West Highland Way – Day 1 – Milngavie to Drymen (12 miles)

Prepare for the first of many posts about my epic adventure walking the West Highland Way!

So a bit of background …..

The West Highland Way is a 96 mile route that runs from Milngavie just outside Glasgow, to Fort William.  It runs through some of Scotland’s most stunning and iconic scenery – Loch LomondRannoch Moor, Glen Coe, Buachaille Etive Mòr.  Last year after being inspired by reading Wild, I decided that I wanted to walk this trail and I wanted to do it solo.  I love walking with Dave, and I love walking with my friends, but there is something magical about being alone in nature and I regularly go off hill walking on my own at home – it recharges my batteries!  I also loved the idea of the physical and mental challenge of doing this alone – how would I cope when it got tough? Would I manage to go the distance?

Once I’d started reading up about the Trail and planning my route, Dave decided he liked the look of it too! So we hatched a plan which would allow us to both walk the Way – Dave would drop me at the start, drive to Fort William and leave the car there, get the bus back to Milngavie and start walking the day after me.  We thought he would probably catch me up at some point and we would probably walk bits of it together, but he was totally awesome and supportive, and understood that it was important to me to do it alone.  Also he wanted to camp, whereas I most definitely wanted to enjoy the walk free of heavy packs! I booked B&Bs along the way and also used Travel Lite to transport my luggage so all I had to carry each day was a relatively light day pack with food, water, clothing and emergency supplies.

So – after months of planning, training, and buying all the gear I would need, on Tuesday 3rd May it was time to set off!  I had expected to be super-excited, but actually I felt a wee bit flat at the start – it was almost like I couldn’t quite believe it was actually happening after thinking about it for so long!  We got up at the crack of dawn and drove to Milngavie where I deposited my luggage with Travel Lite, and Dave & I grabbed a coffee together before he set off for Fort William leaving me to start my walk.  Straight away I realised that this was not going to be the communing-with-nature, no-human-contact trip I had originally had in mind – I knew a lot of people walked the WHW, but I hadn’t really grasped *exactly* how many people there would be!  I had also kind of assumed that you would only see people once as they would either be faster or slower than you – but actually you ended up seeing the same people quite a lot, as you would stop for breathers at different points, so keep overlapping.  This was the first of many bits of the trip where things turned out completely different from what I had expected, but I surprised myself by liking it!  I ended up really enjoying the camaraderie amongst all the walkers.  Every single person I met and chatted to was lovely.  After a few days I got to know the various groups of people by sight if not by name.  We would stop for a wee chat when we crossed paths and then go off on our separate ways until the next time.  It was a really good balance of being alone, but also meeting new people and making new friends.  Anyway, more of that later!

The down side of there being so many people on the trail, when you are someone like me who needs to wee a lot, is that it is quite hard to find discreet spots to go!  I made it until about 10.30 on the very first day before someone caught me with my pants round my ankles – ha ha!  And I reckon I added on at least an extra 5 miles with all the times I went off the path to find a tree to crouch behind!

Anyway, enough waffling, let’s get to the actual trail on Day 1.  Here’s the traditional photo of me at the obelisk start point – I grabbed a couple of Canadians who were there and got them to take this – happily we continued to cross paths throughout the walk and saw each other at the pub in Fort William at the end.  I never got their names but I will remember them fondly as trail buddies!

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The walk starts off gently enough, meandering through Mugdock country park as you leave the suburbs and head for the proper countryside.  I’d read that day 1 was a bit boring and drab, just getting you out to the wilder areas, so I was surprised how much I enjoyed it – even this early on there was some lovely scenery, if not as dramatic as the later stages.

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A good reminder 🙂

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After about 4 miles I’d left the suburbs behind, the crowds had thinned out a bit as people found their varying paces and I was settling in to my walking and enjoying myself. The trail opens up and gets more rural and you get some lovely views over to Dumgoyne.

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I love my new camera, but I hadn’t realised I had the “panorama” setting on “old style” so all my panoramas for the first couple of days have this browny sepia tinge!  Oops 🙂

Already I was feeling glad that I had planned my walk for 8 days at a relaxed pace.  I had wanted to not feel rushed, so that I could drink in the whole experience, and that was exactly how it did turn out.  This panorama was taken off the trail – I hopped off for a 10 minute walk up to the top of a mound to get to this viewpoint.  I was really glad that I was able to do stuff like this throughout – and some of the best parts of the whole trip ended up being the bits where I went off the trail – rather than feeling like I couldn’t stop or add on miles because I was pressed for time.

7 miles in and the Beech Tree Inn was a welcome sight – LUNCH!

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The Inn provided this handy map of the WHW – there’s a long way to go!

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The walking after lunch was not quite as nice – a large chunk was on roads and the views were not as scenic.  However there were still some lovely moments to enjoy.  I hopped off the trail again and sat by this beautiful river at about the 10 mile mark to rest my feet and have a snack.

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Honesty shops were quite a common sight along the Way – I loved this!

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There seemed to be a Lord of the Rings theme going on here …. happily I passed through without being set upon by any trolls or orcs 🙂

The last couple of miles into Drymen were walking on tarmac which was a bit wearing, and the feet were getting tired by this point, but I revived a bit when I reached the top of a hill to get my very first views of Loch Lomond in the distance – I’d be walking alongside that tomorrow!

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At about 3.30 I rolled into my first B&B feeling tired but exhilarated.  I crashed out on my bed for a rest before walking (another half mile! too cruel at the end of the first day!) into Drymen to get some dinner at the Clachan Inn.  I splurged on fillet steak and profiteroles – I was very glad I had not gone for the camping option!  It was fabulous to have food put in front of me, followed by crashing into a nice comfy bed!

Day one, done!

Click here for the Day 2 blog.

 

Ostara Mandala

Well gosh, it only seems like yesterday that I was making my Imbolc mandala but before I knew it Ostara was not only here, but gone!  What with our gallery opening on March 20th I was a little distracted, and then had some problems with the mandala which meant I had to start over, so it ended up being a week late.  Never mind, it got done in the end and I’m actually really pleased with the end result of this one 🙂

So, as before, the process started off with some research.  During the course of this I learned that the reason hares are connected to Ostara as a symbol of fertility is that they are one of the only animals who can conceive while carrying young …. fascinating, the facts you uncover!P1000322.JPG

Ostara is the Sabbat that celebrates the Spring Equinox.  Day and night are equal, and from this point forward the days are longer than the nights.  It’s a joyful, energetic time of rebirth – new life is appearing everywhere (here in Galloway there are super cute wee lambs everywhere you look!), buds are blooming, plants are awakening and the light is returning.  If you want to read more about Ostara and its traditions, I recommend this excellent article.  You can also find more links on my Pinterest board. Of course, many Ostara traditions and symbols were incorporated into early Christianity which is why we have things like the Easter bunny and Easter eggs, neither of which have much to do with the meaning behind the Christian festival of Easter!

I decided I wanted to use the hare as one of my symbols, and also incorporate eggs and flowers … and I also wanted to show the idea of balance and harmony with night and day being equal.  I settled on the yin/yang symbol for the whole mandala to go with this idea and decided to make one half night, with a moon gazing hare (I have a bit of a thing for moon gazing hares) and one half day, with sunshine, crocuses (always synonymous with spring for me!) and a nest of eggs.  This was my initial – very very rough! – sketch.P1000323.JPG

I had a bit of trouble coming up with words this time around, partly because I felt that I should keep to the same format as the last one with the “I am” statements – but they just didn’t seem to flow for this, so in the end I went with completely different wording!P1000324.JPG

Enough research and doodling, time for the fun part to get started!  Watercolour paper, pencil, ruler and compass to start off ….. P1000274.JPG

I made the yin/yang symbol within the square, and went over it in black pen, and roughly sketched in the design. P1000275.JPG

Time to start painting …. and this is where it went a bit wrong, in two ways! First of all I was using light paper (150gsm) and I hadn’t pre-stretched it.  So the paper rippled quite badly when I started putting the watery paint down.  Secondly, my painting was not accurate enough and you can see below that I have dribbled blue paint into the sun ….. now in acrylics this wouldn’t matter but with watercolours you can’t get away with it!  Blue paint plus yellow when I paint the sun = green splodges!P1000278.JPG

I persevered with it, however, as I had invested quite a few hours already! But being the perfectionist that I am, I think I knew deep down I was going to have to start over.  I finally gave up when I added the sun’s “rays” in paint and decided they were far too heavy and thick.  This one was resigned to a practice run, time to start again!

You can see how badly the paper has warped in this photo ….. P1000280.JPG

And here’s a close up of the sun – nope, just not good enough! Note to self – more accuracy required!P1000291.JPG

So, quite literally back to the drawing board for take two.  This time around I used masking fluid.  It was my first time using this rather fabulous stuff so I experimented on some rough paper first (thankfully I had the discarded mandala to use!)  Masking fluid is latex fluid which you can put on to your paper before you start applying paint, and will protect the paper underneath.  I carefully applied it first to the moon and then to the sun, before painting in the night and day skies.Image00006.jpg

Here’s the whole thing so far, I’ve taken the masking fluid off the moon but not the sun yet.Image00007.jpg

Next steps ….. I painted the moon with my favourite pearlescent watercolours to give it a lovely silvery glow, and painted the hare, sun and crocuses.  I’ve used a fine black pen to add detail and emphasis too.Image00008.jpg

Time to add some grass …… I also added some of the silver paint to my hare’s ears, as if they were catching the light from the moon.Image00009.jpg

Stars added (with dots of paint and silver gel pen) and sun rays too – I learned my lesson from the paint last time and used a fine gold glitter gel pen this time!Image00010.jpg

Somehow I managed to not take any photos during this part, but I did also paint the tree, nest and leaves!  Finally, it was time to add the writing around the edge.  I decided to use a technique I’d experimented with before  – block writing with watercolour filling in the gaps. I used my discarded mandala to practice the writing and pick the colours I wanted.  You can see my masking fluid practice run here too!Image00013.jpg

The writing is a fiddly process.  First of all I drew guidelines in light pencil.  Then I sketched in the words – sometimes this just works straight away, and other times it requires a few attempts to get them to fit in! Image00011.jpg

Then I very carefully went over the letters in permanent black ink.Image00012.jpg

Then it was time to add paint – a fairly painstaking process, trying to make sure I kept the sequence of the three colours correct and quite fiddly to be accurate in the small spaces.  I did make a mistake and leave out a green block at one point – let me know if you can spot it!!

Once the paint had dried I rubbed out all the pencil guidelines to give the finished mandala.  Whew! Got there in the end!

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Despite it taking me an age and having to start over, I’m really happy with this one.  Next up will be Beltane on May 1 and I will pretty much need to start researching that one straight away – can’t be late this time as I’m off on my West Highland Way adventure on May 3rd!  In the meantime ….. may Ostara bring you harmony, abundance and joy. xx

Making a layer flower pendant

I thought it was time for another look at how I make one of my pendants – this time I’ll be taking you through the steps to make one of my layer flower pendants.  You can click on any of the tiled images if you want to see then full size.

I really love this design, it’s so pretty and so versatile.  Because it uses 5 thread changes, it can be made in a fabulous variety of colours.  For this one, I’m using five different shades of purple.

As always, I start off with my cotton thread and hook – for these flowers I use a 1.25mm hook.Image00001

I make a circle to begin and start to stitch around it for the centre of the flower.

That’s the first colour done.  Now it’s time to add the first set of petals.  I make each petal by stitching into the loops I made with the first thread.

Image00004Once I’ve finished making the petals, I turn the flower over and make loops in the back – these are where the next layer of petals will attach onto.

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Here it is so far, with the penny to show size.

Image00006Time for thread number 3 – I make a second layer of petals, and another set of loops on the back.

Then it’s the same thing again with thread number 4 – another set of petals.  The second image shows the back of the flower so you can see how I’m stitching the petals into the loops.

That’s the third set of petals finished – it’s starting to take shape now.

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Onto the last thread now for the final set of petals.

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Here’s the back – quite messy with all those different thread ends!  It looks better once I tie off the ends and cut them.  I leave one long thread to sew on the backing.

Now it’s time to sew a back on the flower to make it nice and neat.  I use soft acrylic felt for this which I cut out to the right size using a handy card template that I made 🙂

I sew the felt onto the back of the flower.

Finished!

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Now I need to put the finishing touches on the flower – it tends to come off the hook a wee bit squiffy (like cotton when it’s just out of the wash) – so I pin it out and use some fabric stiffener to get it to the right shape.  For most of my designs, I stiffen the whole thing, but where this one is more 3D it doesn’t need stiffener on the whole thing, just the bottom set of petals.

I use wax paper and a printed template to get it symmetrical.

I use a mix of fabric stiffener and water which I paint onto the bottom petals with a paintbrush.

I leave this to dry, usually overnight.  Then it’s time for the finishing touch and my least favourite job – glueing the cabochon gemstone to the centre of the flower.  I love the way the gemstone looks, as it covers up the wee hole in the centre of the flower and makes the pendant look so much better, plus it ties in the flower with the gemstones I use to finish off the pendant and chain.  But it’s such a fiddly job!  It’s easy to go wrong by using too much glue or getting the stone slightly off centre – in which case all the hours of work up to this point are ruined!  Also, I have to press down quite hard on the stone while the glue dries which hurts my finger (sob!).  So you can see why it’s my least favourite part of the whole process 🙂  For this flower, I’m using a beautiful amethyst cabochon.

Done.  Whew!!!!!!

Now I need to make the chain for the pendant to hang on.  I’m using cotton thread in silver, this time with a 1.5mm hook.  I accent the chain with 4mm amethyst beads.

The finished chain:

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I use sterling silver end clasps to finish the ends of the chain.

The sterling silver lobster clasp goes on one and, and the extender chain on the other.

I use another silver jump ring to attach the flower to the centre of the chain.

Now I need to make the gemstone drop to hang underneath the flower.  To go with the different shades of purple in the flower, I’m using two shades of amethyst.

Finally, I attach the drop beads to the bottom of the flower.

And the pendant is finished!  Here it is with some other colours.

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On a completely unrelated note, I love that the whole time I worked as an accountant I never had a filofax and now I do have one, and it’s bright turquoise with butterflies on it 😉

Imbolc Mandala

As you probably already know, if you read my blog or follow me on facebook, I have a bit of a thing for mandalas.  I’m currently on my second round of “Mandala Magic” with the amazing tutor Julie Gibbons, and I can’t praise it highly enough.  I’m also very into living in tune with nature, and following the seasons; one of my goals for 2016 is to celebrate each festival, or Sabbat, as we travel through the Wheel of the Year.  So I decided to combine these two things, and have given myself a project of creating a mandala for each Sabbat in 2016.

The first one of course is Imbolc – one of my favourites, not least as it falls on my birthday!  Imbolc is the Sabbat that celebrates the beginning of Spring; it falls halfway between the Winter Solstice (Yule) and the Spring Equinox (Ostara).  The earth is awakening after the long winter, the days are getting lighter, the sun is returning, new life is awakening …. it feels like such a hopeful, joyful time!  If you want to read more about Imbolc and its traditions, I highly recommend this excellent article.

So, I thought it would be nice to blog about each of these throughout the year as I make them – I figured some of you might enjoy seeing the creative process!

It started off with research – I read lots of articles about Imbolc and made notes in my journal, so I could decide what symbols, colours and words I wanted to use to capture the spirit of the Sabbat.  (The page on the left here that I have glued into my journal is from the Earth Pathways Diary).Image00001

Then it was time to plan how my mandala would look.  This is a mandala I made last year, and I had the idea in my head to do something similar.  I liked the idea of the petals to symbolise new life sprouting from the earth.  But I wanted to incorporate other Imbolc symbolism too, so I decided to sacrifice this one and use it as a rough practice guide!  If you look closely you can see my pencil squiggles over the top, experimenting with fitting in snowdrops and candles within the green petals. Image00003

Time to think about words! I love the combination of words and image together, so I plan to incorporate words into all my mandalas in this series.  It was back to my journal to brainstorm the words I wanted to use.  I picked out these as the words that most spoke to me and evoked the essence of Imbolc.  Then I did some experimenting with various lines before coming up with something I was happy with (although it did change slightly again before the final version!).  I experimented with how I would write it and fit it around the edge of the mandala (you can see these squiggles above too!).  Image00002

Then it was time to put pen to paper and make a start.  I decided to go with snowdrops, which to me are always the first sign of early spring.  I also added a stylised Brigid’s Cross in the centre of the mandala.  I drew out the mandala in light pencil using my straight edge and compass to get the basic outline.  I drew one snowdrop freehand, and then used tracing paper to transfer it to the other 11 petals, in an attempt to get them all more or less the same size and shape.  I drafted the writing around the edge and went over the snowdrops and the cross in fine pen, to accentuate them.Image00007

The next step was to finalise the wording and go over it with pen.Image00002

Now for the fun part – the painting!  I tested out the colours I wanted to use on some scrap paper.  I’m using watercolours – I decided on plain green to get the bright green of the snowdrops, while the rest are pearlescent watercolours, a recent purchase which I am very much liking.  They have a lovely soft glow to them.Image00004

Progress …….. Image00005

Once I’d finished adding colour, I decided to accentuate with some dots.  I love the look of this technique, but it’s quite tricky to get them right! You can see in the top mandala that I had a go at this last year, but the dots are too big and very uneven in places.  So I practiced for a while before I started putting them on my Imbolc mandala.  Then with much trepidation, hoping I wasn’t about to ruin hours of work, I made a start.  Thankfully the practice had paid off and the dots turned out pretty well I think.  They are not all exactly the same, but that to me is part of the beauty of a hand made piece of art – those little imperfections! (well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!).

So here is the finished mandala! Image00006

I’d love to know what you think ….. next up will be Ostara in March, so I shall be mulling over ideas for that mandala for the next few weeks.  I shall endeavour to stay away from bunnies and eggs!

Good eyes

If there is one thing more than anything else that I hear from people at craft fairs it’s this:  “Ooh, you must have good eyes”.  Sometimes it’s a slight variation; a “gosh” instead of an “ooh” or even “how do you see to do that?”.  But it’s basically what people say to me.  All.  The.  Time.

So, I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of irony last week when I got diagnosed with glaucoma.  And because I want this blog to be real and honest, I won’t leap straight to the positivity and optimism (feel free to skip to the end though, if you want to find that).  I kind of freaked out.  I cried, many times. I tried to be calm and positive, but my brain weasels kept tormenting me with worst case scenarios and what ifs …….. what if I lost my sight? what if I couldn’t work?  what if I just couldn’t COPE, you know? what if I couldn’t get past it? what if everything *wasn’t* ok? what if the eye drops didn’t work and it progressed quicker than expected?  what if, what if, what if ……….

On Saturday I was at a market and not in a great place with the whole thing and some poor woman came up and gave me the “ooh you must have good eyes”.  I’m afraid to say I fixed her with my best proper grumpy face and replied sarcastically, “you’d think, wouldn’t you?”.  She beat a hasty retreat.

So, anyway, since then I have had a wee bit more time to process, and ended up going back to my somewhat neglected journal.  I sat down with a glass of wine and said journal on Wednesday night, and before I knew it I had filled up 8 pages with a whole load of stuff.  All of my what ifs, everything I was scared of, all of my feelings.  And you know what?  It helped.  A lot.  Seeing all those fears on paper makes them seem less scary.  I even wrote a list of all the things I would still be able to enjoy even if the worst happened and I couldn’t see any more.  (The list included cuddles, massages, walking, playing piano, singing, listening to audiobooks, having bubble baths …. ).  Plenty there.

But really, I realised, the root of my freak out was this.  It was feeling that the rug of my nice safe existence had been pulled out from underneath me.  We all know, don’t we, that life is short, and nothing is guaranteed, and everything is fragile and impermanent.  I say these things a lot, and have been reminded of it more than I would like this year, with two friends dying suddenly and unexpectedly.  But saying it and knowing it is not the same as living it.  It’s not the same as actually acknowledging it day to day.  The glaucoma diagnosis has placed this indisputable fact RIGHT IN MY FACE.  It’s made it harder to pootle along imagining I will enjoy good health for another 40 years and taking life for granted.  Hence the brain weasels in my head, churning my chest with panic and whispering in my ear, “you might lose your sight!”.  Yes, I reply to them now.  I might.  I also might get squashed flat by a logging truck tomorrow.  This has *always* been the case.  It’s always been true that some shitty things might happen to me in the future.  It’s just been easier, before, to pretend that wasn’t the case.  To pretend I was in control, fully prepared and knowing where my life was going.  But we don’t know. We’re not in control.  And now, every day when I take my eye drops, I am reminded of this.

So.  Now we get to the positive and optimistic part.  I am so grateful that this was caught really early on, and at this point I only have a tiny wee bit of damage to the optic nerve in my left eye, and no problems with my vision at all.  It’s very likely that the eye drops will control the progression of the disease and I will enjoy excellent vision for many years to come.  It’s also possible that they won’t, and some bad shit may happen.  But, such is life.  Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. And I don’t want to take it for granted; I want to grab it with both hands and really LIVE it.  And now I have a perfect reminder, every single day when I take my drops, that I cannot take my sight, my health, or anything else for granted.  A reminder every day that life is short, and that I want to live it fully and deeply and mindfully.

So, if you see me at a craft fair and tell me I must have good eyes, I won’t be grumpy or sarcastic to you, I promise.  What I might do is grab you by the hand and say, no I don’t, I have fucking amazing eyes.  And so do you. How lucky are we?  Let’s go use them to see all the beautiful things we have always wanted to see.

Making a mandala pendant

I thought I would share with you how I make one of my rainbow mandala pendants.  This is one of my favourite designs to make – I love rainbows, mandalas and bright colours and this has all of those combined!

It all starts, as all of my jewellery does, with cotton thread and a crochet hook.  For this design, I’m using 10 shades of my usual thread.  It’s beautiful Egyptian cotton which comes in the most amazing vibrant shades and I love working with it.  I’m using it with a teeny one mm crochet hook.

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Here you can see the start of the mandala using a dark red in the centre and a slightly lighter red around it.

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Progress – I’ve now added some orange and yellow.  Here’s a photo of the work so far, with a penny to show scale.

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Once I get to the bright green thread the fun part starts – overlapping my stitches with the ones I made previously, to give the rainbow wheel effect.

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I continue to add more colours and overlap my previous stitches, to build up the texture and the rainbow effect.

Green ….

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Turquoise ….

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Blue ….

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And finally purple ….

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Here is the finished mandala.  You can see that it looks a bit wonky at this stage!  Once the cotton “relaxes”, it evens out to a nice circle.

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This is what the back looks like – rather messy!

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Next I tie off all the ends and cut them short.  To finish off the pendant, I use some card to stiffen it, and soft felt to back it.  As each of my mandalas is individually hand made they all turn out slightly different sizes, so I use a compass to measure the size and cut out the card and felt to fit.

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I sew the backing on to the mandala, with the card sandwiched in between. As well as making a lovely neat backing, this also stretches out the crochet nicely so it gets a perfect circular shape.

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Finished!

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And here is how the front looks now.

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For the finishing touch, I add a central gemstone cabochon. For this pendant I’m using carnelian to go with the central red thread. It’s 6mm diameter and very fiddly to put on!

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The next step is to make the chain. For this mandala, I use a rainbow of beads in the chain to go with the colours of the pendant. These are 4mm beads of semi-precious gemstones: carnelian, fire agate, aragonite, aventurine, turquoise, howlite and amethyst.

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I thread the beads onto silver cotton thread and then crochet the chain to go with the pendant.

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Here is the finished chain.

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Next up – sterling silver findings which I will use to finish off the pendant.

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I use clasps to finish the ends of the chain.

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I use jump rings to attach a lobster clasp to one end and an extender chain to the other.

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More jump rings attach the mandala to the chain.

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And finally we have a finished mandala pendant!

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Mandala Magic

You may recall from this post a while back that I have something of an obsession with mandalas.  I’ve been enjoying making crocheted ones for a while now and am generally fascinated by the whole idea of the mandala.

Well since then I have only got more interested in them, so imagine my delight when I discovered that the lovely Julie Gibbons was offering a 5-day free e-course of “Mandala Magic”!

I signed up straight away and was not disappointed.  Julie is a wonderful tutor; her videos are easy to follow and her warm personality really shines through.

On day one, we just started with some basic exercises – drawing freehand circles was the first one.  This was a good exercise for me as I have, ahem, slightly perfectionist tendencies ….. it helped to get me to a place where I realised it was ok to not be perfect, it was ok to just …. play.  What a wonderful freedom!

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Day two was a lotus flower mandala and Julie talked a lot in the video tutorial about the symbolism of the lotus.  It’s all about yin and yang, dark and light ….. the lotus flower floats gracefully on the water looking beautiful and serene, but it is attached to, and nourished by, its roots under the surface reaching down into the mud.  I really love this concept – I guess it kind of links back to the perfectionist tendencies above!  We need to remember that we can’t only have the beautiful perfection, we need the mud too!

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Day three was a “manifesting mandala”.  We cut out a circle, and split it into 6 parts, each representing one aspect of life – for example, “health & well-being”, “family & relationships”.  We wrote on it some affirmations and ideas we wanted manifesting.  Then we collaged over the top of it – Julie said to just follow our intuition and pick images that spoke to us.

I must confess, I found this exercise difficult!  Julie talked about yin energy and yang energy: the yin tends towards intuition and feeling, while the yang is more logical and reasoned.  While I am in many ways quite an emotional person, I definitely have more yang tendencies – I like maths, and I love logic and geometric patterns.  So I found creating the lotus flower quite easy; it was done with a compass and ruler and all very measured and symmetrical, using yang energy.  On the other hand creating this collage felt much harder to me – it was all intuitive and random and full of yin energy.  I kept having to fight against my perfectionist nature to “get it right!” and make it look pretty and ordered.  I felt uncomfortable with my own decisions, and found it hard to trust my instincts as to what images to choose.

I picked out this big bear image early on, but then put it to one side thinking, “I can’t just fill the whole thing up with that!  It should be prettier, and more symmetrical, and more like a proper, arty collage!”.  But then I came back to Julie’s words about following your intuition and trusting that inner voice, and, well, I really liked the bear!  So here’s how it ended up.

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I’m not sure what it says about my psyche that I plonked a giant great hairy bear in the middle of my manifesting mandala, but there you go, it’s what spoke to me in the moment!

Day four was a mandala using the hamsa symbol.  I was not familiar with this symbol until Julie told us a bit about it – it is a universal symbol of protection.  We were to draw around our own hand as a starting point for the hamsa mandala.  Again, I found myself learning to live with imperfection – I went wrong at the start and drew the hand too low down, so it ended up kind of overhanging the edge of the mandala rather than being enclosed within it – but I allowed myself to let this imperfection go and continue to make the mandala!  I really enjoyed creating this one, I like this symbol and I think I will have another go at a similar design again soon.

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Part of the point of working with mandalas in this way is not just to create art, but to go on a journey of “artful self-discovery” as Julie puts it: through creating with the mandala we get in touch with deep truths about ourselves.  This certainly was the case for me, even just through this 5-day mini-course; reading back through what I have written here, you can see there is a clear theme emerging – that of accepting imperfections, both in others, and in myself!  I am learning that I need to be gentle with myself, accept my own flaws and imperfections and just – well, just be me, as I am.

Day five was about finding our “personality mandala” rather than a practical exercise, and the mini course ended with Julie telling us about her year-long Mandala Magic course which she has run for the last few years.  I have decided to sign up to this, as it just appeals to so many things I am interested in – honestly, it felt like it could have been written just for me!  Julie says if any of these statements resonate it may be for you:

“You are a soul seeker, in pursuit of Life’s Great Mystery.
Being creative is a therapeutic exercise for you.
Mandala art attracts and fascinates you.
You believe in something beyond the mundane – and in a little magic.
You wish to learn the symbolic language of myth, dreams and archetypes.”

Well, all of them resonated in a big way!  I’m really excited to be starting this journey in 2015 and exploring more creative ideas.  I will share some more of my mandala work as we go, so expect to see lots more of it both here and over on my facebook page!

Six reasons why having an old dog is awesome

My dogs are old.  There’s no denying it: they’re 91 in dog years, their noses are grey, they’re slowing down and they’re getting creaky and wobbly.  Neo is still fairly sprightly, but Eddie is on so many brain-stimulating drugs and steroids he would be banned from any sporting event (and has a new nickname, Contadog, which will only be amusing if you follow professional cycling).

Although it’s sad in some ways that they no longer look like this …………….

(WARNING! CUTENESS OVERLOAD!)

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ERMAHGERD EPIC CUTENESS

 

 

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TOO MUCH CUTE

 

…………….  I have decided there are benefits to having old dogs too.

1) It forces you to slow down

When the boys were young, if I had a bunch of stuff on my “do list” that I was stressing over, we could go for a nice brisk walk and get home quickly.  Now, that’s no longer an option.  Eddie in particular is too unsteady on his back legs for any sort of power walking.  So now, we meander, we pootle, we stroll, we spend a lot of time standing still while they sniff the latest interesting smells.  And this is good for me.  It helps me to be mindful, to enjoy the moment, to stop and look around and the sky, the trees, the beautiful autumn colours.  It’s no longer a power walk, it’s more of a moving meditation.

2) You have an amazing bond

Eddie and Neo have been in my life for 13 years.  13 years!!!!!!!!!!! That’s amazing! The only other living creatures I’ve lived under the same roof with for that length of time are parents and husband.  I’ve known my dogs longer than I’ve known most of my friends.  After so long together, we know each other so well, and we love each other very much ❤

3) You learn to relax and enjoy the small moments

After Eddie’s last trip to the vets when his back legs had pretty much gone, he was put on steroids which have definitely given him a new lease of life – still, we think it’s unlikely he’ll be with us for more than a matter of months.  So, we want him to enjoy every moment he has left.  When he decides he wants to walk through some really stinky mud on his walk, we let him.  Life’s too short to not do what you love, and really, who gives a shit if the carpet gets muddy, when it puts a big smile on his face?  This lesson is a good one to apply to our own lives, too.

4) You no longer need an alarm clock

Steroids make dogs drink more, so Eddie wakes us up more or less on the dot of 7.30 most morning, sometimes earlier.  No alarm necessary!

5) It reminds you of your own mortality

See point (3) above.  Life is short – we know this all the time, but we so easily forget it.  Knowing that our boys are nearing the end of their lives reminds me every day to cherish every moment with them.  And then, of course, I extend this to the rest of my life as well – after all, none of us have guarantees, and it’s entirely possible that I’ll be wiped out by a logging truck next week and my dogs will outlive me.  So I try to live every day to the full, to be mindful, to take good care of myself, to move away from negative, draining things and do more of what I love.  I don’t always get it right, but at least I’m moving in the right direction.

6) It teaches you kindness and patience

I’m naturally an impatient person – if you ask my husband he’ll probably tell you its the thing he’d most like to change about me.  When the boys were younger you could scurry them out of the way if you were rushing around.  Now, their old age means you really can’t.  So when a dog is lying in a doorway I have to be patient, and gentle with him, and let him move out of the way before I can go where I want to go.  And rather than getting cross with them, it’s teaching me to be kinder, and hopefully a nicer person.

So there you go, 6 reasons why a dog really is for life, and how it’s great for you as well as them to be in it for the long haul.

My elderly gents ❤

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Once upon a time …..

Once upon a time, there lived a husband and a wife. They had been married for many years. They both worked in day jobs, and also ran a small interior design business together in their spare time. They were active members of their local chamber of commerce.

However, sadly, as is the way of things sometimes, as the years went by they drifted apart. The wife realised that, although they both worked – and in fact she earned slightly more than him – the husband controlled all the finances. So, after much persuasion, the husband agreed to give her a monthly allowance for her to spend on what she saw fit.

This was an improvement, but after a few more years had passed, the wife realised she was still not happy. She and her husband seemed to have drifted further apart. They had different values and interests. Her husband spent a lot of their “joint” money on things which she had no interest in and saw no benefit from, such as guns and sporting events. She wanted to take her life in a different direction.   So, after much soul-searching, she told him that she was thinking about a divorce.

“But why?” asked her husband. “You get more money in your allowance than I do! And I look after you! Why are you complaining?  And we’ve all this history together, we belong together – you can’t throw that all away!”

“Yes”, she replied, “it’s true I get more money than you, but I also earn more money than you, so it’s not like you’re subsidising me. I don’t hate you, I just feel we have different needs now.  Yes, we have a history, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for us to stay together now – we’ve grown apart, and we want different things in life.  I’d like us to still be friends. We can still work together and get along, but I feel we will both be happier if we go our separate ways.”

But the husband was not pleased about this. He didn’t like his wife thinking for herself and wanting control over her own life. So he started to try and bully her into staying with him. He decided to scare her with threats of how difficult he would make life for her, should she decide to leave him.

He started by constantly putting her down and telling her she would never make it on her own. “You don’t have the resources to live on your own”, he told her.  “You can’t afford to rent a place by yourself.  I’ve been supporting you all these years and running the house for both of us”.  This didn’t work too well, as she knew that while he had controlled the joint finances all these years, she earned more than him and was perfectly capable of supporting herself.

Seeing that this tack was not working, the husband next decided to threaten her over their joint business, which they ran alongside their day jobs. This interior design business, named Pound, was a joint venture in which the wife provided the design work while the husband ran the purchasing and financial side. It seemed to the wife that the sensible thing would be for them continue to run the business jointly. But the husband insisted that if she divorced him, she would be removed as a partner and not be allowed to continue with it. “But”, said the wife, “that’s ridiculous. Firstly, it’s jointly owned. You can’t just force me out. Besides, without me providing the design side, the whole business would collapse and have no value.”

“I don’t care”, replied the husband. “If you leave me, I will punish you by doing everything in my power to take it away, even though it means the business will fail and I will make a financial loss”.  The wife was baffled and saddened.  It seemed that either he hated her so much he would act against his own best interests just to spite her, or he was making empty threats.  Either way, his behaviour did not make her feel loved or keen to stay in the relationship.

Next, he tried to intimidate her over their membership of the local chamber of commerce. “We have a joint membership”, he said, “and if you leave me, you will forfeit that. You won’t be allowed to re-join on your own, they won’t want you.  So you won’t have any friends left”.

“Nonsense”, replied the wife. “I’m already a member. Of course I’ll be able to stay, whether we are together or apart”.

But the husband insisted that she would be asked to leave, and refused to allow any official ruling by the chamber, because he wanted to isolate her and intimidate her into staying.

As the wife watched her husband grow more and more spiteful and vindictive towards her, she felt her decision crystallise.  She hadn’t really been sure, before, whether to leave or not.  She still had sentimental feelings for her husband and the pull of their shared history.  But his behaviour saddened and worried her.  Her husband, while claiming to love her and want her to stay with him, was not acting in a loving way at all. In fact, he seemed to increasingly show nothing but resentment and dislike, and a complete lack of respect towards her.  And now, he was even starting to be more controlling than ever and suggesting that, if she stayed, he would reduce her allowance and take more control of their joint assets.

Which would I rather do, she asked herself. Stay in a bitter relationship, where we no longer share values and my husband seems to want to make life as difficult as possible for me? Or leave, make the break, start divorce proceedings? Yes, of course, in the short term the divorce will be hard. My husband may carry through on his threats and try to take our business away from me. He may be spiteful and fight me over every little detail of our joint assets.

But, on the other hand, why on earth would I stay in a relationship with someone who threatens and bullies me? Someone who seems to have no interest in my happiness or well being, just in controlling me and keeping me with them?  If I leave, I will have control over my own life and I can spend my earnings however I choose.  I will have freedom to make my own decisions.  It may be hard, but it will be worth it.

And so, she realised she had made her decision.  She left her husband, and after the dust had settled, she found her own path and lived her life on her own terms.  And, of course, she lived happily ever after.

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In case it’s not clear, this is a metaphor for Scottish independence.  Vote Yes!!

Galloway Inspiration part 1 – Autumn pendants

As you’ll know if you’ve visited my “About” page, I feel a deep connection to the natural beauty here in Glentrool, and it’s the driving force behind my jewellery designs.

This will be the first post in a series where I go into a bit more detail about the inspiration behind my jewellery, and hopefully show you why I love Galloway so very much!

So, today I’m blogging about my autumn leaf pendants.  Yes, I know, it’s completely the wrong time of year – I really should be talking about my summer pendants but I’ve been making lots of leaves recently so they’re on my mind!

I’ve always loved autumn as a season, but when you live inside the UK’s largest forest park, it really becomes spectacular, an absolute riot of colours.   Last autumn we had one walk in particular that stands out in my memory, when we walked round Loch Trool on a really still day and saw all the stunning colours reflected in the water.  How amazing is this view? (Click the image to see a larger version).

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There are lots of other reasons to love this time of year here too: the midges depart (hooray!), and the nights start to get longer so we get to see the stars again ….. here is another shot of Loch Trool, this time by night.

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When October arrives, the red deer stage their rut, which is always a great spectacle to watch.

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Plus, as it gets colder, we get to use our log burner again, which I love and kind of miss in the summer!

So, all in all, autumn is pretty great.  It seems I’m not the only one to think so either, as I’ve been getting a lot of love for my autumn leaf pendants, especially since I started using semi-precious gemstones and copper/sterling silver findings – the natural glow and vibrant shades of these go so well with the colours of the leaves. (Again, click to view larger).

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I’ve decided to make a series of images as banners to hang at craft fairs, and also to use as my business cards, showing some of my inspiration alongside my jewellery, so this week I sat down and with the help of my lovely husband who is much better with photoshop and indeed technology generally, we came up with this image.

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I’m very pleased with it, and think it really shows off the glorious colours of autumn and how I try to capture these in my pendants.  The banner has been ordered, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this image looks blown up to A1 size!

The next job on my never-ending do list is to get these new leaf pendants photographed and up on my website ….. in the meantime just contact me if you want to buy one 🙂

Does anybody else have favourite season? ….. let me know in the comments!