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!

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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A fountain for the birds!

With the heat we are having this summer, I have noticed lots of birds (and I don’t blame them) searching out water to bathe in or just cool off!

We don’t have a fountain as classic or splendiferous as the one on the card on the left, but they have been sploshing about in our far less elegant birdbath and flying around the shallow part of the stream that runs through our garden.

The fountain card is deceptively simple, as it’s just a folded little card placed horizontally and then the oval shape is attached to stick over the top – no clever folds or tricky bits. The corner die cuts look beautiful and take only moments to cut out – they are Signature Dies – Art Nouveau Mirrored Pair SD615. The Classic Fountain die is SD618.

The second card is again a quick and easy, “Oh My Goodness!” card. I always have a variety of these designs in my head for the times when I forget a card or when I need a card instantly. The background is created from the Signature Dies – Hydrangea Frame SD606 and then you just pop an oval and a couple of tails over the top – and hey presto!

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The magic of butterflies…

The Peacock’s spectacular pattern of eyespots evolved to startle or confuse predators, make it one of our most easily recognised and best-known species.

As a child, the very name ‘butterfly’ sounded magical, while the beautiful insects themselves seemed too bright and too delicate to be real. I can remember standing in our garden and being mesmerised by their fluttery flight and marvelling at how many there were flitting around on a big purple bush, the colours all so vivid. With hindsight, I think I was probably looking at a buddleia, which, as we all know, is a real magnet for butterflies.

I can remember looking for Red Admirals, Peacocks and Painted Ladies, these were the three types that loomed large in my childhood repertoire… those plus the dreaded Cabbage White that my Mother was not at all keen to see near her vegetables! This year, I haven’t seen many butterflies around and I assume it’s due to the late wet Spring followed by this amazingly hot Summer. Sadly, like bees, butterflies are struggling.

Butterflies are the equivalent of the ‘canary in a coal mine’, an indicator of the health

The Painted Lady – a long-distance migrant, which causes the most spectacular butterfly migrations observed in Britain and Ireland.

of our environment. The most familiar British butterflies such as the Small Tortoiseshell are becoming increasingly uncommon. Sadly, this is as a result of habitat loss and many other species are declining at an alarming rate as well. None of this bodes well for other wildlife as butterflies are part of a complex food chain upon which we humans ultimately rely for our own survival.

But all is not lost and there’s plenty we can do to help butterflies and there are some excellent informative websites giving advice on how to garden for butterflies. The Butterfly Conservation website is particularly good. Butterflies will visit any garden, however small if they can feed on suitable nectar plants and a well thought out garden can attract many species of butterfly. Nectar provides butterflies and moths with energy to fly and find a mate. In spring, it helps butterflies refuel after winter hibernation or a gruelling journey to Britain from southern Europe or Africa. In autumn nectar helps them to build up their energy reserves so they have the best chance of surviving hibernation or the journey back to warmer climes. Another way to help butterflies is to allow them to breed in your garden – only with the right food plants can they lay the eggs of the next generation.

Tips on how to attract butterflies:

Swallowtail butterfly – today, it flies only in the major river valleys of the Norfolk Broads, where it breeds on milk parsley, a scarce wetland plant.

  • Butterflies like warmth so choose sunny, sheltered spots when planting nectar plants.
  • Choose different plants to attract a wider variety of species. Place the same types of plant together in blocks.
  • Try to provide flowers right through the butterfly season.
  • Prolong flowering by deadheading flowers and mulching with organic compost
  • Don’t use insecticides and pesticides – they kill butterflies and many pollinating insects as well as ladybirds, ground beetles and spiders.

I wrote a blog a couple of months ago extolling the virtues of butterflies in crafting – so useful for covering up any little slips – and stunning in their own right taking centre stage on a card, especially when used in 3D. Just type ‘butterfly’ into the search box on my craft website and you’ll see lots and lots of gorgeous butterfly dies and papers to inspire you!

Butterfly facts:

  • The pretty frilly edged Comma is the ‘come back kid’ of butterflies. In severe decline in the twentieth century, it is now widespread in southern Britain and its range is expanding northwards.

    Where does the name ‘butterfly come from? The Oxford English Dictionary says it is from Old English butorflēoge, butter-fly. Another possible source of the name is the bright yellow male of the Brimstone, another is that butterflies were on the wing in meadows during the spring and summer butter season while the grass was growing. I think I like the last one best!

  • Butterfly or moth? Nearly all butterflies fly during the daytime, have relatively bright colours, and hold their wings vertically above their bodies when at rest. The majority of moths fly by night, are often well camouflaged and either hold their wings flat or fold them closely over their bodies.
  • You will find butterflies right across the world – except Antarctica – and there are some 18,500 species.
  • Many butterflies migrate for long distances. It has recently been shown that the British Painted Lady undertakes a 9,000-mile round trip in a series of steps by up to six successive generations, from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle.
  • Butterflies navigate using a time-compensated sun compass. They can see polarized light and can navigate even in cloudy conditions.
  • Butterflies in their adult stage can live from a week to nearly a year depending on the species.
  • Adult butterflies consume only liquids, ingested through the proboscis. They sip water from damp patches for hydration and feed on nectar from flowers, from which they obtain sugars for energy, and sodium and other minerals vital for reproduction. Several species of butterflies need more sodium than that provided by nectar and are attracted by sodium in salt and that’s why they sometimes land on people, attracted by the salt in human sweat.

Top image: Adonis Blue – this beautiful species of butterfly is found on southern chalk downland.

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