Home, missing home

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The last few days at home in West Cottage were so very busy for both of us. It’s always that way when we try to get as many projects completed as we can together. There are things we have to do, like replacing a weak piece of wood at the bottom of one of the large bedroom windows, which is just nearly impossible to do on one’s own.

The good thing is that we managed to get all the jobs done. The bad thing is that now we have to be apart for a couple of months.

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But there’s no denying that the crops in Oxfordshire have all been harvested, the fruit is ripe on the trees, summer is ending, autumn is fast approaching, and I have to return to Vancouver. The ideal would have been for R to come to Vancouver with me, but his work and projects won’t allow that right now, and my work and projects won’t let me stay longer in OXON, so there you are.

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So Robbie drove me to Heathrow, we had a lot of hugs and kisses and tears, and off I went.

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All bleary eyed and jet-lagged at home, our sweet Chloe had garden flowers waiting for me.

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She took great care of the house here, both the cats and all the plants.

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I dug up some potatoes and garlic from the garden, we stopped at a little organic market for some more veggies…

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…and made a hearty roasted veggie supper.

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In one way it’s good to be home with C and the Vancouver cats, but in another way it sucks…know what I mean?

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Time for one last walk. The Wychwood forest.

Very close to us at West Cottage is a forest called Wychwood. It used to stretch over 180 square miles and was counted as a Royal Forest of William the Conqueror in the 1086 Doomsday book.

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It’s a mixed forest of pines, beech, oak, maple, and the most glorious, tall bracken undergrowth.

It has a circular public path thru it and we chose to have a walk here today.

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At one point, the path wend out of the forest…

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…and we stopped and looked over our beautiful Oxfordshire countryside…

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…and the golden fields around us.

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Then we found a majestic oak and had a rest and listened to the forest.

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Summer is almost over and we can see autumn approaching fast.
Tomorrow I have to leave the country and return to the city, but I’m glad we got to walk thru this magical forest before I had to go.

Sharing with Judith and the mosaic bunch, and I’ll come visit everyone after I land in Vancouver.

Friday night disaster…averted!

I have a Land Rover story to tell you, but rather than show you the gruesome happenings, I’m going to show you the lovely vintage things I bought the other day.

So, I had to run into Oxford today and Robbie and I made a deal that I would undercoat the chassis of the Landi first thing this morning and then, while I’m in Oxford, R would put the floors back in.

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“Just get under the car,” Robbie said, “I’ll spread out a carpet remnant for you. It’ll be easy. Half an hour and you’ll have it done.”

Then he said, “Here, use this scrapper and this screwdriver and this wire brush to just brush off the loose bits before you paint it.” :D

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So I tied my two feet of hair into a braid, got into R’s overalls, climbed under the car and started scraping the tar goop and loose rust off…which started falling all over the carper remnant, R’s overalls, and my two feet of hair!!! And the more I moved under the car, the more it got into my hair.

About an hour into it R came to see how I was getting on.
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And to help me with the job because we greatly underestimated the amount of work.

About three hours later we were finally finished and I cleaned my hands with the turpentine and ran my fingers thru my fringe and my fingers wouldn’t go thru it.

OMG! How will I get tar and enamel latex out of my hair!

No time for hair rescue, tied it up and drove into Oxford.

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I love to walk the 3 miles into the town centre from the park and ride and today I had a beautiful walk in a strong wind…which blew my hair around and tangled the tar into it even more.

Now I know that the theory is that one shouldn’t have two feet of hair past their 30s but stuff that for a game of soldiers. I love having long hair and, what’s more, I love being a brunette, so cutting the tar out and using solvents was not an option.

So, back home, and I ran a really hot bubble bath, soaked in it for a very long time, washed my hair with R’s strong detergent Pantene instead of my gentle organic shampoo, squidged an entire tube of thick, gloopy conditioner thru my hair in two treatments and combed thru it with a fine toothed comb. The resulting hairball would have made my long haired Morgan jealous, but, a final little comb thru with a bit of coconut oil detangler, and my hair is back to soft, lustrous, normal.

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Disaster averted.
And I have a beautiful, rust free Land Rover (Landi update to follow) :D

The Druids next door

“There is stillness, the stones hold us. Still.” (Druid saying recorded by Romans)

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In the next door village of Stanton Harcourt is a stone henge. The village is named for it: from Stan (farm) + tun (beside the rocks).

It’s a little known Neolithic monument built by people of the early bronze age (2900 BC). Much of the archaeology of the area has been destroyed by Roman-British medieval farmers as they plowed the land. And, the henge which remains is a tiny fraction of an enormous area of barrows and prehistoric settlements all along the Winrdush/Thames valley.

It’s a miracle that the stones exist at all. They have been gathered, toppled, buried, plowed over, used in the construction of the RAF Stanton Harcourt during WWI, and dragged over to the Windrush River to serve as a bridge. By the 1940s, when a renewed interest in this archaeological treasure led to a large dig, there were only three stones standing.

Today, the area is known as The Devil’s Quoits. As with most ancient treasures, Roman-Christian traditions dictated a redirection of any pagan religions, so the area was re-imagined as God giving the Devil a telling off for playing quoits on a Sunday and the Devil had a temper tantrum scattering the quoits forming the henge.

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It may have been lost to history but for aerial WWI surveillance work, which showed the circle and ditch and facilitated the 1940 investigation, and, in 2002, work began to find the stones and rebuild the henge.

Come, walk up to the first earth circle with me, and let’s climb to the top.

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The henge is very large, 2200 ft across. There are/were two Tumuli (burial mounds) excavated in 1940. In the very centre of the great circle is a woman. She stands 5’3″ and, by her bone structure, is believe to be of the Celt. She had a flint knife, a jet slider for her clothes, seven flint arrow heads and a bone pendant in the shape of a looking glass.

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The second burial is located at the North entrance to the henge, underneath a “break” in the ditch circle. It is a man, 5′ 10″, with a ground-down gap in his teeth on his left side, suggesting that he repetitively held something between his teeth. Around him was a smaller ditch intersecting the large, primary ditch. Buried with him was a traditional beaker, dating him to the Beaker people, (early bronze age), seven flint arrowheads, and the same bone ring pendant.

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Beside the Tumulus of the man was a pit of animal bones. Animal and human bones were also found in the ditch around the henge. These were probably other burials and animal sacrifices, but that information is most likely lost to the plow, and only the rabbits, who call the ditch bank their home, are privy to what lies scattered beneath.

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We walked the circumference of the ditch and I collected my own archaeological treasures.

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In the druid culture, ravens are a link between this world and the next. In return for the henge offering me some precious bones, I left a gift of three raven’s feathers in the Western stone.

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In case you’d like to read the 1940 archaeological study here is the link: Excavations at Stanton Harcourt 1940

Linking up with Judith and the Mosaic bunch. :D

All work and no play? Don’t think so.

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Oh boy oh boy oh boy! We’ve been major energizer bunnies round here.
We’ve been building the carport, and removing stuff to the tip, and collecting plums, and chopping wood, and burning branches, and digging out a huge and ugly privet hedge for a deep perennial garden along a back fence, and we’ve been at it hammer and tongs till our legs are scrapped and bruised and we look like the walking dead.

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All this work has left very little time for art, but I’m happy to report the beginning of a carving.

My friend William, (who lent me his father’s chisels), gave me a piece of maple to have a go. OK, so, maple must be the biggest joke wood in the world! It’s as hard as rock!!! In fact, I can’t imagine oak or mahogany being harder.

So, very quickly it became very apparent to me, that I wouldn’t be the owner of a lovely maple woodcarving of a wildflower meadow with a wren. :(

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I’ve been thinking about carving a wooden spoon and asked Robbie how I might go about doing this. He looked at me and gave me his jig saw. LOL So I drew some designs on my maple and decided on the one I liked and set to it.

I cut out the wooden spoon with R’s jig saw, (R helped me cut the handle), and started carving it with the mallet and chisels.

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This is how far I got after about four hours of carving time, plus you can see the scale of this spoon. It’s a big one! :D

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So far so good. More work on the bowl, and, of course, I only have chisels instead of a draw knife for the handle and curved blade knife for the bowl, but I’m getting somewhere.

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Where was I…oh yes…fun…

So R got a phone call from his optician to say his contacts were in, so we drove to pick them up, and R surprised me with a day out visit to one of our favourite towns, Wallingford.

This is a beautiful market town of old brick and flint houses and postage sized courtyards and tiny little streets…like this one, called Mousey Lane, where we could hardly walk beside each other.

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We had a little lunch and tea and a good mooch around the antique emporium.

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I fell in love with two handmade teddies, some old chisels and a beautiful painting of a very curvy nude, while R fell in love with a gas mask, (which he wants to wear instead of goggles to drive his new project Medusa). We bought the gas mask, a chisel, and the handmade teddies for Binky and Bunny to play with, but, unfortunately, the beautiful nude was pricey and painted on wood, so very difficult for me to ship back to Van.

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Late afternoon, on the drive back home, R did a u-turn and we parked up at a little hill called Wittenham Clumps for a walk. It’s a special place which has inspired many people, from Victorian poets to contemporary artists. Here is a very interesting site about an artist who dedicated his art to the place.

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Run by the Earth Trust as a wildflower meadow, this chalk hill has the oldest stand of beech trees in England.

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We walked all the way around the clump…

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And looked out over our Thames and over our beautiful South Oxfordshire.

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Who says we don’t have any fun. :D

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Summer’s bounty is all around us

There’s so much abundance around us here in Oxfordshire.

When I drive thru any of the villages around us, I usually find a roadside stand with some freshly picked veggies and flowers and an honesty box requiring you to deposit a pound or two.

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And now people are having that late summer bumper crop that they don’t know what to do with. Do you know what I’m talking about? The other day, in my neighbouring village Appleton, there was a roadside box full of zucchini and marrows and the sign “Free, help yourself” on it. I helped myself to three zucchini.

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At this market, just beside Charlecote Park, I bought an enormous box of tomatoes for £4. That’s about $7. They were grown organically and locally. We’ve been having the most amazing salads, or just eating them fresh with a bit of salt, and they are so good. Don’t you love when tomatoes taste like tomatoes?

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The other day, my friend Elaine brought over a paper bag full of runner beans from her garden. They were gone in no time! It put me in mind of my Vancouver garden and, when I spoke to Chloe yesterday, I gave her a job of harvesting the runner beans, blanching them, and freezing them.

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That’s the most wonderful thing about this time of year, isn’t it? I feel like the little worker ant, from the children’s fable, harvesting and storing the summer’s bounty for the lean, cold days of winter.

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And I wish I could do more! I wish we had a much bigger freezer here in the UK and I could make pies and crumbles till I use up all the cooking apples here in the garden. But I can make a few pots of hedgerow jam because I just spied a ton of ripe blackberries and elderberries out in the fields. Those, plus some of the cooking apples and some damson plums. That combination always make a wonderful jam.

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Last year I canned a ton of cherries in some light syrup and the year before that I canned some peaches that Kerstie brought me. They were so delicious. Each year I also dry some fruit for snacks. Does anyone else do that? I love dried apple slices, although our UK cooking apples are so sour it would be fun watching someone try to eat them dried as a snack…lol. But maybe the Victoria plums might be nice dried. I’m not sure how to do it in the oven, but I imagine there’s a way. In Vancouver I have a food dehydrator that sounds and feels like a blow dryer on low speed. I usually plug it in in the garage overnight so no one has to listen to it.

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But the thing I love so much this time of year are the flowers; it’s like a fireworks explosion! Armloads of dahlias and sweet peas are at most of the roadside stands now and that means I get to have wonderful and fragrant bouquets around me all the time.

Where would we be without late summer dahlias anyway? Aren’t they the queen of the border this time of year?
I hope your summer is bountiful and abundant and you have access to it all. :D

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Hello from Sunday night

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Gosh it’s been such a busy week and I’m extremely behind on commenting and visiting everyone. Come to think of it, it seems like that’s the case with practically everyone out there. :D Are you all enjoying the last couple weeks of summer holidays? I hope so.

Oxfordshire is so golden and beautiful in the late summer and it’s so lovely to be here in the country rather than the city this time of year.

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Robert and I have been trying to get on top of major house and garden projects…like extending the garage and planning a conservatory…as well as getting out to enjoy our world.

Work on the Land Rover is moving along at a snails pace mainly because we keep finding more engine or body work problems, but it’s coming together. We’re almost there for taking the Landi in for its MOT.

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I’ve been sanding, cleaning, patching and repairing the body like crazy, and finally got it to the point where I’m happy to paint it with a rust-proof primer.

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The primer has made a transformation! Now I can paint with the original Land Rover sandstone paint colour it should have been. Yay, progress! All so exciting.

We’ve decided to keep the original face where the vintage tags are on the central panel. I like the little bit of history.

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Not much to report from the art department this week either.

A little more work on the blackbirds. All three fireweeds (willow roseherb in the UK) are drawn in in black India ink and a first layer of colour is in some places. Loads of work left and I better get on with it if I want to show it in the village competition in two weeks.

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I’ve been doing a bit of linocuts and having fun with those, especially since I bought some easy to cut lino form a fantastic on-line company. Gosh, do you know how much I love the whole UK system of buying things on-line and then they come in the next day or two? The whole Royal Mail system is just dynamite!

But the only other piece of art I managed this week is this little bullfinch. He’s been stalking the garden these days. I put him on a page from that old 1918 dictionary with the words “splendid” and “splash”. He is a little splash of splendid colour in the garden.

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We were going to take the mini racing this weekend, but the weather has turned rainy and cool. (Can’t race in the rain) We did, however, find this magic crop tiny mushrooms all over the place. Well then, hello autumn?

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My time here in the UK seems so short now by comparison to when I came here late June and now it seems that I can actually feel the time drawing to an end. I hate feeling the pressure of having to change countries, of leaving Robbie, exactly the same feeling I have when I leave Vancouver and leave my children. Wish I could be in two places at the same time.

Wow, this summer seems to just be flying by. I hate that. Is it just me, or does anyone else have that feeling? When time seems like that to me I have to make a conscious decision to slow down and live in the moment. Every moment. :D

The palace next door

It makes me chuckle to say that.

Blenheim is very close to us here in Northmoor. It takes us maybe 10 minutes to drive to it and, they have this terrific scheme for annual passes, that, if you buy a day pass, you can upgrade it to an annual for the same price. How terrific is that? Consequently, R and I have had annual passes for a decade.

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I’m always happy to come here, walk the grounds, have lunch in the cafe and tour the Palace, and I always know that photos aren’t permitted inside the Palace, and so, have only really taken one or two with my iPhone. (When no one was looking)

So, when we walked up to the front entrance and the guard told me that photos are now allowed without the flash…WHAT! You’re kidding me? Hooray! :D

I guess it makes perfect sense. Too many non-English speaking, iPhone toting tourists around.

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Blenheim Palace is an amazing trip down British history, and, believe it or not, a certain fisherman’s daughter named Betty Ridge (1745-1808), who was born and worked on the Thames right here in our village of Northmoor, married into the Blenheim Palace family by marrying Viscount Ashbrook William Flower. My friend Julie Godson wrote the book and, as soon as I finish reading it, I’ll tell you all about it.

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Though most people know that Blenheim was the home of Vanderbilts and Churchills and now it is the home to John George Vanderbilt Spencer-Churchill, 11th Duke of Marlborough and his family.

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They don’t live in the public rooms though. These rooms function as a museum and art gallery.

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See that painting above the fireplace? That’s one of my favourites here. It’s Consuelo Vanderbilt (1877-1964). There are loads of paintings and sketches of her around the palace. In all of them she looks very beautiful and elegant and has the most graceful, long neck…like a swan.

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There is so much to look at and take in. This formal dining room has painted plaster walls and ceiling in a giant mural by an 18C painter, Louis Laguerre.

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Even the tiny details are lovely.

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But one of my most favourite rooms is the great library.

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Hundreds and hundreds of books behind these ornate doors. I often spend some time reading the spines and they mostly turn out to be history books, encyclopedias and classic literature.

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It’s good to know that Canada isn’t forgotten. :D

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But the book that intrigued me the most was this little, blue, out-of-place book. Like someone wedged it out of that spot beside the red book to the right, lay it down and wanted to read it. Oh, can you imagine how much self control it took me not to reach in that cupboard and leaf thru it! Especially since the red book beside it says Diary 1898!!!

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Quiet days

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The world is very liminal today.

It’s a grey day here where things can go either way.

The river is very still.

Robert and I wonder if the river is still because of a storm downstream. Too much water downstream. Is that even possible? We like the idea.

The clouds are luminous, the world is wet, all is as perfect as perfect can be.

Round here

I can’t believe how fast the month of July has trickled thru my fingers!
Where did it go? I also can’t believe that a whole month has past here at West Cottage. Sometimes I wish I could make the time stand still.

Spoke to Chloe today on Skype. I miss that girl of ours so much, but isn’t it a wonderful world we live in that I can see her live whenever I want to? I also love that she’s finally (after I threatened to not renew her web space if she didn’t do something with it), keeping her blog. And, can I just say that her photography skills are so amazing now! She’s got my professional Canon in Van and has learned to use the tripod and timed shutter release and some of the photos are taken that way. But all are taken by her!

So lately I’ve been gardening weeding waging total war on weeds in some pretty impressive heat, while watching the beautiful Oxfordshire skies for approaching thunderstorms, and having silly fun; like raiding Catherine’s pebble drive and collecting odd pebbles and flints and designing prehistoric families. (My prehistoric man had an impressive cod piece for a while but Robbie waved the subtlety flag.) :D

in Oxfordshire

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This morning R had to run some chores just very close to Oxford and so I begged a ride into town. Thursday is the antique market in town and I was dying to visit the map seller. I usually buy a lot of damaged old maps form him that I can paint on.

Things worked out pretty well as R was going to be about an hour, and so we agreed to meet in 50 minutes and I hoofed it the last mile into town. Good thing I did too. The traffic was a morning grid lock and, despite the ridiculous number of students clogging the sidewalk, (for the summer months), I got to the market in ten minutes.

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OMG! So many beautiful things to see! I want to come back and buy some lovely blue and white plates for Kerstie’s collection, and this dress! If I were to get married I’d so chose a 1940s gold embroidered beauty like this rather than any new gown in the world. (Oh, and also have a couple ribs removed to fit into it! LOL)

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But mustn’t get sidetracked by the shiny sparklies. (I swear I’m half magpie)

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Here is what I came for. This wonderful seller has a box of damaged maps. Just perfect for me and my art. I never want to use perfect old maps. I love the broken, ripped, drawn and written on ones. You know, the ones which have a history; which have been loved to pieces.

Unfortunately, before I got to the map bloke, I came past a tool bloke and got seduced by a sexy chisel. I did have £30 to spend, but, after my chisel I only had £24 left. I chose the maps I wanted and explained to the nice map man about how I couldn’t help myself with the chisel and he laughed and said, “Let’s see what you want and I’ll give you a deal.” Then he totalled up my maps, which came to £30, and said he’d take £20 for the lot! Wow! So I went to a used book stall and spent the last £4 on some more maps! Hooray! Now I have loads of maps to paint on. :D

So happy.

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Later this aft, I took a couple of hours to do some work on the blackbirds. I walked out to the fields and picked some fireweeds and drew them around my blackbirds and began painting them in. Lot’s more work to do still, but I like the way this little painting is coming along.

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And, the village flower and veg show is coming up, so I might enter the blackbirds into the painting competition.

So tomorrow is August. Welcome August! I’m settling into the summer grove and loving life.

And speaking of love, I’m crazy in love with the beech forests right now and R has promised me a walk thru them. Can’t wait. But first we’ll go for a walk beside the Whomping Willow, (which is really a huge chestnut, but C called it that about 10 years ago). I love it there. We always see some deer. Actually, I surprised a muntjac deer yesterday evening. He walked out of some tall grass right in front of me, got scared, ran off and barked at me from the trees. Boy are those little creatures loud!

I think I might go for a walk this evening again to see if I can find him under that amazing sliver of a new moon out there. :D

Big hugs to everyone. Hope your last July day is a sunny and warm one filled with beautiful moments.
:D