Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bad Weather and a Bad Game

I bet you guys just thought I was being overly sensitive about the weather. We didn't have very good weather last summer. The bad weather continued through the autumn and winter. I remember complaining about it. Spring was a little better and my spirits started to lift. I was hoping that this summer would be good. Sadly my hope dripped away from me as each gray, damp dawn rose. Well it turns out that this has been the wettest August since about 1914! The MET office has confirmed it. We've had about 96 hours of sunshine in total this month. That is it!

I've been wistful about the summers when it was nice here. We used our sunglasses, sunscreen and got to swim in local rivers. I haven't actually used my sunglasses since we've come back from our holiday last month. In fact, I don't think I know where they are now. . . . The only time I think it was half way decent was when we had a visit from Claude and Catherine.

If I had control over the weather, I would have certainly stopped Hurricane Gustav from hitting the beleaguered Caribbean and the relentless path this storm is making toward the southern Gulf States. Louisiana and Alabama have suffered enough! There is also massive flooding in the Indian state of Bihar where it is reported that 1.2 million people have been rendered homeless due to flooding. I'll repeat this, 1.2 million people homeless! If this were my planet to control I'd direct this unwanted and excess water to areas where it hasn't rained enough for life to continue. For instance vast chunks of New South Wales could do with a bit more rain.

The idea of selling Whitelees and using the proceedings to move to Skiathos has been flitting through my head lately. The idea popped into my brain again this afternoon as I sat with George at the Stadium of Light in the rain, watching our noble lads get the stuffing knocked out of them by Manchester City. The final score was Sunderland 0 - Manchester City 3. It was depressing. Loads of fans started to leave before the full time whistle. Shamefully this included George and myself. It was said on the radio that 10 minutes before the end of the game the swarms of the 39,000 fans starting to make their way home made the stadium looked as though there had been a bomb scare.

We won't up stakes and move to a warmer climate. Even though the Lonely Planet book of The Greek Islands states that Skiathos enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year, we'll be staying put. It wouldn't be practical to move at this point in our lives, but some days . . . . .

We won't be throwing out our season tickets for Sunderland either, but I hope that the team's performance picks up. If the lads keep playing (or not playing) like they did today, we'll be looking at relegation again.

The thing that we continue to have is hope. We hope that next summer there will only be an ordinary amount of rain and Sunderland will be doing so well that there will be talk of championships, trophies and games in Europe rather than relegation battles.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Jam and Cheese

This morning we said goodbye to the most recent exchange student, a delightful young man from Figeac in the Midi-Pyrenees named Robin.

Apart from half a day in the middle of the week, it still hasn't stopped raining. It is typically Scottish weather and not what Robin was accustomed to.I really felt for the young lad on Tuesday. Not only was it still raining, but the temperature had dropped a bit and our friend who was used to a more Mediterranean climate was cold. We turned the heating on for him. The rest of us were roasting, but we didn't want our guest to be running back to his house with tales of northern grimness.
Robin and George in front of the Somerton Hotel in Lockerbie where the farewell party was held last night.

Robin appreciated the fact that though I am not fluent in French, I do know my food nouns and can speak menu-French. Apparently during Robin's first trip to Scotland two years ago he confused the words jam and ham when requesting items for his lunch from his previous host family. Consequently he was given a jam and cheese sandwich.

We were surprised to see Friday morning. It showed up well before we were ready for it. The week has been a happy blur. Robin was a model guest and we were delighted to be his hosts for the week.

Here at the house, I have made the decision to let the chickens out of their run for a while. Because of the heavy rain and more forecast for this weekend, I thought they deserved a break from the mud. The chicken run looks like The Somme. They can't be happy in that. I've let them out into the long grass that were formerly our lawns.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Myth Busted

A few comments on my last post from loyal (God bless ya) readers of my blog made me a bit concerned. I fear you guys might think that I have a beautiful, tidy and weed free garden. Really nothing could be further from the truth.

I had a few visitors here at the house in August. These were people who I've met through blogging and they stayed here at Whitelees and I was really quite anxious about their arrival. I knew that coming into the drive might have been a let down for them. I'm sure they thought, as I suspect other readers may think, that my garden is a glorious oasis of gardeny perfection. It ain't. It's a mess. I do try to keep up with it, but as I try to hold down a full time job, keep the house from sinking into chaos, maintain a few friendships and try to claw out a bit of time with my family, the garden is last on my list of priorities. Did that just sound like a list of excuses? I do LIKE the garden but I am easily distracted and disheartened by cruddy weather.

I know I do go on about the weather here in Scotland, but it has been very rainy for a second summer in a row. It has rained almost all of the month of August. I'm glad we got away for a few weeks in July. That seemed to be our quota of sun for the summer. The lawn is almost up to our knees, weeds have taken over the vegetable patch and . . . well see for yourselves. I present - the August recap video.
videoOther gardens near us seem to manage just fine . . . This is the second year in a row that things just haven't worked out for me and the garden. It started off so well, I was so full of enthusiasm as the days started to grow longer and warmer. But the rain started and apart from a week in July, it has never really let up.

What I'd like is a month or two of dry warm weather where I don't have to go out to work and I could get my teeth sunk into weeding, planting and organizing things. I have even thought about hiring somebody to come in, but that would involve money that we just don't have.

As it happend last year and again this year and we've had week after week of relenting rain, I sort of throw up my hands and start thinking about NEXT year. That's the thing. There is always the hope that there will be better weather in the future and I'll be much more able to get on top of things.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Rewards of Houseplant Rescue

Most of the houseplants that I own have either been rescued from certain death at the hands of black thumbed friends or they were scooped from the bargain section of a home improvement superstore or supermarket.

We haven't had any major houseplant overwatering tragedies this year but the citrus trees are sulking a bit. The aphids problem didn't help. I think I've got those little sap sucking pests under control.

Over the course of a couple of weeks last summer I bought some orchid plants. They weren't the usual phalaenopsis or moth orchid that are commonly on offer. These were not-quite-so-common varieties. The flower spikes on these orchids had either run their course or had been accidentally been snapped off. Once a flower spike is gone from an orchid plant, they are difficult to sell. It is hard to sell any blooming plant that doesn't have blossom on full display so the prices on these plants were very very low. I couldn't resist 'em. I've never grown orchids before and I thought I'd give these orphan orchids a shot.

I managed to completely finish off a sorry looking Miltonia. It was really beyond my abilities to save. Perhaps I'll try that one again some day and start with a healthier specimen. This orchid seems to be thriving and has thrown four flower spikes. I thought it was orchid cambria, but now I think that it may have been mislabeled in the shop. It could be orchid cymbidium. Can anybody put me straight? It has graced the Whitelees Cottage dining table for a couple of weeks now. Orchids blossoms last so long and are so beautiful.
Orchid Oncidium (shown above) not only has loads of new aerial roots sticking out all over the place it has also thrown a couple of very large flower spikes. These flower spikes are going to have to be supported as they grow.
Another houseplant, Maranta or Prayer Plant is also in bloom. It is grown more for its foliage than its tiny white flowers, but the fact that it is blooming lets me know that the plant is happy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bronze!!

My cousin Matt will be coming home with a BRONZE MEDAL FROM THE OLYMPICS! We're so proud of him. The US rowing team did so very well! Congratulations Matt! Congratulations as well to Canada and Great Britain teams for winning Gold and Silver.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cousin in the Olympics

I don't know WHY I haven't mentioned this before now. I am just so proud of my cousin Ellen and husband Dana's boy Matt. He is a member of the US Olympic eight man rowing team! (There is only one Matt on the team.) They came second in their race earlier which means that this team will be competing in the final race on Sunday.

If you'd like to read up, check out this site where Matt has some blog entries. Click on these words that are in bold.

I'll be watching the rowing finals on Sunday and cheering on family. We are all so proud we can barely move!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Making Blackcurrant Jam

Blackcurrant Jam is just about the easiest jam to make.
Find some ripe blackcurrants.Pick them with your friends.Clean the fruit by picking off all the little stems (most tedious part) and getting leaves out etc . . .Weigh the cleaned up fruit and dump into a very large and thick bottomed pot. Add in the same amount in weight of sugar and turn the heat on VERY LOW to warm things up. Stir the sugar-berry mixture as it heats up. This will take some time if you're using a lot of berries. I had over three kilos of fruit.

While that is cooking up, get your jars ready. They must be scrupulously clean. I put the jars through the dishwasher on their own on the hottest setting and then leave them there until I'm ready for them.

The sugar will draw the juice out of the blackcurrants and make stirring easier. Keep stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. You can then turn the heat up to a low-medium setting or flame and bring the whole mass to a boil. Keep stirring every once and a while to make sure that nothing sticks and burns.

After boiling for 20 - 25 minutes and then start ladling the hot jam into the jars (leaving 1/2 inch of head space) and put the lid on.

When you've put all the jam into jars and put the lids on, it is time to sterilize the jars.

I only have one pot that is big enough for this job and it is the same pot I made the jam in. So I washed the pot and then filled it half way up with water and set that water to boil. You must put some sort of wire thing in the bottom of your pot to prevent the glass jars from sitting directly on the bottom of the pot. I didn't have this wire thing so I just put a bunch of small teaspoons in the pot. It wasn't pretty and the jars didn't sit up straight while boiling, but it worked. Place the jars into the boiling water and ensure that the boiling water covers the jars. Boil for at least 20 minutes. You can then remove the jars (with tongs please!) and place on the kitchen counter to cool.I made so many jars of jam that I had to sterilize the jars in two batches.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Good Morning in the Highlands

I was the first up on Sunday morning. It was nice to be a guest in somebody else's house where I wasn't compelled to start doing a thousand jobs. As it looked as though nobody else was going to be up soon, I got my shoes on and quietly sneaked out of the cottage.

In addition to the house where we were all staying, there is another little stone cottage on the property that can't be touched by any improvements. It is of great architectural interest (something about the way the beams are put in) so it sits there being all picturesque and home to birds and wee beasties. There is also a stone byer (where the cows used to be kept) with adorable stone steps and a babbling burn for added gorgeousness.
video
I heard geese earlier while still half asleep in my bed. When I got to the shore Loch Tummel, the geese had already gone. The sunshine more than made up for the lack of geese. It was a glorious morning. Nearby Schiehallion whose name loosely translates from Gaelic as fairy hill of the Caledonians was still partially obscured by a bit of cloud. It was a breathtaking view just the same.

On the shore were a few small remnants of the feast from the night before. A sailboat's keel was found on the shore. Isn't anybody missing this? We stuck it deep into the pebbles and thought it made great sculpture. Henry Moore really doesn't have anything to worry about.

The morning progressed. People got up and were wandering about the dewy garden with mugs of coffee. Blackcurrants were found at the very bottom of the garden and they needed immediate picking! There were also some really good gooseberries (shown above), raspberries and a few unripe blueberries.
I ended up taking about 3 kilos of ripe blackcurrants home. They are all in a pot on my stove as I type this waiting to be turned into jam. I better hurry up before they start to ferment!
When at home, it was such a tedious task to pick blackcurrants. It really is so much more fun to pick berries with your friends. It almost makes me want to plant some new blackcurrant bushes. . . .

Sunday, August 10, 2008

My Heart's in the Highlands

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer -
A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.
Robert Burns (local lad)

My dear friend Chameleon invited my family and I to join her and her family where they are staying for two weeks in a delightful cottage on the shores of Loch Tummel. Young George and I were able to get away and visit them briefly this weekend. I would have dearly loved to stay longer and soak in the stunning landscapes and go for those wonderful walks that were about to take place this morning just as we were leaving to come back down to the lowlands. Sadly The Man of the Place wasn't able to join us. As I didn't see much of him last weekend either and I was keen to get back home to him.

George had never been this far north before. It was a shame then that the first part of our trip up was shrouded in cloud and mist. Pretty though the clouds were, they were hiding some beautiful scenery.Because we were only there for a short time, George and I had to start horsing around almost immediately upon our arrival. There was a rope swing! Lorna showed us the proper procedure for the rope swing and George showed us that as ever, he was game for a bit of fun!I didn't go on the rope swing. I was terrified that the rope would snap when I was suspended over rocks and I'd need to be airlifted out of the glen.We then went down to the loch were there were benches, fire pits, fishing equipment and amongst the pebbles were shards of old pottery that needed to be collected and judged. If the pieces of old crockery were pretty enough, they were hauled up to the house to be included in some grand mosaic to be created at a later date.

As a grand barbecue was going to be happening on this little bit of pebbly shore, we had to get the fire started early.I got the barbecue started and George got the campfire started. There was one fire to cook over and one fire to keep away the midges! George hauled three loads of logs down to the beach in the wheelbarrow so that the campfire would stay fed.Other supplies came down the lumpy path in the wheelbarrow as well. Then we had to wait for the fire to mature before starting. Reading The Perthshire Advertiser kills some time. It is an informative and amusing little publication.

We put the drinks into the loch to keep them cold. You can't get more Scottish than a photo of Irn Bru chilling in a Scottish loch!
The Hungarian likes a bit of pork steak with his mustard!
As day turned slowly to evening, the weather improved. It improved so much so that we were able to see the beautiful show of heather on the other side of Loch Tummel and a rainbow appeared. It raised our spirits just that little bit more!

That night, after shouting hello to the campfires across the dark loch and then listening to the sounds of the night (owls and unidentified growls) we all went indoors to bowls of candy and a huge game of knock out whist! videoI should have been a croupier!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Blogger Rescue

Though unplanned, the meeting of two bloggers was a delightful change to what would otherwise have been a very ordinary weekend of domestic tasks.

My friend Claude of Blogging in Paris and her friend Catherine were planning to do a tour of Hadrian's Wall and the north east of England. I knew they were coming over and had a rough idea of where they'd be during their visit and was hoping we'd get to meet up at some point.

I had e-mailed Claude just before she left Paris to remind her to contact me when she got to our shores because I was so keen to see her smiling face again. She called me and gave me her mobile phone (cell phone) number and we said that we'd meet up at some point.

I rang Claude on Friday evening because I was so excited about the prospect of our meeting up again. I'm glad I did. It turned out that they had been delighted with Whitby and that section of England but were NOT pleased with the accomodation they had just landed in near Haydon Bridge. Haydon Bridge is only about an hour's drive from our place and I said that the two women should leave there first thing in the morning and come over to us. The place must have been pretty bad because they actually agreed to this.

I met Claude and Catherine on a very rainy Saturday morning. Instead of going back to my house we went for coffee and on to Lindisfarne!

Sadly, due to a malfunction with the camera's storage card, I have lost ALL the photos I took over the weekend.

There were photos from Lindisfarne, nearby Bamburgh Castle, the delights of the village cream tea on Sunday and a nearby Tibetan Buddist Monestary. On Monday we went to Culzean Castle in South Ayrshire. I am gutted. I can only wait until Claude returns to Paris and I can call upon her to share her photos of our time together with me.

The Man of the Place was up in Oban diving which meant I really didn't have much on over last weekend. I was so happy that I made that phone call.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

I Do This More Often Than Most People

I stub my toes.

I have been stubbing my toes my entire life. It happens when I am barefooted, naturally. It is not that I am without shoes and socks a great deal of the time, it is just that . . . well I can't seem to navigate my feet as well as other people.

I have broken the middle toe on my right foot a couple of times. Yesterday evening while making up the bed in the guest bedroom, I stubbed the middle toe of my left foot. I think it's broken.

At first I though perhaps it was just bruised. I didn't even look at the toe very carefully when I went to bed. In the wee hours of the morning I was woken up by a pain from the stubbed toe. That wasn't a good sign. Toes shouldn't wake people up, even when they've been given a good knock. I got up, found the first aid kit, put some cotton between the stubbed toe and the next non-stubbed toe (see photo above) and went back to bed.

The only thing one can do for a broken toe is to tape it to the next one and try not to stub it again until it is healed up. So that is what I'm doing.

I was walking around today with my tennis shoes on and that wasn't really a problem. My toe ached a bit and if I did something silly like take a giant step to pick to some especially lovely wild raspberries, my toe protested.

It is the end of a long day and the shoes are off. I am conscious that this toe is aching, swollen and not happy. I'm keeping an eye on the colour. I'll go to the doctor if anything further or really odd happens but for now, I just have to tough it out.

See? Good colours, huh? This photo was taken this morning as I hobbled about looking for the surgical tape that I put away somewhere in the house.