Tuesday, January 30, 2007

1st Blogiversary

Thanks to inspiration from Tom and Joe, friends that I've known for years, I started a blog. I've known Tom since I was a scrawny kid (age approx 14) and he was a glamorous college student, complete with 1970's tie dyed shirts and beard. It turns out that not only does Tom have a bunch of blogs himself, but most of his kids have them too! You really should visit his eldest's blog. She rocks! Joe, I've merely known since I was about 17. Now in addition to being a pillar of the community - family man, he's this premier blogging tax guru in Des Moines.

I went a little nuts and started a number of blogs. I have my main one here that I write on a couple of times a week. Then there is the diving, extension project and recipe blogs.

I quickly learned that, through Blogger I can patrol through random blogs seeing if anything I read floats my boat. It is always worth a look at Blogger's Blogs of Note. There are some very clever unpublished writers out there in Blogland.

I also signed by blog up to Scottish Blogs. In October, I went along to my first ever blogmeet!

With a great deal of my family living in the US, and me being one of the worst correspondents on the planet, this blog was a great way for me to keep my parents, my sisters and brother and eldest son updated with all that is going on or not going on here in my little corner of Scotland.

My mother, was inspired to start a blog of her own. I'm so glad that she has, it is keeping me well and truly updated with the time line for things going on in her life.

My dear old dad doesn't have a computer of his own and doesn't travel in circles where that is important. Therefore, every couple of months, I print off the latest batch of blog entries, put them in date order, write a couple of notes on the margins and post the big envelope off to his place in Colorado. He takes this bundle with him to coffee with his oldest and best friend Lee (Hi Lee & Pat!) and they go over the pages together.

As of this minute my site meter reads that I've had 12,148 visits to my blogs. Whoa! There are other blogs who have loads more hits, but I guess I'm not really fishing for greater readership (though it is nice to see it increase). Still other bloggers completely outclass me when it comes to the craft of writing or knowledge of important things. I may get there eventually, but for now, I'm enjoying the journey.

So, really, this blog has been a long letter to my friends and family back in the US. It amazes me that anybody else would find what I write even remotely interesting and I am always flattered by the positive comments. Thank you to everyone I've meet this year either through reading your blog, you reading mine and thanks to some that I've actually met in person. Let's see what next year brings. . . .

Monday, January 29, 2007

Festival of Pies!

We had a house full on Sunday. Not only was Gordon (neighbour kid) here, but my middle boy Sean, the permanent student and his girlfriend Laura were here for lunch. Sean and Laura were here not only to have Sunday lunch with us, but they were taking Henry's old car back with them. We have given it to Sean. It's an old Peugeot 306 with a diesel engine and if he keeps the maintenance up on it, it should last a few more years.

Sean has always been a great help in the kitchen. He not only kept me company, but was ace at chopping peppers and rolling out pastry for pies. Laura helped too, she peeled apples as she joined in the kitchen banter.

We had tamale pie and cornbread for lunch. Its a favourite that I haven't served up in a while.

For desert we had a lime pie, a cherry pie and an apple pie.

The lime pie was made because there were three limes on our little lime tree that needed to be picked. How can an entire family enjoy three teeny little limes, pick 'em and put 'em in a pie! I had to purchase three additional limes to have enough for a pie, but I did get to use all the Whitelees limes. They sure smelled great! I love limes!

I'll put all the recipes for these pies up on my recipe blog this evening when I've got a minute.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Feeding the Birds

We're ripping through the bird feed this month. I buy a variety of different bird feeds for the bird table and bird feeders here at Whitelees.

I get sunflower seed hearts, peanuts, mixed seed, suet balls and suet cakes. In addition, there is some whole dried corn that I got last spring for the red squirrel. I make sure that there are a few handfuls of that mixed in on the top of the bird table in case he comes by.

Sunflower seedSuet balls

Suet blocks

When I was a student at the University of Iowa, I had a bird feeder and hung out suet for the birds even then. It was something that I have always done. I had an adorable little green house on Bloomington in Iowa City. My neighbours were students too. They were graduate students and were from Venezuela. I thought they were quite handsome and smiled my nicest smile and waved to them when they went zipping past my house. They only ever gave me a cursory wave and never looked me in the eye.

In the spring, they got a new roommate, an American roommate. All of a sudden, the handsome South Americans were speaking to me and invited me to barbecues. Their new American roommate confided to me that when the Venezuelan students first moved in, they thought I was a witch. The suet I had been hanging from the trees was mistaken for chicken parts and they were scared of me! Their new roommate put them straight about me just feeding the birds and I think they were a little embarrassed.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Burns Night

It is Burns Night tonight. All over fair Scotland, there will be traditional Burns suppers and recitations. We'll be having haggis, neeps and tatties for our tea tonight in honour of Scotland's poet. Originally from Ayrshire, he lived and died locally when he was much too young. He is buried in Dumfries.

So, if you are at all inclined, have a wee dram for Robert Burns, Scotland's National Poet.

I'll not be attempting any Burns recitations again any time soon. My own attempt at reciting Ode to a Haggis was lamentable. My neighbour Charlie does it much better than I. In fact, his skills are called upon for formal Burns suppers in the area.

Just to lighten things up, here's a joke:
An Englishman is being shown around a Scottish hospital.
At the end of his visit, he is shown into a ward with a number of patients who show no obvious signs of injury. He goes to examine the first man he sees, and the man proclaims:

Fair fa' yer honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain e' the puddin' race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place, painch tripe or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace as lang's my arm.

The Englishman, somewhat taken aback, goes to the next patient, and immediately the patient launches into:

Some hae meat, and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

This continues with the next patient:

Wee sleekit cow'rin tim'rous beastie,
O what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty, wi' bickering brattle.
I wad be laith to run and chase thee, wi' murdering prattle!"

"Well," the Englishman mutters to his Scottish colleague, "I see you saved the psychiatric ward for the last."

"Nay, nay," the Scottish doctor corrected him, "this is the Burns unit."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What about the garden?

I bet you were wondering when or if I'd ever get around to mentioning the garden. We're not under snow like my family and friends back in the US. However, we did have a lot of ice this morning. Our drive was a slippery sheet of ice and it made for driving out more exciting than it usually is.
Well, I haven't actually been in the garden to do any gardening for some considerable time. There are probably a few jobs I could do, but it is awfully soggy out there. Hell, even the birds are making muddy bits in the lawn around the bird feeders. If bird feet can do that much damage, think of what my clod hoppers would do to the grass.

The only thing I've done lately is to pick up broken glass from the storm that hit us on New Year's Eve. That's it.

Contemplation of the growing season is the only other thing I can do. So, mug of tea in hand, I am going to sit by the fire and dream of all the things I can do outside in the herbaceous borders once it is dry enough to dig. Seed catalogues help so much when planning hits a snag. The new stuff coming out in the Thompson & Morgan catalogue always look so wonderful. Those F1 hybrids always do so well.

I imagine my lovely garden with its neat rows, sweet smelling flowers and delicious vegetables and I can't wait for spring. (that's a photo from last spring when I was planting cabbages)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Popsicle Toes

We don't usually get our snow until February or March. As it is getting towards the end of January, the snow flurries have started. I drove home today from further up north in Ayrshire through a white out. The Beattock Summit on the M74 motorway was very snowy indeed. I could see that the outer lane was starting to get some accumulation.

Naturally there is no snow here at our fair Whitelees, but as I type, the very first teeny tiny flakes are sneaking into the garden.

I am just glad to be home. In fact, I really didn't want to leave this morning. Its one of those days where you just want to hibernate.

I got up at my usual very early time (in case you all didn't know, I'm an early riser-type person) and pottered around the place until it was time to get George up.

After he was up and out the door, it was time to get myself dressed for work and out the door. Going back into our bedroom, there was sleepy, warm husband still under the big down duvet. "I'll just pop back in and warm up before getting my work clothes on. . . ."

Definition of assault: Making a person of reasonable firmness fearful for their safety.

Apparently my hands and feet were too cold to get anywhere near my nice warm husband. When I tried, he quoted the definition of assault at me.

"Peggy, I have a good working knowledge of physics and I know that you can't radiate cold. That is just not how the exchange of heat works. However, you're doing it!"
With that, he sprang from the bed and left me to try to warm myself up. Very uncharitable.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Last to Go

I've recently discovered that one of my old boyfriends is getting married. I believe that he is the last of them to head down the aisle.

As old flames go, he is pretty good. We sort of kept in touch over the years, but our lives have drifted so far in different directions, especially when I moved to another country. When I last spoke to the man, I discovered that not only had the book he was working on all those years ago been published, it was followed by four or five more! Crikey! I sent him some money so that he would mail me a signed copy of his first book, which he dutifully did. I'm very happy to have it. I'd love to have all of them, but the cost of shipping is prohibitive.

During our conversations last year, it was so odd to discover that we still had so much in common. We both live out in the country, we're both divers, we still love camping and birdwatching and we both have dogs from a rescue organization. Another strange coincidence was that my sister Sally's husband had dated his sister years ago! It was odd then that it never worked out for us romantically because as I said at the time, "It looked so good on paper". I put it down to bad timing. When we were an item, I had just finished a terrible and violent marriage and had two very small boys. In addition, I am not the person then that I am now. It would have always been a struggle. I had my own ideas about what a relationship should be like and was trying to find my feet. Bossy and selfish, I wouldn't have made him a good partner.

He always wrote the best letters even after we were no longer together. The thing was, you had to write back. As I am just about the worst correspondent ever, my letters from him dried up pretty sharpish. Years go by and then you realize that it's been (gasp) twenty years!

He required a level of devotion that I wasn't able to maintain. In the end, he broke up with me and I was heartbroken. I'm so glad he's found somebody now and she's found him. He really deserves to have somebody to be nuts about him. He's a great guy.

Congratulations Curt, my what-might-have-been, one-that-got-away old flame. I hope that you and Carolyn are as happy in marriage as Henry and I are.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Moving Day

George is moving into his new bedroom in the almost completed extension of the house. The base boards or skirting boards have yet to be put in as well as the internal doors, but as the floor was completed on Friday, it was finished enough for him to move it. His now old bedroom will become the spare or guest bedroom and will house a great bulk of the bookshelves. (library/guest room)

It was when we started to organize George's things to shift to his newer, larger bedroom that I realized that George has been in his old bedroom almost all of his life. He certainly can't remember a time before he slept in any other room. Taking things off the door to his now old room was very telling. Underneath a poster claiming the room to be the site of alien autopsies were old Pokemon stickers. The other side of the door has been home to some old Thomas the Tank Engine postcards.

When George was about three, perhaps even younger, he was fixated on all things about the little blue steam engine and all his pals. We still have all the die cast metal toys stored somewhere in the loft. They're in a box with all his Brio trains. If my memory serves me, there was even a Thomas the Tank Engine Brio train.

Lego and Pokemon replaced Thomas the Tank Engine and there were vast new purchasing opportunities for George's parents. The evidence of this is also in the loft. We have saved all of the Pokemon cards and all the Lego in carefully organized boxes. George can either pass them on to his own kids later OR sell them for a small fortune on Ebay when he reaches his twenties.

When George was three, we decorated his room with an under the sea theme. It's going to break my heart to paint over the jolly under-sea creatures that have kept him company during his early childhood. When I was painting the happy crustaceans, Henry and George did the clouds and stencil sea weed. To make the stencil sea weed, George and his father cut up sponges and did "dab dabs" with the paint. I finished by outlining all the sea beasties with a big black felt marker. I thought it made them look more like proper cartoons.

On the left of the last photo you can see the stencil sea weed next to the jolly lobster in the centre. On the right is the giraffe height chart. That one has been on there for at least eight years, hence the tattered look. The height chart than went before was in the old kitchen.

The above photo is the first height charge we had in this house. It has all three boys heights marked on it on some place. When we came to remodel and modernise our kitchen, the wall inside the old pantry where we marked the boys' growth was getting knocked down. Being soft and sentimental types, we couldn't see the evidence of our children's growth be smashed into dust and put in the rubble pile. Each one of those lines was so earnestly studied when they were made.

"Oh! Look how much you've grown!"

"Mum, I'm a big boy now, aren't I?"

"Of course you are!"

The Man of the Place carefully scored around the bulk of the growth lines and removed the painted plaster all in one lump. This lump was taken carefully to the picture framers in Lockerbie (no longer in business) and put in a frame, behind glass.

When we had a brand new kitchen, there wasn't a place to mark children's height, so we continued on a paper chart. It's easier to save than chunks of actual wall.

His new room has nothing on the freshly painted walls just yet. I may forbid stickers on the walls and doors. They're murder to get off. I'm still scrubbing Pikachu and Jigglypuff off the old door.

Here is George's new room. It is painted a beautiful Wedgwood blue (his choice). You can see the guitar amplifier, tv, samurai sword and Hawkeyes football stuff. Its a far cry from stuffed bears and Thomas the Tank Engine. I guess this moves also marks the end of early childhood. It sure was fun for all of us.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

My Favourite Book

I didn't read it until I was an adult. I was probably supposed to read it in high school, but managed to skip by using Cliffs Notes. I wish I had. Perhaps as most things back then, I doubt if I could have absorbed it as completely as I do now.

My favourite book of all time is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

I read it every year and it has yet to lose its charm for me.

I still adore Elizabeth Bennet now after reading about her dozens of times as I did the first time I read the book.

Mr Darcy still manages to surprise me, transforming from haughty self-absorbed upper class in the first chapters to an ultimate dream of a man, charming, principled and of course, rich.

Elizabeth's trials inflicted by her impossible family and that scoundrel Whickham seem that they have spoiled any chance she may have had for marrying well, until . . . . well, it gets me every time.

I love the way that the class structure plays a part throughout the book. Having to work for a living or "being in trade" seems to make one lower down on the social scale than the idle landed gentry. The wealthy gentlemen and wives and daughters of these gentlemen are entirely concerned with guiding their lives within their own sphere or station in life.

Women have no role other than to secure a husband. The gender injustices would have driven any modern woman nuts! All their education until that happens is guided towards becoming an entertaining, creative and sensible homemaker. Rules of conduct seem to be quite restrictive for this class of people in this particular point in history. It is fascinating to see how the author weaves her little morality tale to underscore the rules. The clever but reserved girl wins the best husband. The wild, frivolous girl gets the scoundrel or rather the scoundrel is made to marry the silliest sister.

Bye the bye, the latest film version of P & P wasn't what I had hoped. Longbourne (the Bennet family home) isn't that muddy. Dame Judy Dench was as ever, flawless as Lady Catherine but over all, there was a lack of depth. The BBC version with Colin Firth as Darcy has yet to be topped. I would happily waste an entire snowy weekend watching all six hours of it!

I'm just at the point where Lydia has run off and Elizabeth is reading about it in two letters she has received from Jane. I must go and see how it all turns out. This may ruin any chance Elizabeth and Jane may have had to secure good matches for themselves because "Who would seek a connection with such a family?"

Monday, January 15, 2007

Are We There Yet?

We all got car sick when we were tots, but grew out of that and into becoming territorial in our own bit of space in the back seat.

"Stop touching me on MY side of the seat!"

"Stop looking out MY window!"

"Are we there yet?"

I must have asked that question thousands of times when I was a kid. I'm sure that question is the reason that my parents taught us to read road maps so early on in our lives. It kept us occupied and we could answer the question "How far until *insert next destination *? " for ourselves.

I'm pretty good at reading maps and seldom get confused. If pressed, I can probably name all the towns between Minneapolis, Minnesota and Elcho, Wisconsin. We drove that journey so often when I was a kid.

My dad knew that trip like the back of his hand too. He knew in which exact section of road when we were approaching Wausau, Wisconsin to start his incantation. This magic trick of my father's created an entire mountain for us. He did it for years. It was nice of him to conjure an entire mountain just for our amusement. I hope it didn't disturb anybody in that part of Wisconsin. It really did break up the trip for us. It must be rough having a mountain pop up underneath your house every couple of months.

"Dad, can you make that mountain appear again?"

"In a little while Peg, I've got to get my fingers ready."

(when we're in the right spot)

"*magic words deleted as they are secret* Mountain! Mountain! Appear!!"

"Cool! Dad did you really make a mountain appear?"



I didn't do as many long car journeys with my own children as they were growing up. There is the rising cost of fuel and we don't live in the US anymore. Big road trips aren't a part of the culture here. Consequently, I don't know how their map reading skills have developed.

We did do a number of shorter journeys. Perhaps because my kids weren't used to long car trips, their ability to keep themselves occupied wasn't very well developed. It seemed that the "Are we there yet" question popped up more often in medium length (2.5 - 3 hour) car journeys than in the days long epics of my youth. I learned that giving children the actual distance yet to be traveled didn't mean anything to them. They were BORED and were tired of traveling. I got bored with answering the question. Instead of saying "no" which meant that sooner or later, they'd ask again, I started saying, "Yes".

"Yup, we're here!"

"No we're not!"

"Then why did you ask me if you knew we aren't there yet?"

The children are then stunned by my clever adult trickery and stop asking.

I invented a game when Ian and Sean were little. As they are very close in age and sibling rivalry has always been keen between the two, I thought I'd use that and natural kid greed to my advantage.
Church Mouse

This only works when there are two or more children in the car. It is a last resort sort of game for parents when you'll do just about anything for a bit of quiet in the back seat.

Take a dollar bill and tuck it on the dashboard in plain view. Point to the prize and say that the child who is quietest the longest gets the money. No fair trying to force other contestants to make noise. It will only result in them getting the money because of your cheating.

The pain of seeing your sibling getting the dollar that you know by rights should have been yours is plenty of incentive to be silent.

It actually happened once that Ian and Sean fell asleep during church mouse! I was so delighted that they BOTH got dollars when we got to the final destination.

If you don't want to use actual cash, or if you don't have any small notes in your wallet, write a prize down on a scrap of paper and tuck it into the dashboard, again in plain view. It is only when there is a winner do you get to see what the prize is. - an ice cream - first choice for the movie at the hotel - get to stay up late one night during the week - etc. . . .

The next time we're going anywhere, I may start doing map reading lessons.

Sadly the ability to conjure mountains has not been passed on to me. I've never been able to do anything other than remove my thumb. Maybe it's a male trait. I'll have to ask my brother Tom if he can do it.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Another Conference

In case you were wondering why things were so quiet around here. I was locked in a Ramada Inn for four days this week. The hotel was okay. It was a bit worn around the edges, but the staff was friendly.
On Friday night, I was VERY glad to be home. Saturday was a bit of a blur and now all of a sudden it's Sunday night and we're going through our "going to work in the morning" routines.

Today I went to go read a book for a bit on the new sofa. The Man of the Place had a fire going in the new living room and it was so warm and comfy in there.

Here is where I was reading:

The big news is that the plumber has finished his work in our bathroom. The joiner (carpenter) has to put the bath panels on and give us a bathroom door. When this happens, we will have arrived at the point where if I want to have a long soaky bath, I don't have to check with everybody in the house too see if they might need the toilet before I lock the bathroom door and turn my fingers pruny in lavender scented bubbles.

We have yet to paint it, but I'm liking the art deco look so far.

This could be a very good shower for singing. It already has a spotlight!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Visit from Rab

Polly had another visitor yesterday! It was another border collie. This one was called Rab. He is much younger than Old Blind Bill but his temperament is just as nice as Bill's. Rab belongs to Jim and Rosie - two farms over from us. I believe that I'm going to get to know all the local working dogs. At least the male ones.

Rab is Jim's "best" working dog and he was very happy to have him back as he was just setting out to sort sheep. I wonder if my neighbours would mind training Polly to work the sheep. She's not as bright as a border collie, but she's just as eager to please.
Polly is always kissing the boys!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Man of the Place

He's got a birthday today.

Happy Birthday to my favourite husband, a man who doesn't look his age!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Replacement Rabbit

I would like to announce the arrival of our newest pet, Miles Davis. He is the most gorgeous rabbit I've ever seen! He'll go out in his run after I've had him to the vet for a miximitosis vaccination this evening.
I saw him this afternoon in the pet shop while I was in getting some suet for the wild birds. It was love at first sight! He's got the best fur of all time. It's like he is a living breathing velveteen rabbit.

George and I have been handling him a lot so that Miles Davis is a good non-scratchy bunny.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Food Museum

This morning marks the end of the holidays for me. I'm back to work in a couple of short hours. The thing I love about the Christmas/New Year break is that it is the longest stretch of time I get all year in my own home. Now it is almost finished.

I did so much food shopping just before Christmas, that with creative meals towards the end of the holidays, I haven't had to step foot outside Whitelees in almost two glorious weeks. The thing that has been nice about being at home is that some much needed things got done. I gave the bathroom a very good clean. Jill does an okay job each week, but I needed to go through the medicine cabinet and throw stuff out and re-organise the shelves. I also cleaned behind things that obviously haven't seen a cleaning cloth in far too long.

Yesterday, I had a go at the kitchen cabinets. I went to the cabinet where we store booze and actually dumped a whole bunch down the drain. It was old, possibly lethal. Question? Is it bad when the ouzo we bought about nine years ago in that quaint little shop in a very remote little corner of Rhodes no longer smells of liquorice? Answer: Probably. It got dumped. There was some even older Eau de vie au pruneau (homemade French white lightning made from prunes). It frightened me and went down the drain.

It was good to get all the bottles out of the bottom of the pantry and give it all a good wipe down. It feels better.

Inspired by the orderliness of the pantry, I tackled the shelves where the tins are kept. I'm sure every kitchen has something similar: A cabinet where cans and tins of food are stored. Mine started out neatly, but as the years progressed, the cupboard got more and more jumbled. With the desire to restore organization, I went in there. I'd get all the tins of soup lined up in one area, the canned fruit in an orderly queue in another row. It'll be bliss.
There, that is everything out. When I started taking things out, I thought I'd just check expiration dates while I was at it. That fruit cocktail didn't really expire in 2000!?! Good God! When was the last time I did this????

It ended up that there were quite a few things that needed to be thrown out as they had reached the expiration date. Some had passed that important date a while ago. I was mortified! The above photo is all the expired food.
All the food that hasn't reached its expiration date is now in tidy little rows in the cupboard. None of it will poison me or my family and the kitchen cupboards have ceased their crawl towards the status of food museum.

Monday, January 01, 2007

How to Start The New Year Right

Waffles Waffles Waffles! The answer should always be waffles!

Just so you know, the power didn't go out last night. However, the weather was so fierce in the centre of Scotland that the massive New Year's Eve or Hogmanay celebrations in Edinburgh were cancelled. Shame. We stayed safe at home. Polly barked a lot. I let her out and she barked more. The sounds from the strong winds freaked her out a bit and she went into guard mode.
This is the damage from last night's storm. More broken glass. I'll fix that after I've been to Dumfries to buy new glass. There is a broken pane on the roof of the greenhouse too. The bit that can be opened to vent the greenhouse has come completely off and is smashed in little bits a couple of feet away. I've just come back in from picking up the glass to discover that one of the panes of glass went airborne and hit the side of the house. I think I've got all the bits picked up. I'm glad that is done because now Polly and the chickens won't slice their toes.

In case you didn't know, I got a waffle iron for Christmas. This morning, to start the new year right, I made waffles. I'm getting quite good at making these. It is just a smidge more involved making waffle batter than making pancake batter, but I've been getting the double thumbs up from everybody. (I love the approval I get from cooking.)
This is the new waffle iron. It makes "finger waffles". My first reaction was one of uncertainty. Finger waffles??? It sounds like a fad food and I'm a more of a traditionally themed person.
This is the waffle iron steaming away and cooking the batter that has been carefully spooned in.

First batch is done.

Finger waffles are just fine. You don't have to separate into individual fingers if you don't want to. You can leave them joined up. One benefit of this new fangled waffle iron is that if you don't have enough waffle batter for a whole big batch, you can make just one or two little waffle fingers. I'm officially won over.
Waffly goodness! I defy anybody to find a better way to start the new year.