Thursday, January 31, 2008

Fox in the Garden!

Last night or rather in the early hours of this morning, Polly started barking. A normally quiet dog, this was out of the ordinary for her. I looked at the clock and it said 03:34 - What is she barking about?

I had a peek out our bedroom window. There in the light above our back door and in front of my car was a fox. It was just standing there, staring at the house. Polly was still barking and obviously asking to go out.I don't want Polly bitten and I don't want her to think that it's her job to rid the garden of visiting forest creatures. We have had badgers in the garden in the past and if Polly ever decided to go head to head with a badger, she could be very badly injured. I praised our dog for letting me know that the fox was there, but I didn't let her out. I went out myself and got the fox to move along. That sounds braver than it actually was. To get the fox to leave our garden, all I had to do was open the door.

The fox was obviously looking for a chicken dinner and my chickens were safe in their hen house. As it has been so muddy in the chicken run, I've been letting the hens out into the garden lately. After seeing the fox, I am not going to let the chickens out unless I am home with the dog. A hungry fox will come into the garden during the day. I've lost many chickens in the past during broad daylight to foxes. The mere presence of a dog will prevent the fox from getting too close. They are very timid creatures and will never take on a dog.

Interrupted sleep - 3:30 in the morning! I'm going to be yawning all day.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I Made Some!

Here are the results of my first attempt at making root beer at home.

I have reused plastic pop bottles - carefully washed in the hottest water available and then rinsed in very hot water and left to air dry. Reusing the plastic containers we have here at the house is very economical AND green. The small bottle there is so that when I test it in about 3 days, I don't have to open up a huge bottle of the stuff.

Using some root beer extract that I had in the house, I made about 4.5 gallons or 20 litres of the stuff. The bottles are living underneath the stand that holds up my big aquarium where the temperature will stay nice stable and warm. It now has to cure so that the yeast in the brew can go and create carbon dioxide (the bubbles). That big basket on the right in the photo holds all the aquarium supplies. When the carbonation levels are right, then I will stop the yeast in its tracks through the gift of refrigeration.

There wasn't enough root beer to fill the last bottle to the top, so I have decided that this is the bit I can drink now. It really is very good. This means that if the carbonation doesn't happen to this batch of root beer, it will be okay. I'll have plenty of root beer for non-foamy root beer floats. As long as bottles don't go "off" or sour, this stuff is drinkable!

I have to keep my fingers crossed that we don't have any bottles burst on me. That will be a sticky mess and a waste of really good root beer.

If this works out I may try brewing some other home-made soft drinks. There is an elderberry bush across the road and I could try making elderflower champagne. I also fancy trying home-made ginger beer (ginger ale).

If we have a nice summer, I imagine getting the hammock strung up and sipping lots of nice home brewed soft drinks out on our lawn.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Root Beer

I just can't get my head around why root beer isn't as widely liked over here in the UK as it is back in the US. I often struggle to find a good can of root beer. I only dream of proper draught root beer. One supermarket chain over here sells a cheap brand named Carter's Root beer but the taste is not good. It doesn't have that lovely creamy base note that good root beer has and it is sweetened with too many artificial sweeteners rather than good old sugar. BUT if you have to have a root beer and that's the only one. . . .

In the mean time, a little gift has come through the post. Some friends of ours from Ohio have sent me some sassafras root, some brewer's yeast and a book of how to make root beer at home with a pile of recipes. I may just try to make a batch.

My love of root beer goes waaaay back. I can remember the exact day I started to love root beer. (warning: nostalgia alert)
It was high summer and we were living in Bismarck, North Dakota and I was about six. It was bed time, but I was in the bathroom with my first loose tooth. The tooth had been wobbly for days. That warm summer night, it finally came out. I had to get it out myself or my dad would have pulled it for me and I didn't trust him not to hurt me.

I ran into the living room and showed my parents the tooth and the new gap in my mouth. Mom was so thrilled for me that she declared that a celebration was in order. We got into the car. I was still in my pajamas, how exciting is that! Mom took me to the A&W drive in and we ordered root beer floats! I loved going to the A&W. This was one of the last old fashioned types of drive in. The car was driven into the parking spot. There was a little intercom thing in your parking bay just under the menu. After giving your order, you just waited in the car. When the order arrived it was on this metal tray with big clip on it. If you rolled your window half way down, the tray could be clipped to the window. Instant table!

Were the mug's frozen? I seem to remember that, but it could be my memory is fuzzy. I do remember that with root beer floats the ice cream would get a very thin frozen film of root beer forming on it. I loved using a spoon to get that bit. Going to the A&W root beer stand in the summer was a great way to cool off and if you're there to celebrate your first tooth coming out, it's heaven.

My husband says that root beer tastes like toothpaste but I don't listen to him. Since that night, I have always loved root beer.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Spring Will Come Again

The weather outside is just about as depressing as Scottish weather can get. It is sort of snowing, sort of raining. This makes for a sticky sort of sleety situation that sticks to everything, but doesn't look pretty. To add to this the wind is forcing this stuff to come in sideways.
Having said that, I can tell that the days are starting to get just a little bit longer. The buds on trees are getting fat, even though it is the dead of winter.
Spring is even starting to work its mysterious ways on me. Something drew me into a garden centre after work today.
I didn't get anything but I did look at seeds. I didn't plant a vegetable garden last year and I really missed it. I'm going to plant a garden this year though. I also looked at replacement bits for the greenhouses. I have to buy new glass and try to fix the little greenhouse again. I wonder if I can get the door reglazed this spring. In any case, all the glass needs to be washed. It is very green. The greenhouse shouldn't have actual green glass on it. The glass should be clear and algae free.

Here is the thing, one can kill a plant by overwatering it. Especially in the winter. The little lemon tree in our window sill that I thought I had killed isn't completely dead. The little lemon tree has a sprout! If the tree were bigger, the sprout could be said to be on the trunk. I overwatered this little tree by accident. I assumed that the roots had not grown sufficiently to get to the bottom of the pot and I would let water stay in the little tray that catches the overspill. This was wrong. You should never let houseplants sit permanently in water as I did.

One week in late autumn, all the leaves fell off this tree. This is a very bad sign for citrus trees that tend to hold on to all their leaves. I knew right away that I had overwatered the poor thing. I changed some of the compost to fresher, drier compost, trimmed all the unripe fruit off the tree and put it in the strongest sunshine available to me. After that, I kept the soil on the dry side of damp. I did notice that some of the smaller twigs had turned brown, so they got snipped off. On Saturday morning, I saw my reward. Two little little sprouts showed up. The tree is going to make it!
This is a slightly out of focus shot of one of the new sprouts. I love how nature forgives me my overwatering sins and shows mercy with these bright tender little shoots.

I'm making pizza for dinner. The dough should be almost ready. After dinner I'm going to sit in front of the fire with some seed catalogs and imagine how lovely the garden is going to look this year.

Friday, January 18, 2008

2nd Annual Golden Spork Awards

Woo Hoo!

I won again!

This year was under the category of "fascinating blogger".

I am so pleased!

Thank you Tink and thank you readers!

Please go read this woman's blog. She's so creative and writes so well AND SHE'S NOT EVEN 25 YEARS OLD YET!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Who Would Have Thought?

I was tagged by my mother for a meme. I haven't done one of these in a long time and as it is my own dear mother, I'm playing.

The idea is to list five things in your life now that you would have never thought would be in your life when you were 25.

1. The first thing has to be my husband Henry. How was I to know that in four years, I was going to meet him. Falling in love with him and having that relationship develop was certainly surprising! I wasn't even LOOKING for a boyfriend (hoping but not actively hunting) when we met. It is hard to find a decent boyfriend when you have two very active, lively boys. I used to think that men would rather date a woman with a social disease than date one with two children.
I was camping with my boys Ian then 9 years old and Sean then 8 years and I bumped into him near the campsite. Three weeks later, he proposed marriage. Eleven months later were were saying our "I dos".

2. Next is George, son #3. Just a year and two months after I married his father, George showed up. I remember being upset when I was divorced from my first husband. I was worried that the split marked the completion of my family. I had two lovely young boys and I wanted a large family. How was I going to have that on my own?

3. I live in Scotland! Wow! If you had told me when I was 25 that in twenty years, I'd be happily ensconced in the Scottish countryside with my family, the dog, the cat and all those chickens, I think I would have called you a liar. But here I am. If I look out the window, sure enough, it's Scotland out there.

4. I learned how to dive! When I turned 25, I was living in South Florida. A few guys that I dated were divers as was one of my best friends and I always wanted to learn to dive. Sadly, raising two boys on my own meant that the budget didn't run to scuba lessons. I contented myself with snorkeling. Good thing that the snorkeling at the beach in Boca Raton is great and free! The boys actually started to complain about having to go to the beach every Saturday. I couldn't believe that! Aren't young boys supposed to want to go to the beach and the mothers supposed to make excuses not to go?

5. I travel! I have always WANTED to travel. It seemed, growing up in the Midwest that the sort of life where I would own a passport and have lots of stamps in it from all over the world was just not going to happen to me. I had lots of international friends but I meet them at school. They traveled to where I lived not the other way around. These people were evidence that life existed outside the US and it was interesting! Nobody in my family went anywhere near a border. I came from a family where you lived and died inside the same state you were born. If you did have to move one didn't move any further than the next state over. I was desperate to go places. My life choices leading up to my 25th year meant that I was a single mother with two active boys to raise. One thing that single parents DIDN'T do was international travel. Even non-international travel was a stretch.

Those are the five things about which my 25 year old self would be happily surprised.

In the spirit of a meme I am tagging five other people. The people I have tagged have been requested to fill in their own list. Those who have been tagged please don't feel OBLIGATED to do this, but I would like to read what you write.

1. Gordon
2. Bob
3. Mort
4. Joe
5. Wil

Claude, I am not tagging you again because you said you don't like memes but you did one to please me. So, I am not pushing my luck on this one however, I would love to read your response if you want to play. This goes double for Betty, Kell, Jay, Josie, Susan, Joy, Reg, Biker Bob and Tink (who may not qualify yet as she is so bloody young!)

If you do decide to take me up on this particular meme, please let me and others know in the comments. Thank you.
I'm going to be away for the bulk of the week in Cambridge with work. I'm leaving at some stupidly early hour tomorrow morning. Yippee conference rooms!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Gone Blonde

I was tired of the old look and in the darkest part of a sun-free winter, I needed a bit of a lift.

So the long hair that was always pulled back into a chignon on the back of my head has been shortened and gone a few shades lighter.

I really like it! Sometimes a successful visit to the hairdresser lifts the spirit better than six months of therapy!

Note: Haloscan is having a few hiccups at the moment. Please persevere with the comments. The truly tenacious seem to get through to the other side.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Ailsa Craig

I was in another seaside town yesterday, Girvan. Sadly it was lots of wind and rain so I didn't get out to enjoy the beach with Polly. Despite the poor weather yesterday, the Ayrshire coast is still beautiful.It is a small town and one of the biggest claims the town has is it's spectacular view of Ailsa Craig for which my little camera does not do it justice. This big chunk of green granite sticking out of the Irish Sea is the plug to an ancient and very dead volcano. The fine grain of the granite on Ailsa Craig makes it the source for the world's finest curling stones. I'll write about curling in a separate post some other time.
On the way to and from Girvan, I went along the beautiful A714. Using this road cuts a lot of time off my journey but it does take me through the woods. Some of the trees on this road have been here for a very long time. There were loads of old and stunted pines near the road. The trees were covered in lichen. They were decorated so beautifully, that I had to stop in the middle of the road (thankfully it's a quite road) and get a photo of one of the trees.Note that in the tree photo you can see quite plainly the blurred spot from the scratch on the camera lens. :-(

Today just as I was pulling out of the drive, another chunk of the wind turbines was coming past. I swear they time it exactly so that I have to wait. Thankfully I am a very patient person and wasn't in a big hurry. The pieces are just so big that they not only take up all the road, but when they go past, they take up ones entire field of vision!!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

And Then There Were Nine

One of the young hens has died. I found her in the rain-soaked chicken run yesterday when I went to fill the water and feed hopper and collect the eggs. Poor thing.

I'm pleased that my hens live a pretty good chicken life before they cross over to the other side.

I don't know how she died but it doesn't look as though she was killed by anything. None of the chickens looked ill or were acting oddly. Sometimes they just die. She fell off her perch.

The thing is, I can't just go and replace her with a new chicken. The new chicken would get pecked to death by the established flock. They just don't DO outsiders. Introductions need to be made over a period of time and in groups. Single chickens have no chance at all. I managed to integrate the six new hens with my four old ones in September because I was adding in a larger group of hens to the established flock of four. In addition, I kept them separated but visible to each other for an entire week before I put them all together. Even then there was some bullying and I had to pull two of the older hens out and put them in the side pen for a few days. It took some patience but they all get along now - sort of like parallel flocks. You always see the older hens together and the young red hens together.

Today in Scotland the key word was WIND. The winds were very high here today. The M74 had five trucks tipped over from high winds, blocking traffic. The radio reported that 10,000 homes were without power because the lines were being blown over or trees fell on the power lines. Thankfully the more dramatic results of high winds haven't hit us. It was a real "hand on to your hat" sort of day.

The winds have eased off as the sun set, so let's hope there is no more of THAT!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Visiting Dignitaries

I have kept a few toys from George's early childhood. They live in this big red plastic bucket under the loft ladder. When my friends and neighbours visit with small children, the bucket is called into use.
It makes life a little bit easier for me, the toddlers and the parents of the toddler.

Everybody should have some fun stuff saved by for visiting little people.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Feast of the Epiphany

The Man of the place with his parents and baby sister.

It's the twelfth day of Christmas. Time to take down those Christmas decorations. Naturally you can only take them down if you put them up in the first place. Way back when the children were little, I used to leave the Christmas decorations up for ages. The winter seemed nicer with the decorations. The front room was always a little bare looking after the Vegas-like decorations were packed away. Though we didn't put them up this year, these days we whisk the decorations away pretty quickly, not bothering to wait until the 6th of January.

In this house today is the day to put up BIRTHDAY decorations!

Happy birthday to my favourite husband!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Make New Friends

It's not every day that I make a posting about a new visitor, but this one is really special. This blog had a visit from a woman that we met on our holiday. Her name is Nam and she lives in Thailand. She and her good friend Sayuri were on the boat with us on the 22nd of December when we went to dive at the Strait of Tiran. The above photo is of Sayuri on the left and Nam on the right. They were so fun to talk to and were enthusiastic about everything! It makes a holiday all the more special when you meet wonderful people like these two women. Here is (in order) Nam, The Man of the Place, George and Sayuri. In the back of them is the ship wreck on Gordon Reef in the Strait of Tiran. This picture was taken while I was diving. Henry and George skipped the third dive that day and spent the time talking to these fellow passengers. I am SO pleased that I had changed memory cards in my camera before going out to dive the next day. If I hadn't done that, these photos would be lost forever.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Winter Wonderland

This is what greeted us when we woke up this morning!
THIS is the reason I love snow! It was very pretty. Sadly, it wasn't quite enough to keep me from getting to work.
Here are the chickens seeing snow for the 1st time in their tiny lives.
Here is the front garden.
Now it's raining and all the lovely snow will be gone in the morning. Lets hope we get some more snow. Our usual snowfall happens toward the end of the winter so we've got a few more months to go.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

It's Snowing!

We had lovely sunny days with normal amounts of daylight when we traveled south to Egypt. It made coming back to the dark and gloomy north just a bit more depressing. It isn't just the short winter days and the constant rain, it is the fact that when it is supposed to be daytime, the light is so dim! This far north, the sun stays low in the sky. The low sun, combined with thick cloud cover, makes for very dull, dark days.

To make up for that, today we have snow! I love snow! I don't mind shoveling it or driving in it. I love how it makes everything look so pretty and clean. I love walks in the snow and trying to figure out what animals have made the strange tracks.

I'm sure that the love of snow comes from school days in the Midwest. If there had been any sort of snow at night or over the weekend, school might be closed. My siblings and I would be eating our cornflakes at the breakfast table in silence, ears plastered to the radio hoping beyond hope that our school would be closed due to snow. It seems that the school closure was dependent on whether the buses could get the students to and from school safely. Our bus drivers were retired farmers. These guys (usually called Vern) could get a big yellow school bus through anything. I swear that the snowplows used to follow Vern down the roads.

It seemed that all other schools in the nearby towns would be closed. We'd hear the names of the closed schools called in alphabetical order and when the radio announcer got to Solon, twelve miles away (the town between us and the metropolis of Iowa City) without mentioning Mount Vernon, we knew we'd have to trudge our way in. It would have to be one spectacular snowfall to make our school shut. I only remember our school being shut once.It's snowing now and I'm hoping that the goddess of snow will remember that she forgot us last year and try to make up the shortfall now. You can see that we've got big fat, wet flakes and they're not melting too quickly when they hit the ground. Pray for snow!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's Day

We had a little family party last night. One of George's friends, a nice kid named Scott was over here as well. This morning, we awoke to lots of leftover party food. We had two choices, eat all the stuff we didn't eat last night or go with something different.

"Mom, I don't like honey roasted peanuts."

"Shut up and eat your breakfast."

"Can't I have something else?"

"Sure. Pretzels."
As we did last year, we started 2008 with waffles.
The recipe for waffles can be found here.

I'm getting pretty good at making these.
We didn't have the big storm that we had last year, but it is dark and rainy. It's been dark and rainy since we got back from Egypt. Having had a week of sunlight, really makes coming back to gloomy rain all the more soul destroying. I can't wait for the sun to come back!
Now I'm off to consider New Year's resolutions. I don't normally make resolutions. I figure that I'm just setting myself up for failure. I don't smoke anymore, so that one is out. I don't drink much, so no problems there. Perhaps it will be the lose weight thing. I've been working on that one, so perhaps I'll pin my hopes on that resolution. Nah! I'll just go with "Try to do things better". That's a pretty generic resolution and easily accomplished.
I think I am being called to make another batch of waffles.