Sunday, 23 December 2007

Of This and That…

Winter whispers around Otter Ferry reminding us that he’s waiting in the wings. We’ve been fortunate so far and it’s easy to forget that there’s potential to get so much colder! For people from warmer climes, we pat our selves on the back constantly for handling this extreme weather so well, haha! Really, it’s not so bad; after all, the climate in the western highlands is quite mild compared to the rest of northern Europe thanks to the Gulf Stream.

Preparations for Christmas have been low-key…my biggest achievement has been to stay away from the local town ‘til after the holidays. What would we do without the Internet? Village trips for supplies are great…there’s a lot of small community spirit happily adding to the festive feeling and most people are cheery and laid-back! It’s easy to “feel the season” here and this year we even have a little tree for the first time in many years. Baking and sewing have been keeping me busy, while M is occupied in the workshop, and adds to the whole rural idyll. Part of the fun has been trying to keep life as simple as possible, not easy to do normally, but so achievable over Christmas!

Lately, out in Blogland, I’ve really been drawn to American Primitive style and since painting wasn’t an option (I have too much unfinished work), I settled on something stitched. Digging around the ragbag produced some plaids and checks and I experimented with a much-needed hot-water bottle cover for my first attempt!

~~~~~~~~~~ Obsolete Shirts and a Dress ~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~ Ta Da...The Finished Product ~~~~~~~~

Well it’s a bit wonky – but it works! There's a lot of satisfaction giving useless items a new purpose although more practice is definitely needed here! I'm off to do it again...this one's for M!

In the meantime, I hope you're enjoying a peaceful break before the big day...

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Thunder, Lightening, a Hot Drink and Oties…

Last night was dramatic; long before nightfall the wind was whipping the loch into a frenzy of whitecaps. Black clouds banked up over the hills on the other side and as darkness descended (just after 4 pm) the sky was lit by intermittent flashes and rolling, rumbling thunder.

The Rayburn was out-performing anything we had managed to achieve last winter, with a new grate, thanks to the kindness of a dear friend; who gave us the one from her soon-to-be-replaced old faithful. Having worked late, with supper long gone and the weather growling ‘round the house, it was time for coffee and a snack so I made a batch of these South African favourites. They’re quick and easy and if you don’t have all the ingredients, they still work with substitutions.


500ml / 2 C oatmeal (not instant) quick cooking is fine
250ml / 1 C flour - I use fine whole-wheat flour
250ml / 1 C shredded coconut - I use dried or desiccated coconut
200 ml / 4/5 C sugar - any type, white is OK, soft brown is yummy too!
250 g / 1 ½ sticks margarine - This seems like a lot of trans fat! I used 125grams butter!
15 ml / 1 Tblsp. golden syrup – I didn’t have golden, maple worked well.
5 ml / 1 tsp. baking soda
5 ml / 1 tsp. baking powder

Melt margarine and syrup together in a large pot.
Add baking soda and stir.
The mixture will froth up; just keep stirring until it has all frothed up.
Add all remaining ingredients and mix well.
Press into a greased baking sheet. (I used my roasting pan)
Dough must be 1 1/2 cm thick.
Bake at 350F for 25 minutes. (Adjust time according to thickness-golden brown is good!)
While still hot, cut into squares and leave to set before removing to cooling rack.

M thought that this batch was a bit dry so next time I’ll use about 200 grams of butter. Although I’ve made heaps of these over the years, it’s only lately that I’ve been trying to make some of our favourite recipes healthier. I always kid myself that these are good for us because of the oats, coconut and whole-wheat flour! When our sons were small, a tray of Crunchies would easily disappear in an afternoon (although I get thirty squares out of each batch) but they can last for two or three days in an airtight container.

The Rayburn made short work of these…they were ready and brown after only fifteen minutes! Oh boy, but then we had to wait until they cooled down enough to eat! The birds loved the crumbs from the baking tin this morning and we’ve got biscuits for the weekend. There’s something so satisfying in having a tin full of homemade goodies, no additives or other nasties…I feel very virtuous!

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Photos, Fountains and Walking Sticks…

A kind neighbour has given me a photograph of the Rankin fountain taken around 1910 (thank you, Tom)! The strange carving on the fountain has been lost or removed at some stage because it’s not there now and it seems the pipe has been extended! I've also been told that there is supposed to be another fountain (not a monument – but also at the roadside) on the loch-side road to Strachur. Were fountains like this a common feature by the tracks and lanes here in Scotland in the 19th Century?

Many other photos’ that came with the fountain picture should fill in some more of the Otter Ferry “story” as soon as I’m able to research them fully.

While I’ve been messing about with buttons and history, M has been busy with diverse restoration. Some lovely walking sticks that have been hanging around for months finally got the attention they deserved. Walking sticks are big here in Scotland, all shapes and sizes, with carved horn handles on hazel sticks being the traditional favourites.

Like many collectable objects, walking sticks and canes have been elaborated on in amazing ways over the years and hallmarked silver examples are not uncommon. This one is a very nice, late Victorian, Arts & Crafts style on bamboo. All of these sticks were black with dirt and needed thorough cleaning before we could put them up on eBay...
These small but necessary jobs that seem so tedious when days are long and warm, are perfectly designed for the cold and dark of winter. Working inside the studio and workshop, we are blessed by the warmth of the stove, the views of the loch and the company of friends and neighbours. Plenty of opportunity for quiet reflection, plotting new projects and looking forward...
Wishing you all a warm and wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Small Mysteries...

The dramatic scenery of our new home has captivated me…over and over I write about the beauty, the wild, rugged, gentle, landscape; the tempestuous, glorious weather. A land of contrasts but there is so much more to this country than views and weather; abandoned ruins, enchanting castles, interesting stories, so many small mysteries like the one that I drive past every few days.

If you were to take the winding, single-track road from Otter Ferry over the hills through the hamlet of Kilfinan, you will pass one of the oldest churches in Scotland. This tiny 13th century stone church silently bears witness to centuries of turbulent upheavals that it’s peaceful setting belies; a serene and ancient venue for weddings and worship. Its history dates back to sometime between 1231 and 1241 when the church of St Finan first appeared in official records.

If you cross the bridge over the burn that runs alongside the church grounds you will follow the road as it heads up between old and pristine stone walls behind which sheep graze on deep green pastures. A handful of houses, both old and new, mark the road and as you reach the crest, the stone walls give way to fences, hedges and glimpses of loch. Further on, past holiday homes and old farmhouses, through patches of trees and down another hill and there, at the side of the road, you’ll find this fountain; angled in such a way that it is all but hidden and unnoticed in the sweep of view as the valley unfolds below.

In days gone by, horses would have drunk from the trough below the running water, now a plank provides a shelf for mugs. The water flows day and night, constant, refreshment for any weary traveller…the mugs have been there as long as we have been making the trip toTighnabruaich and probably long before.

The inscription on the stone reads, in memory of Patrick Rankin, of Otter and Auchengray, 1880. This was not Otter Ferry but Otter Estate, at the hamlet of Kilfinan, and who was Patrick Rankin? Is this fountain a living monument to the same Patrick Rankin, whose gravestone in the Kilfinan church yard reveals that he died in his early thirties?

I’ve been told the water from this fountain is full of minerals (unlike our normal water here, which is very soft), and that it has many health benefits. That might explain why an elderly man (word has it he is in his 80’s) cycles some seven or eight miles every few days to replenish his supply. This same robust octogenarian apparently rides many miles more in the opposite direction to his favourite golf course every week for a round or two. I have passed him a few times on the road…tackling the long rises with seeming ease! If only someone reading this can add to the story of the fountain, the cyclist and the water...?

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Happy Thanksgiving...

For all our family, friends and visitors in America.

Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

Sae let the Lord be thankit.

~Robert Burns~

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, 19 November 2007

Southern Folk Art Giveaway…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~Naïve painting by unknown Brazilian artist ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

No, not this one...I just had to post a picture and the only Folk Art example I've got, that doesn't infringe someones copyright, is this one. I could've used one of mine but I think everyone's seen those already!

Jessie over at Purple Cucumbers is having a drawing for one of her original Folk Art paintings! If you like Southern Folk Art, go on over and have a gander and you’ve got a bit of time, read about her amazing story!

Sunday, 18 November 2007

So What Was That About A Birdbrain?

Dawn over Otter Ferry and drifting out to greet the day, I discovered how the modern Thrush
warms up for his morning solo.

Up there on the edge of the chimney, he is getting the gentle heat from the Rayburn. Sorry about the picture quality, but it was still quite dark on this side with the hills in the way.

The first shot was taken facing the hills to the north east...see the clouds? When I turned and saw the Thrush, the sky above us was still clear. Ten minutes and a quick shower later, a rainbow appeared over the loch, picked out in the early light...

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Rhythms of the Seasons...

~~~ An Allegory of Winter by Ambrogio Lorenzetti ~~~

Wintery weather is here; standing outside Tuesday, the morning frost lay thick right down to the water’s edge. There’s much peace in the profound hush that settles along with the cold – the distant hooting of the Eiders and the occasional baaa of a sheep, the only disturbances to an otherwise perfect silence.

Now that I’m no longer making the daily commute, I’m busier than every. All those things I wanted to do all summer long are clamouring for attention and standing outside admiring the weather can’t last long…a few minutes and my heavy jeans feel like they’re made of tissue, my sweater of lace! A few minutes, maybe ten – to fill the bird feeders – and gaze over the loch and I’m gone; back to the warmth, to coffee and oats, and any one of the myriad things that need to be done. Here in this place now, perhaps for the first time, the order in the rhythms of the seasons begins to make sense.

~~ The view down Loch Fyne from Inveraray Harbour ~~
Time, no longer committed to a “big girl’s job”, has to be used more prudently than ever. My biggest problem is that I can cheerfully spend hours doing some simple task that would take others a few minutes. M grabs big chunks off each day and accomplishes enormous amounts of work; I wander around, like a dormouse at a tea party, a nibble here, a nibble there…never finishing anything. It’s not the way to build a body of work, make those Christmas presents, finish these lavender hearts or replace the missing salary (generally known around here as “keeping the wolf from the door”.

Back in July or August on one of my “thrifting” expeditions, I bought a big, heavy, paper shopping-bag, full of smaller plastic bags, full of buttons; a sack full of treasure! My obsession with buttons goes all the way back to childhood when often, the only “toy” produced to amuse me when visiting an elderly Aunt was the button tin (or box or…). A good button collection is hard to beat…usually collected over years and years, covering several decades and reflecting all the best (and worst) of the fashionable trends of the day, it was something every housewife deemed vital. After all, a shirt missing a button or two was a useless item good only for a rag, or patches or a duster; but produce spare buttons to match and it was a new shirt! No “throw away” mind-set in those days!

So, now that it’s nicer inside than outside, I open my treasure sack for the first time and marvelled at the bounty it contains. An accomplished and prolific needlewoman assembled this collection over four decades and I’ve never seen anything like it! Literally thousands of buttons, all sorted into bags according to colour…hundreds in each bag and two bags of some colours. When I started sorting one bag I quickly realised there are far too many for me to ever use (and many complete sets). So I’m starting with a few, mounting them on plain, brown card hangtags (bought to make gift labels) and see if I can sell them on eBay or on the website because there is no way I will ever be able to use them all…At least I don’t have to wonder what to do next!

Notice how I start with golden ones a Magpie! ...
.............. I hope everyone has a warm and wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, 7 November 2007


Tuesday evening last week, we said goodbye to Dorothy and Alain (of Oystercatcher fame) and their family. They have left the land of the lochs to head for the Languedoc-Roussillion region of France…it’s always sad to loose good neighbours but especially so when they’ve become good friends. We were fortunate to enjoy the yearly events that they promoted like the Big Beach Clean-up and Bastille Day and will miss their unique combination of French warmth and Yorkshire hospitality!

The last weekend in October saw the end of British Summer Time and the clocks went back an hour. This has given us daybreak earlier…but this hasn’t counted for much ‘cause we had drizzly, grey mornings most of the week. Of course, “what you gain on the swings, you loose on the round about” and our “night” is happening around five in the afternoon! I don’t know where I’ve been; it seems only yesterday we were having these long, long days – now it’s long, long nights!

During the mild days of October, the surrounding countryside turned gold and russet, then November winds began, enticing the leaves from the branches and sending them dancing merrily down slopes and lanes and into the waiting loch. The loch in turn, tumbles them about and scatters them back up on the shoreline, leaving a deep bronze band at water’s edge. The wind brings other benefits; the previously cloudy sky has opened up and sunlight and shadow mark patterns on the leaf strewn grass. Bird feeders are busy, the fat balls, peanuts and suet filled coconut shells have brought dozens of previously unknown guests into the garden. Five minutes in the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee turns into fifteen as I watch their antics from the window all thought of chores forgotten!

I’m off to hang up the laundry…nothing comes close to the fresh smell of wind-dried sheets and towels; a small perk of the simple life!

Editors note: Can't put text next to the pics - 14th Century depiction of The Wind and photo of Loch Fyne and the ruins of McEwan castle - photographer unknown.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

A Year…already!

On the 24th,we marked our first year here. It seems like yesterday when tired and weary, our little convoy pulled into the driveway to be welcomed by the most spectacular sunset we’d seen since leaving Africa. We were in for a new experience; for the first time since arriving in the UK, we could truly breathe again…open skies, light and wind and always the loch, smooth as glass, rough as a stormy sea…

Back at the homestead all my frustrated farming instincts kicked in! I mean we had LAND (ok, a garden then). Well…it was bigger than a handkerchief! Part overgrown tangles, part bog, partly gravel, partly sand, the most eye-catching feature was the large pile of ash and rubbish that dominated the back garden. Oh, and lets not forget the concrete slab where a shed had once stood. And this had already been cleaned up a lot with people clearing, burning and hacking before we arrived!

Ever so sensibly, we decided to leave the garden and get ourselves organised inside, after all winter was on the way! But by February, I had talked myself into starting seeds on the office windowsill. Not a lot, just some that needed a long growth period like Gem Squash (small, sweet, hard-shelled summer squash) and a few chilli plants. By the end of March, the kitchen window was almost obliterated by tiny pots of parsley and thyme; cuttings of rosemary and the first of the many sage plants that I have managed to kill this season.

Before we needed to install more lights in the kitchen, the weather began to warm up and M came up with a brilliant idea for the herbs. It served the double purpose of disguising the concrete slab and giving us a temporary home for the little plants while gathering together some of the double building blocks scattered around the place. Unfortunately, not all the transplantees (?) survived and I never was able to get all the spaces filled at the same time but no problem, I was happy with what we managed to do anyway.

So for a round up: Moroccan Mint and Apple Mint have done really well. Not so the un-identified, variegated, smooth leaved mint we bought on Bastille Day. It died right back and is currently on the kitchen windowsill (sending out new growth from it’s roots). Then there were the Sages, one by one they turned brown, withered and died (or withered then turned brown); whatever, they all died (all five of them). Thyme (variegated, lemon and plain) was a great success, along with the parsley. One Rosemary cutting died but the others have just grown and grown along with nasturtiums, green onions, chard (perpetual spinach), Golden Marjoram and Poached Egg flowers, Lavender and Geraniums. The Greek Oregano was looking good for a while and then suddenly started dying from the bottom up until all that was left was a tall grey stick. Lobelias, roses, fuchsias, have rewarded us with masses of colour and ongoing blooms. OK, I know almost all of the list can grow themselves but hey, this is a new and unknown climate. By the way, those Gem Squash grew into green midgets with heaps of flowers that just opened and dropped…then the plants died. The Chillies actually grew backwards…transplanted out in May; they were tiny, green and gorgeous until the sometime in August. Only problem is they just became smaller and smaller until, one day, they just weren’t there anymore!

M removed all of the rubbish and ash left behind..a slow and laborious effort, done bit by bit over the summer and the garden has been roughly divided up. Holes on the lawn have been filled in and the beds defined. There is a rough outline where the rockery will be and gravel has been spread around the areas outside the kitchen and laundry room. It's not as far along as we had hoped but given all the other things going on in our lives, we've made a good start. The wildlife seems to appreciate our slow pace; we have a red squirrel that scampers around in the mornings, a hedgehog eats the insects attracted to the back door light, the pheasants like the grassy areas and birds are busy at the feeders all day long. Ahhh! Progress...

So now autumn is here and I rounded up some of the last of the flowers lurking around the garden. They looked so cheerful; I took their picture on the mantle.

The mauve/pink at the back is a very pretty gladiolus that just popped out of the gravel garden, with white daisies, yellow and orange nasturtiums, blue lobelia and a sprig of Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas).

We've had a great year...

I hope all of you have a great week!

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Highs and lows! Rugby World Cup...

Well I don’t normally watch rugby! I have enough trouble keeping up with the blog world without adding other pursuits to my already stretched schedule! But I couldn’t resist watching this week’s World Cup Final and decided I could keep an ‘eye’ on the English – South African match while writing my weekend post! Ha!

The TV is located directly to my right and is angled toward me a bit so that if I turn to the right, I have a clear view of the screen. I started writing just before the match began and managed the title and two lines. At half time, I had the same title and only one line, having deleted one accidentally while swinging round to view a penalty! I also had a stiff neck and the beginnings of a headache! Things got a bit better during half time. I started from the beginning and managed a whole paragraph before the “try that wasn’t”; from then on it was all about the game.
Wonderful stuff and fabulous to watch knowing how South Africans love their sport and knowing how much a win would unite the people – the whole country was behind the team!

It was sad to see what poor losers England have become! Once upon a time, England taught the rest of the world about sportsmanship! Where has that gone, never mind good manners? Some members of the English team (including “golden boy – Johnny Wilkinson) were so churlish, they didn’t even shake the proffered hand of the South African President, Thabo Mbeki, (who had travelled 11,000 kilometres to support his team), choosing instead to brush past him as if he wasn’t even there! Too bad they couldn’t follow the example set by their Prime Minister, Gordon Brown and behave with grace and dignity. Instead they embarrassed themselves and their country as they shuffled off, to have a pity party and whine to all who’d listen about their “lost try”, totally negating what a great game was played!

It was William of Wykeham (1320 – 1404), Bishop of Winchester, Chancellor of England and founder of Winchester College and New College, Oxford whose motto was “Manners maketh man”. He was just so old fashioned! George Bernard Shaw obviously had a good grasp of modern UK society when he said in 1898 “We don’t bother much about dress and manners in England, because as a nation we don’t dress well and we’ve no manners. Is this the result of the creation of a classless society? I would have thought in the politically correct minefield of 21st century life, manners would be more important that ever. Oh well…

Well fought – well won!
Congratulations Springboks!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

More Local (wild) Life…

Over the last few months our yard has become a regular morning stop for this neighbourhood family.

Dad started visiting first and he was very nervous in the beginning, only venturing out a short distance from the cover provided by the hedge. But the lure of the tasty insects (residing in our “bog”) and the seeds scattered from the bird feeders proved irresistible and he gradually became bold, even bringing the family round to share the feast. Now we often surprise mom and the boys as they pass by on their way to the beach!

Once on the beach, they scratch and peck like so many colourful chickens, leisurely working their way along the shoreline in a loose group, digging up the tasty morsels under the seaweed. They usually show up late, after we’ve had breakfast, missing the early crowd; a group of older guys who arrive just after daybreak and wander all over the quay and parking area, playing hide-'n-seek with the Eider Ducks.

This early group is comprised of unwitting comics; one lone bird always ventures to the very end of the quay and spends some minutes gazing out over the loch and staring down into the water. Eventually, one or two others will creep out, either to talk some sense into the errant fowl or find out what he found so fascinating in the first place. With the renegade brought back to safety, the group eventually retrace their steps and disappear back into the fields…this little scene has played itself out several mornings while I’ve watched from our windows. I wonder if the same actors fill the same roles every morning or do they take it in turns and what are they thinking in those little birdbrains as the small drama unfolds?

Sunday, 14 October 2007

We Interrupt Regular Scheduling….

Yaaaay Bokke!

In World Cup rugby, the South African Springboks defeated Argentina tonight!

Congratulations Guys!

It’s an England – South Africa final!

Saturday, 6 October 2007

October... Already!

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

Well here we are, well into October … the end of the first week to be exact! Already! What can I say? Is it just me or has this year gone by at the speed of light? The biggest problem here is that we are now only seventy-nine days away from Christmas and then only a week ‘til 2008! Any other time of the year seventy-nine days would be a sizable chunk of time but now, with all the pending holidays, it will be gone before you know it.

Autumn is the loveliest (and shortest) season but then I seem to say that about spring, summer and winter as well. How boring life would be without seasons! The trees surrounding us are changing their dresses for the next party, gold and red and amber appearing on the hills seemingly overnight. Pink patches, where the heather bloomed only a few short weeks ago, are being replaced with purples and russets. Brilliant golden autumn sunshine and ultramarine skies giving way to soft, misty greys as gentle as a dove’s wing, quite different from the brooding greys of summer rains. I stood on the road today and watched a yacht, in full sail, gliding silently up the loch, moving through layers of mist … ethereal, beautiful.

Last week, we had our first frost, followed by some glorious sunshine and warmth. This was real Indian summer stuff; the surrounding hills were bathed in that special golden light favoured by Renaissance painters and typified in this example by Bellini, St Francis in the Desert. These bright, warm days rarely occur into November, this final bonus signals the coming of winter.

Christmas in winter is such a treat for us! African (and Australian) Christmases occur in the hottest part of the year and our adaptations of the traditional celebrations take the corresponding temperatures into account. Imagine having the Noel feast at 90 degrees in the shade! This whole northern hemisphere thing is so exotic … like waking up in a lovely Christmas card. Autumn is just the prelude to all this seasonal magic!

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

A Long and Winding Road?

“Feeling validated. Feeling...visible.” Just the words of one blogger explaining what makes her write.

Is this a modern phenomenon, this lack of visibility? Does an invisible woman exist in that void when home, children, community, career or indeed any factor that defines us is removed or changed? Perhaps, back when the family was a more cohesive unit and the Global village didn’t exist, a woman had a more defined (limited) role. Whatever the cause, it’s not a comfortable place; this invisibility and like many, I started blogging hoping to find some missing dimension through writing. I put my loss of self down to the major moves of the last five years, new country, new hemisphere, new career, a whole new life. The challenges; homesickness, missing family, working in a highly competitive environment, struggling in a new society left me with a “me” I couldn’t recognize. So, in a fit of intense “navel gazing” I have started my own form of invisibility therapy, beginning with blogging, recording family history, and creating - whenever and whatever I can!

It all started the dreadful day I realised I wasn't twenty-seven anymore and no, it’s no joke…
I literally woke one morning and looked in the mirror and didn't recognise the face looking back at me! I, who had never ever thought about aging, shrugged off birthdays, laughed when I turned forty and ignored any outward signs of impending middle age. That sudden realisation that I was actually getting older was a huge and scary shock, the impact of which still amazes me! The real me was gone and who was this imposter? And over the following weeks and months it dawned on me that all I needed to do was find the missing me...who was I? Who had I become...while my life rushed by?

While all this selfish introspection was going on, I started having these nagging doubts about the fate of our family history, its origins and traditions? With the family home gone and everyone dispersed to different countries, would these just be lost; in this struggle to make a way through to our old age, who would be the keepers of the family history? With no oral tradition preserving the story of our ancestors how would our grandchildren ever know? Would they care?

M’s family, having lived in one country for three hundred years and in the same home for nearly a hundred years, had a relatively large bank of family history on which to draw. Now the family home is gone and the remaining members scattered far and wide. My family, by comparison had a fairly nomadic existence and any history lived only in the memories of the older members; now there is only one cousin left and he is in his nineties. So I’m going along this road picking up the threads and as I go, I’ll try to weave together all the bits I can. Because the more scattered and dispersed we are, the more I crave the history of my origins… by digging around the past will I find some clues to what or who I have become? Perhaps, like me, one of my descendents will look for their past in a effort to understand their present and find as much of the story that I can piece together, recorded here. Is this just me? Do others feel the same way about their “roots”?

Monday, 17 September 2007

Time, time, time, to see what’s become of me…

The nights are drawing in, darkness just after nine and first light just before six. As summer bows out, the winds are a bit sharper, the loch more choppy. We’ve had the usual ups and downs weather wise and are eagerly waiting to start up our lovely old stove! Because the stove runs our hot water supply and heats the upstairs radiators, we will start it up only when we want to keep it going permanently (all winter). I’m looking forward to home-baked bread and winter casseroles again. I never like to do much cooking on the electric stove; it lacks the charm that appeals to my vintage brain and nothing tastes quite as good as the long slow process of cooking the old fashioned way. Yum, "slow food" at it's best!

Saturday the mist hung low, hiding the opposite shore, lifting now and then to expose tantalising glimpses of the altered landscape as wispy drizzle fell. By Sunday rain was falling in earnest, a steady, sullen, curtain but by late afternoon flashes of sunshine promised a clear night. Today the wind was up, blowing briskly, bringing clear skies and plenty of sunshine and tonight it’s very, very cold.

Lavender heart made with pillow ticking, vintage fabric and handmade lace.

With the changing seasons, there’s more time inside and I’ve been longing to get stuck into my steadily growing stash of vintage fabrics. M has set my sewing machine up on our landing, under a window where I only have to glance up to see the loch laid out below me. With such a beautiful view, it’s hard not to be inspired but with my ability to procrastinate, I knew if I didn’t get started it might never happen. So I stopped dithering and just began…and as I worked, I found another little piece of the missing me…

After a summer spent painting, gardening, being builders assistant and chef all with varying degrees of sucess, the opportunity to 'mess around' with fabric proved irresistble...

Monday, 10 September 2007

The Case of the Missing Post Office or How We Lost Our Broadband...

If you’re thinking this title sounds like the start of long, long story you’d be right! So many things that happen to us are incredibly involved and sometimes quite convoluted and try as I might, I cannot reduce them to 250 words in short report format! I sometimes wonder if our future family members are going to be interested enough to wade through the mountains of words it takes me to effectively describe some of our more bizarre occurrences. Nothing tidy going on here, no way! We like it complicated?

Back in 2006 when this house was advertised, it came with a tiny post office and village shop attached. Sadly the post office had been closed some months before, the little shop had ceased to trade and all the post office equipment stood mournfully piled up in one corner of the empty room. We stacked these remains neatly and covered them with a dustsheet and went on to use the room as a workshop while we went about dealing with the business of getting the post office re-opened and earning a crust.

I won’t go into the minutiae of this struggle but it occupied both M and myself and our long-suffering landlady for almost a year. And at the end of August, our collective perseverance finally paid off! Senior post office officials, including our area manager, came to inspect the premises and assured us that this post office would be able to open again. After this initial meeting, things began to move quickly; the old equipment was taken away and the old phone line was disconnected so that it could be upgraded and this is when we hit the big glitch!

The old post office line was the only line…and the number that was activated for our service provider! Whoooops! Well, it was a case of now you have it, now you don’t…so no real warning. The phone company, BT, was great; the phones were off on Thursday night and by Monday we had a new line but the service provider needed ten to fourteen days to switch their service so dial up was the only way.

All in all, although I whined and whinged like crazy, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The biggest concern for us was linking up with our houseguests for that weekend, an American family who had travelled halfway across the world from Tanzania and whom we had never met. We couldn't rely on cell phones; out here, cell/mobile phones don’t really work and inside our building the thick, stone walls effectively block any hope of a signal. But the visitors made it all the way to Otter Ferry and the weekend went off without a hitch. Best of all, we finally got to meet (and thank) the missionaries who looked after our son Joshua when he had malaria earlier this year, and share our little patch of paradise with them.

Now, a few weeks later, the whole phone/broadband incident is fading. There are a lot of exciting changes happening around here, the best of which is the anticipated opening of our country shop/gallery/post office, hopefully before the New Year! And overdue updates about my very mixed results with gardening in this unknown (misunderstood) climate – speaking of which, it’s getting cold so I’m off to bring my (very tender) un-named mint inside for the night!

Sunday, 2 September 2007


Several weeks ago, when Internet access was unspeakably slow and I wasn’t keeping up with my favourite blogs, Horizon nominated me for a Reflective Blogger award. Thank you so much Sarah; once again I find myself in some great company.

I’m a little unsure of the terms of this award but would like to “pay it forward”. And, just as with the Thinking Blogger Award, I’m nominating one blog I have been “lurking” around for a while now…hmmm, seems I need these incentives to get brave and introduce myself.

My Messy, Thrilling Life

Brin is the very talented and motivated owner of one of those lovely old Southern (does Texas qualify as ‘Southern’?) houses. She decorates, cooks, sews, gardens and a whole lot more beside but she also inspires and does so with guts and chutzpah.


Suzi has been around since I started blogging. Apart from being a brilliant artist, she brings Africa to life and when homesickness hits, I head over to her for a dose of “the old country” and her wonderful photos.

Just as in the “States”, this weekend represents the imminent end of summer. Most schools that have not already gone back do so this week. Here in these northern latitudes the nights are drawing in and we are in complete dark by about ten every night.
Today started overcast and drizzly but a wind blew up and scattered the clouds and we were out like a shot. The laundry actually made it into the sunshine and wind today. No fabric conditioner around can capture that wonderful smell of fresh, line dried washing! M finally got the chance to trim the front hedge that was growing out in all directions and we took stock of the garden’s progress. The hedge looks great but as for the rest …well, I’m not so sure. Let’s just say it’s been a real learning curve… As I said in spring, I’ll take pictures to illustrate the highs and lows of our gardening season and the “progress” we have made. And as I write, I’m being given a rare treat…the late afternoon sun is streaming in the window and the loch is sparkling. Time to play “hooky” and pop out for a quick walk.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

And Then There Was Nothing?

I nearly lost August completely! Take two Internet junkies and remove their “fix” and you have us…worse than a two pack a day smoker suddenly finding himself marooned on a deserted desert island. Never has broadband connection meant so much to me and if I complain about the slowness of my local connection again, may I be forced to write (by hand) ten thousand times “Never forget that dial-up is your only other option”. It’s amazing just how many things can happen in two weeks and I shall be spending these last few remaining days of August trying to catch up with myself here. The whys and wherefores of how we came to be broadband-less form part of this mini saga. We knew it was coming but expected some warning; instead, the day before visitors arrived for the weekend, everything was gone…no phone, no Internet, nothing (and we don’t have mobile/cell phone signals out here)! Three days later and the new line was in place but our service provider had to switch our service to the new number and that’s what’s taken the time. Until that was accomplished, we had to contend with a dial-up connection.

I actually thought that all could continue as normal and I would be able to read and comment as usual. I knew it would be slower, but “hey, how slow can you go?” Ohoooo Boy! Was I ever naïve (stupid, un-informed) and spoilt! If I could get on line - and that was a big ‘if’ (most times the server was giving a ‘busy’ signal) I would work my way through e-mail first and then try to get into Blogland. This is where the real problems started. Click to open and wait, and wait…and you guessed it, wait some more. Go off, make a cup of tea, and come back and nothing! Read five chapters of War and Peace, do the dishes, have a bath and maybe (if the connection didn’t fail) the page would have opened! OK, so it’s an exaggeration, but not much and because of work and other things happening, not to mention the frustration, I just gave up. So here is my public apology to everyone who has left comments, asked questions and sent emails...I will catch up over the next few days.

In the meantime, the Heather that was showing its first buds in the pictures on my last post, has dusted the countryside with patches of purpley, mauvey, dusty pink! And here are some photos showing that pink and green can and do, look heart-stoppingly gorgeous together.

Whoops! The pink doesn't show up here? It's there, promise...I'll get another, better picture!

For everyone who has asked about the sunset so late at night as shown here; for weeks in mid summer culminating on the longest day, we have a progressively paler dusk, never completely night and then gradually, as the season progresses, the nights get darker and darker. I can’t be very specific; we have only lived here for ten months and it’s been a very overcast summer, which hides just how light the nights are. I think we have only seen the moon a handful of times. But, if for any reason we wake up in the night, we have acquired the habit of going to the window and looking out over the loch because it is so incredibly lovely in the dusky half-light.

This picture was taken on the twentieth of August at 20:56 (four minutes to nine in the evening)

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Over the Hills and Far Away...

Our little hamlet of Otter Ferry is in a very remote area, miles away from any town of substance. We like it this way and prefer the still, quiet beauty of this unspoilt spot over any of the “perks” associated with a more urban lifestyle. I love it, isolation and all, and refer to our infrequent trips to town as going “over the hills and far away”!
These pictures were taken on our last shopping expedition and show the road over the mountains/hills behind Otter Ferry and the countryside we travel through to get to town.
In this photo, the road is just visible in the middle of the trees.

The top of the mountain, looking back toward Otter Ferry.

Coming down the mountain, heading for town.

The farm in the valley at the bottom of the mountain...

The next valley...halfway there!

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Bastille Day …weekend? Part III

Bastille-Day-Fireworks-Quay-Side-Scotland The gorgeous evening was topped off by a fantastic fireworks display but it proved difficult to photograph against the backdrop of a turquoise twilight. As the last puff of smoke drifted off into the night sky, applause from the spectators on the shore and in the boats carried out over the loch and signalled the end of a perfect day!

The display started at about 11 pm...


By 11:30 pm it was over...

The sounds of a guitar, quiet talk and soft laughter lasted ‘til well after midnight but Sunday had arrived and the great Boules championship would soon begin!


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