Thursday, November 11, 2010

A to Z Year : September 24th - October 21st : letters T and U

Sooooo - seeing as it starts with a T and all, we thought we would give the A-Z thing a bit of a twist this month.

Instead of the first two weeks being dedicated to T and the second fortnight to the letter U, we mixed it up a little and did T and U stuff together throughout the 4 week period.

Cheating? Nah :) It was just that we had the opportunity to visit some great U places in T fortnight that we couldn’t rearrange. I promise we will go back into strict alphabetical order for the rest of the year!

I launched T fortnight by making a tracking device, no, not a real one, although it would be interesting to attach one to Sanrio’s tail and find out where she goes when she goes out on her wanders…. nope, this one was a prop for a pal’s best man’s speech.

Then for our first T weekend, we went travelling through time!

We had a geocaching weekend, and concentrated on caches that took us to historically interesting locations. Over the course of two days we ticked off the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, 17th Century and Cold War eras. It was a lot of fun :)

Highlights were the Uffington white horse, and – our ultimate cache to date – an underground nuclear bunker (yes, I did go down the ladder)

The following weekend, we were lucky enough to escape the kids (love you really boys!), and took a trip with our pals Tracy and Michelle to Belfast, Ulster (I’d usually say Northern Ireland, but that doesn’t begin with T or U lol).

The main reason for our visit was to see the Boston Bruins NHL hockey team making a very rare appearance on European soil (well, ice :)  ). But while we were there we also took the opportunity to act like proper tourists.

On the first day we went geocaching along the Lagan Towpath (during which we dropped off a troll travel bug), saw the ship yards (at a distance) where they built the Titanic,

and bought lots of packets of Tayto crisps to take home for Connor (his favourites, only available in Ireland).

Oh, and Tracy and Michelle got to meet the team after the hockey game. Total puck bunnies that they are :)

Then on the Sunday, we took a Taxi Tour around some of the more politically sensitive areas of the city (that's our driver, Norman, up there with M&T). These tours were originally set up when the Troubles were still in full swing, as it simply wasn’t safe in those days to walk unescorted around the Shankill Estate or up the Falls Road – and one of those open-topped bus tours they have in other cities would have lasted about 5 minutes. So people would hire a black cab and ask the driver to take them for a little tour around, not stopping, so they could see the political murals, etc. Now in more peaceful times the taxi tours continue, but are somewhat more open about what they are doing, and you are free to get out and wander around the locations that are so familiar from years of news reports.

Tracy tried to get a till receipt in the little shop in the middle of the Shankill Estate, as a souvenir (they don’t exactly sell postcards :) ) – but the shop had run out of till roll, typical! But we did get to see the famous trompe l’oeil mural of the gunman – known as Belfast’s Mona Lisa, as wherever you stand on the estate, he seems to be pointing his gun directly at you. Spooky.

The next week, we had a nice long weekend with Friday off to celebrate Jay’s birthday. On his big day, we did a couple of T related activities (despite the fact by then we were technically in U, still mixing it up….). Firstly, we went to Rodborough Church near Stroud specifically to see the Thomas the Tank Engine stained glass window.

Isn’t it fab? The Rev W Awdry who wrote the books, was the vicar at this church for many years, so on his passing they dedicated a window to him, and Thomas is in the bottom corner of that window.

Then in the evening we went Ten Pin Bowling with Tracy, Michelle and all the kids, it was a ton of fun. And for his birthday pressie I bought Jay the Tampa Bay Lightning third jersey (which has been a big hit on Twitter!).

On the Saturday, Connor was at his dad’s, so the remaining three of us went out caching and exploring in the Cotswolds for the day. First we went to Bibury where we found a surprisingly un-difficult 4.5 star cache. The description said that it had been rated so high for difficulty as it was a tricky area for GPS signal, but it didn’t seem that much worse than any other area of dense tree cover to me. Still, not complaining! It fills in another spot on our Difficulty/Terrain grid :)

After we found that first cache we had lunch at the local trout farm – I’ve never tried trout before, let alone in a toastie, it was very tasty!

Then we went on to find another cache in the fog, over undulating hills, and were trailed all the way back to our car by an unusually friendly wild bird.

On Sunday, it was the 10th October 2010, so we went to a Ten-Ten-Ten geocaching event in Stow On The Wold, this was a Flash Mob event, which of course started at 10 am and ran for 10 minutes :)

For such a short party it was a lot of fun, and we met a few new fellow cachers, and a trackable dog called Flo.

On our way back home we took a slight detour to find a cache called “UPPER cache, proud history” in Upper Rissington. We only really went there for the letter U, but I’m glad we visited, as it was an interesting location – an old RAF town with many disused buildings, including the huge Officers’ Mess. Sad to see it in such a state of disrepair, what a waste.

Then we spent the rest of the afternoon in Bourton on the Water, where we visited lots of toy shops, and saw some toy trains. (We did lots of other stuff there too but nothing beginning with T or U unfortunately)

On the last weekend of this month, we watched a very uninspired Swindon Wildcats lose to Milton Keynes Lightning, and then on the Sunday we went underground! We went to West Wycombe to visit the excellent Hellfire Caves – a huge network of subterranean caverns used for nefarious purposes in the past by Lord Dashwood and his rich and non-conformist buddies. Perfect for the run up to Halloween!

After exploring the caves and village, and a lovely lunch at the local garden centre, we set off for home, taking a slight detour just like the day before to pick up a U-themed cache.

This was called “An Unusual Parking Job” and the cache was hidden on the body of an abandoned pick up truck in the middle of the woods! We all loved this cache, it was definitely, as the title promised, unusual.

On our way home we drove right past Blenheim Palace – which is a UNESCO world heritage site. We didn’t have time to go in and do it justice :( , but when I got home I sent off to Tesco for tickets so that we can visit another day.

And that’s pretty much it for this mixed up month – apart from the fact that I received two Postcrossing postcards from the USA in the 4 week timespan, and sent one to Taiwan and one to the UK (to a fellow geocacher no less)

V and W next (consecutively, no more cheating :)  )

I’m sad that our A-Z year is approaching the end – we’ve enjoyed it so much.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Postcrossing : Vol 4

Woohoo!  After eight months of Postcrossing, I have reached my century - over 100 postcards received! 

Here is my fourth book of postcards, with cards inside from Japan, Portugal, California, Russia, my first card from Romania and a surprisingly large number from the Netherlands, amongst other countries.

All in all I've now sent to 32 different countries and received from 29:

Here are all 4 books so far together:

I received some fantastic cards in this latest batch, but my very favourites were:

From the UK, a Banksy card.  You can never go wrong in my eyes with a bit of Banksy.

From California, USA (obviously :) )

I am a real sucker for this style of iconic US state postcard, I hope to collect one from all 50 states eventually

This one, from Germany, is so gorgeous and colourful and lively.  It made me smile.
I love this one sooooo much - First Nations art from Vancouver Airport.  (Surprisingly not from Canada, but from a chap from Manchester, England)

Another graffiti card - I'm getting a good collection of these now - this one is huuuuge, from the Netherlands.  The sender, Betty, wrote loads and loads on the back too, it's great to have lots to read as well as a purty picture on the front.

I think this image of Tibetan prayer flags in a scroll, also sent from Holland, is beautiful.

And this Edward Gorey illustration, from the USA, is just plain cool

 I'm not sure how clearly you can see this one, the card came from China, and the photo depicts ancient Chinese burial grounds, where the coffins were placed on natural "shelves" in a sheer cliff.  According to the sender, little is now known about the civilisation that these coffins belonged to.  Fascinating.

Not quite as educational, but nice all the same, a cute tattoo card from the Netherlands
Also from Holland, Super Squirrel! :D

But I have left the best card until last.

Not only is the card itself, from America, great - I love cemeteries, and this cast iron monument has a poignant story (he guards the grave of his little owner Florence, who died age 2 in 1862) - but also the sender had imprinted a hand carved stamp of herself and her husband on the back:

I love hand carved stamps!

When I registered the card, I checked out the sender, Jennifer's profile, which revealed a link to her blog.  Turns out she is a prolific craftswoman and, in between sewing and embroidering and bookbinding and stamp carving, she makes the most amazing jewellery.  Like this:
We started emailing to and fro and seem to have swiftly become firm buddies.  
Thank you, Postcrossing, for my new friend :)

So that's 100 cards down, here's to the next 100.....

Monday, November 08, 2010

from orange to blue....

...that just about sums up my change in mood since my last blog post.  Since October 15th when I uploaded my "orange" page, it seems that what was left of the summer sun has disappeared, and we're left with cold, wet days and dark evenings, bleeuuurghhh.  I don't like winter :(

That aside, here's my entry in the blue journal in my current colours CJ.

I wanted to do something a little different in this book, and as someone who uses computers constantly for both work and leisure, an homage to the dreaded BSOD - blue screen of death - seemed appropriate.

I hope it sums up the sick feeling I get in my stomach as that blue screen appears when I'm in the middle of something desperately important that I haven't saved :|

I wanted to stamp all the text in the background, but none of my white inks were co-operating, so I had to handwrite it instead.  Hopefully that doesn't spoil it too much.

 A quick how-to:
  • the background is blue acrylic paint scraped onto watercolour paper with an old credit card
  • the computer text is written with a Ranger Inkessentials white pen 
  • the gloopy stuff at the top is cut with a Martha Stewart border punch 
  • the gravestones were cut freehand from navy textured card
  • the skulls were stamped with midnight blue Stazon onto light blue vellum, cut out, and then made into stickers with a baby Xyron
  • the title letters are MM chipboard, painted and then given a coat of clear UTEE
Mint/lime green next, looking forward to that one, I like green.