Monday, 30 April 2007

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Sneaking a Sunrise Past a Rooster…

The rooster, Henry VII, has finally had his finishing touches completed and he is ready to take his place on the website. It has taken time but I have changed the whole way I work. Part of my problem with this process has been the fact that I would work on one painting at a time, becoming horribly frustrated when reaching an impasse. The painting of the moment would be in very real danger of death by gesso (painting over), as I would struggle to regain motivation. Now I have started a whole new approach and not surprisingly it was inspired by those of you out there who have struggled with your creative traumas and blogged about it.

One of the purposes here was to focus and become productive so on the days when I couldn’t pick up a brush; I trawled the Internet following links from one blogger to another. There is so much going on out there it’s amazing! First new concept was the ACEO, “art card, editions and originals”. These little paintings are the direct descendents of the ATC, Artist Trading Cards, developed in the 17th century by artists to trade with other artists in order to study each other’s technique and not intended to sell. The Impressionists were the first to open the ATC to the buying public when they began selling or exchanging their art cards for board and lodging or supplies. The ACEO is exactly the same as an ATC but is put out there by artists to sell. This practice is meant to augment their incomes, as well as increase their patronage. The venue for selling ACEOs currently seems to be restricted to eBay and a few websites. Early cards were not standardised, although they generally had to be smaller than 4” x 5”. The standard size for cards traded or sold today is 2 ½ “ x 3 ½ “ and the artist should sign and date the card on the back and also number it if it forms part of an edition.

The second concept is “The Daily Painting” or “Painting a Day” movement. I was blown away to discover that a number of artists are producing something new and exciting (and finished) every day, in the space of an hour or two! My introduction to this was thanks to Muddy Red Shoes (see links on right) who was turning out a huge quantity of quality work on a blog site she had set up for the purpose. I’ve since found other artists who are doing, or who did, paint a painting a day. The whole prospect sounds daunting at first; I mean I’ve been having trouble with a ‘Painting a Month’! Still, I’m going to explore it further and anyone interested in finding out more should just try googling in “painting a day” and see how many references there are!

All of this input led me to a lot of questions such as ‘why only one painting at a time’ and why stick to a standard size like 23” x 27” (for example)? Now I’ve got several paintings all in various stages of progress and I’m currently working on some ACEOs (with the help of a magnifying lamp - nicked from M's workshop) but most importantly, paintings are now getting finished so I guess the creative block is resolving itself. I really hope so…the garden is singing its siren songs again!


ACEO – Ewe plus two

Monday, 23 April 2007

Cleaning Scotland; One Beeches at a Time…

Today’s beautiful photo is courtesy of a talented neighbour; it was taken in August of 2005 and is an example of the glorious sunsets we are looking forward to. Thanks, Bob.

Beach clean up, an exercise in community spirit…a chance for everyone to get together, do something for our environment and have some fun. All of us here at Otter Ferry, pick up rubbish every time we walk on the beach…correction, most of us! The Official Beach Cleanup however, is an important event in the community calendar heralding the start of the season. It’s all very loosely defined really; the first visitors have been (and gone) over the Easter holidays but this is to get rid of unsightly junk, papers, etc and prepare the beach for the summer and a good excuse for a party!

This was our first year and somehow we managed to get it all wrong. Sunday dawned, grey and drizzly but by 2:25 pm the drizzle was gone and we girded up our loins, pocketed the camera, grabbed our cake/offering and set off for the Pub arriving at 2:31, one minute after the official launch time.

And…everybody had already left?
Were we going to let that deter us? You must be kidding! Leaving the cake as hostage, we trotted off after our leader and her advanced guard! And…we never found them.
After walking for nearly half an hour in the general direction they had headed, we decided we had somehow missed them. We turned around and re-traced our steps along the road, stopping and checking the beach ever so often but to no avail. Over an hour after leaving the house, we were back, thinking that we would keep an eye out for the group who would come from the other side, further up the Loch. The plan was then to run out and join them so that the “organising committee” would think we’d been with them all along. Well, they never materialised! Oh no!

I would have made a terrible reporter; I’d told all and sundry I was going to blog about the clean up and M would be taking photos. I’m always looking for interesting things to share here and our little community can be very interesting…but I have all the journalistic fervour of a sleepy sloth. Thanks to the timely intervention of our Chief Organiser and general Morale Booster, Dorothy of Otter Ferry Pub (The Oystercatcher) fame, I have a summary of the key points as they unfolded (beautifully written out and presented on a clean sheet of A4 today - give the girl an A+) – less than 24 hours after the event! Where does she find the time?

Re: Beach Clean 22nd April 2007

Our annual event went quite well (unusually)…almost seemed organised! Plenty of food arrived with homemade cakes, sandwiches, and sausage rolls, etc in abundance.

Even the two parties were of equal numbers; with five hardy souls from the Chalets and six not-so-hardy souls from the Big House end. There certainly was plenty of gossip from our end…as usual.

Even though the weather forecast was for rain, we were very lucky. More rubbish than last year, but nowhere near the mountain we had when we first started nine or ten years ago! Among our finds, the usual pieces of rope, string, plastic bottles, debris from bonfires and picnics, plus a few odd and mysterious “treasures” funnily enough by the same person. Firstly a raw leg of lamb…yes, raw? Later found out that said leg of lamb had gone off, so was put out for wildlife…ah! Secondly a more dangerous find that we decided was a flare, from one of the visiting boats. The big decision was whether it was still live or not? A vote (more gossip) found it best to just hide it in the rocks and let the owner retrieve it.

We all enjoyed ourselves and I’m sure we all slept better for the exercise, fresh air and of course, the gossip…

Thanks Dorothy.

We definitely will do our best to not miss next year’s event! Not realising the distance covered, we had undershot our mark by one cove. Had we continued up the road for another ten minutes we would have found them!

Friday, 20 April 2007

Friday's Finch...

This pretty little bird showed up in the garden last week and stayed…as I write this I’m watching one of them scatching in the gravel outside my office window.


The goldfinch is not rare or endangered but this is the fist time we have had one in our garden. As usual, I had to identify the newcomer and then went online to get some background. I wasn’t going to write about this little bird (I don’t want to bore you all) but there are some interesting facts about goldfinches in history and I thought I would share some of them here.

Goldfinches were kept as caged birds for their song, a melodious silvery twittering, and during Victorian times they were successfully crossed with Canaries to produce prettier songbirds. The resulting birds (known as Mules) could not be bred with as they were sterile but they are still being raised today.

In the wild, goldfinches feed on small seeds from plants like thistles and teasels but will catch insects when raising their young. Because it eats from and nests in thorns and thistles, this bird is associated in Christian symbolism with the Passion and the Crown of Thorns and appears in paintings of the Madonna and Child. It is also an emblem of endurance, fruitfulness and persistence and during medieval times, the goldfinch was even used by some as a charm to ward off the plague.

At about five inches long and weighing a megre half ounce these are a lot of attributes for such a small bird but it’s a very pretty small bird!

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

The Thinking Blogger Award…

For several days I have been trying to work out how to put links into my blog entry and the reason for this is the Thinking Blogger Award. I was nominated by Horizon over at Message in a Bottle (see link in sidebar)! Very humbling, considering that she was the original inspiration for this blog of mine in the first place! ‘Message in a Bottle’ is so special because Horizon is warm, friendly, funny, informative and she knows all the techno stuff and has links that work and videos too!

One of the conditions of the Award is that each person chosen must in turn nominate five of their favourites. This was a real conundrum for me; with so many brilliant Blogs, how does one choose? I was partly helped by the fact that others had already nominated some of my choices and this narrowed the field down a bit. The five I have chosen all have their own distinct merits but there are so many I would have chosen because you are all so good. I still haven’t managed to master the insertion of live links into my text but I have updated my favourites in the side bar so everyone I mention can be found there. I know it’s a bit of a pain (I’m very sorry –I’ll get some help soon, I promise) but go and have a look, you’ll be glad you did! I’ve had to come out and stop lurking on some blogs just to do this…I run out of time to comment but always mean to get around to it sometime.

Here, in no particular order, are my selections. All of these bloggers are exceptional, very different from each other but inspirational none the less. Remember, due to to my embarrassingly inept technical skills, the link to each blog is to be found in my list of Brilliant Blogs on the right.

The (French) Mountain Dweller - She and her French husband are running his family farm almost single handedly and are facing tremendous challenges, with guts, humour and good dose of panache!

Silver Apples of the Moon – Tara is a talented American illustrator and artist who manages to juggle her demanding life and numerous deadlines and still find the time to encourage others. Visit her blog and check out her new series of books.

Arty Fartying Around – Suzi is based in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. She is also an artist and takes the most brilliant photos all over South Africa.

The Bold Soul – Lisa is an American living in Paris. Her blog is often very funny and she is not afraid to put forth her point of view which results in some lively exchanges in the 'comments'.
An entertaining and personal slice of life in a beautiful city!

French Windows - Gigi - Another French blog, this one by a transplanted English rose, beautifully written, very interesting, accompanied by super pictures.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Zimbabwe…What About Zimbabwe? Part II

M had grown up in the heart of the South African bushveld in the ‘50’s and ’60’s and in the early ‘70’s worked for expeditions into Botswana to the Okavango Swamps and the Central Kalahari Reserve (traditional home of the Bushman -"San" people). Reflecting on J’s bout with Malaria, I remembered M saying to him as he left Scotland for Zimbabwe “Remember J, it’s not the big things that are problems in the bush, it’s the little things.”

For the remainder of February and into March communication resumed the normal flow of e-mails back and forth. Use of the phone had stopped until such time as our bill recovered from J’s illness so when I answered a call towards the middle of March and heard him on the line, my heart gave an immediate lurch! What followed added at least ten years to my chronological age!

“Hi Mom, howzit?” (Standard issue South African slang derived from Cricket lingo.)
“We’re fine. What’s wrong?” (No beating about the bush here!)
“I’m at the hospital in Zxaqrebakeroro.” (Well, that’s what it sounded like! Arghhhhh, HOSPITAL!)
“Well remember that bite I told you about?” (Last e-mail asked about treating what appeared to be a spider bite on his lower leg)
“Yeah, yeah.” (Now I’m starting to relax, it probably got infected.)
“Well, the glands in my groin are huge and it (the bite) went black in the middle so I came here to the Outpatients.” (African version of Accident & Emergency)
“Good thing, what do they say?”
“I’m just waiting for the Environmental Officers.”
“What, Why?” (Here go the alarm bells again)
“They want to take a scraping”
“Why?” (I’m mentally packing and working out whom to borrow the airfare from!)
“They say its Anthrax.”
“WHAT???” (I’m way too old for this…I keep forgetting to breathe!)
“Relax, Mom. I’m OK.”
“How can you be OK? Anthrax is deadly!” (All I knew about Anthrax I learned from CNN!)
“No, they’ve given me the shots already. They say I’ll be fine. Bloody sore shots though. “

The officials came and scraped, and took the samples off for the tests. That was nearly five weeks ago and J still hasn’t had a chance to drive the tortuously long road back to the government hospital to pick up the results. He feels fine, completing the course of medicines that was given along with the injections. Once again, he was back at work within a few days and off to the bush to work with his beloved animals. He is busy developing and testing a harmless elephant repellent and when I spoke to him this morning, he told me that the wound has shrunk to the size of a one-pound coin (about the size of a quarter) and is healing nicely. I wish I could say the same for myself!

Obviously my knowledge about Anthrax needed upgrading! Every reference I had heard relating to it, focused on the use of Anthrax as a biological weapon. Boy, did I have a lot to learn! The CDC (Centre for Disease Control – USA) provided me with the most concise (and comforting) information. There are actually three types of Anthrax infection: cutaneous (skin), inhalation and gastrointestinal. All types are caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis that occurs usually in lower vertebrates such as cattle, goats, sheep, camels, antelopes, etc. It can occur in humans when they are exposed to infected animals, tissue from infected animals or when the spores are used as a bio-terrorist weapon.

J had been infected with the cutaneous (most common) version, which accounts for about 95% of Anthrax infections. The bacterium enters the body through a cut or abrasion on the skin when handling infected animals or their by-products such as hair or hides. This forms an itchy, raised bump resembling an insect bite that in a couple of days forms a painless ulcer with a characteristic black necrotic (dying) area in the centre. Lymph glands in the vicinity of the ulcer may swell. Deaths are rare with the correct treatment; about 20% of untreated cases result in fatalities unlike the gastrointestinal type (25% -60% fatalities for both treated and untreated) and the Inhalation type, which is almost always fatal.

When they next meet, father and son will have plenty to share comparing notes. We never thought that J would be facing some of these small dangers quite so soon; M thinks it’s horribly unfair that ailments he had spread over some twenty-five years, J has faced in a matter of months. He’s always considered nature to be more fair to its protectors. We’re just hoping and praying that J has had his share for a while!

My concerns for my son originally were based on the political and social problems faced by almost all Zimbabweans. Fortunately, there have been cures for what he has encountered. Zimbabwe no longer has the infrastructure or the capital to combat or control the spread of these types of diseases. It's a great pity Africa hasn’t yet come up with a cure for the dictators who still plague it.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Zimbabwe…What About Zimbabwe? Part I

There’s been quite a lot of reporting on the International News lately about Zimbabwe. Well I can tell you a thing or two happening in ‘Zim’ and I’m not even mentioning politics! M and I have our own ‘up–to–date’ story running from Africa with breaking news, telephone interviews and nail biting, edge of seat reality!

... Welcome to this African Story. Please go to Wildmoz to see all our new articles as and when they appear. For the future; we will be publishing all our African Stories in their full version in e-books for readers, PDFs, etc. as well as in hard copies over time. Come over and enjoy the fun...

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Happy Easter…

The Campaign to Protect Rural England exists to promote the beauty, tranquillity and diversity of rural England and has listed the top ten qualities that must be present in order for a place to be considered ‘tranquil’.

In order of importance, they are:

1 Seeing natural landscapes
2 Hearing birdsong
3 ‘Hearing’ peace and quiet
4 Seeing natural woodland
5 Seeing the stars at night
6 Seeing streams
7 Seeing the sea
8 Hearing natural sounds such as leaves rustling, wind blowing
9 Hearing wildlife noises such as sheep bleating, cows mooing and stags bellowing (not all exactly wild maybe but definitely rural)
10 Hearing the sound of natural water such as rivers babbling and waves crashing

Hope you’re getting your dose of tranquillity this Easter!

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Creep, creep, shuffle, shuffle... i'm still here

This is awful? I’ve been away so long and longing to post but website wobbles have kept
us slaving away. First editing the image for the homepage and then scrapping it and trying something else and then finally scrapping that too and making a whole new one. So rant, moan grrrr! And to add insult to injury, you would think that with spring, inspriation would be flowing like...well like paint from a brush and words would be leaping from my fingers like lambs from the barn but there has been a serious case of BLOCK around these parts. Still, I suspect that this problem has been largely one of discipline, or lack thereof, for which I must apologise.

So, that’s the bad news, but the good news is mmm…where to begin? British Summer Time means we have a whole lot more day to accomplish all the joblets, chores, errands, etc and the weather has been stellar! The garden is pulsating with life; my hammock trees have burst into blossom, the ‘dead’ shrubs are all covered with leaf buds and the lack of rain means the ‘bog’ is drying out. There are unknown bulbs pushing through at the base of some fading daffodils and the birds sing all the time. I don’t know who’s enjoying all this more, them or me! The photo was taken on the way back from shopping; fog was drifting in and gave us this spectacular sight of the setting sun hanging, momentarily suspended, over Loch Fyne.

The trip over the hills and far away for necessary supplies (food) meant a detour to the garden centre and herbs, herbs, herbs! There’s no time right now for complicated gardening but M has worked out a temporary herb garden for my essentials so back we came with rosemary, thyme, lemon thyme, sage, mint and parsley. I’ve also started chilli, garlic chives, chard (silver beet) and gem squash. These are lovely little squash that grow in summer, similar to regular summer squash but with an altogether richer, more buttery flavour. The seeds aren’t available here but we found some at a supermarket ‘down south’ last summer (imported from Spain) and I carefully saved seed. I really hope these grow. They’re a true reminder of ‘home’ and one of the few uniquely South African foods that are almost impossible to find. If successful, I will post pictures later in the year.

The uncertain weather for which Scotland is famous has been glorious. The last week has given us the longest, unbroken stretch of sunshine since we arrived here. A couple of times we woke to the wind blowing from the north, which meant a colder start to the day but by the afternoon the sun had warmed us up. I don’t yet know what we have to thank for the quality of light, perhaps the latitude; I wish could capture the colours of loch, land and sky. Every colour imaginable is represented; from the almost purple haze of the budding trees in some patches of native woodland to the russet of the spent bracken to the tender green of the larch tree’s spring cloak. I never realised that gorse was such a beautiful, rich yellow, each small flower perfectly formed. Daffodils are everywhere, lining the edges of the single-track roads, trumpeting the entry into villages, nodding and bowing and dancing in the wind. Patches of creamy primroses surprise you around the corners and decorate the spaces between the rocks.

I do miss the black-faced sheep that filled the pastures behind our house; they’ve been taken off to have their lambs, safe from predators, mainly crows and foxes but it’s strangely silent without all the bleating. Hopefully we’ll soon be treated to the sights (and sounds) of lots of healthy lambs (and their mothers) doing what sheep do best…eating and growing!


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