Saturday 30 April 2011

Off we go again

I hardly know whether I'm coming or going, after the excitement of the beautiful wedding yesterday I spent most of the time thinking Friday was Saturday and feeling exhausted by the emotion of it all.
In actual fact I am going, tomorrow we are off to Italy for two weeks. I am particularly happy about this because 2 hours after we leave my brother and his wife are flying out from Yorkshire and staying with us for 5 days. My brother has never been abroad before, this is my gift for his 60th birthday which he celebrated in January. He's had to make arrangements for people to look after the farm and go through the process of getting a passport, which is much more complicated than it used to be requiring lots of information and attendance at an interview. Anyway all the arrangements are made and providing our flight isn't delayed, we leave at 6.30 am, we should have time to pick up our hire car, drive from the little Rome airport to the big one and find them in arrivals.
The greenhouse is sorted, tomatoes are planted in their grow bags, the automatic watering system should be working, sweet peas are planted out and of course my toe nails have their first of coat of varnish this year. On the every so slightly down side a couple of things are bothering me. First the weather forecast isn't great with the probability of rain but that could be an excuse to light the stove. Second Mr FF has ordered to be delivered to our house in Lazio a steam wallpaper stripper, the intention being that when my family leave we get stuck into some bedroom decoration. He also mentioned the other day that he'd been speaking to our holiday insurance company and discovered that men are not covered for accidents during holiday home diy, only women. He said when he questioned this the company said it was because women take less risks and therefore have less accidents, which sounds a bit suspicious to me.
So if you don't hear from me for a while I shall be doing touristy things with the family or up a ladder steaming, literally.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

A West Highland Easter Birthday Fling

Helen was 50 last month and we'd already celebrated with lunch and gifts but Easter Saturday was her official birthday party held in the village hall near the family holiday home on the West Coast that I've written about before (scroll down a bit I couldn't get the page exactly). Such a long way for everyone to travel, from our house it is a good four hours drive, from London it's an epic journey but so many people made the effort. Speaking to Malcolm, Helen's husband, he said it was a wonderful feeling to have filled the local area with their friends, to know that all the available accommodation was booked by them. We stayed in the lovely Arisaig House, a beautiful old property with glorious gardens and walks down to the beach. We left it a bit late to book, when we received our invitation last October there was the offer of camping by the village hall and that seemed a good idea. Wrong, the logistics of dressing for a party in a tent were impossible, most of the teenagers were camping and while the party might finish at a reasonable hour there was no guarantee that the kids wouldn't keep going, so hotel it was. Our blue room wasn't the biggest, it was the last one available, but it was very pretty and comfortable. I like a bathroom with clear glazing, privacy permitting, though by the time I took this picture we had managed to steam up the window. The view was down to a field full of sheep and the loch.
The village hall also located right on the water's edge was full to bursting, mountains of food, fizz, music and dancing. After we'd eaten there was a band and Malcolm in his kilt got up and played a solo dedicated to Helen on his sax, something he said he hadn't done since their wedding over 20 years. He then sang and played along with the band as the dancing began. After a break the ceilidh band arrived and as always in Scotland that is a signal for everyone to be up and on the floor. White sergeants were dashed, willow was stripped, all the energetic favourites that get everyone moving, young and old.Finally there was a disco, with a strong 70s theme. A coach had been arranged to deliver and collect 40+ guests staying locally but since I don't really drink I was happy to drive. We left just after midnight offering to take some children back to the hotel as they were looking a bit exhausted but they refused to leave, worried they might miss something.
Next day it was open house at Helen's. After breakfast at the hotel, delicious kippers from Mallaig, we arrived at the loch house to find dozens of people tucking into bacon rolls and most people looking surprisingly perky. After a quick coffee and more chat we left for home about mid day.The journey back was long and we both felt a bit jaded, in fact I still do, so we stopped off briefly and shared a bag of chips, just what we needed to keep us going.A fantastic party in a most beautiful part of Scotland, happy birthday Helen and thanks to all the family who worked so hard to make it so special for us all.

Thursday 21 April 2011

Taking pictures

Our friend Shelagh, an artist and more importantly one half of the parentage of Peaches the adorable cat, has a photo journal here on This Edinburgh based website allows members to publish one photograph per day, the image must have been taken on the day it is uploaded. I have the site on my favourites and check it regularly. If you click on the logo top right it will take you to the index, roll over the pictures and they suddenly come to life, click on them to enlarge. You are free to browse all the entries though I think you have to sign up to be able to comment. Shelagh called round recently to show me the blipcards she's had made through the site, lots of her wonderful photographs reproduced business card size with her web address and contact details on the reverse, all packed into a beautiful black box. We had them all spread out on the kitchen worktop accompanied by many oohs and aahs and I was generously offered three to keep. What a decision, I eventually went for these three garden themed ones as they remind me of our lovely visits to feed Peaches up at the cottage. I'm quite jealous of the cards and fantasising now about having my own showing various pairs of socks or even my stash of sock yarn, there would certainly be plenty of variations. Shelagh was busy planning who would get which of her cards, one for the person who'd given her the tin that features, one for the person who loves the mahjong tiles, but I'd probably keep my sock cards in the box and during quiet moments take them out like a miser counting his gold.

Saturday 16 April 2011

Village Fair

It was the first village market of the year today, except now it's a village fair with more emphasis on raising money for charity and held less frequently. I think we were all a bit apprehensive about how the event would go, the time had been changed to the afternoon and there was an admission charge that went directly to the nominated charity this first one for CHAS, the Children's Hospice Association ScotlandI helped prepare the village hall yesterday, Pam and I had fun decorating the windows in a suitably spring/Easter way. I shared a stall with Hannah who also lives in the village and as you can see is an excellent baker. Gazing onto all her cakes for 2.5 hours certainly gave me an appetite. I took a good selection of socks though I only sold a couple of pairs and one pair of gloves, I didn't mind too much as I am desperate for socks myself and I had the feeling that with the warmer weather there wouldn't be so much demand for cosy feet. I had a good time though, met some interesting people including members of the band who played throughout the afternoon adding much to the atmosphere. Terrible picture, I apologise. Mr FF and I got chatting to a couple of the players who took us out to the car park to meet their fantastic ginger cat, Fleetwood, who has his own blog page and is a regular at music events. He's called Fleetwood because that's where he comes from and not because of the other band. At the next fair in June I'm running a Knit and Sit session where beginners can have a go at knitting and those with experience can help knit squares for a charity blanket. Be interesting to see how that goes.

Monday 11 April 2011

Man shopping

No I haven't been internet shopping for a new husband but I wanted to tell you how funny Mr FF's idea of provision shopping is. When I was working I used to buy our food either during my lunch hour or after work so that we didn't have to spend precious weekends at the shops. In those days Mr FF's only visits to the shops were to buy wine though I did finally train him to pick up some tins of cat food when he was at the supermarket rather than come home with just a few bottles of plonk. Now that I'm retired I normally do a big shop every seven to ten days and Mr FF, who works from home, supplements this by collecting fresh items on his way back from any meetings. Even if I haven't asked him to buy anything he still tends to call in at his favourite shops if he's passing, these being Lidl, Aldi and Costco where he acts totally on his own initiative. He believes that anything from these places is a complete bargain though I did make him take back a really horrible jogging suit he once bought for Amelia. The spontaneous food purchases can be quite odd, I do the cooking so I often have to use my imagination to incorporate them into our meals. He surprised me once with 6 tubes of anchovy paste, obviously on special offer, that I was able to use in pasta sauce and the like but I did end up giving some away, rather diluting his bargain. Recently a really cheap fruit pie deeply sprinkled with sugar didn't go down too well and he can over purchase on bacon at times.
On Friday his purchases were an aubergine, some parsnips, potatoes and dried pasta, all perfectly usable though not at the same time. Nothing ever gets wasted and I don't want to discourage him, in fact I enjoy unpacking his reusable jute bag but one day he will defeat my cooking repertoire I'm sure, probably soon after he reads this post.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Plants and pests and pessimism

I've been working hard in the garden during the recent sunny weather, its so tidy that I am running out of weeds to uproot. We live in the hills so face a constant battle against the elements and everything happens a little later than the rest of the country. For example we bought this rhododendron a while back, it's called Christmas Cheer and should flower in January, it will be out soon. I'd been longing for my daffodils to open but we've had such strong winds that most of the ones in the back garden are now in the prone position. I wish they would spring up again but it isn't going to happen, such a pity. I managed to get slightly ahead with these tulips by keeping them in the greenhouse otherwise they wouldn't be flowering for a week or two yet. Not only is the climate against me but I also have the destructive forces of the local wildlife to contend with. Last autumn, and the autumn before, (the triumph of hope over experience - Samuel Johnson), I planted over 100 crocus bulbs. Straight away quite a lot were dug up and eaten but now that the remainder have emerged and started to flower they have been consumed too. I don't know what is doing it, I've thought pheasant, squirrels or blackbirds but it is truly annoying. Every time I go out I find more empty holes and cast aside stalks, it's the actual bulb that is being eaten. I had a zinc pot full of flowering crocus on the window cill beside the front door, the other morning I found it had been pulled down onto the ground, the contents emptied out and every single bulb, probably a couple of dozen, eaten.Now that practically all the crocus have gone, the blighter has been investigating my tulips, obviously not quite as tasty because this one is only half eaten. A glass half full person might say it's only some cheap bulbs, could be worse, could be your hellebores, but I'm a glass half empty girl and I don't like it. It's so disappointing, I'd have been better just putting the bulbs straight onto the bird table. I garden organically to encourage wildlife and help the planet, I feed the birds regularly and that's the thanks I get.