Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017: The Year Of . . .

Anyone else look back over the previous year as the new year beckons and think about what stood out? I do. Here's a few of the things that are worth remembering for me from 2017, and moving forward with in 2018. All pictures on this post taken from my instagram account, @freddievonfred.
Oh yeah! A couple of months on, it's still a bit of a 'pinch me' feeling that I can actually drive on the roads on my own. I have a list of places I want to go in the upcoming months for a variety of reasons - to see friends and family, to take photographs, to eat nice food - and having the ability to get to the more out of the way places is such a treat. 
Bullet Journals
I discovered bullet journaling in January this year and was STUNNED that no-one had mentioned it to me before. There have been some months where I've been a bit lax but whenever I've needed to make notes on projects or activities or goals they've all ended up in my bujo. I love this planning system so much that I ran a free workshop on it for the Cake & Revolution WI last summer and am running another one in January. When I get addicted to something, I want to share the love . . . 
A Return to Snailmail
Through my peregrinations on Pinterest, I realised how much lovely mail art there is out there. Not only that, but I also gleaned the fact that penpalling was something you could totally do as an adult! I had just assumed it was a fad from childhood, missed but impossible to recreate in the world of grown ups. Not so! I have embraced snailmail with gusto, nurtured an addiction to fold & mail stationery and connected with people across the world courtesy of the League of Extraordinary Penpals
Lino Cut printing & Watercolour
I took advantage of a free printing course in my local area at the start of the year and learned the basics of a couple of types of printing, of which lino cutting stuck. I definitely want to get more practice in during 2018, and the same goes for watercolour. I don't think I will ever be the kind of person who creates great big grand pieces so for me the emphasis will be working on small scale projects.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Photos from Wolves Wood RSPB

Today, I took a trip with a friend to Wolves Wood RSPB reserve. It's a very simple place - aside from a car park there is nothing but the wood itself. Dogs are not allowed and if you feel the call of nature you need to find a tree to discreetly squat behind. Liz and I arrived mid-morning with our cameras and had the place entirely to ourselves throughout our visit.
Lots of low sun through bare trunks and branches
Wolves Wood is managed with the traditional method of coppicing. This allows plenty of light into the area, which was even more noticeable on a winter's day like today than spring or summer when the multitude of trees would be full of leaves. In places, tall, pale spindly trees jostled together, and in the wind the branches clack against each other as they moved back and forth.
Lots of autumnal colour still in evidence
There were birds about but they were happy to keep their distance so no good photos to be had of feathered residents. Apparently you can see deer in the area if you are lucky - we weren't lucky, but I suspect with all the squelching of our muddy boots and our occasional chat that we would have spooked any such animals anyway. Owing to all the rain yesterday, the paths were pretty muddy so we were glad to have worn practical footwear and, in my case, old jeans.
For those who like their funghi there was a variety to be seen
I saw this cocoon nestled against a tree trunk -
fascinating to me as it looks more like a seashell
Ever wondered what a rotting rose head looks like on a
damp December day? Wonder no more.
Most of the leaves had abandoned their trees but a few hung on
 by threads here and there in the more sheltered areas
While we didn't see any animals there was evidence of their presence
all over the place from prints in the mud to littered remnants of acorns
Lamellae. Gills. Call them what you will, the underside of mushrooms
are one of the most satisfying things to photograph because of their
luscious texture
I've not seen funghi like this before. Having asked a friend of mine
who is far more in the know on such subjects, looks like this could
be yellow brain. The colour was a far more orangey yellow in real
life but I couldn't capture the hue accurately on camera.
Arty photo

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Hortense and the Shadow

Genre/ setting: Fairy tale; children's books

The story:
Hortense is kind and brave and lives in a house that can be found through the dark and wolfish woods. The only thing wrong with her life is her shadow, which she hates. She is aware of it always, how it changes shape and follows her every move. When she finally finds a way to free herself from this burden, what could possibly make her want to take it back again?
This is a lovely fairy tale, a book picked up on a whim from the library with delightful illustrations, a lively heroine and a classic winter setting. Ideal for reading at this time of year.

This is the first book by sisters Natalia and Lauren O'Hara, and I hope they go on to publish many more. I have a list of authors I check up on every 6 months or so to see if they have any impending new books, and I have added the O'Hara sisters to that list. If you'd like to see more of their artwork you can check out their Instagram account, @oharasisters, which has lots of lovely piccies to browse through. There are even occasional photos of their cat Ida, who looks very satisfying fluffy.
Memorable line/ image:
Wind flew through the woods like a pack of wild dogs.
How evocative is that? Lovely.

Would I read this book again?:
Yes. I re-read it immediately after finishing it actually, and will read it again before I return it to the library.

9 out of 10 shadows

Saturday, 23 December 2017

A book recommended by a family member

Pick & Mix Reading Challenge: Book #5
Taken from: Popsugar Reading Challenge 2016
Challenge: A book recommended by a family member

Genre/ setting etc: 
Graphic novel - urban fantasy/ horror

The story:
I put out a request on Facebook for family members to recommend a book, and this is the result. Not technically this exact book, but a cousin did say the Dresden File books were worth a look, and when I went to the library this was the one I found. 

Harry Dresden is a wizard for hire. 
We first see Harry doing battle with an interesting sea beastie. While he is capable of taking care of himself, it isn't exactly a walk in the park, so our hero is established as being game to take anything on while also not potentially having the ability to handle it smoothly. In Ghoul Goblin, he's hired to protect a family whose members are being picked off one by one by a curse. An ancestor offended some nasty types decades ago and the curse has filtered down the generations. 

A ghoul and a goblin are targetting the family and Harry sets about finding out why, and if anything can be done about it. There's a lot of detail that is missed in this book owing to the fact it is a graphic novel rather than pages of text, and I think a standard novel would have given a lot more grounding for the mythological elements of the book, but even so the story ticks along at a good rate, keeping the reader entertained and wanting to read more.

The story isn't just about unfriendly magical creatures - there's a fair amount of small town politics involved too, of which Harry falls foul. Is he able to save the remnants of the family or is the curse just too much for him to neutralise? No spoilers - pick up a copy yourself and see.

Would I read this book again?: 

Probably not but I would pick up other novels/ graphic novels in the series on the strength of this.

What I liked:
Pres having his Commando moment towards the end of the book. Very entertaining.
What I didn’t like:
HOW did Harry not guess who the ghoul was the moment he saw her? It was obvious who it was. I'm never that keen when I as a reader get something before the main protagonist. It feels like a bit of a cheat to me and undermines the strength of the aforementioned protagonist.

Easy to read?:

Read if you like:
Graphic novels with a horror/ urban fantasy twist. Ghouls, goblins and other beasties galore.

7 out of 10 Dresdens

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Photos in the Snow

I haven’t gone out with my camera in months. When the snow started coming down today, I knew this was the Sunday to get back out there. True, I wasn’t out there for long owing to the cold, but it was worth a quick jaunt around the neighbourhood. I put my Grumpy Adult self (the one who is practical and hates snow) on hold and went in search of beauty. And it was easy to find.

I can’t remember the last year we had snow like this in December. It isn’t meant to last the day with sleet setting in this afternoon and rain forecast all day tomorrow. There is something soothing about watching snow falling. Being outside in the non-sound of snowflakes is another simple pleasure.

Get out there if you can.
Black and white artsy photo . . .
Not a very festive comparison but this made me think of the
brain bug in Starship Troopers
Love these vivid colours
A cluster of snow suspended on a single hair/ strand of spiderweb
- couldn't work out which

Saturday, 18 November 2017

A book in a genre you usually avoid

Pick & Mix Reading Challenge: Book #4
Taken from: The Modern Mrs Darcy 2017 Reading Challenge
Challenge: A book in a genre you usually avoid
Image taken from Amazon as my charity shop copy has lost its dustjacket
Doreen Swinburne
Genre/ setting etc: 
Hospital based fiction (not sure if this is technically a genre in it's own right but it's a type of fiction I never pick up)

The story: 
I'll begin by saying I believe this book was written as propaganda for the profession of nursing. The first chapter deals with how a woman (yep, woman) would go about becoming a nurse, what the length of training is, what she'd be paid etc. Then we go into the fiction part of the book, which at various intervals goes about explaining certain procedures like x-rays and blood transfusions, partly I suspect to dispel any misconceptions.

Jean has come to visit her older cousin Norah, who is a nurse in a big hospital. Norah looks darling in her smart uniform and cute cape. Jean begins as the everywoman character - dubious about hospitals, fearful of terrifying matrons, squeamish at the thought of blood - and over the course of the book her concerns are dispelled until she leaves practically signed up to go in to the profession herself.

The nurses come across as neatly uniformed soldiers in the war on germs. The language used to describe the aforementioned germs uses terms like 'invasion' and 'battle' so it's quite militaristic. The nurses don't go to war with guns and knives; their weapons are of a very different sort. But it is clear that they are locked in conflict with germs throughout the day, heroes in their own right. The military overtone is evident in the names of the nurses - they are by and large known by their surnames, or abbreviations of those surnames. There isn't anything macho about the women though - they are most emphatically attractive and feminine. One trainee nurse is likened to a floating butterfly in her white uniform.The matrons are prettier and younger and nicer than Jean expected - see, girls, no ugly old hags to be dealt with after all! 

Sarcasm aside, it was interesting to get all the details on how the hospital functioned, what was done where, and also get an idea of how patients were treated back then. 

I've done a bit of research and this book appears to be part of a series which includes Jean at Jo's Hospital and Jean, SRN.
No spoiler, really
Memorable line/ image: 
The fact the nurses named the three mice that used to be in attendance on one of the ward kitchens. Anna, Hannah and Harriet to be precise, all obligingly female. No, I am not making this up. Approaches to certain elements of hygiene have obviously changed in 60 years.

Easy to read?: 
Yes. Within a couple of chapters I found myself reading it in an RP voice. All the nurses have crisp, well-spoken English at their disposal. Half the patients and any clearners are from the cor blimey guv'nor school of mockney. Classism abounds in this book, as evidenced by nurses known as Squiffy and Tops.

The language was dated in places - I felt a reflective flinch at words like 'cripple' and 'mental defectives'. The political correctness of today is missing in this book. There are other stereotypes too, beyond the implied class ones above with the mockney patients. A nurse has got engaged and is going to get married and the assumption is that she will automatically leave her job and that's that. All the nurses are female. The wards are single sex, except in the case of children. Nursing is a good and worthy career but it is still trumped by the goal of marriage.

Did I learn anything from this book?: 
That a jolly uniform and a chirpy capable nature make the best nurses. Or at least they did in the 1950s.

Read if you like: 
Hospital based fiction. 
Books written in the 1950s. 
A laugh at old social stereotypes.

Avoid if you don’t like: 
Gender stereotypes/politically incorrect terms - see above!
Lots of alternatives to the word 'said'. People rarely say anything in this book. They soothe, gasp, expostulate, greet, murmur and explain. It got a wee bit irritating by the end of the book.

6 out of 10 Jeans

Monday, 13 November 2017

Ideas for Christmas Cards

I find the practice of sending Christmas cards a largely tokenistic one. I would reckon 75% of cards get sent as a reflex of 'this person sent me one so I have to reciprocate'/ 'this person is in my address book'/ 'I work with this person and it won't be fair if I don't get them a card too when I'm giving one to the rest of the office they'll feel left out' - and so on and so forth. There's no real thought behind the majority and after Christmas there are tons of cards and envelopes that need to be recycled, though there will be those people who just chuck them in the bin and send them off to landfill.

For the reasons above, I choose not to send many Christmas cards at all. I prefer to give money to charity because it seems like a better thing to do. 

I do send a few cards though, and in the interests of adding more thought to the process I've found some easy ideas of ones to make.
From MollyMooCrafts
Mmmm. Washi tape. I referenced using washi for making gift tags in a recent post, and I think these MollyMoo cards are wonderfully cute. Just get pre-made white cards, or get white craft card and fold your own. Then a bit of washi tape, then a bit of drawing that even I with my meagre drawing talents could manage. Could even have a crack at drawing polar bears, robins, penguins - this is such an adaptable idea. And Pinterest has loads of doodling ideas if (like me) you need help.
From KellysCraftinCorner
This is the fiddliest of the designs I was drawn to. You'd need Christmas themed craft card, string or ribbon, and tissue paper to make this work. I wouldn't have that printed scripting on the front and I doubt there'd be a frame, but you could use some bold card colours for this, deep greens or reds, or glittery golds and silvers, all as long as it tied in with the colours of your 'gift bag'.
Taken from FirstforWomen's list of 22 cards to make
These snowmen are very simple and easy, and ones you could make up as an activity with children if you wanted. Ribbon, buttons, orange card or paper (or an orange felt tip/ paint) and some plastic googly eyes. Simple and effective on plain white card. A fan of penguins? Check out Hobbycraft's list of 15 penguin themed cards to make.
From Granne med Selma
This is another idea I really like. You could print out a festive poem for the card, or if you didn't fancy text you could use a Christmas image and tear that to make the layers of the spruce tree. I especially love the fact that the star is so obviously one cut by hand and lacks the symmetry of a pre-cut one, giving the card an extra charm.

Want a project that's colourful and messy? How about reverse finger painting? Do you have a stockpile of doilies to use up? Here's an idea for you! Do you own far too many buttons? Try this or this or this.

So much of Christmas in the modern world comes pre-packed and pre-made. It's nice to make a bit of time to create something special.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Easy Christmas Gift Tags

I did a post last week on ideas for Christmas wrapping paper. If you don't have time for something that size but still want to personalise your gifts somehow you could always make your own gift tags.

You could involve the kids (if you have any) or invite friends over and have a gin and gift tags evening. 

It could be an opportunity to bust some stash if you are a crafter. Do you have lots of buttons? With a blank tag, or some craft card cut into a rectangle and hole-punched at the top, you could make up some very easy tags with some buttons, a fine black pen and a ruler. This is one I'm quite tempted by. Or maybe a Christmas lights theme. If you have lots of white buttons you could always have a crack at making some snowman gift tags. Be very careful though that you don't inadvertently give a tag to someone with koumpounophobia.
Say it with buttons
Is there someone in your life obsessed with coffee? You could wander over to the Simply Kelly Designs tutorial for Coffee/Latte gift tags and add that extra special touch to a gift. If the gift is coffee related, so much the better!
Do you have lots of washi tape? Gift tags would be the perfect excuse to use some up and then have space to buy some more clear some space. You wouldn't even need to use tape that was explicitly Christmas related, just the right festive colours. Though if you choose to use this post to justify the purchase of specific rolls of washi tape who am I to stand in your way? (Psssst, The Works have some nice ones in for £1 a pop, and I hear rumours that LIDL and Tiger do too.) There's lots of shapes you could make with washi tape, like a present, a heart and a Christmas tree. Washi tape tags would theoretically be the least messy to make with children as you wouldn't need any glue.
Tutorial here
How about some easy watercolour tags? These wouldn't take more than a minute each, though of course you'd need to wait for them to dry. The design is simple and effective and very Christmassy.
Are you nifty with origami? How about making some mini origami santas to decorate a tag or two? A batch of small craft pom poms in your stash that need to be used up? Have a look at this easy tutorial from BabyccinoKids. If you like your cross stitch, there's loads of ideas out there for gift tag adornments.

I won't have time to make a homemade gift tag for every gift, but I will definitely make time to create a few.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

A Self Improvement Book

Pick & Mix Reading Challenge: Book #3
Taken from: Better World Books 2016 Reading Challenge
Challenge: A self improvement book
I recently posted about the podcasts of An Uncluttered Life by Betsy and Warren Talbot, and decided to see what books they had available on kindle. I was familiar with the kind of advice they gave, knew I liked their style of delivery and was confident I would enjoy their written 'voices' too.

Genre/ setting etc: Non-fiction, Self-help/Practical & Motivational

The contents: a number of essays, mainly taken from the Married with Luggage blog, with a variety of titles including How to take credit without being a dick and Flying your freak flag. Betsy talks about her experiences, and experiences in the lives of others that have inspired her. The core focus of this short book is the development/exploration of confidence.

Favourite quotes:
I like this one in a slightly adulterated state:
When the person talking shit hasn't done shit, you can stop listening.
and in it's unadulterated state:
When the person talking shit hasn't done shit, you can stop listening. Especially if that person is you. 

[Confidence] is merely learning how to do something well enough to keep your fears in check. You don't normally gain that level of expertise with a one-time experience, which is why repetition is the key. This is something particularly pertinent to me at present as I passed my driving test a couple of weeks ago and am now building up my confidence levels being on my own in my own car.

Repetition breeds confidence while avoidance breeds fear.

The people we are most drawn to have something to teach us. I really like this idea, and looking back on personal experience I would say this is true though I didn't consciously realise that in the past.

Would I read this book again?: Bits of it. Some essays I found relevant, others not so much.

What I liked: The approachable style of the writing.

What I didn’t like: The last quarter of the book deals mainly with another of Betsy’s books. I downloaded the text on Kindle so knew it wasn’t going to be very long but was a wee bit disappointed to find the essays ended at 75%.

Easy to read?: Yes

Read if you like: Short motivational essays with a female bias.

7 out of 10 Betsy's

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Ideas on wrapping Christmas presents

I've posted before on coming up with new and novel ways to wrap gifts. With Christmas approaching (whether you like it or not) I find myself looking for inspiration on festive themed wrapping. If you fancy the idea of jazzing things up a bit then read on.
Check out the Hobbycraft website for a tutorial on this reindeer gift wrap.
Then maybe adapt it and use a brussell sprout themed decoration instead!
Do you have a pom pom maker? I bought a set earlier this year, made two pom poms and then . . . nothing. I do have lots of red wool so a bit of Rudolph enhancement could be fun, though I'd have to do something different with the eyes - maybe use buttons - as the ones above are a little too dull and flat.

I love this idea! Right down to the tyre tracks in the snow.
How about creating a mini diorama as part of your gift presentation? This one might be easier for the mums and dads out there with access to lots of props and toys. Could this be a fun exercise to do with the kids to make a humdrum (but required) gift a bit more exciting on the outside?

Get some Christmas stamps from somewhere like the Works
and wrap your presents using a cute parcel theme.
Being a fan of snailmail, I LOVE the idea of creating the retro parcel look. You can pick up airmail stickers for free from your local post office. You could make up your own stamps with white paper, glue, a christmas catalogue and some pinking shears if you couldn't find any stickers in shops like Hobbycraft or The Works. Striped string is available in haberdashers for 25p a metre or less. If you don't have brown paper, you could always use white from the printer. Et voila! 

I am charmed by this idea but as my ability to draw
is not that good it's one I'm unlikely to be able to do myself.
Another option would be drawing something on the packaging and then adding an extra prop to complete the picture. The car idea above is suited to the smaller gift. For a bigger present, you could draw a face and then add a wig of crazily coloured wool or tinsel. Draw a Christmas tree and then decorate it with ornaments in the form of sequins and mini craft pom poms.

So . . . are you inspired to try something new with your wrapping this year?