When you wish upon a star…

I came home quite late the other night and the sky was beautifully clear. As I gazed up at stars overhead, seeking out the Plough, or the Big Dipper, a shooting star shot across the sky! This fleeting glimpse of something so natural and beautiful immediately made me feel happy, excited and all sorts of other emotions! Sadly these days, not many people get to experience such sights, as dark skies are becoming increasingly rare.

Does it matter, you may ask? Well, it appears it does for all sorts of reasons and there is now a Dark Sky Movement gaining momentum here in the UK and across other developed areas of the world to address the problem of light pollution.

Up until about 100 years ago, the night sky was dark, really dark, can you even imagine that? Today, with the ever-increasing use of artificial light, our world is illuminated almost 24/7. The result is light pollution and there are several risks to this constant illumination:

Energy use

Poorly aimed and unshielded outdoor lights waste billions of kilowatt-hours of energy each year. More than one-third of outdoor lighting is lost to skyglow — the artificial brightness of the night sky. Millions of tons of carbon dioxide are released each year to power outdoor lighting.

Disrupting wildlife and ecosystems

Light at night disrupts the biological clocks of nocturnal animals. Artificial lights can interfere with the migration patterns of nocturnal birds that use the stars and moon for navigation. Birds can become disoriented by lights and may collide with brightly lit towers and buildings. For frogs and toads, when night-time croaking is interrupted, so is their mating ritual and reproduction.

Health concerns

Some studies have linked artificial light at night to increased risk of diabetes, obesity and depression, as well as obvious sleep disorders. Specifically, when our bodies don’t spend enough time in the dark, we don’t make enough of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin helps maintain your sleep-wake cycle, as well as regulating some of your body’s other hormones. The natural 24-hour cycle of light and dark helps maintain precise alignment of circadian biological rhythms, the general activation of the central nervous system and various biological and cellular processes.

To me, that all sounds pretty alarming, so I was interested to read that Dartmoor (practically on my doorstep) is applying for ‘Dark Sky Park’ status. If successful, this application would ensure protection against unnecessary and inappropriate lighting.

Very good news for this part of the world at least!

There’s lots of fascinating information online about how best to view shooting stars and meteor showers and, if you are really keen to see some but live somewhere with lots of light pollution, maps to show you the best places to visit in the UK for dark skies.

Look up!

The Perseid meteor shower of August 11 to 13 is traditionally the best meteor shower of the year. Between August 11 and August 13 is usually the best time to see this meteor shower, so perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to see your own shooting star this weekend – fingers crossed, and don’t forget to make a wish!

 

 

 

 

 

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Pearls of wisdom

Surely one of the most popular embellishments for card makers – pearls manage to be pretty and elegant without being overly showy, classy rather than brash I always think! Of course, the pearls we use are synthetic, but a real natural pearl is a thing of extraordinary beauty.

If you have been to see Mama Mia II (like me!!), you will know there’s a scene where a young suitor opens an oyster for his beloved (no names, no plot spoilers!) and there just happens to be a great big pearl nestling in it! In reality, finding a pearl in an oyster is very rare… but in fiction, of course, anything can happen!

So what is a natural pearl? I always think it is incredible how they are produced… Pearls are made when a small object, such as a grain of sand, is washed into a mollusc. As a defence mechanism to an irritant inside its shell, the mollusc creates a substance called nacre (mother of pearl). Layer upon layer of nacre, coat the grain of sand until the iridescent gem is formed. The ideal pearl is perfectly round and smooth, but many other shapes, known as ‘baroque’ pearls, can occur. The finest quality natural pearls have been highly valued as gemstones and objects of beauty for many centuries. Because of this, ‘pearl’ has become a metaphor for something rare, fine, and valuable.

The most valuable pearls occur spontaneously in the wild, but are extremely rare, which is why they command such high prices. These wild pearls are referred to as ‘natural’ pearls. Cultured or farmed pearls from pearl oysters and freshwater mussels make up the vast majority of those sold. Imitation pearls are also widely sold in inexpensive jewellery – I think most of us of a ‘certain age’ probably own a string, but their iridescence is poor compared to genuine pearls.

Pearls are cultivated primarily for use in jewellery, but, in the past were also used to adorn clothing – think of the Elizabethans and their bodices encrusted with pearls. They are also been crushed and used in cosmetics, medicines and paint formulations.

Whether wild or cultured, gem-quality pearls are almost always pearlescent and iridescent, like the interior of the shell that produces them… hence the rather lovely term ‘mother of pearl’ as found inside the mollusc’s shell.

Cultured pearls are formed in pearl farms, using human intervention as well as natural processes. As with natural pearls, the initial formation of cultured pearls is the response of the shell to an ‘irritant’ – a tissue implant. A tiny piece of tissue (from a donor shell is transplanted into a recipient shell, causing a pearl sac to form into which the pearls structure starts to form. There are a number of methods for producing cultured pearls and one is by adding a spherical bead as a nucleus and most saltwater
cultured pearls are grown in this way.

So what makes pearls so beautiful? The unique lustre of pearls depends upon the reflection, refraction, and diffraction of light from the pearl’s translucent layers – the thinner and more numerous the layers in the pearl, the finer the lustre. So it’s the overlapping of successive layers causes the iridescence that pearls display. So now you know!

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Sundays in rural France…

Time for another of Tina’s travel blogs, written by Tina Dorr. It’s fun to hear how different Sundays are in France, I wonder what our Sundays might be like if the shops and supermarkets weren’t open?

“Now that we live in rural France, we get to experience a completely different way of life that has its own special pace. It is very relaxed, and family orientated and, wherever you go, the roads are pretty clear and the scenery, beautiful.

Sundays in France are family time, a quiet time where shops are closed (unless you live in a tourist town) and people do things ‘en famille’. Sometimes, it is as simple as having friends and family round for lunch or going for a bike ride or, in the summer, it can be driving out to one of the many man-made beaches which children love.

One of the big things on a Sunday is going to a Vide Grenier, which means ‘empty attic’ and these are like car boot sales, except in France, whole streets are closed off to accommodate the many stalls and food vans.

At a Vide Grenier, you can find real treasures, such as antiques, furniture, toys, clothes, flowers, books, handmade carvings, soap and so much more. If you allow yourself a few hours, you can peruse the stalls, barter for goods, stop for a drink (beer seems very popular!) and have something to eat, which is usually sausage in a baguette or some chips. Entire families come along and leave laden down with their bargains. The Vide Grenier is truly a fun occasion; often having fairground rides, hook a duck, ice cream and candyfloss stalls too.

If you want something more relaxing to do, then the man-made beaches are beautiful. You can swim, sit on the sand, go for a boat ride, and with some, there is even pony riding and biking. There is always a nice café offering some shade, cool drinks and snacks, where you can sit and people watch.

Apart from the beach, they all have some sort of playground for the youngsters for when they tire of the sand. We took our little granddaughter to one at a place called Sillé-le-Guillaume which as well as the beach and all the other things mentioned, also had a petite train that takes you for a ride around the area, and the whole thing is surrounded by beautiful forest.

Once everyone has enjoyed their time, eaten their picnics and the day has drawn to a close, most people head home for dinner. In France, the main meal is always eaten at midday and so many restaurants don’t open in the evenings on a Sunday.”

 

 

 

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Congratulations – well done you!

Friends, children, grandchildren, siblings – they can all be involved in exams, tests or other achievements that we want to acknowledge and cheer for and offer our congratulations.

This is prime exam and end of term time that often involves passing things (or not) and I think it’s really important to appreciate everyone’s effort. I recently heard that a friend had received a congratulations card when her son had finished all his A-level exams. Not saying well done to the son but saying well done to her for living through the undoubted stressful times!

We all like being acknowledging and it’s lovely when someone says “well done”, or “you did a good job” or a mass of other things – so why not make a congratulations card? These two are very focused on exams but you could just as easily congratulate someone with flowers or a pretty landscape!

The card with the cap and gown on uses a Signature Die – Graduation Gown SD323and the owl die is Beautiful Owl SD101. The words are all part of the collection one inevitably accumulates. I think it’s great to have several different fonts for words like Congratulations – but my favourite is our sentiments die that has You Did It (SD507)… just something a little bit different.

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Helping children to grow – get them gardening!

Grace, dressed for a little watering!!

With the school summer holidays upon us, I’m sure parents and grandparents alike are racking our collective brains on how to keep youngsters occupied and, preferably, not just glued to their tablets and phones! Getting children outside can be a bit of a challenge, but if you can get them interested in gardening that has to be a bonus – on so many levels.

Granddaughter Grace is still too young for gadgets and, thanks to Grandpa Richard’s veg growing skills, she has already shown a lot of interest in the garden. There are ways to encourage youngsters outside and, if you can drag them away from their screens, it’s a fun family activity and is good for mind and body. The rise of technology has given us many great things, but nothing beats getting outside and working with your hands, growing your own fruit and vegetables, and learning a bit about life!

A child’s eye view

To spark their interest you need to think about what appeals to a child, which might mean coming at it from a different angle. If they are interested in butterflies or beetles of other bugs (what little one doesn’t find worms and caterpillars fascinating?), that can be a good starting point.

A bit of a plot

If you have space, it is always a good idea to offer a child its own patch to work in. A sunny spot with good soil is good, then things should grow quickly. A small raised bed would be ideal but failing that, or if space is an issue, a large tub or planter can work perfectly well. I can remember growing mustard and cress in a saucer on the windowsill as a child and being fascinated!

Ideal for little hands

Small children will love having their own gardening tools. Not only are they designed specifically for small hands, but children love feeling they are joining in with an adult and doing something ‘properly’. You can find sets of children’s gardening tools online at reasonable prices. These would make a good birthday or Christmas present ready for next year if they are still a bit young. Here are a few I found on Amazon, but there are loads to choose from! 

Patience, patience…

One of the many things gardening can teach is patience! However, it’s still a good idea to start them off on seeds that will give quick results like salad leaves or rocket, or something like nasturtiums. When sowing the seeds, try shapes – a circle, or a star – rather than boring old straight rows. Or what about sowing the shape of a child’s initial? If you want even quicker results, then why not buy a few plants that are just about to flower or fruit?

You can find seed growing kits especially for children online, but I’m sure buying a few seed packets yourself will work just as well. Click on the photos to go to the link.

What about the water?

This summer has been so hot, I know water is at a premium and it seems hosepipe bans are imminent. But all is not lost! Wastewater from the kitchen, baths, basins and showers is suitable to water plants and containers. It’s also a good way of encouraging children to think about resources and not wasting precious water.

Happy gardening!

 

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