just an old-fashioned girl

Hello and welcome. I'm glad you dropped by. If you´re looking for something a little nostalgic of bygone eras with a timeless elegance and a little modern twist – in other words, something slightly “retro” – then you should feel right at home here in my shabby chic room. Month by month, there will always be something new to see so I hope you´ll enjoy your stay and come back again soon.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Fairy Tale Meadow Revisited

My workroom is a mess at present. Usually I diligently clear it up after I´ve finished each project but just recently one project has run seamlessly into another and searching through the resultant chaos for anything has meant that while looking for one thing I´ve been totally distracted by finding something entirely unrelated. My most recent diversion came when, quite by chance, I discovered this photo in a folder hidden under piles of paper and magazines. It shows my husband, Herbert, (front right) crouched beside his older brother, Manfred who´s next to their cousin, Karl-Heinz. The young man at the back is his oldest brother, Wolfgang. Herbert seems to have a mental blackout regarding the other children in this photo and just says vaguely that they´re “probably” assorted cousins though they “may” be just friends. He does, however, remember who took the photo, namely a close family friend the children called Tante Luzie. More about her later. Here´s the original photo which I scanned at 300 dpi.
I like this photo for several reasons apart from the obvious. First of all it´s the background which I find fascinating. It may look as if it was taken in a studio with a backdrop but what looks artificial is actually the view from what the children used to call “Die Märchenwiese” which translates literally as The Fairy Tale Meadow and, believe me, it really has an enchanted atmosphere. I know because I´ve been there and it hasn´t changed much in the years since my husband was a little tot. Its high up in a clearing in the Spessart Forest, quite a climb, but worth it for the spectacular view of the surrounding hills and woodland. Another interesting feature is that all the boys in the foreground, apart from the little fellow in the sailor suit, are wearing so-called Lederhosen, the typical leather shorts of the Alpine regions and Bavaria. In the days before washing machines were considered essential these shorts must have been a blessing to busy mothers when dealing with messy little boys, the cleaning procedure being just to wait for the mud to dry before simply brushing it off. I´m amused to see that the little girl is wearing a light coloured dress with puff sleeves which must have been difficult to keep clean while battling her way through the forest to reach the clearing. Ditto the sailor suit and the smart outfit worn by Wolfgang. The excursion was obviously planned in advance for the sole purpose of taking this photo. 

I find the photo striking as it stands. The very fact that it´s underexposed and faded adds to its vintage feeling of days gone by and the magical quality of the scenery. However, I still felt a need to add some contrast to the foreground while retaining at least some of the fading in the background. It was at this point that it dawned on me that this seemingly simple project was going to be quite tedious and time-consuming as the only way I could imagine doing this was by creating 2 layers and working on them separately. I do not enjoy making complicated extractions any more than you do. On the other hand there are people, mainly woman, who actually like ironing so maybe I´m wrong...Anyway, I digress. Before I could change my mind and restart my search through the chaos to find the project I´d originally planned, I gritted my teeth and made a rough extraction around the group in the foreground. I deliberately didn´t zoom in to do this otherwise I´d have been too meticulous and I´d have been at it all day! Then I feathered it and copied it onto a new layer. 
I tackled the new layer first by increasing the contrast and altering the tone a little. After that I tidied up some of the lighter parts around the figures I´d missed during the extraction and cropped the photo to remove the distracting edges. At this point I also used the clone tool to disguise some of the white blotches in the background Here´s how it looked at this stage.
As you can see this brought out a lot of the detail in the foreground but then the background was still so faded that the figures looked like cardboard cut outs so I darkened the background using Curves, adjusted the tone a little, flattened it and ended up with this.
I suppose I could have been reasonably happy with this result but anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I just can´t leave well alone. Something bothered me about it so I went away and unpacked a parcel which had just arrived and when I looked at the photo half an hour later with fresh eyes it was immediately obvious what was wrong. It was simply too much like a discoloured black and white photo so I added the sepia photo filter at 15% rather than the default 25%....and voilĂ !
I´m still not entirely happy with it but I´ve kept the layers so I may tinker with it a bit more when I have the time. Right now I´m off to play with my new toy robot which has been charging its battery while I´ve been sitting here agonizing over what to inflict on this image next. I wish this little robot could do my extractions and/or my ironing but it won´t. What it will do is the next best thing. It´ll whiz around the house sweeping the floors and probably giving Dora a nervous breakdown in the process! 

PS Almost forgot to mention Tante Luzie again. She was quite a character. I first met her shortly before our wedding and found her to be a delightfully eccentric and very sprightly 80 year-old. She always kept a hip flask somewhere about her person from which she took a nip of brandy every so often after which she inevitably announced triumphantly in German, “Schnapps is good for cholera!” After the reception we all went back to my parent´s house where my mother was astonished when she walked past the open bathroom door to find Tante Luzie spraying her hair abundantly with air freshener. She didn´t have the heart to tell her and for the rest of the day the old lady went around taking swigs from her flask quite unaware of the fact that her hair was dripping wet and smelt strongly of pine disinfectant.
 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Mickey Mouth

Mick Jagger would definitely get no satisfaction if he could see what Frank N Furter has done to his face during one of his failed experiments. It serves you right, Mickey Mouth, for having refused to let one of our friends take a photo of you in the days when you looked a lot better than this!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Seventy Years Ago

My mother survived my father by 19 years. It´s sad to think that neither of them lived to celebrate the 70th anniversary of their marriage this year. I only have 2 photos of the occasion, one of which I´ve had for many years and another which I found at the bottom of a drawer after my mother´s death last Christmas. Mine is framed and in pristine condition. My mother´s is dog-eared, faded and worn looking like many of the old family photos. I´ve often wondered why this should be and have decided that it´s probably partly due to the fact that my mother, like her mother before her, lived for the present and didn´t dwell on the past. Also, although I often told her that she was remarkably attractive in all her photos, she always laughed and denied it. The only framed photos in her house were of her mother, her husband and her children, so being the selfless person she undoubtedly was, perhaps that reflects what was most important to her. 

The following page is a memorial to both of my parents. It may look at first glance as if I had quite a few photos but in reality there really are only the two plus a couple of little sketches created using an action I made a while ago.

I created the above page using the kit I´m presently working on, unnamed as yet though suggestions would be gratefully received.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

Forgetting To Remember

My mother passed away last Christmas and since then I´ve thought of her practically every day and felt sad. I say “practically” because just recently there have been happy days when I´ve been so busy or so preoccupied that I´ve forgotten to remember her and then afterwards felt grief-stricken and guilty. Of course I know in my heart that I´ll never forget her. I´m sure that this occasional “forgetting to remember” is just a normal part of the grieving process. 

Then just yesterday I remembered this poem by Christina Rossetti which has comforted me because I know for sure that the last two lines express exactly what my mother would have wished for me. Here it is in its entirety. 

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad. 

So I´ve been keeping these 2 lines in mind and trying to leave the sadness behind by starting to create a new scrapbook kit in her memory and the first photo I´ve been building it around is the one I restored recently and showed in my last blog post...with one tiny difference which may be obvious only to me.
This project may take some time. It always takes me ages before I´m happy with any part of a kit, or with anything for that matter, though I´m trying hard not to be so ridiculously self-critical. I wish I had someone who´d slap my wrist occasionally and tell me to "leave well alone”. That was always one of my mother´s – many - favourite sayings when I was growing up which I´ll try to take to heart in future. Sometimes less is more and very often things are fine just the way they are.

(Maybe I should have heeded that before I messed with the photo....)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Grey Days And Sepia Photos

Most of September has been warm and sunny without the suffocating humidity of summer and, as usual, the garden has been calling my name and, as always, I´ve been responding. It couldn´t last of course but I made the most of it while the weak autumn sun was shining. The past week though has been mostly rainy with horrific thunder storms with a sound like large pieces of furniture falling downstairs. At the first indication of a storm I always raced around the patio grabbing my beautiful gerbera daisies and putting them in a sheltered place where they couldn´t be battered down by torrential rain. Ditto Dora who´s always reluctant to come indoors in any weather!

So much for outdoor activities. When the weather´s really bad like today I find the best way to forget about it is to do some photo editing.

Some of you may remember that I had to fly to Scotland on Christmas Day to arrange my mother´s funeral. It was a sad occasion made even sadder by the discovery of several photos of my mother which must have lain forgotten at the bottom of a drawer for many years. I brought them home and put them away and it´s only now that I can bear to look at them. There´s one I´d never seen before which I find particularly appealing in which she´s standing in a garden, obviously so aware of the fact that she´s been told not to move that she´s standing at attention like a little soldier. 

As you can see, considering how old it is, the photo is remarkably undamaged.
However, it´s very faded and has very little contrast. I´m no expert at photo restoration and usually have to resort to lots of tedious and frustrating trial and error (mostly error) so I was amazed when I immediately discovered that Auto Tone worked instantly by adding the necessary contrast.
Unfortunately, it also meant that the photo lost some of its vintage sepia colour in the lighter parts like the dress and the sky. Again I was amazed that my very first attempt, namely the use of the sepia photo filter, restored just the touch of the warm colour it needed while toning down the rest of the photo.
After studying it for a while with a critical eye it occurred to me that all those little spotty white dots in the foreground rather distracted the eye from the focal point. I used a combination of the appropriately named spot healing brush and the clone tool to edited them out...and that was it really. What I deliberately didn´t do was try to remove all the blotches and scratches, mainly in the sky, only those which were distracting as I´ve learned from experience that overworking an old photo can deaden it. Anyway, for better or for worse, here´s the final result.
I know that all vintage photos aren´t as easy to improve as this one – you may remember my struggles to edit THIS horror! - but if you´ve never even attempted to edit a photo I hope this will inspire you to at least give it a go.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Joy And Sorrow

August has been a month of joy and sadness, joy because I´ve finally found a doctor who hasn´t just named but is also able to treat the severe daily headaches I´ve suffered since 2012. After numerous consultations with various specialists and an equal number of misdiagnoses my last hope was the pain specialist, Dr Hein, who within minutes diagnosed my condition as “coin headaches” so-called because the area of the pain is the size of a coin. This, he told me was not only a very rare type of headache but was also his speciality. Coincidence? I don´t think so. To cut a long story short, as I´ve always maintained myself, he thinks that the pain originates in my neck and I´ve been prescribed capsules which prevent the headaches from starting. He also gave me a prescription for manual therapy which entails a very gentle form of chiropractic manipulation. So far after 3 sessions my neck has twice made a noise like a twig breaking as misaligned vertebrae have slipped back into place and I can move my head more freely at long last. Even if this treatment doesn´t cure my headaches there are various others which may do so including, as a last resort, Botox injections. For the first time in almost 2 years I´m feeling optimistic which in itself is a cause for joy.

On the other hand, August has in other ways been a cause for sadness. All summer long I´ve seen only about half a dozen butterflies in my garden, by which I mean gaily coloured butterflies and not the destructive cabbage white. This is I think mostly due to a heatwave in April followed closely by a cold spell which killed all the less hardy butterflies which had been fooled into thinking that spring had arrived. During June and July I waited in vain for the usual brightly coloured fluttering around the Buddleia, commonly known as the butterfly bush. Only the cabbage whites appeared and I hardly saw so much as a hover fly or a bumble bee. August was my last hope but again I waited in vain. August is almost over and it´s rained practically every day. Many of my roses were struck by mildew as were the few lupins which had dared to bloom again out of season. Ditto my beautiful gerberas which spend the summer in pots on my patio. During the few sunny spells when I wasn´t busy spraying everything in sight with an anti-fungal mixture, I was lucky enough to manage to take several photos of, if not a butterfly, at least a few of my other favourite insects. This close up of a little hover fly feasting on a sunflower was a lucky shot. To me it gives an insect´s view of a beautiful alien world.
On an optimistic note, a rainy August hereabouts is often followed by a glorious Indian Summer. It certainly was last year though I couldn´t enjoy it when all the time I was just waiting for the painkiller to stop working and the headache to start tormenting me. The fact that it won´t happen this year is in itself a cause for joy.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

One-upmanship

Recently a friend gave Herbert a book called Liebe Hunde, which translates as Dear Dogs, but which should really be called Hilariously Funny Dogs though I suppose that doesn´t exactly roll off the tongue. Unsurprisingly, there are several boxers in it as in my opinion the boxer is the king, or in Dora´s case the queen, of canine lunacy. Having watched Dora´s various antics over the years I´d imagined that she´d thought up just about every kind of silliness with which to entertain us...until I opened the above mentioned book and discovered that there was one trick that Dora hadn´t – yet (give her time!) - mastered, namely standing unsupported on her hind legs looking ridiculous. I couldn´t help wondering what Dora would think if she could see these clowns. (The little fellow with the enormous mouth and the ill-fitting turtle neck sweater isn´t a boxer but I couldn´t resist adding his opinion.)


As far as one-upmanship´s concerned I think it´s fair to say that Dora wins paws down.

By the way, no dogs were harmed with nicotine poisoning in the creation of this page. Dora´s impression of the famous cigar-smoking Sir Winston Churchill entails the use of a chewed up stick. Also, though it may look as if she´s devouring a black cat from the tail up, she really is knitting. She just hasn´t decided what it´s going to be yet....

Saturday, July 26, 2014

For The Birds

Of all the happy memories of my recent holiday on the North Sea coast the one that immediately springs to mind has nothing to do with the sun, sea and sand usually associated with the seaside. It´s the memory of the little family of sparrows which was always waiting for me when I came back from the beach. The first indication I had that there was a nest nearby was one morning after breakfast when a very thin and harassed looking female sparrow flew down onto the yard in front of the cottage and began to collect the bread crumbs I´d shaken out of an otherwise empty bag. The fact that she´d eaten none herself was a good indication that she had a family to feed which explained why she looked so pitifully skinny. Now I know you´re not supposed to feed wild birds in the summer and certainly not with bread but I couldn´t resist the impulse although from then on I did replace the bread with oat flakes which were small enough not to choke the babies. Soon the sparrow was joined by her mate, followed by a blackbird and a pair of thrushes. At first Dora watched this to-ing and fro-ing with vague interest and later with sublime indifference, that is until a very large and very clumsy baby thrush fell off the partition behind her and landed on her back...but that´s another story. This one´s about the sparrows. After about a week the foraging female sparrow brought 2 noisy babies down with her which delighted me as it was a sure sign of trust. 

This is part of one of the many videos I made of the little sparrow family. You´ll have to overlook the poor quality. I cut this from the end of a long video at a point where I´d held the camera at arm´s length for so long that I had a fit of the shakes and couldn´t even drink a cup of tea afterwards without spilling it down my front... 
video
As you´ll have noticed, at this point – 3 weeks on - the babies were already able to feed themselves but weren´t above choosing the easy option of harassing their mother with fluttering wings and frantic cheeping. Still, I was pleased to see that she looked a lot sleeker and after a while even flew off and left her babies to fend for themselves.

In memory of that holiday I thought it would be appropriate to offer you a freebie with a bird theme. No, not sparrows but seagulls which are more in keeping with the seaside.
If you´d like this little gift, you´ll find it HERE among the other seaside freebies.

I´m off now to make some more fat balls for several families of coal tits in my garden. Mmm, yummy! 

Have a lovely summer.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

An Exuberance Of Lilies

I don´t know what the collective noun for lilies is but for my so-called black - though in reality dark purple – calla I feel it ought to be “an exuberance”. After it´s spent the entire dreary winter dormant and invisible in a sunless sub-basement, as soon as the first tiny green shoots force their way out of the dry earth and I carry it upstairs, water it and place it on a sunny window ledge there´s simply no holding it. It seems as if suddenly overnight its little shoots magically transform themselves into rampant foliage followed rapidly by an amazing number of flower buds which can hardly wait to burst open to greet the sun. No other temporary resident on my patio exudes such vitality.

I´ll be off to Domburg with Dora shortly and I only wish I could take my calla with me because its flowers are already beginning to fade and will probably be entirely gone by the time I return in mid-July and it´ll soon be time to carry it back down to the basement again for its winter hibernation.

Still, I won´t dwell on that but rather on my preparations for my holiday and the anticipation of a few weeks of sun, sea and sand. I know for sure that I´ll get the last two but the Zeeland peninsula juts into the North Sea so it isn´t exactly what you´d call tropical so just wish me lots of the first!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Not A Good Day...To Put It Mildly.

I´ve been writing/telling practically everyone I know who´ll read/listen how I´ve just spent the most frustrating and infuriating morning ever at the doctor´s surgery. Sat for 1 1/2 hours in the waiting room until it was entirely empty but for me. Had no breakfast due to a blood test which didn´t actually get done until 11.30...meanwhile my blood sugar was so low I was about to pass out. When it was eventually done it just had to be Miss Impertinence herself, a sort of medical Wicked Witch Of The West, who did it, complaining all the while about how inconvenient it was for HER at this late hour(!) I could have said that I arrived before 10 but enjoyed sitting in the waiting room so much I told the receptionist just to leave me there for a while, but I couldn´t be bothered and, besides, you don´t argue with an irrational woman with a needle in her hand no matter how irritating she is. Nobody - apart from me and, of course, my doctor - knew I had to have various other tests and nobody thought to just ask the doctor so they weren´t done at all. In fact they wouldn´t even have done the blood test if I hadn´t looked so threatening when I said through clenched teeth that I hadn´t gone without my usual 3 cups of coffee and my croissant just to have a torture device (soon to be explained) strapped onto my arm. I´ll have to get the problem of the undone tests sorted out on Monday at my next appointment. I eventually left the surgery shortly before 12 wearing one of those portable blood pressure torture gadgets which buzzed frantically and grabbed my arm in a vice-like grip every time I had to do something which required not only concentration but full use of both of my arms. Just try overtaking on a fast main road with the feeling you´ve got a noisy boa constrictor wrapped around your arm. Need I say more?

It took 2 cups of coffee and a croissant before I started to feel human again. The frustration started to build up all over again when I decided to change my clothes - having got wet to the skin during the short sprint from my car to my front door – and discovered that Miss Impertinence´s absent-minded colleague had attached the torture device to my bra in such a way that I couldn´t take it off. I do mean my bra by the way and not the torture device! And, no, it didn´t even occur to me to simply snip through a strap with scissors. I paid €60 for that garment only a couple of months ago. I had to wait until the next loud buzz forewarned me that it – the torture device, not the bra! - was about to go through its boa constrictor act again and immediately it let my arm go I quickly unplugged it, untangled my bra from it and plugged it in again. Of course without my underwear to support it the cable is completely out of control and impedes just about every movement I make. What I really needed was a long relaxing soak in a hot bath and that of course was a definite no-no. Miss Impertinence´s colleague had actually found it necessary to tell me not to shower or have a bath which was about the only time I laughed today. No, I tell a lie. The second time was when she told me it had been known to happen.

I was just thinking that the worst of the day was over when I opened an email from a friend in Scotland who told me that my alma mater, the beautiful Mackintosh Glasgow School Of Art, was on fire. That was such a catastrophic piece of news after such a horrible morning that I finally broke down completely. It took a while before I managed to pull myself together, wipe the tears from my face and get on with it. Then there came another email with a story which I found so incredibly touching I just had to share it with someone, you in fact, assuming you´ve got this far in my tale of woe.

In central Glasgow there´s a statue of a fireman and some person unknown has hung a notice around his neck which in immaculate Mackintosh style script simply says “Thank you.” As my friend said, “How lovely and how Glasgow.”