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.

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... 
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.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Faking It

When it´s raining, which it´s done practically non-stop for the past few days, it´s frustrating when I can´t spend any time in my garden, especially at this time of year when so many plants are beginning to burst into bloom. The next best thing is to look through my photos. I often think that the most interesting part of photography is the – for me inevitable - editing in Photoshop. Well, at least by constantly telling myself this it goes some way to compensating me for the fact that if I´m not a great photographer at least I can usually improve on my under/over exposed blunders. It really is about time that I at least attempted to master the mysteries of HDR but I´m far too spontaneous (or lazy) to be bothered setting up a tripod (assuming I actually had one) and taking 3 almost identical photos by which time my favourite subject, namely Dora, has already stopped doing whatever it was I wanted to capture. Besides, I tell myself that so far I´ve managed pretty well with just one photo and a little help from PS. Usually I find that the auto features do most of the work for me or, failing that, I can always fall back on Curves, my favourite standby for bland pics with little contrast. But sometimes it seems that nothing works and that´s when I start experimenting. Now this is a really good idea for 2 reasons. First of all it distracts me from the pile of unironed laundry toppling over in the room next to my workroom feebly calling my name and secondly it sometimes actually works! However, it has its downside. I get so totally carried away with trial and error that when I eventually discover, usually quite by accident, a technique that transforms a bland photo into a little work of art, it´s taken so long that I´ve totally forgotten exactly what I did to achieve this and I´ve completely exhausted the History function which has given up in despair at about the 30th step. Well, I´ve learned my lesson from that. Nowadays before I start experimenting I give my project a name and start recording it as an action. If it doesn´t work I simply delete it and start a new action. In this particular case I optimistically called my experiment Faux HDR. I say “optimistically” because I really had very little idea how to do this. I´ll draw a veil over the following 3 hours or so and show you what I eventually came up with.

This is a photo, not of my garden but of part of a hotel in Domburg. This hotel is in a style I call Loco Rococo and has had all kinds of highly romantic and whimsical bits added on to it since it was first built which was probably around the time that the Brothers Grimm were writing their fairy tales. My favourite feature is this tower from which I can easily imagine Rapunzel letting down her hair. It´s probably lucky that I always rent a cottage while I´m in Domburg because I know that if I lived in that tower room I´d spend the entire 3 weeks just dreamily gazing out of the windows - and growing my hair. The original unedited photo is flat and boring to say the least and has none of the subject´s magical quality. The second one I personally feel has a definite WOW effect with lots of detail and a wonderfully over the top sunny summer sky, the kind of sky which you could only see if you were magically transported into one of those above-mentioned fairy tales.
(These are all a lot smaller than I´d like them to be but if you´re at all interested you can view a larger size by clicking on them.)
The next photo is one of my favourites of Dora simply because it always makes me laugh. Again the original is bland and boring, something that Dora definitely isn´t. I thought that this one deserved a completely over the top treatment to go with the subject so after my Faux HDR I went several steps further by increasing the saturation, intensifying the contrast with Curves and then adding the Dry Brush artistic filter to produce an almost cartoon effect.

The following is a photo of an absolutely stunningly coloured duck which I took one autumn when we spent a weekend at an apartment complex in Domburg. Just about everything with feathers used to waddle around on our patio every morning begging for breakfast leftovers. This gaudy fellow deserved some special treatment to bring out his magnificent colours. First of all I removed all trace of his wife´s tail feathers and gave him the Faux HDR treatment plus a dash of my favourite Curves for more contrast. In the third version I added some texture and definition using the Poster Edges filter. Gorgeous, isn´t he?
Now to my garden...Last year I laid a “wild flower carpet” next to some rose bushes at the side of the house. I love these sheets of seeds because I never know what will appear. The answer to that is lots of different wild flowers including a spectacularly coloured perennial mallow. The original unedited photo just didn´t do it justice. The Faux HDR and Curves made it far more vibrant and finally the addition of the Smudge Stick filter darkened and intensified the colour.

Last year I had pots of pansies, marigolds, purple verbena and a very pretty daisy-like flower which I still haven´t identified on the wrought iron table on my patio. I went a bit overboard with plants last year and some also had to sit on the matching bench. (No great loss as it´s more decorative than functional. Give me a padded recliner any day.) The original was all that a flower photo shouldn´t be so I´ll hastily skip to the edited version. As usual, after the Faux HDR effect I went several steps further with, yet again, Curves. Then I added the Poster Edges filter which heightened the various textures marvellously, not only of the flowers but also the wrought iron and the wood.

Now the ugliest plant in the world spends the summer looking hideous in the far corner of the patio and hibernates in my living room all winter taking up an amazing amount of space which normally it wouldn´t deserve BUT for the fact that for just a few weeks every summer its lethal prickles are adorned by the most spectacular blossoms ever. Imagine a little Christmas cactus and multiply by a thousand...It´s the only one of my experiments that deserves 4 versions. I´ll rush through them quickly. The original is pretty but boring. The second has the usual Faux HDR plus – guess what – right, Curves then Poster Edges. Ditto the third with a slight alteration of the Poster Edges values. In the last one I did almost exactly the same but with the addition of HDR Toning. I don´t care much for the presets so I experimented and this is what I came up with. I think I like it best as the colours are more natural.

Last but not least a far earthier subject and a less than pretty one compared with the flowers. Last year a friend brought us some organic potatoes from a nearby farm and they were so delicious we kept a couple back, buried them in the vegetable plot behind the hut and, out of sight, out of mind, completely forgot about them until Herbert noticed their wilting leaves and dug them up in September. The colour in the original photo is entirely accurate including the colour of the soil adhering to them but boring, boring. The second version (Faux HDR, Curves;Poster Edges) I like a lot because it has an almost 3D look to it and the colours and shapes reflected in the dimpled glass patio table have a nice abstract textured look. The third version is more like a painting than anything else and although no potato was ever that colour it still has the essence of a potato and, again, I really like the reflected colours and textures. For this one I used the usual 2 effects plus another HDR Toning. It took a lot of experimenting but I´m really happy with the result.

The purists among you will no doubt say that most of this, maybe with the exception of the tower though even that´s fairly OTT, has got very little to do with photo editing as such and you´d probably be right. Many of these experiments look nothing like a photo but I think that many of them capture something that the camera – in my hands anyway! - has failed to capture and that is the spirit of the subject be it comical and carefree in the case of Dotty Dora or brightly coloured and totally unassuming in the case of the duck.

Right now. Experiment over. It´s time to read up on real HDR without the cartoon effects. What a bore. I think I´ll tackle that pile of ironing first.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sketching Guinea Pigs?

One rainy day recently I was looking through my photos when I came across this one of my cousin, Brian.
I´m sure it must be a studio photo and for some reason the photographer gave it a slightly faded vintage look. I thought it would make a lovely pencil sketch, in fact the ideal photo to use to test a sketching action I´d been playing with. 

As usual, one thing led to another and I finally ended up with not just one but two actions, one entirely automatic and the other requiring some individual input. One worked best with landscapes and the other with portraits though both required a little tweaking. Again, as usual, I had to go – at least! - one step further. I thought that some of the resultant sketches would look good with a little colour and I found the easiest way to do this was to make a sketch into a brush which would give it the necessary transparency. After that I created a new layer beneath it and used a soft brush with a fairly low opacity to transform it into a water colour. Using this method it was easy to delete any colour which went over the lines of the sketch. In fact it was almost exactly like digitally painting by numbers with the added advantage that you don´t need a steady hand when applying the colour as it can easily be edited. I think it turned out quite well but you can judge for yourself.
I´ll probably be selling these 2 actions in the store sometime, both for PU and CU, but if you´d like to have them as freebies you can....though with some strings attached because what I really need is at least one tester. I´d need you to try the actions out and send me a couple or three of your sketches telling me which version of PS you used and what, if any, editing you did. Anyone not known to me already can find my email address HERE, otherwise just make your request below. By the way, the actions don´t work well on PSCS2 so I don´t need anyone to test them on that version.

Any guinea pigs?

PS No pun intended though some action is definitely involved here! Dotty Dora Dog has made a remarkably quick recovery after her knee op. The stitches came out a while ago and have left hardly a trace and now that her hair is beginning to grow back again it´s as if it had all been a bad dream. As I said in a previous post, she started doing her doggy aerobics incredibly quickly and, if possible, with even more enthusiasm than before. I´ll be lounging in the garden reading when she´ll zing past me like a bumble bee on elastic, throw herself onto her back on the lawn kicking ecstatically then buzz back again to repeat the performance an hour later. All´s well that ends well.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Rolling For Joy

I said recently that when Dora started doing her daily doggy aerobics on the lawn again I´d know that all was right with her world. No sooner said than done. On Sunday, just 4 days after her operation, to prove to me that she was feeling well and happy she trotted purposefully towards the lawn as if she had an urgent appointment and then threw herself down and started rolling ecstatically among the daisies.
By this time her Santa trousers had already been reduced to just half a leg after they´d started sliding down spewing cotton wool at every step and gathering in folds around her thigh. Herbert cut part of them off and hoped that the next ones would remain intact.

Yesterday when he took her back to have her bandage changed the vet was astonished by the fact that she was already walking on all 4 legs. Herbert told him that she only uses 3 legs when she runs. The very thought of any dog actually running 5 days after such a serious op astonished him even more. When he examined the wound on Dora´s knee he said he´d never known a dog to heal so quickly and that she was quite remarkable. Well, that doesn´t surprise us as we´ve always known that Dora was remarkable.
When Herbert brought her home I was amused to see that her disreputable looking Santa trousers had been replaced by something that looks very like the Scottish Saltire.
After another couple of aerobic sessions that pristine white will be dingy grey but I won´t mind her abusing my national flag in such a good cause. I´m just so relieved that she´s already back to her old happy self.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Home Again

Dora got back home in the late afternoon yesterday looking dazed and confused but struggling gamely to walk without help. It was a warm day and I´d already laid out her rug on her favourite spot on the path to the garden and she headed straight for it and lay down. As you can see from the photo she looked as if she´d borrowed half of Santa´s trousers and I didn´t know whether to laugh or cry.
She had that look on her face which means she feels hard done by and she knows exactly who to blame for it. It´s always directed at me, never at Herbert, and it always makes me feel guilty. Of course that could just mean indignation at having a camera shoved in her face when she feels she looks slightly ridiculous and can´t do anything about it. We let her lie outside for a while so that she´d know her beloved garden was still there and then Herbert carried her indoors where she stretched out and instantly fell asleep. When I got up early this morning she was lying in front of the bedroom door and started wagging her tail as soon as she saw me so at least I knew she wasn´t feeling as bad as I´d feared and had also forgiven me. Dora´s never been one to hold grudges. When I went into the kitchen I saw that at some time after I´d gone to bed she´d eaten her dinner and that made me really happy. Dora´s not a greedy dog and doesn´t eat if she´s feeling unwell so that was a good sign.
She´ll have to keep Santa´s trousers on for the next 6 weeks and have the bandage changed every second day then her leg will be X rayed by which time she´ll hopefully be back to her old self. I think I´ll only be convinced of that when she starts doing her daily doggy aerobics on the lawn. Then I´ll know that all´s right with her world again.
Get well soon, Dora.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wishing Dora Well

Last month our vet said that the limp which Dora had was caused not only by arthritis but by a damaged tendon in one of her hind legs which might require surgery. He made an appointment at a veterinary clinic for her to be X rayed. At the clinic Herbert was advised to leave her there and they´d phone late in the evening once the sedation had worn off so he was surprised when they contacted him only a few hours later and said he could collect her. Apparently she had been so calm and well behaved that sedation hadn´t been necessary in order for her leg to be X rayed. However, that was the only good news. Apparently, while examining Dora the vet had discovered a lump on one of her front paws and had taken a tissue sample to send to the laboratory because she was certain that it was a malignant tumour. An ultrasound scan had not shown any traces of cancer in her internal organs but the cells might still be too small to be apparent. Only the results of the biopsy would tell whether the cancer was still only localised or was at a stage where it had already metastasised. The vet said that in any case the least which would have to be done was a partial amputation of Dora´s paw and asked Herbert if he wanted to leave her at the clinic for immediate surgery. Herbert, in a state of shock, said he´d rather wait for the lab results. A week went by with no word from the clinic. After that Herbert phoned every day for another week and then contacted our own vet who phoned both the clinic and the lab only to discover that there was no trace of either the tissue sample or the report. I won´t describe how we felt after 2 weeks of constant anxiety. If you´ve ever had a beloved pet you´ll know without being told. The vet immediately took another sample himself and sent it off to the lab with instructions that it should be given priority. When he eventually phoned with the results we were both so stunned we could hardly believe it. The "cancerous tumour" was in fact a simple case of inflammation with not a trace of malignancy. The relief was indescribable.

As for the surgery, in a strange kind of way our 3 weeks of anxiety have paid off. Our vet had originally intended to send Dora to the veterinary clinic in nearby Mönchen Gladbach because he has great respect for the expertise of one of the surgeons there. Unfortunately, the surgeon in question was at the time attending further educational lectures in Washington. By the time the cancer scare was over he had already returned from the USA and we were lucky enough to get an appointment with him. I can´t tell you how relieved we were to hear that Dora would be in such good hands as we know from experience that vets who train in the USA are the best in the world - but that´s another story.

Dora´s surgery is taking place as I write. Herbert has just returned from the clinic with a very favourable impression of the surgeon. What particularly impressed me about the procedure is the fact that while he was explaining exactly what the surgery entailed, Dora was gradually falling asleep after having had a sedative so that she wouldn´t experience the trauma of being parted from Herbert and led away by a stranger. The surgery consists of the bone on Dora´s “knee” being split and a metal wedge inserted. This will strengthen her leg and take the place of the damaged tendon. 

We are naturally a little anxious about her but confident that this is all for the best and that very soon Dora will again be doing all the mad things that Dora does best such as... 

...and later on while we´re on holiday in Domburg..

...and, of course, her very best trick...
Of course the best news of all is that she´ll be doing all this with all 4 paws intact!

I´m sure you´ll all join me in wishing Dora well and tomorrow I´ll add a PS to this to let you know how she is after her surgery.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Easter Bunny Freebie

I´d like to give you this little gift early because bunnies aren´t just for Easter. In my Easter Bunny Freebie you´ll find bunnies for many other occasions too. There are 9 sets of the little rascals including a bunny in love for Valentine´s Day, a gardening bunny digging up – guess what - right, carrots of course. There´s a cute little ballerina bunny and a bunny snuggled up in bed with his teddy bear, sorry, I mean his stuffed bunny and, oh what´s the point of describing what you can see for yourself.

If you´d like to have these bunnies in good time for your Easter layouts or cards, you can catch them HERE, that is if you can run faster than the average bunny...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Changing Rooms

Recently my cousin Neville emailed me asking if I could make a picture for his wife Margaret from the header on my blog. As some of you may know, the elegant lady sitting on the couch is Neville´s mother, my Aunt Lucas. I have many photos of her, mostly studio portraits from the 1930s in which she´s immaculately groomed and stylishly dressed. You´re probably thinking that the photo on the above header is one of them. Not at all!
As you can see, the photo was actually just a snapshot. According to the writing on the back, it was taken in March 1932 in the small Scottish town of Balloch on – to quote our national poet, Robert Burns - “the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond” - and shows that Lucas didn´t only dress in her best for her many studio photos but also for a day trip to the country. You could say that she looks just as immaculate sitting on a rock as sitting on the sofa in my header.

Anyway, that´s just the history of the photo. Back to Margaret´s request...I was wondering how I could possibly transform my blog header into a picture for her to frame when I suddenly remembered that I already had one. Years ago long before I started this blog I´d created a series of fantasy rooms one of which had been the inspiration for my header. I dug around in my folders and finally unearthed it.
It included the table, the vase of roses, the oval picture and Lucas seated on the sofa which are all in the header too. And if you look directly to your left, you´ll even see the china ornament which I´d placed on the table. I was tremendously relieved to think I´d found the perfect picture and wouldn´t have to start from scratch. That is until Neville sent me a photo of the frame...
 ...and I realised with dismay that 30.5 cm x 30.5 cm into 19 cm x 24 cm won´t go. I tried cutting the image down to size but that resulted in chopping the large oval picture on the wall right down the middle. It looked as if I might have to start from scratch after all. Then I had a thought that sent me scurrying back to the folder where I´d found the jpg and there, amazingly, was the original layout in psd format with all its layers intact! With some resizing and a little manipulation I finally ended up with this.
I was about to send it off when the thought occurred to me that since Margaret and Neville live in far distant South Africa the chances are I´d never get to see my work framed and hanging on the wall. On the other hand, since I´d already extracted the frame, there was no reason why I couldn´t have a preview of the finished picture on my computer screen.
Looking from the frame to the picture and back again I was just thinking that Margaret couldn´t have chosen a more beautiful frame when an idea occurred to me that made me smile. 
Maybe I should have called this post “Spot The Difference”.
Can you?
Will Margaret...
...and which one will she choose?