Saturday, August 26, 2006

One year on!

Well, it's now one year since we moved over here. I still have no regrets, although every now and then I find I'm missing something - like a good Turkish restaurant, NPR, the book club, the dinner club, the polymer clay guild and all our other good friends.

However, we do have lots of good friends over here, and one of them visited us this week. This is Dolly with her cat Frankie. Dolly and I are exactly the same age (born on the same day, in fact) and we were flat mates in Hamilton when we did our Master's degrees at McMaster. She worked in Canada for a while and then came home to the UK. We went to the US, but we've stayed in touch ever since (it's nearly 40 years since we met!).

Dolly is a brilliant artist and is also keen on natural history in all its forms, so we have a lot in common. We talked almost non-stop for two days! This was helped on Wednesday by rainy weather, so we stayed in a lot of the day

On Thursday the weather was lovely and we had a day out. We started off by driving up the Burway, parking at the top and having a bit of a walk on the Mynd. In the picture below we're looking eastwards across the Stretton Valley to Caer Caradoc. The colours up in the hills are lovely right now. The whinberry bushes are turning reddish brown, the bracken is bright green and the heather is purple as it comes into full bloom.

We didn't have much of a whinberry crop this year. Whinberries are the local, wild, blueberries. They are very small, but quite delicious. Unfortunately, the drought came at the wrong time for them and there are very few fruit.

Many of the wild blackberries are looking dry and hard, too. In some places there are tons of them and in others there's nothing. It all depends on just how much water there was in that area. However, we've promised ourselves that we'll take a plastic container with us wherever we go so we can harvest berries when we find them. There are lots of cobnuts (hazelnuts) about too and I'd like to get a few of them before the squirrels have them all!

After a smashing lunch in a pub in Wentnor, we carried on into Wales to Rhyadr. This was to visit the Red Kite feeding station at Gigrin Farm. It was definitely the highlight of the day, with a spectacular show of these lovely birds. The photo to the left shows John and Dolly at the farm and all the birds you can see in the sky are Red Kites. I took lots of pictures, but none of them are very good, so I think you'll get a better sense of what happens here if you visit their web site.

Yesterday was REPATRIATION DAY!!!! The first anniversary of our arrival in the UK. Next week will be the anniversary of moving into Peel Wyke. We celebrated by having dinner at a Thai restaurant in Shrewsbury after we'd worked in the museum for a few hours.

Yesterday was also the day I started on some new drugs to cancel out the side effects of the Arimidex. This is something I hoped I'd never have to do, but they got bad enough that I'm now on an anti-depressant and something for my digestive upsets. I really don't want to move away from the Arimidex although an alternative drug was suggested, so we're trying to cope with the side effects rather than risk a whole different set of them! Oh well ... only another 4 years to go! In the meantime, while I get used to these new drugs I'm wandering around like I was stoned for most of the morning! In fact, I think I've got the munchies - maybe I'll go get some lunch and have a nap!

Stay in touch, please!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Our on-again, off-again stream!

Hello everyone!

This is just a quick post to let you know that we've had a fair bit of rain over the last few days and the stream has come back temporarily a couple of times. Unfortunately, it has disappeared again now, but we continue to hope!

By sheer fluke we were actually looking at the stream bed when the water started to flow down it. It was lovely to be able to hear it burbling away again. I really miss it when it's dry.

Last weekend, Barry and Sheila visited us. We had a very nice day at Ludlow, visiting the market, lunching at the Unicorn and walking around the town and then in the evening they took us to the Studio for a wonderful dinner. On the way home we heard Irish music coming from the King's Head so we went in for a nightcap. What a smashing day!

On Sunday it rained a bit as we managed to get lost on the Mynd, but still had a good walk up Townbrook Hollow and back down Ashes Hollow for lunch at the Green Dragon in Little Stretton. We all had faggots! As usual, they were delicious. For those of you who don't know what they are, they are a VERY LARGE meatball made of liver, onions and other stuff. They were served with lovely brown gravy, root mash (mashed potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables) and peas - YUMMY! The walk home from Little Stretton to Church Stretton was a bit fraught as we'd all managed to get stiff and sore from our walk, but we made it and spent the evening "vegging out" in front of the telly and watching the badgers.

On Monday, B & S left and we had major hedge work done along the stream bank. It looks a bit bare right now, but it'll soon grow and it's inspired me to do a bit of work outside. Margaret arrived the same evening for an overnight stay. We had a lovely visit, catching up on the news and doing a nice short walk on Tuesday morning. We took Margaret up to the Long Mynd Hotel where she and John and all the other first year geologists had their field trip back in the mid-60s. The place rings no bells with either of them. Either it has changed beyond recognition or they were having such a good time that they failed to notice any architectural details!

Wednesday Dave and Pam had us up to their house for dinner. It was steak and kidney pie and absolutely fabulous. Ella was very pleased to see us, offering up some of her favorite toys for inspection - yuck.

Thursday we had a real sustained rain for a while and it's brought us some much needed moisture. Hopefully some of the plants that were wilting will now perk up a bit. I spent the afternoon drawing the Blist's Hill waggons. I posted a photo of them earlier on. Here's a copy of my drawing:

On Friday John went off to the Bird Watching Fair at Rutland Water. I think he had a good time looking at all the displays, buying books and a birding vest and other goodies and attending lectures. He got back at about 1 am on Saturday morning. I'm glad I didn't go with him, I would have cramped his style! Instead, I had a neighbour lady over for what turned out to be a very boozy lunch. Really enjoyed it and the left-overs have been splendid all weekend, too!

Got out into the garden today and started some tidying and clean-up. John is beginning to look at books about ponds - I can't decide if a pond will make more or less work in the garden. I don't know if this will end up being a major engineering work or just a wildlife "puddle". Of course, we do have a great resource in Nick, our nephew, who now has his own landscaping business. We may well hire him to do all the work and help with some of the planning.

John has been working on our taxes this evening. He consulted with Sheila about it last weekend, but had pretty much worked it out for himself anyway. So far, he's pleased that the forms are very well set up and quite easy to follow and I think he's pretty well done with it for last tax year (2005-2006). We have now renounced our American resident status and will only have to file UK taxes next year, so there will be one more mixed filing and then it should all be a lot easier. We have to set up some sort of savings account so we can save our tax money as we transfer our income over from the States. Otherwise we'll be stuck with nothing to pay the bill with at the end of the year.

By the end of next week we'll have been living in the UK for a whole year! I think John is planning some sort of celebration. I'm planning to do a budget and expenses calculation and make sure we can still affort to continue in this life of luxury! I think we've been spending rather more than we expected to, but some expenses were due to moving and so I'm not quite sure how we're doing at this point. I'll feel a bit better once I've sorted it out and categorized it so we can see if we have to cut down on drinking or whether we can continue to live like profligates!

On the subject of greedy buggers, the badgers have continued their nightly visits, but have been coming earlier. They're also back digging in the lawn and tearing up my plants for bedding. GRRRRRRR!

We've got loads of baby birds about - especially large flocks of blue tits, chaffinches and green finches. There are at least 10 species that we know nested around here and have brought their babies to feed: blackbird, songthrush, robin, greenfinch, chaffinch, bullfinch, blue tit, great tit, coal tit, dunnock. Some of the youngsters looked very confused when it started to rain. If they were from a second brood, they wouldn't have seen any since they were born! In addition, there have been crows, magpies, house sparrows, wagtails and an immature female pheasant around. The local buzzards wheel about over head and scream a lot and we've heard tawny owls at night on several occasions.

Well, that's all for now. Take care of yourselves and please stay in touch!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Early August in my Mind and in the Garden

I was sad to see our Aussie visitors leave on August 1st. When we returned from Sweden and as we worked to get ready for our first set of visitors during June I found my depression had lifted and I was able to work and enjoy myself in a way that I hadn't done for months.

July was so busy I didn't have time to get worried or anxious or depressed, but the last week has been a different story and I found Winston Churchill's "Black Dog" descending on me again. It's not helped by worry over the war in the Middle East, but a lot of my anxiety is irrational and unnecessary. I know it, but I can't control it. And the drug I'm taking to keep the cancer at bay is making it worse. I had a meeting with my oncologist a couple of weeks ago and she suggested a change of drugs. I'm waiting for a couple of weeks so that her letter gets to my G.P. and then I'm going to go in and see if we can get this sorted out.

In the meantime I can get out into the garden or go to work at the museum and that helps me to control my black feelings.

Let me share some of my garden therapy! As you can see from this picture of one of our apple trees the fruit are ripening in spite of the drought! It's still very dry and warm here. In the past few weeks we've had a few showers with a quarter or an eigth of an inch each time, but it has barely wetted the soil, really. We're only watering things that are truly desperate or which have been recently seeded or transplanted and I've been surprised at how well most trees and shrubs are holding up.

This apple tree is the only one that has any fruit on it. The others had very little blossom and even fewer apples. I'm not sure why. I'll have to watch the buds more carefully next year. We DO have at least one pair of bullfinches and they love to eat apple buds so that may be the problem.

We've already had bumper crops of blackcurrents and gooseberries and today I picked a good handfull of loganberries (sort of thornless blackberries) which I plan to cook up with apples to make a crumble. I've frozen some of our rhubarb and blackcurrents so we'll be able to enjoy them later on in the year.

This picture is of the hydrangea under John's study window. It's quite small, but the color is lovely. We have two others, one a white climber and another which is a blue lacecap. Their leaves are browning off a bit, but otherwise they are hanging in there!

This little hydrangea has had another role for the past couple of months, being the soft landing place for several baby birds which flew into the window. None of them have been killed, and only a couple were dazed enough to hang around for very long. The window strikes have stopped now, so we think they were due to the inexperience of the youngsters! Fortunately they weren't very good flyers either and therefore didn't hit the window very hard!

Boy have we had youngsters! It seems to have been a very successful nesting year. Last week we had up to six immature blue tits on the fat feeder at the same time. The babies are flying around in mixed flocks now, so we get droves of young blue, coal and great tits attacking the fat, peanuts and sunflower seeds. And down below them are several young robins, dunnocks and chaffinches waiting for the droppings. If you add to that our 3 pheasants, a pair of crows, several pairs of wood pigeons, two pairs of greenfinches, at least one pair of bullfinches, and a couple of magpies you can see that our feeders and bird baths are very busy indeed.

We haven't seen any baby mammals, but we have a couple of bank voles, assorted mice, a few pesky squirrels and the badgers, so we're doing ok on those guys too!

We took advantage of the dry weather to get down in the streambed and tidy up. We've trimmed shrubs and trees that were overhanging, pulled up some weeds (can't pull up too many as we don't want to weaken the banks) and taken out a bit of trash. I got really stung by nettles, too! One lot swung round and swiped my face and scalp when I was pulling them up and another lot got me on the arms. It's given me a bit of lymphedema in my left arm, but I expect it to subside once my remaining lymph nodes pump the poison out of my arm!

But, of course it's the big drought resistant plants that are loving this hot and dry weather. Here's a picture of our Acanthus plants. They are tall, strong and vigorous and look absolutely wonderful. The bumble bees love them, climbing up into the flowers and getting completely lost in them.

This picture shows John's old cacti out having a summer holiday on our gravel "beach" in the back garden. These cacti are about 50 years old. John planted the seed when he was a little boy. His Dad looked after them while we were in North America until Joy took them over on his death. She was very pleased to pass them back to us when we came home to England for good!

To give you an idea of their size, the tall one at the back is about 18" tall.

My last picture is a more general view of that beach area. Click on it to get an enlarged view.

It's really a sunny little gravel patio. Behind the table and chairs you can see pink Phlox, orange Crocosmia and the tall umbels of hog weed. This latter has a smell that reminds me of an animal barn - I wonder if that's why they called it hog-weed?

But, take a look at the poor grass in the front of the picture. You can see that there are several very dry patches. Some parts of our lawns are now quite dead - especially where they were made up of moss or some weeds (oh- lawns are supposed to be made of grass, you say?). We're not too worried about it. I'm sure the grass will grow back as soon as we get some rain. It would be nice for that to happen soon, however.

Well, that's about all the news there is, for the moment.

Please stay in touch - e-mails from friends really brighten our days!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

July Continued!

To continue with out trip to Welshpool with Chuck and Hazel. ..... We also visited Powys Castle. The view on the left is of the castle as it stands on a high south facing bank. The bank is landscaped in terraces which are loaded with wonderful flowers. On our long summer days these flowers get the full force of the sunshine from early in the morning till late in the evening and they really thrive.

If you click on the photo you can see more detail and you'll be able to see the buildings set into the terraces. One of these is an orangery where citrus fruits wintered over (they would spend the summer outside in pots. Above it is a cool brick lined fernery. We revisited this castle later in the month when Ric and Jan came to stay with us. John and I snoozed and sketched amongst the ferns while Ric and Jan explored the castle.

Inside the castle was renovated in Victorian and Edwardian times. It is quite "modern" with comfortable rooms and plenty of luxurious furnishings. I particularly liked the bathroom with a lovely soaking bath - something I could use right now after a day of gardening!

Another feature of Chuck and Hazel's visit was the food fayre and ale trail in Church Stretton. These took place over a weekend and included other non-food entertainments like Morris dancing in the market square and a dog agility demo. in Russell's Meadow.

In the photo to the left you can see some lady folk dancers who are being introduced by the Shrewsbury Town Crier. This man must be at least 7 feet tall and he's well built to boot! He has a voice to match, too! He came to open a market here a few months ago and I could hear him from our road almost a quarter of a mile away!

The ale trail was fun. There were 12 pubs around the Strettons and surrounding villages and you had to get your "Passport" stamped in each of them to get your certificate of participation and your specially decorated pint glass. Busses were laid on to take revellers from pub to pub so there was no danger from drunk driving. The event lasted for two days. Some chose to do it quicker, but we did 6 pubs each day and tried lots of different beers on the way round. Chuck made careful notes on all the beers he tried. We also found some we liked, but were even more interested in trying out the various pubs. We now have a few more that we can take visitors to when they come here! In fact, we did just that for Ric and Jan later in the month.

And here we are with Rick and Jan! I'm sorry that Ric's face is shaded, but it was a hot and sunny day so everyone except me was wearing a hat. I'm so glad to have hair these days that I don't usually bother, although I do wear sun-block.

We're standing at Pole Bank at the highest point on the Long Mynd. From there you can see a long, long way in every direction. Mid-Wales is behind us and to the south you can see all the way to the Malverns and the Brecon Beacons. To the north and east there are good views over the Severn Valley and you can usually pick out the steam rising from the cooling towers at Buildwas power station in the IronBridge Gorge.

We went to IronBridge with both sets of visitors last month. This photo is of some wagons in the Blists Hill Victorian Village. It's good to have the village and the museums there because the gorge is now a beautiful bucolic valley, with wooded trails and the clear rushing waters of the Severn River. It's hard to imagine that 200 years ago the place was a hellish inferno of iron smelters, clay and china works, mines, etc. Boats plied the river with loads of coal, limestone, tiles, crockery, etc. and the air was full of smoke and fumes. It was here in the mid-1700s that Abraham Darby discovered how to use coke to smelt iron and the Industrial Revolution was born. The symbol of it is the Iron Bridge itself. The first one ever built and a thing of great beauty. The area is now a World Heritage Site and home to several museums and places of interest.

We did quite a bit of walking with Jan and Ric. Apart from climbing to the top of the Mynd (and then returning via Sunday Lunch at the Green Dragon in Little Stretton), we also walked a small part (about 5 miles) of the Offa's Dyke path which runs along the English/Welsh border from Chepstow on the Bristol Channel to Prestatyn on the North Welsh coast, climbed Caer Caradoc on the east side of the Stretton Valley (about 5 or 6 miles) and did a walk in Snowdonia National Park.

While the Aussies were here it continued to be hot and dry. The lawns dried up and died in places, plants began to wilt and most of the flowers faded off. However the summer roses were beautiful and there look to be good crops of grain in the fields.

I guess that's all for July. I still have some early August garden pictures to show you all, so I'll continue with another posting tomorrow. Now it's time for bed so we can get an early start on Museum work tomorrow.

July Summary

Well, July is over and August is well on its way. I can't believe that we've been here for over 11 months already!

I've been a bit remiss with my postings in July as we had two sets of visitors with only 10 days in between to clean the house, catch up on work at the museum and work in the garden. In my last posting I gave you a brief summary of our visit from Chuck and Hazel. I promised to add more about their visit later and this is definitely later!

It turns out that I don't have many good photos from their visit. So I have shamelessly ripped off a couple from Chuck and Hazel's backup which they left with us! These are they:

These pictures were taken at Hay-On-Wye where we spent a happy day exploring the many second-hand bookshops. I think you can see larger versions of these pictures if you click on them.

One of the things we all enjoyed was our day in Welshpool. Down below are some pictures from that day. Riding the Llanfair Railway was a real treat, especially for the guys who love steam railways. I enjoyed the ride too, but am not quite so enamoured of getting bits of grit in your eyes and breathing sooty smoke all along the line! Still the scenery was lovely and the Bara Brith (a Welsh fruitloaf made with tea, spread with butter and eaten along with strong cups of tea) at Llanfair was to die for!

I wanted to load more pictures here, but it seems the blogger is getting cranky and won't allow me to do so. I'm going to stop for now and publish this and try to add more in the next posting which I will probably do later tonight!

Don't forget to keep those e-mails coming!