The Price of Blaeberries

One of my fellow Little Trekkers Ambassadors posted a drool-worthy photo of ripe blaeberries (bilberries) yesterday, and noted that they were particularly abundant this year. So although the forecast was for murky drizzle and rain, we decided to brave the mental driving* over the Cairn o’ Mount road and go back to an old haunt at the foot of Clachnaben, in Glen Dye, to go foraging.

*’Mental driving’: expect to encounter slow-moving cyclists round every corner, and oncoming speeding 4×4’s overtaking them on blind bends. I’ve yet to drive this road without swearing loudly at oncoming traffic.

I think the whole of Aberdeenshire had the same idea: the wee car park was full, the overspill layby was full, cars were parked along the side of the narrow road and in the slowly-dripping-downhill bog opposite. One white car blocking a forestry path nearby had already been written on with blue marker pen. So we kept driving on to try out Scolty Hill near Banchory. Well, we quickly abandoned that, too, because we were 5p short of the £1 minimum parking charge. The Boss agreed to see whether he could ask another motorist at the ticket machine for the missing 5p, but came back muttering darkly that we were to give up and go home.

Ever the optimist, and determined not to have a long drive in vain (it was now 1pm), I stopped again at the Glen Dye car park. And found a space! Within a minute, we were out, covered in waterproofs and off down that forest path.

blaeberriesThe best blaeberries are only about 100 – 200 yards from the car park, so we didn’t have far to go at all. As usual, we reminded the kids not to strip a bush bare, not to be too greedy (one Treasure Jar = 500g of fruit (ish) = plenty), and not to trample the ground. And oh my stars, they certainly are / were abundant! There were very, very few under-ripe ones, so I should think they’ll be gone by the end of the week.

tick baitAfter about 3 minutes of picking, the midges found us. I giggled through a long-winded explanation of what ‘Character Building’ meant to the minxes and how midges crawling over them would do just that. They didn’t appreciate it, and went from being irritated to angry to howling with rage within another 5 minutes. Midi started to get a bit distressed at the midges, so I looked up. It was quite a swarm around us! So we split up and headed in 5 different directions to try to lessen the swarm. Nah – they just called all their friends to come feast on the foragers. midge foodAnother 5 minutes later and The Boss called a halt to the foraging – his sensitive skin comes up in big weals with midge-bites and the poor man was beginning to look like Lizard. We ran away bravely to the car, where I keep a first aid kit containing a packet of loratadine antihistamine tablets. Luckily I’d got the one you can give to children over 30kg – poor Midi Minx obviously inherited her Daddy’s skin, whilst the other pair are a bit more midge-resistant like me.

jelly contentWhen we got home, we immediately displayed our fundamental priorities: I started weighing and washing the blaeberries to make jelly, Maxi turned on the Tour de France on the TV, her sisters got out their My Little Ponies, and The Boss checked his bare legs for ticks. He found 3 immediately. Screeeeeeech to a halt! The minxes were told to drop everything, strip off their lower clothing and line up on the white bedspread for a tick check. Midi found 2 crawling on the sheet, Mini had been bitten by 2 and had another on her. Bleurgh! I’m not overly concerned about the risks of Lyme disease (I caught it myself in 2005) because they were off so quickly, but I’ll obviously keep a wee eye out for bulls-eye rashes on her or flu-like symptoms over the next 3 weeks.

I think you can see by the photo of Mini way up there ^^ that those bare ankles were enough to attract them. Even though we weren’t near bracken, it’s obviously tick-heaven in Glen Dye right now. We’ll go back in a day or 2 for more berries, but next time will remember to tuck long trousers/leggings INTO socks, do buddy-buddy tick checks after being out, and I’ll buy another of my favourite tick hooks at the vet’s – I gave the one I keep in my purse to my mother-in-law and forgot to replace it because The Boss has one too. You can’t have too many O Tom tick twister hooks, in my view!

I’ll let you know how the jelly turns out. How would you use a glut of blaeberries yourself?

Paranoia and Gore

This week is mostly being brought to you by the word ‘paranoia’. Meh!

The past 2 weekends we’ve been camping in East Lothian and having a wonderful time. However, because I write in a paper diary when I’m away from home and blog about outdoor exploits elsewhere, I don’t repeat it all here. However, I’ve been moaning far and wide about the ticks we picked up on a short one-hour walk in some properly enchanting woodland.

embedded tickLike any ex-Lyme disease sufferer, I hate the little buggers. The Boss and I carry out tick checks on us all and carry nifty little tick hooks. We’ve been teaching the minxes about tick safety without going overboard. Well, on 15th June we found this one in the nape of Maxi’s neck. I suspect (hope) the pink marks around it are from initial flicks in case it was a piece of dirt. I took the photo while The Boss fetched the hook, and it was really to document it just in case Maxi gets ill – I can prove she had a tick-bite. Tick removed, I reassured my hysterical little 8 yo that she had the smallest, tiniest, don’t-even-waste-time-thinking-about-it chance of getting ill, but that we’d check for rashes anyway for a few weeks.

Well, she’s not had a rash, but the past 2 days has been complaining of a constant low-grade headache, stomach-ache, and generally feeling a bit ill. Her neck lymph nodes are swollen. She mentioned it this morning and throughout the day. It’s easy to get paranoid, but I need to remember that it’s the end of term, kids are tired, there are lots of viruses doing the rounds (chicken pox is rife right not). If she gets joint aches, a stronger headache, or more flu-y symptoms, then yes, I’ll be thinking that it’s Lyme. But for now, I’ll just fret for a few days until she’s better or she’s seen the GP.

sharkThink that tick was gruesome? Try Midi’s mouth! That second little incisor finally wobbled out on 23rd June. The Tooth Fairy left her 2 very shiny 50p pieces with cool backs that she promptly spent on a sherbet fountain. Tsk…

More paranoia: I get a bit nervous when The Boss is late home from work. The roads he drives certainly have their fair share of people who (think they are) immortal, can see round blind corners, can drive waaaaaaaay past the speed limit ‘safely’, can drive within an inch or so of the bumper of those of us who are merely mortal and drive accordingly… ach, you get the picture. Anyway, the day before yesterday I noticed he was a bit late. Right then, the phone went. The Bat-Fone. The landline that only ever rings for official things. I thought, well, it can’t be too bad or it would be a knock on the front-door from 2 hat-less polis. And yes, The Boss had had an accident.

Don’t panic: no-one was hurt. He’d been tootling along the back road home when a van decided to cross *right* in front of him without looking. The Boss threw out the anchors and figuratively braced for impact (his fingers never left the steering wheel – I think he left indents). Luckily, his little car can barely hit 50mph going downhill and with a tailwind, so he stopped very quickly. Even so, he hit the front of the van, knocking the van’s bumper and numberplate about 10-15m. The airbags didn’t go off, so it wasn’t high-speed at all. When he stopped shaking enough to get out, he found his driver door barely opened.

The van driver’s first words were: “You were coming at some speed!” The Boss charitably thinks he was perhaps attempting sarcastic humour; I cynically suspect him of being in this situation before to have such a practiced and ready line… After exchanging details and retrieving bits of car and failing to get any witnesses (the old man behind the van who saw everything absolutely refused to “get involved” and drove off), The Boss limped home. Shaky. Thankful it hadn’t been any worse. And possibly thinking what confessions he could get out the way that night using his joker card on his very-glad-he’s-still-alive wife 😉

After that, it’s not been a problem, really. The van driver talked to his insurance company and admitted full liability. Yes, it was kinda obvious that it was, but I’m still grateful that we didn’t have any arguments or awkwardness. The Boss decided that rather than deal directly with the other man’s insurance company that he’d talk to his own insurance company (Direct Line). Good move – they’ve been brilliant. Today a nice man in a tow truck arrived to pick up the car and take it away to be fixed. A lovely lady from Enterprise came to drop-off a hire car. Honestly, if felt like she was awarding us a prize or something, it was such a pleasant and trouble-free handover. We’ve no limit on mileage or time, and she’ll come pick it up when we have the car repaired and returned. Fantastic!

In the meantime, I can tease The Boss mercilessly on him having broken more cars than me. And feel very, very thankful that he’s here, fully intact, to be teased and tormented.

Well, actually, he’s not ‘here’: right now he’s off mountain-biking in the Back of Beyond, making sure the stresses of work and the week in general are pedalled away. He always tells me roughly where he’s going (in the hall we have a brilliant OS map centred on the house that our friends gifted us) and we always agree a time that if I’ve not heard from him, I’ll phone for help. Sometimes I’ll follow along with Endomondo, but that usually just increases my paranoia that he’s lying injured by the side of the road, because it frequently ‘sticks’ or loses signal. Meh! Better just to remain un-stalked, I think.

Maxi Ticks Scissors

Adult deer tick, Ixodes scapularis.

Image via Wikipedia: not the one that bit Maxi (that's still writhing in a plastic pot)

Yesterday was quite a day for my baby Maxi Minx.

She’d been up chattering and giggling with me as she crafted with pens and scissors as usual (she likes to make collages using shapes and their negative spaces(!)) and I cooed over a newly-arrived parcel of wool. As I was stroking the fibre, she asked shyly if I wanted to see the holes in her pyjamas.

Pyjamas: what, the ones you’re wearing? The really expensive, embroidered ones from Monsoon that I bought you when you were only a year old and tucked away, because they were so beautiful? What bloody holes? Oh, those huge actual-sized leaf-shaped holes you’ve cut out of each thigh at the front…

I didn’t shout. I didn’t scream. I just explained how sad I felt because they’d cost a lot of money, she’d worn them twice and now were ruined forever; she’d never be able to wear them again and Midi and Mini would never get to wear them at all. I thanked her for saying sorry (she went quite hysterical) and fairly successfully stayed calm. Well, I could see that my crappy sewing skills weren’t going to resurrect them, so what else could I do? Besides, my little Chicken-Licken* brain was whirling over the fact that if her ‘child’ scissors could cut through a double layer of material that easily, they could have made a mess of her 5 year old baby skin just as easily.  (Guess what’s been confiscated?) Also, she was utterly distraught at me banning her from any form of crafting for the rest of the day.

*Chicken-Licken: fairytale about the chicken who feels an acorn fall on his bonce and assumes the sky is falling down; goes into a total flap about something innocuous. That’s generally me, that is.

In a bid to not stay in the house all day, and seeing that the weather forecast was wrong (hooray!), I sent the kids out to race round the garden. Wee Mini happily staggered around in her lovely purple Tevas strapped over her babygrow – no point dressing her up for a stay at home day. All 3 girls played at basketball (chuck the little ball through a hula hoop held by a sister, and try hard not to chuck said ball at sister’s face…). On a whim, I put Mini in a waterproof all-in-one and put long sleeves and leggings on Maxi and Midi and headed off to the local woods at the bottom of the street.

Now, recently we’ve have little home-made cards posted through the letterbox warning us of Lyme disease in the ticks in the local area. I had Lyme disease back in 2005, caught whilst climbing at Fontainebleau outside Paris, and although I got completely well 2 months later, I really struggled to get sufficient treatment. As a result, I wrote a few articles, such as this one, and have a bit of a horror of the ugly things. My kids routinely wear long sleeves and trousers when out and about and are taught not to go wading through the bracken. Me and The Boss also routinely do tick checks of ourselves and the girls if we’ve been out in typically tick-y areas. But we don’t stress about it, don’t indoctrinate the kids and indeed this year have pulled one off the front of my armpit, one from Midi’s armpit, a few from The Boss, and found a few big buggers in the house (thanks to the cat). Oh, and one crawling over Maxi’s clothes last week in the car. She’d been moaning that she was the only one in the family who’d never been bitten.

Anyway, Maxi noticed new signs put up at the entrance to the wood to match the posted ones about Lyme disease and asked what they were. I explained a little about Lyme disease, really down-played it, and explained that I made them wear leggings and fleeces to help stop so many ticks getting to us. I mean, who wants to be an insect’s lunch? She chatted away, skipping around, plucking dandelion clocks and chasing speckled wood butterflies. Mini snoozed in the sling on my back, and Midi held my hand tightly saying how tired she was (till I suggested we hit the swings instead…).

Actually the swings were a hoot – Maxi and Midi both tried the long zip wire solo, holding the seat tight with their little hands, knees held aloft, zooming down the bark landing field, scraping it into their shoes and pants. Midi only tried it after seeing her big sister zip along so fast. I applauded each effort, and couldn’t help laughing – they looked so exhilerated! Midi seriously impressed me by only falling off once, when the seat boinked off the end of the ride, the first time only.

 

Well, at the end of what turned out to be a very nice day after a dodgy start, The Boss was getting the girls into their bath. And Maxi had the biggest tick I have ever seen stuck neck-deep in her precious skin, in the fleshy bit in front of her armpit (where my last one was).  Yuck! I can’t convey the sense of dread and disgust I felt. I’m not sure how successfully I covered it up and explained as nonchalently as I could to Maxi that Daddy was going to hook it out with a special hook, we’d put Germolene on it, and watch for any rash coming up for a few weeks, but it was no big deal (she has a real tendency to Chicken-Licken hysteria. Like me).

 

I resisted the temptation to go off the deep-end and race her to A&E (yeah, yeah, yeah, I know/knew a lot about Lyme, but this is my baby girl we’re talking about, here!). So I spent the evening Googling about Lyme prophylaxis treatment in children and getting my old knowledge up to date (like, when did they rename ehrlichiosis?!). I’m now very happy (!) to just observe her for a few weeks, and if she does develop Lyme symptoms (or HGA), then I know the most credible and recent articles to quote when I request specific treatment for her.

Funnily enough, over dinner I was telling The Boss that if I had more time, I’d like to add my own sign under the Lyme warning ones adorning the woods, saying “Lyme won’t blind your children – leaving your dog’s poo on the path might. Get rid of the mess!” That path was downright disgusting. I hate lazy dog-owners more than I hate ticks!