Monday, March 31, 2008

Getting Up To Date

Phew! We've just got back from the museum where we have been working today. We're actually earlier than expected as we worked hard and got the jobs done quicker than expected. So I thought I'd just explain about some of the volunteer stuff I'm doing.

The museum was my first volunteering job. To start off with, John and I were identifying, cataloging and storing the stuffed birds. We finished that in 2006 and started on the egg collection. The eggs have been stored rather badly since the 1950s when, I think, they were moved rather rapidly from their old resting place in the Shrewsbury Library. Many rolled about in their cases because they weren't properly packed, and others were sqashed when the lids of boxes that were too small were pushed down on them, so there are a lot of broken eggs to deal with. In addition many of them are very dirty so we are slowly and gently cleaning them with cotton and water. You have to be very careful because most of them are very old and fragile.

The pictures show what the eggs looked like when we first started on them. That job is still continuing, but today we were back with the birds. Most of them have been stored in capboards in the ceramics gallery of the museum, but that room is about to be used for another purpose, so all the birds had to be moved. We managed to get it all done by squeezing some temporary storage space out of the dusty old attic and by packing the birds more efficiently in the trays they're stored in.

The Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery is currently housed in a Tudor building called Rowley's House. Click on the link for pictures and lots of information about the museum. This is a lovely old house, partly done in huge black timbers and white plaster and partly done in brick. But it's totally unsuitable as a modern museum. You can see light through the cracks in the walls and the floor boards, the rain comes in at times, there is no handicapped access to the upper floors and there are inadequate toilet facilities for a public building. There's not a lot that can be done to improve things as it is a listed building and hence, protected from change by law.

Fortunately, we'll be moving in a few years into the Old Music Hall, when the entertainment functions of that building are moved into the new Entertainment Venue in Frankwell on the other side of the River Severn. Before we can move in, however, the Old Music Hall site must be redeveloped. The building is actually built around a medieval stucture called Vaughn's Mansion and that has to be exposed, examined and prepared for public view. There's a great deal of exitement about this building as it is very old and they could find all sorts of interesting stuff as the layers of newer building are peeled off from its fabric. Next week they are taking paintings off the walls. These are huge and it's going to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to get them down, take them out of their frames, cover them with tissue and roll them up for storage. They are so big they can't be stored in their frames. Once the building has been renovated they will be re-stretched, the conservators will remove the tissue and then do any necessary conservation work on them before they are re-framed and hung back up!

In the new "Old Music Hall" building we will have a good, new purpose built museum space adjacent to Vaughn's Mansion and will share that space with the cafe and the Visitor Information Centre (VIC) which are there now. In the meantime, the VIC is moving in with us in Rowley's house along with several people who are working on the redevelopment project. To make room for all these people, the ceramics gallery is being turned into offices and that's why we had to move the birds out today.

Enough about that ... let's move on to the SOS (Shropshire Ornithological Society). I quickly became the tea-lady for the Church Stretton branch of this organization because the old tea-lady became ill. This is not an onerous task. We have 5 indoor meetings a year and I put on tea, coffee and biscuits for the members to consume when they arrive.

John, however, has become very involved in the breeding and over-wintering bird survey programs of the SOS. These are run in conjunction with the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) and he has become a district co-ordinator for a part of Shropshire. He has also volunteered to map the results for the upcoming Atlas. At present, his work involves finding volunteers to do the various surveys in his area, helping them when they have questions or problems, collecting and entering data on the web. Later, as the data come in he will be doing more and more of the mapping and analysis.
It's dinner time .... I'll have to do another post later about the rest of my volunteer activities!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Adventures in Veggie Land ....

To continue our February story ....

Towards the end of of the month we headed up to Cheshire to stay with Dolly and her partner, Chris. There was a speciual reason for this - Chris and I were booked in to Cordon Vert for a day's cookery course. For Chris this was a birthday present from Dolly, for me it was a special treat from me!

After a very nice dinner at a local pub we had a good evening at Dolly's and then an early night followed by an early start. John and Dolly headed out for a day of bird watching while Chris and I drove over to Altrincham and the headquarters of the Vegetarian Society where we checked in for our Easy Vegetarian Entertaining class. There were four students and two instructors so the student teacher ration was very favorable. Our morning started with coffee and an orientation session. We were relieved to hear that there would be no preaching as three of the four of us are actually omniverous!

We then had demonstrations of some of the dishes followed by a brief break while we planned our cooking sessions and tried a few samples of what had been demonstrated. They wouldn't let us eat a lot as we were planning to cook a feast to eat later. After the break we donned aprons, and started to cook. We cooked in two pairs and were assigned different foods. I got to make one of the savouries and one of the desserts and Chris made one of the roulades and a salad, and we both helped each other when necessary. Since there were only 4 of us the tutors and the in-house chef made a couple of dishes too.

There was lots of hands-on help with our dishes as well, and after about four hours the four of us sat down to a huge buffet which included .......

Spinach and red pepper roulade

Aubergine roulade

Sweet potato enchiladas

Black rice cakes

Santa Fe Stacks with polenta, guacamole, grilled goats cheese and salsa

Mediterranean roasted vegetable tart

Sweet and sour chicory salad

Moroccan salad

Lavendar scented roast nectarines

and the best bit of all ..... Honey, ginger and chocolate ice cream bombe!

I've included some pictures of the food and the people. Chris was the only guy and he's the one making the roulade!

The food was absolutely delicious and we really enjoyed ourselves. Both Chris and I have used the knowledge we gained to make stuff since we went on the course - I've done the Santa Fe stacks and a rather sloppy but still very delicious aubergine roulade! I intend to go back again and take some more courses.

In the meantime, I've been doing a lot less cooking at home because John is doing a lot more. And he's becoming a very good cook. His timing is getting a lot better and his speed is really picking up. He has a good sense of what goes together and produces some very interesting and tasty surprises.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

February Fun

The late winter has flown by. We've been so busy we didn't really notice its passing. At the beginning of the month we had a visit from Dolly, Jane and Kim. Dolly and Jane were at Mac with us and Kim is Jane's daughter. We had a smashing time - lots of talk and laughter over a good dinner.

Two days after their visit, we were heading off to Devon for a few days. Karel Hughes (a friend from Swansea days) was having an art show opening and party in Axmouth and Seaton and we were going to it. It was a blast! The weather was wonderful - strong sunshine for the whole weekend - and I had a new camera to test out!

We stayed in Lyme Regis and spent the first afternoon exploring the town and the sea front. Then the next afternoon we went to the opening. Lots of old Swansea friends were there so there was lots of wine to be sipped and stories to tell and re-tell. We were delighted to find that another friend - Pam Jordan - was also exhibiting her art work and were very pleased to be able to purchase one piece from each of them. The quality of their work is really terrific - what talented friends we have!

In the evening the party was held in Axmouth parish hall. There must have been close the 100 people there from all stages of Karel's life. It was great to meet some of her relatives, colleagues from Geography at Roehampton and her children who have grown up to be really nice people. Here daughter struck all of us because she reminded us so much of Karel when she was in her early 20s. Even "Taff", Karel's ex-husband was there and it was good to see him after all these years.

In addition to a delicious buffet, there was a d.j. and we danced till midnight to lots of golden oldies. It's amazing! Most of us can still do the twist! Fortunately we joined Mary (on the left in the picture) and Brian in a taxi from Lyme Regis and so didn't have to drive home. It was nice to be dropped at the door of the hotel and just tumble into bed after all the talking, eating, drinking and dancing!

In true Swansea tradition we were up reasonably early for a walk. We met at Beer and walked around the headland to Branscombe where we visited Mike Lambert's beautiful country house and garden for coffee and more chat. We toured the garden - it's a delightful spot with a pool, lovely plantings and well-sited pieces of sculpture.

Mike is also a Swansea grad, he's a nice guy and it's good to see that he has done well in life. We took an inland route back to Beer and then retired to the house of Karel's friend where we polished off some of the leftovers from the previous night's feast. It was just as good the second time around - crisp salad, chicken casserole, couscous like I've never had before with lots of nuts and seed and spices in it, roasted mediterranean veggies and other stuff I can't remember. Yum - it really hit the spot after our walk.

The following day we were on our own as most people headed back to their homes. We decided to stay on and explore Devon a bit as it's been a long time since either of us has been there. We actually spent most of the day on Dartmor, enjoying the scenery, watching the birds, and just driving around. The picture is of an ancient "Clapper" bridge. It's just piles of stones in the river with slabs of rock to make the pavement, but it has lasted since medieval times at least!

It's time to head off - we're joining the Stretton Theatre Group, this evening, on the bus to Birmingham for a performance of the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. I'll continue with February in my next post.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Christmas and New Year

This is not exactly a "Christmassy" picture but it's nice anyway and we saw this ram at Louise and Al's farm on New Years Eve. Our travels continued throughout December, actually. We spent Christmas at John's sisters, came home for a couple of days to welcome Pete and Shirley Robinson who were over from North Carolina, and then went up to Barry and Sheila's for New Year.

While in Lancashire we headed off to the farm which is really out in the wilds on the edge of the Pennines. Louise and Al have been slowly building up an organic farm, renovating a very rundown set of farm buildings and at the same time keeping up their regular jobs. Louise is a high flying academic and Al is a plumber. I don't know where they find the energy to do all this. None of it's easy and most of us only tackle one or two of the above! At one point the farmhouse was unihabitable and they spent at least one winter sleeping in a hayloft in a barn with no heating. I gather their bedside water was often frozen in the morning. I've seen the place and although I have slept in a barn while on a hiking holiday, there's no way I would have stayed there for more than a few nights in summer!

We had a good evening with B&S on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day saw Barry and John head off for some birding while Sheila and I stayed at home. I played at making felt with some of Sheila's fleeces while she busied herself making a fantastic vegetarian feast. B&S are co-owners of "Hank" a small motorhome (with his own blog!) and the other owners came over for the night. They are vegetarians, hence the wonderful meal. It really set me off thinking about vegetarian food. Although I have no intentions of giving up meat, I do enjoy veggies and there are some wonderful ways to prepare them. I realised I needed to learn how ..........

Things settled down for us in January, but we were on the move again in February and that's another story!

Back to Early December!

Way back in mid December I promised to tell you about our trip to the west coast (of North America). This was part business and part pleasure. John was heading to Vancouver to a meeting and so we decided to fly to Seattle, spend some time with Carol and Dave and Craig and Ruth. We've known Craig and Carol since the early 70s and although they've now got new partners we were all able to get together for a splendid meal. We also went walking along the shore with Carol and Dave (the picture on the left is from the sculpture park where we puzzled long and hard over this Calder sculpture which was supposed to be an eagle, but looked more like an angry cat!!!) and to a lovely Christmas concert with the Seattle Symphony. They looked after us well, searching out good places to eat chowder, showing us the sights and helping us get over the 8 hour time difference. We were introduced to their new dog "Oliver" who hadn't quite figured out about bathroom etiquette, but who was a quiet and loving dog. Now that they've had him for a while, I wonder if he's still so subdued? I bet he isn't!
Craig and Ruth had us over for a delicious pancake breakfast. Here we are, finally looking around the famous house. We've been meaning to visit for 30 years! It's an amazing place with a lovely view of a lake. Craig has worked hard to put in some really interesting features, although he has been slowed down of late by hurting his back when he fell off Ruth's roof! One of the most interesting features is his old tractor which has been lovingly restored to its original glory. He must have very forgiving neighbours. He rides it around the neighbourhood and I'm sure it doesn't conform to current pollution standards!
We drove up to Vancouver and spent a lovely few days with Tim and Midge Oke. We've known these two for even longer! Tim was just finishing his PhD at McMaster when John arrived in 1966. John and Tim were involved in Urban Climate meetings part of the time, but that didn't stop us from getting out for a couple of meals, driving around Vancouver and the surrounding coastline and generally mooching around shops, markets and art galleries. I even went to a Garden Club Christmas Party and a Probus meeting with Midge. Their daughter Katy came home for some R&R while we were there and it was a delight to renew our aquaintance with this lovely, gentle, fun woman. We played lots of card games together and generally had lots of fun.
All in all it was a lovely trip. Pleasant company, relaxing surroundings, co-operative border guards and even some good bird watching!

Equinoctial Felicitations!

Yes, it's the equinox today. In some places that's celebrated as the first day of spring, but here in Church Stretton the wind is howling, there are occaisional snow flurries and it's pretty damn cold.

We went to the gym in Shrewsbury this morning. Planned to stay on and work in the museum this afternoon, but we found our cabinet locked and the key lost so we chose to come home instead! So I have a little extra time to myself and I thought it would be a good oportunity to catch you all up on the news.

Couldn't start straight away as we went over to wish our next-door neighbour a happy birthday - she's 91 today! People in C.S. live long lives - it must be the healthy air and all the walking up and down hill that does it! We went over there and had several chocolates and a couple of glasses of ginger wine and now we feel much warmer!

I'm actually tucked up in the living room with my feet up and the laptop keeping me warm and I'm going to do a series of posts to catch you all up on the latest news. The picture on the left shows where I'm sitting right now, but this was taken at the weekend when Pam and Derek came up from Harrow to visit us. It was really good to see them - we haven't seen them since we moved here. They were so good to my parents, visiting every week, running errands, taking them out and generally keeping an eye on them.

The four of us became better friends when they came to visit us in the U.S. They even came on the Columbus Audubon eco-weekend with us.

In my next few posts I'll be going back in time to catch up on the news of the last three months. So, in this post I'll just point out the lovely daffodils which I cut in the garden last week when it was a bit warmer. We have had strong winds all month (March came in as a lion and hasn't stopped roaring yet) and some of the daffs fell over. I decided to cut them and bring them in rather than leave them to be eaten by the slugs. There are still crowds of them in the garden and lots more buds waiting to open.