Monday, April 27, 2015

Kitchen Kettle Village and a spring-time drive

Yesterday we drove out east and visited a place called Kitchen Kettle Village.  It's about 15 miles away along the Old Philadelphia Pike, in a place called Intercourse (stop sniggering).  Intercourse itself is a small town, founded back in 1754, and was originally called Cross Keys.  We didn't have time to look around the town itself, but will definitely come back to do so, as it seemed to be a hub of Amish activity - lots to see of interest.

Kitchen Kettle Village is a small shopping area filled with lots of small local shops selling good food and local crafts and gifts.  We purchased some lovely goodies, including hand-made fudge (we watched it being made), several baked cookies, a pottery sugar bowl, some locally made jams and dressings, and a framed print of a typical Amish farmstead.  There was plenty to see and admire, including some beautiful quilts and lots of old-style country stores.  They were also offering buggy rides through the countryside, in authentic amish horse-drawn buggies - a little touristy, but maybe something to do in the future (when it's a little warmer?).

Having out-shopped ourselves, we took a scenic drive home through the back roads, slowing down every so often for the buggies, and just to admire the views in the spring sunshine!


Lovely day out - and the fudge was just too good to resist when we got home!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Bead Embroidery WIP

Ever since I attended a bead embroidery class a few months ago and made a beaded pendant (my new favourite thing), I've been fascinated with the process of bead embroidery, and the possibilities it opens up in terms of shapes and creations.

All my beaded shapes so far have been created on canvas, and whilst I've been able to create some cool shapes and cute figures (imho - see some examples here), I've been a little limited by the canvas squares / pixel designs and the size of beads I'm able to use.  All of a sudden, the ability to embroider free-form shapes, or simply to add more detail to my existing designs, opens up all sorts of possibilities.

But the possibility of freedom in creativity is also a little unnerving, so for a few weeks now, I've been playing around with different designs, trying to come up with "the one" that I think will make a good bead embroidery pattern.  Then this week I finally got fed up with procrastinating, and settled on a design to try out.  Going with the mindset that it was simply to try things out - no pressure to make it perfect - this is a learning process and I'll see how things go along the way...

Since it's spring, and daffodils are pretty prevalent, even in the suburbs of Lancaster, I went with a daffodil design.  And I already had some yellow and orange beads too.  Although obviously it wouldn't hurt to buy a few more... you know, just in case...

So I did a bit of sketching, settled on a design and traced it out, chose some beads, and - eeeek! - put needle to felt...

So far so good - let's see how this pans out...

Monday, April 20, 2015

Portsmouth Dockyards

During our recent trip back to the UK, we also took in Portsmouth's Dockyards and the historic ships.  It's been quite a while since I last did that, so it was good to re-visit and see what's changed.  There is so much to see, from the historic ships themselves, to harbour boat tours and then the recently developed Gunwharf Quays shops and restaurants.

Portsmouth is the UK's only island city, located on Portsea Island (not a lot of people know that).  It has been a significant naval port for centuries (since at least 1200, when it was used primarily for attacks against France!), although the earliest settlements date back to Roman times, and is home to the famous historic ships above, as well as being a major dockyard for the Royal Navy.  At its height, the dockyard was the largest industrial site in the world.

During our visit, we took in both the Mary Rose and the Warrior, viewed HMS Victory from the dock (sadly it's currently undergoing repairs and it's masts have been removed so it looks a little "stunted"), and took a boat tour of the harbour itself, taking advantage of the beautiful weather whilst we could.

HMS Victory - the oldest commissioned warship;
Nelson's flagship which saw battle at Trafalgar in 1805

The Mary Rose is a tudor ship - she was Henry VIII's war ship built in 1510.  She sank in the Solent in 1545, during an engagement with a French invasion fleet just two kilometres from the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.  The wreckage was rediscovered in 1971, eventually being raised in 1982 (a huge endeavour at the time, which I remember from my childhood).  Since that time, considerable work has been carried out to conserve what remains of the wreckage and the thousands of unique finds from the ship and the crew.  The conservation work is now in its final stages, and the wreckage is uniquely displayed in a specially built museum.  Eventually, the black venting tunnels will be removed so that you will get a full unobstructed view of the remaining wreckage.  Amazing to think that this ship is now over 450 years old...

A huge number of artefacts have also been recovered that give a real insight into life on board the ship.
Reconstruction of one of the brick ovens on board on the ship
Peppermill and pepper corns

Oil and vinegar bottles
Next up was HMS Warrior - the world's first iron-hulled warship, launched in 1860.  She was built to counter French developments in naval shipbuilding, and when launched, she was the largest, fastest and most powerful warship in the world, combining sail and steam, wood and iron, to present the greatest advance in ship design for centuries.  Basically, she kept the peace by deterring the enemy.  The contrast with HMS Victory, launched one hundred years earlier, is quite striking. 
It was really interesting to see the huge contrasts between the sail masts and the steam engines on board, the cutlasses and the rifles, and the shells and the cannon balls.

Six hundred men lived on board, divided into 34 messes, each with up to 18 men squashed into the space between two guns. They crammed around the mess table at mealtimes and at night slung their hammocks above.

Boiler room - 10 boilers, each with 4 furnaces
Finally, we took a boat tour around Portsmouth harbour itself, seeing the sights of Portsmouth from a slightly different angle:

Looking across to Portsdown Hill

The old and the new - HMS Victory sandwiched between two modern warships

Portsmouth Docks and the Spinaker Tower

The mouth of Portsmouth Harbour
Two iconic old pubs in Old Portsmouth - the Still & West, and the Spice Island Inn
All in all, a very interesting day out, made even better by the lovely weather!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Confessions of a beader...

I've been going to beading classes over the last few months, which has been great - they're held at the BeadWorks, a lovely alladin's cave full of pretty beads right in the centre of Lancaster.  (Needless to say, I now have a reward card with them).

As a result, each month (at least) I've come home with new additions to my beaded jewellery collection, and new skills in bead and wire work.  Which is great.  Except I've now run out of places to keep all of my creations, and keeping them in boxes doesn't seem to do them justice...

The necklaces, bracelets and rings are now fine - they're safely hung up out of the cats' way (Cinders in particular likes to chew things, especially if they hang at cat level - ie anywhere she can climb to).

However, I decided I needed somewhere to keep my dangly earrings that would be a) safe, b) on show (so that I don't forget them), and c) relatively cat proof.  I also didn't want anything huge or complicated that would take up lots of space (hubby would not be impressed).

So after flicking through Pinterest and Etsy for inspiration, I decided to make my own dangly earring display / storage.  It was very simple and relatively cheap too.

  • plastic photo frame (dollar store) - I spray-painted mine a nice glittery white
  • small piece of foam board (cut to size of glass from photo frame)
  • piece of hessian (bargain discount find in Walmart's floristry section)

Once all the pieces were acquired, it was a simple case of wrapping the hessian round the foam board and securing carefully (I just laced the ends together at the back with some fairly untidy stitching).  Then assembling the foam board / hessian into the photo frame (glass not required) and attaching the back of the frame.

Ta da!  Perfect place to store my dangly earring creations, with room for new additions.

And so far the cat has shown no interest whatsoever.  Win win!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Signs of Spring

Last weekend we took a trip into nearby Hershey - nicknamed "The Sweetest Place on Earth" - partly curiosity to see what all the fuss was about, and partly a need to get out of the house, even though it was raining (but very muggy).

View from Hershey Gardens across to Hershey Chocolate World and Amusement Park
Hershey itself, as you probably know, was the original location of the Hershey company back in 1905, which makes the famous US chocolate.  Everything there is Hershey-related, from Hershey's Chocolate World (factory store and virtual tour), to Hershey Amusement Park to Hersheypark Stadium (home of the Hershey Bears) and the Giant Centre (which hosts some big concert names).  Apparently the original Hershey factory was located downtown on Chocolate Avenue, but was closed and demolished a couple of years ago.

We did a tour of the Hershey Museum, which explains Milton Hershey's journey from bankruptcy in the 1880's to eventual chocolate success, and gives examples of how the original chocolate bars were made.  Interestingly, Hershey started out in his confectionary career  making caramels in Lancaster - caramels which are still available today (and have become Hubby's favourites)!

With a short break in the weather, we also took in Hershey Gardens - again created by Milton Hershey for the local community.  It's grown over the years from "a nice garden of roses" in the 1930's to a 23 acre site filled with lots of individually themed garden areas, seasonal displays, unique trees and a butterfly house (not yet full of butterflies).  Although we hadn't realised it, the garden had only opened for the year that week, and with the drizzly weather it wasn't busy at all.  Despite being so early in the season, there was still the promise of spring growth and colourful bulbs just starting to peep through in places.  You could see that it would be a lovely place to visit later in the spring, and probably through the rest of the seasons throughout the year as well.

Walking round the gardens inspired me to start thinking about my own gardening activities, particularly with a definite lift in the temperatures - so this week I've been looking for containers and herbs and vegetable seedlings, as well as some springtime colour.  Apparently there's a good market (Root's Market) held on a Tuesday nearby which does good seedlings - that could be next week's exploration sorted then!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Bristol, England & Cardiff, Wales

Our next stop on our UK trip was a weekend in Bristol and Cardiff to catch up with more family and friends.  We lived in Cardiff for 20 years before we moved to the USA, so we have lots of fond memories there!  However, as there was a six-nations rugby match in Cardiff Millennium Stadium that weekend, which meant staying in Cardiff itself would have been "difficult" for all sorts of reasons, we stopped over in Bristol.  We'd never really spent much time in Bristol before, other than visiting my brother and his family on the outskirts.  But this time we stayed in the city centre, and after family visits, we did a little exploring ourselves. 

Bristol is another ancient seaport, although the docks have since been moved to the outskirts of the city.  It sits on the river Avon, and has been a key trading point for the UK since around 1000 AD, as well as a starting point for many global explorers in the 15th century.  Bristol is also heavily associated with the engineering exploits of Isambard Kingdom Brunel who designed the Great Western Railway between Bristol and London, two pioneering steamships, including SS Great Britain which is still in port today, and the picturesque Clifton Suspension Bridge.  The Harbourside area is now filled with restaurants and bars, places of interest such as the Bristol Aquarium and the M Shed, and the odd outdoor market which was good to browse.  You can also tour some of Banksy's infamous works of art here, too.

The Matthew, a reconstruction of the boat originally used
by John Cabot when he discovered Newfoundland in 1497,
and now used for harbour tours in the summer.

The masts of SS Great Britain rise behind the old dock buildings

Colourfully painted houses on Bristol Waterfront
We spent a good day wondering around the waterfront and stopping for the occasional coffee and slice of cake in one of the many cafes and bars along the dock.  In the evening, we enjoyed a lovely tapas meal at Pata Negra, indulging in our favourite jamon iberico.
From Bristol, it is a relatively short 50 minute train journey under the River Severn into Wales and into Cardiff.  It was great to revisit "our" city, to catch up with old friends albeit briefly, and to feel content in the familiarity of everything (and relief that not much has changed in our absence!).
Cardiff Castle, parts of which date back 2000 years

But it was literally a flying visit, and then it was the start of the final week of our trip - visiting my family on the south coast near Portsmouth.