House Hunting

I’m not satisfied unless I’m planning something and renting a house that’s a “bit rough around the edges” is driving me nuts. I want to plan all the repairs and improvements I would do if it were mine but refuse to spend any money or energy on it. At first B and I had grand designs of converting a property, we spent hours scouring the web, visited a couple of churches and a school and did quite a bit of research (I still can’t help myself and wander over to Buildings at Risk about once a week). Then after one viewing we began seriously picking apart the logistics and we had a realization of what we would be putting our four-legged family through to move forward with this dream. I think we’d be OK with it if they were all a bit younger but our youngest cat is 15. Starting a conversion would take our time and energy away when they will need it the most so we’ll wait. I’m sure overall this is for the best, it gives us a chance to acclimatize ourselves to the inner workings of UK residential building maintenance before we attempt something as big as a conversion.

I’m sure winter is probably the worst time of year to look for a house to buy. There seems to be so little on the market that ticks our boxes or perhaps we are just too picky. First of all we need it to be in a decent location, the town/village has to have good internet speed so we can stay employed and can’t be too far from train stations and airports. Jedburgh is about 75 minutes from Edinburgh and a little further from the airport and I have to admit we’ve felt a little cut off from the city. There’s a lot going on in Edinburgh and the length of the drive wears on us a bit. In September a new rail line is opening running from Edinburgh down into the Borders, I’m sure this will help us feel a bit more connected. Our next requirement is space, while there are only 2 humans in our family we both work from home so we need one large room or 2 small rooms for office areas in addition to the rest of the house. And we’re American which means we have more “stuff” that we should. We also prefer to have a garden area for the pugs, for me to potter around in (read: killing flowers and shrubs) and to hopefully start a new beehive. Our last requirement is not actually a requirement, it’s me being a spoilt brat. I don’t want to live in a pebble dash box with tiny windows, we both prefer a house with character. It doesn’t have to be category B listed or even especially old, it just has to have something a bit unique about it. I realize this is pretty snobby of me, perhaps this is a luxury I have because we’re not in any particular hurry.

Except I am in a hurry because of my need to plan….shut up brain…

Anyway, we’ve found a house that ticks all of these boxes, the only catch is that it definitely puts a big red X in a box we hadn’t seriously considered, it’s location within the town. It’s in Galashiels, perfect we thought! It’s a bit closer to Edinburgh, the new station will be within walking distance and not too much further from Berwick for the train to London. Internet connection speed is more than adequate, in fact we’d be able to get a fibre optic connection. It has plenty of space and a bit of character. The big red X is in regards to the location of the house in Galashiels, it’s on a pretty busy street with a building supply store across the street and a couple of big box retailers just down the street. My heart keeps tugging at my brain though, reminding it of the beautiful staircase and all the natural light in the living room and drawing-room.

We’re leaning towards going for it but need a couple more months of saving before we’re really ready. In the mean time I’m trying to get a better understanding of the property purchase process here in Scotland and have a plethora of questions. Do we negotiate directly with the owner? At what point is the survey conducted? How do we choose a conveyancing solicitor? It feels a lot like wading through treacle.

Borders Country Hill Walking – Three Brethren

I wanted to push our endurance a bit so we chose another “two boot” rated walk. My secret goal is to get to the point where we can comfortably tackle a Munro and by comfortably I mean not die. Three Brethren looked great, it had the right kind of profile, not too far from our house, no areas where we couldn’t take the pugs and a mid-point reward of 3 massive stone cairns built in the 16th century.

You start in Philiphaugh Estates and the path begins taking you up through woods then emerging into fields and moorlands as the climb gently continues. You pass a lovely wee waterfall (Corbie Linn), tucked in among the trees and undergrowth. Further along there’s a nice little reservoir and stream running along side for a while.


Then the climb begins to be less gentle as you work your way up the side of Cairn Rig, with the Three Brethren within view (a nice little bit of motivation when your thighs are cursing you for thinking this was a good idea). It also helps that as you climb and occasionally look back over your shoulder you’re rewarded with views that keep getting better.

We did this walk just before Christmas (yes I am that far behind…) and had picked up some coats for the ladies as the cold was definitely becoming a limiting factor for them. I’m really glad we did, the wind was cutting and temps were cold enough to freeze puddles over.

The views from the top made everything worth it. I do love these hills.

And the Three Brethren weren’t bad either, at about 3 metres tall and very stout.

There’s a little bench along side the cairn with names recorded, I didn’t have a chance to fully look at what this represented, by that point the ladies were shivering and very ready to get moving again. I can just about make out something about standard bearers in the photo I took. We’ll need to go back to find out what that’s all about. I did take a pic of a lovely mouse someone carved into the bench.

We were practically running back down the hill side in comparison to the speed we made the climb at. Then the path works it’s way between a couple more hills, through more grazing land and moorland. Finally coming around to give you great views over Selkirk.

We got back to the car with a little light left and a big appetite…time for fish and chips.

Beech and Capon in February

The Capon

I’ve decided to use the age of the Capon Tree as motivation to learn about the history of the area we are in. It’s going to be my peek into what the tree has seen in it’s life so far. But first, a quick bit of additional info I’ve found regarding the tree itself. According to the Director of the Tree Register The Capon Tree is a Sessile Oak. My ignorant inner monologue immediately asked what the hell that means, Google answered. There are only very subtle differences between the English Oak and the Sessile Oak, the most noticeable being that the acorns are stalkless (or sessile…see what they did there). Let’s see if I manage to remember that in Autumn… An experienced arborist may also notice that the branches straighter, the trunk more upright and the leaves have longer stalks. It’s tough for me to notice these differences when I look at her, I’m easily distracted by the great split in her trunk and how hollow it is.

I’m going to image her beginnings in the were at the beginning of the 14th century, after all she’s called the Capon Tree after the Capuchin monks who would shelter under her so she had to have been around a while by the time they showed up in order to provide said shelter. There was quite a bit of conflict in the area at the time, with major battles close by in Selkirk and Kelso during the First War of Scottish Independence. Her location was forested at the time so she was one of many in the Jed Forest, instead of standing alone as she does now. Perhaps luckily for her William Wallace chose Ettrick Forest in the Selkirk area for his base instead of Jed Forest.

The Beech

I’ve been a bit worried about this youngster, it’s held on to a lot of it’s leaves through winter. After a bit more research my concern seems pretty much unfounded and instead The Beech has marcescence foliage which is common in Beech species and may be beneficial. What’s still surprising is the amount of leaves that are holding on, even through the recent winds. Apparently they will eventually give in to mechanical forces though and drop when their stalks are brittle (how are they not brittle yet in these temps?!).

As the Beech is in our garden I’ve been able to observe it a lot more than the Capon. I see it every day while I’m doing the dishes and watch the community of birds who I’m sure appreciate the marcescence foliage. These’s one in particular who seems to be a regular, it looks like a young blackbird and frequently hops over to the neighbour’s Cotoneaster bush, helps itself to a belly full and hops back into the shelter of the Beech to digest. I’ve also noticed a small collection of mushrooms growing under the canopy.

I do love the arrangement of the leaf buds on the Beech, the elongated zig-zag of the slightly downy looking stems and the color of the buds themselves are beautiful.

Borders Country Hill Walking – Timpendean Tower

B found this walk when we were looking for something a little more low key, it’s walk 4 on this publication. I’m sure we’ll be returning to this to check out some of the other 8 walks included. Calling it hill walking is probably a bit ridiculous because it really is low key with minimal hills. There’s a bit of an incline as you climb Sharplaw Road which gives you some nice views over the town. Then you’re off through the woods of Lanton Moor and part of the Lothian Estates.

The mud level was pretty high at the time, at least by our American standards. The girls soon gave up on trying to keep their paws dry, Zoey especially embraced the muddiness 🙂

Then we took turns going over the ladder stile and through the farm land to the actual tower so that one of us could stay with the dogs and keep them from worrying the livestock.

It’s a pretty short path from the stile to the field where Timpendean Tower is, then over one more stile, dodge a large quantity of cow initiated land mines (and their owners!) and you’re there. The field occupants were all looking at me with great curiosity as I traipsed across their pasture.

Timpendean Tower was a tower house built in the 15th century, it holds a somewhat strategic location between the River Teviot and Jed Water (I’m sure the strategy of the location was more evident 500 years ago). There’s still enough of the structure left to see the 4 foot thick walls, a fireplace, doorways and windows. There is a great split down one side of it though and I think the edges are slowly wandering apart. Originally the tower was owned by the Douglases, they sold it to the Scott’s in 1843 (according to Wikipedia). At the time I had no idea I was poking about in a home of my ancestors.

On the way back we encountered Bonjedward House and the accompanying gardeners cottage, both boarded up and looking very lonely. These properties are in a beautiful location and immediately I began to imagine taking up residence in the gardeners cottage. Surely they wouldn’t mind me moving in…after all it’s all boarded up and begging for some tender loving care.

Jack of all trades

I’m definitely one of those people who have too many hobbies. I’m pretty keen on gardening/playing in the dirt, I’ve got a fair size stack of books on my bedside table awaiting my attention, I love breaking out a board game (think Settler’s of Catan, not Monopoly), I still get into video games…OK mostly Minecraft, love some tent camping and hiking, and when we were living in Michigan we were apiarists as well (hope to get back into that once we’ve settle somewhere a bit more permanent). One might think that’s quite enough for one person but not me. I’ve been caught up with another diversion…cosplay. It appeals to the way I think, I’ve always been a bit of an inventor (I remember diligently running string across the curtain tops of the bedroom I shared with my sister growing up to create a pulley system to open and close the curtains much to her dismay). It also works well for me because I get bored fairly easily so long term projects are not for me, with cosplay each project is different so it easily keeps my interest.

It started off as some casual costume creation for Halloween parties, the usual kind of stuff…Poison Ivy, a Fembot, Medusa…and as soon as one was complete and had been worn I was immediately planning the next. Then it escalated a bit to more complex costumes like Midna from Zelda Twilight Princess, a nurse from Silent Hill. More recently I’ve stepped up to two costumes a year, one for Halloween and the other for whatever convention we’ve attended. My convention costumes have included Lucca from Chrono Trigger, Black Canary and a homegrown steampunk conglomeration.

Now here we are and I need to find a space in this new house that I can abuse a little bit while my imagination runs away with me. I am going to try a document some of my processes here because I’ve found one of the best inspirations that gets my arse off the couch is sharing the experience with others.

First up is a project I started work on in America and intend to finish up now. It’s Alice from the pc game Alice: Madness Returns and is my most ambitious costume yet. I’ve chosen to combine two pieces that I love the visual of, the Royal Suit and the hobby horse:

I’ve made some serious progress on the hobby horse but still have a lot to do. In some of my upcoming posts I’ll cover how I did what I’ve already done, including fun with expanding foam and the magic of Worbla 😉

Borders Country Hill Walking – Peniel Heugh

We’ve been exploring a fair amount since we moved in, some of it in the form of hill walking. There are quite a few good walks around Jedburgh and lots more further afield. Hopefully I’ll keep up with documenting them a bit here.

Our first was a walk up Peniel Heugh and Waterloo Monument at the top. We had spied the monument several times while driving around looking at rentals. Then I found the hike on walkhighlands which is one of my favorite sites to vicariously escape via (love love love the OS map access for each walk). After a little research I found in some comments on TripAdvisor that for a small donation to Lothian Estates (office in Bonjedward) you can borrow a key to the monument and climb the 200+ steps to some pretty impressive views. We should have taken a torch (flash light…) with us as it was pretty dark inside but we managed. I carried Leeloo for some of the way, I think the combo of darkness + one eye just made it a bit too scary for her.

The walk is a circular route for the most part, starting and finishing at Harestanes Visitors Centre which was already closed for the year but looks good. In the same location are Buy Design Gallery (which was open and had some wonderful collections) and Mary’s Dairy for some ice cream in warmer months. It was a great first outing for us, not too strenuous as the overall ascent is only 172m (another thing I love on walkhighlands is all the juicy details you get). The path took us around several small patches of woods along the way and gave us a small first taste of the local flora and fauna, with lots of pheasants ducking around in the undergrowth. The route was really easy to follow and only mildly muddy in a couple of places. I look forward to hitting this hike a few more times as the seasons change.

The only disappointment for me was the camera on my new cell phone. It does not seem to perform well in low light but it may be user error ;). Either way I’m going to upgrade to something a bit more serious shortly.

Beech and Capon in January


I’m starting off the New Year with a new project, a tree following with Loose and Leafy. There are a few trees in the garden space we have, I’ve picked what I’m pretty sure is a Beech tree (please correct me if I’m wrong!). I’m also going to follow the Jedburgh Capon tree which is just a few miles down the road from us. I’m looking forward to spending a little time each month taking in some of the details and beauty of these trees.

Without further ado, here’s the Beech:

Plenty of buds for spring\

Still some of last year’s leaves holding on.

And some that detached a while ago.

And here’s the Capon:

She’s a very grand, old lady! Her age is estimated to be between 500 – 1000 years and her trunk has actually split right down the middle requiring some serious supports.

Check out her toes! She’s estimated to be about 10 meters (32.8 feet) around her trunk.

The obligatory buds against the blue sky pic.

It’s really easy to get sentimental about the Capon, thinking about all the things she’s seen in her life time. Kings have come and gone, civil war, shifts in religion, so many battles, industrialization and still her leaves bud every spring.


The Results

So New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh was faaantastic!

We left Jedburgh around 5pm and when we got to Edinburgh decided to take our chances with parking on a residential street. It was already pretty packed and those spots we did see were “permit only” so we gave up when we stumbled across a car park next to a movie theatre, it wasn’t free but it was only a brief walk from the city centre.

First we went to the ticket office to pick up our wrist bands. I’m glad we bought our tickets in advance because it was super fast to pick them up while the line to buy tickets was pretty long. Then off to dinner!

I love sushi…love sushi! So I picked a sushi restaurant, KanPai Sushi and made reservations. The staff was very nice and the restaurant itself was lovely. There are rave reviews for it on Google and Tripadvisor so maybe I had unrealistic expectations or maybe it had just been so long since I’d had sushi that I had built it up or maybe I was just too used to American sushi but the food itself was disappointing. The selection of rolls was a bit limited and seemed a little lacking in creativity. Kinda sad 😦 There’s plenty more sushi in Edinburgh, we’ll try somewhere new next time…

Anyway…the street party! We headed in just before 9pm and headed for the Scottish stage being pretty big fans of Gaelic folk music. The three bands that played were Breabach, Ross Ainslie & Jarlath Henderson and singer-songwriter Eddi Reader. All three performances were great but Breabach really stood out for me, not only was their music phenomenal but they had a really cool, completely unpretentious vibe. Each played for about and hour with a short burst of fireworks in-between.

We stayed in the crowd and as people came and left we gradually moved to the very front for the last performance. They finished their set within a couple of minutes of midnight and the whole crowd counted down to a firework finale with Auld Lang Syne being sung in the background. Brilliant!

New Year’s Eve

Previous years have been spent with friends, playing games and hanging out then turning on the TV just in time to watch the ball drop in NYC with a glass of Champagne. I’ve always been envious of the people in the city, to be part of that experience and atmosphere with the confetti flying and thousands of people around you singing Auld Lang Syne. At the same time it’s totally out of my comfort zone (which typically involves a giant mug of tea, blanket, movies and, most importantly Pugs), the idea of being at a giant party fills me with anxiety and dread. So this is my chance to push myself out of that comfort zone and be a part of something I have often secretly wanted to.

We’ve bought tickets for the Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party. It starts at 9pm, we’ve decided to get to the city much earlier in the hopes of finding a parking space on a residential street, then we’ll grab some food before the festivities begin. It’s been ages since we’ve had sushi (about the same length of time since I drove a car!) so I’m on the hunt for a sushi bar that’s open and not too far from the action.

I’ll report back…if I survive!

SturdiBag Flex Height Carrier Review

The pugs traveled in a carrier made by Sturdi Products during our relocation trip. We chose their SturdiBag Flex Height Carrier, here’s why:

  • It seemed impossible to find out exactly how much height and length would be available under the seats
  • We wanted to maximize the space the ladies had without breaking too many “your carrier must be this size” rules
  • It was important to us that the ladies felt safe and secure without being completely boxed in

The flex height carrier accomplished all of these and the ladies had no problem getting comfy in them. The airline were not at all bothered about the actual dimensions of the carrier. In fact the only question the desk attendant asked us was the approximate weight of the pugs but weren’t bothered enough to check it with the scales that were right in front of them. In short, the size/weight concerns I was stressing about were total non-issues.

The only thing I would change about the carrier is to have a door at both ends but they did just fine without it so it’s really a very minor point. Overall I was really happy that we picked this carrier.

We did spend a lot of time training the ladies to get “in the bag”. It’s a personal strategy with any new equipment, it’s always introduced with plenty of treats and praise so there is a strong positive association with it. We started off by putting small niblets of their regular food right inside door so they didn’t have to go in to retrieve it but could see that the carrier wasn’t a scary thing. Gradually the niblet moved further back into the carrier so they had to go completely in to get it. Then we worked on getting them to turn around in the carrier and to use the hatch in the top. Finally we got them used to the door being zipped up and the carrier leaving the floor. All of this took 3 – 4 weeks of training, we were super happy with the end results though. Zoey picked up on this much faster than Leeloo and was a total star. Below is Zoey demonstrating her mad skillz.