Sunday, November 11, 2012

Weekend Away

The Man of the Place and I have been working pretty hard this year.  We never took a vacation this summer.   Just about the time we were going to book the vacation, great chunks of the render (or stucco) on our lovely house needed to be replaced.   In preparation for getting the place painted, it was noticed that there was a scary hollow sound being made when the side of the house was tapped . . .
Scary cracks that shouldn't be painted over
The entire west wall of the house with the bad render wrapping around the south west corner and a small portion of the north side (a third of the exterior of the house) As the render was leaping away from the house in vast chunks, we waved good bye to our chance for some much needed sun.
North side of the house

West wall of our house
We did get a small break to Amsterdam just after my birthday and that was fun . . . so our life wasn't completely devoted to work.

In September we realised that it has been a bit full-on lately and we needed something to look forward to.  We booked a couple nights at a hotel in Whitby, North Yorkshire.
Ruswarp Hall Hotel
The Man of the Place and I stayed there over twenty years ago before we were married.  It was a romantic gesture to stay there again now that . . . time has passed and we're still married.
Another reason to visit Whitby, in addition to reminding ourselves of when we were love's young dream was to have a bit of fun at the now famous Whitby Goth Weekend.
Abbey as seen from St Mary's churchyard
Whitby is a working port on the North Yorkshire coast.  With the ruined abbey on the cliff overlooking the small town, it was the perfect setting for Bram Stoker when he needed a place for Count Dracula to arrive in  England.
undead me
Wow!  We had fun!
Zombie Paul from Newcastle and his zombie girlfriend
I loved our weekend there.  What a wonderful concentration of creative people.  There were the old school goths and vampire folk.
It was mixed in with the steampunk and other creative types.
Steampunk dudes
Really charming bloke in a dress
It was an accepting crowd and anything goes.  Take bits from goth, bits from steampunk and make it your own.
Which is what we did

Monday, October 08, 2012

Busy Day

Yesterday after work, when I should have been hammering my sales calls into the computer, I was called outside by the sound of tractors.  It really doesn't take much to pull me from the work desk, and tractors will do it every time.

The young chap that is cutting the hedges of our dairy-farmer-neighbour-directly-south-of-us said that he would cut our very tall beech hedge along the road for money.  If he does that, we save a LOT of time.  I can't really use the hedge cutter.  It's too heavy for my weak and girly arms.  The Man of the Place takes care of these sorts of  things.  I was just relieved that with the arrival of the young man and his tractor no family member is climbing onto a wobbly ladder with a heavy, petrol driven hedge cutter.  I always fear deep cuts that involve dashes to hospital for restitching/reattaching of things.

At the same time the hedge cutting dude was here, our dear friend Scott arrived with a wagon load of cut up logs.  This meant moving what was left of the old logs and get prepared for the new logs.

When moving the old logs, we uncover little toads and newts that thought this would be an excellent place to overwinter.  Normally it would be . . . but we had to shift things.   After moving all newts and toads so that they wouldn't get stepped on or crushed by logs,
 Old logs set to one side and tarp ready for new logs
Scott dumped the new load of logs onto the tarp with frightening accuracy!
We did not move any logs to take this photo.  He got them all on the tarp!

While Scott was dumping logs, the young chap who cuts hedges made quick work of our tall, roadside hedge. Tidy and quick - it is money well spent to have him do this.  Please note the muddy patch on the above photo.  This is where the next loads of gravel are going . . . the ground has been so soft with the constant rain.  To prevent more mud in our lives, gravel is being put down.

They all went away and we were left with a tidy hedge and a pile of logs to stack.  The toad and newts are tucked into the new wood pile and after we get the rest of the gravel down, we'll be set for winter.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Integrated Transport

I loved our visit to Amsterdam!  One of the things that is immediately apparent is that they have actual integrated transport. 

One can get off the plane, collect your luggage and walk to the train station.   While we were collecting our luggage, we bought a 5 day train/bus/tram ticket from a chipper and cute as a button helpful person right next to the luggage carousel!  It seemed to be a good idea to get the transportation portion of our budget out of the way.  A train caught at the train station (waiting time for train 15 minutes) will take you right into the centre of Amsterdam . . .

From Amsterdam Centraal - Dutch spelling folks ;-)  You walk over to the tram stop and wait for your tram.  In this instance the wait for the tram was 8 minutes.  The tram takes you to about two blocks of your hotel.  Genius!  I was impressed by how all the different modes of transportation are integrated.  Our tickets were good for the trams and buses all over the city.  You "checked on" to each bus or tram by presenting your card to an electronic sensor and it "blipped".  At the end of your journey, you checked out as you got off by presenting your card to the sensor once again.

We followed the directions and got off at our stop . . . but got a bit confused as to which direction to walk .
We figured it out.

The above is a put together by the hotel we stayed in while we were there.

So from the time we landed until we were knocking on the door of the hotel was less than an hour.  We had taken a train and a tram with very short walks and brief waiting times.  I loved that!  I know how UNintegrated transportation is if one arrives at Glasow airport. 

We walked/took a tram everywhere on this trip.  My poor feet suffered.  I am unused to walking quite so much.  I should walk more.

The other mode of transportation in Amsterdam are the canals or grachten (plural of the word gracht).  Boats are still a viable form of transportation in Amsterdam though there is no public system on the canal.  If you want a boat ride, you're going to have to make friends with a boat owner OR go pay to go on a canal tour. 

We did that!  We followed the advice of the Lonely Planet guide and went to Boom Chicago on Leiseplein where we booked passage for a boat tour the following day.
It was like being on your pal's boat.  Everything was easy and relaxed.

Everywhere you go in the world, you can always find an Irish bar.
Beautiful old warehouses with the old canal access.  So beautiful.  I loved the architecture and the huge windows of the buildings.
Seven bridges view
The old houses all have tilted fronts and large booms with hooks on them.  Front doors are small and staircases inside are narrow and steep.  If you wish to get furniture into the house, it is going to have to get hoisted through a window.

I can only imagine the sort of canal tour that we took is at its best on dry summer days.  What can be nicer than sipping Heineken as you glide along the canals, taking in the sights.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Surprise! We're Going to Amsterdam!

A few years ago when The Man of the Place had his 50th birthday, I surprised him with a weekend trip to Paris.  We had a lovely weekend full of sightseeing and finding little Parisian treasures where we least expected to find them.

This year I was given a similar surprise. I knew we were going somewhere.  I was asked to book some time off work and get Polly the wonderdog booked in at the kennel.  I did this without knowing the actual destination.  Of course I asked questions like . . . "Do I need to pack a dive computer, sturdy walking shoes, swimming suit, sparkly dress?"    Apparently The Man of the Place had spent money on a Lonely Planet guide to Morroco and left it on the coffee table in the front room.  I didn't even see it! What's the point of creating a red herring if the person it was designed for is too clueless to notice?
We were leaving early early on Saturday morning so I was told on Friday night to pack for a European (non UK) city destination and to leave my swimming suit, sparkly dress and dive computer behind. 

Seven bridges
On Saturday morning at bleary o'clock in the morning The Man of the Place, George and I left our place and made our way to Glasgow airport.  At the EasyJet check-in desk I discovered the destination.  Amsterdam!  Wow!  I had never been to Amsterdam before.  This was going to be fun!

We were in Amsterdam from Saturday until Wednesday afternoon.  I'll write more about where we stayed, food, cultural stuff and the fun things we did later.  We did loads of fun things so there is much to tell.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Dead Tree

A few years ago a seemingly healthy tree in our garden just died.  One summer it was alive and growing and the next year - it was bereft of life.

We have been contemplating removing this tree but have held off for a couple of reasons; 1. The dead tree is the perfect hammock distance from another tree.  We would have nowhere else to put a hammock unless we BUY a hammock stand.  2. We are very lazy (I refer you to the title of the blog) and would have to arrange chainsaws or get somebody in to cut it down.  Now we have a third and important reason.  Wildlife.  There has been a nest box on this tree for many years now. It has been the site of many successful batches of blue tits.   Today while we were all watching telly in the back room, we had a rare treat.  A great spotted woodpecker was hopping up and down the trunk of this tree, pecking at holes and making grabs at a small swarm of flying insects near by.

After the woodpecker flew off, The Man of the Place and I went out and inspected the many holes that have appeared on this tree.  Seriously, there weren't any holes there on my birthday when I went to hang the pinata on a branch.  If there were holes, I didn't notice them.

No missing the woodpecker holes now!  They go all the way down.  There is obviously food there for the bird or he wouldn't give the tree so much attention.  The woodpecker's validation of the dead tree has ensured that the tree will not be cut for now.  Dead trees are important to wildlife as this woodpecker has shown us.  We will keep the camera in the back room to see if we can get a photo of a return visit.

Over in the other part of the place, I checked on the swallow nest.  There was only one egg!  I don't know what happened there.  Was the nest predated by some other bird or (horror) a rodent?
In any case, the swallows are not losing any time.  There has been a new nest built and there are three eggs in it!

I really hope that the eggs hatch and that the birds manage to get big and fat quickly enough to make it all the way back to South Africa!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Shhh! Stop Typing So Loudly!

Yesterday was my birthday.  I turned 50.  In honour of the occasion, we had a party out here at the house.
The theme was loosely based around a Mexican fiesta. I bought some party things . . .
Please note my attention to detail.  I have two skull bracelets (Dia de los Muertos) and a couple of Our Lady of Guadalupe bracelets.
The Man of the Place took up the slack in the beer (cervesa) department.  This pile of beer was stacked at the kitchen door.
The weather was lovely the day BEFORE the party.  The day of the party (Saturday) I woke to lovely blue skies . . . . which gradually got darker and by the time 2 o'clock came around it was heaving with rain.  We had puddles where there had never been puddles before.

Ah, never mind.  If we didn't do things because it was raining . . . . we'd never do stuff.
I could not have managed to have this big party if I had not had help.  I got extra chairs and a gas barbecue from Isobella and Michael (friends in the village)  The gazebo -pictured above - was from my dive buddy, Jean.  My son Sean made cocktails - the source of maternal squiffiness - and grilled stuff.  The new daughter-in-law made tray after tray of sandwiches.

My really great neighbours showed up - who are the best neighbours in the history of EVER - and a large number of  friends and my newly married son and his wife were there.  It is great when different sections of your life converge.  Neighbours and village friends were having conversations with my diving pals.
I will confess that I did get pretty squiffy by the wee small hours of the morning.  I took myself off to bed at about 2.

Then it was properly morning.  I was the first up and surveyed the damage. . . .

It wasn't all that bad actually. . . .
I there didn't seem to be any permanent damage and nothing important was broken.  
When we first started tidying up, there looked to be no beer left.  It was said that the beer locusts had infested the place . . . I did find a few stray bottles in the fridge but not much else.  All the food and most of the drink was gone.
We had a couple extra guests in the morning.  
This is where the super fabulous Man of the Place came into his own. He made tea, coffee and pancakes for everybody during the hangover, tidying up phase of the party.
So.  That's me at 50 now.  I feel just exactly the same as I did when I was in my 20's.  The body has changed a bit . . . but not significantly.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Only Good Thing

The only nice thing that has come about since the death of our cat is that the local bird life has come back.
The number of blackbirds hopping around on the lawn bounced back immediately.  There is always a bird hopping around on the grass now.  Lots of thrushes and blackbirds have returned.

Swallow nest in the beams of the tool shed

The swallows are happy.  One of the old nest sites - in our tool shed has been revitalised.  Just this spring Julio caught and killed a swallow.  I found him later sitting on the tool bench waiting to ambush his next victim.   These days the swallows are shooting in and out of the open door of the tool shed with what can only be described as joyful abandon.

One got confused and came in the house today.  All the doors are open as we enjoy a rare dry and warm summer day. I grabbed the bird as it seemed to be in full panic mode in the window and released it back out the same door it came in.

the best nest shot I could manage - 4 eggs

There isn't an easy way to see what stage the nests are in the tool shed.  I know the parents are swooping in and out many times a day but  I haven't heard any baby peeps yet.  I stuck my camera up into the small space and clicked the shutter.  It turns out that there are four white eggs with pretty brown speckles on them.  They are on top of the soft feathers the parent birds prepared earlier. 

I hope this brood is successful!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Paying The Piper

Over the past year or so a few things have started to change.  I reported that the first gray hair showed up.   That wasn't a big deal really.  Some people get those when they are in their twenties . . . I always state that I don't get gray hair, I give them!  Not many more have come forward since that first one.  So that's okay then.  I'm sure they'll show up in their own time.

I developed plantar fasciitis - Okay - Loose some weight, stop going barefoot and do little stretching movements before getting up each day.  The stop going barefoot thing has been harder than anything else.  I love going barefoot - but it turns out that it is hard on my aging feet.

A few months ago a spot appeared in the middle of my right cheek.  I thought it was just a patch of dry skin. It peeled off in one big chunk.  I didn't think anything of it . . . until the patch returned and peeled off again . . . . and again.  This little dry but pink spot on my cheek just go away.  Did I mention that it is right in the middle of my face?   I have many acquaintances who work as GPs here in the area.  Each one I asked about it said it was a solar keratosis.  

They are mostly benign .. .but about 1 in 20 tend to go bad (cancerous) so I have to watch it.  I also have to keep a sharper eye on all of my freckles and moles.  All those summers at the pool and in the corn fields plus years of topping up my tan have taken their toll.  I don't get much sun exposure now, but the damage has already been done.   

All the years of getting sunburned and not wearing sunscreen are catching up with me.  I never thought I'd have to deal with stuff like this but some of these summer-in-the-sun-chickens are coming home to roost.   Good thing I have lived in Scotland for the bulk of the last twenty years.  It is hardly ever sunny here.  I'm much better about wearing a hat outside and I am now a sunscreen person. When looking on line at solar keratosis, most information says that they show up in patients over the age of 50.  Well, I can tell you now that this one is a little early!  Not freakishly premature but early.  I've got about 12 days left.