Thursday, 22 March 2007

Spring Fever…

Spring arrived on the 20th without much fanfare. Most of us, in this ‘neck of the woods’, were distracted by winter, busy stomping its feet and shaking its fists in a last ditch attempt to capture the limelight. We certainly had a display, snow clad mountains, biting wind and plummeting temperatures emulating January most effectively. A few days on and almost all the snow has melted away. The windblown, broken daffodils are now inside, lighting up the old oak table with springtime cheerfulness.


I have been rewarded every day with wonderful views and fabulous air, for the small price of being brave and going for a walk. For the first time since coming here to the edge of the loch, I have smelt the sea, that sharp salty tang unique to the seaside. The air is so fresh and cold that it almost hurts to breath until you have stood still and given your lungs a chance to acclimatise after the cosy warmth inside. I enjoy it while I can, soft spring breezes will soon replace it.

Walking northward into the wind along the loch yesterday, I saw three geese in the corner of an empty pasture. They were too far off to take a picture, maybe 600 yards or more against a dark background, but I was able to determine the basic markings, even from that distance. I had no idea what type of geese they might be but I carefully noted all the distinguishing features that I could see. When I turned to walk back, I was treated to the sight of the southern hills and mountains covered with a dazzling coat of snow. For a short while that morning, in between and even during brilliant sunshine, large fat fluffy snowflakes were falling; the snow would melt as soon as it hit the ground, but it was lovely while it lasted.

When I got back to the house, I went straight to the Internet to see if I could find out what geese I had seen. I wouldn’t say that M or I would ever qualify as “twitchers”, those dedicated and informed people who have a passion for bird watching. Mostly our interest comes from simple curiosity about the creatures that share the neighbourhood. But since arriving in the UK, we are caught almost completely flat-footed when it comes to any general wildlife knowledge. It’s a frustrating situation, having been able to identify most birds, animals and insects for the last twenty years or so, and one we are working on rectifying as soon as we can. To this end the Internet is invaluable.

After some research, I am fairly certain that the birds were Canada Geese, a large, long-necked goose with a distinctive black head. There were three of them, two adults and a juvenile and when travelling, they tend to stay in family groups. Canada Geese were first brought to Britain in the late 1600’s to add to the collection of waterfowl kept by King James II in St James’s Park and have since established feral populations in Scandinavia, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom. They are common and not endangered and have successfully spread to cover most of the United Kingdom. According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, a Canada goose can live up to twenty-three years!

Canada Geese in New York State

Walking by the pasture today, I saw that the visitors had moved on…obviously making the pilgrimage to where geese go every year to mate and nest and multiply.
Spring Fever!

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Necessity is The Mother of Invention?

TLC Illustration (Silver apples of the moon – link on the right) left a lovely comment on my last post where she asked if there’s anything we can’t do? Coming from someone as talented as Tara, who’s no slouch herself, I stopped and paid attention; and it got me to thinking about why we do what we do.

I think everyone has a lot more ability than they realise. Going back a few thousand years, when man first began gathering into communities, everyone was pretty self-sufficient. There weren’t any specialists. Each little family group knew how to grow things, hunt and fish, make clothing, make rudimentary equipment and feed and house themselves. As towns developed, so did the specialists…harness makers, blacksmiths, farmers, millers…well you get the picture.

There’s a pull for many people, a desire to do something related to those original basic needs and maybe that’s why gardening is so appealing. It’s easily attainable, many people do it and there’s plenty of information for beginners out there. Cookery is also enjoying a surge in popularity, probably because everyone wants to be healthier and it’s seeping into the collective conscience that preparing our own additive-free food is one way to ensure it.

I think that deep down inside we all have the ability do just about anything, but I think we’re conditioned over centuries, to not even try. With M and I, it was pretty simple…a clear-cut case of demand but no supply. Not being able to find the things we wanted for our own home, started M on his woodwork and me on the crafts and once the first few things had been successfully completed…well, we were on our way. After that, it became second nature to just try everything and anything. Admittedly, some ventures were more successful than others. My foray into the world of knitting was an absolute disaster, producing a sweater more suited to a two armed, pin-headed octopus than a human; and a couple of scarves that could have doubled as an Anaconda warmer had I only had the presence of mind to stitch them together. But there were more successes than failures, partly due to books and later the Internet because there is one thing the modern world doesn’t lack and that is information.

So here we are, my husband and I, able to do almost anything and yet do nothing… marketable that is, except our art. And by art I mean all the varied disciplines we have dabbled in because we have discovered that there are people who appreciate well crafted, hand made, one-of-a-kind unique items. To that end, this blog has already helped me work out what the next step is going to be and that is our website. I don’t post as much as I would like because we are working very hard to provide content, both written and physical (actual stock) for our Webmasters (Twin Creations) before the site goes live next week. Once Woodendollars is up and running, I hope to be around writing more and reading all the wonderful blogs that so inspired me in the first place!

The picture is just to remind all of us dealing with unpredictable weather, spring is on the way!


Tulips growing next door

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Not A leg To Stand On...

This is the most recent addition to the household…a lovely, mahogany, early Victorian chest of drawers. As the photograph shows, the veneer has taken a bit of a beating over the years but structure wise it’s as good as the day it was made. And what an amazing piece of furniture…between each drawer is a solid wood partition and the wood on the back is as thick as most tabletops you get today! M, who loves old furniture with a passion, is beside himself with delight at the prospect of this restoration project and has spent an unbelievable amount of time studying it from every angle.

We do know that it came from an old farmhouse here in the area and that it is not fashionable anymore. Furniture like this is known as “brown” furniture; canny entrepreneurs buy it up for next to nothing and much of it sits in UK warehouses awaiting sale to American dealers who buy it by the container load. The size of this piece, alone is daunting for most modern homes - four foot, two inches wide by three foot, six inches tall, - but the dark wood and the damage would condemn it anyway. Fortunately M has the necessary skill; unfortunately he didn’t have the materials. Apart from the chips out of the veneer, the other missing elements were the four legs (that would have raised it off the floor). The veneer will be relatively simple to replace; there are companies that will send smallish quantities, ready cut, via Royal Mail. Unfortunately, the legs required much more wood.

A large piece of mahogany was out of the question…if we could even find it, we certainly couldn’t afford it, which left us no choice but to improvise, and that’s exactly what M did! We had helped ourselves to some of the branches, left behind when the storm-felled trees were removed from the roads, thinking of all the kindling we wouldn’t have to collect. M found a thickish piece amongst the pile and sawed off a long section, extra in case of mistakes, and turned the thickest legs the wood allowed for. Hard to believe that these four legs started out as bark covered, chunks of discarded branch only a few days ago; of course we have no idea what the wood is but it isn't mahogany. With staining and polishing, the results almost match the chest and will do the job for now. To give some perspective, the finished legs are shown standing on the remaining section of branch in the photo below.

As we couldn’t find any pictorial references of what the original legs may have looked like, M improvised with the design as well. One day when we are able to research it further and afford the mahogany, we will replace these legs with others more like the originals. The repairs to the veneer and the re-polishing will be completed when M finds some spare time. The derelict condition of the garden pulls him outside when the weather allows and between that, the stock (for the website), which he is restoring, and the household repairs, it will be some time before it’s finished. Until then, we love our newest arrival and it’s very useful too… now that it’s no longer ‘legless’!

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Sunny Saturday…for a few hours anyway

Saturday morning dawned with a sunny smile that developed into a proper grin by 10 am. And M and I were out the back door like horses from the starting gate, he with the camera, me with the gardening basket; our target – all the flowering thingies and the rocks by the drive.

The Snowdrops have been up for over a month but for some reason we never got around to taking their picture before. They are a pretty variety with lovely double underskirts marked with green but very short – only six to eight inches tall. The Daffodils on the South wall were up and showing buds by the middle of January – at one stage I thought they would be flowering in the snow (mind you they still might be – Arrrgh)!

Snowdrops growing in the lawn – Shrew view
(try saying that a few times, very fast)

Daffodils at the South wall

There are stacks of unidentifiable bulbs coming up all over the garden. A lot of them are Bluebells (so I’ve been told) but there are also many unknowns out there. We’re not going to do too much of anything until we have discovered what we’ve got.

Focused work for just on an hour revealed the outline of the “Rockery” and also many bulbs coming up along the top edge…they appear to be dwarf Daffs but we’ll have to see. It’s quite a small section – about 4 metres long and a metre high at its tallest point – and I just wanted to get rid of the grass and dead leaves to see what’s what. A cloud full of tiny, icy hailstones drove us back inside before we were properly finished and the ‘after’ photo will have to wait for another burst of sunshine. The rain tried really hard to make up for lost time, although it started to clear well before the lunar eclipse but we were just too bushed and conked out long before it happened! Don’t even know if it was visible from our place, so much for any latent journalistic tendencies.

The Rocks by the drive – what rocks?
This morning the wind was blowing cold from the North again, getting stronger and stronger and eventually the rain started coming down. We decided today that the old rhyme definitely fits this weekend:
Spring is not the best of seasons.
Cold and flu are two good reasons;
wind and rain and other sorrow,
warm today and cold tomorrow.
~Author Unknown

The ducks on the loch and the gulls seem to be enjoying the weather! It’s wonderful to have computers (and the Internet), fires and hot coffee, what a lovely way to spend a lazy Sunday.

Friday, 2 March 2007

How's Your Weather?

Browsing through Blogland, I realise that for many of us, winter clings on with its icy grip. My heart goes out to those of you still battling snowdrifts and icy roads. In this part of Scotland we are fortunate here to have had sunshine today but it’s been coupled with bitterly cold winds blowing hard from the North. And it reminds me of an old nursery rhyme, I remember from my Gran that goes something like this…

“The North Wind doth blow, and we shall have snow
And what will the Robin do then, poor thing
Why, he’ll sit on a branch and keep himself warm
With his head tucked under his wing


Well, I don’t think snow is forecast but this is a reminder nevertheless just how cold March can be. Is it climate change? Late spring? Cold winter? In the meantime (just for interest) here is a snippet from a UK Daily (same time last year).

On March 1, 2006, The Telegraph printed the following:

“Large areas of Britain were covered in snow yesterday with warnings of more to come, but today is the first day of spring - according to the Meteorological Office.
By tradition, spring has started on the night of March 20/21, the vernal equinox, when day and night are of equal length.

However, the Met Office said that it is easier for its record keeping to deal with whole months, making March, April and May the spring months, but that it was not seeking to change anything official.”

So you see spring is here… or it’s still three weeks away, depends which view you favour! The weather doesn't count so here's a daffodil to brighten things up!


Stay warm!


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