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!"

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Reasons to be Thankful

I've been away from America for a while now. When I first moved away, I held fast to the Thanksgiving celebrations not only for myself but my two young American born sons who might have been a little homesick for the old country.

The two older boys have grown up. They're aged 24 and 23 (they both have birthdays next month) and have lives of their own. Ian, my eldest has repatriated himself and lives in Chicago with his new wife. They will be celebrating Thanksgiving in Chicago with my mom who is flying in this morning to be with them. Middle son Sean is still here in Scotland, living in Peebles with his girlfriend Laura. I don't think that Thanksgiving is on his radar anymore.

My sister Sally and her family always take themselves to North Carolina's Outer banks with friends at Thanksgiving. My other sister Katie is in Michigan with her husband Al and dear little Claire. My brother Tom will be in Mt Vernon, celebrating with his pals and my dad is with his pal Lee and Lee's wife Pat in Colorado.

I can't remember the last time we were all together. I think it was Katie's wedding. It would be so nice to have everybody around the same table today but we're scattered to the winds and me scattered the furthest. It's not a holiday here in the UK. I worked today, so there is precious little chance that I'll find myself anywhere near a big turkey dinner. Some years, I will plan a Thanksgiving dinner for the following Saturday or Sunday but not this year.

In lieu of thawing and cooking a big turkey with all traditional dishes that go along with that and dealing with a carcass that won't fit in the fridge after the dinner is over I am going to make a list of some the things for which I am thankful:

All my immediate family members are alive and healthy and I can phone them anytime I want
I've got a husband that I love and who loves me
None of the above mentioned is homeless
None of the above mentioned are cold or hungry
We have some wonderful friends
I live in a beautiful country
I live in my dream house
I have a really great dog
Our cat has a great personality
Both Henry and I are employed
We are able to pursue our hobbies (diving. birdwatching, music)
We get to travel quite a bit
The fox didn't get my chickens
The hens are laying well at the moment
My immediate life is not affected by war or famine
We haven't suffered any natural disasters
I get to cook for people that appreciate my cooking
I have time to do things like read a book, watch birds, potter in the garden or write in this blog
I've "met" some very interesting people through this blog
Some of those bloggers I've actually met in person
I've still got all my own teeth
In about ten minutes I'm going to have a nice glass of wine
We have great neighbours

I'm sure there are a few more to list if I sit and think for a few more minutes, but it almost time for George's piano lesson and I've got to make sure the dog won't jump up on the piano teacher.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Our Barbies Our Selves

Like many gals my age, I used to have a bucket full of Barbies. In one of the moves or the fire that hit our house when I was about 14, they were lost. I had cast them aside for more grown up things long before I had noticed that they were no longer around.A few years ago, something struck me when I was in Toys R Us and I bought a new Barbie for myself. It was the rekindling of an old relationship.

I've never been interested in the dolls themselves so much as their fashions. My new dolls were the best dressed dolls I have ever owned. I have the means to get them any skirt, shoes or little trinket that catches my eye. I'm not interested in cars, swimming pools or houses, it is the clothes that get me.I love clipping the bits of string that are used to stitch the fashions to the thin printed cards. This pleasure is becoming rare. Mattel in it's wisdom has really cut back on selling Barbie fashions. If you want a great Barbie dress, you have to buy the doll. That is the reason I now have about six dolls. Because of this I have taken to buying non-regulation clothes for my dolls. I have a nice big bucket of them and loads of shoes, handbags and things like sunglasses.The most recent acquisition is this hunky new man. Ken seemed a bit insipid for my harem of beauties and the Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan would do nicely for them. He's tall, handsome and exotic.
I must say that I am so much kinder to my dolls now. I don't cut their hair or snap their legs. I also am very careful that nobody writes on them with ballpoint pen.

In writing this, I have discovered that Ken's full name is Ken Carson. I never knew that! Has anybody else rekindled a relationship with your old toys?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Day Out in Largs

The man of The Place was going to Largs on the North Ayrshire coast with his diving group for the last sea dives of the season. After mid-November, it gets a bit too chilly for fun when diving in the UK. Naturally there are stalwarts who dive all year around, but you find that sort everywhere.

As I haven't seen much of my man lately, I decided that George and I would tag along. I'm so glad we did. We all had a fantastic day out.When we got to the marina in Largs, we discovered that they have these very handy trollies for taking things from ones car down to the boat. Divers always have very heavy things and these were a Godsend. Above is Henry getting ready for the day's diving.
Jim and Sue.
Largs Marina
The divers and Captain John (in the back with the clipboard).
I tried to take a photograph of the starfish that could be seen from the docks. There were loads of them but my camera kept auto-focussing on the water's surface and I couldn't get the shot.
The tide was going out when we first arrived and this heron was taking advantage of that to get a little crab or two.

George and I weren't diving. George is too young for BSAC training and I stay behind so that he doesn't get lonely. When George is old enough, then we'll all dive together. In the meantime, we had a fun day in Largs. The first thing we did was go to Nardini's for breakfast. We didn't have their famous ice cream because it was too early for us. At the end of the day when we were having our fish and chips, we were too full for ice cream. We'll get double ice cream next time to make up for it.

As with all seaside towns in the UK, there are amusement arcades all along the seafront. George and I love these. Our favourite games are the penny falls or penny pushers. We spend loads of time timing it so that when we drop our pennies, they will land correctly and the pushing arms will shove enough pennies forward to allow our prizes to drop. We can spend hours at those.
George won most of the prizes. He was very lucky. These are George's prizes.
This is what I won.

For those of you planning a trip to the UK, please don't overlook the seaside towns. It is where, for centuries everybody went on their holidays. You won't get a more authentic British experience. The best fish and chips can be found at the seaside, the freshest air and oddly no foreign tourists.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Check Me Out!

I am a Black-headed Gull. Aren't I great? Check out the red legs and matching red bill!Those birds are such show-offs! They're not as big as the other gulls, but they sure aren't backward in coming forward.

I was along the Ayrshire coast today. Toward the end of the afternoon, the sea was like glass. There wasn't even a ripple and it was beautiful. I stopped along one stretch of the coast and got out. I was immediately greeted by some Black-headed gulls in their winter plumage. The bird that was the boldest was a fully mature adult. The gulls in their first winter aren't as white on the head as boy-o up there. In the summer they've got dashing black hoods (hence the name) and in the winter their black hoods are reduced to a mere eyebrow.

Black-headed gulls are classed as a medium sized gull and I think they're gorgeous, even in the winter. I'm glad they're Britain's most common inland gull.

There were loads of other birds on the water. There were some good old mallards, some lovely mergansers and quite a few eiders. There were a number of other species but I was actually working at the time and I couldn't stop to i.d. everybody. I swear I'm going to get a pair of binoculars just for the car. At least I had my camera with me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Prodigal Hen

So, I'm getting ready for work this morning. You know the dash around the house morning routine. Where's my handbag? Where's my phone? Have you got enough lunch money?

The Man of the Place is in the front room and looks out the window and is promptly aghast at the size and number of molehills we now have in our lawn. They are really getting bad and we're going to have to do something to get the moles to move on. I see some movement in the front hedge. We almost always have pheasants in the front garden and at first that is what I think it is. It isn't a pheasant, it is my missing hen!!!
She is in the field in front of the house and she is looking for a way to get back through into our garden.

I slipped on my rubber clogs, grabbed a slice of bread and the camera and went out to rescue her.
The new red hens are quite tame and run to me when I do my "chick chick chick" call and this one walked right up to me, having a bit of bread helped. I was able to reach through the sheep wire and get her.

She must have somehow found herself on the other side of the hedge and fence and couldn't get back. She had been out there for three days!! We had a very hard frost on Sunday night and there are always foxes around. It is one lucky hen. I'm so pleased to have her back.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Flat Tyre and Foxes

I really like this time of year. There are lots of larch (tamarack) trees here and just now all the needles are falling. There are drifts of larch needles everywhere. They get damp and stick to our shoes and get tracked into the house. On the up side, it makes everything smell like a dreamy Christmas tree farm.

Early on Saturday morning I went out to feed the chickens and collect the eggs. As the chicken run was muddy I thought the gals would enjoy a scratch about in the garden. As I was walking back to the house I discovered that my car had a flat tyre. Nuts.

I called and asked the road service man come out and swap the flat with the collapsible spare. It was not an emergency, so the sweet gal on the phone said it would be a while. They'd call when the van was on the way. When the call came, I thought I'd shoo the chickens back in and one of the new red ones was missing. I should have six red hens and I could only see five. Perhaps the missing hen was off laying an egg in tall grass or something. They'd only been out of the chicken run a short time.

The flat was removed and the mini collapsible spare tyre was put on and I drove into town and got a proper new tyre on the car.

When I got back from town, the missing hen was still missing. It must have been snatched by a a fox. I hate foxes. These hens were out for such a short time and one was nabbed in broad daylight! I'm sure if Polly had been out, the chickens would have been safe, but she was in the house with me. Why did it have to be one of the new hens. They're really good layers. The fox could have had one of the egg-shy old ones but they're probably too smart. Its the young, tender and dumb ones that are always at the greatest risk.

So, now I've got one less hen but the air here smells great.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Any Noun Can be Verbed

One of the things I do in my (ha!) spare time is watch birds. I have loads of bird feeders here at the house and supply the local birds with a variety of foods. Because I'm interested in birds, bird watching and conservation, I look in on a couple of bird watching blogs.

One disturbing trend I have discovered in US bird blogs is that the word bird is now used as an intransitive verb. "I am going to bird on the weekend." I never heard the word being used as a verb before I left the US fifteen plus years ago. Back then it was just a plain old noun. It looked odd and wrong to me and I kept seeing it happen.

It was the use of the word bird as a verb in a blog where the language and grammar are very good that led me to investigate further. I looked it up in my dictionary here at the house, the Oxford Concise Dictionary and the word bird is listed as a noun only. I was all set to flame a hole in a bird blogger when I decided had better get another source just to have all my facts. I used an American based online dictionary and lo and behold the word bird is not only a noun but a verb as well. Oh my God! That use of the word is in common use!

I will now hold my tongue and not blast the bird blogger for using the word bird as a transitive verb, however I will still hold on to my private view that using the word bird as a verb sounds uneducated, awkward and just plain wrong. As my friend David says, "Verbing wierds lanuguage." Perhaps it is living in the United Kingdom for so long that makes me bristle at people playing fast and loose, verbing nouns willy nilly.

For me, I will never use the word bird as a verb. I will go bird watching because I am a bird watcher. I will not bird because I am a birder. Through my investigations I have discovered that it is a perfectly acceptable and recognized use of the word, I will not flame anybody for using bird as a verb. Be warned however, I will think to myself that you are an ignoramus and right down there with people who end their sentences with prepositions.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Cousin Mike

I had a call from my dear Aunt Joyce over the weekend. She told me that she will not be visiting me in February as planned. She has a bad back that may require surgery. She is hoping that things will improve enough for her to make the trip across the Atlantic sometime but in the meantime I am so bummed! I love my Aunt Joyce. She's a retired maternity nurse and although there are reports of her being formidable on the hospital wards, I have only ever known a kind, loving and warm woman. She was one of the first people from whom I asked for recipes. The pumpkin bars recipe is originally from Aunt Joyce. She was married to my dad's brother Jim who has sadly passed away. Uncle Jim and Aunt Joyce had three boys, Mike Paul and Steve (can be said as one word). We saw them more than any other cousins we have and we have a LOT of cousins.

A very early photo taken by Aunt Joyce herself of some of some rotten kids: Tom in the front being held up by my mother because he can't walk yet, Paul in a red jacket, my sister Katie in an adorable sailor dress. Sally in a white sweater looking off to the side, Mike looking down at something and me in the back with really great blue glasses. (Steve hasn't been born yet)

Years ago, when we lived in Bismarck, North Dakota we lived in a house in town for a short time. I can't remember the address because I was five when we left. I do remember that when we lived there, two really nice young nurses lived in the apartment above us. My Uncle Jim took a shine to one of the nurses (the pretty dark haired one) and started visiting us much more often. In time that pretty nurse became my Aunt Joyce.

So, being down that Aunt Joyce won't be visiting I was casually flipping through my tattered address book. I noticed that a while ago I wrote in my cousin Mike's address and phone number. Mike is Aunt Joyce's eldest. We saw these cousins more than any other family group. I think this may have been due to the fact that our fathers were such close brothers. There is barely a summer memory that doesn't have a chapter including that family.

My fondest memory of those cousins is merely 15 years or so ago at our wedding. Uncle Jim and Aunt Joyce had come down from Clear Lake, Iowa and Mike and his new wife Patrice, Paul and Steve were all there too. Later on in the evening we were in the bar of the Holiday Inn in the middle of Iowa City and Mike, Paul and Steve (can be said as one word) were singing karaoke. They did a version of Bad Bad Leroy Brown that had Henry and I wetting ourselves with laughter.

I decided to call Mike. I don't think I've spoken to him in years. I know that if I get a phone call from a cousin I haven't seen in a long time, I immediately assume that there is going to be bad news. It is probably a good idea to phone my cousins from time to time. This way if something awful happens and I have to ring them to tell them bad news, it won't be so odd that I'm calling.
It was great to speak to Mike and get caught up. I gave him my e-mail and blog addresses. I hope he passes them on to Paul and Steve. I also hope that Mike turns into one of my regular readers and will start to leave a comment. It's okay if you don't leave a comment Mike, just stay in touch!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Still Missing Paris

I thought that by appreciating the lovely Scottish morning, I would stop dreaming of Paris. It didn't work. I still miss it.
Later on yesterday, I went and rubbed salt into the wound by looking at this site.

It is a link that shows the actual apartment that we stayed in when we were in Paris the last time. The apartment is steps away from the Abbesses Metro stop in the lovely Montmartre area. We could see the Eiffel tower from the kitchen window and the top of Sacre Coeur out the front window.View from my bedroom - The top of Sacre Coeur in the morning light

There is a fantastic little bar/bistro down the street with very lovely and good looking waiters. and everything is so conveniently located. I don't like living in town, but if I had to live in a city, it would have to be Paris.Xtreme English on the morning of her birthday

In the meantime, over here in rural edge of the world Scotland there are wind turbines going up on a hill near us. The big pieces are being shipped across. The pieces are HUGE. One chunk went past the house on Saturday morning and another piece this morning just as I was leaving for work. I didn't have the camera for Saturday's piece which is a shame because it was one of the big blades and it was beautifully sculptured . Today's piece was a portion of the tower.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Early Morning Walk

I was missing Paris yesterday morning. It was about this time last year that I was planning to go to France to celebrate my mother's 70th birthday with her.

I was dreaming about what I would do if I was in Paris on this fine late autumn morning. I thought I might take an early walk around the streets and take photos of the city waking up and then go for some fantastic coffee and a croissant. Then I mentally scolded myself for not appreciating WHERE I AM on this beautiful morning. Lots of people would love to be here in Scotland and here I am wishing I was somewhere else. So in the spirit of bloom where you are planted, I went and took photos of my own morning walk and was grateful.The sunrise as seen from my back door just as I went out the door.
It was just the sort of morning where one would find spiderwebs decorated with dew drops. Failing to find a dewy spiderweb, I saw that the sunrise as reflected off the bonnet (hood) of my car looked opalescent and took a photo of that instead.
So, it was out the drive and down the road. The road looked so beautiful.
I got about 100 yards away and I discovered that Julio, our cat thought that he was going to be walking with me and the dog. I had to scoop Julio up in my arms and carry him back to the house. I had visions of what had happened to his brother on that very bit of road.
The hedges along the road near us are almost all beech hedges. Beech trees don't loose their leaves in the autumn. The leaves turn a beautiful red brown and stay on. It is only when the new leaf buds form in the spring that the old leaves fall off. I also discovered a newly posted sign. *Sigh* It was up right at the front gate of our favourite place to walk Polly. Now we have to find a new place for her to run. This morning, I am making apple butter. The whole house smells like apples cooking and wonderful spices. Apple butter can't be found here in the UK, so years ago I decided I would just make it myself. Once a year, I buy almost a whole bunch of apples (half a bushel) and cook them up. I put the homemade apple butter into jars that I have been carefully hoarding all year. Some jars stay here for our own use and the other jars of apple butter go to the neighbours and friends who have developed a taste for it.I love this nifty little gadget. It peels and cores the apples very quickly. I love it because it saves me so much time.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Crime Scene and New Shoes

I've come home from work to get my end-of-week computer work done only to discover that there has been a murder in the house.
Our cat Julio dragged a blackbird through the cat flap and then proceeded to kill it all over the house. The bulk of the feathers seem to be in the blue bathroom and the hallway in the extension. European Blackbirds are in the thrush family (same as a US robin) and have a surprisingly large number of feathers.

Julio left the half plucked bird under the desk here in the office as a gift to me. I can do without that sort of TGIF present.

I've just finished vacuuming up the feathers and tossed the body of the poor unfortunate blackbird in the bin.

Despite the carnage that I faced coming home, it isn't the focus of this particular entry. I'd like to tell you that I have fallen in love, in love with some new shoes! I haven't been so gaga over a pair of shoes like this in a long time. Shoes that I like are rarely on sale. When they are on sale, they never have my size. I've got a big foot. (US 10, UK 8 or European 42) I wasn't really looking for new shoes but I always have a trawl through a sale rack. Who doesn't? I liked the style, the sale had just started and they had my size! I took the alignment of these three requirements as a sign from God and purchased the shoes. I haven't taken them off since.
Ok, I was exaggerating for comic effect. I took them off to have a bath and go to bed.
I have about four or five pairs of black court shoes in various heel heights and states of wear. I favour the style illustrated above with a medium heel and rounded toe. The rounded toe makes my large foot appear smaller (or at least I think it makes my foot look smaller). I wear them almost exclusively to work and they get worn until they are worn out. Even though I polish my shoes regularly to keep them nice, I think I wear out two pairs a year. Black court shoes go with just about everything but I do get a bit bored with them from time to time. That is why I was so open to temptation when the new shoes caught my eye. I think they will go well with denim jeans, so I may wear them all weekend.

Me + my new shoes = true love