Sunday, April 06, 2014

Apple Trees

I'm really really looking forward to this year!  I have planted two new trees and this is the first spring that they will be in bloom.

A number of years ago I was given two apple trees as a gift. The varieties were Discovery and James Grieve. Those trees are Group 3 pollinators for Bramley's Seeding apples, (the best cooking apple ever).  The high maintenance Bramley needs two pollinators.  At the time the trees were planted, I knew that  I would be getting a cooking apple tree.  I thought I'd plant a Bramley tree a few weeks later, but I never did.

Years rolled by and I never got around to planting the cooking apple tree that these trees were designed to pollinate.  This year could see the (literal) fruition of my long term plans as I now have two young Bramley trees.  I planted them when my two grandsons were born.

I'll be stopping there.  There are now four apple trees in the back garden.  If I am lucky enough to get additional grandchildren, I will plant something else.
Lennox turned one year old on the tenth of last month.  Isn't he a darling?!  Jack is going to be one year old this week.  Here he is brushing his curls.

They are pretty close in age and development.  It is fun to see who does what first and watch as their personalities develop.  Lennox is the chatterbox.  He can't say words yet but he imitates the sounds and patterns of speech so well.  Jack isn't as vocal, but he has four teeth rather than two and seems to have a an encouraging trend toward tidiness.  He likes to put all his toys in one spot (an unused baby seat or empty basket) as part of playing.

So while these boys are busy with growing up, their Nana is tending her garden and  planning to make lovely things with the apples that grow in the garden.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sister Sarah O'Neil

One of my mothers best friends died decades ago in the early 1980's.  I wasn't living at home when she finally left this world.  I was in California going through the final months of a really rotten marriage and wasn't anywhere near my family.

When the phone call came, I was very sad.  I hated to be so far away from what had just happened.  Sister Sarah had been a very large part of my mother's life and my childhood for as long as I can remember.  My mother and Sister Sarah had been friends since college days.

I don't know or remember the details, but they met when they were both in the novitiate (convent).  Sarah went on to become a fully fledged nun and my mother left the convent to marry my father. 

Their friendship remained.  Sister Sarah used to visit us when we lived in North Dakota.  I even remember Sister Sarah's parents visiting us.   She was a bigger part of our lives when we moved to Minnesota.  Sarah's convent was in St Paul and she was able to visit us regularly.  We also visited the convent.  I actually liked visiting Sister Sarah in the convent.  It had a huge pool table in the basement and we would play for hours.  I also liked talking to the other nuns and novices. 

Sister Sarah was a gentle and loving friend to my mother and to us kids as we appeared in the world. When my first child was born, Sister Sarah sent handmade pajamas for him.  She made a white nightgown type garment that tied at the bottom. It was perfect for an infant whose bottom needed changing often.  My son Ian wore it to bed almost every night.  Later when he got taller, I pulled the bottom cord out and he just wore it as a nightgown.

I wish I had at least one photo of Sister Sarah.  I can't believe I don't have a single one.  I have been thinking about Sister Sarah a lot today.  Of all things, it was the death of Shirley Temple Black that brings Sister Sarah's memory to the front of my mind.
When Sarah O'Neill was a little girl, she wrote a fan letter to Shirley Temple, then a big movie star that was charming the United States with her dimples, and curls.  Here was the lovely thing, Shirley Temple wrote back!  Sister Sarah had a hand written reply to her letter. It was a bit bland and may not have been written by the child star but it was a kindness that Sarah never forgot.  I don't know how long she kept the letter.  I suspect she kept it with her things up until she left home. 

Isn't it funny how the memory works and what will be a trigger to a deeper memory?
 

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Belgian Chocolates

A few years ago, a dear friend of mine, Robyn and her partner Deidre started a chocolate shop in Minnesota.  They've been working so hard to produce beautiful, and delicious quality chocolates.  They travel all over the US to learn new techniques.  They stay on top of the latest trends, try to use local and organic ingredients when that is possible. . . .so mostly, they're pretty groovy.  I've had their stuff sent to me here in the UK and the chocolates they produce rival fine European chocolates.

I told Robyn that I was headed to Belgium.  As they will not be over here anytime soon, I said I'd take photos for her and investigate trends. I also picked up some brochures, but the bag with the brochures (and gourmet chocolate) was surgically lifted from my shopping bag in London by somebody who wanted it more than me.
Some chocolate shops were just that.  Chocolate shops.  They were part of a chain and there was corporate uniformity.  As pretty as it is, it seemed to lose something.  For one, there wasn't the overpowering chocolate smell that is present in the other shops.  These other shops were shops in front of the production.  The chocolates were made on site.  It was also telling that these shops had a lot more foot traffic.

If there was a window so that the customer could see the production, there was always somebody having a look.
One thing I noticed was that the bargain chocolate shops were less busy than the good ones.  Nobody wanted to buy less expensive and novelty items as the perception was that they might not be as nice to eat as the other delights on offer.

I believe that Bruges has over fifty chocolate shops.  There seems to be enough custom for them all to survive.  I am sure that those who have a reputation for excellence and a good location will do better than others.  This means, that if you don't know what you're doing or your chocolate is not good, you will not survive in Belgium.

One of the things that will pull customers (and me) off the beautiful streets of Bruges and into the shop is this:
Abundant chocolates piled up and just WAITING to be purchased and eaten immediately.  I mean look at that!
In the above photo you can see my reflection as I take a snap of the orange slices dipped in chocolate.  Seville oranges are in season right now.  The bitter oranges are best for marmalade AND the partially dried slices are perfect for dipping in super luxurious Belgian chocolate.  We bought those every day.  One slice for me and one slice for The Man of the Place.  If we buy more than one slice each, . . we'll eat more than once slice each.
Chocolates bought loose and kept in bags and the bag is in the pocket of your winter coat will not keep.  As you walk around magical and historic Bruges, you'll remember they are in your pocket. Before you know it, they have evaporated.

Even though it was January when we were there, February and Valentine's Day looms.  Some love hearts were already appearing.

There isn't a bit of hot chocolate powder in the city.  If you order hot chocolate (chocolate chaud) then this is what you will get:

A chunk of rich Belgian chocolate that is melted into steamed milk.  It isn't cheap, but it is warm and very decadent. They really do make a great effort with the service of hot chocolate, making the entire experience one of pleasure.

We didn't go there for the chocolates but it was fun to be diverted by them. 



Thursday, January 23, 2014

Birthday Trip


When the Man of the Place turned forty, we had a party.  When his fiftieth birthday rolled around, our son George and I surprised him with a trip to Paris. As we are still together, healthy and employed for his sixtieth I thought another birthday trip was in order.  This trip to celebrate the beginning of another decade saw us taking the train to Bruges in Belgium.

Neither The Man of the Place or I have ever been to Belgium other than to change flights at the airport.

I think the main industries are tourism, chocolate production and beer. It is a stunningly beautiful place.  We struggled to find a bad view within the walls of the old city.

Because it is geared for tourists, the centre of the place is expensive.  Even a beer is expensive.  Now I don't mind that the beer is expensive as Belgians are brilliant at making beer.  Most of those beers are quite a bit stronger than the beer we have become accustomed to, so you don't have to buy nearly as much.
One place boasted that they served 400 varieties of beer.  Can you imagine what the beer cellar looks like in that place?  From the few bars we went into, it seems that every beer made in Belgium has its very own glass.  Part of a new bartender's learning curve must be to know which glass goes with with which beer.


We stayed in a very elegant hotel.  I didn't know how lovely the hotel would be until we showed up.  Hotel Navarra was delightful and I cannot fault the hotel in any way.  

Here is a view of the place where we had lunch on the second day.  The white building over looking the peaceful canal.  Very good food but the service was slightly inattentive.  I felt as if we were a bit more elegant ourselves, we would have been treated with more deference.  Ah, never mind.  I wasn't there to have my ego stroked, we were there for lunch.  Beautiful food, good location and high price.  Birthday treats only for that place.

We walked a great deal.  One of the places that I definitely wanted to see was the beguinage.  On  the way to the medieval beguinage, we walked through this garden.

Walked past this lock . . .

and past this house next to the canal.


The beguinage was a peaceful oasis. . .

No loud voices. . .don't walk on the grass.

If you wish to take photos for a commercial reason, you must have permission from Mother Superior.

I wasn't worried about that so much.  I don't sell my photographs or use them to promote anything.

The daffodil shoots are beginning to pop through, telling us that winter, though miserable, will not last forever.

There is always a shop, even in the most peaceful and religious places.  Another little museum.  It was Sunday, therefore it was closed.

The main gait.  I am certain that it used to be more of a barrier, to protect those inside.

These ducks were just to the right of the gate.  "We've got wings.  We can get in anytime we want."

The bridge was beautiful as well.  Okay, there wasn't an ugly part of the entire walk.

The hard part was selecting which beautiful views to share.  I also didn't want to walk around the entire weekend, looking at Bruges through a camera lens.    Though it seems like I took loads of photos, the camera stayed in my pocket most of the time.

We stayed in the old part of the city, very close to Markt.  We found the city to be very easy to walk around.  Be careful if you are prone to tripping, as the streets are all cobbled.  It is a bit expensive but if you are sensible and have a budget, you'll be fine.   I would love to visit Bruges again.  If we do we would always go in the winter, I am told that in the summer, the crowds can be heavy. Big crowds are a drag.

Friday, January 10, 2014

I Sewed a Jacket

At the beginning of the autumn school term, I enrolled in an adult education class;  Advanced Tailoring and Dressmaking.   With the arrival of my two beautiful grandsons, I had started sewing again.  I made a quilt each for the new babies and then I ran up a nightgown for myself.

About the same time the BBC ran a series called The Great British Sewing Bee where sewers from around the UK competed to be labelled the best amateur sewer in the UK.  Some of the stuff they made was easy, but some projects were tough!  Though I have been sewing for years, I couldn't attempt some of the garments that they were making but I thought I might  as well try.  I was inspired to look into improving my sewing skills.

Looking up local sewing classes, it turned out that Carlisle College runs adult education classes and include sewing classes.  These classes ran from absolute beginners to my class, the advanced sewers.  I wanted to learn to alter a pattern to make a garment ME shaped.  I also wanted to learn some couture sewing techniques, the nice finishing touches that take a garment from homemade to custom tailored.  I go on Thursday nights and it turns out that the night class is a mixed class.  There are some beginner sewers and then there are a few at the intermediate level.

I picked out a pattern for a jacket and got some beautiful tweed. I am very lucky as the most beautiful woolen fabrics are produced right in this part of the UK.  One of my sons and his family live in Peebles on the banks of the river Tweed! Carlisle itself is home to Linton Tweeds, the factory that produces the woolen boucle' for Chanel.  I can go to the factory shop and buy end of run and flawed cloth for my own projects.

The pattern used for my first project was McCalls M6172 choosing to make view B

It was fun to make and I learned a whole bunch while doing it.  I took photos during the process.

Laying out the pattern pieces to cut the cloth.
Ensuring that the pattern was Peggy shaped meant that I had to make it a little wider in some areas.

The lining is a lovely green. I almost went for a bright fuchsia, but chickened out.  The wool tweed was very expensive and I'll save creative colour choices for another project.
That particular piece of lining is the back center piece.  It has a large pleat down the centre.  To keep that in place, I basted it in place, only taking the basting stitches out once the garment was completed.

After cutting the cloth came the time consuming task of marking in all the tailor's tacks, little marks on the pattern that help the sewer to match the pieces properly when constructing the garment.  I didn't want to skip a single step of the construction.
You can see some of the tailor's tacks in the above photo.  I used red or orange thread so that I wouldn't miss them when it came time to remove the threads. Each of the pattern pieces was used four times so I had to be gentle with the little tissue pieces.  Initially I made up a toile or cotton mock up to check the fit, then cut the fabric, interfacing and lining .

The construction was fun.  I loved figuring out the challenges and plowing ahead. I sought advice when it came time to make the collar and add the lining.  It seemed that there as a specific order in which to do things and the pattern directions were unclear.  My lovely sewing instructor stepped in at that point and gave guidance.  She even invited me to her home one afternoon over Christmas so that she could go over how to proceed.

The pockets on the garment were double welt pockets with a pocket flap.  I did a practise one on a scrap of wool cloth and it came out very well.  Then I had to do two MATCHING ones on the jacket. In the end the pockets turned out beautifully. They matched, were on the right spot on the jacket and layed flat.  I wanted to put more pockets on!
Place to keep candy!

After putting on the buttons and making the button holes and stitching the last lining hem, I was able to wear the jacket with pride yesterday.  It was so great!
I resisted stopping strangers to have them admire my work, but I kinda wanted to.  "I made this jacket!"

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Okay then . . .2014, here we go!

In the beginning of 2013 I started a log of the birds that visit our bird feeders.  I had been given some new bird feeders for Christmas last year and I had a spare 2013 diary lying around.  So, fill the feeders and sit back to watch through the window.

It was really fun to document what visited our garden.  There were seasonal visitors and surprise guests.  When writing in the daily log, I would highlight anything out of the ordinary in yellow highlighter.  For example if a new species (to me or the garden) showed up for the first time, that entry was made yellow.  When the red squirrels showed up, I highlighted those entries in pink.

The most common bird visitors to the place were Chaffinches and Coal tits.  They showed up every day and in good numbers.

Here is the bird list for the year.

Blue tit
Chaffinch
Robin
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Coal tit
Great tit
Bullfinch
Blackbird
Brambling
Dunnock
Buzzard - in the tree across the road
Barn owl
Tawny owl
Goldfinch
Long tailed tit
Assorted gulls (not close enough for identification)
Collared dove
Wood pigeon
Stock dove
Tree creeper
Green finch
Siskin
Pheasant
Sparrowhawk
Barnacle geese (in the field - I could see them from my window so I counted them!)
Crow
Jackdaw
Starling
Red poll
Black cap
Great heron
Cuckoo - call only
Lapwing (in the field)
Oyster catcher (in the field)
Curlew (in the field)
Swallow
Jay
Song thrush
Sparrow (first at the house in over 17 years)
Wren
Pied wagtail
 
Animals in the garden include

Polly - our dog
RED SQUIRRELS - up to four at once
field voles
least weasel
hare
rabbit
sheep
cows
horse
cat
moles
water shew
common shrew
pygmy shew
mice
hedgehog
badger
fox
common newt
toad
frog
stoat
deer 
four or five species of bat - at least one is a pipistrelle

Forty species of bird has been seen from the back room window.  I am certain that if I spent more time watching.  If I could have identified the different species of gull in the field and the list would have been longer. There are also Fieldfair and Redstarts in the field but they fly way too fast for identification. If I can't be absolutely certain, it wasn't listed. It was fun watching the winter visitors to the feeders (bramblings) and note when the swallows return, breed and take off again.

The highlights for me this year was seeing the families of birds.  We had visiting male and female Great Spotted woodpeckers.  I saw them mating in one of the trees.  Weeks later the woodpeckers brought their offspring  to the peanut feeders.  It was delightful to see the adults feeding their babies.

A new bird made it onto my life list this year, the redpoll. That was a treat!  

One day a female pheasant showed up with over 14 baby pheasants following her.  Baby robins, blue tits, woodpeckers, blackbirds and chaffinches all did that nestling behaviour at the feeders of flapping their wings with mouth wide open.

Now it is winter again, a new year has started and a new diary has begun.  I wasn't going to do another log . . . but I found that writing down what is seen at the feeder has become a habit.  The first day of the New Year and I didn't have anywhere to write down what I was seeing!  I had to get a new pocket diary in the supermarket on the next trip into town. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Successful Swallows

Now that we have no cats, the birds at Whitelees are free to nest in the garden without being predated by our pets.

There have been swallow nests in our tool shed for years.  One nest is near the door next to a rafter and the other is balanced on a florescent light fixture.  The poor swallows that survived long enough to build them, were never successful at raising any chicks.  The workbench in the tool shed made a far too convenient hunting platform for our cats.

This year a pair of swallows decided to risk things and try one of the nests again. I saw the swallows darting in and out of the tool shed and I wondered if they were brave enough to try again.  Putting my hand up there, I felt eggs.

There isn't enough room for me to stick my head up there and look in, but I can put my smartphone up there and snap away.    Using this method, I was able to monitor the progress of the swallows without disturbing them too much.  In the end there were three eggs in this nest.
Pretty speckled swallow eggs

I was worried that they were never going to sit on these eggs and hatch them out.  I never saw any adult swallow incubating or brooding on the nest.  Even so, the eggs did hatch.
Scrawny newly hatched swallows
The chicks hatched during a lovely hot spell here in SW Scotland.  Tiny hatchlings always look so delicate and fragile. Because I felt so protective of them, I wouldn't let anybody close the door to the tool shed once the eggs had hatched.  Even though they could probably get in through the huge gap at the bottom of the door, I wanted the swallows to have open and free access to the hungry chicks.  If we were robbed, then so be it.  I was quite willing to sacrificed our possessions so that these wee birdies had a chance.
A few days after hatching they were all gaping mouths.  If we walked in to get the lawnmower this is what we'd see.
week old swallow chicks

A week later they look a bit bored.
Then they developed a distinctly grumpy look.Later on it gets very crowded.
It really looks as though there is no room in there.  This photo was taken two days before the three swallow chicks fledged.


This morning, the nest was empty
Oddly tonight the swallows were back in the nest.  I don't know how this works, but tonight after the first day of flight, the young ones are back in the nest above the light fixture.


When we first bought this place, there were three or four external swallow nests.  The nests were abandoned as the cats learned to get on the roof and make swipes at the birds. I am thrilled that we have been witness to the arrival of three new swallows.  I really hope this years brood make it down to sub-Saharan Africa and back again next year.  It would be wonderful if the old nest sites are reestablished.