Friday, 10 June 2016

Deconstructing a Scrapbook Page with Shimelle

Today at I am sharing a project that I'm really excited about.  I like to think of it as deconstructed scrapbook page because it contains all the elements of a usual layout but spread out over a couple of page protectors.  If you read my post about my travels in Ecuador's rainforest, you might be aware that I had a lot to say about that experience, and a lot of photos!  So this project was designed to incorporate all those pictures, and all the writing from my travel journal into one spot in my album.

I'm so pleased with how the finished result turned out, and it was very satisfying to turn what felt like a huge volume of memories and comfortably include them into a layout for my album, without the need to make page after page after page on the some topic.

So do visit today to see the full project and find some scrapbook inspiration.

Kisses xxx

P.S. If you travel journal while your away from home, I'd love to hear how you go about it, before I set off on a new adventure this summer!

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Deep in the Heart of Ecuador's Rainforest

Last summer I spent an incredible few days nestled in the Rainforest; it's an environment like no other and so today I wanted share the account I wrote in my travel journal....
I began this journey at Quito Airport, Ecuador.  I, along with a few others making the same trip, caught a flight to Coca.  The flight itself was only 30 minutes long and a we landed, the heavens opened.  My goodness, it rained! We were met at the little airport and after a quick swim across the car park, we hopped on a bus to the port, and then transferred to a motorised canoe.
We zoomed down the Napo river, an incredibly wide tributary of the Amazon, and spray leapt up around us.  After two and half hours, we alighted at a tiny, isolated jetty, walked over the bank to a much smaller river, and climbed into a 10-man paddle canoe.
It was another half hour's paddle to the lodge and it was incredibly atmospheric.  No one spoke; in some ways the forest seemed very quiet with the absence of human sounds, but in other ways its a real cacophony as birds, insects, frogs and monkeys compete to make the most noise.  The trees crowded in, concealing their secrets and were still. It was steamy and humid. 
The lodge turned out to be gorgeous: open and thatched, lots of windows screened only by mesh to keep the bugs at bay but let in the air, 4-poster beds hung all around with lacy mosquito nets in lacy swathes, and a magnificent rainfall shower.  For the first time in the 3 weeks since I'd left home, I was actually clean!  I was grouped with some other guests to make a party of 8, and we had meals together, went out on excursions together, and I really enjoyed the company.
We set out for an early evening paddle to explore the lake and our guide was brilliant; very knowledgeable and informative.  We saw tiny, roosting bats, stinky turkeys (that's actually what they're called), herons and even a little pygmy marmoset, the smallest species of monkey! The sun set as we returned to the lodge for dinner, and as we ate on the completely open first floor terrace, we were entertained by the wildlife in the surrounding trees, hunting for fruit and berries. Just magical!
We were up at six in the morning; it's early starts in the rainforest to make the most of the day.  We breakfasted, and then took the canoe back to the Napo river.  We went upriver to see the parrot clay lick: a place on the bank where hundreds of birds gather to lick up the nutrient-rich clay, and to socialise. Dozens of bright green parakeets squabbled with one another, flashing blue tails and wing tips and squawking madly.
We went downriver next to visit an indigenous community of the Amazon basin.  We were met at the riverbank by a number of women who are effectively managing the community to raise an income from tourism. The men mostly work away from home for long periods, and the women are expected to produce crops, bring up the children and generally keep things running.  Tourism allows them some independence as the women can bring in their own money.
A young woman with a tiny baby in a sling, and a machete gave us a tour.  She hacked her way forwards, clearing a path, and harvesting fruit and sugar cane for us to try.  Yum!  We visited the crops and were able to see the school (which was closed for the summer) and then we shared a meal.  We ate possibly the most delicious fish I've ever had.  It was a type of catfish, found only in this area, topped with heart if palm and roasted in a fire, wrapped in palm leaves.  It was so tasty and tender, with a hot chilli sauce that made it sing!
We also sampled white cocoa beans which were fire-roasted and delicious and tasted like walnuts, and finally the tried the local delicacy of weevely grub lavae things. They tasted sort of like bacon but were squishy and distressingly creamy on the inside.  We ate our full allocation between us which pleasantly surprised our guide.  He said most groups won't eat them, so he ends up having to consume the lot to avoid causing offence.
We washed all this down with plantain and a strange porridgey drink made of fermented sugar cane.  It was sort of yeasty, with a beer-like quality, and the fermentation is traditionally done by elders of the community chewing on the sugar cane and then spitting it into a communal pot.  Apparently this isn't usually done any more, but even so, I wouldn't say this was my favourite beverage to kick back with.
The canoe paddle back to the lodge was fantastic; we saw huge spiders and little turtles and the intensity of the rainforest crowded in.  I love it here; it genuinely feels like being lost somewhere and forgotten in another world.  But one where you can then go back to the lodge and have a hot shower.
In the afternoon, we walked through dense jungle to the observation tower.  The rain had begun again in earnest, and we shrugged into fantastic, voluminous waterproof ponchos.  They were terrific! We donned our wellies and enjoyed the scramble.  We were advised not to step on any boulders or rocks that look red, as they become extremely slick and slippy in the rain.  Of course genius here couldn't resist trying it out.  They are very slippy. The guides were right.  You shouldn't step on them.
We reached the observation tower and a couple of us raced to the top.  I came a very respectable second, and claimed that I wasn't even competing anyway.  And my goodness the views were worth it! There was a quick break in the rain and so I shrugged off my sodden poncho and hauled out my camera to capture some of the landscape.
The forest reaches forever in every direction, interrupted only by the wide, meandering path of the Napo. Early Spanish explorers of the area assumed that as the river was so wide, they must be near the East coast of South America as it must surely flow into the sea soon. But of course, they weren't. The Napo is just one tributary that eventually becomes part of the Amazon, but not knowing that, many groups of infantry were decimated by disease and died in their fruitless attempts to explore and reach the Spanish army arriving in Brazil.
The rainforest is an incredible place, and to be up above the canopy, on a tower swaying a little in the wind, was spectacular.
It was getting dark when we glided in our canoes back to the lake.  We climbed out of the boats some distance from the lodge to go on a night hike.  The rain was back doing its thing but I was happily huddled inside my poncho.  It was very dark and scrambled along in a line, calling warnings over our shoulders about stray roots and low branches, trying to be heard over the clattering rain. Glimmers of torchlight and deepening puddles pooled around our mud-splattered wellies.  We saw a click beetle, its neon-orange headlamps glowing ethereally as it flew.  How the guides spot anything in the dark is beyond me.  But somehow they glimpsed the front two legs of a tarantula, crouched in its hole and ready to strike. 
The guide gently tapped a stick just outside the tarantula's lair and it pounced, emerging from its den, before scuttling back inside empty handed.  It was an amazing moment.

Back at the lodge, torchlight picked out a young coral snake, coiled in ribbons around his perch.  That was the first snake we found and I'd never seen one in the wild before.
We were really quite damp by this point, so it was time for a quick shower, before dinner, a good natter, and nice, long sleep...
It's worth mentioning that I LOVED those rainforest nights.  As the rooms have only mesh and no windows, there's a slight breeze, and the sounds are wonderful.  I could hear the drip of rain, the chirrups of insects and all sorts of animal calls, echoing up to the night sky. I love hearing the noises at night while cosily ensconced in bed and it was a wonderful symphony to drift off to sleep to.

From this jetty, you can catch a canoe, swim, or fish for piranha.  Your pick!

Another 6:00am start and a misty dawn greeted us. The rain from the previous day was still falling with gusto, and so it was clearly a good day for a hike! Our group was reduced to three, with a family departing that day, and as we were all reasonably young and fit, the guide offered us the chance to hike a more challenging route.  We accepted!
We wandered who lived in these tiny little cocoons.

The now-familiar canoe paddle was wonderful.  In the rain, the tones of the surroundings are more grey and subtle, and fantastic structures loom suddenly out of the mist. We saw monkeys skitter around in the trees above our heads; howler monkeys calling to claim their territory and I recognised the call that I had been listening to in bed. The racket was phenomenal and sounded more like roaring lions than monkeys.  We also saw bebe-leche monkeys (baby-milk monkeys), so called because the tuft of white fur around their mouths against their black coats looks like milk. They were vigorously attempting to scare the birds out of their tree, somewhat unsuccessfully as they birds would simply perch, unruffled, on a different branch.

Our hike was extremely wet. The trail was indeed more challenging than the ones we had visited until that point, but less used meant more rewarding!  Walking was a bit like trudging through a waterfall. Even enveloped in my poncho and wellies the water seeped through into my clothes.  But it wasn't cold, and when you're so wet you can't get any wetter, it suddenly becomes irrelevant.  In fact, it was more than a little bit exciting, tramping through the wilderness in a downpour. The rainforest lived up to its name and I felt terribly advernturous, squelching along up to my ankles in mud and jumping in puddles, much to the guide's amusement.  Rainforest vegetation has a very high turnover; it's damp and things rot down quickly, providing essential nutrients for new growth. And lots of mud!

Spot the monkey!

The terrain was surprisingly hilly as we made our way through the Yusuni National Park.  The vegetation was dense and I sploshed and slithered along very cheerfully. This park is on of the most diverse regions in Ecuador (and Ecuador itself is one of only 14 countries in the world classified as Megadiverse, meaning there are a huge number of different species). For instance, in one hectare of rainforest there are as many species of trees as there are in all of North America.  Our guide was a wealth of information like this and patiently entertained all our questions.  He seemed able to identify almost anything: birds, plants, frogs, insects... he knew their Latin classifications and so much information about their habits and habitat. But he did claim to be bad at butterflies.  Apparently there are over 1200 species of butterfly about and he just stopped caring. Not a butterfly fan.

Buterfly!  But our guide wasn't really into them.
Despite the rain, our guide found us plenty to look at.  We saw gold mantle tamarind monkeys, tree frogs and rain frogs.  We saw an almost perfectly camouflaged cricket too.  As in it was so well in tune with its surroundings that even when it was inches from our guide's pointing finger, I initially couldn't see it.  We were also shown a patch of moss that suddenly wriggled and turned out not be moss at all, but lots of green, furry caterpillars.  We absolutely loved our off-the-track excursion; it was a real experience. 
I don't really have pictures though as the rain was so heavy and the air so humid that the lens would be simultaneously drenched and steamed up, so I couldn't get much focus.  Or see much.  So I abandoned the camera and stored up everything I could in my memory for my travel journal.
In the afternoon I went piranha fishing in the lake (with a Canadian Girl Guide I met - cool!).  More accurately, I went piranha feeding as the fish were being naughty: eating the raw meat bait off the end of my line, but not having the courtesy to hang on.  I could feel them tugging and pulling but they were too quick and bitey to be reeled in. The manager of the lodge took pity on us and said she knew a secret.  She fetched us a few bread rolls from the kitchen and said that the piranhas cannot resist fresh bread.  She was right: they ate all that too.  Cheeky beggars.
Our final excursion was canoe bound, and once again our merry band of three was paddled off the beaten track by our trusty guide.  He found a tributary that hadn't been used all year for us to investigate, as we were keen to see if we could spot caiman or anaconda, as both live around the lake. As the boat glided into mangrove swamp land, the guide balanced on the front of the boat, waving the paddle in arches through the air.
We eventually asked what he was doing.  And it turns out he was clearing out the spiders webs.  Either they break on the paddle, or they break in our faces. 
Please, carry on.  We weren't successful in our hunt, eventually accidently grounding the canoe and then struggling to turn it round and back out, but it was a lovely way to while away our last few hours of rainforest wonder.  Even the rain stopped.
We had to leave the next morning.  Which was sad.  I LOVED the rainforest, in case I haven't mentioned it.  And I will go back.  It was too good not to return.  But the next adventure was ready to start...
Kisses xxx
P.S. Ecuador is, I think, my favourite country I have ever visited. And I sort of went there by accident.  I cannot wait for the day I go back and explore further.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Reykjavik Concert Hall

On our Girlguiding County trip to Iceland at Easter, we spent a wonderful day exploring the capital city of Reykjavik (you can read about our adventures here).  There was a lot to see and by the end of the day we were happy but a little bit tired! But there was still about 20 more minutes before we had to get on the bus, so we took the advice of our tour Guide and headed to Harpa, a lovely concert hall by the harbour.
It was a magnificent building and once inside I released the girls and gave them ten minutes to explore before they met me back at the entrance.  As they all high-tailed it to the gift shop, my camera and I went to see what we could find. 

The architect was influenced by the dazzling dance and play of the Aurora Borealis, and the glass which dresses the building gives off tantalising hints of green, blue and turquoise.  Sadly we weren't able to see Harpa at night but apparently it just lights up at night, sending light reflecting and refracting in a shower of twinkles that mimic the Northern Lights which mat drift overhead. What a lovely reason to head back to Reykjavik.
The interior is sleek and gleaming, and from the windows you can see views of the harbour, the sea and the snow-capped mountains.  I could happily have spent longer here, but camera and I had to go back and take charge of the Guides again.  But I am so glad we made the dash to steal ten minutes in this lovely venue.

Kisses xxx
P.S. There is just never enough selfie time.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Baked Camembert: Basically Just a Fancy Cheese Sandwich

Why did nobody tell me about Camembert?
I think of myself as a cheese sceptic.  I wasn't really a fan of cheese growing up, and we didn't really have cheese at home.  But going away to university meant that I tried more food, discovered macaroni cheese and was prepared to entertain the concept of cheese in contexts other than pizza.
Yum: pizza.

My man however, is all about the cheese. And so cheese has slowly and inevitably made its way into my life.  My tastes are not adventurous but I LOVE what I love.  Applewood Smoked Cheddar has changed my life. And more importantly my crackers.  But I still have a fundamental mistrust of unfamiliar cheese, and I think that's probably sensible when we're talking about a food that happens because something else has essentially gone mouldy.  Possibly you can tell that blue cheese does not float my boat.

The question remains however: why did nobody tell me about Camembert?

I first had Camembert about six months ago when the man and I ventured down to Beachy Head for a lovely, invigorating walk along the cliff edge. (Blog post here)  We ended our walk at a lovely pub which was so quintessentially English that its tables flowed onto the village green, ivy grew up the walls, small children and dogs charged about in an ecstasy of summer and we sat outside in the sunshine, enjoyed cold drinks and a view of Sherlock Holmes' retirement cottage.  It had a blue plaque.
And we had Camembert.  Which was his idea: he said we should order it to start with and we could share it.  He thought I'd like it; I thought he as trying to insinuate an additional cheese into my sheltered existence.  Which he was, but he tends to be on the money with these things.  Remember the Applewood Smoked Cheddar.
He was right.  I did like it.  It was mild and hot and melty, and it oozed with rosmary and garlic.  The stuff was wonderful smushed onto crispy toasted ciabatta, drizzled with delicious and a heap of tart, sweet cranberry.  In short, Camembert is lush, and no one ever told me.  What's up with that, world?
A Camembert baking pot (do they have a name?) immediately made it onto my wishlist, and I relayed my Camembert Conversion with relish (BOOM! pun) to all who would listen.  And because I have lovely friends who listen and take note, friend Robert produced a Camembert baking pot for Christmas.  He was rightly pleased with his gift-remembering skills, and explained to me before I opened it that it was something I'd told him I wanted.  As this was a few months after my Camembert Conversion, I hadn't a clue what it might be, claiming that I couldn't remember asking for anything.  But it was an awesome present!  And since then, the man and I have had a few Camembert occasions at home, sometimes when it's the weekend or school holidays, and you need a filling lunch of melted cheese goodness.

This isn't a recipe as such, but here's how I like to make a lunch of Camembert. You will need some sprigs of fresh rosemary, 3 cloves of garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cranberry sauce, a loaf of crusty bread and, of course, a Camembert.
First of all, you need to fully unwrap your Camembert and squash it into the dish.  The fit is quite tight of necessity, as the pot will hold the cheese in shape as it bakes and melts and abandons any ideas it once had of structural integrity.
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees, and while it's warming up, you can season the Camembert.  Use a knife to make a few incisions in the top of your cheese.  You can make as many of these little holes as you like: the more favour you wish to inject, the more holes you should make.
Roughly chop the garlic cloves into chunks.  Into each little incision in the cheese you can wedge a piece of garlic and a little sprig of rosemary.  (As the garlic bakes, it sweetens and softens and it's lovely to eat, but you don't have to.  I love garlic though so I tend to slide in as much as I can).
Drizzle the top of the cheese with a small amount of olive oil, and pop it into the oven uncovered, to bake for around 20 minutes. Go an faff around with wine or similar for a bit.
When there are five minutes left to go on your Camembert, slice up your bread.  You can toast it lightly if you like (recommended) to give it a bit of crunch.  Baguette and ciabatta are both particularly effective.
Prepare your condiments: mix a good splash of balsamic into some olive oil in one dish, and put a sizeable dollop of cranberry sauce in another.  Arm each hungry diner with a knife to spread the cheese, and a couple of teaspoons for the condiments.  An optional extra is a bit of Branston pickle; I think it makes a nice alternative to the cranberries and I like to have options.
Finally, remove the cheese from the oven as it should now have a gooey centre, and serve.  Instagram as appropriate. 

Kisses xxx
P.S. I'm right though.  Cheese is weird.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Frankenstein at the Royal Ballet

It's always a treat to go to the ballet, and doubly so when said ballet is on at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.  It's a grand venue that oozes fancy and you can't help but dress up a little bit. Don't want to let the side down and all that.
So when Guider extraordinaire and new-found ballet buddy Jazzy messaged me to see if I fancied going to see Frankenstein, it was an immediate yes from me.
Frankenstein is a new production from the Royal Ballet and a bit of a departure for me from the things I have seen in the past.  I have seen some of the classics: Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Giselle, Romeo and Juliet - but never really been to see anything contemporary.  I think that's largely because I was concerned that I might find a modern production inaccessible, and there are certain things that I expect to see in a traditional staging of a ballet that I thought I might miss.

Add to that the fact that I tend to go to the ballet alone as my friends are not particularly interested.  If I'm going to see ballet, I want it to be special.  I think it's worth spending more than I normally would for theatre so that you can see the detail, the footwork, the costume, the effort and the athleticism. If ballet isn't your thing, then it can be a pricey way to dispose of those hard-earned pennies. Tickets can pretty much cost you whatever you want to pay.  You can stand up in the gods for a tenner, but your view is somewhat distant and restricted; if you want to sit down, you're probably looking at something around £50.  More if you want your seat to have armrests, and a view.  Or you can pay a few hundred pounds to sit in a box.

So roll on Tuesday evening: not only do I have a ballet partner in crime, but we had excellent seats from which to watch Frankenstein.  I tottered along to Covent Garden after work, inhaled a burrito quite successfully with minimum mess (unusual, so high five to me) and met Jazzy. Picking up out tickets (and ice cream vouchers: necessary) we headed into the depths of the building to find our seats. The view was the best I've ever had at the Opera House and we amused ourselves wondering who all the people were and admiring the large rendering of a skull which dominated the stage's curtain. Everyone around us had really made an effort to dress up a bit, but having said that, they also didn't seem to be creating the impression of having come straight from work.

So my thoughts on the ballet?  Well, I am by no means knowledgeable, or discerning when it comes to ballet; I cannot profess to be an expert or a connoisseur. But I LOVED it.

Laura Morera as Elizabeth Lavenza and Federico Bonelli as Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein. © ROH 2016. Photograph by Bill Cooper
Frankenstein is in 3 acts, with 2 intervals (read ice-cream breaks) of about 20-25 minutes each giving an overall time just shy of 3 hours.  The first act engaged me immediately: the score was atmospheric, and we were introduced to the Frankenstein family home through a surprisingly traditional series of dances.  We saw the family adopt young orphan Elizabeth, we see her playing with young Victor, and we see them grow both in age and closeness. There's a rather lovely montage where the younger dancers and the older versions of the characters share the stage, entwining childhood memories through the home and unconsciously echoing their past in their future.  The pas de deux was simply lovely: flowing and aerial with so many effortlessly conducted lifts, and with a serenity that belies the gothic horror yet to come. And a word on the costumes: perfection.  That's the word. They oozed opulence and complemented the style of the production and the dancing.

I didn't know the story having never read the book, but we see our promising young couple become engaged, we see grief strike the family as the mother dies in childbirth, and we see Victor head off to medical school with a heavy heart. His grief drives his fevered imagination and in some of my favourite scenes, set in a wonderful lecture theatre.  As a dissection takes place, nurses in white robes flaunt severed limbs as the student doctors dance in formation, their spectacular frock coats whiling in unison, reminiscent of the way ballerina's skirts might billow.  This was an incredible scene, with glittering lab equipment, pyrotechnic electric generators, fearsome chemicals and a lovely inversion of a ballet that would perhaps traditionally be female. 

At the first act's climax, Victor, alone in the lab, finally creates his...well, a "monster" is never referred to.  We simply have his "creature".

Steven McRae as The Creature in Frankenstein © ROH 2016. Photograph by Bill Cooper
Steven McRae danced the Creature in acts two and three, and while there is an element of the monstrous in his performance, what was most startling was the stark sense of pain and betrayal he evoked.  While those around him perceive a nightmare, the creature simply desperately craves acceptance and affection.

As this craving turns bitterly inwards, and twists into depravity, we see the creature stalking his creator, his father, as he comes to terms with his creation and existence.  We see this in two fascinating scenes: in the first the creature steals away Victor's younger brother (a great performance from young Cabrera Espinach) and a seeminly harmless game of blind man's bluff transforms into a terrifying tragedy, the innocent charm of the young victim violently giving way to fear when the blindfold comes off and his antagonist is revealed. The second depicts Victor's descent into madness: while dancing at a ball with Elizabeth, we catch glimpses of the creature in a tailcoat, weaving in and out of the crowd, one moment a dancer, the next having melted into the background, leaving Victor to ever more frantically interrogate his guests.  The sense of impending disaster was almost palpable

In cruel imitation of the balletic forms, the creature entices his victims into dances that will inevitably lead to death; the performances are entrancing and laden with doom. And yet even Elizabeth, forced to twirl and float in a horrifying, macabre pas de deux, cruelly mocking the affectionate dance she shares with her husband, even she is hypnotised by the creatures spell and is danced to her death.

In the final scene, as Victor grapples with his creation who is both seeking solace and acceptance, and meeting out retribution, the ultimate tragedy unfolds.  We are left with the arresting image of the creature amidst his corpses on a barren stage, a ragged sunset dripping from the horizon.

Steven McRae as The Creature, Federico Bonelli as Victor Frankenstein and Alexander Campbell as Clerval in Frankenstein. ©ROH 2016. Photograph by Bill Cooper
It was hugely powerful.

The time in the opera house flashed past.  The production was tense and gripping, and we both felt we were almost glad of the intervals to give us space to breathe and relax. Interestingly, I have read a few reviews since seeing Frankenstein that seemed to find it somewhat disappointing.  For instance, the first act featuring the family drama seems to have been deemed unnecessary and some reviews claim the creature needed more stage time, and should have been less balletic.

As I said, I am no professional critic.  But Frankenstein gave me everything I hoped for and more in a ballet. It absorbed me in a gothic romance, and I felt empathy for a "monster".  I was treated to lavish costumes, magical sets and a tense and emotional experience.  The dance was beautiful, sinuous and breath-taking.  It was also creeping and crawling, unearthly and stunted.  But most of all it was accessible, and I could enjoy every minute both recognising the elements of ballet that I love, sometimes traditionally, sometimes with a twist, and sometimes distorted into horror to create character and depth.

So I disagree with these luke-warm reviews.  Perhaps if you watch world-class ballet all the time, you become jaded.  Perhaps I lack sophistication and am simply amused by anything that is sparkly and moves.  But this is an impressive production, unlike anything I've seen before, completely stunning and gripping, and I would highly recommend it.

Kisses xxx

P.S. It feels lovely to go to the ballet after work on a school night.  I think that's exactly what 20-year-old Kirsty hoped 29-year-old Kirsty would be doing when she moved to London.

P.P.S. Photos of the dancers in this post are from the Royal Opera House website, taken by Bill Cooper.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Recycling Scrapbook Designs

I am currently taking part in Shimelle's new class The Scrapbook Process which has an emphasis on considering scrapbook albums as a whole.  I am really enjoying going back through my albums, thinking about putting them together more cohesively, and getting more of my memories down on paper. 
As part of this process, it's lovely to pull out older pages that you love and breathe new life into them by recreating the design for a new layout.  Today I want to share how I recycled a page design that I used back in 2013, to make a new page for my album.
I made this page in Autumn almost three years ago.  You can read my original blog post here where I shared more details of the process of creating the layout, as well as the story behind the page.  I have always loved this page, which is due in no small part to the meaning it holds for me.  But I love the design too: I like that it's uncluttered but detailed, that there is colour but it all blends and there's plenty of white space.  I love little details like the wooden hearts and pegs, and my tape-measure ribbon, and I like that it embodies my usual style with layers, handwriting and a little camera. So this was the ideal page to scraplift.
When it comes to scraplifting, you can be as literal or as figurative as you like.  In this instance, I have kept a lot of the features of the original: the instant photo, the two little pegs, the tape-measure ribbon and even the same background paper. In fact I have several sheets of that background paper still in my stash as its such a brilliant neutral, but is useful when I want something a bit more than plain white.  I bought a whole bunch of sheets when it was available and I am carefully rationing them out!
The nice thing about scraplifting is that it removes some of the decision-making process, meaning I can just get on with cutting and sticking in my own happy little way.  So I kept the same page structure: layers of journaling cards and patterned paper in the middle of the page, anchored with a ribbon and topped with a little instax print.  But I matched the colours to the photo where possible, using sky blues, sandy brown and muted grey.  For the embellishment, I then departed from the original and just added whatever I fancied. I found the puffy travel-stamp-style stickers in Paperchase the other week, and they're lovely for travel pages.
Rather than imitating the original page precisely, I split the title and journaling between two locations.  This page tells the story of my visit to the Uyuni Train Cemetary; you can read about that particular adventure here. The title split quite naturally: the top reads 'Uyuni, Bolivia' so that the location is clear, and then the lower half more descriptive.  As these letter stickers are quite tiny, it's possible to get plenty of title on the page without overwhelming everything else.
I then used the journaling to balance out the design, adding some above, and some below.  There wasn't a huge amount to say as this is the kind of story that basically says I was there, and it was amazing.  I have lots of other pictures which I will put in a divided page protector to go with this page, and they will tell more story that I'd be able to in words.
All that remained was to finish off the embellishment: a hand-cut heart, a few wooden stars scattered hither and yon, and a splatter of ink droplets.  Because you have to have ink.
While there are clearly strong similarities between these two pages, I am also aware of their differences. While these two pages won't be together in the same album, I wouldn't actually mind if they ended up next to each other, as I think they complement each other well.  It's all going to depend on your personal taste, but to me these pages don't look too similar at all, despite the fact that one is a scraplift of the other.  Instead what jumps out at me is the consistency in the way I liked to scrapbook then, and still like to scrapbook now.
Kisses xxx
P.S. You can find more information about Shimelle's class 'The Scrapbook Process' here.  This is one of the best classes I have ever taken, so it certainly comes highly recommended from me!

Monday, 9 May 2016

The Incomplete Guide to Photography for Girlguiding

In my humble (but let's face it, objectively correct) opinion, photography is an essential part of any Girlguiding trip.  Whether it's international, or closer to home, girls and leaders alike want to be able to show off the fabulous time they've had through excellent pictures.  So here is your handy go-to guide full of tip-top tips for photo-related success.

Tip 1: Safety first.

This isn't espcially photo related, but I feel it's good general advice for life. Also, don't run with scissors, and no matter how good your bath bomb smells, don't eat it: it will taste of soap.  Even if it smells exactly like cake.  Or chocolate.  Or chocolate cake.

And now I'm hungry.

Tip 2: Never attempt photography on an empty stomach. 

Recommended snacks include chocolate cake.

Tip 3: Assemble your equipment.

You will need some people to be in your photos, some smiles, and a camera.  However, nowadays, most phones have a camera (although if it is the kind of phone that is attached to your wall by a spiral cable, it probably won't).  So a phone-with-a-camera will also do nicely.  More advanced photographers may wish to invest in a selfie stick. These are available in shops from £1 upwards,

Tip 4: A picture is worth a thousand words.

However, the one above is worth 1003 words because it has 3 additional words in it.  This helps add to the context of the photo, and helpfully aids the viewer in their understanding of where the photo is taking place.  To add more value to your photos, you can carry around large signs explaining where you are, or you could even make use of naturally occurring signs as we did here.

Tip 5: Location, location, location.  

Having a nice place to take photos will help to ensure that your photos are nice.  And at the end of the day, nice photos will get more likes on Facebook. The church in this photograph provides a very striking location for the picture.

Tip 6: Composition is key.

You will notice in the picture above we are all striking a very strong pose.  We have attitude.  We have conviction.  What is not clear from the picture is that we were imitating a statue on a plinth above our head, and this is because the composition of the photo isn't quite right.  Before you take a photo, make sure everything you want to be in the photo appears in the frame of your shot.  If the statue had been included in the picture, the casual browser would immediately perceive that we were impersonating the statue, and would then be able to enjoy the hilarious joke.

Get it right, and this photo could be Comedy Gold, and many hours of mirth can follow.

 Even the best of us (i.e. me) can get it wrong sometimes, but the important thing is that we learn from our mistakes. However, as I'm in this picture, it couldn't possibly have been my mistake.

Tip 7: Take a mixture of formal portraits and candid shots.

The photo above shows the charming natural expression of cheerful ferocity which adorns the face of any member of the Senior Section at rest.  While it can be geometrically pleasing to arrange the subjects of your photos into a straight line and have them perform their best photo smiles, the relaxed, unfettered, slightly aggressive visage of the teenage girl in her own environment is also worth recording.  Calmly yelling "QUICK EVERYONE MAKE A CANDID FACE" will help you to achieve the desired results.

Tip 8: Make sure everyone involved understands that having their photo taken is completely optional.

 Some people don't like to have their picture taken, and that's absolutely fine.  You may want to take them aside and explain in a reassuring way that it's totally OK if they prefer not to be on camera, and that they can wait, alone, imprisoned, and shunned until they come to their senses.

This can sometimes be a very powerful motivator.

Tip 9: Always catch the cat. 

But if you miss, don't worry, as they tend to land on their feet.

Tip 10: Make sure you check the background of our photo before you click the shutter.

In this picture, while one of the Guides is perfectly poised in mid-air to capture a classic Jump Shot, two unidentified leaders are trying to execute a well-timed photo-bomb. This is a shame as this would have been an impressive picture otherwise.

The identities of the leaders remain a mystery, and they are certainly not Martha and me.  Nope.

Oh no, it happened again, but worse.

Tip 11: Don't jump on the photographer.

This is handy advice for those appearing in your photos, and a tip you may wish to pass on to any willing photographic volunteers. Varying the angle that you shoot pictures from is to be encouraged to create a wide range of visual effects. Taking a photograph from floor level looking upwards certainly makes for a dramatic picture!  Worthy even of two exclamation marks!!  But the Jump Shot (discussed briefly above, and in more detail below) should only be attempted by a) those with experience and b) from a position other than under the feet of those doing the jumping.

You have only yourself to blame.

Tip 12: Always bring the correct props.  

We found a lovely rainbow painted on the floor which could have been the basis of an excellent photo if I had thought to bring the right props.  But sadly, I foolishly brought senior section members on the trip instead of bringing Rainbows, who would have looked way more cute, and fit perfectly with the theme. What a wasted opportunity!

Tip 13: Follow the yellow brick road.  

Who ever heard of a purple brick road? If you have trouble remembering which colour brick road to follow, there is a handy song called Follow the Yellow Brick Road which will help.  You can find it on the internet, and also in The Wizard of Oz.  Here, our chirpy senior section members are playfully gesturing at all the brick road colours, trying to confuse you.  Little scamps!  I bet Dorothy never had to put up with that.

Tip 14: The jump shot: approach it cautiously with patience and understanding.

There is an art, or rather a knack, to the perfect jump shot.  The knack lies in getting everyone in the picture to hang in the air, defying gravity, just long enough for you to capture it forever in the photographic record.  First you will need to agree on a countdown.  In order to do this, you must first have a 15-20 minute discussion about whether it's best to count up or down, go on "GO!", "ONE!" or "THREE!", or after them.  There is even a school of thought which suggests that a count of 5 may be appropriate as it allows the photographic subjects to better anticipate their take-off.

For beginners, I recommend the tried-and-tested 3-2-1-GO! So that everyone jumps on go.  Whatever you decide, everyone will immediately forget and your first few attempts may appear staggered like the one above.  But don't be disheartened!  After a few thousand attempts, you will probably get it right at least once by accident!  Isn't that reassuring.

To improve, do make sure you give the people in your photos lots of positive encouragement and praise.  Use a pleasant tone of voice to scream "YOU! YOU JUMPED AT THE WRONG TIME" to those in need of a little extra self-esteem boost. Legs can be kicked out at jaunty angles to add interest, and the higher your subjects jump the better.  Plus, remember to smile!

Tip 15: If you are struggling to find a model who can pull of a good jump-shot with all the correct elements of jump-height, enthusiasm, poise and timing, you can always get a member of a cheer squad to help you out, if you have one on hand.

It's always advisable to travel with cheer squad members for this reason.

I'm sure you all found this incredibly fascinating and helpful, and you all learned bucketloads.  If you have a favourite photo tip to share, why not leave a comment below so that everyone can enjoy it and learn even more!

Kisses xxx

P.S. On a more serious note, make sure you only take pictures with permission of those featuring in the photos, and then store and share them safely and appropriately. Make sure you have the correct photo permissions from members and the necessary parents or guardians before using photos online.

P.P.S. This is my final Iceland post for a while and I want to offer my thanks to the terrific leaders who helped me pull of this trip, and my enormous gratitude to the inspirational girls from Middlesex East County who were an absolute delight.  It was such a special trip as they were enthusiastic, polite and respectful of the culture, they were willing to try every new experience, they conquered their fears courageously and laughed every step of the way. Girlguiding has a very bright future with members like these wonderful young women.

P.P.S. You can read about our adventures in Iceland by following the links below: