll form groups and compete against each other for largest vegetable, most peas in a pod, prettiest chrysanthemum, earliest potato harvest etc. . . Their efforts are inspirational.
My sister accused me of being active in my garden. Compared to these guys, I'm barely keeping a garden at all.
Apple blossom. Variety - Discovery
It's in bloom just now.
The Top Three Whitelees' Most Hated Weeds:
In third place is an unknown perennial weed with tough runners. Its easy enough to pull up when it's young but MAN, is it ever vigorous. It has yellow flowers late in the summer. If anybody recognises this weed, please leave me a message and let me know what it is.
Second place is tied with nettles and ground elder. They are both perennial weeds. Nettles because of their nasty sting and ground elder because it is a real toughie to get rid of. It is one of those weeds that if you leave just a teeny millimetre of root in the ground, It will come back again. Thankfully both of these are easily handled with glyphosate based weedkillers.
The spot for most hated weed goes to bindweed. It is also known as trumpet vine and wild morning glory. This weed will also regenerate from the smallest of root left in the ground when you're trying to dig it out. The roots will break very easily when you are trying to dig them up and it is also a bit resistant to weed killers. It can be eradicated with persistence. I am hoping that with my black plastic and weed killer combination, we will see the end of this insidious weed this year.
My poor pup was spayed on Thursday. It was required as part of her being a rescued dog, and we sure don't want any "accidents". There are plenty of entire male Border Collies in the fields next to us and I am sure that the minute Polly went into season, they'd be all over her like white on rice. Even so, it is an invasive operation for girl dogs. I've never owned a bitch before, so this is all new to me. Please be assured that even though this looks pretty bad, Polly is merely resting after a morning of mischief.
This is what she did to my basil seedlings. Note the big paws prints. She has walked through the growbag with complete abandon. I suppose I should be grateful that she didnt' dig. It will all be okay once the basil grows a bit. I've put a board across so she can't get in anymore when the door is open.
I keep four growbags in my smaller greenhouse. Two for tomatoes and then one for corriander (cilantro) and one for basil. I don't know what I would do if I didn't have fresh herbs for my kitchen. *note to self - Plant out the rosemary before it dies in that little pot!*
Incidentally, homemade pesto that is made from basil that is grown yourself is pretty great! It will give you absolute dragon breath, but if everyone eats it, you cancel each other out.
Friday, May 12, 2006
This week "our" cows were let back out again. They are still pretty dirty from their time in the big sheds but I'm sure this morning's rain will help wash them down.
Polly doesn't know what to make of these really big animals that have invaded what she considers our territory. Sadly, Polly is in no condition to do anything about the new cows. She was spayed yesterday and is still quite sore.
I picked her up from the vet yesterday after work and brought her home. She was able to walk to and from the car under her own steam. When she got to the house, she didn't go to her crate, she went and crawled under our bed (on my side) and went to sleep.
I'll let her stay at home today. I think getting in and out of the car will be too much for her. I want her to stay quiet.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Our wonderful neighbour, Innes has given us the use of his "teleshifter" to move this stone up and over the fence. We only have to barrow the stone from the side of the house to the bucket of this big machine. Even so, it's not an easy job as you can see by the size of the stone.
We are getting a dry stane dyke (stone wall for you US folk) built here at Whitelees. The man coming to build it, doesn't know when he'll be here, so we've got to be ready at any time.
Being ready means that all the stone ("stane" in Scots) that has been stored on the east side of the house, has to be moved to the site where the stone wall will be.
This is where the stone wall is going to be built. From in front of that beech tree towards the mailbox. You can just see the growing pile of stone on the other side of the fence. The US style mailbox was a gift from my husband to make me feel a bit more at home here in Scotland. I've also noticed that you can see how the leaves are popping out. We've had almost a whole week of sunny warm weather. The near permanent puddles that live in our drive near the mailbox are gone!