Monday, November 24, 2008

Early Snow

It is not normal for us to have snow so early in the winter. If we get any snow at all, it will be in February and March, the end of the winter rather than in November during the opening credits.

I woke on Sunday to snow. I love snow!

I sprang from my lovely warm bed and got dressed up in many layers and took the dog Polly out for a walk. With the thought of that big cat still at large, I thought that the new snow would be perfect medium for big cat tracks. The snow turned out to be more glorified slush than proper snow which is always a bit disappointing. There were no other tracks on our road other than my own and Polly's. No cars or tractors had been up recently and by the time I got to the neighbour's place, I had not seen the tracks of any other animals. Not even a mouse. Nothing was stirring that morning.

It started to rain some freezing rain and my initial enthusiasm was getting damper by the second. I made an about face, leaving the hill and its promise of animal tracks in the snow for another time. When Polly realized I was heading back to the house, she zipped past me in her very best impersonation of a greyhound, running all the way back to the house without stopping. I think she was more than happy to end this walk. This snow/slush must have been cold on her little paws.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Which Egg Would You Rather Eat?

The egg on the left is a very large free range organic egg purchased in the supermarket at £1.99 for six. The egg on the right is one from my own hens. It costs me about £8 for a 25 kilo sack of chicken feed every month to feed them (plus kitchen scraps) and I rarely run out of eggs.

I did run out of eggs this week because the hens are still moulting and there was a birthday cake to make. - by the way, Happy Birthday Gordon! Hens lay few to no eggs while they are moulting and I was forced to buy eggs! When I buy eggs, I always try to buy the eggs from hens that will be as happy and free range as my own in the hope that the quality and flavour will be there. Sadly, the commercial egg, even when they are as groovy and free range as the ones I bought, just aren't a patch on our own eggs. The yolks are pale yellow, the albumen or egg white runs all over the place and the flavour is not there. The eggs from my hens are loaded with flavour! The yolks are orange and the albumen stands up firm and does not run at all when cracked into a pan.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Day Trip to Arran

I haven't been to the Island of Arran for a couple of months. The last time I tried to go to Arran, the seas were so rough that the ferries weren't going. They stayed safe in the port until the waves calmed down. The forecast was for a bit of blustery weather, but nothing that would stop ferries from going.

I prefer to have company when I go across to Arran. It is a long day and the island is such a joy that I always like to have somebody to share the views and sights with me. The Man of the Place had to work and our youngest, George has school so I invited my friend Kay along for the day. She was happy to accept.

It was 5.30 when I set out from Whitelees. I picked Kay up at 6.00 and we were on our way.
See the blackness of a Scottish morning! This was taken in our drive.

We stopped for a quick breakfast and were at the ferry port in Ardrossan on the spot of 9.00 to pick up our tickets and get on the 9.45 crossing to Brodick.(winter crossing schedule)
Nice man at the ticket desk in Ardrossan. He blushed when I asked if I could take his photo.
Even though I do this a couple of times each year, it is still so FUN to take the car on a ferry!

It was a little bumpy getting out of the port but nothing too terrifying. Even though the sun had risen, low cloud obscured the view of the island during the trip across. Kay and I had coffee in the on board cafe and looked out the rain spattered windows. We both wished we could wipe the windows so we could see out better. It was cloudy and blustery on the island but from time to time throughout the day, we'd get times of sunshine.View towards the peaks from the road that goes across the centre of the island.

I dashed across the middle of the island to the new surgery at Shiskine. After stopping there for a bit, it was back to the Brodick side to show Kay where the seals normally sit.

Because I had somebody with me, there were no seals to be seen. When I am on the island by myself I can see up to 30 seals at a time. They'll be up on the rocks. There will be little seal pups and the colony will be barking away. This time there were a pair of swans, a couple of herons, cormorants fishing, a few eider ducks, a grey wagtail on the rocks plus a wren but no seals. The tide was pretty far out at about 11.30 so I said we'd try to get back there later on in the afternoon. The tide will be higher later and we will have a second chance for seal spotting.Then we had a flurry of activity. We stopped in Arran Aromatics and then went into Brodick so I could make my presentation.

Completing my appointment and leaving the surgery Kay was nowhere to be seen. I knew exactly where to find her. Four buildings away from the health centre is the James Chocolate factory/shop.The staff were quite happy for me to take photos through the glass viewing window. It reminded me of my friend Robyn who has just made a career switch from journalist to confectioner. Was there ever a better job shift? If you ever fancy a bus man's holiday during your visit Doc, I'll take you over to Arran!My last appointment of the day was in Lamlash, now made famous by being the site of Scotland's first No Take Zone! - I am determined to do a dive or two in this new area!

Kay and I had a late lunch of deelish Cullen Skink (smoked haddock chowder) and bread that is baked on the island at the Brodick Bar and then tried one final time to see if we could see some seals . . .
We found two seals but they didn't come out of the water. You can see a seal's head an the wake it is making as it swims along. That's it.
There are some stunning Scots pines right next to the road. Winter days are short this time of year and at 3.15 the sun was well on its way down. It did make for some beautiful light.

After buying some cheese, Kay and I returned to the port. We were booked on the 16.00 crossing back to the mainland. We were met by some tense faces when we got to the seafront. There was a technical difficulty with the ferry. (don't like the sound of this) One of the hatches wasn't sealing properly. The boat won't sail if one of the doors won't shut. Naturally Kay and I think that perhaps we won't be getting off the island today. Oooh! That would be an adventure! I was secretly hoping that would happen.

We left the car in the marked queue, told the ferry staff we were going for a coffee (Would they like one?) and went to the cafe across the road to sit in comfort. They had the BEST iced gingerbread there. Kay and I shared a slab with our coffee.
The sunset had some beautiful purples in it.

The ferry did show up - it was late because of the earlier techinical fault - but we got off the island. I was hoping to have to find a bed and breakfast, get sloshed on what ever is brewed/distilled on the island and have a rare old time and getting off the island in the morning. Going home was better. I got in at about 21.30 (9.30 pm). It was a long, but really nice day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Some Days

Did you ever have one of those days when you think perhaps it wasn't really worth getting out of bed? I had one of those days today.

The day started out okay. I was a little sleepy and was having a busy morning. The car belonging to The Man of the Place was still in the shop so I was drove him in to town. A very expensive turbo charger in his car broke on Monday. This caused his lovely blue BMW to emit billowing clouds of blue smoke. . So, I drive him in and he will collect his car later.

Because my morning routine was disrupted, I didn't go through the ordinary leaving the house checks. e.g. lock all the doors, put phone in handbag, water dish for dog, check food and water for chickens . . . that sort of thing. I managed to get the animals checked on and Henry had locked the doors . . . did I forget anything? I've got my diary and my handbag . . . .

I was headed out to Stranraer again. It is about 95 miles from the house and so with half a tank of diesel in the car, I thought I'd just top up the tank on the outward journey so that I wouldn't have to do it at the end of the day when I am often much more tired.

I pulled into the Shell station on the outskirts of Dumfries. I use this particular station almost exclusively. I have Shell fuel card and this is the Shell station closest to the house and conveniently right on today's direct route. It was busy as I pulled in and the only pump not in use was the one on the far left. I usually go to the pumps on the right or centre and for some reason, never usually go to the left side of the forecourt.Hmm. . . what shall we put in the car today . . . .
I get out, and start to fill the car. Just when I'm almost finished, I look at the pump and notice that the prices have gone down even further. The diesel was .99 pence per litre . . . wait a minute . . . it hasn't . . . I'm putting unleaded in the car!! Bugger! *groan*

This is going to screw up my day a bit . . . Okay. . . first things first. Go pay for the fuel I don't want. I went up and paid for the unleaded petrol and informed Alex, the nice guy who works there, that my car prefers diesel rather to the 35 litres of unleaded that I have just put in it.

Alex smiles. He's been through this before. It is early, I was a little distracted and I was using a pump that I don't normally use. It happens all the time he says. He comes out from behind the counter and gets the big orange traffic cone. He tells me not to start the car and places the cone behind my car so that nobody will queue up behind me.

I then go to call the AA breakdown service (the UK equiv of the AAA). Wait a minute! Where is my work phone? I can't find it. Then realization hits me. I have left it at home. It is in the pocket of the jacket I was wearing yesterday. Arrgh! Never mind. I will use my personal phone. . . . that isn't charged up and dies in the middle of dialing the first number. Bloody bollocks!

Alex kindly offers the use of the phone inside. I phone the breakdown service. "Wrong fuel in the car" I tell them. No problem, but the wait will be two hours. (What?!) Apparently there are a few jobs on the go for the drivers this morning. In fact, while I am waiting an AA driver comes through the Shell station. he says that I am probably on his list but he can't reshuffle the jobs. He will get to me in due time. I am starting to think that I am not going to make it to my 12.30 appointment even though it is only 9.30.

I can either get all worked up and Type A personality about this or I can just relax and enjoy the wait. Polly, who had a bath the night before was behaving perfectly (asleep on the back seat). I bought a coke and a couple of magazines and went back to my car for the wait. I listened to the morning radio and flipped through glossy magazines showing how fabulous the party for Prince Charles was. I was so engrossed in the lifestyles of the crowned heads of Europe that a knock on the car window caused me to practically jump out of my skin. I was being invited inside for coffee. How nice!! Who else has had a free coffee from the Shell station?Here are Alex (on the left) and Shane - the guys who work the morning shift at the Shell station on the outside of Dumfries. They are really nice guys.This is the AA guy (also a nice guy) who towed me to the garage to get the contaminated fuel drained from my car.
The process of removing the unwanted fuel from my car isn't as straightforward as it used to be. There are anti-siphon thingies in cars now. The back seat had to be take out!! I don't know why. It took hours.

I had to call The Man of the Place (another borrowed phone) and ask him to phone my Stranraer appointment and cancel for me. *sigh* There was nothing else I could do. I walked Polly. At lunch we found a burger van. I had a bacon roll and Polly had a sausage roll with no bun. I read my magazines and just killed time. At about 2 pm I was finally in the car again with all the windows open. The car was filledwith diesel fumes. Good thing I don't smoke anymore!

I was back home by three having seen NO customers and even LESS fuel in the car. Sheesh! I have comforted myself with a nice hot bath and then have a nice hour or so whacking people on Mob Wars on Facebook. Tomorrow will be better . . . almost Friday.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Big Cat Sighting!!

We live in the country. Real proper countryside stuff is part of our daily lives. I have been keeping chickens for about 14 years. I have been seen out of a field by a annoyed cow and have helped with lambing. Even though we are not farmers, all our neighbours are farmers. We've got a dairy farm next to us on the south and to the north we have sheep. To the west of our house is a planted forest. It is a happy coincidence that our neighbours have a son, Gordon that is only eight weeks younger than our George. These two are firm and life long friends.

Monday night I took George up to the farm with his guitar and amplifier so he could play with Gordon (they are forming a band) and his newly upgraded drum kit. About 9pm it was Henry's duty to collect him from "up the road".

At 9.20 pm the kitchen door opened and The Man of the Place and our son came hurrying in with eyes as big as saucers. "We've just seen the big cat!"This is not our photo, but you get a good idea of what was seen crossing the road next to our house!

They proceeded to tell me about the very large animal that was crossing the road between us and Charlie our nearest neighbour. For you city folks, the animal was about a city block away from us. Previously the only large wild animals that have been seen by us are badgers, foxes and deer. The phrase "it wasn't a fox" kept peppering the animated descriptions.

I was told that it was the size of a mountain lion and a dark sandy colour. The guys were quite shaken and told me to keep the dog in the house for the rest of the night.

We first called Mike the Gamekeeper. I wish we hadn't because he was a real wet blanket. He kept saying how he goes into those very woods every day and has never seen any sign of it. He kept talking about an unusually large dog fox that keeps taking the lambs and that must have been what Henry and George had seen.

The police (yes, they were called) and Jimmy in the paper shop the next morning were just as sceptical as Gamekeeper Mike. Thankfully when speaking to our neighbours, there was no scepticism at all. Innes (father of Gordon) said that he has seen a half eaten deer carcass in one of the tall shooting platforms that are dotted through the forests around here. Charlie has seen a large cat like animal leap up onto a stone dyke that was far heavier set than any fox. Young Jack, a boy who lives on a farm not too far from here came back from a walk in the woods with his face as white as chalk and his pocket knife in his hand with the blade out. He had seen some large cat that scared two days growth out of him. Duncan at the farm on the other side of Charlie says that he has seen it and has had dead sheep and lambs that are almost entirely consumed.

Foxes are delicately framed creatures. The animal that my family saw and the animal seen by our neighbour was heavily set and had very distinctive cat like movements. Henry described a cat's powerful stride with the rolling shoulder blades thing going on.

Sadly the camera wasn't available to them. Not that they would even have had time to get it out and snap a picture. The camera was sitting in MY car.

Last night involved another nighttime drive through the countryside to get George from his jujitsu. We had the camera this time.
There were about five hares, some bats and an owl or two - no decent photos of those - and an actual herd of deer. The deer also moved away too quickly for a shot but you can see the eyes of some of the deer in this picture. That's the other thing. I have never seen so many deer! After years and years not seeing one single deer ever, the deer sightings are almost daily now. Where there is prey there will be predators!The lane was covered in those orange larch needles I was telling you about earlier. Lichen in the trees.

I guess I am going to be much more wary when I am walking Polly up towards the ponds and taking the garbage out to the bins at night is going to be much less calm. In fact, I think I'll just save that particular job for daylight hours. For now.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Parents Dancing in Public

When it comes to being an American citizen living abroad, the actions of the US government have tended to make me feel like a teenage child watching his parents dance at a party. You may know what that is like because you have teenage kids yourself or you remember acutely your own feelings about seeing parents at a dance.

There they are, your mom and dad out there dancing in public! You just wish they'd stop. But they don't stop, they keep on dancing. They don't care you are dying of humiliation. Then you start to pretend that you're not with them. They are NOT your parents and isn't it sad when older people try to be cool like that. Now it seems that the US government's embarrassing dancing has stopped and I am no longer cringing. I'm feeling the love that has always been there but had been overshadowed by that acute embarrassment.

It sure is nice to feel pride in my country. I had almost forgotten what that felt like. Soon I won't have to cringe when the US president is on the television stumbling over his words. When my family and I would travel on holiday I would have to shrug off noticeable looks from passport officials in the countries my family and I were visiting. There was never anything nasty, just a sense that because I have one of those blue American passports, I wasn't nearly as welcome as the rest of my family holding red UK passports. On some shores there is no love of Americans and I felt it. There may have been perfectly valid and understandable reasons for this behaviour. I haven't been particularly pleased with US foreign policy over the years and it seems that my feelings were shared by passport control.

I am proud of something my country did on Tuesday. It was a long shot and for a while it didn't look like he was going to win but . . .

We elected this man to be our 44th president. I feel hope rising to the surface again. As one gets to a certain age a realization creeps in that having hope isn't always a safe or good thing to have. Hope can be dashed. Hope is something that can be unfulfilled and when that happens you get mad at yourself for being naive enough to have that hope. You decide not to fall again for those who promise hope. You' decide that hope is to be one of the things that is an indulgence of youth. It is much less painful to be a cynical person.

I will admit it, I underestimated the US voters. I didn't think they'd do the right thing but I'm going to pack up the cynicism and stop being embarrassed. I am going to stop pretending that we're not related. I have let a little bit of hope back in.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Raptor (and Election) Day

Today when I woke up and looked out the back window, there was a beautiful kestrel hovering just on the other side of the back fence. It looked like it was going to dive a couple of times but then thought better of it. The bird didn't fly off after I opened the door let the dog out. I guess it knew our dumb mutt was no threat.
Later in the day as I was driving north on the M47 toward Lanarkshire it seemed that somebody had placed a buzzard on a fence at ten mile intervals all the way up and down the motorway. They're beautiful hawks. I just can't get enough of 'em.
Now it's dark and is owl time. I can hear them hooting in the trees and pipping as they hunt in the fields. Sometimes a barn owl will grace our garden with its beauty.
I like that where we live is healthy enough to support all the lovely small birds of prey.
Now I'm going to go and watch the election results until I can't stay awake anymore.

Monday, November 03, 2008

If You Love Your Country

Then VOTE!
Please vote on Tuesday the 4th of November!

Voting is about the people we know, the family we love, the National Parks we visit, the library books we check out, our soldiers in foreign lands, the clean water we drink, the air we breathe, the traffic we sit in, our children's education, the money in the bank, the news we listen to, the health of our businesses, global warming and the friendship of other countries.
Voting is also about the fish in the rivers and bears in the woods, surviving a tornado, medical care for the elderly and keeping the freedom that our forefathers struggled so hard to win for us!
Not voting means you really don't care.
If you haven't voted then don't come whining to me when you disagree with what the government is doing.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Something Nasty Under the Piano

This has happened before. . . I go around turning off lights and locking doors as I turn in for the night and as I walk through the orangerie I catch an unpleasant whiff. I think to myself that there may be something dead in here again.

In the morning, I steeled myself and had a look under the piano (the location of the last dead animal). In addition to a large amount of dust and a couple of cat toys, there was once again a dead shrew under the piano. Julio must bat them under there and not be able to get them out again. I got the cat toys and dead shrew out. The toys were returned to the cat and the shrew was thrown on the fire. Then I cleaned up the dust. Do you know how hard it is to dust UNDER a piano? Well, it's a bit more difficult than dusting the top of the thing.
Here is the space under the piano which is now free of cat toys and small dead rodents.

After I cleaned out under the piano, I found myself in dusting/cleaning mode. Julio, who was reanimated by the return of his cat toys was hanging around being helpful. He helped one of my orchids onto the floor. Remember this orchid? Well terracotta pots and tile floors do not mix.
It is on the floor near the other door. Julio is pretending that there is something very interesting outside and is pretending he doesn't see THIS!!
Close up view - grim, isn't it?

I repotted the orchid in a plastic pot and it is back on a windowsill minus the flowers. I hope next year this orchid will give us a show that is just as beautiful.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Obama Rally - Edinburgh

It seems that it is becoming quite likely that the US is going to elect the Democrat's nomination for the presidency. I am not going to go down the road of how much I despise what has happened to my beautiful country in the last eight years under Republican leadership. I am not a political blogger. There are plenty of other writers who are much more articulate than I covering this topic and because I don't want any hate mail.

Having said that, I have always been a Democrat. From the very first vote I cast in 1980 for the incumbent president Jimmy Carter until a few weeks ago when I sent off my overseas ballot to Iowa and the Johnson County guy-who-counts-votes.

There is real hope being pinned on Senator Obama. I like and respect what he stands for. I am relieved to see that he is a whole lot brighter than the incumbent president. He is also a black man and that makes this election even more historic. (I just realized in looking him up that Senator Obama is almost exactly a year older than me!) Crikey, he's young!

I could have stayed home, got caught up on domestic duties but years from now, I don't want to say that I was sitting on the sidelines when history was being made. I wanted to show my support.

Today was a glorious autumn day here. Here are some road shots from the way up.There was no rain the entire day!The sun was out and there was a dusting of snow on the Moffat hills. You can see the pines and yellowing larch side by side on the hills. It's pretty, isn't it?

It seemed we could see forever. As we got closer to the Edinburgh, we could see there was some snow on the mountains in the distance as well.

I've been in Scotland for fifteen years and I always get lost when driving into Edinburgh city centre. I don't get lost every time, but almost every time. It is SO unclear and confusing. Plus they are adding in a tram system and it is ripping up roads and diverting traffic. Well my inability to find my backside meant that we were late to the rally.

Speeches were underway when George and I got there. We sidled up to the crowd quietly and tried to blend in. This brave soul (above) was articulate and inspiring despite the fact that I could see she was shaking. Poor thing. Here's a group shot - see if you can spot George!

In Iowa I feel we are spoiled with attention from all the candidates, especially during the primaries. It means that every meeting (certainly any that I attended) were always in huge venues and very well attended. This group was intimate in comparison and we met outdoors but were by no means less dedicated. We clapped and whooped. After the speeches, I introduced myself to a couple of people and then G and I went off to find some lunch.
A picturesque close just off the Royal Mile. George's only thought was "mountain bike" when he looked down this close.
And a shot of Edinburgh Castle.