Welcome to my Country Days Blog!

I’ve lived in Devon for over 30 years and while I spend most of my time working in my studio, or in front of a TV camera or on an exhibition stand, country living does give me some time and space… to think about my next project!

A crafter in the country is never bored – nature is a huge treasure trove! Beachcombing, walking on Dartmoor, or rummaging about in hedgerows (while Richard pretends not to notice) produces all sorts of goodies. Shells, feathers, wildflowers, leaves – natural things are so often the ‘light bulb moment’ that gives me an idea for something new!

I have hundreds – actually, make that thousands ­– of ideas and projects from crafts to cookery to flowers that I thought I could share with you through a weekly country-inspired blog.

I love hearing from fellow crafters and swapping ideas and useful hints and tips, so do please feedback your comments on my blog, I’m sure it will be a lot of fun!

Living the good life…

Many of you will know Sandra Goodman as our bright and bubbly Customer Service Manager… but there’s another side to Sandra that you probably don’t know about! To find out about her ‘other life’, read on… 

Sandra met her husband, Charlie, in 2011 and they set out to fulfil a lifelong dream – running their own smallholding. With property prices sky high in Devon they headed west to Cornwall. In the wonderfully named village of Polyphant they found their dream home – an old barn once used as a potato store and now converted, in a rather rustic way according to Sandra, into a two-bedroom house.

Sandra says: “We knew instantly that this old barn, set in a picturesque valley with a couple of fields, was where we wanted to settle.”

Charlie, having been raised on a farm, has in-depth knowledge of not only livestock but wildlife and the countryside in general. Sandra’s background is in craft, interior design and floristry and she has a love of flora and fauna and all things country. 

Their aim is to be self-sufficient – yes, totally! To date, they have 20 chickens, soon to be 40, and are about to take delivery of a pregnant Oxford Sandy and Black sow, followed by two ‘Lowline’ cattle. These gorgeous ‘mini’ cows are bred to be about a metre high at the shoulder, they are easy to handle and docile and ideal for the ‘small acreage’ farmer, which Charlie and Sandra definitely are with their four acres having to produce a lot of food to sustain the two of them!

As well as livestock, they have also put up an impressive poly tunnel (in Polyphant – sorry!) and, when I asked Sandra what they were growing, I couldn’t write it all down quickly enough, but the list included: Carrots, onions, parsnips, potatoes, beans, peas, tomatoes, kale, cauliflower, butternut squash, aubergines, cucumbers, melons and lots more that I missed!

So far, Sandra says everything is germinating and growing really well in the poly tunnel, so she’s optimistic for good crops this year. Their next project is to prepare the outside veg beds and get even more produce underway.

Charlie and Sandra are keen to be as eco-friendly as possible and are looking at ways to generate their own power through a small wind turbine and solar panels. The River Inny runs through their land and they are permitted to take water from it to irrigate their crops as keeping overheads to a minimum is really important.

Sandra stays up in Devon three nights a week and then travels back to Cornwall where Charlie is based full-time. It’s a tough regime, but her enthusiasm when she talks about her Cornish life is so infectious, you just can’t help believing they will make a great go of it!

 

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Father’s Day is nearly here!

Father’s Day is Sunday June 16th this year and I want to make sure I am way ahead of the game and card is completed and done! I have used one of the sheets from the Jayne Netley Mayhew Spring decoupage set. It appealed to me as it shows a parent bird feeding three youngsters which seemed apt for our family!

This is made on an 8 inch white card blank, with a Grand Nestability labels one cut out and some dotty red backing paper. Obviously there are loads of other options you could use. The main focal point of the card is the decoupage and as always I have built this up using Glue Gel.

Although many people bemoan the lack of available card images for men, I do think if you look carefully there are ideas on almost everyone of our CDs and much of our decoupage – you can tone things down by using more masculine colours and embellishments and any Dad would appreciate something made by you on his special day!

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Rising to the challenge!

I’m a firm fan of raised beds as they have so many plus points. They’re a great way of growing all sorts of plants, particularly vegetables. They’re also excellent if you have poor soil in the garden as you can simply fill your raised beds with a different soil type with a mix of compost. Raised beds are also a useful way to garden if you have restricted mobility as they reduce the need to bend and reach.From building these new beds in the spring…

Raised beds should never be more than three to four feet wide, that way you can always be sure to reach into the middle easily. If you’ve got a small garden then a raised bed is ideal as you can plant much more closely and grow more!

It’s easier to plant vegetables in close formation – much closer together than in conventional row gardening. Because they are close together, but evenly spaced, once the vegetables are fully grown, their leaves just almost touch each other, creating a microclimate that helps keep out the weeds and conserves moisture. It makes life a whole lot easier as there’s no need for fiddly hoeing in between rows and constantly grubbing about on your hands and knees weeding! You can see why I’m a fan, can’t you! … to all this veg by the summer!

You can grow almost any plants in raised beds – you could try the following:

  • Most vegetables can be grown in raised beds.
  • Soft fruits, such as strawberries, currants, raspberries and blackberries.
  • Herbaceous perennials, raised beds are a good idea for establishing a cutting garden for cut flowers – I love having flowers in the house.
  • Alpines, ideal for alpines that love good drainage.

Raised beds can be made any height you like, from about 12” upwards. If you need to sit down, or are wheelchair bound, a raised bed can be built at just the right height for you and make gardening a real pleasure again.

Top tipsNo matter how small the space you can build, or buy, a raised bed to fit!

  • To save cost, use soil scooped from paths to fill beds, and fill paths with bark, gravel or other paving materials. I like gravel as it is not only neat it also seems to do a good job of stopping slugs and snails in their slimy tracks!
  • Bury any turf removed in creating the beds in the lower levels of the bed’s soil to enrich the soil as it decays.
  • If you don’t have a handy man (or woman!) to build your raised beds from scratch, you can buy a range of sizes and styles of ready-to-assemble raised beds at garden centres, or online, and you really can grow a lot in a small space! Have fun!
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Stencilled cupcakes

Cupcakes are so popular these days, here are a couple of very pretty design ideas for you – butterfly stencilled cupcakes and a sweet embossed and painted cupcake. 

I have used the ‘Butterfly A6 Stencil Starter Kit’ which you can buy from our website. This provides everything you need apart from the cupcakes and fondant!

Ingredients

  • Cupcakes (any of your choice) – homemade or cheat and buy some!
  • Butter-cream icing
  • Coloured Fondant Icing
  • Butterfly Stencil Kit
  • Round cutter (roughly the same size as the cake tops)

Method

Put a small amount of butter-cream onto the top of each cupcake and smooth, this will ensure the fondant will stay put and will smooth out any bumps on the cake.

Roll out the fondant to about 3-5mm thick. Take the stencil and press down lightly, then  brush over the surface with the brush and powder provided in the kit, try not to leave too much residue on the stencil. Carefully peel off the stencil, then use the round cutter and place the finished discs on the cupcakes, being careful not to touch the stencilled surface too much. 

Katy Sue Designs Cupcake Mould

Ingredients

  • Cupcakes
  • Small amount of butter cream
  • Corn flour
  • Floral Meadow Cupcake Mould
  • Fondant
  • Edible food pens (Dusky Pink/Grape Violet/Yellow/Holly Ivy Green)

Method

Take a cupcake and smooth a little butter cream onto it – this will stop the fondant slipping or falling off. Rub a little corn flour into the mould to prevent the fondant sticking. Take the fondant and make a ball, then flatten until the same size as the Floral Meadow mould, press the fondant into the mould, ensuring it does not move about once pushed in. Carefully peel the mould away from the fondant and place this on to the cupcake, leave fondant to harden a little before colouring in with the edible food pens.

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My top 10 films

Choosing your favourite films is a thankless task! No sooner have you picked 10 than another 10 pop into your mind. What makes a good film for me is usually romance (see my comments re Pierce Brosnan!) but equally it could be Colin Firth or Hugh Grant – but I like to be pulled into the story – no unnecessary torturing, violence or really excessive swearing. I suspect if I had to, I could limit myself to all PG films, not that I don’t enjoy fast paced action movies occasionally but a gentle tale is so much more relaxing in my view!

1. Mama Mia – and Richard really isn’t keen, but he stuck with me through three visits to the cinema… but refused to take me to the singalong version!

2. Madagascar 2 – very picky here 1 and 3 are nothing like as good – my favourite character is Will-i-am as the hippo.

3. Out of Africa – my brother was in a crowd scene in this one which made me go and see it at the cinema – wonderful photography and Meryl Streep was great.

4. Little Women– the 1933 version with Katherine Hepburn – OK, getting a bit vintage here, but…

5. Lord of the Rings (all of it) – but so much better seen on the big screen than on TV!

6. Harry Potter – and again yes all of them! If I absolutely had to single one out – then definitely the first one.

7. The Thomas Crown Affair – 1968 version – love that chess match with Steve McQueen.

8. James Bond – the four films that featured Pierce Brosnan – see choice number one – maybe there’s a pattern here!

9. Shrek 1 – just the first one they went downhill after that I feel…

10. Mrs Miniver – 1942 with Greer Garson – Another vintage choice, so romantic

So, come on what would be your choices?

 

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