Musings & adventures

2009 Year in Review

(better late than never, belated posting)

What a year we have had! Most of which dominated by one event. At the beginning of January, we decided to “pull the pin on that grenade” and go ahead and have a baby. In what seemed to be the longest pregnancy ever, starting with the twenty two weeks of nausea and vomiting, I eventually really enjoyed being pregnant. Epsilon got to be a very well traveled fetus, starting in Barcelona and making three trips to France, not too mention the day to day mundanity of flitting about England. Jana arrived two weeks late in December, a fantastic way to end the year.

I participated in making a video for an exhibit in the new Darwin Center. Capping off my tour of duty at the NHM before going on maternity leave by meeting Prince William and participating in the opening of the Darwin Center.

Jana’s arrival completely overshadowed our three year anniversary of moving to England (December 1st). This will be our fourth winter here. It still feels like we’ve only just arrived. That first walk down the footpath behind our house is so fresh in my mind. But that may be because I/we walk on it so much.

Jana is the best souvenir we could be bringing home from our time spent living here.

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39 Weeks!

Epsilon @ 39 weeks!Okay Epsilon! We’re starting to get really impatient waiting for you to make your debut, which will be any day now right?

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Status Update

Sometimes, a Facebook status update should really be turned into a blog post. Mark’s from tonight after we made multiple attempts to attend a friend’s Bonfire Night party for Guy Fawkes day:

“Our cars obviously wanted to stay home. In the pouring rain, our Smart developed a miss (when you only have 3cyl and 600cc to start with, it’s significant.) So we limped back home. Deb, a gamer, wanted to go. So she eased her way into the Lotus. I put the roof on… only to find that clutch pedal had gone all mushy. Roof back off. Hoist Deb out, and we’re in for the night.”

It is pretty comical for me to get into and out of the Lotus right now, think “shoe horned.” The only way I could get into and out of the car involved getting me in first, then putting the top on, then removing it again for the extraction process. I certainly was not up for trying our remaining mode of transport, the Super Blackbird motorcycle. But it would have been truly Denovichin’ showing up to a party, 38 weeks pregnant, in the Lotus and bottle of gin in hand.

Perfect timing, yes, for both of our cars to be off the road right now. Epsilon, don’t get any ideas and just stay put for a minute!

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Half Way There!

Deb (and Epsilon) at 20 weeksHere we are, we’ve made it half way. I feel so huge already and there are many months ahead of us. The official weigh in, I’m at 129 lbs, of which 10.5 oz is ε. Head to toe, she’s now the size of a banana, or so goes our favorite fruit analogies.

I’m particularly missing this years 36th Annual Family Picnic. A cousin of mine is also pregnant and due five days after me and her first child is celebrating his first birthday today. There will be so many little cousins all around the same age in our family that will make future picnics a lot of fun as we continue our traditions.

Those of us living in the Mother Country didn’t get to enjoy a long weekend. We may not have the volleyball games or fireworks, but we’ll still celebrate Independence Day in our own way. Mostly by eating ribs, drinking iced tea and other wise having a relaxing day.

Epsilon
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Introducing: Epsilon

Epsilon's DebutWell, the news is well out of the bag now. World, meet ε , ε meet the world. ε is expected to make his/her world premier on November 20th.

We told my family on Sunday as a present for Mother’s Day. Steve and Stephanie hosted a brunch and we set up a video call and once everyone settled down we told them we had something to show them and held up the ultrasound scan for them to see. My mom was so surprised, it turned out to be a really nice Mother’s day gift. Mark’s mom thought we were joking, that we were just going to be getting a kitten.

It’ll be interesting to experience the NHS in it’s full glory. For antenatal care and labor and delivery, it’s entirely based on a system of midwives; unless you have some complications, most women never even see an ob/gyn. The first appointment, the community midwife came to our home and had an hour long visit with us. We were joking that we hoped the midwife didn’t have a really recognizable car, we didn’t need our neighbors being the first to know what was going on.

I have been having a difficult time with the morning/all day sickness. Nothing is appetizing to me, nothing tastes right, nothing smells right… my good days, where I actually start to enjoy my food are the really worrisome ones as those are the days that involve the actual vomiting. I’ve lost seven pounds! My ass is getting smaller and my boobs are huge and I’ve lost weight, it’s a perverse little diet I’m on. I’m hoping this phase passes quickly or soon… I love to cook and love to eat and this has taken the joy out of food. I can’t even be in the kitchen when the oven is on, it emits an odor that makes me sick. I sit here and fantasize about products I can’t get a hold of in the UK (easily or cheaply), bland is what I can stomach, I would kill for some Cream of Wheat or Kraft Mac and cheese (but am not willing to spend £6-7 on them).

So there it is, if you catch us smiling like idiots and/or looking completely terrified, it’s for good reason.

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1/10th of a stone gone

DSC_9793It’s been a while since I last had my hair cut. But as what frequently happens I waiver between loving long hair to just wanting it all gone. I have a *lot* of hair and it had been getting a bit out of control, so I decided it was time. The remarkable thing though, is I made sure to step on the scale before and after this cut. I lost 1.4 lbs of hair. My head feels like it’s going to float away!

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Happy New Years! (Eve)

Mark and Deb in the leavesIt’s the last day of the year already?  Well, here we are, 25 months into this adventure and it’s the end of 2008.

I know I’ve already reflected a bit on this already, but the year has flown by and has been as normal as it can be living abroad.  It’s been a year of settling into a routine for both of us working and living in England.   Mark commented recently, that it’s not camping anymore, we really live here.  This was after one of those moments where I look at him, and sounding genuinely surprised and in disbelief exclaim, “You know.  We live in England!” like it’s this brand new realization of someone who just walked off a plane.

There have been losses and gains this past year.  We lost our sweet Greenbean, which was difficult.  I miss my Bean and think of her everyday.  Her photos are everywhere, on my desktop background, in a locket around my neck and by my bedside.  She was our family.  She had a fantastic life, was well loved, and was so awesome she has turned two people into cat people.  In April, I gained a sister-in-law as my younger brother married a delightful woman.  Two of my cousins had babies this year and one also is newly married.  Our extended family is growing in leaps and bounds.

This has been a year of increased visitors, a pattern I imagine will ramp up in the coming third year of our residence here.  My parents and another brother visited in March, the first time trips abroad for all of them.  Friends visited us in May, September and October.  We made a second trip to Turkey for a holiday, which, I’m really digging the whole vacationing with friends idea.

So what will 2009 bring?  We’ll be celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary.  Living abroad for a third year.  Where will we travel?  Who will visit us?  What will our jobs bring? How much more will our family and circle of friends grow?  2008 was a good year, 2009 is shaping up to be spectuclar already and we’re still a few hours away from it beginning!

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A Touch of the Pink

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to any. Who can blame me for getting tired of it, living for so long in a city with more classic rock stations than any other genre. Where you can’t blink without hearing them. Where I grew up surrounded by their sound and lyrics. My tastes in the music I listen to wax and wane over time and vary by mood. But, I have found lately that listening to Pink Floyd makes for an excellent sound track for commuting into, through and out of London.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Like so many Ex-pats, Mark and I celebrated our Turkey day the Saturday following  the actual holiday, as we were both working Thursday.  My parent’s asked me, “so when do they [the British] have their Thanksgiving?  Canada has one, what about over there?” to which I had to reply that this in not an English nor European phenomenon.  Which this also makes finding key ingredients a little tricky, not impossible, but it’s not like the grocery stores back home that are abundantly stocked with sweet potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin for pies.

We roasted a chicken, as our small oven and refrigerator can not accommodate a turkey.  We had actually celebrated last Saturday too.  It is so easy to roast a small chicken.  Brined and stuffed simply with quartered shallots and cloves of smoked garlic, it comes out moist and flavorful in just over an hour and the juices from this concoction makes for perfectly seasoned and flavored gravy.

It is also surprisingly easy to scale down all the wonderful sides that we would normally make in industrial quantities when hosting our families.  Only mashing four potatoes instead of 5 lbs.  Candied two sweet potatoes instead of a huge casserole full.  A small serving of the last of my supply of Stove Top stuffing (hush, it’s tradition in my family to have this in addition to home made stuffing on the table and I honestly prefer this to stuffing from in the bird).  The batch of cranberry sauce I made was the normal portion, but I love home made cranberry sauce.   And of course a huge pile of sweet corn.  When cooking for our families, we would have several other options of veg, but for just the two of us, corn is all we need.   I have also outdone even myself and made the absolutely perfect pumpkin pie two weeks in a row.  This all just enough for the main meal and the requisite left overs the next day.  There is also enough meat left over for making chicken salad and the carcass is used to make stock for soup (currently simmering and filling our house with the most amazing aroma!).

I prefer Thanksgiving to Christmas by leaps and bounds.  It’s not a religious holiday and it doesn’t involve presents.  There is no pretense.  It’s all about the food (fall harvest) and family and enjoying each other’s company and reflecting on what you can be thankful for.  We’re both safe, healthy, have a roof over our heads, live comfortably and are loved by our family, friends and each other.  Even though we are far from home and our families, we carry out this tradition abroad and are with them in spirit.  For all of this I am truely thankful.

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It is teh awesome

After work I hopped on a fast train to Reading to meet Mark to go pick up my new-to-me Smart Car. Two years without a car and I’m pretty excited! We get there, take care of the paperwork and other sundry business. A few tutorial laps around the neighborhood as a passenger followed by some laps as the driver later, I was ready to hit the road. We equipped my car the with sat nav and Mark followed me out. I had one moment in my first big round-about where I became a little flustered, missed my exit and needed to go around again. But that’s the beauty of the round about.

Once on the highway, I could almost hear Mark yelling, “go faster!” If only he could hear me retorting, “I’m giving her all I got Scotty!” as the motorway had a slight incline to it. I didn’t have any problems with the semi-automatic up shifting, it felt completely natural despite not being a manual car driver. I was also much more comfortable following Mark than leading. I quickly got into the flow of traffic once up to speed and was passing and keeping up with him. It drives great. It feels great. I even think it sounds great.

In short: this car is the awesomest car that ever awesomed.

We head to the states tomorrow for a couple of weeks, so I’ll have to patiently (or not so patiently) wait to have my fun when we return.

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England: Smart Car!

Two years without a car and now this will be mine on Thursday! I always said that I couldn’t imagine driving in any other car over here, with these roads that are so narrow.  I love love love Smart Cars, now I get to put this one in my pocket and take it home to drive:

Deb's new car

Mark wants to find a “My other car is a Lotus” bumper sticker. Expect to see a photo series involving our dueling tiny blue cars.

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Netherlands: Amsterdam, Artis

Mark is working today so I’m up to my old tricks and entertaining myself in the city for the day. I had all these grand designs for visiting places, including the Troppenmuseum (the Tropical Museum), the Hortus (the botanical gardens) and possibly making it to Artis, the zoo. Since there wasn’t a deluge pouring from the sky, I thought I would start with the out of doors attraction and headed straight for Artis.

The walk was fabulous. Chilly, but at least sunny. It was nice to see the canals by daylight. Amsterdam is a city of concentric half circles of canals with radiating branches throughout. A watery spider web outlined with cobbled roads and impossibly narrow and slanting buildings. Every single road had a bicycle lane, I have never seen so my bicyclists, or bicycles, period. The city caters to and is designed for bikes. Crossing intersections, it’s not the motorists to look out for, it’s the people on bikes who will run into you.

I ended up spending my entire day there. It is not just a zoo. Inside its grounds is the University run Zoological Museum, the Aquarium, a Planetarium and an Insectarium (I kept thinking of the “orphanarium” from Futurama when I saw this!) complete with an enormous butterfly house, I’m talking thousands of butterflies, a photographer’s paradise. With so much on offer, it’s easy to see how I spent so much time here. After seeing some of my photos of butterflies, Mark actually said this is a place he’d like to go (this from a person who does not like museums or zoos). But there was so much else to do, maybe next time. Photos forthcoming, at some point, we are months behind in processing photos.

I found a “New York” bagel shop for lunch and was sat in a window seat with a latte for a session of people watching. I kept seeing the twins of a close friend’s mother, I don’t think they’re Dutch, but the resemblance was uncanny.

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An Homage and New Camera Gear

Cow in field near our home

Above is an homage to “What Do I Know’s” Friday Cow Blogging (a brilliant idea, btw, and who recently featured cows in Bourne End where we live). But it is also one of the first shots using our new camera gear, which we are certainly kicking it up a notch with a Nikon D300 and the new lens, a Sigma 150-500 mm telephoto. Mark was about 50 yards away from that cow when he took that photo.

We went out for a walk with this set up hanging around our necks and we did get some looks. The lens alone weighs 4.2 lbs. There is nothing subtle about this lens. I’m going to need a special harness to use this set up. We are the paparazzi to the brambles, flowers, insects and birds. We purchased the lens for a trip we will be taking in the coming months (TBA), and the camera body, well, we’ve been meaning to upgrade for a while now.

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Why I Love My Husband Reason #2385

He found and bought us tickets (via Ebay) for the sold out show, the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet in Stratford, featuring David Tennant in the title role (and Patrick Stewart as Claudius).

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Pod People, Pod People…

I feel as if I’m in a the setting of some science fiction story. On the train in and in the streets, every one is walking around with these identical white ear pieces. As if it’s a part of some nefarious plot to control the humans. At some point all of these people will turn on the rest of us with the flick of a switch (sounds like an episode of Doctor Who actually). Yes, you know what I’m talking about. I have a pair of the best sort of ear bud technology, only, they don’t seem to want to stay in my ears, no matter how I position them, they also start to hurt after a while. So I decided to give the pair provided with the phone a try.

I never noticed before just how many people are wearing them out there. Only now, I’m one of them. I’m one of the Pod People, with my white ear bud head phones.

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Traffic Court in England

Out of all the outcomes that we had been hypothesizing about, none of them came close to how it was all resolved. It was over an incident that had occurred months ago and things went all pear shaped. Basically, it all boiled down to paperwork that allegedly was never filled out, not even about the original speed camera traffic offense.

The summons was for a court appearance at 1:45 in the afternoon, in Fleetwood, just north of Blackpool. We set out early. We worried we would lose too much time so we didn’t stop for lunch, nor did we even put the top up on the car for the last thirty miles or so of driving in the rain. “Those few minutes could cost us!” we thought.

We arrived early, having been advised to ask to speak to a duty solicitor for advice, as they are legally obligated to provide council. However, this apparently does not apply to traffic violations. It was 1:30. Once there, the guards told us they don’t get started until 2:00! There was one other individual there, he said his summons was for 1:30. We then thought we would be the second case heard that afternoon. “No worries!” we thought, “we’ll be in and out and off for some lunch!” We thought wrong.

More people arrived, not many, but more arrived. All a bunch of locals, people in torn blue jeans. An announcement was made over the speaker, the local accent is something else, I couldn’t understand what was said. Apparently it was someone’s name being called and they recognized the language being spoken and entered the courtroom. One after another of these other people were called over the loud speaker and seen.

Remember, we didn’t stop for lunch because we thought we were going to be late. I was beyond hungry at this point, and if you know me, I get all squirrelly, shaky and easily upset to tears over the simplest things when I’m that hungry. “If one more person is called, I’m going to look for something as a snack,” Mark assured me, he was getting super hungry too. That was 3:30. Mark brought back some candy bars, it just made us more hungry but at least gave us both a boost to our blood sugar.

It was becoming clear we were going to be the last case heard that day. Good thing we rushed to drive four hours to Blackpool for this! Finally, just before 4:00, I was called in.

Mark had been peppering me with all sorts of questions, thinking if he were in this situation, what sorts of questions would he expect to be asked, and then some. Making sure I was prepared and wouldn’t sound flustered. I was all set to go in. I was walking into a courtroom on my own, Mark, as my witness, was to sit outside until called.

There I was in front of three magistrates (the “judges”), one solicitor there to advise the magistrates and the prosecuting solicitor. They prosecuting solicitor read aloud the charges and evidence. He then brought up the fact that my last name and my husband’s last name was misspelled in several different ways on various documents. This was enough cause for the case to be dismissed. All this was over in two minutes.

It was then noted that I was from the South, from Buckinghamshire, that I had come along way for this. I was asked to bring Mark in, where they asked about the exact distance we were from home and how much we spent on petrol to get there. They then awarded me £75 to cover the cost of petrol and apologized that they could not cover costs for missing a day at work.

And that was it. We were a bit beside ourselves as we made our way to a local cafe. We both ordered full English breakfasts that were served all day (read: huge piles of protein that we both desperately needed). In a haze of disbelief, we tucked in.

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On British Television

I really enjoyed watching the Dr. Who season finale, it wasn’t disappointing. Following it up with always watching “Dr. Who Confidential” I love seeing just how proud every one who is involved in the show are of the work they do. It is interesting to see how many connections are made and threads kept with the original series. Watching it in tandem with the main series illustrates the richness and depth of the storytelling, revealing details I would be hard pressed to remember.

I have fond memories of the original series. I watched so many of the old Dr.’s with my brother Joe, who was obsessed with the show which aired on PBS and Nickelodeon, when we were young. I remember they were often aired on Saturday’s, a day when my mom would use this crazy floor scrubber to mop the dining room floor. The dining room table would be moved into the living room and my brother and I would watch the show. It is possible one or two of my other brothers would be there, but I so strongly associate these memories with Joe. I also strongly associate a lemony floor cleaner scent with it too.

I have no desire to go back and re-watch any of the older series, I fear it would render these rose-colored fond memories into something else. Yes, the kitschiness is a part of the Doctor Who lore and ingrained in British culture. “Kitsch” isn’t quite the right word to express it, but I just don’t think I could bring myself to sit through those original episodes.

The point I’m trying to make is, I love that there are British television shows that I (we) will always associate with living in England. They will be memory triggers for us. Including the Doctor. Especially the Doctor.

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Happy Fourth of July!

Well, for the second year in a row, Mark and I will not be at my family picnic. This year will mark 35 years of this tradition, held at my aunt (my dad’s sister) and uncle’s home. We’re probably missing out on the matching t-shirts that have been printed up every five years! It is the biggest holiday in my family, practically a mini family reunion where, for some family members, this is the only time during the year that we see each other.

It is an all day affair, it always involves obscene amounts of grilled and prepared foods and desserts. There are always fierce volleyball games, rain or shine, some years everyone is covered in mud from head to toe. There is always a large bonfire in the evening, everyone crowds around chatting, roasting marshmallows and being pyromaniacs. There is always a new crop of children fascinated with collecting lightening bugs and setting off fireworks. Collages of photos are every where from previous years, those who have passed still grace our presence with their smiles all over the walls. There is always hours of catching up and reminiscing, sharing of photos and joys and sorrows, meeting new friends and greeting the newest additions to the extended family. Most years there are well over 50 people there.

I can say this is my favorite family holiday. I love the tradition of it. Today, Mark and I are taking a holiday for ourselves, we will be there in spirit and will be thinking of everyone today. We will cook out, I plan to make my Asian Pasta Salad with the innovation of adding soy beans, and we have plenty of beer and cider to occupy ourselves with. We need to go find some fireworks somewhere. If we had been more organized or knew the weather would be so nice, we would have planned to invite some folks over. But this way, we can stay in our pajamas all day, and that’s a fantastic way to spend the day :)

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My Life With Bugs

I realized that I’ve been asked quite a bit about my job recently and have sent out many an email explaining what it is I actually do, that this would make an excellent post. I often feel I get the strangest reactions to this, I do have an odd job.

I am knackered. With just a few weeks of my working full time under my belt, I’m starting to get used to the commute. It is rough though. I’ll be able to last, I think, to the end of the year doing this…

I am excited about the new job though, it’s going to be a lot more challenging than what I was doing. In recent weeks I’ve been training someone new as a preparator. It really is an art pinning and pointing insects for a collection. It takes patience and a good eye. We recently had an open house with heaps of artistically arranged spectacular collections on display. That is all well and good to ogle and “Ooooh!” and “Aaaaah!” at. However, in active scientific collections used for research, specimens need to be prepared in a way that helps best preserve and conserve them. It’s an art, but with a practical side to it. I’ll still be involved in the insect preparation on the side.

The rest of my time, I’ll be involved with curation activities. I’ll be in charge of getting beetles that have been “accessioned” by the museum, which are housed separately and are unorganized, and putting them in order. These are collections of beetles that have either been donated, are from staff field work, or from research projects that haven’t been integrated into the main collection. I’m a generalist. I’ll be making sense of them and getting them into the main collection so that they are somewhere accessible where they can be identified, used and studied by the experts.

Museum collections, whether it’s bugs, plants or dinosaur bones, are like libraries. If the books are not where they’re supposed to be, organized in a rational manner, no one can find them to read them and get information from them. The characters used to identify the family, genus and species are chapters, pages and individual words in these books. So, basically, I’ll be cleaning up old stacks of beetles (identifying to family, etc.) and putting them where they belong in the drawers in the right order (curation) or putting certain groups in front of the eyes of specialists. It’s a much more challenging job than it sounds, I’ll be learning quite a lot about beetles in the process (as most of my training is in lepidoptera).

The commute is going to be rough, but I’m excited about the work. It’s all about the right trade offs. I feel they have been working so hard to get me hired full time, it’s hard to say no to the job, I’m really quite flattered. And it’s set for 6-9 months, depending if we’re here beyond the end of the year. They know about our situation and are being very accommodating with my contract.

And paid time off! This is such a novel idea for me! I have a pile of days of pto (if it were a one year contract I would *start* with 27 pto days). All those years of working at my former position, I never had any sort of benefits. I am almost beside myself with the idea :) This example really driving home the stereotype of stingy benefits for Americans in the US. In fact, this coming Friday I’ll be taking off for a holiday, it feels so strange. I wonder how many of my coworkers will get it.

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Lightning Strikes Twice!

Our neighbor’s tree back home was struck by lightning AGAIN, and the enormous branch off the sixty year old oak tree missed hitting our house AGAIN! We are very lucky our house wasn’t damaged in either incident:
IMG_8393b

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Tickets? Almost… not quite

I’ve been on the prowl for sold out tickets to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet this year. It sold out almost instantaneously. With David Tennant in the lead role of Hamlet and Patrick Stewart as Claudius, it’s a show I really want to see. I had my eye on 3 tickets on Ebay that had very low traffic and few bids due to a misspelling. I thought I almost had a chance of snagging/sniping them for a reasonable price. No such luck. Tickets that were sold for £30 are going for hundreds of £’s. These three £15 tickets ended up selling for £210! This is insane people!

I am determined to see this show. I will find tickets. Or if you or someone you know has tickets or knows someone with tickets, send them a good word in my favor, eh?

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Lucanus cervus – Stag Beetle

Male and female Lucanus cervusa.k.a. our evening’s entertainment. This stag beetle is the U.K.’s largest beetle, Lucanus cervus. Apparently, these beetles are rare outside the Thames valley and populations have declined or are extinct beyond southern England. Fortunately, we live in the Thames valley and the males have been buzzing through the air tonight like miniature helicopters in numbers. The larva spend four years feeding in rotting wood, when they emerge as adults, they live for a few months simply to reproduce.

I nearly stepped on a female who was casually hanging out on our gravel walkway. What a perfect subject for a little macro photography. She is a photogenic beetle. Shortly thereafter we caught a male that flew close enough to the ground to capture. We kept seeing them silhouetted against the pale lit dusk sky up near the tree limbs and leaves.

Mating pair of Lucanus cervusOnce inside and with my expert beetle wrangling and Mark’s lighting idea, we had plenty to amuse ourselves. We improvised a soft light box with a laundry basket and a white sheet. We photographed them individually and then brought the two love birds, er, love beetles together. Only in this house would this constitute a fun Saturday night, capturing and photographing insects!

The Complete Photo Set

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Scotland: Stirling and The Long Drive Home

We were in Scotland this morning! How weird is that? We had one last lovely drive through the Highlands. It was raining when we left Glencoe, but it quickly let up. It was surprising as we were driving out how quickly the mountains were gone. We were taking them for granted I think. We missed them when they were gone from our sight.

We met up in Stirling at Stirling Castle. We didn’t take the tour, just walked around the grounds and tried to get as far away from the group of annoying tourists. They were a group from the US who were singing religious songs at the top of their lungs clad in fluorescent yellow ponchos. The streets of Stirling leading up to the castle are idyllic. Cobble stone streets, many of the buildings built with similar dark colored stones. The castle in the center of the town rose high above on a rocky crag. Those cobbled streets wound in narrow switch backs to reach the top.

From here, we worked out a strategy for getting home. The plan, to drive through Northumberland National Park. We left the relative plateau of the lowlands and entered the rolling hills of Northumberland and large swaths of forests. Since we would be driving parallel to it for some time, perhaps a stop at Hadrian’s wall would be in order. We’ve been to Hadrian’s Arch in Athens, might as well cap it with a stop at the wall. It turned into a fly by of Hadrian’s Wall. If we had more time, I would have loved to hike along the suggested trails. But the long day of driving, after several long days of driving, I just wanted to get home. Perhaps there will be a next time and more time.

Two miles before we reached a service station, we needed to pull off to the side of the motorway to put the soft top back on. The skies were looking incredibly threatening. It would be the first time we needed the top on for the entire trip! Eventually this proved a good strategy, but the rain did hold off for quite a while. We ended up meeting our traveling companions part way at that service stop, completely randomly. We thought we would be way ahead of them. They were getting ready to hit the road just as we were pulling in the lot. We took our time leaving, doing things like rainx-ing the window, getting fuel. They had a least a half hour head start on us.

We entertained ourselves on this last stretch by texting our positions along the way. “We are looking for you! Where are you?” I imagined this is a sing song Bugs Bunny accent, but I doubt that’s how in translated in the text. Mile markers were counting down, they were in slow traffic and as luck would have it, they needed to make a pit stop to refuel. “We may catch up to them yet!” as I joked about our refueling stop strategy as if we were in an F1 race. Despite a 40 mile headstart we made it home seconds after they reached our house. Ha ha!

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England: Lake District – Catbells; Scotland Drive

When planning for this trip into the Fells, I was having a hard time narrowing down what hike to do.  I knew we had limited time so it couldn’t be an expedition of epic proportions.  But I wanted to make sure we got to have a good hiking experience. There are almost too many choices, all good choices, all with excellent views, I was paralyzed with all the choices.  Until the answer came to me through watching a program on England’s mountains where the program host followed one of Wainwright’s walks.

I own a copy of “The Best of Wainwright’s Walks” and still had a difficult time deciding what to do.  His hand written notes, maps and illustrations are all inspiring.  And upon this visit I can understand why he spent so much time exploring and documenting this region of the country.  This program, however, made the decision easy.  How could I resist a hike described by Wainwright as, “the perfect walk for after dinner.”

Given our time constraints, we hiked up Catbells.  The inviting knob rises up along side Derwentwater Lake just a few miles from Keswick.  It looks small enough to tackle, but big enough to make it worthwhile rising 1,481 feet in one and half miles.  It was a short hike and had enough moderately challenging bits scrabbling up rocky faces  for us to really feel like we were getting the full Lake District Fells experience.   We were rewarded with lovely views, despite the wind and clouds, the sun was trying desperately to make an appearance.

Although it was a relatively short hike, we decided we didn’t have enough time to do the other hike I had planned; which was a 4.5 mile level hike around Lake Buttermere, we’ll just have to do that one next time.  I could honestly return here and stay for week or more.  This is the most beautiful place we’ve seen in England so far, it is a shame we only really spent a day.  There would be so many walks worthwhile here, or sailing on the lakes or canoing or camping.  We will be back!  But for now, we hit the road for Scotland!

Once we were well past and had skirted around Glasgow, the drive became the destination. The mountains just seemed to come out of nowhere.  No sooner were we on what was a plateau of pretty even terrain, BAM!  there are the mountains towering above us.  I was surprised to see so many peaks still blanketed in snow and the tops were shrouded by clouds.  We wound around on twisty narrow roads that took us along lochs, rocky streams, dense forests and of course the mountains.  This was a drive made for the convertible.  It was such dramatically different scenery than anything we’ve seen so far.  Even in contrast to the Fells of the Lake District this morning.

We needed to make a bee line to the B&B we were staying at so we wouldn’t arrive after nine p.m.  After we settled ourselves in, we hit a local pub/restaurant, where there was a lively and divided crowd watching the UEFA  cup finals, red shirts in the bar, blue shirts in the restaurant.  The European football league that had two British teams in the final, and a game that was held in Moscow.  It was still light out when we left around 11 p.m. with the long lingering twilight.

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First Non-Family Guests Arrive!

Today we have our first non-family guests staying with us for holiday.  It’s actually been a couple of years since we’ve seen Suzanne and her husband.  So we’ve been looking forward to their visit for some time now and will be taking the week off ourselves for a holiday too.  We have an epic road trip planned with stops in the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands on the itinerary.  It’s going to be an action packed week!

This first day, it was nice and low key, mostly to give them time to recover from jet lag and get their bearings.  I took them on a favorite four mile walk to show off our village and the area where we live in.    We walked into Bourne End, down along part of the Thames Foot Path and into Cookham and back home.  We did a little bit of supply gathering in our local green grocer and had a nice fried goat cheese medallion salad with mango and strawberries for lunch.  After plenty of excellent conversation and catching up, which would fill most of the trip, it was an early night for all (except Mark).   An excellent start for a holiday!

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