Thursday, April 10, 2008

My Diary

April 1.

11:00 am. It's April Fool's day and I've foolishly decided to keep a diary for a while so that I can post it on my blog and show everyone what our lives look like right now. I'm not much of a diarist, so who knows how long I can keep it up. Anyway, here's the first week:

Today started off windy and cloudy, but there's no rain forecast and we're hoping it will get sunnier as the day goes on. Up at 8 to the sounds of Simon Bates on Classic FM. After a leisurely breakfast of cereal and tea we've been pottering around for the morning. I've been looking into travel stuff on the web. First I was intrigued by an ad for the Orient Express to Venice so I went to look. It looks lovely, but it's frightfully expensive. Then I started looking at the possibilities for going up to London for the marathon as my cousin Jaques is running. I'm not going to be able to do it. John is going off to Thetford for a birding meeting and I don't fancy going on the train and then fighting the crowds in the city. Now that that decision is over I also have to decide whether to go to Thetford with John. It's a nice area with lots of interesting history, but he wants to go to the coast and that means hours of standing around peering through a telescope, so I think I'll give it a miss.

Now I'm getting down to business - phone calls to get an appointment for the sleep apnea clinic and to get another firm in to make an estimate on renovating the bathroom, then database stuff.

This afternoon I went down to Scrappies. Spent the first hour or so making a mess with all the new stock that has come in. This was all in the name of photography. I was trying to get a nice photo of all the crafty things to go with an article I am writing for the Stretton Focus. This is our town monthly magazine. It's sponsored by the local churches so there's always a few religious articles in it, but it also has all the other news - club meetings, parish council decisions and stories about the school - as well as articles about local walks, gardening, cooking and other miscellanea. I'm doing an article about the new Craft Shop. Anyway, I digress. I didn't realise how difficult it is to make sequins, rhinestones, card makings and other stuff look good in a picture and after I got home I realised that I had been totally unsuccessful.

When I finished picture taking and cleared up my mess I sat down and did a bit of pricing. All the new stock has to have prices written on it in preparation for the opening. Lots of thought has gone into this. We need to be similar to the other stockists, but cheaper to get people into the store but not so cheap that our members discounts will put us in the red! It's all very tricky! Irene and Sheila worked it out when we unpacked a couple of weeks ago, but since then we've been comparing prices with shops and catalogs and some of the prices have been put up a bit! We may as well make as much money from this as possible.

Home for a quick dinner and an even quicker tidy up because some friends were coming over in the evening for a drink and some badger watching. We saved the fat from our pork chops for the badgers, but it turned out that they preferred their usual diet of peanuts and didn't eat any fat till they'd polished off all the nuts. We had a jolly good evening. Wine was drunk, badgers were watched and the conversation ranged over many subjects. What more could anyone want?
The video below was actually taken some time ago, but I've only just realise that the blogger now allows video uploads! Sorry about the background buzz on the sound, but I wanted you to hear how much noise the badgers make when they are eating.

April 2

Off to the gym in the morning. I haven't been for a week because I had cellulitis in my arm last week and I didn't want to do anything "exertious" and spread the infection. It's all better now so I have no more excuses. I should have started back on Monday, but we went to a staff meeeting at the museum first and then ended up working most of the day shifting stuffed birds about the building. After that we didn't feel like working out and we came straight home! But that was Monday and this is Wednesday and we did the right thing and got on the 9:38 train and zoomed off to Shrewsbury. Into the gym by 10 and doing the rounds of the various machines. We do a combination of aerobics and weights. Today we concentrated on the legs with the weights and I used the cross-trainer to warm up and did an aerobic stint on a treadmill. Normally I do rowing when we're using the leg weights, but I didn't want to stress my silly arm too much.

Came back on our usual train: the 11:48 from Shrewsbury arriving back at about 12:30 starving for lunch!

After lunch I went off to Scrappies again. I had a date to meet Serena from Shropshire Youth Association to get my Criminal Record Check started off. I have to have a check so I can do craft workshops and work with children. Over here you have to have checks whenever you work with a vulnerable section of the population, although I believe that it sometimes takes so long to get the results that the job is over before the checks are done! Serena had to vouch that she'd seen my various forms of identification. I think she was impressed as I produced Passport, Driving Licence, Birth Cert., Marriage Cert., Council Tax bill, Gas Bill and other good stuff. They were all impressed when I said I also have birth certs for family members going back into the 1850s! At Scrappies, Laura was watching the desk as John Roberts was supposed to be having his hernia operation. I stayed around to help with more pricing and ended up staying there till 7 pm because Laura had to leave early to catch a train. In the end I helped get the workroom tidy and cleaned up ready for a kids birthday party which was scheduled for the next day. I've now sorted all the new stock into boxes of similar things and I've also sorted them according to whether they've been priced or not. Yesterday I got fed up clawing through all the boxes looking for stuff I wanted. Now I know where it is.

John had dinner when I got back and I collapsed in front of the telly after dinner. That often happens, or I go up to my room and play games on the computer. I'm nearly always too tired in the evening to do much of anything. This, I think, is a result of the beastly arimidex. I often go up early thinking that I'll get an early night and then I end up playing a stupid shoot-em-up game on MSN or Yahoo. When we go to bed, John usually reads for a while, and I used to just drop off, but now I generally do a Sudoku or two on my little electronic gizmo and sometimes I just fall asleep doing it!

April 3

Hooray! Nothing on the calendar all day! But there's plenty to do. It was a lovely morning so, for the first time since we got here, I got out Eve's old bike and rode up the Cardingmill Valley to the National Trust Office. It was quite mild so I was sweating by the time I got there. It's a heavy old bike with a 3-speed Sturmey Archer and I found it hard going. I always thought it was relatively flat up the valley, but it ain't! Peter Carty, the land manager, wasn't there which was a pity as I was really trying to see him to see if we could work out something co-operative between the NT and the Arts Festival, but I saw the education man - Chris Stratton - and we had a nice chat and he gave me the phone number and e-mail address I needed to write the Chris Doyle. She's the publicity woman for the West Midlands National Trust and I need to get to her to get the Food Fayre brochure printed up.

Riding back was easy - I free-wheeled all the way home! In fact, the hill was steep enough that I had to brake once or twice.

After lunch I went out to help John in the garden. He was putting up trellises on the front wall under and beside the guest room window. While he put up the trellises I pruned and re-arranged the climbers alongside the patio. There's a Virginia Creeper there which keeps trying to move over and swamp the other plants (climbing Hydrangea, Clematis and Honeysuckle). Around the corner where the trellises went up, we have an undisciplined jasmin there and last year we cut it back drastically meaning to train it up the trellis. Well, we didn't get it up on the wall and the jasmin grew and grew and made a great tangled mass hanging over the flower bed. After John did the hard work of screwing the trellis to the wall I spent an hour or so weaving all the vines and now it looks very tidy. Let's hope it grows, puts out leaves and flowers this year. If there are a lot of flowers the scent will waft into the guest room and it should be really delicious.

It was a lovely warm afternoon and we had our mugs of tea sitting on the patio. The sun was shining, the wind had calmed a bit (it's never really calm here) and we were able to relax and enjoy all the daffodils, forsythia and other spring flowers. When tea was over John continued in the garden - cleaning off the patio. There were last year's leaves, large lumps of moss which had fallen off the roof (helped by the magpies and crows who dig it up when looking for grubs and insects), all the vines I had pruned, pheasant poop and all the other winter detritus. It still needs a good hose down to get the moss up from the cracks between the paving stones, but it does look a hell of a lot better than it did a few days ago.

I made dinner tonight - veggie lasagna. I'm not cooking as much as I used to. John is doing it, and doing it well. I've taken over more of the other jobs like the washing and the washing up. I don't mind as they're things I can slot in around all the volunteer work I'm doing.

It was so warm today that we thought we might have some wildlife in the pond. Sure enough we found a couple of frogs when we shone the torch around the pond. Both of them were off away from the water - maybe the pebbles that surround the pond were warm and comfy for them tonight. Most evenings we can see newts in the pond, too, although they usually swim off and hide under rocks when we shine the light on them.

April 4.

Another morning at the gym. I must say I resented it this morning. I woke up tired and I didn't want to get dressed and go out. I dragged all the way there and my work out was difficult and draggy too. Needless to say I was not well pleased to find the locker room wide open and full of cleaning materials. I decided not to bother with a shower so got dressed and nipped out to buy a birthday card for Steve while John showered and dressed.

We picked up a few supplies on the way home and settled in for the rest of the day. It's turned cold and windy again so there was no gardening or sitting outside! I spent the afternoon working on my focus article and some other bits and pieces and after dinner (the rest of the lasagna) we vegged out for the evening watching telly and playing on the computer.

April 5.

It's Saturday but we don't get to sleep in. I had a quick shower and then got ready to go out. Stopped at Steve and Marjorie's to deliver a bit of cake and Steve's birthday card. He's 89! (And she just turned 91 - the cradle snatcher!!!!). Then on to Scrappies to help hold the fort. Laura was late arriving, John never did show up and Irene called in Delphine to help out. Saturday is my normal day to work at Scrappies. I usually go in and enter the membership data onto my laptop. Normally the only others there are John Roberts and Irene so they're glad of an extra body around in case of emergencies. We can't keep the shop open unless there are two people around.

After I'd entered data I was able to start more pricing. Delphine agreed to take some home to do and I was able to find it quickly because I'd sorted and labelled all the boxes. Irene and I looked over the latest draft of the focus article and discussed some other issues. The Management Committee meeting is coming up and we need to get the agenda sorted out. In fact, we need to see if we can change the date as we've already had a few apologies!

I got home at 3 and had a late lunch. Good job I did. About half past 5 David, who lives at the top of the drive, showed up at the door with a streaming nose bleed. Ella followed him down, of course. He's on his own this weekend as Pam has gone off to visit her daughters in London and Hampshire. We got him sat down with paper towels and ice packs but it just wouldn't stop. It was bleeding pretty strongly - much stronger than mine are usually - and because we were worried about his various illnesses and drugs (including warfarin) we ended up calling the squad. The standby guy was on his way into Church Stretton, fortunately, and we heard him coming down the drive before John finished the phone call! The ambulance arrived a few minutes later. It was the same team we had when Marjorie had her fall last summer so we knew them. They also knew David as they'd rushed him to hospital with heart problems at about the same time. Anyway, they decided not to drive down so they took David up in the ambulance car and transferred him to the real ambulance at the top.

I went to the hospital in Shrewsbury with David, while John took Ella home and locked up the house for David. I was able to chat to the ambulance driver the whole way. They took us straight to the head and neck department (which stays open for emergencies) so we bypassed the queues in the emergency room. In no time at all they cleaned out David's nose, numbed it and cauterised it. The bleeding stopped immediately. We hung around in the waiting room till the doctor was satisfied that the bleeding was truly stopped and then we called John who picked us up and took us home via the fish and chip shop. The three of us had a very good meal at David's house. Ella spent most of the time sitting by me watching in the hopes that I would drop a chip! We came home about 10. We left David looking pretty perky and although we told him he needed to rest, it was really me that needed to come home and chill out! We told him we'd be back to take Ella for a walk in the morning.

April 6.

We woke to see snow lying about this morning. It wasn't a complete layer and it was melting fast, but it looked very pretty for a while. The poor old daffs didn't like it very much - they were all bowed down - but I don't think it did a lot of long-term damage.

After breakfast we took Ella for a walk in Rectory Field and Woods. This is a lovely area in town which used to be the pleasure grounds of our rectory. Our rectors must have been quite wealthy as it is a large area. Now it belongs to the Civil Parish. Part of it is a big grass field. Some of that is relatively flat and that's where Church Stretton has its annual bonfire on November 5th. The rest of the field is steeply sloped, but you can climb up there for a good view and access to the Long Mynd. The rest of the area is wooded and criss-crossed by footpaths. Ella and I climbed to the top of the hill in the woods while John did some birding lower down. The Town Brook runs through, from Ella's favorite swimming hole in the reservoir at the top to another of her bathing places at Yew Tree Pool. This time we had to keep her away from the water as she's developed an itchy, flaky skin condition and the vet has advised against letting her swim. The woods were full of people and dogs walking, enjoying the light snow and looking around to see how the spring is progressing. The daffs here looked a bit sad, too, but there were the signs of bluebells in bud and in a couple of weeks the woods will be carpeted in blue. Rectory Field and Woods is John's new "Patch" where he goes regularly to bird watch. He makes counts of the birds he sees and keeps notes so he can compare from season to season. Today there weren't many birds about, perhaps because of the snow, perhaps because of all the people walking about, but we did see a buzzard, lots of jackdaws and crows and the usual chaffinches and robins.

Once we'd delivered Ella home, we headed back into town for the European market. This happens every few months in many places in the UK. They have a street market with vendors who have driven all night from various places in Europe. Our market had stalls from Portugal, France, Spain, Italy and somewhere in the middle east. It wasn't very big this time, but we found plenty of goodies to bring home for our lunch. While we were shopping it started to snow again, too! Lunch was a wonderful mixture of French cheese, middle eastern olives, pickled ginger, pickled RAW garlic, bread and Portuguese sardine fritters - all washed down with a glass of white wine. Delicious!

This afternoon I completed the focus article and sent it off before heading over to Steve and Marjorie's for a cuppa and a piece of cake. I often go over on a Sunday afternoon for an hour or so. We mull over the events of the week, catch up on the gossip and the sports and have a bit of a laugh. Today they were feeling very pleased with themselves as they had managed to get Marjorie's support hose on without any help. During the week they have carers who come to help Marjorie dress and wash and they get her stockings on. On the weekends, though, they like a little lie-in and so they don't have the carer and Steve has to help Marjorie who is rather weak and has balance problems. For the last couple of weeks I've come over in the morning and pulled on the stockings, but today Steve managed it by himself.

I decided to do some craft work when I came home from the neighbours. A couple of weeks ago I bought a couple of metal flamingos. Decided I was going to test out some interference paints on them and see how they worked. I watered the paint down a bit as I didn't want them to be too brightly coloured and I set to to sponge the paint onto their bodies. It worked out quite well on the dark brown metal. Interference paint only shows up on a dark background. The bodies now have a pinkish sheen, the wing and tail feathers are gold with bright yellow feather shafts and the heads are purplish pink. Sounds quite horrible doesn't it? However, it looks pretty good.

After a large lunch we waited a while for dinner, but when it came it was delicious. John excelled himself with roast duck accompanied by roast potatoes and parsnips. For dessert we had baklava from the market. Yum, yum.

April 7.

Monday - ugh! Well, actually it doesn't really matter since retired people don't really have weekends! Anyway, it looked a bit warmer than expected this morning so I decided to forgo the gym and take Ella for a walk instead. I'm trying to help Dave out right now. The doctor said he's not supposed to exert himself, sneeze or blow his nose. On top of that, he has breathing problems in the cold weather so it makes more sense for me to take Ella in the morning and for him to go out for a shorter walk with her in the afternoon. So, as John set off for the gym I went up the drive to pick up Ella.

We had a smashing walk, up to the entrance of the National Trust property in Cardingmill Valley and then off on the side path around the base of Stanyeld Hill. However, this time instead of carrying on to the golf course I turned up the hill and climbed a steep sheep path up the fence-line to the top of Stanyeld. This is the hill we can see out of our kitchen, study and living room windows and I've wanted to climb to the top of it since we got here. Somehow we've never done it. It was very steep and not a good path, but with one sit-down in the middle of it we managed to get to the top where we enjoyed a fabulous view over the town. In a way, this was a preliminary recce. I want to get some photos of the house and I wanted to find out where the best view points were. We wandered about all over the hill and over the golf course, exploring various paths and viewpoints.

Ella is very good. She rarely looses sight of you as she runs all over the place hunting rabbits, splashing into streams and generally doing doggy things. I did loose her once and that's because her other favourite friends were up on the hill at the same time and she heard them and decided to go and visit them. It's not likely to happen again, and if it does I'll know who to look for!

We made it to the top of Stanyeld in half an hour from home which I thought was pretty good, and we were back home in an hour and ten minutes. The nice thing about walking a neighbour's dog is that he has to clean her up afterwards! I just came home, made myself a hot drink and got on with some work. I sent off the food fayre brochure to the National Trust, who we hope are going to send it to the printers for us. I've done most of the design work on the brochure and I'm quite pleased with it. It's the first time I've done anything like this and it's come out quite well.

I took the flamingoes out and put them where the pheasants often feed. I'm waiting to see how long it is before John notices them!

He got back from Shrewsbury at lunch time and we had some more french cheese on bread. He brought home a "donker" loaf for me - delicious malted rye bread, bue he toasted the white bread we bought at the market and had that. After lunch we had a quick clean up in time for the arrival of another kitchen and bath person. Spent quite a while with him as he looked at the two bathrooms and we discussed various options. We've decided that the bottom bathroom has to be the one we put the bath in and he's made measurements and gone off to do an estimate. Whoever wins the contract to do this bathroom will also end up doing the upstairs one and the kitchen, so we want to make sure we get the right firm.

Well, we've had a couple of tiny showers today, but in general it has been quite nice. The sun is shining brightly and penetrating throughout the house now, which is such a blessing. The house is very dark in the winter, but today it's so bright all the lights are off. The solar fountain in the little pond is spraying well too - I like to watch it. In fact I can stand at the living room window for hours watching it!

Of course, you already know that I like to spend hours watching the wildlife. Mr. Magnificent has been walking around looking absolutely gorgeous. His golden feathers sometimes shine pure gold in the sunshine and sometimes they take on a purplish cast. The females have quite a bit of purplish colouring around the neck too and in a more subdued way are also lovely. We're a bit worried about Ginger Rogers our oldest female. She has some ruffled feathers on her neck and we're wondering if she has a growth. She seems fit and active, but she is probably 3 years old and that's about as old as they usually get "in the wild".

We now have a pair of rabbits that spend most of the day on the back lawn. I'm surprised a passing buzzard hasn't seen them and taken one off for dinner. The rabbits were making love the other day, so I expect we'll have more as time goes by. I'm not sure where their warren is, but they might be in the bank where the badger sett is. I'm not sure what they're eating, either, but while they stay on the lawn they're not doing too much harm. I don't think I'll bother to plant any vegetables or salad - they'll have it in no time. One thing has puzzled me, though. Every now and then one of them will get into a game of chase with a squirrel. It doesn't look like a serious fight or anything - the squirrel will chase the rabbit around the lawn for a while and then the rabbit will chase the squirrel. Cross-species play? Very peculiar!

We've been boiling up the duck bones with the remains of the gravy from yesterday and a few veggies. The whole house smells of duck soup and that's what we'll have for lunch tomorrow. Some of the broth will go for gravy tonight as we convert the remains of the roast duck into a cottage pie with carrots, mashed potatoes and peas .... yum .... can't wait!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Other Volunteer Activities

In my last post I told you about our work for the museum and the ornithological society. I'd like to tell you about my other volunteer activities, too.

Firstly, I help with the Church Stretton Arts Festival. The summer after we arrived we went to many of the Arts Festival events and enjoyed them. While we were visiting the Art Exhibition we got talking to Sue Mabbutt (the organizer) and I volunteered to help. To start off with I helped with just the Art Exhibition. I have the database of exhibitors and am responsible for contacting them each year to invite them to participate, collecting their entry forms money and producing the lists of entries. Then I ended up helping on hanging day and collection day and did a little bit of work in between!

The picture on the left is of the flyer I designed for the Art Exhibition last year. We have lots left, so I'm going to stick a label over the date and time so we can use them this year!

This year my work has expanded to the rest of the festival. I'm now a member of the committee and work on the publicity sub-committee. I try to co-ordinate the jobs I do for the Arts Festival with the ones I do for the Food Fayre. I've been contacting web sites that have events listings and have managed to list our events on several. It's good fun. I like the people who work on this committee. They are very hard working and get a heck of a lot done for the good of this area. I think I may have offended one or two because I'm a bit out spoken, but I'm hoping they'll forgive me if I work hard enough.

Because of Sue Mabbutt and her husband Clive, John and I both work for the Church Stretton Food Fayre, also. This year, the food fayre is a two day event, on August 24th and 25th. The 25th is our late August bank holiday (a lot like labour day in the States). We will be setting up marquees in the school playing field and expect over 100 food and craft vendors to show their wares. Along with that we will have food demonstrations - including a very dishy chef called Mark Earndon courtesy of our local Co-Op Society - entertainments including birds of prey, a brass band, circus skills, arts and crafts workshops, face painting and belly dancing and an evening of "golden oldies" in the music/beer tent.

Check out this web page about Mark. There's a You Tube video of his work too.

The food fayre has a large coterie of volunteers who help on the day with everything from taking money and monitoring the carpark to washing dishes in the food demo tent and cleaning the loos! However, we work year round. John is the webmaster and I am the vice-chair. It's not exactly clear what a vice-chair does as we haven't had one before, but I'm trying to fill in wherever there are gaps. I've tried to help Clive with publicity, I've designed the tri-fold leaflet that goes into pubs, tourist centres, libraries, bed and breakfasts, etc., I've been trying to put our information into the various "What's On" web sites and I help out wherever possible. During the actual fair I will probably be helping with getting the exhibitors situated, I might collect up the takings, help out on the gate or do whatever. Sue, Helen and I took a first aid training course, too, so we can be the first people to respond to any emergencies that might arise.

While we were helping at a Volunteering Recruitment day trying to find more volunteers for the Food Fayre I ran across a display about Scrappies. I got talking the Serena there and she said that Scrappies needed a new web person. I immediately volunteered to do that and from there I've ended up doing lots more. I'm still the web master and you can see my efforts by clicking here. From there it was a small step to helping out with computer problems and working to update their membership data base. That led to my volunteering to enter all the data - renewals, new memberships and address changes - and finally to sending out renewal notices and newsletters! So you can see the job has expanded and it continues to expand. I'm now on their management committee and I try to help out in the store when and if I can.