Monthly Archives: December 2014

First blog-iversary: a reflection

sprouting acorn in fallen oak leaves
Sprouting acorn

When I started this blog way back on 31 December 2013 I didn’t really know much about blogging. I didn’t even know how to load an image! I thought I’d probably be OK at the writing part – though writing a blog post would be much different to the sort of writing I normally do. This blog wasn’t going to be about complaints or campaigning. This was to be my creative outlet – accentuating the positive aspects of life, particularly around creative projects and sharing my love of our amazing natural world.

Also, not being much of a dabbler in the demonstrative arts of the online social universe, I didn’t know what to do or what to expect from others. Should I leave a ‘like’ on a post? What about a comment? What should I say?

To pick up clues, I studied posts from those helpful people at WordPress. Amazingly, I found Michelle’s very first WordPress Zero to Hero in 30 days. A beginners’ blogging course – just what I needed! Within days I’d learned how to load images! In the days that followed, I learned much more too, including some excellent hints and tips on interactions in the blogosphere. Zero to Hero definitely eased my journey into blogging. I remain grateful ๐Ÿ™‚

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else!”

This is a quotation I have often found myself repeating over many years in diverse circumstances. For this post I rechecked its originator: Laurence J Peter (1919-1990), a Canadian educator and management theorist. You may have heard of his famous “Peter Principle”. I recalled this useful quotation when I re-read my very first live blog post here on Oak Trees Studio. I had written,

“This blog is definitely a work in progress. Iโ€™m thinking thatโ€™s really the nature of all blogs. A blog starts like a tiny seed and as we nurture it, it grows. As it grows it develops all kinds of branching off-shoots, reflecting the bloggerโ€™s interests and inspirations.

But I think also a blog needs to have strong roots to steady it and hold it firm. I think those roots are borne out of the bloggerโ€™s initial purpose for the blog. From the initial inspiration โ€“ the โ€˜why I am doing this blogโ€™ โ€“ the blog needs to develop its own persona, its own style and voice.”

I think I was right with my “work in progress” notion of blogging. A blog is like an ongoing ‘live event’. We add further ‘acts’ to it on a regular basis. I think trying to keep in mind the question, “Why am I doing this blog?” has helped me put down the roots of my blog and helped me shape its own persona. Some things I have tried and then changed – different themes, different posting techniques. Other things I have adopted as more regular features of my blog: I aim to join in at least one photo challenge a week (Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge is my favourite ๐Ÿ™‚ ); I aim to write at least one post a week on a current creative project – from crochet to gardening; nature’s art usually features strongly in my weekly offerings too.

Through the Zero to Hero course I learned that as well as writing posts, there was another Very Important Element to blogging – other people! I have really enjoyed visiting your blogs, reading your posts and looking at your photographs. I have learned so many new things, seen some amazing nature close-up and ‘visited’ so many new places. It’s been fabulous!

Suddenly, here I am, a year of blogging later. My 142 posts have collectively received over 6,000 views! “Thank you”, to all my regular visitors and, if you’ve maybe just dropped by to learn how to turn a shirt collar, “Thank you also – I hope you found what you needed”. (Did you know 4 people needed to know how to turn a shirt collar on Christmas Day! Wow! ๐Ÿ˜€ ) I want to thank you all so much for joining me on my blogging journey. I truly appreciate your support.

Winter-walk-in-woodland
Winter reflections

Here’s to another productive year of blogging in 2015!

Happy New Year ๐Ÿ˜€

J Peggy Taylor

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Christmas wild food - Yule log cake

Wild food for Christmas

Our Christmas feasting would not be complete without a dash of wild food. Wild fruits, carefully harvested and preserved during Summer and Autumn, bring out memories of warm sunshine in these deep days of Winter.

You may have seen my Wordless Wednesday pic last week, with my son expertly whisking up a Yule log cake. Here is the Yule log cake in all its decorated glory, replete with lashings of home-made blackberry jam and cream … and not forgetting the cherries and chocolate! This is definitely a cream cake to eat with a spoon!

Our Yule log cake 2014
My own MasterChef in the making? The fully decorated Yule log cake!

Another wild food festive treat I like to rustle up is Raspberry Coulis – a delicious fruity sauce topping that turns plain vanilla ice cream into a delightful dessert, especially with a shaking of grated chocolate on top. We prefer this wild food dessert instead of traditional Christmas pudding.

Raspberry Coulis Ice Cream Dessert
Raspberry Coulis Ice Cream Dessert

Raspberry Coulis is easy, though slightly time-consuming to make – here is the recipe I always use:

Raspberry Coulis

Ingredients:
175g / 6 oz of fresh raspberries (washed) or frozen raspberries (thawed)
3 teaspoons of water
3 teaspoons of sugar
(We find this is sufficient quantity to accompany 8 servings of ice cream.)

To make:
1. Blend the raspberries in a blender or food processor with the water and sugar.
2. Sieve the mixture through a metal or nylon sieve. (This is the time-consuming part! I find stirring the mixture carefully in the sieve helps it on its way ๐Ÿ˜‰ )
3. Turn the resulting liquid into a saucepan and boil for one minute. This makes the sauce clear and glossy.
4. Cool and refrigerate until needed. (I find this sauce lasts about four or five days in the fridge … then it tends to have been eaten! ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

If the raspberry harvest has been disappointing and we have none left in the freezer by Christmas, I have also made up the same recipe using blackberries with equally delicious results. We always tend to have many more blackberries. Sometimes the bramble bushes are blooming again before all our blackberry stash has been devoured!

J Peggy Taylor

City shots for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

Observations in Newcastle

a random collection of thoughts whilst looking at my city shots

Roads
A bustling city filled with busy lives
Roads and transport carry us on our way
One-ways systems ease unfettered chaos

Buildings
Shiny new buildings rise, replacing some less-loved
But classic stonework never fades from view
Books and culture nurture hungry minds

People
A woman pulls her suitcase, rushing train-wards
A girl darts across the street while the light is red
People meet for lunch outside the theatre

Transport
Sustainable transport’s on Newcastle’s streets
with cycles in their racks outside the library
and – at least here in town – cleaner, greener buses

Newcastle upon Tyne City Library
City shot #1: old and new architecture side by side
City street scene
City shot #2: dashing across a city street while the traffic lights are red
Quayside bus passing Newcastle's Theatre Royal
City shot #3: green transport to the cultural quarter

Do take a look at the cities and city structures others have chosen for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week.

J Peggy Taylor

Merry Christmas from Oak Trees Studio

Christmas Eve is such a busy day, so it is wonderful to find an hour when we can escape to the woods for a brisk Winter’s walk. There’s no white Christmas for us here in northern England this year, but our little video takes you on a short walk in our woods when they were beautifully snowy. To accompany you on your walk is one of my favourite Winter melodies, Gustav Holst’s setting to Christina Rossetti’s poem “In the Bleak Midwinter”, played on the piano by our son, Will. We hope you enjoy our snowy musical montage.

We wish all our visitors a very Merry Christmas.

Very best wishes from
J Peggy Taylor and all of us at Oak Trees Studio

Our Christmas wreath

Our Christmas wreath 2014
Our Christmas wreath 2014

Most of our Christmas decorations have shared many festive seasons with us. Several of them have their own tales that are retold each year as we retrieve them from their packing boxes for their next seasonal display. Some are items that have been hand crafted by our children over the years.

One such item is the willow base on which each year I craft our Christmas wreath of evergreens with holly, ivy, pine and two ‘ears’ of yew. Collecting the greenery is something of a family ritual, but also a welcome excuse for a woodland wander. I love the woods at all times of year and mid-Winter has its own magic.

When complete, we hang our Christmas wreath outdoors on a wall-hook. We used to hang it on the door but modern uPVC doors don’t seem to lend themselves well to ancient earthy rituals like wreath hanging!

J Peggy Taylor

Run, run, as fast as you can …

… you can’t catch me! I’m the Gingerbread Man!

Cooking Gingerbread Men for Christmas

A few years ago our youngest son became keenly interested in helping with Christmas cooking. He scoured recipe books deciding on new things we should add to our Christmas feast. When his eyes alighted on pictures of iced gingerbread men he realised this was a Christmas treat he had so far missed out on – a situation he must immediately remedy!

Part 1: Mixing the gingerbread dough,
Part 2: carefully cutting out the gingerbread men shapes and adding the currants for eyes and buttons,
Part 3: baking them
– and then – the ultimate fun part,
Part 4: decorating them with coloured icing
… all have now become part of our Christmas countdown schedule.

Making gingerbread

We’ve tried out a couple of different recipes for our gingerbread dough, but we find this one works out just right.

Ingredients:
350g (12 oz) plain flour
5ml (1 level teaspoon) baking powder
10ml (2 level teaspoons) ground ginger
100g (4 oz) butter or margarine
175g (6oz) sugar (brown sugar is best)
60ml (4 level tablespoons) golden syrup
1 egg beaten
Currants to decorate

To make:
Sift the flour, baking powder and ground ginger into a bowl.
Rub in the butter or margarine and stir in the sugar.
Beat in the syrup and egg.
Knead the dough until smooth.
(TIP: We usually freeze the dough at this point and do the rolling out and cooking part separately. If you do freeze the dough, defrost it in the fridge overnight and then leave it out for about an hour to come to room temperature before rolling.)
Roll out the dough on a floured surface to 5mm (1/4 inch) thickness.
Cut out your gingerbread people or shapes and place well apart on a greased baking sheet (we normally use and reuse baking paper).
Decorate with currants for eyes and buttons.
Bake at 190C (375F) Gas mark 5 for about 10-12 minutes.
Cool slightly then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Further decoration with coloured icing is then essential in our house (guess what we are doing today!), but the gingerbread is equally tasty just as it is after cooling ๐Ÿ˜‰
The gingerbread keeps well enough in air-tight containers … plenty long enough before it’s all been snapped up by your hungry little foxes! ๐Ÿ™‚

J Peggy Taylor

Happy Winter Solstice!

Snowy Winter sunset

Happy Winter Solstice! ๐Ÿ˜€

I have always thought of Winter Solstice as the pinnacle of dark nights, after which the days grew longer and the nights shorter … until I read this interesting blog post today – I thought I’d share it with you:

http://timnovate.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/myths-about-the-winter-solstice/

The cycle of the seasons is something I feel very much drawn to as part of my keen interest in nature and the natural world. However, it was interesting to learn a little more about the astronomy behind the Winter Solstice.

J Peggy Taylor

My landscape - Springtime in the woods

My landscape for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

There are some landscapes close to where we live that I find myself photographing over and over again, in all weathers and in all seasons. For Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week on the theme of landscapes, I thought I’d share a few of them with you. My header image is one of our regular paths to the woods, looking across to the trees in their Spring greens on the edge of the wood, with the yellow of blooming gorse shrubs brightening the fields.

My landscape - October sunrise
My landscape – October sunrise

From our front window we look out eastwards towards the woods. Looking east also gives us the morning sun and some beautiful sunrises. I must say my early morning sunrise photos are generally taken through the window rather than from outside! Sometimes the sun puts on a spectacular colour show but I loved the gentle gold of this one. You’ll see this same view in very different weather on the image I’ve chosen for our Oak Trees Studio greetings card across on the right.

A favourite walk westwards from our village, along part of an old railway line, gives us fabulous landscape views out across the valley. In Spring we see the trees gradually greening up with their new season’s foliage and the bright greens of distant field crops. Summer brings darker greens in the trees but also bright splashes of yellow in the fields and, on a clear day, the purple of the heather high up on the moors.

My landscape - across the valley
My landscape – across the valley

This view westwards with its ever-changing vista often provides us with a weather preview before we experience it first hand and also some wonderful cloudscapes. As we wander along the valley side, we’ll often stop to take in the view, spotting the shapes in the clouds or commenting on the sunbeams glancing down through the deep cumulus clouds. I love the moody sky over the Summer valley in this photo.

My landscape - homeward from a Winter walk
My landscape – homeward from a Winter walk

In Winter our walks usually take us out into the woods, whether we are squelching through oozing mud and puddles or crunching through crisp snow. When our Winter ramble is done, we head homeward, leaving the woods behind us and dropping back down across the meadow path into the village. Again we can take in the scenic landscape looking westward over the valley, with its big skies and cloud patterns. At this time of year, if we time it right on a clear day, we can watch the setting sun slip down behind the horizon as we emerge from the cover of the woods and follow the field path down to the road.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief glimpse into my daily landscapes. Do take a look at the landscapes and seascapes others have shared for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week.

J Peggy Taylor