Eat your greens!

As the sap rises and the garden blooms, hen pal, and partner in writing crime Julia Wherrell, has been pondering her chickens again…

Last year, we had a bit of a disaster. On a very windy May day, the gate to the chickens’ run blew open and they escaped. There was no road kill or fox massacre, they simply strolled into my veg patch and ate every pea, broad bean and lettuce in sight creating their very own version of carnage. I was not impressed, but the hens were chortling merrily and happily stuffed with greenery. My partner felt sage and onion might have been more appropriate, but I restrained him.

A typical bowl of chicken scraps with rotten bits of fruit, wilted rocket and ends of vegetables.Chickens are omnivores so they’ll eat, or at least try, just about anything and spend much of the day scratch the ground looking for insects and worms. Any large insect, like a butterfly, foolish enough to drift through their run will be hotly pursued with all sorts of acrobatics and excitement and generally not come out alive. They love cheese rind, pasta and they have slices of brown bread every day and yes, they are spoilt.

They are also exceedingly fond of their greens. Any scraps we have – the bits you cut off the end of your vegetables, corn on the cob husks, wilted lettuce – they fight over. For entertainment, my farmer friend Greg will eat an apple and then lob the core into the run and watch the ensuing rubgy match as chicken after chicken grabs the core, runs off chattering happily, puts it down to eat it, whereupon it is instantly stolen by another hen and off they go again… A kindly neighbour regularly gives us the discarded outer leaves and stalk of cauliflowers which, to the hens, is about as exciting as receiving a box of chocolates!

Cauliflower leaves – better than a box of chocs!Of course we give them ‘proper’ chicken feed, including corn and things called ‘layers pellets’ but, just as we do, they love a varied diet. But greenery seems to play an important part in making their yolks rich and yellow. As a result, our hens’ egg yolks are a stunning deep rich orange and taste delicious. I rarely eat eggs anywhere but at home as I find their paleness unappetising. Sponges and quiches all look gorgeous as they have a naturally golden hue and they really do taste wonderful.

Now that my veggies are well advanced, the hens will be getting even more treats. Bolted cabbages, rocket and lettuces disappear down their greedy beaks in seconds. They won’t thank you for an onion or a leek though. And this year, my partner has adapted the door to their run so that it swings shut, even in the strongest gale, so I can be sure the greens they get are the ones I decide to give them and not the ones they steal!

 

 

 

 

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Meet Ellen Jareckie – the talented artist behind House Mouse!

Ellen Jareckie at work in her studio.You’ll know their names and their wonderful designs, but what do you know about their backgrounds and sources of inspiration? Joanna has been chatting to some of the top artists whose original and stunning artwork is transformed into craft products and featured on her website.

In this blog Joanna talks to Ellen Jareckie, the talented artist behind the House Mouse designs. 

1. Ellen, where do you get your ideas from – what inspires you?

I’ve always loved mice, ever since I was a little kid. I find them fascinating because of their small size. I had a pet mouse, named Tiny, who was the inspiration behind the line of mouse characters.

2. What do you enjoy most about your career?

I enjoy many things about my career, and I feel very lucky to be able to do something fun as a career. I work at home, which is very relaxing, and I also take in Just one example of Ellen’s many lovely designs that we featue on the website.orphaned mice occasionally, so I spend the day creating the artwork as well as tending to any orphans. I really enjoy making a needy creature feel warm, safe and well fed, and I love creating new images too.

3. What do you like the least?

What I like least is doing any kind of bookkeeping, but I make myself do that, since it’s necessary to keep good records.

4. Are you a night owl or a morning person?

I’m definitely a night owl. I get up a bit later in the morning than many people do, and work until late at night. But if I’m tending to a critically ill orphan, I have to get up in the middle of the night as well as early in the morning because it’s so important to be vigilant with an orphan that arrives seriously ill or starved.

Pipsqueak, the orphaned piglet, that Ellen hand raised.5. If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?

If I could go back in time, the only thing I would do differently is start riding a motorcycle earlier in life than I did. I started riding at age 48, I think. Other than that, I would not do anything differently. And Barry and Nicole are my agents, and I would keep them, too. They are great people, and I could not do what I do without their hard work. Barry’s marketing skills over the past years were what really helped launch the designs. 

6. What is your favourite childhood memory?

My favorite childhood memory… there are lots of them, mostly very funny ones, so it’s hard to choose. I think that Pipsqueak, the orphaned piglet I hand raised, was my favorite memory. She was at a pig farm, dying of starvation (too many babies in the litter) and I asked the farmer if I could buy her. He said, “She’s going to die anyway, so I’ll sell her to you for a dollar”. Since I was only 14, that was an affordable price for me. I brought her home and bottle-fed her and she lived on our property. I love pigs! They are sweet, intelligent, and have a great sense of humor. 

Pipsqueak, my piglet, tilling the soil while Muzzy the mouse sits on her back.7. If you had to choose just one of your designs as your absolute favourite, what would it be?

It’s hard to choose a favorite design, but maybe that would be the picture of Pipsqueak, my piglet, tilling the soil in a garden while Muzzy the mouse sits on her back. This was years ago and the design was featured in the 1999 calendar!

8. Who do you think has had the most influence on you?

In the book, “Charlotte’s Web”, there are some incredibly endearing illustrations by Garth Williams. It is those illustrations that inspired me the most. There’s a picture of Fern (the girl), holding Wilbur (the piglet) in her arms. Also, a hilarious picture of Templeton, the rat, after he’s eaten too much garbage at the circus – I love that illustration, and that character

9. What was the last gift you gave someone?

The last gift I gave was to a friend of mine who just had a birthday yesterday. I gave her a box of fresh tarts from the bakery along with some hand soap that smells like freesia flowers, and other fun items.

10. Do you have any future plans you’d like to share with us?

In the near future I plan to do a little more animal rescue work, and I also plan to expand on some of the Wee Poppet, Gruffies and Happy Hopper images too. I also hope to get over to the UK to see your beautiful country, and if I do, I hope to be able to visit with some of you. To all of you who are viewing the blog, thanks for all your interest, support and enthusiasm for the designs. And thanks to Joanna Sheen, and to everyone who works with Joanna. You are all fantastic! Thank you!

Thank you Ellen! We are sure you don’t need telling, but you can find lots of House Mouse products in our craft shop on our website. We’ll be featuring more of our wonderful artists in future blogs!

 

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Looking forward in 2014…

I always love the first few days of any New Year as there’s so much promise in what could happen in the next twelve months. If I look back over the past year many things have happened that I didn’t have a clue about this time last year, so there is always the excitement of what could be round the corner.

I know we have to take the bad times  as well as the good but I am going to try harder this year to make more good things happen. So often it’s the little things that make me feel good rather than the big things – I tidied my craft room over the Christmas holiday and that’s making me feel really good.

I’m going to give myself some ‘me’ time regularly this year, and I invested in some more scented candles and I’m going to enjoy nice perfume and maybe a book, a game or just some time cuddled up on the sofa with Wellington, whose days I know are numbered but while he is here, he is lovely to cuddle!

I’m also looking forward to finishing my second novel with my ‘partner in crime writing’, Julia. It should be finished in April or May, we are about a third of the way through at the moment. Although there’s a lot of head-scratching and plotting, it’s also exciting as the plots starts to unfold as you are never 100% sure how it is going to turn out!

Sometimes the things that make you feel good can take you by surprise, doing something that benefits someone else can be really uplifting.

On a more down to earth note I am aiming to declutter a room in my house each month this year, I don’t have twelve rooms that need decluttering but I am building in a ‘fail’ for some of the months when work gets too busy or other things grab my time and attention.

I would love to tell you that I intend to succeed spectacularly with my diet this year, but all I can do is try and be kind to myself if I falter and then fail as I have so many times before – but the trying is always the thing that counts. So my resolution for this year and the thing uppermost in my mind is going to be just that saying – the trying is always the thing that counts and who knows what will have happened by January 2015!

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It’s all in the detail…

It’s all in the detail…Jayne Netley Mayhew is a wonderfully talented artist who first wielded a paintbrush at the tender age of two! All her siblings are artists too and Jayne has gone on to establish a reputation as a first-class wildlife artist and embroidery designer. She has produced a wide range of designs for Joanna Sheen Ltd over the years and her work is always immensely popular. We had a chat with Jayne to find out a bit more about the lady behind the paintbrush…

I think most people would say ‘Exquisite detail’ when they think of Jayne’s work. When she paints animals – big cats being her absolute favourite subject – she paints them hair by hair. “I just love detail!” she says. “If I have to paint a landscape, there has to be something detailed in the foreground or I just couldn’t take it on.”

She paints from real life as much as she can and when this isn’t possible, from photographs that her husband, Ian, takes for her. Jayne at work in her studio in Widecombe-in-the-Moor.

A great animal lover, Jayne has two huge pet dogs – Henry, a Newfoundland, and Dennis a Bernese Mountain Dog collie cross – that share Jayne and Ian’s home in Widecombe-in-the-Moor, in the heart of Dartmoor. She also keeps hens that she finds endlessly fascinating to watch and paint as they roam free-range in her garden. 

“Again, it’s all about the detail,” she says. Look at one of her chicken paintings and you can see every feather individually painted.

Jayne is unusual in that she works across a wide range of different media and is equally skilled in all of them. She was originally trained in oils by a local artist who gave Jayne, and her older brother an excellent grounding in painting. Next, she took up freehand embroidery and thrived on the incredibly detailed stitch work. Publishers David & Charles snapped Jayne up and suggested she’d like to look at developing cross stitch patterns for them. Sid the cockerel immortalised in watercolour.“I found these very easy to design, but drawing all the crosses by hand was really hard work but then, luckily, in came computers and it became a breeze!”

Today, Jayne works in acrylic, watercolour, pencil, pen and ink and pastels using whatever best suits her subject matter be it flora or fauna, big cat or new born chick. “Watercolour was a tricky technique to master as it is so unforgiving. With oil and acrylic you can over paint, but with watercolour it has to be perfect from the outset. I adore the subtlety and, of course, the detail that I can achieve with it,” said Jayne.

Always looking for something new to try, she has recently acquired a felting machine and is busily creating pictures with fibre and wool. “It’s a technique I am really enjoying experimenting with and I’ve been working on some miniatures, it’s really exciting.”

Look closely – very closely – at any Jayne Netley Mayhew painting and you will eventually find a ladybird hidden somewhere within the design. Jayne laughs: “It’s quite funny watching people look at my work as they usually This stunning tiger is created using felt, fibre and wool.peer at it very close up, and then say ‘Aha!’ and I know they’ve found the ladybird. Only then do they stand back and appreciate the painting properly.”

So it seems it’s all in the detail for Jayne’s fans, just as much as it is for her…

To find out more about Jayne and her work on her website.

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Rare breeds are a rare treat!

A lot of you will already know that I am a bit of an old softie when it comes to baby animals and fluffy things in general… so you can image how incredibly soppy I get when surrounded by a farm full of gorgeous creatures that I am allowed to stroke and pet!

Totnes Rare Breeds Farm is a really rather special place. It was founded by Jacquie and Barrie Tolley in 2001, who were concerned about the decline of traditional British breeds. A scythe, a digger, and a lot of hard work later, they’d built a rare breeds farm, which opened in June 2002. Since then, the farm has been expanded and is still being improved.

What began as a collection of farmyard rare breeds has gradually grown. The smallest pygmy goats, and very inquisitive pigs! I am a big fan of pigs and can assure you, theirs are the sweetest!

You can also get close to the endangered wildlife of the English countryside, making this much more than just a petting farm. You can touch a hedgehog’s prickly spines or admire the gripping pads on a red squirrel’s foot.

Wizard the eagle owl – who is very large and actually a little bit scary – really seems to enjoy affection and he, and his eight feathered friends, can be seen up close and stroked. It’s amazing to be so close to these beautiful creatures and to be able to look right into their eyes.

What sets Totnes Rare Breeds apart is the opportunity it gives to really get close to the animals. The majority of pens can be entered, and almost all their inhabitants stroked, patted and cuddled. They will even give you a free pot of special food to take round to ensure you are the centre of attention!

The Farm is a non-profit-making organisation and relies on the work of volunteers and the support of its customers. You can sponsor the animals with all funds going towards vets’ bills.  And the final icing on the cake…? You can visit the Rare Breeds Farm in conjunction with the South Devon Steam Railway and there are joint ticket deals available. Heaven!

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