Wednesday, June 30, 2010

None of us can escape the Danse Macabre

I've been a bit slack on the blogging front recently, I've got the letters L and M to write up, plus loads more geocaching adventures, and a fantastic trip to Ireland to see Pearl Jam to tell you about.  But all that is going to wait until I have some time, which seems in short supply right now!

But one thing I have, finally, found the time to do is a stampers' CJ entry, almost 3 weeks overdue, eek!!!

The stamp this month was this cute little dancing skeleton.

I tried to think of something witty to do with him, like many of the other girls have, but most of the good puns had already been taken, and so instead I channelled my inner goth and based my spread on the Lübeck Dance of Death.

Luckily I have a few dancing skellie stamps of my own (that inner goth isn't very well buried, to be honest), and so I was able to make up a decent crowd scene with the aid of some post it notes, an embossing pen, and Black Soot distress ink....

The background is interference paints in red, purple and blue on black cardstock, oversprayed with glimmer mists.  The big tree is stamped and then painted over, as were the bats, the rest is painted freehand. 

The scroll features part of the Lübeck poem, the jist of which is that no matter how powerful you may be in life, rich or poor, young or old, good or bad, you can't escape the dance of death.....cheery, huh? :D

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A to Z Year : May 7th – June 3rd : the letters J and K

Oops – I’ve been so slack on the blogging front, that this one’s a double post.

There is a reason for my tardiness, though….at the start of the J fortnight, my lovely boyfriend Jay, whose name couldn’t be more appropriate if he tried, ordered me a late birthday present.

The lateness wasn’t his fault, by the way, I just couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted, until I saw online a replica Team USA hockey jersey – in the retro style they wore when they beat Team Canada at the recent winter olympics – the game where my favourite Canuck scored the most spectacular empty net goal of all time. I had to have it!!! Personalised, number 17 of course.

So – I really hoped it would arrive in time for me to blog it in J fortnight, for Jersey, or at worst, in K fortnight, for Kesler. As it turnes out, I found out just at the start of L fortnight that it had been Lost in the post :( and the seller doesn’t have another, so they refunded instead. Bummer.

Here’s what it would have looked like.


On the plus side, I now get to choose a new present :) And I can stop sitting on the J and K blog posts and get myself up to date.

So – what did we do for J?

For the first J weekend, we went to Jay’s house, where else? We spent the weekend geocaching around the Gloucester area – and chasing after that Ultimate Cheese Sandwich :) We did try to look out for caches beginning with J – the closest we managed was the Waterways Wander cache which starts at Saul Junction. We also took Connor’s (toy) dog Jackson along for the walk. 


For a culinary treat, we served up some jelly – well, ‘slopped out’ is probably more accurate than ‘served up’ – I don’t think I left it to set long enough, oops!

But it still tasted delicious (lime, pineapple and strawberry, yum!), and the ones in the tall glasses looked ok (we tried to make them look like the traffic lights we saw at Saul Junction – there’s some method in the madness, honestly :) ). And of course with our cheese sandwiches we had that scrumptious organic pear and apple juice.

The following week, one lovely sunny evening after work, Connor and I joined Michelle, Tracy, Callum and Lauren at Jubilee Lake Park over in Wootton Bassett. They had discovered this little gem of a place the week before on a geocache hunt, and wanted to share it with us. We had fun feeding the ducks, finding the caches and frolicking in a nearby field posing for hippy flower child photos :) and the kids wore themselves out afterwards in the play park, just in time for bed.

Connor - the last of the Water Benders :)

For the second weekend in J-fortnight, we wanted to go somewhere J specific. Trouble was, I couldn’t find anywhere nearby in my “great days out” book, that started with a J. But then I had a brainwave – we had been meaning to re-attempt Warwick Castle, after our planned visit during C-fortnight was rained off. And what do they have there? A fantastic fire-breathing jester – and jousting displays – perfect!

The first sign of trouble was the big sign up outside the ticket office, saying that the jousting demonstrations were due to return at the end of June, not much use to us in May. Boo. No jousting. And when we got inside and checked the timetable of events for the day, no fire breathing jester either. Double boo.

But all was certainly not lost. Because Michelle, Lauren and I (being the brave ones in our party) did a tour of the dungeons at the castle – it’s one of those live-action-scary-people-jump-out-of-you-in-dark-rooms attractions – I LOVE them :) - and the first person we met in there was this suitably scary jester.  Hooray!

There was also an even scarier judge inside, but they didn’t allow photography once you started the tour proper, so I don’t have any photos of him, ditto the jail cell complete with various torture equipment. It was a really fun experience, even Lauren enjoyed it (once she had got past her initial nerves – ie once we were safely back out again :) ), and certainly made up our J-quotient.

Oh and Jay found some Japanese writing on the "thank you for visiting" sign :)

After the castle, we drove to nearby Kenilworth (just a few days too early for K!) to visit my friend Alison, and en route we found a churchyard cache at St James’ church. (a couple of days later I found another at St John The Baptist in Cirencester – hooray for all the J-named saints :) )

I also completed one Circle Journal entry – the nun with a gun – and started work on another.

That just about wraps up J-fortnight, the one other thing I was hoping to do was make some jewellery during this time, but unfortunately we were so busy having fun elsewhere, that I just ran out of time.

Thankfully, I was saved on this score by a fantastic piece of jewellery arriving unexpectedly in the post on the very last day of J-fortnight.  Do you remember the charm swap I was a part of?  Well, the completed charm bracelet finally came back :) Isn’t it funky???

Some of the ladies (and gent!) taking part in the swap have some serious talent – and the swap hostess did a fantastic job getting all the charms assembled onto stretchy bracelets (saves having to measure everyones wrists) and sending them out – each in a lovely handmade box – as if she didn’t already have enough work to do :)

Great timing, thank you fellow charmers :)

And now – onto the letter K!

We started the weekend with yet more geoKaching (I couldn’t resist – and there’s worse to come :) ). It was a glorious sunny day so we thought we would tackle a series over at Ashton Keynes (at the Cotswold Water Park – basically a big nature reserve full of lakes). It was the Keyneses that made our decision on location (a group of villages around the lakes all called something-Keynes), but also the closest cache in the series to where we parked our car was called Kent End, so that worked out doubly well.

We found all sorts of interesting things on the way around, including some Kwiksand (ouch), and we also had a PiKniK at the lakeside. 4 and a half miles later we had found 8 caches – our personal best in one day.

You can see a Google Earth map of the route we walked on the previous loooong blog post about our May geocaching adventures.  Technology is very cool :)

It was a swelteringly hot day though, and after that kolossal (for us) hike, we were all in need of some nice kold ice kream and a swim. (sorry :D)

So we headed to nearby Keynes Country Park, which has a fantastic man made beach and a spot where you can swim in the lake. The kids loved it, and it certainly perked them up after that loooong walk.

> 180 degree panorama of Keynes Country Park - this one's worth clicking on for a better view

And for tea? Where else but Burger King :) :) :)

That evening, the kids slept in a tent in Jay's garden - I'm going to let them have kamping as a k-word, as they did want to do this for C but it was way too cold back in February :)  Got to admit we underestimated them - we thought they'd last 20 minutes out there, but they actually slept out right through the night.

The following weekend we went to a drag racing meet.  Don't worry, I'm not going to talk about all the kool looking kars :)  I don't need to cheat on this one, as the racer we went to watch was Jay's friend Ken.

(there were plenty of kool looking kars, though!)

Ken (with the go faster stripes on his sleeve) waiting to race

the lads with Ken's car

There was also a wonderful old abandoned and graffiti'd aeroplane at the entrance to the raceground.  Absolutely nothing to do with the letter K, but I was pleased with this photo so on the blog it goes.

Our final K-related activity was to go to the cinema - that's Kino in German, you know ;)

We couldn't find a film beginning with K, but we did find Prince of Persia, which has a handful of Kings in it, as well as Princes.  And it also had Ben Kingsley in it.  So that'll do nicely. 

It was a pretty enjoyable, if rather daft, film.  The boys enjoyed it for the action scenes.  And I enjoyed it for the eye candy ;)

Let's end K fortnight with a bit of Kesler-boogie.  The world always needs more Kesler-boogie :D

I'll be back soon with a blog post brought to you by the letter L (is Sesame Street hiring, do you know?)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Our geocaching adventures in the merry merry month of May

(and a couple from April too)

Well, I think I can safely say that we’ve been a little bit busy on the Geocaching front since I last blogged about the hobby.

The last caches I detailed on here were the series that Jay and I found on my birthday, and the one up at Cirencester Amphitheatre that I found on my lunchbreak towards the end of April. At that point our “crew” was up to a grand total of 30 finds, and it had taken us over two years to get there, from Connor’s and my first find at Coate Water back in February 2008.

By the end of May, however, we had hit the dizzy heights of 74 finds!!! That may not seem much to some of the crazy cachers out there with find counts in the 1,000s, but for us, finding more caches in one month than we had in the previous two years, is quite an achievement :)

Here’s a list of the ALL caches we found this month (with hindsight, this blog post is toooo long! next month I promise to only blog about the most interesting caches :) ).  I've added links / photos / longer stories for the most memorable ones (one or two of the photos could be considered spoilers):

On the Isle of Wight, 24th and 25th of April:

  • #31: Ocean Veiw (yes, it really was spelt that way) – a film pot overlooking the beach, a stone’s throw from our hotel, Reece’s first un-assisted micro find
  • #32: Rylstone Gardens – this one was in a very cool time-capsule-like container (photo at the top of this post). It’s one of ten caches placed by the Isle of Wight council in 2008 to promote geocaching on the island. We found this one without the boys while they played crazy golf elsewhere in this lovely Shanklin park. The Isle of Wight seems to be the crazy golf capital of the world – they were in their element :)
  • #33: Rope Swing Cache – I LOVED this cache. In fact I’d probably go so far as to say it’s my favourite ever. We went looking for it quite late in the evening – 7ish I suppose – just as the sun was setting. The little beach that the GPS led us to was one we never would have found in a million years if it wasn’t for geocaching, the only access to it seemed to be down a little unsignposted footpath deep into a residential neighbourhood, and it was so pretty! And more importantly, empty apart from us, so we had it all to ourselves. Not only was the location gorgeous, but the boys (including the big boy) loved the rope swing that was there. And the cache itself was really neat – cleverly camouflaged, and not too easy to find – I like a bit of a challenge.

  • #34: Alum Bay – our first Earthcache! This one involved a trip down the cliff face in a ski-lift - great fun!
The photo on the left was our logging requirement pic - you have to take a photo of your GPS in front of the coloured Alum Bay cliffs

  • #35: The Lord Palmerston  – this one was brilliant! An unusual cache in as much as it was placed indoors, within a National Trust property (so we had to pay to get in - but it was well worth it, the Needles Old Battery is such a cool place). The kids loved it here, with all the cool cannons and the “find the toy soldiers” competition. And you get an amazing view of the Needles themselves from up here. The cache was huuuuuge, definitely a good one for anyone stuck with ginormous travel bugs to offload. We left a geocoin there, its mission was to go anywhere associated with the initials N and W – so we figured a cache by the [N]eedles in a [N]ational Trust property on the [W]esternmost tip of the Isle of [W]ight fitted the bill just right :)

Down in Dorset visiting Granny-By-The-Sea, 1st and 2nd of May:
  • #36: Boscombe Chine Gardens – found with my pal Michelle on the day of her birthday party on nearby Boscombe beach – her first find 
  • #37: Maiden Castle  – it was getting late by the time we tackled this one, we had had a full day at the beach, and then a trip to Cerne Abbas to see the rudey giant (or, as Reece christened him, “Mr Too-Much-Detail” :D ), and I thought the boys might struggle with a fairly long uphill walk to Maiden Castle (a huge and truly magnificent iron age hill fort), but they seemed to find a second wind. We found the cache easily just outside the perimeter and then spent an hour or so exploring the remains of the fort. Very very cool.

  • #38: Grange Arch  - this was our only cache undertaken on our second day in Dorset, as we had spent the whole morning at Tyneham Village, an absolutely fascinating place, but one where I assumed there would be no caches as it is on MoD land (I later found out there was a Virtual there, drat, darn and double drat). The walk up to the arch (a wonderful 18th century folly in pretty much the middle of nowhere) was a bit of a trudge, the weather was lousy and we were cold and damp, but boy was it worth it when we got there. The cache was a lovely big old box well hidden in a wooded area, with some great swaps, and the views and the folly itself were brilliant. We had a lot of fun up here (a big thank you to the gods of weather for stopping the drizzly rain for us when we got to the top).

Bank Holiday Monday – happy birthday Geocaching!
  • #39: the Swindon “10 Years!” Event @ Lydiard Park – this was our first event attended and we barely made it to be honest– it took us a while to find everyone, as they weren’t in the usual field where large parties tend to have BBQs and picnics – and the event organiser was just putting away the log book as we got there, I had to ask her nicely to fish it back out so that we could sign in and claim our “point” for attending. I’m hoping to go to another event one day and be a bit more a) on time and b) sociable next time. It was really nice to see some old friends though, from waaaay pre my geocaching days – it’s a small world :)
  • #40: Easy? It’s Just A Walk In The Park – like pretty much everyone at the event, it seems, we did this multi today that was in the same park. This was Michelle & Tracy’s first attempt at caching with an iphone, downloading the Geoacahing app on the fly as we walked to the first waypoint – and to be honest, it did the job just fine, I wouldn’t be recommending they rush out and buy a dedicated GPS unit.  It was a nice multi - taking us to interesting things in the grounds I had never seen before - but we struggled a bit at the end, our co-ords seemed about 60 feet off - maybe we got a digit wrong in the puzzle or something....

6th May – a nice evening for a wander with pals

  • #41: If you go down to the woods tonight…. So named, because it apparently used to be set up as a night cache. I can’t imagine it would have been all that easy to find in the dark though. This was a group effort on a lovely weekday evening with our friends M&T and family. Again their iphone did the job just as well as my dedicated GPS. I was really surprised at how accurate it was after reading so many horror stories on the Groundspeak forums. We found it really quickly so decided to go after a couple of other caches too, as they were close by
  • #42 & #43: West Side Story series, #s 7 & 8….we will have to come back out and find the rest of this series one day, now we’ve started it….once you have found them all you get the co-ords to a bonus cache.

A weekend in and around Gloucester – 8th and 9th of May:

  • #44: The Best View – whoever named this one, certainly wasn’t kidding. This was our second visit to the site of an Iron Age hill fort in as many weeks, we’re becoming quite the ancient history buffs :) The views from up here at Haresfield Beacon are just spectacular. And it was a fun walk for the kids, and a nice cache too.

  • #45: The Runnicker – in theory a quick park and grab on our way back to Jay’s after the walk up to the beacon, as it was showing as only about 300 feet from where we left the car – as it turns out, that was 300 feet up an incredibly steep hill, so it felt a lot further! Definitely worth the climb though for a nice big ammo box with plenty of goodies inside.
  • #46: Waterways Wander – this one was really nice – a 3 mile or so circular walk along various canals and rivers small and not so small. It was a lovely day weather-wise and we stopped about half way round by the banks of the Severn to have a picnic. Great day out. The boys seemed to love it too.

  • #47: Gloucester-Sharpness – to be honest we were all a bit tired after the Wander, but we made the effort to go and find this cache on our way home, purely because it was the current home of our “3 Boys 1 Shoe” travel bug, launched the previous month at Hock Cliff (the cache with the fossils which I blogged about before), and we wanted to pay our bug a visit.  Interestingly, since then, someone has moved 3B1S to another cache we visited this weekend - the Runnicker.  This cache was in a pretty location generally, but the actual box was right on an ants nest - huge giant ants at that - which wasn’t much fun!

(that's "3 boys 1 shoe" in the baggie - the Specs were another travel bug we picked up from the cache)

11th & 12th May – new toy time! and a milestone too...

  • #48: Side Tracked, Kemble – this was the very first outing for my brand spanking new Garmin Oregon 450 (best.toy.ever) which had arrived in the post the day before. I hadn’t gone out to cache, I had been sent out from work to collect some train tickets from Kemble Station – I’d never been there before so took the GPS to use in sat nav mode in the car. After collecting the tickets I noticed on the map that I had parked less than 100 feet from a micro cache, I just had to give my new paperless spur-of-the-moment-enabling caching technology a spin, and so I found the cache. Station car park micros aren’t usually the kind I bother with, and it never would have even been loaded to my old GPS as I only put smalls and up on there, but hey, it was there, I was there, it would have been rude not to, right? And it was a good test of the new kit, as was:
  • #49: Off Yer Trolley, Swindon Tesco. Here’s the log entry I left for this one: Another test run for our new GPS - the potential disadvantage of the new Oregon over my old Etrex seems to be that I now can't go anywhere without a cache popping up and my son saying "let's find it! let's find it! let's find it!" :) So a quick dash to the supermarket for tea somehow ended up with an impromptu wander around the car park looking for a film tub. My son has been blissfully unaware of all the micros until now as I only ever loaded specific caches (usually nice big 'uns in the woods) over to the old GPS. I think shopping trips from now on will take longer - but be more fun :D TFTC
  • #50:Anyone for Tennis? I found this little ’un near Waterloo Station, London, after a business meeting in the big city. Not the most exciting cache, but at least it wasn’t a micro, and it had a couple of cool travel bugs, one of which I picked up to move on. This was the Chaos Crew’s 50th cache find. I suspect the second 50 will pass a lot more quickly.

13th May – another evening stroll

  • #51: Cache de la Crème – one of three caches that we found tonight around Stratton Wood near my house. We were actually going to head out a little further afield but I hardly had any petrol left, so we played it safe by staying close to home. This was Jay’s first go on the new GPS. This was a decon box in very plain view once you got to GZ. I am amazed it hasn’t got muggled yet.
  • #52: Stratton Wood Revisited – another decon box, a pretty easy find, nice part of the woods (in this bit more fields than woods, to be fair) that I have never walked around before.
  • #53: Kingsdown Lane – we hummed and harred about attempting this one, it was 9pm, Connor was getting tired, it was a micro, and the last couple of logs were either DNFs or people saying they had searched for 20 mins before finding. It seemed foolish to go looking for such a difficult one in poor light. But Jay had his ultra competitive head on, and wasn’t going to give up without even trying, so we agreed we would look for 10 minutes and then go home if no luck at that point. And whaddayaknow? We found it easily straight away! It did involve me thrusting my hand bravely/foolishly and blindly into a pitch black hole, but meh, poisonous wildlife is rare in England, what’s the worst that could have happened? :)

A mixed weekend for weather – 15th & 16th May

  • #54: St James’ Church, Warwick – we had been to Warwick Castle today for the day – thankfully the weather was kind to us for once, I’ve never seen the place dry before :) After the Castle we paid a visit to my best mate Alison who lives in Kenilworth, and on the way we picked up a couple of caches, this being the first. This one was lovely, just around the back of a really pretty church out in the country. The cache was a good size too, and there were plenty of goodies inside for the boys. Jay took this lovely photo of the sun setting just by the cache site. 

  • #55: Anyone For Tennis? – strangely, my second “Anyone For Tennis?” cache in a couple of days, I don’t think they are related in any way. If I had thought it through better I would have dropped the travel bug from the previous AFT? cache into here. But I had already put it in the St James’ Church cache a few minutes before. This was an odd old cache – hidden in a very conspicuous spot on a VERY busy road, overlooked by loads of houses, although there was a little wooded area 10 feet away which would have been a much better hiding place. We felt very exposed retrieving and replacing it.
  • #56: A Ray of Hope – Connor and I actually attempted this cache – or a previous incarnation of it – back in 2008, but at the time it had been muggled, so we never got the smiley. We decided to go back out after it this afternoon, with Jay and Reece too, to test our new walking boots and waterproofs from a “Go Outdoors” spending spree in the morning. It was raining hard, and it was a fairly good walk (about a 2 mile round trip), so it was a good test. I’m pleased to report that we all returned home dry, warm and blister free. Oh, and we finally got that smiley :)

18th May – out at lunchtime and in the evening on the same day – this must have been an ultra-keen caching day :)
  • #57: Roman Roamin’ – The Wall – this was my second attempt at this one – it’s a micro hidden in the lovely Abbey Grounds park in central Cirencester – the first time I went after it it was such a lovely day that the park was bristling with muggles, and I couldn’t search for it unobserved – this time it was still nice out, but a little more overcast and the park wasn’t quite so busy, so I was able to discretely make the find. Very pretty here, and so close to my work, I should wander over here more often in my lunch break.
  • #58: The Hidden Lake – Connor and I came over to Wootton Bassett after work to meet M&T and the gang at Jubilee Park (it was J fortnight :) ). They had already done the two caches here, but didn’t mind coming along for the ride again so that we could find them too. This is a fabulous park – it has a nature reserve part, a big play park, and a lake where you can feed the ducks, really worth a visit. It was a really enjoyable place to spend a couple of hours winding down after a day in the office – I am so enjoying these light and warm evenings.
  • #59: Centaur Forest – the second cache in Jubilee Park – both were fun hides, and good sized boxes with good swaps. The woods here really do have a magical feel to them, like the cache owner, I could imagine the odd unicorn or centaur wandering about in there.
(it's a good job Michelle was there to help me across the slippery, wobbly log, or I'd have ended up in the drink!)

20th and 21st May – a couple of lunchbreak caches
  • #60: Church Micro 775 - Cirencester St John The Baptist - a straightforward multi with a film tub at the end of it. I found this one super quick, so went on to find...
  • #61: Old Sidetracked - Cirencester Town - this one was a little more interesting, cool cache placement (well, it would have been if the cache was where it was clearly supposed to be - trouble is I was too short to put it there, and I suspect that the finder before me had the same issue, hence it was out in plain sight) - plus a lovely old railway building, supposedly designed by Brunel, not that it looks very Brunel-esque, which is now disused as best I could see, and plonked in the middle of a car park.  Sad.
  • #62: Izzy's Run. I started off walking this lunch-hour with the intention of picking up the final of "Sheep" - a multi cache I had solved the clues for some weeks ago - but I realised when I was about two thirds of the way there, that I wasn't going to make it there and back to the office within one hour (it would have been almost 3 miles as a round trip, and I'm not that fast). So instead I diverted to find Izzy's Run, which was closer. This was a nice little cache, and the walk out to it alongside the River Churn was really lovely. I did impale myself in the nether regions trying to climb over a barbed wire fence, but never mind, that's what geocaching's all about, isn't it? :)  And no, the cache wasn't in this impressive Unatural Pile of Sticks :)

22nd May - we beat our "most caches in one day" record with a big fat 8

  • #63-#70:Thames Path series x 8 - we really enjoyed these, here's a link to the first one we did that day, and we took on a further 7 after, including our first nano, following a 4 mile circular walk with a picnic along the way.  It was a hot hot hot day and Connor in particular was seriously flagging by the end, but an ice cream and a swim at Keynes Country Park soon perked him back up :)

And, by the miracle of modern technology - here's the exact track of our walk that day (the blue line) overlayed onto Google Earth, along with the 8 caches.

Geeks R Us :)

29th May - our first Virtual cache and a bit of poking about in the dark....

  • #71: My first time shopping at the Outlet Centre in years, so we picked up the Steam Power virtual cache (there's no actual box to find, you just have to answer a question to prove you were there) while we were in the vicinity
  • #72: Gr8 Tree - a nighttime cache and dash we couldn't resist on the way to Jay's house, in a big old hollow tree by the side of the road near Gloucester

31st May - Letterboxing on the Downs

  • #73: Marlborough Downs Trail 10 – First Nations - sadly muggled and archived shortly after our visit, our first Letterbox Hybrid cache. Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I have a bit of a thing for rubber stamps, so it's no surprise that I've been keen to find a letterbox cache. Sadly they are few and far between around here, and this one, our closest, was missing its stamp :( I was particularly sad about this as it was a stamp depicting Canadian First Nations artwork, and, well, I'm fond enough of that to have it tattooed all over my back! Oh well, hopefully the cache owner will be able to replace it soon with a similar stamp, fingers crossed.  It was a lovely walk up here, through the tall flowers (Reece virtually disappeared in there, it was like the Children of the Corn :) ), the views were amazing, and I loved the Canadian Cacher logbook, so not a wasted journey by any means.

Spot the Reece :)

  • #74: Marlborough Downs Trail 09 – Always Green - we picked this one up while we were up on the Downs (I wonder why they call them "Downs" when they are Up?) - a neat cache this one - hanging in the pine trees like a Christmas bauble :)  It looks obvious in this photo taken with flash at close range, but it was surprisingly hard to find in the tree.

So - that's our geocaching history from the past month or so. I'm exhausted just typing it all up. I can't believe we packed all that into 5 weeks!

What's the betting we hit our 100 caches milestone before the end of June?