Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lunch Break for Scottish Sales Reps!

My daily plan included going to Stranraer, up into Girvan in Ayrshire and then back down the coast toward home. The A75 is a beautiful drive and this morning, though overcast had some lovely autumn colours. The larch (tamarack) is turning yellow and all those needles will fall soon. I love the pine smell we get around here when the needles drop.Sadly the pine needles weren't all that I could smell today. Here is my faithful territory partner issuing some real daisy cutters in the back seat. What is it about bull dog breeds that make them so "windy"?

Lunchtime found me completing my calls in Stranraer. I was hoping this would be the case and I had brought along my camera and binoculars for a short detour out to the Mull of Galloway to see what I could see.
The road out to the Visitor Centre and the lighthouse is a narrow single track road with passing places. As I got closer to the Mull, the weather conditions were steadily declining. It is still stunningly beautiful, despite the dampness. When Polly and I got to the car park, the wind was really howling. I am so glad I brought an extra jacket and sensible shoes along.

I put the lead on Polly and we walked out to the lighthouse and the most southerly point in Scotland. The Lighthouse is always as neat as a pin and immaculately kept.
Around the front, facing the sea is the foghorn. Just about anything can be labeled as a visitor attraction . . . That's the fog horn down there. I didn't go down there. My excuse was the wintry weather. The conditions weren't quite dim enough for the horn to be blowing (which was a slight disappointment) but there was an oddity of nature to more than compensate for the fact that the fog horn wasn't hooting.

There were a surprising number of snails on the big stone wall that faces the sea. Every part of the wall that had a bit of stone that stuck out a bit proud had snails hunkering down underneath it. There were hundreds of snails. I have never seen this before and I was thrilled! The wall is painted white very regularly and every dark spot you see on this wall is a clump of snails!Polly and I were sheltered from the prevailing winds which were really whipping up now. video While I was filming this little clip the rain/sleet started and I was missing my gloves that were safe in the top drawer of my dresser at home. We got a good blast right in the face when we turned the corner and returned to the car.Look at those gorgeous cliffs and wintry Irish Sea. On clear days we can see Ireland. I certainly pick up BBC Ulster on the radio and get all the traffic reports for Belfast.

The Mull of Galloway is a wonderful spot for birdwatching. Sadly there were no birds to be seen today because of the high winds and sleet. I have promised myself that I'll be back in the spring to see if I can see a puffin. I've never seen one and I have always wanted to add a puffin to my life list.

One bird that made it onto my life list today, though there is no photographic evidence to back it up is a Black Necked Swan. I saw it twice. Once in the morning on the way up and then again in the same spot on the return journey. It is on a small loch on the A75 between Castle Douglas and Dumfries. The loch and its swan were plainly visible from the road and I was really happy to have seen it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Old Yearbook Photos

Don't panic anybody, I'm not dragging the old high school photos out just yet. If I did that, I'd have no leverage for extorting money out of you later.

I found a fun site that morphs a photo into a yearbook photo. Your photo can travel from 1950, the year my mother was a freshman in high school until 2000 when my eldest boy was high school age. Just plug in a photo of yourself and have a bash. There are some great styles in there. Who remembers the early 80s as being so very awful for hair fashions?
This is a recent booth picture of myself that I had to have taken for one of many of my diving identification cards. The picture taken two years ago so is fairly representative of how I look today.

Had I been in my mother's graduating class in Fargo 1954, my year book photo would have looked something like this. Actually, I don't think I look all that far removed from a photo of my mother at the time. (just pretend that I'm not in my mid 40s in this photo and that I am 18)

A decade later in 64 it could have been much different. My first pairs of eye glasses were a style that wasn't too far removed from the above groovy numbers. My glasses were sky blue with little stars in the corners. Did anybody have a teacher that looked like this? I look at this one and think "Mrs Fitzgerald".
Now we're in 1974. I think of my older cousins Mary Fran and Luanne when I see this photo. They had the most luxurious long thick blond hair and were so amazingly glamerous to me. I had short brown hair and was younger and therefore had no status. Mary Fran and Lu got to sit at the grown up table at Thanksgiving and I was relegated to the stateless children's table in the other room. I remember Gretchen making milk come out of Martha's nose we were laughing so much. Did you know that if you laugh too much, you will lose your appetite and not finish your dinner? No wonder we were in another room. I think I have now touched on a new secret to staying slim. comedy dinner theaters!
That's all I have time for this evening. Click on the link above and see what results you get and then please let me know.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Miracle Bathroom Cleaner

Did you know that toilet bowl cleaner is magical stuff?
If one squirts a liberal amount into the toilet, swish the toilet brush about a bit and flush, the entire bathroom can be declared clean! According to some reports it can even get the floor behind the toilet!

Sadly, I never seem to get this right. I always clean the mirrors, sink, shower stall and bathtub first. I should just add in the toilet cleaner, brush and go on to the football game like everyone else.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Another Glorious Orchid and Home Repair

This particular rescue orchid has really done me proud.

It has two massive flower spikes with many blossom branches coming off the main flower spike. The effect of all this vigour is that the orchid is at its peak just now. It was a pretty pathetic specimen when I bought it last year. The plant itself was nothing to write home about and the one and only small flower spike only had a few drying blossoms still clinging on for dear life.
orchid oncidium

Look at it today! It has made all my efforts really worth it. I have had to support the flower spikes with a few small bamboo sticks. It looks top heavy, doesn't it? It will be re-potted after the flower show is over.

The other orchid that started blooming in August is still going strong. That's three solid months of blossom from that orchid!

On another front, work has started on the damp in a back sitting room. Two south facing rooms have become increasingly and alarmingly damp in the last two years. As yesterday was another rainy day and The Man of the Place was prevented from working out side, he started in on the back sitting room. He disconnected and removed the radiator from the wall and started chipping away at the plaster.

Once the plaster was gone, we could see that a number of the bricks were obviously wet. See above photo with the very noticeable wet patches! My husband then started to remove the inner layer of bricks. Inside the wall cavity (the space between the inner and outer layer of bricks) the insulation that was blown in there at great expense a number of years ago was absolutely sodden. It could be squeezed and water would drip out! This was no longer a damp problem but a water-coming-in-from-somewhere problem. When the insulation was removed we could see that water was almost running inside the wall cavity from outside (it was raining quite heavily outside). It was my guess that water was running down the plate glass window and instead of running off outside, was getting channeled down the inside of the cavity wall. It is no wonder that the room was damp!I think we'll have to take advice from the people who installed our windows years ago and/or advice from our old pal Kevin The Builder.

I am so pleased and proud that I have a husband that can do things like repair our house. It is when a little home owner crisis such as this occurs he really does become The Man of the Place. Himself having a bit of lunch.Foot print in the plaster dust.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Walnut Harvest!

When we bought our house in 1995 one of the first things we said we wanted was a walnut tree. We planted one during the first autumn. It was a hybrid walnut (var. Broadview) grafted onto fancy rootstock. It was that many years ago now, I can't remember the sort of rootstock it was grafted onto, possibly semi-dwarfing rootstock.

I can't even remember where be bought the tree. It was a catalogue nursery that would sell their fruit trees from the "farm gate" as it were. We weren't allowed to go and have a look at the trees available. We could only stand in a shed and look at the photocopied sheet containing the list of plants that were ready to sell that week and would be lifted once we purchased the items. We were told by the grumpy nurseryman that this tree would give us nuts earlier than any walnut variety available. So we bought our tree and took it home in the autumn sunshine (we had sunshine back then) to plant it.

The winter that came next was a hard one. I remember houses having burst pipes up and down the length of Scotland. The village primary school which is located only two fields away from our house had a frozen and then burst pipe over that Christmas holiday. We had ice on the inside of the windows and the olive oil in the kitchen went cloudy. In addition the dish washing soap jelled up. I would have to hold the plastic bottle of washing up soap in the warm dishwater to get it to a squeezable consistency. It was brutal.

In the spring it was evident that our newly planted walnut tree suffered terribly. A great deal of the tree had died. I thought at first that the entire tree was gone. I trimmed back a lot of the obviously dead material and then just left it to see what would happen. Sure enough later on that spring there was a sprout near the bottom of the tree. It was still alive and the sprout was miraculously above the graft where the young tree had been grafted onto the special rootstock. If the sprout had been below or on the graft, I would have dug up the tree and started again with a fresh one.

Years rolled by and the tree got bigger and healthier. I wondered when we would start to get walnuts as this was reported to be such an earlier producer. A few years ago we were delighted to see flower/walnut buds on our tree. Sadly these young starts really never came to anything. This year however the buds stayed on and started to swell. Walnut buds earlier this year. This is usually the stage where the buds fall off . . . .

As I had seen early signs of walnuts only to be disappointed I didn't want to get my hopes up. Well this year the buds didn't fall off. They stayed on and swelled throughout the year. I didn't know when I could harvest them so I thought I'd just be patient. I have waited this long for walnuts, I could wait a little longer. The tree would let me know.

Looking out the front window this morning I could see that the outer husks of the walnuts had split and I could see the familiar brown nut inside. The Man of the Place had been doing some work outside earlier. As he was just as excited by the fact that we had actual walnuts he got the step ladder over to the tree and picked all that he could see.You can see by this photo that the rain has come back. We were pretty lucky actually. The rain stayed away until about lunchtime on Sunday afternoon. Not bad when we were expecting the rain to start on Saturday morning.
This is the total of this year's walnut harvest. It isn't much, but I'm thrilled to bits. You can see in the photo that most of the nuts still have their splitting outer shells.

I have never had a fresh walnut before. The softness of the nutmeat is surprising. I've only had experience of the dried walnuts. It isn't an unpleasant taste but I wouldn't know what to do with these green nuts other than to pickle them. I think I will get those outer hulls off and get the walnuts dried somewhere safe. If nobody in the house has any objection, I have plans to make Esterhazy torte, a cake made with walnuts that I discovered during my first trip to Budapest in May.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cleaned the Hen House

It is a job that I really hate. It's not so much that it smells (and it does smell) but all the bending makes my back sore. Actually, the ammonia wasn't so bad today. Possibly because it is autumn. It's much worse in the summer plus there are way more insects then too.

I'm sure that if I cleaned the litter out more frequently, it wouldn't be such an onerous chore . . . Well it's done now.Here are the girls by the covered wood pile. I think they want to go inside but that's not going to happen.Three of six bags of damp and poo riddled wood shavings ready to go to the dump.
The clean fresh bedding for the hens. It is going to make egg collection so much more pleasant and I am sure it will make egg laying nicer too.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Walking the Dog

I took an an idea from a comment in the last blog entry for today's post. I may have come across as a little bluer than I actually feel in the last entry. I am okay really. Its just that I am bone weary of rain. In my battle to stave of the winter blues, I have started to attend a dive club in Dumfries that meets on a Wednesday night. This will help enormously. In this blog, I have gone back to basics and taken the camera with me when I walked the dog.
It didn't rain today and it was really quite glorious. Polly, my faithful hound and I went up to a favourite spot late in the day after I returned from work. She was so happy to be going on a walk. She just loves her chance to romp. I think I was looking forward to this walk as much as she was.

As it is autumn and we live in a particularly forested portion of the country there are loads of mushrooms at this time of year. A great number of these mushrooms have been broken, gone black and mushy or had been nibbled/licked by the forest creatures. Despite this there were a couple of specimens that were available for the attentions of me and my camera. Russula spec. Was found under a beech tree with another species growing underneath. Russula pseudointegra OR Russula emetica -The Sickener! This mushroom was found under a beech tree on clay soil. This chap and his mates were growing in a bunch of old wood chippings under a hawthorn hedge. Yet another species growing on some old beech chippings. The grey/black mushroom that is small and very low growing. Again found under a beech tree.I have done my best to identify the mushrooms but I have probably made mistakes. Any accurate information is gratefully received.
The autumn light in this part of Scotland has a certain quality to it, almost liquid. It makes the colours rich. The orange in the first mushroom and the reds in this shrub stood out so vividly against the browning grass and the dark pines behind it.

Polly didn't care, she was too busy running around, sniffing things and being happy.

As she romped and I tried to identify who has been to visit by the footprints in the mud (pheasant, the dog, deer - male and female, fox and us) as the turbines rotated in the distance.

Note to turbine haters: I like these turbines! They are very close to my house and don't make noise! In addition, I think they're beautiful and not a blot on the landscape at all.

Now the sun is gone, dinner is over and I'm writing this most recent blog entry. To assist me, the dog is by my feet under the desk farting away.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Inspiration - I could do with a bit

My blog entries have dwindled. Its not that I don't sit down to the computer, I am here all the time but the link that transfers bits of my life to the keyboard has been gone wonky. Perhaps it is the lower light levels that are with us now that it is the middle of October.

The shorter days combined with the almost constant rain has got me down. I have been complaining about the rain for about two years and it turns out that I wasn't just grumpy. We are experiencing more rain than anybody else on the planet! It's official! It gets to the point where four days with no rain is a cause for celebration. The two weeks we spent in France was the most sun we saw this summer. My skin started itching again just like it did last year about this time and I was prompted by this to start taking vitamin D supplements again. Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin! Two days after I start taking vitamin D again, the itching has gone away. Sheesh! It won't be long before the chewable form is passed out to everybody in Dumfries & Galloway.

This is the second year in a row that the rain has prevented me from getting out into the garden and keep it going. Okay so I labeled myself The Lazy Gardener, but I have also been prevented from gardening when I would have by the climate.

I'll tell you one thing though . . . I've started going into Dumfries on a Wednesday night to a diving club. We go to the new pool in Dumfries and practice our diving skills. When I get better at doing simple things like taking my fins on and off under the water, I may get to go on a diving field trip with them. They are a really nice bunch of folks and this week I think George and I will officially join the club.

Other than that, it's just been work, work, work! The Man of the Place and I have our noses to our respective grindstones. When we're not at work, we are here at the house inflicting improvements on it and doing all the housework that we let slide during the week.

I'll take the camera along with me when I walk the dog this evening and see what I come up with.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Maryport Aquarium

The Man of the Place has been away walking in the Lake District on Saturday and Sunday. During his absence my Saturday was spent re-potting houseplants, cleaning under the kitchen sink, cleaning out the cupboard where the pots, pans and baking tins are kept AND making some cookies and rice krispie treats. While I am thinking about it, if anybody wants an aloe vera plant please let me know, I have about 40 after I finished splitting my overcrowded and overgrown mother plant. Sadly the rice krispie treats are long gone. I think that if they are left uncovered, they actually evaporate into the air. There are still plenty of chocolate chip cookies left though.

Because the Saturday was spent in domestic service, I was determined to get out and have some fun today. It was decided that after church today George and I were going to go to a place recommended by a neighbour. We drove down to Maryport in Cumbria and visited the Lake District Coast Aquarium. It was a delightful, non-rainy day for a Sunday drive. North Cumbria with the Lake District near by (wave to Henry on the way past) is stunning. I'm so glad I made the effort to get out.
We stopped for lunch at Burger King in Carlisle before setting out.
Isn't my companion for the day a gorgeous boy?

The Aquarium isn't part of any chain of aquaria like the Sea Life Centres. It is a local business and they specialize in the fish that are found in Cumbria, both in the lakes and streams and out in the Solway Firth and Irish Sea.Sorry it's blurry - The front of the aquarium

George and I were absolutely charmed by the place. A staff member was leading a few feed-the-fish demonstrations and was so nice to talk to George and me afterwards. We watched him feed the octopi, the cuttlefish and the shark and rays. The sharks they had were local lesser spotted dogfish, other beautiful and manageable sized local sharks. The largest shark was just over a meter long and were in a shallow tank with a whole menagerie of rays. The rays kept poking their noses out of the water to be stroked/fed. When they weren't doing that they were flapping their wings against the side of the aquarium to splash us for not feeding them. The skin of a ray is a delightful combination of spiky and bony and ever so tender.

I really liked watching the cuttlefish get fed. I love how the chromataphores in their skin pulsate. I could watch them for hours. You should have seen the colours when these odd creatures were getting fed. One cuttlefish attacked another and tried to get its crab off him. The attacked cuttlefish turned bright red.

The octopi weren't as violent with each other at feeding time. Even though they can change their colour as well, they were a bit more subtle about it. When they feed the octopi and cuttlefish they use small live crabs that are caught just outside at the port. The aquarium has a couple of lobster pots that are bated with a fish head or two. The traps are thrown into the water and hauled out again in about an hour. The crabs they get from this small effort supplies the aquarium with all the (golf ball sized) crabs they need for the resident octopi and other sea creatures. The aquarium sits right at the edge of the port. It is a matter of about ten steps from the building to the edge of the port. Depending on the tide the boats are either floating or resting on the soft silty mud. Above are the boats in front of the aquarium when the tide is just going out.Now the tide is out! Those boats are actually resting on the mud and not floating in the water.
George balancing on the railing. Note that the tide is out in this picture.In the gift shop, I was attacked (Aliens style) by a giant octopus!I managed to get it unstuck from my face but then another octopus attached itself to my hand! I couldn't get it to let go so I ended up driving home with it.If you are a regular reader, you will know how bonkers my family and I are for mini golf. Well to guild the lily, this charming attraction also has a mini golf course!! George and I didn't want to get too excited or compete without The Man of the Place so we are planning to go back to Maryport very soon.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Putting Clothes on the Clothesline

or The Fine Art of Pegging out Laundry

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A few months ago, I was watching the new Raiders of the Lost Ark with my family. The movie was entertaining and I was enjoying the film. Then came a scene where Indiana Jones was running through a mock suburb as the countdown to a nuclear explosion was coming to a dramatic climax. All of a sudden, Indy goes past a clothesline with laundry pegged out on it. The laundry was pegged out WRONG!. I was instantly annoyed. I realized that I was sitting in a movie theatre and being aware of a movie mistake. My suspension of disbelief had been interrupted due to my strong feeling that there is a right way and a wrong way to peg or pin clothes to a clothesline. They had t-shirts hanging from the shoulders for heaven's sake!

There is a right way and a wrong way to peg clothes out on a clothesline. I know that even incorrectly pegged clothes will dry, but they'll dry weird and cause more ironing later. In addition they will look wrong and annoy me.Here is an example of a well pegged load of laundry on a line. Note that all the t-shirts are together and hanging from the bottom hem. If you look closely, you will see that I sort of buddy up with the pegs when hanging out things like t-shirts. The ends of shirts can share one clothes peg. This way I can use three clothes pegs instead of four to hang out two shirts and so on. This bit of economy stems from the time when we had all three children still living at home. I had much more laundry to dry than I had pegs. Buddying up with the pegs helped to get more clothes on the line and it saved on line space too.
Jeans and trousers are hung from the waistband. As they are thick, save your biggest and strongest clothes pegs for the heavy stuff. Using the small pegs may result in you having to pick the jeans up off the ground when the wind blows them off and the possibility of having to rewash. I have always used wooden spring style clothes pegs (or pins) They don't split like the other style wooden clothes peg and unlike the plastic clothes pegs, the sun won't break them down causing them to be brittle and fall apart in your hands.
If you match the pairs of socks as you peg them to the line, you can just ball the pairs together as you take them off. This makes sorting them a thousand times easier later on. Naturally there is always the odd sock.
Shirts that button are also hung by the bottom hem but use the two side seams as the hanging points. The shirt is stronger there and it makes ironing it much easier later.

The darling Man of the Place puts clothes out on the clothesline from time to time. He's very excellent that way. I have been known to go behind him when he's not looking and re-peg them. This bugs him to no end. He states that the clothes will dry just fine the way they were. I say that I know that they will dry, but they were pegged out wrong. I didn't want anybody to see the incorrectly pegged out clothing and think that I did it. It just bugs me too much. I know it's me.

Drying clothes on the line costs nothing. We save SO much money when the clothesline is employed to dry the clothes. Line dried sheets and pillowcases smell fabulous! No amount of fabric conditioner will ever be able to recreate that perfect "sunshine for the nose" that line dried sheets have. Seeing a load of laundry well pegged out on the line is pleasant to see. It says domestic industry and harmony to me.