Sunday, June 29, 2008

On my holidays!

There isn't much left to do.

The dog is in the kennel. She LOVES it there and may not wish to come home afterward

Except pack the car - 5 minutes

Make the sandwiches - +20 minutes

Clean the kitchen - 1 hour

Find the holiday label file and print off labels for post cards - (time to do item depends on whether or not it was lost in the last computer crash) approx 10 minutes

Mustn't forget camera, passports and travel documents, money and the first aid kit.

I think that's about it. I don't know if I'll be able to blog from where I'll be. I have made a policy decision to NOT take the laptop. If there is a convenient internet cafe, then I'll post. If not . . . you will just have to imagine what me and my family are getting up to!

I pride myself in my ability to pack light. There really is NO need for large suitcases unless you're going away for The Grand Tour.This photo was taken five minutes ago by George. I am holding my suitcase for the two and a half weeks we will be away. Swimming suits, t-shirts and shorts don't really take up much room. I am taking one pair of shoes, the sandals I'll be wearing. C'est tout!

I'm just like a big kid. I'm so excited I don't know how I'll get to sleep tonight!

If I fail to get to sleep, there is always a spot of ironing that needs to be done.

See you later!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Iowa Floods

This is Highway 1, south of Mount Vernon last week. I used to live just up the road from where this photo was taken. Where I lived is just out of shot in the upper right corner of that photo. This means that our old house is fine but our former neighbors are ruined.

This is one of the rivers in Iowa that flooded, the Cedar River. The farm shown is the Pitlik farm. There were a bunch of cottages on the other side of the river from the farm in an area called Ivanhoe. Those cottages are gone.

The Iowa River in Iowa City, the Cedar River in Waterloo and Cedar Rapids, the Des Moines River in Des Moines all caused a lot of trouble for people this year.

As much as I love living in Scotland, I do miss my home state of Iowa. I miss my family and my friends. I miss the landscape and the people.

When bad things like these floods happen, I wish that I was there to help. I don't know if I'd actually like to see the flood damage. I don't know if I would want to see my beloved, peaceful state when it is not at it's best. Iowa in the summer is Iowa at its best. I don't want the people I care about over there to think that I'm glad I'm not there anymore, because that isn't true. You can be happy to be living in one place AND miss another place at the same time. I know because it happens to me all the time. As somebody once wrote "It is a curse to love two countries."

I see those rivers all angry and in flood and I can only think of the good memories I have of those rivers. The rivers I know are the rivers that I have swam in and paddled a canoe on. I had the worst sunburn of my life on a Iowa river. My friend Deb and I decided to float down the Wapsipinicon on giant tractor tire inner tubes one fine summer day. We parked my car at a small country store on the banks of the "Wapsi" and then drove her car to a spot well up stream. We plopped our backsides into the oversized rubber tubes and floated down the river all afternoon. We just splashed each other, talked about everybody we knew and squealed when we thought that fish had tried to nibble us. I didn't even THINK about sunscreen. When we reached the bank where we had to get out, I could already see quite plainly where my swimming suit was and the white outline of the knot where I had tied the car keys on to prevent losing them. I knew I was going to be in for a rough night. I have never gone near a river without sunscreen again.

I've had so many picnics and been camping on the banks of these rivers that have caused the damage this month. I feel betrayed. These rivers are supposed to provide idylic summer memories not trauma!

Down the road and down stream from where the first photo was taken is a place called Sutliff. There aren't even enough houses there for it to be called a village. It used to be a ferry point until some bright spark put a bridge there. The bridge was still in use up until my senior year in high school, 1981. Knuckleheaded boys with their first cars would show off by trying to get over the bridge at speed. causing the wooden planks to leap about. It was probably due to people I knew that the bridge was finally blocked off to traffic and you could only get across on foot. There is still a small general store in Sutliff. If you're going to have a day canoeing on the Cedar River, the Sutliff General Store is a wonderful spot to start from. Well it used to be anyway.

This is a photo I have borrowed from my friend Tom.It was taken after the Sutliff Bridge was closed to vehicles.

Here is the bridge getting washed away. These photos were taken from the front porch of the general store I mentioned earlier. It broke my heart to see parts of my former life getting washed down the river this way.

My Iowa friends have written about the flooding in their blogs.



They've got more photos and Tom wrote a beautiful piece about the Sutliff bridge.

This is the second major flood that Iowa has suffered in 15 years. Friends' business have been washed away but thankfully nobody I know of has lost a house. Clawing back a living will be tough enough. Hang in there everybody! I pray that it doesn't happen again during my lifetime!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Splashy Puddletime Fun

Later on this week, the ducklings are off to live in their new home. They are going back to the people I got the duck eggs from originally. They will go there with their foster mother until they've grown enough feathers to not need her warmth anymore and then the hen will come back here.

I wonder if the ducks that live over there will recognise their biological offspring. Probably not.

Yesterday the ducklings were having an absolute blast playing in the puddles in our drive. The mother hen was trying her hardest to get the ducklings to scratch around in the grass as she was doing, but they were having none of it. The ducklings were all about the puddles yesterday. I tried to get a good photo of the ducklings in the small puddles, but if I got too close it would scare everybody out of the water.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Well That Didn't Last Long!

Not long after yesterday's blog entry was sent out into the interweb, it started to rain. I had to dash out and pull all the laundry off the line. It started raining harder and the wind picked up. By the time Gordon and Louise arrived (with cake!) it was chucking it down and very unpleasant. I think it was cosmic retribution for me bragging about the lovely summer morning we were having.

We all had such a nice chat with those two. (Happy Birthday Louise!) We went outside for a bit so that they could admire the little bundles of fluff. It's amazing how quickly they grow in just three days!

Now it is Sunday afternoon and I don't think the rain has stopped since it started yesterday. It's cold too. We lit a fire in the fireplace last night to take the chill out of the air. As yesterday was the first day of summer I was loathe to turn the furnace back on. In addition to that, the cost of heating oil is so high! We thought that during the summer the cost of heating oil would go down as it has done in the past. We were going to take advantage of that and get the tank filled up but the price keeps going UP!

I've had it with worries. I am now going to focus on the week ahead. We are preparing to set off on our summer family holiday. We will be using a UK based holiday company that we've used many many times before, Matthews Holidays.

Our first holiday in France was years ago when all three boys were still at home and young enough to have no say in whether or not they came on the family holiday. I was still a stay at home mother and our household budget was Tight. I found a last minute, off peak bargain off teletext with this company.

We went to Brittany for two weeks in early September and stayed in one of their static caravans. I must say that even though it was a bargain we all had a really good time. The weather in that part of France in September is dry, sunny and not too hot. Most of the tourists have gone back to their schools and work desks by then and the crowds of summer are just a dimming memory. We had a really good time and it didn't cripple our finances. We kept going back there for years.

In the past couple of years we've found that we can go a bit further, spending the same amount of money. One year I compared the prices for holidays in Greece and it turned out that it would actually be less expensive to fly to the Greek islands. So we went to the lovely island of Skiathos for a couple of years.

As much as I loved our holidays in Skiathos and the holidays to Egypt, I found I missed going to France. This year we're going back. This time however we're are going to go further south than we've ever been before. We're headed to the Mediterranean coast not far from the Spanish border. I'm really excited. The Man of the Place and I have been researching the dive laws in France and getting all the documentation we might need to dive in this corner of Europe. In addition to bringing along our qualifications, we need to have a current medical certificate signed by a doctor. We also may or may not need some passport style photographs. We'll just get some done at the local supermarket photo booth. Aerial photo of Torreilles Plage. Photo of the beach with the foot hills of the Pyrenees in the background.

This is where we will be for two weeks.

In addition to all this we are also taking neighbour boy Gordon with us. Gordon and George are eight weeks apart in age and have very different personalities. Despite or because of this, they've always been very good friends. We're quite fond of Gordon and know that he'll be good company for all of us during this holiday and I think he'll have a good time.In my excitement I bought a sunhat when I booked the holiday. This will protect me from the harsh Mediterranean sun. It is a bit garish, but where else can you wear a hat like this if not in the South of France when one is on ones holidays! It may have the added bonus of embarrassing my family.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

First Day of Summer

The Cuteness Continues!

As an introduction to summer you really would be hard pressed to find a lovelier morning than the one we are experiencing in South West Scotland. It is all very pastoral here at Whitelees (the name of our house) with clothes drying on the line, plants in front of the greenhouse to be planted out and a mother hen with her little charges walking around in the dewy grass.

If regular readers will recall, earlier in the spring we had a problem with Jackdaws trying to make nests in our chimneys. The birds were put off that idea by the fabulous Man of the Place and the Jackdaws were forced to make their nests in trees! Nature can be so cruel. There is one successful nest in the beech tree in the corner of the place. The little ones are getting ready to leave the nest any time now. They make quite a racket at the moment as you can hear in the video clip.

I'm off to do something domestic like scrub the kitchen floor. When I do this, the kitchen door will be open and I might get a vist from the mother hen and her little adopted ducklings.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Duckling Rescue!!!

Update on the number of ducklings we have here at Whitelees Cottage:

This evening, I phoned up my friend Antony, husband of Helen. Helen who is away on business in Canada this week and Antony are the source of the fertile duck eggs. They have an egg incubator and hatched out some additional duck eggs. They had put eggs into the incubator at the same time my hen started sitting on the duck eggs over here. This well timed hatch was successful with five ducklings coming out of their shells at the same time mine did over here. I had phoned this evening to see what the duckling status was with them on the other side of the village.

I'm glad I phoned, Antony had a lot on his plate! In addition to their two small boys (ages 7 and 1) they have two new kittens, a lot of adult poultry and a wonderful rescue greyhound. In normal circumstances Antony can handle all of these things in Helen's absence with quite a bit of grace and ability. Things go along very smoothly, the house keeps on running. Tonight however the heat lamp that was set up for the new ducklings stopped working. We think the big bulb went.

I said I'd be right over. I drove the short distance to Antony and Helen's house and collected the rapidly cooling ducklings. The ickle baby ducks were put in a small cardboard box and transported very quickly back to our place. After a very quick pause to get a photo of the box-o-ducks, I put them one by one underneath my hen.There are now EIGHT day old ducklings here at Whitelees. My mother hen has accepted these new ducklings and they have accepted her.

Three Little Ducklings!

Well, here they are in all their wobbly webfooted glory! I present The Ducklings!

There are two that are so newly hatched that they are still a little damp looking. They are still very weak and wobbly in the little video clip there. One duckling hatched yesterday, so this one is the photogenic duckling. The struggle to get out of their shells was a mighty one but they all got out in the end.(newly hatched damp duckling on the left and older sibling is on the right)

With hens sitting on duck eggs, one is supposed to damped the shells with a light spray of water near the end. This is to simulate the damp underfeathers a mother duck will have when returning to the nest after her daily trip to feed, drink and poo. Hens won't have damp feathers you see as they are a bit further off the ground than a duck. In any case, you supposed to damped the shells so that the membranes aren't so brutal for the little hatchlings. I forgot and only remembered this evening. What I did instead was to help the little guys along by cracking the shells here and there and partially removing the shells for them. I think it is important that the ducklings still have a bit of a struggle to get out of these shells. I saw a rare crane being hatched out on TV once. The crane egg started to hatch and the little guy had pipped but then struggled to get out the rest of the way. The people caring for this rare crane egg caved in and did all the work for the hatchling by opening the egg up for it. The result was that the newly hatched crane had deformed legs. My ducklings had been trying to get out of the shells for two days and worried that they'd die before they finished the job, I helped a bit. I didn't want my ducklings to have deformed legs so I let them struggle a bit as well.After the weekend, these ducklings and their foster mother are going to my friend Helen's place to live. Once the ducklings no longer need their mother, I'll get the hen back. I believe that the breed of these ducklings are Khaki Campbell. I've let them be in a safe, dry area with some nice food and clean water, ensuring that the babies are tucked safely under the mother hen. I'll check on them regularly, but I think they'll be fine now.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Ducklings Are Hatching!

Today is the big day and right on time, the ducklings are hatching!

One of my hens has been sitting on six duck egg for the last 28 days. Today the eggs are hatching out. One duckling is already out. Two more eggs have pipped. This means that little tiny holes have appeared on the surface of the shell where the little guys inside have broken through. Three eggs appeared to be infertile. I checked the non-pipping eggs and they showed no signs of life at all. I double checked by chipping a little hole in the shells and (phew!) sure enough, there was nothing in there but rotting egg.

I dislike disturbing the mother when the eggs are hatching out. Disturbing the hen at this point in the proceedings can very easily cause chick or duckling deaths.

I'll have photos just as soon as the ducklings are safely out of their shells.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there and specifically, MY DAD!
Here is a flower my dad will recognise. Back in Northern Wisconsin it was called an Indian Paintbrush locally, but I don't know anything else. It isn't anything like Castilleja linariaefolia the Indian Paintbrush that is the Wyoming State Flower. I will have to do a bit more digging to discover the real name of this wild flower. It grew in my Grandmother's lawn in Northern Wisconsin and it grows in mine here in SW Scotland. I never pull it out even when it shows up in the herb bed because it always reminds me of my grandmother.
Near the herb bed in the front of the house is that *%£! mole hill. You can see the scars from the early spring mole hills next to this fresh one that plagued the front lawn earlier in the year.
This is our walnut tree. It is about 13 years old now. Athough it is a hybrid walnut and we were told that we'd get walnuts in four years, we haven not had a single nut to date. Every year there are little green nut buds but they never mature.
You can see the little trio of walnut buds there in the centre of the picture. Each year I see loads of those and start thinking about what I might be able to do with them once the walnuts are ripe. Sadly the dreams of a nut bounty are never realized. The little buds drop off.
If anybody is a walnut tree expert, can you please tell me why this happens. Are we too far north for walnuts? The tree is obviously healthy enough.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Can You Believe It?

A new mole hill showed up today!! It wasn't very large as the ground is a bit hard at the moment. Nobody was more surprised than I was! I've already stomped it down and re-seeded the spot so there wasn't any point in taking a photo of it.

I've already put in a call to Gamekeeper Mike.

I will not ignore the problem in the hope that it goes away as I did earlier in the year.

Direct action and mole-i-cide is the only way to get rid of them.

As we are going on our family summer holiday in two weeks, it was time to get all the live plants that have yet to be planted out in the borders out of the greenhouse. If the weather is decent, I'll get them into the garden tomorrow.

As I was in the greenhouse, I tackled the grapevine. It was starting its annual takeover of the greenhouse. I know nothing about pruning a grape vine, so I hacked it back to four main branches and am only letting those four grow. This might be easier to manage.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Remembering a Birthday

Scottie Denson 12 June, 1958 - 30 April 1991
If he had lived, my ex-husband would have been 50 today. He died in 1991 in very sad circumstances.

We didn't have a great relationship but he was the father of my first two beautiful, strong, intelligent sons and for that I am grateful.

Thank you for my babies Scottie. I hope you are at peace.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Spring Flowers

Now that we are in the depths of spring, my allergies are making themselves known. I manage to keep the worst of my sneezing managed with some steroid spray up the nose every morning but when the pollen count gets high, my eyes itch something awful!

I don't mind too much though. This time of year brings the start of the flower season. I just love flowers.

Here are a few beauties from our garden. This bearded iris is called Black Swan. Isn't it stunning? Pay no attention to the tall grass behind the flower. That is where the lovely paved patio is going to be. The Man of the Place says that this patio will be finished this summer . . . . I'm not going to hold my breath.

A lovely lily.

One of the hanging baskets. This one is by the back door and was planted up just two short weeks ago.
Polly wants to play.

I hope you are all able to get out and enjoy the spring flowers.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Julio Was in a Fight

The other day, when I was away, it was reported that Polly had escaped the confines of the garden by squeezing under the gate. She was playing with some unknown border collie. This collie has been spotted near the house a couple of times. It is shy and won't come near. I don't know whose dog it is but it looks to be a working dog rather than a pet. As you know the chickens had also escaped and had their evil way with my vegetable plants.

Wil of Paradise Driver had said in the comments that nobody knew what Julio got up to while I was away. He is right, we don't know for sure but we have uncovered evidence that Julio has been in a scrap. Some people in this house had said that it might have been Polly. I've never seen anything other than play between those two, so I am sceptical of this theory. My suspicions initially lay at the feet of that roving collie.

On Thursday when The Man of the Place and I went off to work, Julio was asleep on our bed. Nothing odd there, this often happens. When I returned however, many hours later, Julio hadn't left his spot on the bed. I sat down next to our cat and gave him a couple of strokes. There was a bit of dried blood in his nose and there was a big bite mark on his face. He wasn't looking or acting well. After a quick phone to the vet TMOTP, George, me and Julio were making the 14 minute trip back into Lockerbie. The vet met us at the surgery and proceeded to examine our dear cat.

There are all sorts of visiting animals here at Whitelees. In addition to Polly's border collie friends, we get cows, sheep, foxes, badgers, weasels, stoats, hedgehogs and the occasional feral cat. The vet stated that the injuries on our cat were very typical of a cat fight. This means that Polly and this other dog are off the hook.

Julio had a temperature and more bite marks were discovered. He was given antibiotics and an appointment to come back on Saturday morning. By Saturday he was back to his old self, moving normally and eating. We still made the appointment where Julio was given another dose of antibiotic PLUS his annual booster shots that were due to be given.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, I am surprised that we don't have bald pink pets. You should SEE the amount of pet hair we clean up this time of year! I had emptied the vaccuum cleaner before I started and THIS is the amount that was in there afterward!
The weather has been glorious this weekend. I've spent a number of hours mowing the lawn and planting out flowers.

The Man of the Place has been pointing up the stonework on the house in preparation for a fresh coat of paint. The neighbours look over the fence to see what we're up to and to offer occasional bits of advice.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Chickens and Gardens Don't Mix!

Sure, they LOOK innocent enough . . . .

It always seems as though cosmic forces conspire to ensure that if I have a nice time, I am going to have to suffer in some other way in payment. I was away yesterday to see my mother and had a lovely time seeing her and yesterday's pleasure was at the expense of my garden.

Our neighbours reported that Polly had crawled underneath the gate and was seen on the road playing with some strange (unknown) border collie. The neighbour came back to the house and ensured that my dog was safely back in the garden. I'm going to have to nail a board to the bottom of the gate to make absolutely certain that she NOT squeeze under it again.

The chickens also escaped while I was down south and had their evil way in the garden, destroying almost every vegetable plant in the plot. The entire vegetable plot may have to be replanted.Thankfully this is the only damage that occurred in the greenhouse. The tomatoes, peppers, coriander (cumin) and cucumber were okay but the grow bag with the basil in it has been destroyed.
The broccoli has had all its leaves stripped.
The devastation!

The pumpkin and courgette plants survived but nothing else has. If I replant over the weekend, I might get a crop or two.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Meeting My Mom

With the bulk of my family living in the US, I don't get to see everybody nearly as often as I would like. Sometimes a gal just wants to see her mom or dad. Today was different.

My mother is traveling from where she lives in Washington D.C. to Naples, Italy. She flew from Dulles Airport to Heathrow in London. She then had to change to Stanstead airport just outside London as she was changing airlines. This meant that she had a +4 hour layover. I took the day off from work and flew first thing this morning from Glasgow down to Stanstead and met her there. We hung out together for about four hours before I had to fly back to Glasgow and she took off for Napoli half an hour later.
We had the luxury of just being together for a bit. We had lunch, a glass of wine (or two) and just chatted.Mom, it was wonderful to see you. You look terrific!