Thursday, 25 January 2007

Warm and Crafty etc…

The snow has given us brittle cold, crystalline days, sharply defined light and the first (whole) sunny days we have had since being here; today the clouds are back and with them the warmer temperatures. M and I have succumbed to the hibernation urge and will only venture out to replenish supplies tomorrow, now that more snow is expected. Meanwhile, the mornings find us out but not for long! A brisk walk around the beach and garden and we head back inside to enjoy the lovely warmth our 1930's Rayburn gives us. We’ve polished up one of our old copper kettles and it sits on the stove all day long, gently steaming; hot drinks for free whenever the whim strikes.

This picture was taken the first week we were here. Things have improved a bit since then but the room looks essentially the same.

The old Rayburn (which needs a makeover) is in the long room that used to be the kitchen. Previous occupants decommissioned it and put mod cons in the scullery but the first thing we did was turn the “Dining Room” back into a kitchen and fire up the old stove. I’ve got great plans for this room (delusions of grandeur perhaps?); the wooden floor just needs TLC and more of a good scrub – I have done about a third of it – with scouring pads and washing soda. Afterwards, when I finish, we will strip off the dark stain, fill where the old tongue and groove has been damaged and seal. A quarry tile surround around the Rayburn and a long cooker hood will complete the really big work. Then it’s just up to paint and furnishings. Ideally I would like to use old Welsh dressers, freestanding cupboards and an old farmhouse table, all of which still have to be found, bought and restored.

In the meantime we have our dining table in here and I am using the “kitchen” end as a studio. This is wonderful; I get all the benefits of having the warmth and I’m next to the kettle. Poor M has to work in the workshop, which shares the wall behind the Rayburn, and he has to make do with the oil heater; that’s what you get for making lots of sawdust!

One of M’s first projects was to make me an easel from an old frame he had lying around. It was my Christmas, anniversary and birthday present rolled into one and it’s beautiful. As I have a lack of fabric and thread right now, my patchwork, quilting and appliqué are on hold until I can stock up but the supplies I do have in abundance are paint, canvases and board. It’s been about 30 years since I finished my (unused) Art degree and at least 20 years since I painted anything more ambitious than a wall but last year when I was ill, I bought all the equipment to start again (and never did)! Easel plus art supplies equals paintings? Not necessarily but I’m going to try. I’ve always considered myself a competent craftsperson but I wouldn’t ever claim to be more than a decorative painter. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the first one (just finished, photo below) even though I was trying something I’ve never done and the second one is proving much more fun (at least it’s in a style I can do).


An ideal occupation for the cold days and maybe I can get some stock together for the Country Art section of the website I’m trying to set up. Well anyway. I don’t know how to basket weave and I don’t have rope for Macramé yet (but more about that another time) so for now this is it. At least I’ll be off the streets! ;)

Saturday, 20 January 2007

The Light on the Loch

What a view we were treated to this last week; for a little while everything was white and bright. The snow that fell all around us melted quickly here near the water but on the hills at the top of the loch, it stayed overnight. Rough swells and high tides had deposited bits of driftwood around the beach and when the sleety, snowy rain stopped, we went “treasure” hunting, wrapped up warmly against the chill wind. The air was so clean it practically sparkled and we spent over half an hour (so brave) scurrying around carrying wood from the beach to the yard. No sooner had we come inside and made a lovely pot of hot coffee, the sun came out to play and stayed a while to dazzle us.


I have always wondered why I find snow so seductive? When I lived in Los Angeles, as a student, a group of us would spend a half a morning driving to the mountains to ski on fresh powder and I used to think that it was the sport that held the appeal. I had very little contact with snow after returning to South Africa although it does occasionally occur there, especially at the higher altitudes. My next real experience of snow was in the USA when M and I (and two of the boys) lived in Missouri for a year.

Our induction started about two hours out of New York heading for Pennsylvania, driving our newly acquired VW bus (affectionately known as a Kombi in SA), when wind and light rain began to build and within a few minutes we were in the beginnings of our first snowstorm. Driving was a nightmare; M had experienced extreme conditions driving in Europe and managed to keep us moving forward as we were on a tight schedule and couldn’t stop to wait the storm out. We drove on and on…with our two eldest sons with us (3 years and 6 months respectively) we had to keep moving to keep the interior warm. That Kombi, bought at a second-hand car dealership in New York the day before, just kept going and going and never missed a beat. We made it to our hosts near Eldon, Missouri, albeit about eleven hours late and M slept for a day and a half; he had driven the entire distance; his only breaks were for meals and coffee stops!

That whole winter there, was just snowstorm after snowstorm and some were blizzards. According to the radio and TV, it was the worst winter in fifty years. We were living in a trailer (mobile home) on the farm where M was working; it was very cosy (and a bit stuffy) inside and nothing prepared you for the icy blast when the door was opened. We had a washing machine but no dryer and I have vivid memories of hanging up steaming washing that would freeze stiff from basket to line, no pegs needed. Snow was what we lived with, it made life a bit inconvenient and it wasn’t very pretty when salt had turned it to grey slush on the verges and roads. Snow brought ice and mud where it melted and slippery walkways where it didn’t and I developed a healthy respect for the American moms who managed young children and all the extra paraphernalia they needed in these extreme conditions.

Often I would sit, looking out of the window over the fields behind the mobile home covered by this pristine cloak; when the sun shone, it would glitter and gleam and the reflection would light up the whole inside of the trailer. That same spectacular sight happened when the sunlight broke through the clouds and danced along these mountains; the whole room was illuminated by the reflected light and I suddenly remembered twenty-seven years ago in Missouri and the magic of snow.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

It Takes a Lot of Eider to Make a Down?...

The weather had the last word over the weekend when the Internet connection kept failing everytime the wind blew. This had started on Thursday but only for the worst gusts and gradually became worse and worse until by Sunday we had virtually no connectivity at all! A quick survey of the neighbours determined that this was our problem and ours alone, so Monday we called for HELP and it arrived this morning. New lines, box cover and some tree trimming later, we are back on line and I am going to catch up with my reading tonight. I really missed all my favourite blogs! But first there's a little something (please excuse the poor picture - I forgot I have a zoom) I want to share...

These camera shy Eider ducks are some of our closest neighbours. This group normally live about a half mile up the Loch, and have a gentle cooing call that is both question and answer; “ah-ooo”. The males are very smart with their black and white plumage enlivened by a pale greenish nape whereas the females are in basic brown camouflage to keep them safe while incubating the eggs. They are Common Eider Ducks and give their name to the lovely, cosy Eiderdowns of yesteryear that were made from the warm, soft down the females use to line their nests.
Although, harvesting the down is sustainable and does not harm the birds, use of Eider down has been largely replaced with commercial goose down and synthetic materials. What a shame; I remember my Grandmothers’ Eiderdowns (part of her Trousseau), one over each bed and an extra one to wrap in when more cosseting was needed. Snuggled into the sofa wrapped in one of those, covered in the beautiful faded florals of a thousand Edwardian gardens, scented with home grown lavender, was warmth, comfort and an indefinable peace. I think we have forgotten many subtleties of how to live and how to nurture our families and ourselves. It’s a shame that so much quality-of-life has to be lost in the name of progress.

Saturday, 13 January 2007

Home…where the heart is?

Home is a concept that has been inconsistent with our life for several years. We left our home (see first post -A Brief History) in January of 2000 and travelled over three hundred miles to a rented property in a strange town. While there, we knew that we would soon be moving, but with our sons around us, home was a reality where we were together. Over the next two years, the sons moved to places of their own and just before we left for the UK, “home” no longer existed. Then ‘home’ became the old country for a short while; new in the UK and uncertain of the future, I longed for South Africa and the family there and so SA became “home”. Gradually, we became used to our adopted country although urban life was still an anathema to us, and we longed to find a place that spoke to us in some undefined way. A “home” for me is where family come to gather, a refuge in times of stress, where there is love, laughter, music and pets, a creative place. After all the moving and upheaval, this house, fitting like a much-loved sweater, cosy and familiar and complete with all the ups and downs of country living, is starting to feel like a home.

As we paint, plan rooms, clean floors and hang pictures, we put a bit of ourselves into this building, adding another layer to it’s history. It’s an old house; built sometime in the mid 1800’s, stone walls, well-proportioned rooms, and solid, built to last. There is a lovely atmosphere, amazing views and a big garden and we are starting to think more in terms of the next few years and not just the next few months.
I began to realise this when we started drawing detailed plans of what we are going to do with the garden. The previous occupants had kept goats and chickens and although the sheds and coops have been removed, we are waiting for drier weather when a tractor and trailer can get in to remove the last remaining piles of rubbish. Sketching the layout and improvements, including a paved section for a greenhouse, I realised we are talking investment, not just money but time and labour and love. So, like any proud Mama, I will be sharing lots of “work-in-progress” pictures as time goes by.

And now I’m off to browse the garden catalogues. But before I go…


Between the storms this week, we had a few rare moments of sunshine and were dazzled by the brightest, most colourful rainbow I have ever seen. In the first picture, the contrast with the dark sky on one side and the lighter sky on the other was actually there; see the illuminated gull flying in the sunlight to the left! There were two rainbows at one stage and the darker one was a ‘double’ for a short time; you can just see the two in the image with the boats!

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Oh Time...Where did you go?

I would like at this point in time to lodge a complaint with the relevant authorities. Of course I’m not sure who they are but I still want it noted; This ‘Time thing’? There just isn't enough!

Do you remember when you were a child, eight or ten or even twelve or thirteen? Sure you do, it wasn't that long ago, just close your eyes and concentrate really hard. Remember school? Waiting for Friday afternoon and that glorious weekend stretching ahead of you seemed like forever away and each day was sooooo long. I remember sitting in the classroom regularly checking and the clock never moved...

... Welcome to this time in cyberspace. Please go to Copymoz * to see all our new articles including this one of time. Also if your interested we are publishing all our African Folktales * in their full version in e-books for readers, PDFs, etc. as well as in hard copies. Keep a look out for these wonderful little stories for children and adults alike at *. Collect for yourself a set of twelve, in the format of your choice...

Sunday, 7 January 2007

And What About The Weather?

I know that Scottish weather has been really interesting lately and I do know that it has been unusually wet! Well that’s what I’m told but being new to an environment you pretty much go with what’s dished up…a bit like being a guest at the home of a new friend. So I was not going to be caught out complaining about my new county’s weather. This is not a rant about lousy weather, it is winter right? This what happens in winter, wind, storms, rain, hail, frost (although there is no frost here – too close to the Gulf Stream) and snow, but only on the higher elevations. Personally, I love the changing seasons but then I’ve only had to deal with tornadoes one spring when we lived in Missouri, leaving me with huge respect for those who face that terrifying phenomena each year.

We left our little haven yesterday for the first time in two weeks and had a chance to see the effects of the gales first hand. Many majestic old trees along the side of the road had gone, reduced to stumps and logs by chainsaws. Whole sections of evergreens in the forestry plantations lay on their sides as if weeded out and dropped back down by some giant hand. We eventually stopped counting and just gaped open mouthed, breathing a silent thanks to those who had worked so hard to clear the roads. The worst damage had been done on New Years Eve and then a bit more just a few days ago but fortunately, our worst casualty around here was the glass greenhouse next door. That’s if you don’t count the pontoon! Now, the pontoon (not sure if I should capitalise that) normally lies parallel to the jetty and provides extra mooring for the yachts and boats in summer. In November, it's disconnected from the moorings that hold it in place, taken about a half a mile down the loch and pulled ashore into a sheltered spot about 50 or so metres from the water’s edge where it is supposed to stay until Easter.

New Years was subdued as many of the expected customers never made it to the Pubs’ scheduled celebration, fireworks had to be cancelled as the wind was blowing toward the houses, trees were already across the roads and the electricity was threatening to go at any moment. We, wild party animals that we are, had a Hot chocolate, watched the Australian fireworks on the Satellite and then buried ourselves under the duvet. So I couldn’t blame it on a hangover when I opened the curtains on the landing the next morning and surveyed the following scene!

What’s wrong with this picture? It took me about four or five minutes to work out what I was seeing…modified docking arrangements at the Pub and then later, on my walk, saw the seaweed in the sheep’s pasture and realised we had slept through one really big storm! How’s that for sang froid!

Thursday, 4 January 2007

And Then There Are The People…

We have been welcomed into our tiny community in so many ways. Arriving just before Christmas, we expected to quietly work on the house – it is a work in progress - and thought that maybe by summer we will have made a friend or two. How wrong we were! People arrived to introduce themselves, we were pressed into joining the Bonfire Night party at the local Pub (our nearest neighbour), booked in for Christmas dinner there and whenever we wandered down for a beer, ended up staying for ages just chatting and swapping life stories.

One of our incredible perks is the small sandy beach that runs along the bit of Loch just steps from our front door. Although mostly deserted, after all this is the depths of winter, people are out there from time to time walking dogs or studiously combing the sand eyes down for shells or other treasure. Recognizing one of our new friends (we’ll call him Beachcomber) today, M bounded down the steps to give him some bits of beach glass and pottery we had found. These little treasures are hard to come by here as we are already many miles up the Loch, away from the sea, but heavy swells and high tides the last few days have brought in an abundance. Strung together and hung from a bit of driftwood, Beachcomber and his wife make wonderful and unique wind chimes from these scraps of beach rubbish, polished and smoothed by the waves.

M and Beachcomber were examining some of the days’ haul and one piece of glass in particular stood out. They were speculating on the origins of what appeared to be a piece of sand worn, slumped glass. Possibly Ireland or the Isle of Mann; the by-product of a far away studio? What about closer, further up the Loch? Are there any local glass producers? “Well, I wouldn’t know” said Beachcomber, “I’m from the East”.

Now I must try to explain what a character Beachcomber is. Stocky, ‘bout 5’ 8”, blue jeans, tucked half in, half out of brown walking boots, long fur-trimmed parka, thick hair mid-way down his back, tied in a ponytail. So what’s so different? Well, for one thing Beachcomber is in his late sixties and the hair is mostly grey but it’s his original approach to shaving that marks him as not your average retiree. The stubble on his chin most resembles several random clusters of recently coppiced young trees surrounded by barren patches where nothing grew.
Get past the unusual facial hair and there's a twinkle in the eye and that calm that comes from being at peace with yourself and your environment.

He’s been here quite a couple of years, moving over from Edinburgh, 100 miles East of us, moving toward the sunset. When he was a younger man he would look West from the streets of the city and see the spectacular sunsets on this side and say to himself, “one day I’ll be there” and now he is... another fragment of the whole mosaic, finally in place.

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Another Big Sky Country

Scotland has been a huge revelation to us. I had no concept of how utterly, heart stoppingly beautiful it is; real 'big sky' country.
Part of the problem with living in an area of outstanding natural beauty is the tendency to think ‘this is it, I’ll never find such a place again’. We were guilty of that when we left Africa…the “it’s all downhill from here” mentality, very depressing and as it turned out, totally wrong. Sure, the first few years were grim. We’re very much open spaces people and city living was definitely not for us but as we explored further a field and one area after the other yielded more pretty villages and more lovely countryside with more and more people, we began to realise that the overcrowding is a fact of life in the modern world.
It was only after I had become ill and had to give up my job that we seriously considered going ‘rural’ and started seeking a home away from it all. Thanks to computers we have a chance to make it out here in the bundu (bush) in the second “most beautiful place on earth”! Wild Scotland, I love you!

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

You see, it's like this...

I’ve been lurking all over the blogging world for a while now and I have been so inspired by what women are achieving; so many talented, creative, brave, awesome people out there who have got or are getting it all together! I’m just a little bit envious, I feel like I’m standing at the window watching all you other kids have fun, please can I play too?

I’m started this in an attempt to focus my (very) unfocused self into a cohesive whole – whoa - that sounds terribly formal and I don’t usually take myself so seriously! When we left the “South” and moved to Scotland, I was winding down from six months of stress related illness. Since arriving in the UK, I’ve been gainfully employed but now I must pick/choose/do one thing specific among the lovely things I’ve only played with and then stop all this wafting around, dig up some motivation and just…do it! Earning a crust, wolf from the door and all that stuff!

Regular writing has already helped me to resolve some of the health issues I was facing but I really needed to go “public” with this so that I will be disciplined and write regularly and I’m hoping for feedback. Writing has always been one way I can quieten the cacophony inside my head, so many things I’m interested in, so much still to learn, so much still to do, so much still to see. Writing it all down so that others can understand what I’m saying forces me to be logical (well, sort of). I hope this makes sense and I hope I too can contribute to this beautiful, richly textured community.

Monday, 1 January 2007

A Brief History

In 2003 my husband and I left Africa where we both were born, with our past in two suitcases, and headed for the UK where my father had ended his life and M’s grandmother had started hers. At the Airport waving goodbye as our plane left the runway, were our two eldest sons, daughter-in-law and our new grandson. M was stoic, we had to stay upbeat for our family but as we settled on the plane my heart was tearing in two. The other two sons were already in the UK with their fiancés and had been there for over a year but I was mourning for the ones we were leaving behind. We were a very close family… living and working together on the ancestral farm - which we later bought - in isolated conditions had meant that we relied on each other more than families used to the support systems and diversions provided by modern Western life. With in-laws hundreds and, in the case of my mother, thousands of miles away we had functioned pretty much as an autonomous unit. This was heartbreaking! In the space of three years after selling the family farm, we had been scattered and I was not taking it well. Now we had to make a new start in a new country. Fast forward to the present and after three years and many moves, first from Cornwall to London, then by stages to where we are now, the wilds of Western Scotland. Back to a place where we can once again breathe, waking each day to the world outside our door and settle into the rhythms of the seasons. I wish I could say that we are all together again but we work to that end.


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