Monday, December 31, 2007

End of the Year Roundup

It's been a pretty good year. We've been busy. It doesn't seem like 2007 should be over so soon, but there you have it. I never really got used to writing 2007 on my cheques and now I don't have to anymore.

I am having a bit of champagne earlier than I should. It's not quite the new year yet, but I may fall asleep before it gets here, so I'm having my champagne NOW!

That's the thing. Don't wait. Do stuff now. We only get one shot at life. By the time I'm too old to do things, I don't want to regret that I didn't do fun things more often. Like some very wise person said, "Nobody ever wishes that they had spent more time at the office when they're lying on their death bed."

We lost my cousin Peter toward the end of this year and that was terrible. Rest easy Peter. This past year has had some big ups too. My mother got to hear this year. Her cochlear implant is working wonders so big yipee for that!

With this most recent trip, I discovered that I am going to have to send my passport in to the embassy to get new pages added in because it's ALMOST FULL! I only have a couple of blank pages left. Some countries, like Egypt, require that there is a whole new blank page on which to paste the visitor's visa. At the airport, the guy had to go all the way to the back of my passport to find a clear page. Who would have thought THAT would ever happen?

Tomorrow is the traditional day for New Year's resolutions. We have a brand new year with no mistakes in it. I'm just going to try not to repeat any past mistakes on this shiny new year. I'll probably make some brand new mistakes in 2008. I hope they're small ones!

So, dear family and friends I wish days filled with lovely things in 2008. I was going to go on a but about love and happiness, fulfillment and peace but I always get a bit soppy after I've had a drink and I don't want to embarrass myself. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Diving Accident

The fourth day on the 23rd of December saw us diving back at the Ras Mohammed National Park. As strong currents prevented us from seeing many things on the Shark and Yolanda dive two days previously, the plan was to try this dive again. Again, the dive itself was spectacular.

We saw the biggest Napoleon wrasse I've ever seen in my life. He was a very generous 2 metres long and looked to weigh as much as a bull (in my overactive imagination). In any case, he was HUGE! Trying to distract our attention from the Napoleon wrasse were a number of Giant Moray eels. Everywhere we turned there was a moray head sticking out. In addition to that, there was a beautiful Hawksbill turtle. I got wonderful photos of all of these delights but . . . . more of that in a minute.

Toward the end of the dive, I had gone through my air a bit more quickly than Henry and George so I was buddied up with a fellow diver named Andy and we went for our safety stop and then to the surface. This left a few more minutes of "bottom time" for Henry and George.

During the safety stop Andy and I saw two masked pufferfish. They're so cute. Poisonous to eat, but adorable. I think puffers swim like clockwork fish. You can almost hear the tick tock as they go past. When Andy and I got to the surface, it was clear that the weather had changed while we were underwater. We had been under for about 50 minutes. The waves and wind had picked up. We had to swim away from the reef so that the boat would be well clear of the reef in order to pick us up. As we swam away from the protection of the reef, the waves got a lot bigger. We hadn't realized how big they had become during the dive because waves are all on the top of the water.

It took a lot of effort to swim to the boat. One of the crew threw us a rope to hang on to. Catching the rope, we could then drag ourselves hand over hand and wait our turn to board while holding on to the rope. It took me three attempts to get onto the boat. The waves were very high by this point. The ladders onto the boats are hinged at the top and it was tough to hold onto the rungs while being sloshed up and down by big waves. I got bashed about a bit but eventually made it onto the boat.

Andy came up the ladder right behind me and promptly barfed into the sea. I got my heavy diving gear off and then turned my attention to my husband and son who were still in the water. The boat was motoring over to the second pickup point and we could see Henry, George and the dive leader from the dive company, Jesus.

George was the first to come aboard, but he was having difficulties. At 14, he isn't nearly as big as the rest of us and was bobbing like a cork. There was a huge wave and the hinged ladder of the boat came down on George, pushing him under the back of the boat. He was under water for about 8 seconds, but they were the longest 8 seconds of my life. George bobbed back to the surface, but his mask had been knocked and George was clutching his face. Oh God! Jesus was in control and had George while holding the rope. While Jesus managed George, Henry was hauled on board and was promptly sick. I'll mention at this point that the waves were breaking over the back of the boat. Everything on the deck was sloshing around in warm salty water.

Jesus and the boat crew decided to get George out by hauling him up by hand in the area between the two ladders on the back of the boat. I stayed well back, heart in mouth, letting the crew and staff get on with things safely. They managed to get my boy on board with what seemed very little effort the second time. After hauling Jesus on, and checking that everybody was safely on board, the boat took off for a more sheltered area.

I went to check on George. His dive gear was now off and he was holding his mouth. The dive ladder had come down on George's mouth, knocking his breathing regulator out and his dive mask off. The ladder had also pushed his orthodontic braces up into his gums and a few of his front teeth were a bit loose. Poor lad! At least he still had all his teeth inside his head. We decided that we were DONE diving for the day. Just about everybody had seen their breakfast again. Oddly, I didn't hurl. I am one of the world's biggest barfers when it comes to being on boats when it is anything other than calm. I kept my face to the wind and my eye on the horizon and though it was close at one point, I didn't vomit.

The boat made it to a lovely sheltered and calm area where the crew could tend to the boat and even after all the violence of the waves earlier, they served up lunch! At first nobody thought they would be able to eat, but as calm was restored the seasickness went away and appetites returned.

We had the doctor that is in charge of the local hyperbaric chamber look George over. He said that it was probably best for George to wait and see his own orthodontist than to see a dentist here in Egypt. Things looked a bit twisted, but nothing that couldn't wait a few days until we got home.

If you're wondering where the pictures are, here's the thing. While I was trying to get out of the surf and onto the boat, I got bashed about quite a bit. When I was finally on board, it was brought to my attention that I didn't have my camera anymore. At first I thought they were wrong, the red lanyard was still attached to my equipment. I looked more closely and discovered that there was nothing on the other end of the strap. The camera was gone. My camera with it's non-scratched lens and expensive, weighted waterproof housing is at the bottom of the Red Sea.

I'm so glad I had just switched memory cards in the camera. The photos from the first three days of diving were safe. I only lost the pictures from that last dive. Naturally, this means that there are no more holiday photos.

Henry and I are grateful to Camel Dive Centre and their staff member Jesus and the crew of the ChicII for their professionalism.

Now we've got to battle the insurance company for some sort of compensation so that we can get the camera replaced.


Lost Notice - If you are diving at Shark and Yolanda Reefs at Ras Mohammed National Park and see an Olympus C750 digital camera in a rigid clear plastic housing with red bits on it, it's mine and I'd like it back.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Straits of Tiran - 3rd day diving

The Straits of Tiran are at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba. Egypt's Sinai peninsula is on one side of the strait and Saudi Arabia on the other side. There are only two channels through these straits that are deep enough to allow large ships. Controlling this bit of seaway controls the only sea access for the countries of Israel and Jordan. Tiran island in the center is a military base and we sport divers can't get very close to the island without risking an international incident. For those not involved in politics or shipping the Straits of Tiran mean excellent diving!!!

These four reefs are named. The reef furthest north and at the top of this photo is Jackson reef. Next along is long thin Woodhouse reef. Then there is Thomas reef, the smallest of the reefs, but the one with some of the strongest currents. Lastly is big old Gordon reef at the bottom of the photo. You can see a big rust stain across the center of Gordon reef from the wreck of the Loullia which ran aground in 1981. This is my photo of Gordon reef with the Loullia on it. You can see that the coral reef is just under the waterline, this fact combined with strong currents are why theses straits are so dangerous for ships.

Our dives on this day (the 22nd of December) were lovely. One has to be so very careful about staying within dive plans when diving on the Straits of Tiran. If you swim too far past the protection of the reef, you run the risk of getting pulled out to sea by the fierce currents that wash past these reefs. It are these currents that make Tiran such a great place to dive. Lots of lovely reef fish live on the sheltered sides of the reefs while schools of pelagic fish and the bigger fish that eat them can be found in the currents. It was just here last year that we saw two different types of dolphin, bottlenose dolphins, a family of Rizzo's dolphin and a young marlin that kept leaping out of the sea. We always keep an eye out for hammerhead sharks, but they tend to stick to the areas with strong currents.

So, into the sea . . . . . .

Blue Triggerfish - Pseudobalistes fuscus - handsome beast, isn't he? Those are little anthias Pseudanthias squamipinnis with him. They're pretty too with their orange bodies and little blue eyes.A Clearfin lionfish - Pterois radiata - not very common is this particular species. He seemed shy and had his face turned toward his hole.

Lyretailed or Zebra angelfish - Genicanthus caudovittatus- very pretty and not very common.

Another bluespotted stingray - Can you see the bright blue spot just to the right of this ray? That electric blue belongs to the Orchid dottyback - Pseudochromis fridmani - There were loads of those, but they were very small and shy so it was hard to get a photo.

This funny Freckled hawkfish - Paracirrhites forsteri - looked like he was answering the door. He was just sitting there with his head sticking out of a large soft coral. "Whadda want?"

Then there is this stunning Arabian or Yellowbar angelfish. This one was about half a metre long and so full of his own fine self. "I make this place look good!"

The Man of the Place and George skipped the third and last dive of the day on Gordon reef so I buddied up with Lars Lundquist from Denmark.This, as were all dives in Tiran, was a drift dive. A drift dive is what you plan when diving in strong currents. The boat drops you off in one place, you dive to depth (this dive was about 18 metres) and just float along on the current. When you get to the finishing point of your dive, you ascend and the boat picks you up from the finishing point at the planned time. Dive buddy Lars was diving in a 3mm shortie wetsuit and got a bit cold during this dive. When doing a drift dive, you don't move much and therefore you get cold much more quickly.
Lars with bubbles

Lars without bubbles

This dive had some wonderful gifts to show us. First there was this MASSIVE grouper - over a meter long and looked to weigh about 50+ kilos. He was very tolerant of me and allowed me to get fairly close for photographs before he went his way and we went ours.
Mister Big Grouper - Malabar grouper - Epinephelus malbaricus. He looks like I owe him money.

Then there was an eel garden. Red Sea garden eels - Gorgasia silneri - are cool. You can see them waving in the distant current but if you try to approach them, they slip back down into their holes. The only photos I got were out of focus pictures taken with what little zoom my camera had. You can see by the way the sand looks, how fast the current was in this part of the dive.
A Red Sea topshell - Tectus dentatus - sitting on a rusting tar barrel. Lots of tar barrels from the wreck of the Loullia. Nature eventually claims everything back.

Emperor angelfish - Pomacanthus imperator - Isn't this a wonderful fish?

Little bitty Shultz's or Guilded pipefish - Corythoischthys schultzi - can you make him out? Pipefish are related to seahorses. We couldn't give him a little poke to make him more visible to the camera, so if you can't see him all camoflaged there in the sand, I'm sorry. Sawtoothed feathered star - Oligometra serripinna - related to starfish Clown anemonefish - Amphiprion bicinctus - It's Nemo!! Very cute but territorial little fish.

Grey Moray - Gymnothorax griseus - We saw two of these 1 meter long eels during the day's diving. Lucky us! Just as we finished the dive, there were three cornet fish - Fistularia commersonii - just hanging out by a coral pinnacle. I like how one can see that the sun was getting low in the sky by this point.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Second Day of Diving

Almost all of the photographs we have from this holiday are underwater photographs. There are a few exceptions but I've just gone through well over 200 photographs and they are mostly of fish. I won't burden you with all of them, just selected highlights. I'll put most of them on the Flickr site when I have time.

The rest of the dives on this holiday were done from a boat. The second day we were out, we went to Ras Mohammed National Park. The Gulf of Aqaba meets the Gulf of Suez at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Above the water there isn't much to look at, just rock and sand. This part of the world doesn't enjoy much rain. They might get a sprinkle a couple of times a year but that's it. There are no plants, no grasses or wildlife to speak of. But as soon as one peaks under the water a discovery is made. HERE is where all the life and colour are! All the life, colour and diversity that is missing from the landscape is found below the waterline.The first dive of the day was at a dive called Ras Ghozlani. One of the very first fish I saw upon our decent was the Citron Gobie Gobiodon citrinus. This little tiny fish is one of my favourites in the Red Sea. It lives almost exclusively on table coral. Any time I've seen a table coral during my dives, I always check it to see if there are any bright yellow little one and a half inch fish with fine blueish stripes on it. It sounds sort of daft, but I felt it meant something to see one of my favourite little fish on the first day at Ras Mohammed.

One of the good things about having an underwater camera is that if one is a bit of an amateur in the field of fish identification, a photograph can help later on. I've been going through the photos and with the help of my two Red Sea guide books, I'm figuring out what it is that I have seen. I didn't know the name of this fish but I have learned that it is a Speckled Sandperch parapercis hexophthalma.

These are Striped Eel Catfish Plotosus lineatus. We found out later in our guide books that this wiggly mob of fish is actually very venemous and dangerous to handle. Good thing we don't touch things while we're diving. They didn't LOOK dangerous at the time.
Red Sea raccoon butterflyfish Chaetodon fasciatus.

Lyretail hogfish Bodianus anthioides. Through the help of the guide book that Henry and I gave each other this year for Christmas I was also able to identify the juvenile form of this Lyretail hogfish. Sadly there are no photos of the babies.

In addition to the pretty little fish that I love to look at and take pictures of, there were a few bigger fish, like these almost ever-present Blue spotted stingrays Taeniura lymma and impressive Giant Moray Gymnothorax javanicus. The second dive of the day is a very famous dive within the diving community, Shark and Yolanda Reefs. The current was really pumping on this dive so we weren't able to go wherever we wanted to, but toward the end of the dive we were diving along a coral wall that was spectacular. Ever square centimeter of that wall was packed with life. Sadly no sharks were seen. We saw no sharks at all. It really is the wrong time of year for sharks anyway. They tend to be summer visitors to this part of the world. Having said that, there were lots of other divers there. Perhaps next time we visit this part of the world, we can find somebody who will take us to a place that is more deserted and doesn't have 70 other divers in the water.
Black spotted sweetlips Plectorhinchus gaterinus. There were three of these hiding under a coral ledge. I didn't want to disturb them by getting too close.

Blackfin dartfish Ptereleotris evides. These are funky little fish. They're half black and half a beautiful powder blue. Its a shame that I couldn't get a better photo of these eye catching fish.
Regal angelfish Pygoplites diacanthus.

Blackbacked butterflyfish Chaetodon melannotus.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

We Got Home Just Fine

Ok, the bags are all in from the car and the first load of vacation laundry is in the machine. It is safe to blog now. The Man of the Place and George are still sound asleep. Henry and I shared the driving last night because we were both so tired. One hour shifts while the other slept. Now it's morning and my body says that it is time to be up. I'll probably nap later before I go to get the dog from the kennel.

We arrived back at Whitelees at about 3 this morning. Henry and I made the best time ever from Birmingham airport (not one we normally use) to home. Julio our cat, who is always a bit of a drama queen was acting like he was starving TO DEATH, actually dying of hunger. We knew that he was merely thrilled to see us, which is why he yowled for ages. My friend Helen has been feeding Julio while we were away and he does look a bit plumper.

I've got a stinking cold. I put the blame for this cold squarely on the shoulders of the infected monsters on our outbound flight. There was loads of coughing and sniffling happening on the way to Egypt. We did load ourselves up with vitamin C and echinacea, but we got colds anyway.

We arrived at sunset on Wednesday the 19th. As the plane doors opened and I could hear the call to prayer on the warm breeze. We're back in Egypt! Woo hoo!

There have been a few improvements at the airport in Sharm el Sheikh since we were there last summer and we found there was much less hassle in getting a trolley for luggage. Private taxis are still a pain in the neck, bartering for the best price. The taxi drivers assume that everyone will not know what is what and they'll overcharge ruthlessly. Good tip is to double check the price BEFORE the taxi leaves the airport and that the price quoted is for everybody and not just "per person". We hauled all our bags back out of our first taxi when the price changed from a normal price to the hotel to that price for each person.

The hotel we stayed at this week was the Golden Sharm hotel. Lovely! Everything was clean, the staff was helpful without seeming mercenary, everything worked and the food was nice.

This is The Man of the Place, waiting for the mini-van to collect us and all our gear and take us to the dive centre.

The view of the Sinai mountains from the front of the hotel.

We used Camel Dive this year. I was impressed with their efficiency and attention to safety. We dove on the house reef on the first day so that they could assess our diving skills before setting us out on a less sheltered dive.

So to start things off, I'm posting a few of the photos from our first two dives off the house reef.

There is a fringing reef all along the beach in Sharm el Sheikh. To protect the coral reef but still allow people to have access to the water, floating jetties have been built. We can safely walk out to the edge of the coral without damaging it. I must say that if you have all your diving gear on, walking out on the floating jetty is a bit wobbly. Thankfully there are no photographs of me doing THAT!
These are two Red Sea Bannerfish that posed for me on my second dive. When the wildlife poses like this, it's hard to take a duff photo.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas is Coming!

Here is a clip from one of the best Christmas shows ever.

We were in Peebles on Sunday to visit my middle boy Sean. He and his girlfriend Laura have just moved into a nice new flat right on the banks of the Tweed. Sean said that a few weeks ago they watched the salmon running up the Tweed to spawn. He's going to have to let me know when the salmon are running again. I'd love to take some photos of it. Actually, I'd love to fish there, but don't have the right gear anymore (or a permit).
Sean cooked us a nice dinner and we gave him his Christmas and birthday presents. Sean's birthday is Christmas Eve. George was delighted because Sean has Nintendo Wii! I must admit, the Wii is fun!! We used it to go bowling. I was pretty good at that. Not so good at virtual baseball. George is virtual boxing.

We're away tomorrow for a bit of diving. I'll try to write while we're away. Failing that, I'll post when I return. Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Recycling Run

We have a newspaper recycling container that gets collected twice a month. The Man of the Place and I are not good at remembering to look at when the next collection will take place so it seems that our newspaper bucket is always full to bursting. For glass, plastic and cans there is no regular collection. We have to take those into town ourselves. We're lucky that we have a lot of space out here. I planted a box hedge near the big oil tank in our back garden. This partially obscures the containers we use to keep things sorted until we can make a trip to a recycling centre. I have a couple of old laundry baskets, and some collapsible storage crates that we use for this. Two containers are used for tin cans and aluminium, two for glass and two for plastics.

We let it pile up this time. You can see that plastic milk jugs started taking over the world and I had to use a garden refuse bag to hold the plastic overspill (more plastic). The trip into town with the stuff for recycling was way overdue. I did it this afternoon after work. It needed to be done and when I got home there was enough daylight left to get everything out and sorted. It's a messy job though we are very good about ensuring that everything is washed before going out and I'm glad the job is behind me now.

One decision we made when creating the recycling area in the back garden was to never make a trip into town merely to haul things in for recycling. A special run into town with all the fuel spent driving in would undermine the good we are trying to do with recycling. I had to go to the supermarket anyway. No really, we were out of milk.

The back seat of the car was so full, there was no room for Polly to come along. She didn't seem to mind. I caught her sleeping in a sunbeam (rare) alongside the cat. When I went to take a photo of the two buddies, Polly sat up blocking the sunbeam for Julio the cat. A minute later, Julio went to go find a better sunbeam. Because I am now not blindly throwing away all plastics, but rinsing them and putting them out for recycling, I am much more aware of how many plastics are used in my life. I hate plastic containers. I have actually tried to go shopping and not use or buy anything contained in plastic and it was impossible.

It was fun looking at all the things that we have put out for recycling. Empty bottles of pinot grigio, sancerre and gin with at least one champagne bottle along with glass jars from spaghetti sauce and glasses that didn't survive that final cycle in the dishwasher. The cans were almost exclusively cat food and dog food. There were some empty pop cans thrown in there for variety.

The recycling containers are empty again. No more picking stuff up that has blown out of the overfull crates. For the next week or so, I'll be very good about keeping things separated when taking them out to be sorted for recycling. Later on when all the containers are full, I'll end up putting stuff in any container that still has a bit of room in it. I'm like that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Phone Success

This past year my mother recieved a cochlear implant. She wasn't always deaf but in my memory there has always been some degree of hearing loss. As the years rolled along her hearing loss became deafness. When I was still in high school, she all but lost the ability to use the telephone.

I moved away in 1981 just after high school graduation and though through an invented family code, we could communicate a bit for a short while, we've never had a long telephone conversation. That is until this past weekend.

My mother had given me her phone number not long ago and I wrote it in my much abused address book. I've always had a phone number for her, but phoning a deaf woman from overseas had been problematic in the past. I have a TTD machine that we have used in the past but it is now redundant. Mom and I stick almost exclusively to e-mail and instant message conversation on MSN. I can also send short e-mails to her pager (ingenious thing) when she's not at home.

Over the weekend at some point, I realized that with the progress Mom has been making with her cochlear implant, I could probably just call her, not having to wait until she logged on to a computer for us to communicate. She phoned me on my birthday in July and since then has had a few more adjustments to the programs that help her implant to function. It seems like a simple thing, but I have never been in the habit of just phoning my mother. We have had other ways of communication and the phone with all its problems and past history of misunderstandings just wasn't used.

I dialed her phone number and she answered. We had such a nice long chewing the fat sort of phone call. It will be great when we get to the point where we can take a phone conversation for granted. Isn't technology wonderful?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Peter Sill - 20 August 1970 - 9 December 2007

As the year rolls rapidly towards its close, a life has ended. My cousin Peter who was only 37 years old passed away from a heart attack on Sunday.

I have mentioned before that I have lots of cousins. When I last counted there were 32 first cousins. Now there are 31. I had not spoken to Peter in years and years. All my memories of Peter are based in childhood. As one of the eldest in the clump of children on my father's side of the family, we bigger girls were called upon to take care of the youngest in the crowd. Younger siblings and younger cousins were a responsibility that we older kids were aways very keen to dump. As he was a number of years younger than me, I never really paid much attention to that quiet, blond boy with lovely blue eyes. Children can be so self-centred. I wish I could turn back time and be a bit more gracious to my younger cousins and not make them feel like a burden.

I would get second hand information from my dad about how the cousins are doing and Peter seldom popped up in that conversation. Occasionally he would tell me that Peter had received his PhD in some molecular science and I'd be impressed. Then dad told me that Peter was working in Rochester, Minnesota at the Mayo Clinics doing research. So, in my head Peter extremely bright and was doing well. Now I learn that in reality life was hard for Peter.

I didn't know about any of the struggles that Peter and consequently his family went through. I learned a bit about them through speaking to family yesterday. If I had known, I don't know if I would have been able to do anything practical. From over here, I would have only been able to make sympathetic noises and offer words of encouragement or comfort. Sometimes just being able to listen is a help and I wished that I had called more often.

What Peter's death has done for me is galvanize the resolve to speak to my aunts, uncles and cousins much more often. It is such a crime to let so much time slip away and only speak to family members when tragedy strikes. We have a really excellent long distance provider that allows very inexpensive calls to the United States.

Now Peter is gone and I feel bad that my cousin's life has slipped away. If he suffered in the last years of his life then I am pleased that his struggles are now over. Rest easy Peter.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Oh The Weather Outside is Frightful

I was at my work Christmas party yesterday. It was held at the Dalmahoy Hotel and Country Club. The food was nice and the drinks were free. I finally got to wear my red dress that I bought in March and we all had a great time.

It is STILL raining. We had a bit of reprieve yesterday because it only rained half the day, but it hasn't let up today. The chicken run looks like The Somme. I feel terrible when the chickens have to live in such muddy conditions. The only other choice is to let them out but then they'd be at the mercy of the fox. Safe and muddy, that's the choice I've made for them.

It started snowing this afternoon but the snow isn't sticking. It is still far to warm for the white stuff to stay. We don't usually have snow accumulation until well after Christmas. We usually get our big snows in about February. Valentine's Day is often very snowy.

The Man of the Place has built a fire in the fireplace and the front room is the warmest, coziest place to be today. Just the right spot to fall asleep with a good book.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Hmmm Cake!

One of my favourite cakes from way back is German Chocolate Cake. Nobody makes it anymore either. I love the rich coconut and pecan icing too. It's all good.

I usually make something for our regional meetings and for our big Christmas meeting and party tomorrow, I thought I'd bring along a cake from my past. I am sure nobody here has had it before.

I made one cake yesterday as a trial run. It turned out beautifully but the icing was stiffer than I'd like. The first cake gets to stay here at home.

The second cake was made this evening. I didn't cook the icing quite as long and it is much more spreadable.

This is the part where I say that it is a shame there isn't smell-o-web or you could get the aroma of this lovely cake.


By the way, it has been raining every single day for over a week and I am really quite weary of it. It is so muddy in our garden that the clogs aren't enough protection on my feet. The mud goes up and over the edge of the clogs. Eww! I have to wear wellies to go feed the chickens and collect the eggs.

Monday, December 03, 2007

What the Cat Dragged In

There was something dead here in the office. I thought I caught a whiff of death yesterday but today when I got home and opened the door to the office, the smell had developed a fully formed presence.

I was certain that it was a bird because a few feathers showed up under the desk last week. I looked and looked for the bird's body, but couldn't find it. Then I though maybe the feathers were from that bird a few weeks ago and had just been stuck behind the curtains and I stopped looking.

The search began again this afternoon. There WAS something dead in this office and it needed to be found and disposed of. In the past, I've found dessicated small animals in odd places like in an old file that was kept on the bottom shelf. I found today's body eventually. It was in the big plastic bucket that we keep photographs in, wedged in between framed photographs, a dead water shrew. The water shrew is a rare British mammal. It's even rarer now.
Owning a cat has helped me to become an expert at identifying small mammals. I can tell the difference between the death shriek of a field vole and that of a mouse. The field vole's squeak has a higher pitch than that of a vole. I learned to identify the pygmy shrew very early on. The pygmy shrew is very small (naturally) has a light brown colour and a toxic little bite. The common shrew is the same colour as a pygmy shrew but a bit bigger.

The shew I found today was different. Its sharp little nose identified it straight away as a shew, but it was bigger than common shews, it was the size of an average mouse. It also has very dark almost black fur with a cream coloured belly and chin. I'd never seen a two toned shrew before. If it hadn't been dead and very smelly, I would have looked at it a lot closer. Naturally I had to look it up. I identified it positively as the water shew.

I find this sort of thing interesting but depressing. I hate it when the cat kills migratory birds like the far travelling swallow and protected species like the water shrew. I put a bell on the cat when he was still a kitten, a really jingly one. I hope it has helped. Sadly, it didn't help that water shrew.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Week That Kicked My Butt

This week has been exceptionally busy for me. I didn't get home until after 7 pm yesterday. On top of getting home late, I had to go right back out again for an appointment at 8. The appointment was for a manicure and pedicure. I had almost two hours of getting my hands and feet pampered. Thankfully I don't have to travel too far. There is a woman who is trained as a beautician in our village and after her tots go to sleep on Tuesday and Thursday nights, she opens up her little shop to perform her magic on the gals in the village.

I've got our work's Christmas night out next Friday and I didn't want my co-workers to run screaming from the hotel once they had a look at my feet. The way I have rationalized the expense is that I am saving my fellow sales reps from untold horrors by getting a professional to see to my hands and feet. See! I'm such a team player, always thinking of others.

The Man of The Place doesn't understand. When I got home, he was watching the telly, glass of wine in his hand, looking every inch the relaxed gentleman at leisure. I plopped down on the sofa next to him and said how much I really liked pedicures. He then asked if this meant that my feet wouldn't smell anymore. I resisted the strong urge to kick his wine glass across the room with my newly pampered and painted toes. Instead I told him that my feet wouldn't be smelling bad TODAY and whipped off a sock and showed him my glamorous feet.

"Yeah, it's your feet."
"They're lovely and soft now. She has removed my calluses. "
"Why do you need soft feet?"
"Because I am a girl!"

It's hard to explain why a pedicure is necessary. Technically a pedicure isn't necessary for life like lets say oxygen is or regular meals or warm dry houses, but if you've had a rough week, where you really haven't had a minute to yourself, booking a little thing like a manicure and pedicure in at the end of a long day really creates a little oasis of calm, nice smelling relaxation.

I must say that I felt a bit better today knowing that I had lovely hands and feet.

Because I have no beauty treatment booked for today, I have instead turned to a gin and tonic. I used a lime from our own little lime tree too.


p.s. If anybody wants some eggs, we've got loads. All the neighbours haven't eaten the ones I gave them earlier in the week and the hens just keep on laying.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Fresh Camera

We have had our Olympus C-750 digital camera for four years. Once I got used to it, it worked pretty well for me. The Man of the Place used to be a photography student years ago at Birmingham Polytechnic (Now Birmingham City University) and he is the photography expert in the house. Sadly when he goes on about white balance, f-stops and depth of field I tend to blank out a bit. The information would be good to know, but it just won't stick in my head. I just want the pictures to be in focus and be pleasant to look at in years to come.

One of the things that did stick was the importance of keeping the lens cap on the camera when not in use.

Sadly while we were on holiday this summer, the lens cap came off the camera while it was in a backpack. We had been at the beach and there was sand in the backpack. Do you know where this is going? The lens of our camera got scratched. The camera wasn't exactly ruined, but you might have noticed that every photograph we've taken since the summer has a little blurred spot in the centre of each picture. I'm not the best photographer around, in fact I'm not even the best photographer in the house but since July my efforts have looked more out of focus than normal.See the scratches?

We thought about getting a less obsolete camera but then there is the matter of diving. We have the purpose made underwater casing for this particular camera. If we got different model, we'd have to get another underwater casing for it and they are often much more expensive than the camera itself.

Our answer was to get the exact same model again on eBay. A second hand camera that works and doesn't have scratches on the lens will do just fine. The replacement camera was won in an auction this week and it arrived yesterday. We're going to be much more careful about not only keeping the lens cap on but keeping the camera in the case when we're not using it.


I bet you guys scroll down and have a second look at the photos on this blog.

"There IS a blurry spot in all the photos! She's right!"