Saturday, 31 May 2008

I Did It to Myself

I’ve thought off and on about trying to cut my own hair, but never really had the nerve to try it. However, having failed to book an advance appointment and being unable to use the beauty college as it was shut for their spring break, I was faced with either cutting it myself or going out to dinner on my birthday with decidedly shaggy hair.

It didn’t look awful, but it was so long it flipped up on my shoulders and I’m just not into hair that long these days. It was driving me batty so I looked at several websites and got a book from the library for students getting qualifications in hairdressing. I’d also paid attention the first time I went to the beauty college. It was easy to follow the logic of she was doing because she did it v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. I think I mentioned previously that I got a 3 hour hair cut. I thoroughly enjoyed having someone fuss over me that long and she really did a great job.

Anyhow, using what I’d read and seen, this is how I went about it:

I washed and towel dried my hair, parted it in the middle and combed it straight.

With a ruler, I measured the length of my hair at the top, side and from the bottom (it was about 8+ inches at the top and the bottom hair was about 5+ inches). I noticed that the hair length changed at about ear level and decided to keep that difference, ie aiming for a long layered look. I decided to cut the top half to a 6½ -inch length and to trim a couple of inches off the bottom so it was off my shoulders again.

I got a UHT milk carton, basically water-proof cardboard, and cut a 6 inch long template about 2 inches wide.

Using barbering scissors that came with Bill’s razor set (he shaves his own hair all the time), I took small sections of hair from the top and measured them against my template, cutting the hair to that length. Cut sections got moved to the other side of my head and secured with clips. When the right side was complete, I removed all the clips, combed the hair down and worked on the left side.

When the top was done, I got Bill to help me out. I wet my hair and combed it smooth again. Then I got a tape measure and put it around my neck at the length I wanted the hair cut to. I had Bill trim whatever hair extended below the tape measure.

When that was done, I did some comparison of the sides and did a bit of repair work, snipping tiny bits off what looked too long.

Then, like they do at the hair dressers, I combed wet hair across each check and trimmed the hair on a diagonal, sort of cutting off the hard corner at the front.

Finally I did my usual blow dry and styling and snipped bits off my bangs, something I’ve done all my life (they call it fringe here in the UK, which is a much more sensible name; where ever did the term ‘bangs’ come from?).

When I was done, the bathroom looked like something got hold of a furry animal; there was hair everywhere, including inside my clothes. I also had to stop for some first aid as I clipped the skin on one of my knuckles. I would never have believed scissors could be that sharp, but I believe it now.

It’s not a great haircut, I’ll admit, but neither does it like a lunatic went at it, which is what I’d feared. For a DIY job, I’m very pleased with it. I’m even more pleased that I made myself do something a little scary and it turned out OK. I like to feel that I’m still growing.

Happy Birthday to Me

I thought about writing 52 things about me, but even with my advanced state of self-centredness, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Suffice it to say this whole blog is actually about me and we’ll leave it at that. OK?

Having scaled back considerably on spending money since leaving work I found myself really looking forward to opening my birthday presents, nearly as much as when I was a child. Bless him, Bill is my chief benefactor and he’s done well for me. I’ve got a fair number of the gifts I asked for and a couple others that were surprises.

The BIG gift was not one I asked for: a new camera, far in advance of what I’ll ever use (complete with 178 pages of instructions…). However, I buckled down and worked out how to do the basics and it’s not too complicated.

Tonight we are going to dinner at a restaurant in Tynemouth, The Arch.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Red Sky at Night

I grew up 4-5 hundred miles from an ocean and for these purposes I count the Gulf of Mexico. It was there that I saw my first ocean going vessel, a huge rusty-looking merchant ship, in the Port of New Orleans in 1980.

So why we in Oklahoma always said "Red sky at night, sailors' delight" is beyond me, particularly as Bill, who grew up less than 15 miles from the North Sea, says it's "shepherds' delight".

Somebody explain that one to me, please.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Life in This United Kingdom*

I’ve often wished to share with you the amusing musings of Peter Mortimer, who writes for our local free paper. Unfortunately you in the US wouldn’t understand most of it, just like when I first came across I had no idea who was this person in women’s magazines, Anthea Turner; that ‘bloody’ actually counted as a swear word and not just an unpleasant body fluid; or that ‘taking the Mick’ meant ‘pulling my leg’ (and where does that come from, anyhow?) not swallowing a sleep-inducing drink. However, I saw this in last week’s paper and decided to give it a go, with a few translations.

He’s talking about an area of r
oad construction where speed cameras have collected over 4,000 fines totalling £267,000. “…Motorists, especially at rush hour, join the seemingly endless queue up to the Billy Mill roundabout. Many of these motorists are already stressed and irritable; their house prices are in retreat, they are rapidly becoming obese, food prices have shot through the roof, charvers have thrown eggs at their windows, they have shares in Northern Rock, they can no longer smoke in their local [pub], petrol is now the price of vintage wine and next week (if the tour operator doesn’t go bust and the air traffic controllers aren’t on strike) they’re flying on holiday via Terminal Five at Heathrow.”

He goes on to explain that this is why the drivers are speeding once they get out of the traffic jam – damn the 30 mph speed limit – and in any case, the road works are unnecessary being just a ploy to generate income for the Government via speed cameras (I think he’s kidding, but you’d be amazed how many people look at it that way – nothing to do with getting people to obey speed limits for their own and others’ safety).

Anyhow, I just thought I’d pass along the good news that things are pretty much the same on both sides of the pond…

*With fond memories of Readers Digest column, ‘Life in These United States’.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Cold Tea Fruit Cake

My Grandma used to make fruit cakes for gifts every Christmas. We always accepted them politely, but later joked amongst ourselves that it was just what we needed: another door stop. I grew up thinking fruit cake was dry and horrible. It wasn’t a great loss, as I didn’t have a great sweet tooth anyhow. Imagine my surprise to find that in Great Britain, fruit cake is to die for and none better have I ever tasted than the cake John shared with us Monday (another bank holiday) on our bike ride.

I’ve done a bit of Internet research and found a couple of recipes I'm going to try. The first comes from a book, The Great Tea Rooms of Britain. It’s advertised as part travel book and part cook book and I have to say I’m tempted. The pictures remind me why I enjoy living here, showing Tudor buildings, quaint villages and olde world tea rooms. A reminder such as this is good on a grey day like this one.

It doesn’t say it’s from Harrogate, in fact the authors are apparently American, or at least run a tea shop somewhere in the US., but many British traditions have travelled well across the country, so I would say it’s a start.

Sweet Bara Brith (Welsh Tea Bread)
2 cups mixed dried fruit
1¼ cup cold tea
1 cup brown sugar
2¼ cups self-rising flour
1 egg, beaten
1 ½ tsps allspice

In a medium bowl, combine the dried fruit, tea and sugar. Let stand un-refrigerated overnight. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line and grease a loaf pan. Add the flour, beaten egg and allspice. Bake 1½ hours or until a cake tester comes out dry from the centre of the loaf. Remove to a rack and allow to cool for 15 minutes before slicing. Serve with butter or clotted cream.

The other recipe is also from an American source, which sells British-styled goods. Unfortunately it is a gluten-free recipe and thus far I seem to tolerate wheat just fine. I would be inclined to consider substituting regular products for the gluten-free ones.

Tea Brack
125 gms butter
250 gms heron gluten free flour
1 tsp gluten free baking powder
60 gms demerara sugar
180 gms sultanas
2 free range eggs
¼ litre cold tea

Soak the sultanas and the sugar in strong tea overnight. Put the butter, flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add the eggs and the liquid and mix well. Grease and line a 450 gm loaf tin, scoop the mixture in. Set oven to 200’C/400’F/ Gas Mark 7. When you put your brack in turn the oven down immediately to 175’C/ 350’F/ Gas Mark 4. Bake in the centre of the oven for 50 minutes, then lower the temperature to 150’C/ 300’F/ Gas Mark 2 and bake for a further 30 mins (you may want to cover the brack with a sheet of greaseproof paper at this stage to prevent it getting too brown). Insert a sharp knife into the loaf, if it comes out clean your loaf is baked. Leave to cool before turning out onto a cooling tray.

I'll go put the kettle on now and make some nice tea....

Monday, 26 May 2008

Derwent Country Park

We had another bike ride today to look at possible race courses. It lasted about 4 hours with a break in the middle for a picnic. Also a break to fix Bob’s punctured tire; and another break for me to recover from a fall off my bike. I only have scrapes and bruises, but I’ll be 52 at the end of this month and I’m wondering if that’s a little old to be falling off mountain bikes.

We stopped for our lunch by this rock formation -- "public art" I'm sure someone calls it. It was at a cross roads of trails and across from the style and the path down to the river, shown at the end of this post. It was a lovely walk down the path, but we stayed at the top rather than leave the bikes. We sat and ate in the sunshine, with the stone wall as shelter from the wind. Bill and I took grilled chicken strips, fruit salad and a carrot and raisin salad. John brought tortilla wraps, pork pies and 'Harrogate cold tea fruit cake', which he generously shared. Bob brought a flask of tea, which is par for him.

This was Bob's first day on a bike in over 15 years; he also had a bad cold that made the up hill climbs even harder. I think considering those two factors he did brilliantly.

John and Bill were both on road bikes so I had a small advantage on the rough terrain, but I’m a huge chicken going down hill on gravel. I have a permanent dent in my left thigh from a fall several years ago. I was trying to stop on a gravel road and ended up in a pretzel with my own weight pressing the bicycyle into my leg. I remember it took me quite a while to figure out how to extract myself as I was on my own.

John and Bill were both on hand this time, where the problem was the steep down hill and the big rocks. I was lucky that I ended up in a ditch with the bike mainly on top of the ditch instead of me. I still managed to land in a way that required assistance to get untangled. I never understand how I do that.

It’s been a glorious day today, as you can see from these pictures. There were lots of families out with children and dogs, prams (perambulators), tricycles, bikes. John and Bill think we have identified about a 10 mile race course. Bob and I aren’t as certain, but our judgement might be coloured by our cycling experiences. We’ll have to go back and run the course to make a further assessment; I may have to just let the guys go to that by themselves, we’ll see.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Brooks' Books

Well, I've been completely absorbed yesterday and this morning by Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book. It is set in several different countries in several different centuries and I couldn't put it down. It's about the history and preservation of a very old and valuable book; that's all I'll tell you. You must go get it for yourself!

Jane brought me Brooks' first book, Year of Wonders. It was also a page turner but, I warn you not for those inclined to be depressed. It's about the plague and whilst it's not without some positive thoughts, it is very sad.

She's written a book called March, a Pulitzer Prize winner, apparently. I'm definitely going to find that and the others she's written. I'm in awe and feel blessed to have discovered another brilliant writer.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Covered Hangers – Minnesota Style

When Grandpa and Grandma traveled back up North to visit family, Grandma (of the ancient cookbooks) used to bring home big bags of leftover fabric that had been cut into long nylon strips, about 1” wide. Apparently there was an underwear factory somewhere up there that disposed of surplus in this way. These strips rolled in upon themselves length wise, resulting in long stretches of smooth, stretchy fabric. Grandma stitched the ends of these strips together and made up big balls like yarn. There was always white, usually black, and one of the last bags she brought back was orange.
When she taught me to cover hangers with these strips, she started them using black electrical tape to secure two strands of strips to the end of the hanger’s hook, with a ball on each side. I remember that a finished hanger reminded me of a swan with a black beak, but the tape would get worn with use and soon it wasn't very pretty. I suggested taping the fabric so that the strands extended downward from the hook end and then the initial knots could be made on top of the tape, to both hide and secure it. (She then declared me to be a clever child; too bad about all the brain damage that has occurred since.)
In these pictures I’ve cut a hideous neon pink top that Jane culled from Ellen’s wardrobe. We both agree she never will have worn it and guessed the care assistants had just distributed someone else’s clothes after a death.

I’ve cut the top into long strips. They don't roll in like Grandma's did, but they work OK anyhow. If you want to be lazy, stitch ends together as you run out of fabric rather than in advance. Getting two strands secured to the hook is the hardest part of covering the hanger. Make sure the tape lines up with the end of the hook.

Once that’s done, start on the right side by holding the strand in a loop, passing the ball (or end) under the hanger hook, over and down through the loop – that is, tie a knot on the right side. Pull until the knot is reasonably neat and secure on the hanger. Work slowly and make sure that the fabric lines up with the end of the hook and begins to cover the tape that holds it on.
With the other ball, make a loop on the left, pass the ball under the hanger hook, over and down through the loop, which makes a knot on the left side. Pull with the same tension as you did the right side to give a uniform construction.

Continue, alternating sides, tying knots down the length of the hook. Push the knots back against completed knots periodically to ensure good coverage.
When you come to the bottom of the hook’s neck, the balls of fabric will need to be passed through the centre of the hanger. It doesn’t matter which side of the hanger you work down, but I normally work with the hook away from me to lessen interference.
Carry on tying knots until you’ve returned to the bottom of the hook’s neck on the other side. Work carefully and make plenty of knots to ensure the twists of the wire are well covered.

If your fabric has neat edges, you may wish to tie a bow around the neck of the hanger, otherwise, just tie two tight knots underneath the neck and trim to finish off. I would show you a picture of this hanger finished, but you-know-who still has the camera.
You may experiment with using different colours on each side, different types of fabric and different numbers of knots on each side, particularly if using different fabrics on each side of the hanger. I sat down with a bunch of scraps, sewing and cutting into strips. I didn't bother turning the strips inside-out to hide the stitching. I just made sure that the right side was all made of green fabrics. The left was black and white, with a bit of orange thrown in. The result was...funky. It made me smile when I put my white shirt on it this morning.
I don’t despise wire hangers like many people do, but my clothes don’t slip off a covered hanger as easily. I can easily cover a hanger in an evening and, too, I like remembering Grandma in this way.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008


The hardest people to buy gifts for are the ones who just go out and buy whatever it is they want as soon as they want it, which is probably most everyone I know these days. Mom always had me give her a 'wishlist' for my birthdays and Christmases, from the time I was in my early teens. I would be careful to include plenty of items with a small price tag, as she didn’t have much money. That said, she was good at saving up and she liked giving me ‘real jewelry’ so big things weren’t out of the question. My list might include a new set of measuring cups (to go with the current colour scheme in the kitchen), a half slip, a record album (we are talking about the dark ages, here) and an emerald necklace. She wasn’t limited to what was on the list, but I always knew that a fair number of gifts would come from it.

I would try to give it to her a month or two in advance, but it would be compiled over quite a few months' time. A long list didn’t indicate greed, it only gave the giver more items from which to choose. This practice may have been part of my early training in frugality, come to think of it. If something was on my wishlist, I couldn’t buy it myself in case she chose that item, so I learned to wait for what I wanted.

Bill and I have taken up exchanging wishlists to save making expensive mistakes and disappointment. I’m not as good as I used to be at coming up with it early and it doesn't seem to be as long. I think it’s likely that my real wishlists now are more about things that can’t be bought, which is not helpful.

I use Bill’s wishlist to give me clues about what else I might surprise him with. This is where Amazon is helpful. Knowing he liked books and films about Dorothy L. Sayers’ character, Lord Peter Wimsey, I guessed he might like Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion, and I was right. Once I've decided which items I will buy, I share the remainder of Bill's list with his 3 children; he has to struggle with my list alone.

I gave Bill my birthday wishlist a few days ago – and I’ve added a couple items as I’ve discovered them. I’m quite looking forward to what surprises await me in a couple of weeks.

What would you put on your wishlist?

Monday, 19 May 2008

One -- or Two -- for the Road

I mentioned in an earlier post about taking food to eat after a run. (One of which I need to do more, the other, less.)

I love the universal recipes from the Tightwad Gazette because they let me use what I have on hand rather than having to buy specific ingredients. I've made the sweet version of these muffins for years. When fresh fruit looks like it's going to go off before it gets eaten, I throw it in the freezer to puree later for a batch of muffins.

More recently I've been experimenting with the savory (non-sweet) version, using spices like chili powder and tumeric to liven them up. I tend to use 2 cups of added ingredients, steaming the veg in advance to make sure it's cooked properly. Two muffins are all either of us can eat, they are so filling.

Universal Muffin Recipe from the Tightwad Gazette

To make muffins, combine dry ingredients, and then mix in wet ingredients until just combined. The batter should be lumpy. Grease muffin tin and fill cups 2/3 full. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees (about 200 C) for 20 minutes (+ or – 5 minutes).

The following ingredients are required:

GRAIN: use 2 to 2 ½ cups of white flour. Or substitute oatmeal (porridge oats), cornmeal (polenta), whole-wheat flour (wholemeal), rye flour or flake cereal for 1 cup of the white flour. Or substitute 1 cup leftover cooked oatmeal, rice or cornmeal for ½ cup of the white flour and decrease liquid to ½ cup.

MILK: use 1 cup. Or substitute buttermilk or sour milk (add a tablespoon of vinegar to 1 cup milk). Or substitute fruit juice for part or all of the milk.

FAT: use ¼ cup of vegetable oil or 4 TBS of melted butter or margarine. Or substitute crunchy or regular peanut butter for part or all of the fat. The fat can be reduced or omitted with fair results if using a “wet addition”.

EGG: Use 1 egg. Or substitute 1 heaping TBS of soy flour and 1 TBS of water. If using a cooked grain, separate egg, add yolk to batter, beat white until stiff and fold into batter.

SWEETENER: Use between 2 TBS and ½ cup sugar. Or substitute up to ¾ cup brown sugar. Or substitute up to ½ cup honey or molasses and decrease milk to ¾ cup.

BAKING POWDER: use 2 tsp. If using whole or cooked grains or more than one cup of additions, increase to 3 tsp. If using buttermilk or sour milk, decrease to 1 tsp and add ½ tsp baking soda.

SALT: Use ½ tsp or omit if you have a salt-restricted diet.

The following ingredients are optional. “Additions” can be used in any combination, up to 1 ½ cups total. If using more than 1 cup of wet additions, decrease the milk to ½ cup:

DRY ADDITIONS: Nuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, coconut, etc.

MOIST ADDITIONS: Blueberries, chopped apple, freshly schredded zucchini (courgette), shredded carrot, etc.

WET ADDITIONS: Pumpkin puree; applesauce, mashed, cooked sweet potato, mashed banana, mashed cooked carrot, etc. If using ½ cup drained, canned fruit or thawed shredded zucchini, substitute the syrup or zucchini liquid for all or part of the milk.

SPICES: Use spices which complement the additions, eg 1 tsp cinnamon with ¼ tsp nutmeg or cloves. Try 2 tsp orange or lemon peel.

JAMS: Fill cups half-full with a plain batter. Add 1 tsp jam and top with 2 more TBS batter.

TOPPING: Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar on the batter in the tins.

NON-SWEET COMBINATIONS: Use only 2 TBS sugar and no fruit. Add combinations of the following: ½ cup shredded cheese, 3 strips fried & crumbled bacon, 2 TBS grated onion, ½ cup shredded zucchini, 2 TBS Parmesan cheese. Spices could include a tsp of parsley and a pinch of marjoram.

The new silicone bakeware is completely amazing. No more need to buy paper inserts or to grease each cup on the tray. We bought individual silicone muffin cups at a shop in Sydney. They wash up easily. The only downside is that you need to have a cookie sheet underneath silicone bakeware to facilitate handling.

Happy baking!

Sunday, 18 May 2008

That's KAY-lee

Last night we went to a ceilidh with some friends. Admission was only £5 and included a buffet dinner as well as the dancing. The event was to raise money for the Great North Air Ambulance, but in truth I just went because I like square dancing. The music is similar but the dancing is rarely as simple as the two couple squares we had in grade school. It involves big circles or sets of 5 couples and you dance with all the opposite sex partners in your set at some point.

It’s not unco
mmon for 2 women to dance as a couple if their husbands don’t dance, which I think is a good thing, but it can make it even more confusing who to 'swing' with next.

The caller talks everyone through the steps before the music starts, but abandons you after the first couple of rounds and the music gets faster at the end of the song. This, with the increasing complexity of the routines as the evening goes on, means that it’s pretty much a muddle by the end of the dance, but fun all the same. No one seems to mind if you don't do it perfectly, though no doubt there are serious aficionados to be found (see man below in yellow patchwork trousers).

Many thanks to John for sharing his pictures even if his camera does completely distort how I really look.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

A Picture's Worth 909 Words

I decided to go visit the flea market in South Shields yesterday to look for any stalls selling fabrics. I took public transport rather than trying to drive. Every other time I’ve driven there I’ve spent ages with a mobile and/or a map trying to find the destination before giving up and feeling lucky just to get out. I’ve had to cancel meetings because I just couldn’t get to them. It’s really confusing place to drive.

There were some cool boats on the river. I would’ve photographed them, but Bill took the camera to work with him for some reason. Mind, it is his camera; I gave it to him for his birthday one year. I missed the first ferry due to visiting the public toilet near the landing. Visiting public loos in this part of the world can be a little scary, but full marks to both of them, they were clean and well provisioned with no signs of paraphernalia associated with exchange of body fluids (but did you know that Tracy & Ash Rock?)

I just followed the crowd up from the ferry landing and in lees than a minute I was in the market square. Have I ever mentioned that women from Tyneside are Olympic Power Walkers? Even the ones that are overweight, 4’8” and wearing stiletto heels have this quick step that I just cannot keep up with. I tell myself they didn’t grow up in a hot place like Oklahoma where you learn to shuffle and you use a car rather than power-march as a form of transportation.

As flea markets go, this one was bigger than I expected but pretty flea bitten. I could have bought paperback books for 50 pence and greeting cards 5 for £1, both bargains, but I just didn’t feel I needed any. There was a shop on the market square that had a few bolts of fabric on sale for £1 a metre, but none of it appealed. The lady at the sewing circle who told me there was a fabric stall said it wasn’t big and would likely be the bright coloured cloth used in making saris that Indian women wear. I was looking forward to those bright colours, though I’d rather have velvets and silks than cotton. Still, it was a big active market and I was impressed with the wide range of entrepreneurial activity taking place. I would have shown you a picture of it, but Bill had the camera.

I walked further up along Ocean Road, lured by the smell of fish and chips; or perhaps I just imagined that smell since I never found any but settled for a highly over priced burger and chips at a bar/restaurant in a big stone building. Waiting for my order I read the back of the menu and noted that their descriptions of the wines on offer imply that they count towards getting your five-a-day (that’s 5 servings of fruit and veg for those of you not in the UK). I sat by the window watching people walk past and made mental notes for myself about increasing the frequency with which I colour my hair, making sure I walk with my shoulders back and that my clothing is appropriately skims rather than clings. I could list a lot of other factors that made me want to send a good proportion of them to Trinny & Susannah, but I try not to sound like a snob, in spite of being one.

After lunch I spent a couple of hours at the museum and art gallery, which was free. There were a collection of paintings, a video of how to paint with oil or watercolour or restore a painting, and a whole exhibit dedicated to Catherine Cookson, South Tyneside’s most famous daughter. I enjoyed watching the short videos of her and I have enjoyed the 2 or 3 of her books that I’ve read. I would say however that if you’ve read a few of her books you’ve pretty much read all 103 that she wrote. Mind, she did good, considering she was born an illegitimate child in abjectpoverty (one word, like richAmerican) on Tyneside: she left an estate worth £20 million to charities.

Various displays also indicated that Jimi Hendrix had once done a concert there; Mohammed Ali put in an appearance; and once, in 1971, 161 Americans stopped for a visit on their way to Europe (I’m not joking: that’s what the display said). South Shields, like many of the seaside towns around here, mourn their glorious past as family holiday destinations. Personally, I think South Shields is most notable for (a) hosting the end of the country’s biggest half-marathon, the Great North Run. It has a field of about 35,000 runners. I’ve had some of my nearest-to-death experiences in South Shields; and (b) managing to have the cleanest public toilets in the NE – open 7 days a week. I am not being snide; I really do appreciate public conveniences. You just wait ‘til you get older and have a dime-sized bladder.

Walking back to the ferry I remembered to look up, something everyone walking in European towns and cities needs to remember to do. The shops at street level are boring or tacky, some downright depressing. The original buildings remain above the shops; they are magnificent and truly inspiring if you love older architecture. I would’ve taken some pictures, but I didn’t have the camera…

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Using Time

As usual I find my attention pulled in 68 directions. There are things I want to do and things I need to do. (I avoid the word should, having been told not to ‘should on my self’). An old trick I used to fairly good effect in the past is to (a) make a list of wants and needs; (b) set the timer and work alternately on each list for 30 minutes. In the absence of the time deadlines of a paid job or particular social engagements, this seems to be my next best bet. There will always be more to do than I can ever get done and I don’t want any day to have been spent entirely on work or entirely on play.

Needs to address include paperwork, tending to the garden, finish off the ironing and the other daily housework chores. Wants are mainly online – catch up on email, read my favourite blogs, do a little sewing and, of course, write an entry for this blog. Currently, I’m working my way up through the archives of The Simple Dollar. It’s not aimed at me, as I don’t have massive debt – I don’t have any debt, but I enjoy reading it all the same and am learning a little from it. The latest prizes from this blog are a link to Wall Street Journal and this little gem which I have taken as my thought for the day.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Sour Milk - The Way to a Man's Heart?

A couple of weeks ago, Vickie mentioned wanting to know how make lemonade – real lemonade. The carbonated stuff Brits label as lemonade, sold in 2 litre bottles, would pass for Sprite or 7-Up. I know homemade lemonade isn't difficult, but can’t recall the last time I made any. For fun I’ve looked this up in my oldest cookbooks, ones that belonged to my Grandma – the one who spoiled my Dad rotten.

The oldest, Woman’s Favorite, has no publication date, but the introduction says, “At this, the beginning of the twentieth century…” I’ve usually found this book amusing rather than useful as it has beauty potions, advice for inexperienced housewives, homemade dyes for cloth and remedies for prevalent disorders; but the recipes are rather vague, a collection of submissions to The Author who invited nearly 1000 friends to help. It says:

Lemonade should be made in the proportion of one lemon to each large goblet. Squeeze the lemons and take out any seeds. If you do not like the pulp strain the juice. Sweeten the drink well though that is a matter of taste. The pleasant tart taste should be preserved. Add water to the juice and when serving put cracked ice and a thin slice of lemon into each glass. E.J.C.

Hmmm. Then there is

Ginger Lemonade
Take one-half cupful of currant jelly, one-half cupful of sugar, two teaspoons of ginger; stir well together, put in a quart pitcher and fill with ice water. If one wants it sweeter or sourer more of the ingredients may be put in. It is a cooling drink and almost as good as lemonade, some preferring it. Mrs. C. R. Thompson.

Sounds nice, but I don't recall ever seeing current jelly -- mind, I wasn't looking for it.

The other cookbook, The Settlement Cookbook (The way to a man’s heart), published in 1926 in Milwaukee, is even more ragged than the first, taped together with masking tape and crammed full of clippings. It has quite a few entries of interest:

1 lemon,
2 cups water,
4 tablespoons sugar.
Extract the juice of one lemon with a lemon squeezer. Add the sugar and water and stir until dissolved. Add chipped ice if desired. The water may be poured over the sugar boiling hot, in which case, cover and allow to stand until cool, and then add the lemon juice.

Follow same rule as for lemonade, adding a little lemon juice.

Lemonade for 150 people
5 doz. Lemons, squeezed,
6 pounds sugar,
1 doz. Oranges, sliced,
6 gallons water (I believe a US gallon is different to a UK gallon)
1 can or a fresh pineapple,
The rule is one pound of sugar to every dozen of fruit. If pineapple is fresh, add one more pound of sugar. Mix sugar with fruit and juice, and let stand. When ready to serve add water and ice and keep cool. The sugar and some water may be boiled to a syrup, allowed to cool, and the fruit and juices added afterward.

Lemon Soda
1 lemon, juice,
¼ teaspoon soda,
2 tablespoons sugar,
Ice water.
Mix sugar and lemon juice, add cold water and fill glass ¾ full, then stir in the soda briskly and serve.

Grape Lemonade
Pour enough ice cold lemonade into a glass to nearly fill it, and add very carefully blue grape juice to fill glass.

There are recipes for limeade, pineappleade, raspberryade, orange julep, mint julep, loganberry punch, dandelion punch, Wisconsin punch (a little of everything) and more.

We also have

Whey Lemonade
1 quart whey,
6 tablespoons sugar,
Juice of 2 lemons,
Slices of lemon or a little grated or diced rind, nutmeg or cinnamon.
Heat 1 quart sour milk in double boiler, cook until curd separates. Strain and use whey. Mix, chill and serve as a beverage.

I did not make this up. There is also a recipe for Sour Milk served cold with sugar and cinnamon to taste. Mmmm, I’ll bet it’s wonderful.

Let me know, Vickie, if you develop any sour milk cravings…

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Not Exactly Alex Haley

I’ve long been fascinated with pursuing my family history and this last fall I managed to awaken Bill’s interest. Whilst my roots are Irish, Swiss, German and Native American (really!), Bill always believed his were very local, in Northumberland, with some Welsh origins thrown in. There is a village near by with his slightly unusual surname and we occasionally drive past a pub with the same name; he -- we both -- believed they would in some way relate to his family’s history.

Every time we passed I would encourage him to go in, to see if we learned anything interesting, but he always shied away. Many people have set ideas about what a proper pub should be like. He was afraid he would be shocked and disappointed if ‘his’ pub wasn’t in good taste, at least that was the reason he always gave for not stopping. So we never investigated, though it is tucked in a corner of a quaint little village of stone buildings and looks, from the outside, as though it might be lovely inside.

When Bill began to dig into his family history, he learned that only a generation or two back, his forebears weren’t from Northumberland, but from Durham and, prior to that, Leeds. This was quite a surprise and he was enthralled by what his detective work uncovered.

We spent a couple of weekends hunting the more local ancestral homes to photograph, where they still existed. One day we passed the pub that bears his name and I mentioned that he could now fearlessly go in and not concern himself if it was too modern/noisy, etc. His reply, “Hmph, why should I? It’s nothing to do with me.”

Monday, 12 May 2008

Flames in My Front Garden

I'm pleased the copper beach at the front of the house has survived being hacked back a few weeks ago. It's always beautiful, but sunshine sets it on fire.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Life in the Garden

I finished sieving the soil in the back garden yesterday. My deepest apologies to the 8 or 9 earthworms I encountered – or maybe it was only 3 or 4, we’ll never know what was their original number and size. The wood chips that got mixed with the soil when we moved the location of the access paths are back where they belong. The rocks will be useful in the bottom of some plastic pots I’m going to put out in the front, to provide drainage below the compost and the peat.

I brutally salted a couple of huge slugs I found in the compost bin. It takes a certain amount of nerve to put your hand into the black hole not knowing what might come out on the spade. I definitely wear gloves for this, being fairly squeamish. I’ve found that dishwashing gloves work best for me. They fit better and I can handle implements and soil and still feel them; I’ve always hated the bulky canvas gloves, though if I had lots of nettles to deal with I might appreciate them more.

I uncovered evidence that a neighbourhood cat likes our back garden. I suspected it when a large plant in a round-bottomed pot didn’t seem to be able to stay upright over night. Later, I found perfectly formed footprints in my sieved soil, outlining the hind feet well planted to leap up on the brick wall between us and Dorothy. In sieving the other end of the garden, beside the compost bin, I found further ‘evidence’, rocks that didn’t sieve very well. Another excellent reason to wear gloves and don’t you know my fruit and veg will be even better washed in future?

Whilst I look forward to the eventual ‘free’ food, all going well, part of me wishes my garden could look more like the neighbours’, Dorothy next door and George behind. I’ve planned for the small area of our garden visible from the back windows to be planted with flowers, vines and attractive plants like runner beans and nasturtiums, but it won’t be nearly as good as theirs, the price paid for having a garage, which they do not.

So, I’ll just hang out the upper windows of my back bedroom and enjoy the view of their well loved gardens. Nice of them to share with me, don’t you think?

Saturday, 10 May 2008

All these places have their moments

Bill and I talked last night about our longer range plan, which basically is to move to the US after his mother (aged 94 this July) 'falls off her perch' -- his phrase, not mine. I'd always thought I'd move back to Oklahoma City and live near my Aunt Rita, but she passed away last October and so that altered the picture a lot. I was saying last night it would be just my luck to get the garden sorted (chance would be a fine thing) and then we'd leave. Bill said for his own purposes, he wanted to be here at least another 3 years. So, I guess I'll have to continue wandering around in the garden trying to act like I know what I'm doing.

I think a lot about the various places I've lived and where I'm at now. The things I liked best about Oklahoma City were the four very distinct seasons: 30 below wind chill factor with ice, never mind snow storms; torrential rains and tornadoes in spring; sweltering sticky hot in summer and the crisp fresh relief of fall. The world's biggest, most tender steaks can be found there as can spectacular red, orange and purple sunsets in a wide open sky. My family and my lifelong friends were there; I probably knew hundreds of people at one time. And it being laid out on a grid, I rarely got lost. I took knowing my way around completely for granted. I think that's what I miss the most, the complete familiarity I once had with the place and the people. That's lost after 17 year's absence and I’ve had to accept that it can’t be re-created very easily elsewhere.

In Salt Lake City, the mountains are beautiful, particularly in winter when you get an incredible amount of white, powdery snow. This, with very little wind means that there are fairy land scenes with stacks of snow on each and every twig of a tree. I loved doing research in the amazing genealogy library, free! The average Morman family has 4 children, so there are lots of parks, kept very clean and always with public toilets. Garage sales abound as do thrift stores selling everything one would need to run a house or a feed a hobby. The thing I miss most about Salt Lake City is summer. An arid climate takes the misery out of high temperatures and each night in the mountains it is cool.

Here in the north of England, I really enjoy the wealth of historical architecture and the history. I fell in love with the Tudors when I was 12 or 13. I saw Young Bess, a movie with Stewart Granger and Jean Simmons, and I've been an Anglophile ever since. I love the sound of the Geordie accent and they often tell me they really like mine. The public transport, much as everyone complains about it, really works in a way I've not experienced elsewhere. If Dallas is a cheap flight from OKC and Vegas is only a hopper from SLC, from Newcastle I can pop over to Paris or Barcelona, get an overnight ferry to Amsterdam, a train down to London for a similar charge. Newcastle is increasingly multi-cultural and international. I have friends from more exotic places than I can name. Whilst the beaches of the North Sea can't compete with those of the Mediterranean for colour and warmth, they have their own real beauty. Some of the cliff top runs I've done have been really difficult as I wanted to stop and gawk at the scenery.

I'm not sure what I'll miss most when I leave here, aside from the people. I’m sure that in part it will be the fun of being a foreigner, of standing apart in people’s minds through no effort on my part. When I return I’ll just melt back into the bland vanilla-ness of my familiar culture, though it will be fun to watch Bill delight in his new experience. We think we’ll move to Salt Lake City, to the house I still have there. Bill pointed out that it would give my few remaining family members a place to come on holiday and that the proximity of Vegas and the ski resorts might attract people to come visit from the UK. (You’ll come see us, won’t you?).

We think we are likely to return here to the UK after a decade or two in the US. Things may transpire to change our minds, but for now the UK is a kinder place in which to be old – but that’s not going to happen for absolutely ages, is it?

Thursday, 8 May 2008


I’ve taken a lot of teasing here about my lack of navigational skills and I freely admit to being directionally challenged, though I will stubbornly claim having a rough sense of direction. It’s just that if you’ve grown up in a place that looks like this or lived here, trying to find your way around this is a bit more challenging. In Oklahoma City you can know east and west by looking at the sun; in Salt Lake City the big mountains are to the east, the smaller ones to the west. Where I live now is relatively flat and the sun is an exceedingly unreliable attendant (though it’s looking pretty good this morning for a change).

Then there is the nice sort of lost, the kind where you lose your awareness of self in an activity. If you love words, it’s easy to get lost in a dictionary. Did you ever go to look up a word and then see 5 or 6 others that looked really interesting? I would think "Oh, I always wondered what that word meant,” or, “Whoever knew there was such a collection of letters in the English language?” I could sometimes almost forget what word brought me to the page. If the disadvantage of a paper dictionary is that you have to make a close guess about how to spell a word, the disadvantage of an online dictionary is that you only see the word you request. (But does everyone know about Shift-F7 that provides an instant thesaurus in Word? I’m sure you do, but I’m still bringing Bill up to speed with these little tricks, you know. I could almost forgive the downside of the computerized dictionary, I love the thesaurus so.)

I will now get to the point of this post, which is to suggest that you investigate The Superior Person’s Book of Words by Peter Bowler. I believe it was a Christmas gift to Bill from one of the Horrors (his term of endearment for his progeny). I’ll give you an example – and I may share an occasional favourite in future when I run out of ideas for other rambling posts:

PLETHORA n. Too many of a good or bad thing (cf. surfeit, too much of a good thing). The number of objects constituting a plethora varies. To the house-proud matron, a single cockroach in her kitchen is a plethora, since cockroaches are, to her, anathema (q.v.). Indeed, a house-proud matron is, by definition, someone with a plethora of anathemas.

ANATHEMA n. A person or thing abominated by, and hence anathema to, someone. Less often used now in its proper sense of a formal curse pronounced by an ecclesiastical authority in the process of excommunication or denunciation. Like plethora (q.v.) recommended for use by lispers, in whose speech the deliberate use of the sound th can, properly managed, create a satisfying disorientation in the mind of the listener. Anathematic: a pathological gathper. (I had to say this out loud before I got it).

I hadn’t investigated this book until recently but I have to say I think the Horror chose well, don’t you?

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Did You Realise???

As part of figuring out how all this blogging stuff works, I checked out one of the free counters mentioned in the blogspot help material. For no particular reason, I selected one called Statcounter. This may have been a mistake for me, mainly because it's now the first website I open when I log on and I love poring through the reports it provides - I'm such a nerd.

It gives me a chart (a histogram, actually -- my language!) showing the number of pages uploaded for each of the last 7 days, the numbers of unique visitors and of returning visitors. I can see from what website they came to mine, which pages they looked at, where their servers are located -- see the map below for the overview. It even tells the IP number for the computer they were on (so this is how they catch the child porn perverts...).

So, whilst I don't know your computer number, I can make some pretty good guesses about who are my most faithful readers (Hi, Rick; Hi, Doris) and who told me it was great, but they were on for all of 5 seconds -- yes, it tells me that too, Pat, not that you'll ever read this.

It tells what search terms have brought people to the weblog (some poor soul searched on 'couture sewing'; makes me almost feel guilty for using that title).

It also told me that I had a very interested reader in Manchester. As 2 of Bill's children live there I assumed it was them, but they looked blank when I asked. Further investigation revealed that apparently one of the servers used for blogspot is located there, so it was my own activity being recorded...the many times I publish and edit an entry until I can bear to leave it alone. Oh, well.

The reports also show I have few readers. There could be quite a number of reasons for this, possibly (duh) because I've only told a handful of people about it, so I finally scratched together an email to my extended family and friends to let them know this web log is here.

So those numbers are really gonna soar, right?

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Packing List

It's been my life's dream to be 'organised', hence my love of lists. I now know I'm unlikely to ever realise this dream because things rarely stay organised, even if you ever get them there. Lists can sometimes be the exception to this; even if they need to change they can still be a useful starting point. In the interest of being helpful, I give you my packing list.

Packing list
coffee stuff – at least sweetener
toothbrush & paste & floss
contact case (dry); eye drops
spare lenses
/ saline / cleaner
eye glasses & case
inhalers & asthma tablets; malaria tablets if necessary

shampoo, crème rinse; hair dryer, brushes
other hair products?
deodorant; razor; body lotion; moisturiser
nail stuff; at least emery board & nail clippers
sunscreen (body & face);
aloe vera gel in case sunscreen fails
mosquito repellent
fake tan (pale & medium)
nightgown, robe, house shoes (socks)
handkerchiefs, underwear and bra
tights & slips?
beach towel and 2 swimsuits; beach bag
sandals, walking shoes, heels?
shorts and tops; sun dresses
running/cycling stuff x 2 or 3
regular/trail/race shoes; shoe bag?
electric thingy for foreign electricity
charger for phone
laptop and charger?
heart rate monitor; mobile phone, camera,
plane/train/boat tickets
car parking arrangements
passport and photocopy (separate!)
locks for suitcases (keys separate)
maps / race documents / tour guides

addresses (electronic &/or printed) for postcards
pictures to share
book, magazine, needlework
reading glasses
foreign currency; (US & UK) credit cards
Work: room reservation, presentation, work papers; change of clothes

If self-catering, consider: mugs, coffee, milk, margarine, dish soap, sponge, tea towel, salt, rice, oatmeal, pasta, olive oil, bottle opener, knife sharpener

Highlighted items go in carry on or purse. Pack messy stuff in plastic zipper bags. Take extra zip lock bags and a couple of plastic bags for dirty clothes. Pack the night before, circling any items that have to go in last minute.

Makes me tired just reading this. I always dread packing for a trip so much I'd almost rather not go.

And I think I'm fairly low maintenance...

Monday, 5 May 2008

Lyme Park and Lime Boots

My Great Aunt Peggy told me once to stay in out of the rain 'cause I was so sweet I’d melt. In the nearly 13 years I’ve lived here in England, this has not proved to be true. It rains a lot here in England, that’s why it’s so green. If one waits for a nice day to do things, one may end up sitting at home most of the time, drinking tea.

If Saturday was fine, yesterday was wet. I don’t know whose idea it was to go for a walk at Lyme Park, but it was an interesting one. I can’t be critical as none of us had any better ideas. Simon and Rhiannon (with the green boots) met us there.

We just did the outside part, being too stingy to pay the extra fees to see the inside of the house. Helen did mention this was where one of the versions of Pride and Prejudice was filmed; I might have been marginally more interested had I realized it was the one with Colin Firth. Anyhow, we walked around the grounds, past Mr Darcy’s -- I mean the Leghs' house, past the stables,

past the lake (possibly the one where Mr Darcy fell in?),

up to what the local children call the Witches Castle.

In the literature this is referred to as The Cage, which is a hunting lodge. I could maybe take up hunting, except there is no plumbing and the wind up at the top of the hill is rather fierce.

There was some event on concerning Big Dogs.

I could have spent my whole day just drooling over the dogs,

but I restrained myself.I’ve learned why Brits love their tea. A hot drink after a wet excursion just hits the spot. Did I mention that it rains here in England?


Today is a holiday in the UK, for what reason I'm not sure. Anyhow, it being a long weekend, we went over to Manchester to visit Helen (Bill’s daughter) and Martin. Our labour was requested to help with the Great Back Garden Clean Up.

Now that Helen has moved in the house is getting a new look inside and out; work on Martin will probably have to wait until after the wedding. Simon (Bill’s son) was drafted as well, to help build a deck.

Bill and I cut the grass and we all hoyed a tonne or two of rock into the skip, leftovers, I think, from the former drive way which led to the former garage which had to be demolished because of an asbestos roof. Fortunately we have 20 or 30 years before we need to worry about asbestosis.

When we started work, I had a momentary pang. The weather was fine for a change and the sun was warm on my back. The fresh cut grass smelled green. The radio was on for the football (soccer) match (Man United v. West Ham). The announcer’s intonation and the roar of the crowd were universal; with my eyes closed I could have been back home in Oklahoma City helping my Dad with the yardwork.

I tried a number of implements on the weeds at the edges of the garden and can tell you that British strimmers are just as rubbish as American ones. I did manage to de-house enough spiders to make another Harry Potter movie and we scared some poor little frog nearly to death. I relocated all the earthworms I found amongst the rocks into the back of the garden to atone for the ones I’ve sieved in my own garden.

We were well pleased with our efforts and more than a little surprised at what 5 people could get done in a few hours.

And of course, the cat supervised.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Madonna Move Over

I'm really excited. I found a yoga class -- in the same place that I attend the sewing circle; none of the sewing ladies were there last night, though, so it's unlikely we'll be doing sewing and yoga at the same time.

Actually, it's not proper yoga, more a pilates-yoga-stretch-we can show you all the things your body can't do anymore sort of class. Not that I was going to be great at regular yoga, either.

Two things were particularly difficult for me. One was standing on one foot and waving my arms like an Indian Goddess. The other was bending over with my legs straight and my hands on the mat, making a triangle with the floor. The instructor wanted us to HOP to bring our feet up closer to our hands. Actually, I would call it a JUMP, as it used both feet, but I found it rather scary. Not only were my weak arms going to have to take even more weight, but my HOP muscles seem to have retired to Florida or somewhere.

I can't remember the last time I needed to HOP. I do jump off the occasional chair, true, but only after a slight hesitation to gauge the likely level of pain involved. I had to consider just how I was going to accomplish this HOP, and meanwhile ever more blood was rushing to my brain. I did eventually manage it, after a fashion (think deconstructed, asymmetric fashion). She had us do it 3 times; I had to think about how to do it each time.

So, we have some work to do to catch up with Madonna. But don't worry, I have no intention of making a video, I promise.