Most Wanted Crafty Books: Sew Iconic by Liz Gregory

Akashic Liz:

Well, I thank you so much for your lovely comments! It’s always wonderful when someone has truly enjoyed my work – thanks again!

Originally posted on Books For One....:

Sew Me A Good Time....

Oh if only I was a super whiz on the sewing machine! I would be able to make all the beautiful things I see everyday on those richer  more exfoliated people on the that big shiny screen. And when I finally develop the skills for frills one of the first books I’ll be picking up is Ms Gregory’s Sew Iconic so I can have all the Hollywood haute couture for myself.

Inside she’s broken down ten of the most recognisable movie dresses into simple easy to follow steps and it will even include a CD so you can print out the patterns as well as online videos for those tricky techniques that translate better when shown. She also gives thorough advice on what fabrics to use and even how to accessorize your finished piece!

Of course the expected dresses like Marilyn’s white billowy halter from The Seven Year Itch

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Wishing upon a star

Yesterday evening I was on my way to bed after a busy and eventful day.

We’d walked back over the road once more and up into the treeline on the hill opposite our home. It’s all changed since last week. There is an air of Summer’s end in sight.

Cornfield

Cornfield

The corn grows tall

The corn grows tall

Oh, don’t get me wrong, the sky is still blue (most of the time) and there is glorious growth in abundance everywhere – not least in the field where, just a few months ago there were hundreds of sows and their tiny piglets, now there’s a sea of corn (we call it maize here in the UK). Every time we walk past, I am reminded of Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams… ‘If you build it, they will come!’.

 

The white house stands sentry

The white house stands sentry

The white house across the as-yet-unharvested field of barley sits contemplating each moment at it passes, like a sentry, checking all the comings and goings of the season.

Gnarled branches whisper in the breeze

Gnarled branches whisper in the breeze

Gnarled branches are a-buzz with bees’ gossip, as they shelter from the audacious zephyr that whips my hair into my eyes as we walk.

This reminds me of Van Gogh's haystack

This reminds me of Van Gogh’s haystack

The breeze blows secrets through the grasses

The breeze blows secrets through the grasses

Haystacks withstand the wind's efforts to topple them

Haystacks withstand the wind’s efforts to topple them

Last week, this field held thigh-high hay

Last week, this field held thigh-high hay

Haystacks stand, neatly assembled, sentinels of straw, marking the changing season’s zenith with stately pride. The wind whips straw snippets into tiny eddies, as if to remind the Earth of its’ power. The Earth listens, as the most attentive student, eager to drink in all that Mother Nature has to offer.

The chums are nearing perfection

The chums* are nearing perfection

Autumnal hawthorn berries call to the birds

Autumnal hawthorn berries call to the birds

But the berries on the hawthorn and on the brambles speak of a turning of the wheel of time. As apples and chums* ripen on their branches, we move ever forward into the light, mindful that these dog days of Summer are almost at an end.

Apples ripen in the warmth of the Summer Sun

Apples ripen in the warmth of the Summer Sun

Our march takes us on past the treeline, up into the woods. Past the ripening apples, deeper into the densely wooded paths. On, ever travelling up towards the light.

Magical orbs of light beckon

Magical orbs of light beckon

Walking towards the light

Walking towards the light

Magical orbs of sunlight dapple the path, casting a spellbinding aura over our venture. I am calmed yet excited – there truly is magic everywhere I look. Our walk this afternoon is meant to distract me from the interminable waiting whilst my friend across the ocean weaves the final strand in the web of surprise that we have all been planning for over a month. This magical light now heightens my sense of anticipation, as if the very earth beneath my feet is counting the seconds as they tick by. ‘Are we there yet?’ Nature seems to ask.

As we begin our return, we pause momentarily at a high-point on the hill, looking back over the Vale, drinking in the enchanting view. My unsettled mind is temporarily sated as I project my gaze around the bucolic scene.

An expansive view of the field

An expansive view of the field

... and the rest of the Vale

… and the rest of the Vale

It lasts until we almost reach the busy road, when the traffic impinges upon my sense of composure; now I am eager to return to Cyberspace, to find out if the deed is yet done. Are we there YET?

Settled back at my desk, I click to the place I know I’ll find answers – Lisabel (Ms Dingle’s new nickname, having achieved this glorious subterfuge so successfully) is not there yet. I check back every couple of minutes. No, not yet. This waiting is utterly interminable…

And then the words appear on my screen. ‘Hi’.

We all know she’s arrived. It’s going to take her a few minutes to set the scene up properly. I start downloading my photos, so that I have something to DO whilst I wait for these final moments.

And then a video is posted. It is 2 minutes and 34 seconds long. Several people beat me to watching it and the exclamations are, as expected, of sheer delight and wonder and happiness and joy. I excitedly click to watch.

Nothing happens.

Well, actually, the black rectangle where the video should be remains blank.

Several kind people try to help me but, no dice. The Universe is telling me to learn the lesson of patience. It’s a lesson I doubt I will ever truly *get*.

There’s only one thing for it. Switch off and back on again. Twice.

And finally, FINALLY, I was able to share in the joy.

The Creative Group at Bedlam Farm have been plotting to find a way to give something back to the group’s creator, Jon Katz, who had (unexpected) heart bypass surgery only a few short weeks ago. We all felt that we could work a little magic for him and his inspirational wife, Maria Wulf, to help them recover from this ordeal. The decision to offer them a spot of Disney magic seemed perfect. I’ll let you read about the gift from Jon’s perspective (click on his name to find the link to his side of the story) but for us, the wait was over and the magic had been performed. I am really delighted to have been a very tiny part of that magic.

So, difficult as it was to drag myself away, I decided to retire to bed – we are five hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time in the US. I was pleased beyond measure at what had been achieved.

As I started to draw my bedroom curtains, high up above the treeline that we had been exploring earlier shone a miraculous, magnificent, magical moon.

All thoughts of my bed flew from my mind as I raced to locate my camera and tripod. I had to turn my computer back on to check how to adjust the settings for my task – to

The August moon beckoned me from my bed...

The August moon beckoned me from my bed…

photograph the moon and the night sky more effectively than I’ve managed before. I set the camera up and captured my first picture. Thirty seconds of exposure – that’s a very long time – gave me this view. To me, it seems to glow as bright as the very Sun it reflects.

Full moon with passing clouds

Full moon with passing clouds

To take my second picture required a change of lens. As I turned my back on the moon something caught my eye in the Northern sky behind the dark shadow of my house.

A shooting star! The first one that I have ever seen myself!

Magic happens. It happens all the time. All around us.

I made my wish upon a star and stood delightedly staring at the awesome night sky, as each of the billions of stars revealed their cosmic presence.

There was the glorious constellation of Ursa Minor – the Great Bear. Also known as The Plough, The Big Dipper, Saptarshi Mandal, the Northern Ladle, The Butcher’s Cleaver, the Grober Wagon and a dozen other names in every country on this Earth. Such a clear, uninterrupted view across billions of miles.

Can you see the seven stars of the Plough?

Can you see the seven stars of the Plough?

How can one not feel the magic of the Universe when we gaze in wonder at the skies above us?

Yes, I was wishing upon every star last night.

I hope that some of my wishes might come true.

Thanks for reading!

*... ooh, I nearly forgot to tell you about the chums! We cannot decide if they are a type of cherry or a type of plum – we’ve had horticulturalists, gardeners, cookery experts and all sorts of folk tell us they don’t know what these fruit are, but as they taste like a cross between a cherry and a plum and they make fabulous jam, we call them ‘Chums’. Hope that helps!

Thornton-Le-Dale’s hidden magic

Aren’t dogs fabulous? Pet-sitting for Dad for a couple of days this week, I’ve been motivated to get out and about for longer walks each day. When Candy, Dad’s seven-year-old Staffie, returned home on Wednesday, we we left without an obvious reason for going out to walk other than the joy of simply doing that. For many years my lower back pain has been worsening, to the point of forcing me to retire from the job I loved so much for so long – teaching. I had practically come to an almost total standstill, finding myself longing for the days when walking was not only a useful method of transport, but actually fun too. I have been just about able to take some very gentle, albeit rather brief strolls until very recently.

Thanks to the pain management clinic at York Hospital, I have learned to better understand my pain and through a variety of strategies I’ve been able to improve my activity levels significantly, to the point of being able to walk for increasingly longer periods, pain-free. Last week I managed to do a complete circuit, down the back lane and around to the front of our house, a distance of about a half-mile or so, with little difficulty; this week I’ve extended that to walk about double that. Twice a day. So really it’s quadrupled the amount of walking I find I am able to manage. Yay, go me!

So, now that we are dog-gone once more, how could we maintain this daily walking schedule? What motivation did we need?

The answer is simple – I just wanted to be out there, walking. BECAUSE I CAN! It’s no great mystery – walking is, for me at least, one of the most enjoyable forms of exercise I can get.

So, the real question was, ‘Where?’. Living as we do, in the Vale of Pickering, where walking is a generally relaxing and fulfilling pastime, surrounded by nature so beautiful and refreshing, choosing which part of the area to go for a walk is the difficult part. There are so many places to go. I’m going to have to draw up a list!

My FAB Hubby, Mark, suggested a short jaunt around the picturesque village of Thornton-le-dale and I didn’t need much persuasion – we frequently drive through the village on our way up to the Moors, which is by far my most favourite place on this Earth. I’ll write a piece about the Hole of Horcum one day, when I find enough adjectives to gush effectively enough about its divine serenity. But that’s another story.

I wonder if the diagonal harvesting is more efficient?

I wonder if the diagonal harvesting is more efficient?

A fairly short drive of about fifteen minutes from here, through the vale to the tiny village of Allerston and on to the infamous A170 which leads along the top edge of the Vale of Pickering to the picture-box-pretty village of Thornton-le-dale. If you keep on the 170 for a few more miles after Pickering, you would come to the magnificent White Horse at Sutton Bank, where the Vale of  York reaches the town of Thirsk stretching out for miles, leading you deep into Herriot Country, also known as The Yorkshire Dales. World famous beauty, right on our doorstep!

At this time of year the farmers create a patchwork of yellow, as the golden crops are safely gathered in with massive machinery. It is quite a sight and I was particularly taken with this intriguing pattern across a field that spans a considerable gradient, away up on the hills. I wondered if the diagonal lines had proven more efficient than the usual method of travelling up and down, parallel to the hedges.

Arriving into Thornton Dale, as the more modern name of this village is being accepted, you can feel the ancient history that permeates the air. It seems that the first settlers here were Neolithic, with evidence of burial grounds just up the hill through Ellerburn Wood onto Pexton Moor dating from 300BC. The Angles are most likely to have given the village its name as the dense forest of Dalby nearby probably held thorny bushes.

Lady Lumley's Almshouses have stood here since the late Seventeenth century

Lady Lumley’s Almshouses have stood here since the late Seventeenth century

The village is simply filled with gorgeousness. Following the sparkling brook by the main road, we found a parking spot immediately, right by the village cross and eagerly embarked to investigate a place that I had only stopped in a couple of times before. The Lady Lumley Almshouses are currently undergoing refurbishment, which was a little disappointing, but I will go back later to photograph them – it’ll give me another reason to return!

Magical water flows swiftly, only a few inches deep, right through the centre of the village.

Magical water flows swiftly, only a few inches deep, right through the centre of the village.

The clearest water, presumably coming down from the Moors, flows through the centre of the village, casting a magical spell over visitors immediately. It feels like a physical embodiment of Chi – the life-force of the village. I made a secret wish and felt a peaceful sense of calm simply watching the fast-flowing water as it danced vivaciously towards the little bridge.

Bridges over the brook are numerous in Thornton Dale

Bridges over the brook are numerous in Thornton Dale

The bridge to Lavender's Tea Shoppe

The bridge to Lavender’s Tea Shoppe

A short stroll shows where the stream  was divided, presumably by the Victorians, to provide power to the houses that face onto the village green. Some of these have been amalgamated into a charming tea-shoppe planted with an abundance of lavender. Each of these houses has a small stone bridge to provide access over the water.

More bridges lead to the homes and businesses from the road – wildflowers complete the picture of serenity.

Aubretia thrives by the brook

Aubretia thrives by the brook

I orbed it, of course!

I orbed it, of course!

The Old Post Office has a sentry on guard

The Old Post Office has a sentry on guard

I was saddened though to find that the village post-office has closed since my last visit. I had been charmed by the Post Master there, an elderly man, who knew everybody in the village personally  and who took great pride in treating this knowledge with honour and respect. It’s a terrible shame that we allow these traditions to die out. All that’s left now is the pillar box as it stands on guard duty at the edge of the stream.

With a sense of adventure, we traversed the first bridge. The scent of woody growth and clear, fresh water pervaded and we were instantly treated to the bucolic scene of a small weir, with ducks happily negotiating their naps or foraging for food within. The light here became even more entrancing than before, as it dappled the water through the tiny gaps in the leaves.

The light dappled over the water mesmerizingly

The light dappled over the water mesmerizingly

And then, the grandest surprise of them all presented itself! I had never suspected that there was a beautiful pond, complete with wildfowl of various kinds and a  well-worn path around as well as benches at strategic points.

The Pond presented itself as a secret revealed

The Pond presented itself as a secret revealed

How could I not have known this was here? As ducks, drakes, coots and moorhens quacked and chuckled, the exquisite surroundings seemed to take on a life of their own – I felt almost as if I were looking through a Pensieve: given a unique, Dumbedorian opportunity to view Paradise.

The white duck swam serenely by...

The white duck swam serenely by…

Ducks and other wildfowl clucking and nattering to each other, to me, to anyone who was listening; young children with their mothers, mid-day joggers, teenagers and older couples dotted around The Pond, all drawing life-affirming sustenance from simply being there.

Picnicking in the sunshine by the pond

Picnicking in the sunshine by the pond

An elderly couple enjoy an ice-cream across the pond

An elderly couple enjoy an ice-cream across the pond

I was utterly bewitched.

The duckling was separated from his mother

The duckling was separated from his mother

A tiny duckling had lost its mother.

The duckling spotted his mother and just went for it...

Splash! In he goes!

Splash! In he goes!

The duckling spotted his mother and just went for it…

He peeped and piped on a lofty note, increasing his alarm as the moments passed – his dive into the water when he spotted his parent was euphoric and a delight to witness.

The Hole in the Wall

The Hole in the Wall

Through the hole in the wall a modern car-park was secreted – I determined that I would have to bring my children and grandchildren here and this convenience made it even more accessible.

Age before Beauty!

Age before Beauty!

Growing against the wall are ancient roses and other flora – I came upon these lovely examples that immediately made e think of the old adage ‘age before beauty’ – so that’s what I called this picture.

The Morning Glory basked in the sunshine

The Morning Glory basked in the sunshine

Whilst the Morning Glory flowers drank in the sunshine, we decided to head back towards the car. I needed longer, but since Time waits for no man, reluctantly I had to draw away.

Tome waits for no man...

Time waits for no man…

So, of course I orbed this too!

So, of course I orbed this too!

Brambles Antiques marketing ploy - an elderly delivery cycle

Brambles Antiques marketing ploy – an elderly delivery cycle

The antique shop on the corner by the crossroad holds a plethora of delights to be explored another day; the bakery’s fine produce provided a delicious lunch and trinkets of sublime synchronicity bade us a fond farewell.

My daughter and her daughter's names called out to us...

My daughter and her daughter’s names called out to us…

We will definitely be back!

As always, thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

Reflection on poppy seeds

A little while back I had a steep learning curve experience when it came to viola seeds. If you’re a regular reader, you may remember that it came as a teensy shock to me that they would explode all over my studio for no reason other than that they could. After I cleaned the resulting chaos up, I vowed that I would not be caught out again – forewarned is forearmed and all that. Y’know?

So when I stepped outside earlier this week and noticed that the poppies had pretty much gone to seed and it was time to collect them in or be damned to RPG (random poppy growth) next summer, I quickly ran for my secateurs (*AHEM* my FAB hubby did the running part. I am a lady and ladies don’t DO running!) and collected the dead-heads in this afternoon.

They looked so pretty sitting on the tray, waiting to be harvested, with their cheerful little top-knots and rounded, fat heads.

I decided they needed a photo-shoot – Mother Nature deserved it, thought I to myself. I do a lot of thinking to myself. I find that I usually understand where my train of thought is going, although there have been occasions when this has eluded even me. Back in the real world, I gathered all my equipment and set up shop outside on the patio, in-between downpours. How warm and Summery it was, sitting there, with the sun blazing down on my back! You’d almost think it WAS Summer! I should really get a grip here…

I was struck by the gentle rattling noise that they made as I held the stems; like tiny baby rattles or mini-maracas. Momentarily I envisaged a Thumbelina-sized Carmen Miranda sashaying down my patio, with a couple of poppy seed heads, shaking them for all they were worth. The house martens would have raised an eyebrow, if they’d had one to raise of course.

So handling my trusty scalpel  (there’s a idea that many people live in fear of – me with a scalpel, yoiks!) very carefully indeed, I scalped each little head and found thousands of tiny black, kidney-shaped  seeds inside each one. The insides have several segmented pockets to hold the seed in – I imagine this to to maximise the storage load effectively – only one of my seed heads was empty, which I think meant a pretty good haul.

I wrote a haiku to accompany the seeds, so rick and deeply dark are they, lying huddled at the bottom of the jar.

Lilliputian dot,

Life-bringing kernel of sleep,

Dark, charcoal-hued grain.

Yes… it probably needs some work on that one :)

Photographing each stage as I was doing this was revealing – I always notice much more when I’ve got the subject under the 100mm macro lens. Teensy bugs trampled in and out of the collected seeds and the emptied vessels.

But it was the muted colour scheme that fascinated me most I think.

Naturally, I couldn’t resist toying with the images – so here’s this evening’s visual offering

Composite view of the poppy heads

Composite view of the poppy heads

 

The various viewpoints reminded me of all sorts of other things – heads, bowed in prayer, lots of tiny, toothy yet sightless monster zombies bearing down on me (I should perhaps put the fizzy drinks down …!) a carpet of tiny sea-anemones reaching out to me…  so then, I started with the orbing again …

I love the pattern these scalped remains made

I love the pattern these scalped remains made

Patterns and textures from the unique perspective of orbs

Patterns and textures from the unique perspective of orbs

Technically, this is a composite of orbs and straight photos

Technically, this is a composite of orbs and straight photos

Then, I really did get carried away. I was struck by the resemblance of the seed heads to a group of shaven-headed worshippers – perhaps a group of Tibetan monks. I wanted to create something that resembled worshipping and since Buddhist monks spend so much of their time in reflective meditation, I went with that as inspiration for this image. As I have finally learned to meditate, it seems an appropriate visual statement about my day. I wonder what you think?

'Congregation reflections'

‘Congregation reflections’

 

Thanks for reading! Do come again!

Digital collage experiment

Digital art is an interesting concept. I am a total novice of course, having only recently explored some of the possibilities with Photoshop – I yearn to have a wonderful tool like an iPad and the fabulous art software, ‘ArtRage’ or some of the other, equally exciting tools that are available. Of course, I recognise that we have other priorities, not least of which is to find some fulfilling, useful and rewarding (both emotionally and financially!) work for me to undertake. But, I digress. (Did I hear you say ‘How unusual!’ there?)

So this evening I’ve been toying with a less-than inspiring photo of a Californian poppy that was growing in my front garden earlier this Summer. Here’s how it looked to start with:

Original poppy image

Original poppy image

So I considered taking the colours to some extremes and came up with these two:

Poster red poppy

Poster red poppy

Blue poppy

Blue poppy

Then I really started to play around – the middle section of this had seventeen layers at one point! I liked the effect of placing overlaid sections at varying degrees of transparency and I experimented with some different kinds of shapes to select. Then I added the two colourized versions to the top and bottom of the image.

First collage of poppies

First collage of poppies

Next I attempted to add new layers to bring the more defined areas further into the exploration of colours and shapes, hopefully creating new textures to add greater depth to the image. I liked this version best so far, so in order to give a more complete product, I’ve added a mat.

Final collage: Poppies

Final collage: Poppies

Et, voila!

Of course, these are simplistic early explorations of ideas, but I think that I do quite like them, although I’m not sure why.

I’d be interested to know your thoughts on these experiments… please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me on facebook (click the tab at the top of the page :) )

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Goosey Gander – Yorkshire style.

I love living in Yorkshire. Ask any Yorkshireman, or woman for that matter, and they will tell you that it is indeed ‘God’s Own Country’. That quiet pride is absolute – you would never convince them otherwise, regardless of any evidence to the contrary – and is actually remarkably inspiring.

I have a hundred and one, nay, a thousand and one examples of why this belief is held.

I could show you pictures of the bucolic countryside. I’ve done that many times before – just scroll through my archives and you’ll see what I mean.

I have some more fabulous pictures of the exquisite Castle Howard, set among acres of rolling Howardian Hills, a certifiable place of Outstanding Natural Beauty (the road signs say so, it must be true!), which I’ll get round to posting about in the near future. It is a gorgeous place indeed.

I’m on the lookout for pictures of Yorkshire faces, young and old – but that’s a project for the future.

A Yorkshire gaggle of geese...

A Yorkshire gaggle of geese…

Today, I thought I’d treat you to some of t’local wildfowl, who are clearly from Yorkshire as they have that streak  of stubbornness that is de rigeur for any living thing around here. Last week we drove over to Hornsea, to visit Dad for a short while. The journey time is shorter if we snake through the tiny back-roads, up and down the Wolds. Passing through several small villages, the route is always delightful. Chocolate-box village ponds are frequently populated with wildfowl, happily swimming around or nesting on tiny islands tucked away in the middle of the waters.

Sometimes though, they like to spread out a bit.

The Neanderthol was driving last week and had his first experience of having to yield to nature. There’s a tricky right turn at Burton Agnes, with significant volumes of oncoming traffic exiting Bridlington pretty much all day long. Toby was concentrating. I could tell he was because his mouth had stopped moving – he’d been chatting nonchalantly for most of the way up to this point and when he wasn’t chattering, he was singing. So, this deafening silence was a true indication of his heightened concentration level.

The indicator light was ticking away. Click. Click. Click.

Four cars, a bus and a motorbike passed. Click. Click. Click.

A white van was definitely speeding round the corner – sensibly, Toby waited.

A tractor appeared at the corner providing a gap in the traffic flow long enough to ensure he could manoeuver safely out of the junction, which he did, with a heavy sigh of relief. And then, with admirable speed and just a hint of compunction he slammed on the brakes; it seems he’s been well taught when it comes to emergency stops. Thankfully.

The reason for his sudden adjournment of our journey was immediately apparent… a flock of geese had settled themselves across the larger portion of the road, making thoroughfare tricky, if not actually impossible without considerable commotion and probably a flurry of feathers to boot.Geese congress

The pond at the side of the road has a low stone barrier which serves (mostly) to prevent vehicles from accidentally careening into the water; today there were at least two dozen geese and a few ducks draped elegantly over the obstacle, stretching out across the roadway, for all the world attending to important business, in congress about the current warm-weather contingency plans or some other vitally significant topic.

I grabbed my camera and leapt from the car to capture a few portraits.

What do you think Mabel? Shall we let her through?

What do you think Mabel? Shall we let her through?

A couple of geese came to greet me, to investigate my credentials and give me leave to continue with my soul-snapping project.

Hmm... she looks pretty innocuous wouldn't you say, Sally?

Hmm… she looks pretty innocuous wouldn’t you say, Sally?

One or two looked at me rather shiftily. I shrugged off a feeling of disquiet and snapped away, smiling benignly at these creatures.

Eey up lad! Watch where you're puttin' that lens!

Eey up lad! Watch where you’re puttin’ that lens!

Can I help you?

Can I help you?

One inquisitive bird was despatched to check out the vehicle.

She waddled off towards the car placidly, head slightly to one side. She traversed the entire length of the car, taking in every detail as her gaze moved up and down continuously. Once at the back of the car, she hopped down from the curb, investigated the rear intently and then moved to the off-side, again checking all the details as she went.

You are cleared for entry - but be careful!

You are cleared for entry – but be careful!

She finally nodded once, presumably to confirm that she had found no WMD’s on our vehicle and we were finally given leave to pass through the checkpoint, unimpeded.

Just don't go ruffling my feathers, you hear?

Just don’t go ruffling my feathers, you hear?

We heaved a sigh of relief simultaneously and left them to their committee meeting, smiling broadly as we waved goodbye.

Or is that a Parliament of geese (surely, that's 'owls'?)

Or is that a Parliament of geese (surely, that’s ‘owls’?)

 

Thanks for reading – please stop by again, for more stories about life on t’Grange! :)

McNofly Manor revisited

Vainglorious. That’s me today.

Okay, that’s *probably* over-stating things a tad, as I am generally not given to show-offy tendencies at all. But I AM feeling very pleased and whilst it’s not really that I’m pleased with MYSELF so much, I’m owning the whole being pleased thing, big time.

You may recall a couple of weeks back I was very sad after having found the wreckage of a nest in my garden, not far from where it had, only the day before, been the very first home of some baby house martens. Not just ANY house martens, but most likely the offspring of my favourite little chap from last year, Marty McNofly. Devastated would not be far from how it felt to find the forlorn remains strewn amongst my dahlias. If you didn’t read that lament (why not?) then you can catch up here.

I left the story half-untold really, which is unlike me, I’m sure you’ll agree. I was vainly *wishing* and *hoping* that everything would somehow turn out alright. I’m not one for praying in almost any circumstances, but I came as close as I’ve ever been than day… putting my blind faith in a really rather unlikely possibility that some ‘good’ would come of the manifestly darker side of nature. I knew my wishing and hoping would likely count for little in the bigger scheme of the cosmos.

The Crazy Gang started to construct an extension to last year's nest...

The Crazy Gang started to construct an extension to last year’s nest…

Whilst humans continue to edge ever-closer to total annihilation, with nations plucking innocents from the sky and blasting them into Kingdom Come, with retaliation and retribution being the immediate reactions to aggression and blitzkreig being uppermost in everyone’s mind this hot and humid summer, imagine my joy at finding that my one small prayer has been answered – someone is listening out there. Someone, some sublime and Super Natural Being seems to have heard my silent plea and has righted this wrong. I don’t know if they are the same baby house martens or not, but I can now report that we have two beautiful families of house martens living in semi-detached luxury outside my FAB hubby’s study, only a few feet from the back door! Actually, there are three other families of martens attached the the Grange as well, but I am fairly sure they were all there a couple of weeks ago too, so it’s unlikely that they are the relocated little family from my earlier panic.

 

Just a day or so after the lost nest fiasco, we noticed additional activity around one of the other nest sites attached to the house. Last year it had been home to a small family of martens and now it seemed they needed some kind of extension… an annexe was being constructed! Many of the Crazy Gang seemed to be involved in the rennovation project and soon two complete nests sat side-by-side, just like many other suburban semi-detached home. Oh, and whilst they were about the job, they also put in a rather grand viewing deck on the other side…

Two tiny mouths

Two tiny mouths

Nope... there's definitely three!

Nope… there’s definitely three!

By the 11th of July we began to notice that babies were chirruping vociferously from within both sides of the nest. I caught sight of one little bird, with barely any feathers, just a large yellow opening where parent birds deposited every offering.

One tiny marten with hardly any feathers, begs for food

One tiny marten with hardly any feathers, begs for food

At first, we thought there was only two, but by the next day, we realised there were definitely three little mouths to feed on each side. Six new babies! Yay!

By the next visit, there were three cherubs smiling at me!

By the next visit, there were three cherubs smiling at me!

Two little cuties check me out

Two little cuties check me out

The parents have been increasingly busy, feeding hungry little mouths is a challenging business.

Feed me NOW!

Feed me NOW!

Parental duties are never-ending!

Parental duties are never-ending!

I took every opportunity to catch glimpses of the babies and they haven’t disappointed. Each day as their confidence has grown they have continued to venture closer to the edge of the nests – a couple of days ago one almost fell out as he hovered so precipitously close to disaster.

A juvenile marten shows the babies the great view from the deck...

A juvenile marten shows the babies the great view from the deck…

The Crazy Gang, as we have dubbed the group of martens, seem to take turns to feed and amuse their youngsters. Just yesterday, I spotted this juvenile sitting on the extra ‘viewing deck’, adding a little mud here and there and encouraging the little ones to hop out onto the deck for a better view of the world.

Brave little Marty Junior has made it out onto the deck!

Brave little Marty Junior has made it out onto the deck!

This morning, when I checked on them, the bigger, braver chick had made it to the deck. He was hoping to be fed from there, but the adults bringing food seemed to think that this was now unneccesary and I expect when I go out later on today that he’ll already have fledged, fully. It is such a joy to see them, especially after what happened.

I’ll be sad when they leave us, simply because Summer will be over and we’ll be preparing for winter once more. Such is the Circle of Life.

It’s just a shame that humankind seems so hell-bent on destroying itself and everything else besides. Maybe I need to wish for greater understanding and peace among humans. Who knows who’s listening?

More Floral images – I’m possibly obsessed!

I’m on a bit of a mission.

To create the *perfect* floral picture.

There’s a small problem.

I don’t really have a clue what a *perfect floral picture* looks like.

Hmm. When I look around for inspiration, I find myself in awe of others who seem much more than capable of capturing and creating some exquisite images –  many of these are of floral origin or they include an element of flora within them somewhere. Some are gorgeous, serene, colourful and often textural too, whilst others are at the very least pretty.

But I’m not after pretty. Or even ‘near-perfect’.

So, it begs the question, what does ‘perfect’ look like to me? To anyone?

And therein lies the essence of such a question of course.

Because everyone has an opinion and opinions are subjective – they have to be, it’s what makes us individuals. If everyone had the same opinion about everything then we’d be living in some Orwellian nightmare that I, for one, would rather not consider a viable option, thank you very much. It would be awful, in the most true sense of that word.

Earlier this week I was reading an article by a friend from the Open Group for Bedlam Farm, who had been utterly devastated by the opinion of someone whom she figured was fairly important (to her) being a long way from the ideal ‘This is fabulous work – you are a force of nature, a creative genius and  I bow to your awesomeness!‘ kind of feedback that clearly wasn’t actually expected. Even the most hardy of souls longs for acceptance, for reassurance and for encouraging feedback and when it’s not forthcoming, we find ourselves emotionally beaten up. It’s what we all do – anyone who makes something where there was nothing before. Anyone who ‘creates’ something, often from disparate raw materials – some pieces of fabric, a blank sheet of paper/computer screen, paints, knitting needles and some hanks of wool perhaps. It’s not the elements of what is used that makes something *art*, but the practicality of creating something from these things that makes a creative soul *tick*. And when someone offers an opinion on the outcome of all that creativity, we like to think that we’ve steeled ourselves for anything that comes our way, but the reality is of course that criticism, no matter how it is given, can usually sneak between the chinks of armour to slice our creative souls into a million teeny pieces as effectively as the traditional Japanese santoku.

My friend spent some considerable time thinking about what this knock-back had meant to her, for her; how it affected what she wrote or created in the future and came up with the awesome conclusion that everyone’s opinions are just and only that – their viewpoints, neither more or less valid than anyone else’s viewpoints. As ever, with sound advice coming from the inestimable Jon Katz, along the lines of ‘Never read what the critics say‘ I felt as though I had been taught a truly invaluable lesson. Stop trying to please others – you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can never please all of them all of the time. Simple, isn’t it? You’d think.

Now, if only I could come to terms with my own opinion, then maybe I’d be able to *see* that elusive perfection that I’m searching for. I wonder of Van Gogh or Frida Khalo or any of the other inspirational artists I can think of could *see* what perfection looked like for them? Did they ever achieve it? Does anyone?

So, with that in mind, I’m offering a few pictures that were captured earlier this weekend, most of which I’ve manipulated to create something new, which technically at least, I think perhaps makes me an artist.

I’m really not ready to put that down as my occupation though…

Filling the frame: City of Leeds rose

Filling the frame: City of Leeds rose

The City of Leeds rose was planted late – only about two months ago. The first buds began to open this week. It’s a stunning flower, with soft velvety petals and a deep, rich pink hue that seems almost perfect to me. It’s a challenge to get some good lighting though!

City of Leeds rose, taking a wider view

City of Leeds rose, taking a wider view

Like many amateur gardeners, I make up my own hanging baskets, usually filled with petunias, geraniums, fuchsias and lobelia, which I think gives a nice colour selection to them. The lobelia has been particularly profusely flowering this year so far.

Lobelia, used to 'fill' my hanging baskets, given a new perspective...

Lobelia, used to ‘fill’ my hanging baskets, given a new perspective…

My sweet peas adorn a south-facing wall about fifteen metres from my studio door. I don’t often venture out when it’s been raining, but it was warm rain, so I thought this might be OK. I’ve started to use a technique to extend the original picture into a framed mat – this one is lightly blurred. Maybe its the colours, but I do like this one.

Sweet peas, just after the rain

Sweet peas, just after the rain

The pinks sit next to the night-scented stock, creating a heady cocktail of perfume each evening. Their variegated petals look like a painting to me.

Pinks

Pinks

I have an ongoing battle with the wild poppies that love to pop up all over the place, often uninvited. This one sits happily among the sweet peas, like a cuckoo in a strangers’ nest. When I looked really carefully, I noticed the centre; far from the plain black button that I thought was what I’d find, in reality, there’s this delicate nine-pointed star with gossamery tendrils supporting tiny black seeds. And the pollen is purple! Who knew?

The centre of a wild poppy is so delicate

The centre of a wild poppy is so delicate

Naturally, I had to orb it! For poppy lovers, I wanted to extend the boundary once more, adding the original image incorporated into the mat background.

Poppy orbed

Poppy orbed

Asiatic lilies are undoubtedly showy, brightly coloured flowers with proper in-your-face-gorgeousness. I loved the colour on this one and treated it to a focus on that by using a Photoshop filter that gives a wide brush or palette-knife feel to the image. For me this one is all about the colour and details needed to simply take the bus home.

Asiatic lily, close up, given a wider brush

Asiatic lily, close up, given a wider brush

I can’t tell you how much joy it brings me to see bees pollinating so busily each day. This guy has his trendy U2 sunny’s perched up on his forehead (in my imagination – stay with me here people!) whilst he gorges himself on the strawberry flower’s offering. I’m just chuffed that I’ll be getting some delicious strawberries in a few weeks… I thought the plant had died!

Bees pollinating flowers is one of my favourite subjects

Bees pollinating flowers is one of my favourite subjects

In my efforts to attract pollinating insects, bees and butterflies, to my garden, I’ve scattered wildflower seeds all over the place – this one is a bit like a cornflower (or Batchelor buttons as I’ve heard them called) but it’s definitely not a cornflower. However, I find spiky flowers acquire this glorious linear quality when they are rondulated.

Random wildflower orbed

Random wildflower orbed

 

Of course, as ever, I do value your opinions about my work. I am not quite as evolved down that artistic path yet – but at least I am stepping out and walking down that road, something I couldn’t do a few months ago.

I’ve got nothing when it comes to an E.T.A. though…

Thanks for reading!

Wild about the wildlife

After the sorrow of last week when it seems that all was lost for Marty Jr. I am , as ever, amazed by the variety of wildlife that inhabits this corner of Yorkshire with us. Over the past couple of days, we’ve had an array of visitors to the garden, almost all of whom are very welcome.

I didn’t take photos of the ones that aren’t welcome, because, well that would be a bit daft now, wouldn’t it? Who wants to see pictures of rats the size of a small wheelbarrow? No, me neither!

So, instead, here’s what we’ve seen in the past couple of days…

Ben Bunny munching happily on the grass.

Ben Bunny munching happily on the grass.

First there was Ben Bunny. My FAB hubby thought he might have been an over-sized rat at first, but was mightily relieved to find he’s just a little ball of fluff… although we’re taking extra precautions around the carrots now we know about Ben. I couldn’t really get close enough to get a really good shot – rabbits rely upon their enhanced super-hearing to stay alive, so as soon as he gets even the faintest hint of sound, he scarpers pretty quickly. Still, he is definitely cute!

Fledgling contemplating his options...

Fledgling contemplating his options…

Next came a little feathered chap who decided that the patio outside my studio might be a good place to rest his fledgling wings for a few minutes. He wasn’t spooked by my camera so much – until I made the mistake of trying to open the side gate and then he was off, quick as a flash. I was relieved he wasn’t injured and could fly independently – I’m not great at looking after small animals, or birds for that matter.

Water critters... see the dents their tiny feet make on the surface of the water?

Water critters… see the dents their tiny feet make on the surface of the water?

Living things labelAnd then today I popped out into the sunshine to take some photos – look out for the next blog piece with some lovely shots taken today – when I found one of the red trays that I used to use for storing various school-work related ephemera. I

ronically, this one was labelled ‘Science: Living Things’! It’s been outside for a few days and has therefore (this is England after all!) collected a few centimeters of rainfall.

There was a variety of small water-critters swimming around in the water as well as skating around the surface. I am no expert when it comes to creepy crawly things, but these beetles seem to be entering into some kind of game of Thrones inspired orgy … or at least that’s how it looks to me! I love the fact that you can see where their little feet have slightly pierced the surface tension of the water. I hope that someone with more entomological knowledge than  myself can put me right about the bug’s behaviour as I don’t want to get a reputation for posting dodgy pictures!

But the best sighting, by far, came this afternoon.

Just outside the FAB hubby’s den there’s a house marten nest, which has, like most of the others, been there for at least three years or so. We noticed that it has recently acquired an extension, so that it looks like a semi-detached house now. I heard some quite loud cheeping noises whilst I was out photographing the flowers which caused me to rush inside for the stepladders. I’m never very good when not in contact with the ground beneath my feet, so venturing up a step ladder, out of doors, in the big wide open that is the OUTSIDE… well, I didn’t rate my chances any way.

But I didn’t fall, not even a wobble.

I got to see inside both of the nests.

There are baby house martens in BOTH nests. At least two in each.

How do I know…

Two cuties!

Two cuties!

Baby Marten - I wish I could say he's cute, but... well I think he's gorgeous!

Baby Marten – I wish I could say he’s cute, but… well I think he’s gorgeous!

Well, here’s the evidence! It certainly made my heart sing!

I hope that the extension is housing the Marten family that I feared were lost last week… that glass there’s pretty much half full i believe!

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

Moving house or McNofly Manor

Last year, around this time, I wrote a piece about some of our summer visitors, the house martens, or as I prefer to call them, The Crazy Gang. For those with short memories (myself included) or for those who didn’t read the story about Marty McNofly, you’ll have to scroll down the page to find it, but the story about Marty McNofly is here.

Marty McNofly last year

Marty McNofly last year

I love to see our little feathered friends and watch their antics as they swoop and dive around the back garden’s air-space, clearly under instructions from flight control central somewhere – although I couldn’t imagine where that might be. Someone must be controlling their flight paths as I’ve never seen a mid-air collision yet and goodness only knows how they manage not to crash into each other on their manic manoeuvres!

On several occasions I have attempted to video the aerobatics but they just move too quickly and all I’ve managed to capture so far is a load of blurry blue skies followed by several minutes of brick wall, focused on the little mud edifices that they call home. The construction of these nests are a miracle of physics if you ask me – globules of mud mixed with bits of straw and presumably some regurgitated bird-vomit stick these nests to the walls of my home at various points, just under the guttering or the eaves of the house.

In early April we usually see them all flying around, restoring last year’s nests, adding patches on where necessary and lining them afresh with soft feathers to make room for their new arrivals.

The incessant chattering of the females as they sit on their eggs makes it so easy to anthropomorphise their conversations.

What do you mean you can’t find any mud? Get back out there and get me some TOP QUALITY mud, or, so help me, I will SCREAM until you do!‘ she berates the poor little chap.

Sorry, pet! Don’t get so excited dear, you know it’s bad for the little ones to hear you screeching… I’m going, I’ll be back when I find some of the best mud!‘ the beleaguered male marten attempts to soothe as he hastily retreats into the big wide world…

Yes, it’s an age old story of course. This year was no different. Approximately fifteen house martens returned in mid-April and the daily chit-chattering began in earnest. it is always hilarious to watch them as they come and go.

I was thrilled to see that Marty and/or Martina (his little sister) had most definitely returned to re-occupy the nest they were born into last year. In fact, the day they arrived back was such a lovely warm day, that I’d had my studio door open to let some fresh air flow through as I worked on my latest creative project. The nest is about five or six feet west of the door, so it was an easy thing to miss the nest and mistakenly end up in my studio – or at least that’s what I thought the first time it happened that day. And the second too.

By the time Marty had flown in and out of my studio eighteen times though, I began to realise that he was just saying ‘Hi!’ and ‘Aren’t you glad to see me?’ and ‘I missed you too!’ I was really thrilled that he was clearly communicating his pleasure at returning to me. Delightedly, I chattered back to him for the few moments that he stayed indoors.

Hurray! Marty is home!

Hurray! Marty is home!

‘Oh, Marty! how lovely to see you!’ I exclaimed.

‘Is everything OK? Just how you left it? Good, good, I’m so glad to see you!’ I interjected between his chattering.

So, you can imagine how I felt a few days ago when I saw him popping into the nest, delivering some delicious tid-bit to his new missus. I realised I was behaving like a proud grandparent!

I swear, he smiled at me as I waited to try to listen in to the goings on in the nest… sure enough, there were the same quiet little chattering noises that I’d heard him making last year.

There were definitely tiny baby Marty’s in the nest! They were still too small for me to catch photo’s of, but I was so looking forward to seeing the little baby martens as they popped their little heads up for the first time.

But it’s not meant to be.

Disaster struck.

The broken nest lay in tatters among the alpines...

The broken nest lay in tatters among the alpines…

A couple of mornings ago, I found this amongst my alpine plants in the nearby flowerbed. A small clump of straw, mud and bird droppings. With a few soft feathers for lining.

It’s the remains of the nest that has clung to the guttering outside my studio door for at least the past two years.

As soon as it dawned on me what it actually was, my eyes shot straight up to the nest-site.

It’s gone.

I don’t know what happened. Perhaps the owl or some other night-creature had spotted it and somehow attacked it during the night. Perhaps it was a result of the downpour, accompanied by the gale-force winds from a couple of nights ago. I don’t know what happened.

I only know there’s a hole where the nest was.

And the babies that I’d heard chirruping quietly a few days before were gone.

I now that women my age often have trouble with what is termed ‘empty nest syndrome’, but I’m pretty sure that’s not meant as a literal term.

The empty nest - it's a *real thing*

The empty nest – it’s a *real thing*

There’s a small part of me that has hope for them. Perhaps, just possibly, maybe, it’s not inconceivable that the baby martens were older than I had imagined and they had somehow fledged before we had a proper chance to get to know each other. They would be flying off somewhere, safe and sound. And they will return home next year. As usual.

I really hope that’s what happened.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

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