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!

Moorland and paws – a winning combination!

Rachel, one of the owners of Moorland Paws, with Moss and her friend Ziggy at the opening event.

At a time when so many high street shops are closing, it’s great to hear about a new business opening up. I like to visit Chagford for a mooch around the shops and perhaps a visit to a tea shop, it’s a pretty little town up on Dartmoor, and a great place for walking especially if you have a dog. My friend Julia’s dog, Moss the Dartmoor Dog Blogger, was invited to the opening of a new shop in the town called Moorland Paws that caters for both dogs and people!

The shop (a former bank – not many of those left on any high street, sadly) has been kitted out to sell just about everything a dog could need from bowls to beds and from leads to treats. It specialises in ‘natural’ pet care and all the products are made in the UK, contain no chemicals and are cruelty-free. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a dog grooming studio spa for all their health and beauty needs!

Nordic walking poles to keep you fit!

For humans, there’s a range of Nordic walking poles, which are a great way to help keep you fit and make walking on the moor (or anywhere else) easier.

Moss attended the event with her friend, Ziggy, and they had a lovely time, sampling treats and saying ‘hi’ to lots of their doggy friends. Moss is quite a rufty tufty outdoor girl and didn’t much fancy a trip to the spa, but she was very keen on a nice new bed (which she didn’t get as she tends to chew them!) and some tasty snacks!

These dog treats look good enough for humans to eat!

The shop has been set up by two enterprising local ladies, Denise and Rachel, and their respective dogs (of course) Winnie and Bailey. Judging by how busy the opening night was, the new shop should be a great success.

 

 

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Cards I have loved…

Do you ever have cards you have made that you just can’t bear to give away? I make so many dozens of cards, I often make one that I really like, but as they are destined for magazine articles or TV shows, I can’t just hide them away and not part with them!

I thought I would do a couple of blogs just showing cards I have particularly loved this year and both of these cards were an easy choice.

Beautiful Bruges – well worth a visit.

The pretty watery scene is from the pad featuring Evgeny (pronounced Eugeny) Lushpin’s artwork. I love his choices of subject and the way he paints. This particular scene is in Bruges I believe and is so beautiful (as is all of Bruges if you get a chance to go for a visit). The backing paper behind also comes from the pad as does the border and sentiment – so convenient!

The butterflies and leaves are from the Signature Die range – Butterfly Cloud and Trailing Leaves.

The gorgeous little bird card uses an image from the Jane Shasky Birds in the Garden pad alongside our Signature Dies Pumpkin Patch – ideal for autumn too!

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Very berry good!

It looks like a great year for blackberries.

The hedgerows are thick with blackberries already this year, I assume as a result of the rather extreme weather we’ve had of late. There are lots of berries that grow wild in this country – strawberries, sloes and elder to name just a few – and it’s a reflection on our modern lives that the vast majority of us wouldn’t be able to identify them, and certainly not feel confident to pick them! We all got terribly excited about ‘superfoods’ a few years ago and berries are top of the list being high in antioxidants, fibre, vitamin C and flavonoids.

The world-conquering strawberry.

As ever, ancient man (and woman of course!) knew all this and berries have been a valuable food source for humans since before the start of agriculture. They were a seasonal staple for early hunter-gatherers for thousands of years. In time, humans learned to store berries so that they could be used in the winter.

Berries began to be cultivated in Europe and other countries. Some species of blackberries and raspberries have been cultivated since the 17th century. The most widely cultivated berry of modern times, you won’t be surprised to hear, is the strawberry, which is produced globally at twice the amount of all other berry crops combined.

Rowanberries – impossible to miss even by the most shortsighted bird!

As ever, Mother Nature has got it all cleverly worked out and when ripened, berries are typically of a contrasting colour to their background (usually green leaves), making them visible and attractive to animals and birds. This is essential as it’s how the plants’ seeds get dispersed to produce new plants and so keep the growing cycle going…

As well as the old favourites – strawberry, raspberry and blackberry – there are plenty more berries out there! Here are a few more:

  • White and Golden Raspberry
  • Dewberry
  • Elderberry
  • Lingonberry
  • Cloudberry
  • Gooseberry
  • Cape Gooseberry
  • Mulberry
  • Loganberry
  • Tayberry

Fresh raspberries – so delicious!

What a gorgeous sounding list! The last two are especially interesting as they are ‘hybrid’ berries – hybrids of other berries, created by planting fruit cross-pollinated by two different plants. In the late 19th and early 20th century, botanists went on a bit of a hybridizing craze, crossing berries in the Rosacea family (like raspberries and blackberries) to try to come up with berries that had the best qualities of both parents.

Loganberry
Legend has it that the loganberry was accidentally created in the late 1800s in California by Judge J.H. Logan. Judge Logan planted an heirloom blackberry and a European raspberry next to each other. The plants seemed to grow well together, and with a little help from the birds and the bees, they cross-pollinated. Loganberries have a deep red raspberry colour and the size and texture of a blackberry. The vines, which lack the substantial thorns of a blackberry, have dark green fuzzy leaves. Unsurprisingly, the loganberry taste a little like a raspberry and a little like a blackberry!

Tayberry
Tayberries are a more recent cross between raspberries and blackberries, developed by the Scottish Horticultural Society in the late 1970s and named after the river Tay in Scotland. The Tayberry also tastes of a cross between raspberries and blackberries, but it is larger and sweeter than Loganberries. Tayberries have a naturally high level of pectin, so they’re perfect for jam and pie filling. Yum!

Elderberries – lovely when ripe… posionous when not!

Fruity facts:

  • If you feel you’re lacking in vitamin C, reach for the strawberries. Just nine provide you with your whole recommended daily allowance!
  • Did you know strawberries are powerful teeth whiteners? They contain Vitamin C which helps fight plaque.
  • Strawberries were regarded as an aphrodisiac in medieval times and a soup with the berries, borage and soured cream was traditionally served to newlyweds at their wedding breakfast. I don’t think I’ll be trying that recipe anytime soon!
  • Blackberries, raspberries and strawberries are all part of the rose family. So next Valentine’s Day, consider giving a bunch of berries instead.
  • Everyone knows blueberries are great for humans, but did you know you can freeze them and give them to dogs as a crunchy, healthy treat?
  • While many berries are edible, some are poisonous to humans, such as deadly nightshade. Others, such as the white mulberry, red mulberry, and elderberry, are poisonous when unripe, but are edible when ripe
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Roses, roses all the way

I have read that, in many surveys, roses come out top as the nation’s favourite flower. It would certainly be in my top five but I suspect a few others might creep ahead of it in contention for the number one spot. Funnily enough, many of my favourite flowers are out in the Spring. Hellebores (Christmas Roses), snowdrops, violets, lily of the valley – perhaps it’s that I am so grateful for some flowers once Winter has begun to disappear!

Both these cards use our Tied Bunch of Roses die (SD624) and both have been hand coloured after cutting them out in white, well actually cream in this instance. But it really is pretty quick and simple to paper piece and diecut in two different coloured pieces of card – red for the roses and green for the leaves for example.

The other notable thing on both these cards is the use of our pretty corner dies. I think the more elaborate corner dies can make some wonderful additions to a card. I have made some great photo frames by using four dies close together and they really do add a bit of style to a card.

The corner die used with the cream roses is our Bordeaux Corner die SD636 and the peach roses card uses Marseille Corner SD642.

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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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