Monday, August 31, 2009

fall at last?

Fall came in last night with temperatures in the 60s!! This AM, it is still cool. I am wearing long pants (light weight ones) and a long-sleeved shirt. First time I have need to cover my arms since leaving England. It's wonderful! I was going to take advantage of the cool and cut my grass this AM, but someone (probably the teenager next door or his parents) cut it for me yesterday evening while I was at the theatre. I have such nice neighbors!

Saw Oklahoma! last night. Despite a huge, free, rock concert going on near the theatre, I was able to get there easily and park. The dinner theatre has it's own parking lot, which they saved for those attending. The show is an oldie, but goodie. The men singing Curly and Jed have marvelous voices. And the young woman singing Laurie has this magical floating soprano. She was hitting high notes all night long, making it seem effortless. This was closing night for the show, so perhaps the performers were singing and dancing their hearts out. I know that in the little theater group I sing with, we always put out our best for closing night.

Nothing exciting planned for today. Grocery shopping and maybe picking up some paint for the front door and the powder room. More likely, I'll just get paint chips today, as I have not yet picked a color for the powder room. Fall is a good time to paint, as one can open the house to air out the paint fumes, without letting in too much humidity and heat.

I was just wondering if I had any photos to put up on this blog and remembered that I have a newly finished mask. This one was a long time in the making, as the snakes in the hair kept breaking off. Last week, finally, it was fired with all snakes intact. You've no doubt guessed that it is Medusa of Greek myth. So here's the photo. Yeah, I know, I have weird taste when it comes to making masks.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

set painting

Yesterday, I helped paint the set for the upcoming show - Bus Stop. The painting was really easy - just slapping paint on sections of what will be the walls. We put on gray paint, then dripped and splattered yellow and brown in it to look like years of grease splatters. It was fun and not really tiring, although when I got home, I was ready to just relax for the rest of the afternoon.

Later, however, Patty and I went for a walk. It was still far too hot, but we walked slowly for almost an hour. Patty was taking photos of places in the common areas where there is erosion or just no grass. Lots of places! Patty is on the Landscape Committee, which recommends what areas should be fixed up each year. What they really need is to use ground cover, rather than grass on the slopes or just let nature take its course, by NOT mowing the slopes. Some people are very insistent that all common areas, unless part of a woods, should have grass that is mowed every week, whether it needs it or not. Here is Maryland, with our often dry summers, that is a sure way to kill off the grass. They cut it really short, too - again very bad for grass. I don't know if Patty will get anywhere with the idea of substituting ground cover for grass. Sure hope so. Behind our homes, where the erosion is really bad, we persuaded the yard maintenance company not to mow at all. We have grass and crown vetch and some other weeds growing back there and hopefully, the grass will reseed and cover all the bare spots. It may take a few years.

I got a lovely package in the mail yesterday. It's the quilt sent to me in the Little Art Quilt exchange. This is a gorgeous quilt - in my favorite colors - brown and green. Here's a not-very-good photo of it. I didn't want to take it down to shoot it, so there is some distracting stuff in the background. The woman who made it lives in Canada. It took over 3 weeks for it to get here. I send and receive packages to and from England in less time than that. However, she sent it surface mail, rather than air mail. I guess the Canadian postal service doesn't use air mail as much as the USPS does.

Today, I'm skipping church. There is a huge concert or festival going on in Columbia and roads in and out will be jammed up all day long. I thought it was a good excuse to stay home. The only time I don't attend church regularly is in the summer when there is no choir. The rest of the year, if I'm not traveling, I go to church and sing joyously.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


I couldn't think of what to use for a title for this post and then I remembered a word that was my eldest granddaughter's favorite word last year - "whatever". She says this when she is asked her preference about anything. A very blase expression and one-shouldered shrug went with it. Sarah, who is almost 12, has been practicing to be a teenager for the past year and more. I'm sure she will be acting much more teenage in a few weeks, when she enters secondary school. There is no junior high or middle school in England where she lives, so she will be with all those high school kids - great role models - NOT!! I'm glad it's Kate who will have to put up with the upcoming teenage behavior and not me. Grandmothers can just enjoy the kids, aren't we lucky?

This has not been a particularly interesting week at my house. I must have done something on Wednesday, but nothing stands out in my memory. I have to admit, my memory isn't as good as it used to be. Just another of those joys of advancing maturity! Thursday is my day at the hospital gift shop. It's actually fun because I like the women I work with and enjoy brief chats with the hospital employees who stop in to get their daily fix of junk food (mostly candy). I think nurses get their energy from chocolate! It was freezing cold in the gift shop this week. The lobby, which is just around the corner, was hot. Too bad we couldn't have exchanged a bit of our air for theirs. I got permission from the managers to have a paperback book sale next week. We sell donated books (used but in good condition) in the store and I'm in charge of them. (I did the same thing in the thrift shop when it was open. As a former librarian and a voracious reader of romance and crime novels, I'm pretty good at knowing what will sell.) Anyway, we have a surplus of old paperbacks and need to cut back on inventory, as storage space is limited. So, next Thursday, I will cut prices in half and put out as many of the older books as we have shelf space for. Hopefully, we will sell many of them.

Yesterday was the weekly lunch with long-time friends. We've recently added a new member to the lunch bunch. He's a fellow that many of us know from MAD (Music and Drama). Ron is a photographer, recently trying to make earn a living at what used to be his hobby. Very few artists whom I have known can live on sales of their creations. Most of us just create for the fun of it.

Weather here is cooler, but very humid. We are getting some good rains and the wet weather gives me a perfect excuse not to cut my grass! Today I will be helping to paint 'flats' for the upcoming show - Bus Stop. I've been helping Lynne find props, now I will slap paint on panels that will when finished create walls for an old dirty bus stop. Just the sort of painting I do well!

One of these days, when the weather cools off, I have some painting to do in my house. The front door needs to be repainted. And I have finally decided to paint the powder room. The wallpaper that was there when I bought the house is unusual. I find it interesting, but most people upon seeing it have commented very negatively. I'll put a photo up and see what you think. Anyway, I haven't decided on a color yet, but I do know that it will NOT be pink!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

musings on the mundane and the grand

Haven't done much this week. I did a bit more thrift store shopping, looking for props for the play and also a table or desk for cutting out fabric. I found some props, but gave up on the idea of a thrift store desk. They were all ugly and really bulky. Instead, yesterday, I went to IKEA to check out tables and desks. I found one that is just about perfect. I would have preferred it in brown, but white was all they had in the size I needed. It was a breeze to put together - the top and legs come separately and all you do is screw the legs on. I pushed the furniture around again in the sewing/guest room to maximize the space between the bed and the furniture. The new table is the sewing table and the old desk (which previously was both) is now the cutting 'table'. I think this set-up will work just fine. Now all I have to do is decide what I will work on next. What I really need to do is finish the cushions for the dining room chairs. I bought fabric several years ago and made one cushion. Never did the other three. They are a nuisance to make, as the seat isn't either round or square, so I have to cut and cover an odd shaped cushion. But I can do this and I will, just as soon as the weather cools off. That front room gets very hot, as it gets AM sun. In a few weeks, it won't be so hot and I can enjoy being up there.

I need to mow the grass too, but again, that is a cool weather job. It it cools off this evening, I'll try to get it done. I use the string trimmer to do the whole lawn, as it is only about 20x15. It's too much trouble to drag the lawn mower up the stairs and through the house or out the back and around the building to my front yard. There are disadvantages to living in the middle of a block of townhouses!

I finally got the black and blue salvia into the ground, in the back yard. This was almost impossible because of the vines and bushes growing over the path. Not only has the gourd vine climbed the steps of the deck, it has also gone up and across the top of some of the bushes. The hydrangea has done its usual thing of growing forward until it touches the steps and the beauty bush has branches arching over the top of the others. All this creates an almost impenetrable thicket on the path between the bottom of the steps and the rest of the back yard. I'm not kidding when I say that my back yard is a jungle!

The paper today is filled with articles about Ted Kennedy. He has been a respected elder statesman for so many years. Our government and many individual people will miss him. It feels like the end of an era for me. I was just starting as a school librarian when John Kennedy was shot. We were vacationing in Venice when Robert was killed. Now, the last of that generation - the last of the bigger-than-life Kennedy's - is gone. Makes me feel sad and rather old.

Well, I must be off to 'work' at the hospital gift shop. I'm one of the younger volunteers at the hospital, which makes me feel young again.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

computer problems

Yesterday, I cancelled my old email account. Then I proceeded to eliminate it from the computer. When I was done, I could not get connected to the Internet at all. I don't know what I did, but must have eliminated the wrong thing. So I called Verizon. This was not a successful call. The 800 number they provide covers both telephone and internet service. I had to go all the way through the automated menu and never did find a way to get to an internet tech. I was put on hold for a live person and stayed on hold for about 20 minutes. Note: never call on a Monday morning.

While I was waiting, I used the CD from Verizon to troubleshoot my connection. In essence, this reinstalled my DSL. I then got a connection. Shortly after this, I finally got a voice, on the phone, attached to a live person. I explained to this person what my problem was and she transferred me to a tech person - after a short wait. The tech person spoke very softly with an accent and asked me a bunch of questions that had nothing to do with my problem. I had to ask him to repeat everything. Of course by this time, I didn't really need his help and finally we agreed that I had fixed the problem and we hung up. Everything seems to be working today, so I guess the problem (whatever it was) really is fixed.

Verizon called back later to ask me about the help service. I gave the guy an earful about how hard and time-consuming it was to get through to the Internet technical people and how they need people whose first language is English! He said that many people have complained. Too bad Verizon doesn't care enough about its customers to change their automated system!

Yesterday evening, I pulled up some plants in pots that were about done for the year and replaced them with the mums and iris I bought recently. Almost all those plants from Benke's are in pots or in the ground now - just two more to go!

The woodchuck (ground hog) is still out front, somewhere. I can't tell if he's under my bay window or not. I put some chicken wire under there, so perhaps he has gone elsewhere. However, a few plants have broken stems, so I know he is still going into the flower bed. He didn't seem to have eaten anything, but I moved the new potted plants up onto the steps. So far, he hasn't been up there. The other woodchuck only liked yellow flowers, but this one isn't that picky. I'm thinking about buying some new border decorative fencing. That worked in the past for keeping the critters (except for bunnies) out.

Monday, August 24, 2009

DSL at last. Hooray!!

Saturday, I spent several hours setting up DSL with Verizon. The problem was that for some reason the old telephone cord connecting the phone to the computer wouldn't work with DSL. Luckily they had sent me a new cord. Unfortunately, the old cord was under the floor molding between the kitchen and living room. Since I cannot get this molding up, the new cord is just stretched alongside the molding, protected with some tape. I am planning to buy a router and go wireless, so the cord issue will no longer exist. I LOVE the speed of working on the Internet. However, my computer is still very slow, so using it is still sometimes frustrating. A new computer is in the future - maybe this fall.

This morning, I have been trying to change my email address with Google and Blogger. I can't figure out how to do this. Nothing I could find on the help pages tells me how to do this. At the moment, my old email is valid, but I will be having it cancelled today. I don't know how this will affect Google and Blogger. I guess I will find out.

The weather has really improved as of last night. It is cool outside. I'm going outside soon to transplant some new purchases. Did I mention that we went to Benke's Nursery, Friday evening? I knew it would be a mistake, but went anyway. I have very low resistance when it comes to plants. They had a good sale - at least 20 percent off of everything. I bought 6 mums, two lilies, and a couple of other interesting plants. Now all I have to do is find a spot to plant them. This is not as easy as it sounds in my yard!

The Berwyn Book Club (from my former church) had its annual picnic yesterday. We did not get rained out and the weather was fairly comfortable. The Murrays, who host this event each year, have a backyard with large trees, so the deck is in the shade. As usual, the food was good and we got caught up with what had been happening to each of us during the summer. The Murrays have a wonderful garden with many shrubs and flowers and a large vegetable garden. They had squash vines that were like my gourd vine - very sprawly with huge leaves. There were three or four kinds of beans, various tomatoes, mild and hot peppers, and more. They have several acres of land and they use it in ways that are both beautiful and practical. It's always a treat to visit there in the summer.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

power outage

Wednesday afternoon, the electricity went off. Believe me, you don't want this to happen on a hot day! The basement was cool, but the only light there was coming in from the glass doors that lead to the 'under the deck' area. It's heavy shade, so not much light comes in there. So, I could sit downstairs and be cool, but could not read, watch a DVD or listen to music. Anyway, I soon left for a visit to friends (already planned) and when I returned around 9 PM, the power was back on. (I understand it was off for about 3 hours!) If it had not been restored, I guess I would have called around to find a place with power where I could sleep that night.

I have some photos of my fall arrangements. (See above and below). I like to set up little vignettes on my tables, sometimes using my pottery and/or flowers. I also have photographed the set of wall hangings that Kate made for me several years ago. She and I were at a quilt show where I fell in love with some fabric. She said that she could make me something out of it, so I bought the fabric and later lots of pieces to go with it. I love these little quilts and do enjoy hanging them up, whenever they go with the seasonal decorations.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

too much summer

Actually, it should be 'too much summer HEAT!' I am fed up with temperatures in the 90s during the day. I keep my A/C set at 82, pretty darn hot. It's fine for just sitting around with a small fan blowing on me, but not good for cleaning house or anything else strenuous. Anyway, I decided I was sick and tired of the summer decorations in my living room - mostly seashells and driftwood. So, yesterday, I took down the summer pictures, put away all the driftwood, seashells and ceramic fish, and got out the fall items. This process involves carting four or five empty boxes up from the basement; packing away all the summer things; and then hauling an equal number of boxes full of fall stuff back up. The basement was nice and cool, but I spent most of my time in the living room, which was not at cool at all! I still haven't put up the fall flowers and stuff in the kitchen. (I decorate the space above the cabinets for each season). Maybe I'll do that today.

The photo is of the two paddles I painted the other day. If you want to see more detail, you can probably enlarge them by clicking, but don't forget that I am NOT an artist with a paintbrush. They look better at a distance!! I put clear varnish on them, because they will be outside. Unfortunately, the varnish is discolored somewhat. It was fine a few months ago, but now, it's brown. I wiped a good deal of it off so that the pictures show. The paddles are still sticky, after drying 24 hours, so they won't go up for a while. Since the weather predictions are for thunderstorms all week, it may be a long while. At least the stupid things should be dry by the time I can put them back out!

Yesterday, I made the mistake of reading the various instructions and information sent to me by Verizon. I think I can set up the new system, but I should never have read the 'Terms of Service'. 5 pages of legalese. The only thing I can remember, because it makes me mad, is that they say if either I or Verizon cancel the 2-year contract, I will have to pay the cancellation fee! What a rip off that could be!! I'm tempted to call them and complain. I'm convinced that no-one reads the terms of service all the way through. It's just protection for Verizon - what we called in the government as CYA (cover your ass). No matter what goes wrong, don't blame them!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Expedition to thrift stores

Yesterday afternoon was an interesting experience. We started out at 11:30 and got home at 5. Lynne had a list of thrift stores in areas that neither of us has ever lived in and that we have not visited in recent years. I did remember a couple of them, but could never have found them on my own. Lynne had Mapquest directions, but they were not always correct. Also both Lynne and I are what you might call 'directionally impaired'! No innate sense of direction in either of us.

Despite this, off we went. I wish I had counted the number of u-turns we made - probably 15 or more. We went back and forth on some streets three or four times. Some of the stores were no longer in existence. Others did not seem to be where Mapquest thought they were. We did eventually find and shop at 6 stores, including one that wasn't on the list, but that I remembered from years ago. Three of these were wonderful stores, huge warehouse places with lots of stuff. Basically, the ones run by the Salvation Army, Goodwill and Value Village were clean and organized. Others, were not so good. We were very successful in our search for props and got a lot of things, such as glasses, pitchers, ash trays, and the best find - two diner-type pedestal tables. We really hadn't expected to find those, so we were very pleased. I also picked up a couple more birdhouses for my collection. All the props are in my car and will stay there for a day or so, until I can get back down to Greenbelt Arts Center when the show people are there to let me in. Luckily, my van has plenty of room, so it's not a problem to drive around with the stuff in it.

It was really a fun day, despite all the u-turns. I got pretty good at quickly whipping my van around in a tight circle to beat the oncoming traffic! Saturday is not my first choice for visiting thrift stores or for driving around on major highways. Lots of people out shopping or just driving around. I wonder if the economic crash has increased business at thrift stores. Seems likely it would.

This morning, I worked out front for a bit. It got hot very early today. I also put up a sign in my back yard. I'll try to post a photo. I have had this piece of wood (part of a harness for a team, I think) for a year or more and finally decided to paint it as a garden sign. I think it looks great, although not many people will see it.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

a slow day

Yesterday, about all I accomplished was to push furniture around upstairs and join my friends for lunch. I moved the bed and dresser in my sewing room in order to make room for a sewing table. I have a desk that holds my sewing machine, and have been moving the machine every time I need to cut fabric. This is a pain in the a**, so I've been looking for a table or desk that would fit in the space at the end of the bed. Not much space there and I haven't found anything small enough. So, I decided to see if rearranging the furniture would create more space. I moved that bed to the corner - no good. Then with the headboard against the windows - not very convenient for opening the window. Finally, I decided to shove it against the far wall, opposite the window, and use the space under the window for the cutting table. I had to move the dresser as well, which meant taking out the drawers, as it is an antique piece and very heavy when full. The floor has carpeting, which makes it even harder to push furniture around. It got too hot (and I was too tired) yesterday to finish the move, so I completed it this morning while it was still relatively cool. The room isn't as attractive looking - looks a bit crowded - but it will be much more convenient for sewing. I very rarely have company to sleep in the guest room, so it really makes more sense to have it set up as a sewing room. I'm happy with the arrangement, although I have to reposition a mirror over the dresser and perhaps move some pictures. Now all I have to do is find a nice table/desk!

I am actually going out to thrift stores today, with my friend Lynne. She persuaded me to help her find props for an upcoming production at the Greenbelt Arts Center. The play is 'Bus Stop' and is being produced and directed by friends of ours. We are searching for 1950s diner props - dishes, glasses, pitchers, cream and sugars, silverware, oil cloth table cloths, etc. I've already looked in the thrift stores in Laurel without much luck, so today we are going to some others near where I used to live. When Kate was in her teens and early twenties, she knew all the thrift stores for miles around and so did I. It'll be interesting to see how they may have changed in 20 years. Perhaps I'll find my sewing table at one of them.

At lunch yesterday, we exchanged travel stories and little souvenirs. Bill and Priscilla have just gotten back from an Alaskan cruise and tour. (They won this trip from chances they bought at the Greenbelt Arts Center. How lucky is that?) They had a wonderful time and are raving about Alaska. It makes me more sure than ever that I want to do this someday. I had to tell them about my trip to Scotland, since they are Scottish. We retired folks do a lot of traveling, although most of mine is to visit family. I think we are all staying home for the next few weeks. I know I'm about traveled out.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

DSL is coming

Yesterday, I signed up for DSL from Verizon. They tried to sell me several more expensive packages, of course, but I resisted. I hate doing this stuff over the phone. The sales rep was soft-spoken (but at least she spoke English) and she was obviously reading from a script. I would much rather have had written information in front of me. Probably I should have tried to sign up online, but I understand that is very difficult when one wants a cheap package. Anyway in a few weeks, the modem and instructions will arrive. I just hope I can set the thing up. We'll see.

Meanwhile, my computer is still sloooow. I ran a complete virus scan (took about 4 hours!) - no viruses. So, I think the machine is just old and wearing out. Once I get the DSL set up, I'll shop for a new computer. I've given up the idea of a laptop and going wireless. I'll just stick to desktops.

Weather has cooled down a tiny bit - still very hot. I'll be inside an air-conditioned building all day today. (my volunteer day at the hospital gift shop). I've been playing catch-up with credit card and bank statements. Just about done for this month. Pretty boring week, but I really don't mind. I had plenty of excitement during my three-week holiday. Sometimes it's good to just be home, doing routine things.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

goodbye to the little art quilts

Not much happening around here lately. It's hot, hot, hot!!! Today will be 'cooler' - i.e., highs only in the mid-90s. LOL At the moment, I have my house open, but will close it soon, as it's heating up outside.

Here are photos of the pair of little art quilts that I made for the swap that Kate was running. She posted photos of all the quilts on her a special section of her blog, but for those who don't want to look at almost 30 quilts (Actually, I can't imagine who wouldn't want to see them as they are really great!) I am showing just the pair I made. This was my first attempt at making a quilt and I know that I did several things wrong. Next time will be better. I like to incorporate my ceramic skills into my fabric art, so I made the little creatures out of Fimo, except for the red birds. They came from JoAnn's. I will be sending the quilts off to their new owner very soon. And, when it arrives, I will show a photo of the quilt I will get from the swap. I need to find a new challenging fabric art project now. Not sure what it will be. My sewing room is the front bedroom and it is very hot up there, so I may postpone any more sewing until the fall. My ceramics studio is in the blessedly cool basement. Guess I'll spend more time down there for a while.

Friday, August 7, 2009

how my garden grows

Most of my plants survived while I was gone, despite a week of no rain and a "return of the woodchuck". (Sounds like a title of a horror film, doesn't it?) We had been very happy not to have any groundhogs around for almost two years. This summer, our luck failed. I haven't seen the beast, but the damage is evident. He/she tried to burrow under my front steps (concrete), but was mostly unsuccessful due to my having put up chicken wire and secured it with stones. The creature did dig a bit and moved a few stones, but it appears he gave up. I had some plant stems broken, but no major damage. He found more fertile ground two doors down at Patty's garden. She also was away and discovered the hole when she returned. Lots of her plants were eaten, more damage than in my garden. She hopes he has left now, as she threw mothballs down into the borrow. They supposedly don't like moth balls. We'll see.

In the back yard, I found a monster vine coming up the deck steps. It's about 10 feet long and has leaves the size of dinner plates. Jack's beanstalk perhaps? Actually it is a gourd plant, sprouting from thrown away gourds last fall. I can't wait to see how big the gourds are. There is one developing already.

We've had lovely weather since I got home. Cool in the evening and warm, but not really hot, during the day. I think this is about to be over. Predictions are for 90s this weekend. At least I've had a few days to accustom myself to the heat. Ah well, it's summer in Maryland, so what should I expect?

Scotland day 8

Today, our last day in Scotland, was one of those picture-perfect days. Sunshine, blue skies, white puffy clouds, only a bit of a breeze. I couldn't find a photo of that kind of sky. You'll just have to believe me that it did exist for a very few days.
Sarah, Kate and I chased Geoff and the other kids out to visit a nearby castle ruin and take a hike, while we cleaned the house and washed towels and sheets. I cleaned out the fire box that was just about overflowing with ash from the four evenings we had built fires to heat the living room. Sarah and I cleaned floors with the Hoover and mop and bucket and dusted stairs and furniture. Kate did the laundry and tried to organize clothing for tomorrow’s packing.

Around noon, the rest of the family returned and we piled into the car to eat at a garden centre which has a good cafe and have a browse around the antique shop next door. Lunch was more than ample and very good – sandwiches and soup. The antique shop was the most crowded and disorganized shop that I have ever seen – and I’ve seen a lot of shops! Furniture, pots and pans, dishes and glass objects, books, and hundreds of other miscellaneous things were piled higgledy-piggledy from floor to ceiling, leaving only very narrow aisles for walking. It would be truly amazing if the proprietor could find anything. Despite all the mess, I found a few treasures at reasonable prices. Obviously, Scotland is the place in the British Isles to shop for antiques. London prices are out of sight, as one might expect. Anyway, I bought two pieces of glass – an amber colored seal and a small blue bottle that has a few bits of orange in it. I also found a very interesting round metal sieve that I plan to hang on the kitchen wall, if I can find a space for it. My kitchen wall is getting rather full as I seem to find ‘just one more thing’ almost every time I’m in an antique store. Only Sarah and Kate and I went into the store. Geoff is not interested in antiques and it was not a safe place for small kids.

We then proceeded on to a transport museum that we thought would appeal to the kids. (Kate has photos of this on her blog http://www.katelnorth.blogspot. com. with a link to her flickr pages). It was actually a really interesting place. There was quite a collection of classic cars in addition to some really old ones. There was just enough information about each vehicle to be interesting, but not so much as to be overwhelming. There were also buses, trolleys, motorcycles, bicycles, a huge snow-plow and a musical contraption that filled an entire wall and played honkey-tonk music. There were several videos – one about the roads in Scotland and another about how a wooden wheel is constructed. It was a very informative place for adults and the kids loved climbing onto the large vehicles and going around looking for specific license plates. All in all -- a good day. Tomorrow, we will get up early, pack, head for the Aberdeen airport ,and fly home to London. We all agree that it’s been a wonderful holiday and we should come back again someday.

My MANY photos from this trip can be found at They are sorted and and labeled with most of the duplicates removed.

Scotland day 7

Today, Thursday, July 30, we drove down to Balmoral Castle, the Queen’s summer home in Scotland. It’s a lovely drive, through evergreen woods, fields of grain and pastures with the mountains in the distance. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought the estate because they loved the area, and it’s easy to see why. Much of the estate is left wild, with only the area immediately around the house having mowed lawns and flower beds. Albert planned the gardens and had many trees planted. The Royals spent much of their time here. It has been preserved as it was in their day. The current Royal Family also spends part of the summer and fall at Balmoral. When the Family is not there, the ball room of the house and the grounds are open to the public. The entry fee includes an audio tour of the grounds and one room of the house.

In the stables, old carriages from Victoria’s time were on display. The ball room has stag heads mounted high on the walls and displays of photos of the other rooms of the house. It was a lovely sunny day and we wandered around the grounds, ate a picnic lunch in a grassy field, and finally hiked up a trail that led to a hill overlooking the palace. The view from the top, looking across the valley to the mountains beyond, was beautiful. Unfortunately, the day turned less pleasant, with clouds coming and going and smattering of rain off and on. We didn’t get very wet, but I was glad when we got back to the start of the trail and took the tractor ride back to the car park.

On the way home, we stopped in Ballater (a fair-sized village along the route) to pick up some food for dinner – a variety of sausages. We don’t have these types of sausage in the US, as far as I know, which is a real shame. We had venison, mixed game, pork and haggis, pepper beef and regular pork sausage. All were delicious and not really fat, except for the pork. For dessert, we ate local strawberries and red raspberries with cream.

Tomorrow will be our last day in Scotland. We leave Saturday morning for London. It’s been such a wonderful holiday. Being away from home and in such a rural location is very relaxing. Geoff and Kate lead very busy lives, especially during the school year. It’s great for them to get totally away. For me, it’s just lovely to be far from city traffic and all of my commitments, where the only sounds outside are the sheep baaing and birds cheeping. The only downside has been the lack of an Internet connection. We all feel very disconnected with the rest of the world. I have no idea what is going on in the world. Perhaps this is the way a vacation should be. We’ll catch up with everything on Saturday.

Scotland day 6 continued

In the evening, we ate at the same place where we had eaten dinner on the day we arrived. The Glen Kindie Arms Hotel has very good food. We had the dining room to ourselves, as most of the patrons were eating in the bar. This is a good thing, as the kids are noisy and the wait for food is a long one. The hotel is small with seating for about 12 in the dining room and maybe 20 in the bar. All the food is cooked from scratch while one waits, which means a very leisurely dinner – but well worth the wait. Kate brought activity books for the kids, so they had something to do while we waited. Kate had duck breast, Geoff and Sarah had fish and chips and I had a wonderful risotto with bacon and broad beans and shared a scallop starter with Geoff. For dessert, we all (except Alex) had sticky toffee pudding – my favourite English dessert. Alex had chocolate ice cream. They make their own ice cream and it is delicious.

One of the things I have noticed and enjoyed about this part of Scotland is the landscape. We drive up and down rolling hills, surrounded by fields of grain or pastures where sheep and cattle graze together. Yesterday, in the Cairngorm, there were mountains, but along the coast, the hills are gentler. There is mile after mile of fields and forests. We saw areas where the pine forests are clear cut for lumber and then replanted for the next harvest. We also saw a number of 'wind farms' - huge pilons on hilltops, slowly turning the wind into electricity. I think they are beautiful and do not subtract anything from the views.
Towns in this part of Scotland (the central highlands) aren’t very large. The houses and other buildings are made almost entirely of stone, probably quarried nearby. The peregrine falcon we saw yesterday nested in an abandoned quarry. The whole area reminds me a bit of western New York State and Virginia – hills and valleys with small villages and a few farmers’ homes far apart. It’s very lovely. The main difference from the US is the predominance of sheep. There are sheep everywhere. Also ruins of castles – every little village seems to have at least one old castle.

Scotland day 6

Today, Wednesday, we drove back up to the Moray Firth (the sea) to play on the beach and perhaps see some animals. The day was sunny and warm, with the possibility of rain in the afternoon. Kate and I dropped Geoff and the kids off at the beach outside of Banff and went back into the town to see what was there. We strolled down to the harbour and got some good photos of a long curving sandy beach with the town of MacDuff high on the other side. We strolled through the gardens of what used to be Banff castle and then drove up to MacDuff to see what it was like. That town had very little to recommend it to tourists – very few stores of any sort. We eventually made our way to Duff House where we enjoyed tea and snacks. We didn’t have time then to go into the house itself, as we had promised to meet the rest of the family around noon. When we got to the beach, the kids were on the playground. We ate our picnic lunch on the grass, overlooking the sea and then packed up for a drive along the Coast Road. The sea was dark blue and the sky was light blue and dotted with clouds. A beautiful sight.

We decided to visit a wildlife centre at the mouth of the Spey River. As we were driving along, near Portsoy, Geoff shouted, ‘Look, there are seals!’ And there they were – both brown and grey seals, lying on rocks at the edge of the water. Unfortunately, we had neglected to bring our binoculars, but the seals were close enough to be seen very clearly with the naked eye. According to the information plaque, the seals swim in at low tide and allow themselves to be stranded on the rocks where they rest until the tide comes back in.

We continued on to the wildlife centre where we walked out on a long peninsula covered with stones. Didn’t see any wildlife, but the variety of stones was amazing and it was good to be outside. We admired the mosaics that had been created on the grass by school children using the many-colored stones.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Back home in Maryland

I arrived home yesterday evening and managed to get unpacked before I collapsed into bed at 8. Of course, this AM I got up at 4 - wide awake. I'll crash this afternoon, I imagine. It's good to be home and the weather is cool and drizzly this AM - rather like Scotland. I like it.

While I was at Kate's I finished the bag from the class here in Maryland. (Pictured above) I had done the piecing , added the border and make the straps, but needed to put the lining in and attach the straps. Kate walked me through that process. I hope I can remember how I did it, if I decide to make another bag.

The other photo is an old sieve that I found in an antique store near where we stayed in Scotland. I've never seen a store so crammed with stuff. There were a few narrow aisles where customers could move about, but otherwise the place was packed floor to ceiling with items. I doubt the owners could locate or identify half of them.
I have more photos and words about out trip to Scotland, but at the moment, I can't access them. I wrote a diary on Kate's computer which uses Office 2000. I only have Microsoft Word something or other - much earlier version. I'm hoping Kate can send me the documents, saved in an older version of MS Word. If and when this happens, I will post the rest of chat about the trip.
Meanwhile, if you want to see photos, organized and labeled visit my pages on flickr.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Scotland day 4

Monday was supposed to be warmer, with occasional showers. We drove west into the Cairngorms National Park. This drive took us up into the mountains and the views were spectacular! I was very glad I was not driving. The roads were narrow, very winding and went up and down, following the contours of the hills. We went first to a place where one could view ospreys. Geoff is very much into birds and he really wanted to see the ospreys. Of course, having boated on the Chesapeake Bay, ospreys are no thrill for me. I think Geoff caught a glimpse of an osprey, but it wasn’t very exciting. We spend an hour and a half or so there in the hide where there were binoculars for bird watching.

We ate lunch in the car, as it was raining at that point, and then drove south, planning to perhaps take a scenic rail trip. In the end, we decided instead to go to the Highland Folk Museum. This was a real winner. There were restored buildings from the 1700s to 1930. We didn’t manage to see it all, but we surely enjoyed it. There was a sculpture activity for kids in the woods. A very talented man named Kevin helped the kids create small animals from bits of wood. He allowed the kids to use his drill (with his hands holding it in place) and they were very creative in what they made. We came home with a hedgehog, a mouse and a gerbil. The kids really enjoyed the 1930s school where they used ink pens dipped into the inkwells in the desks. Great fun was had by all. Kate's family blog has more photos.

Scotland day 3

Sunday, we drove up to the coast. Kate and I had found, in one of the many brochures at the cottage, a quilt shop that sounded interesting. We arrived in Cullen, parked, and there was a sign that said ‘Quilt Show’. Talk about serendipity! It was just a little local show, but there were some very lovely quilts. I didn’t take any photos, not knowing whether they would allow that. The kids and Geoff all enjoy looking at quilts, at least for a little while. We then walked down the street to the Puddle Duck Patch quilt shop. As we looked down the street, we could see the sea. That was too much for the kids, so Geoff so they walked down to the beach, while Kate and I went into the shop. That shop had an amazing variety of things. There was jewelry, souvenirs, knick-knacks, and in the back room, fabric and quilts. The place was also a small restaurant and they were cooking a chowder called Cullen Skink. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? It was made with smoked fish and smelled wonderful. In fact, when Geoff and the kids joined us, we decided to eat lunch there, rather than eat the sandwiches we had brought with us. So we did. Kate and Geoff ate Cullen Skink and pronounced it very good. Oh yes, Kate and I each bought a bit of fabric.

After lunch, we were planning to drive on to another town, but Geoff and the kids begged to go down to the beach for a while. There was a lovely beach and playgound just a bit up the road, so we went there. The day was windy with a smattering of rain and frankly, I wasn’t thrilled about being at the beach. (I had left my windbreaker at the cottage, not realizing we would be outside for any length of time.) Luckily, Sarah and Olivia didn’t want to wear their jackets, since they were running around on the sand, so I borrowed one of theirs and was reasonably warm. Kate and I sat on a bench while the other played in the surf. When they finally came back, they were soaked from their feet to above their knees. They did have a wonderful time, however , and no one complained about having wet clothes all the way home.

Scotland day 2

Today we are going to hike a trail to Loch Muick, which is somewhere on the estate of Balmoral. ( We will visit Balmoral estate another day). This actually turned out to be a very pleasant, if tiring day. The loch is beautiful; the hillsides were covered in heather, in bloom; the trail started out on a nice, wide dry path. The kids were a bit bored, but we adults enjoyed just looking at the loch and the hills. We stopped for lunch on the grassy lawn leading down to the loch of what appeared to be a private home, but obviously was no longer occupied. The gnats drove us away from the water and we walked on to the end of the loch. At that point things got – well - interesting. The trail around the end was muddy, but there was a sandy beach, so the kids were happy. We continued on up the trail, which began to climb the hill. It was a bit muddy, but not too bad, although it became more and more narrow. It also began to have more and more rocks, and these rocks got bigger and bigger. The girls were delighted! They loved picking their way from boulder to boulder, avoiding the puddles. Olivia got so far ahead of the rest of us that she was out of sight. I managed to catch up with her for a while, but it was a bit tricky underfoot. We continued to climb until we were perhaps 75 feet above the loch. It was a challenging trail, but we made it all the way around – 8 miles! My legs ached and I was ready to just sit for the rest of the day. I think I got some great photos, though. There will be many photos on flickr, but they aren't sorted yet.

holiday in Scotland -first days

This is the cottage. It's on a small road, in a grove of trees with no other houses nearby. The other photo is the view from my bedroom window.

We arrived in Scotland Thursday evening rather later than planned, but no problems. We had a bit of trouble following the directions to the ‘cottage’, but did find it. It was twilight, and the roadside was full of rabbits – mostly alive! Along the way we stopped at a hotel and restaurant. We were all hungry and enjoyed a wonderful meal, including my favourite English dessert – sticky toffee pudding.

Note: There was no Internet connection at the cottage, which is why I have not blogged for over a week. I did keep a journal, which I will put up in segments on the blog. A few photos will be here as well.

Yesterday we did a bit of bike riding along the very small country road that runs in front of the cottage. Almost no traffic, so it’s a great place for the girls to ride the bikes we found in the garage. The only problem was that the bikes are adult size, men’s bikes, so the seats were too high for the girls and for me. Kate, who is the only one of us with practical mechanical ability, lowered the seats so it will be better next time. Yes, I actually rode a bit – up the road a piece and back. I’m very wobbly on a bike, but with practice, I’ll get my balance back.

In the afternoon, we drove to Huntly where we toured the castle. It’s partly a ruin and partly restored. The kids had a marvellous time running in and out of the ruins and climbing up the tower stairs and then down into the below ground rooms. I took lots of photos, which will be posted on flickr when we get back to Kate’s. Turns out, there is no Internet connection at the cottage, so we are not in touch with the rest of the world. This doesn’t bother me too much, but it drives Kate crazy to not be able to find information about the places we might visit. We are reading a lot of brochures.

After the castle tour, we walked back into the village and did a bit of shopping for food with a special stop at a famous shortbread factory. It was very interesting to watch the shortbread being packaged up. They do quite a bit of it by hand and use a recipe that was the founder’s original. We bought some to take home, of course. I’m not very keen on shortbread, but it really is good stuff.