2022 September

calendar for September
calendar for September

A month that started with the heatwave and the drought, and then the rain came …
Saving water, and using every drop from the house to keep the garden alive … that’s how September began. It was so dry that one of the barn swallow nests collapsed. There was nothing we could do to help – the nest was just too dry, it disintegrated. The fledglings had learnt to fly, which was a relief – but we wonder if they will return next year!
Then on September 5th we had some rain! 15mm over 3 days – the first signs that maybe the hot dry season was ending!

For several months we have been organising and planning for the coming winter. Storm Arwen last November-December, and our week with no power, no connectivity and no way to keep ourselves properly warm have etched into our minds just how vulnerable we are here. It took months before we felt our body core temperature was restored – and we vowed never again to trust the electricity company (SSEN) to tell the truth and address the situation. So we have been adding to our “resilience” stores all year – and topped up our coal this month. Sadly it might be our last top-up, as coal is now becoming too expensive both to import and to buy!

Technology has also thrown up problems for me this year. My large 8TB EHD failed, and I dropped my main portable EHD that I use to connect the desktop with my laptop. Big expense and many hours retrieving data. My desktop USB ports also failed and refused to connect … so work-arounds are needed there. It seems to be a season of technology jinx. My machines are all 3 or 4 years old now – and that seems to be when the problems begin to mount up!

September also saw a few more of our pre-pandemic routines restored. Eye tests, last done over 2 years ago, were accomplished. And new specs ordered. And I had the first tooth extraction since wisdom teeth as a student. A very ‘soft’ diet for several weeks!

And of course the Queen died on September 8th.
In a jaw-dropping return to medievalism the entire country came to a grinding halt for 2 weeks of mourning! As a long-time republican I was hoping it would be time to look again at the whole question of having a monarchy … but no debate was permitted, and the whole anachronistic cavalcade rolls on. All semblance of government addressing the major problems of energy supplies and rampant inflation were abandoned, and all news coverage within the UK was restricted to the medieval pageantry.

I’m trying stop buying flowers, as they are becoming so expensive! But can’t resist gladioli!

macro of gladiolus flower

For so long I believed “Dame Edna” the fictional creation of Barry Humphries, that gladioli were just to be sneered at! How wrong I was – they are both beautiful and extremely photogenic!

I’m bringing in a small ‘something’ to shoot each day – and have made a new Flickr album “From the garden”. Snail shells and feathers, fallen leaves, flowers and berries …

We have a large rowan tree in the garden, close to the patio – and every year a profusion of bright red berries adorn the tree, and then carpet the flagstones! I’ve never tried making rowan berry jelly … must try it!

a basket of rowan berries
Victoria Plums

The other fruit-bearing tree we have is a Victoria plum. And come September we are awash with plums – plenty for all the birds and insects as well as enough to make plum sauce for the freezer!

And September saw some new additions to my collection of miniature vases, created by Yuta Segawa. I find them perfect for small still-life photography. Here with some hydrangea petals from the garden.

new green Yuta Segawa vase

Ways to entertain myself, to keep the creative impulse alive is always a challenge as the weather and general stamina (and Covid) keep me limited to the house and garden. So the weekly Flickr challenges always keep me looking again at the everyday things around me.

Book shelves

There are so many corners, doors, shelves and cupboards that are just overlooked – they become so familiar I rarely think of using them as a subject for a close look through my cameras! Here the Flickr challenge was “Libraries and Books”.

Another challenge was “I love to …..” and my non-photographic absorbing pastime is watercolour painting. I want to learn enough to paint like Cezanne! Well – to paint what I want using Cezanne as my guide to technique!

art room workspace
Small bonsai scissors

The macro lens is one of my favourites. It can (just like a microscope) take you places where the naked eye strains, or simply cannot reach. Composition plays its part in any shot – but here a pair of very small bonsai scissors becomes something special.

The kitchen is a treasure-house of subjects to shoot – especially in macro. Here sunlight falling on a humble cheese-grater transforms the metal into a dancing bokeh. Yes – inspiration is all around … though sometimes it is easy to lose sight of it.

cheese grater bokeh

And sometimes I just take things from my treasured collections … and make pretty pictures! This lovely perfume bottle was a charity shop find.

still life with perfume bottle


Along with a birthday present David Andersen brooch and some geranium flowers it makes something pleasing to my eye – and satisfying to my creative urge to seek out beauty and record it….

And so on to October, where autumn begins, and the summer heat is but a distant memory!

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2022 August

calendar for August 2022
Calendar for August 2022

The heatwave that has been dominating the summer across the Mediterranean bringing record-breaking temperatures, drought and wildfires has spread north throughout Europe and finally arrived in the UK. August saw our local Aberdeenshire area feeling just a little effect in comparison, but it was enough for me! according the Wiki

“The 2022 United Kingdom heatwaves were part of several heatwaves across Europe and North Africa. The United Kingdom experienced three heatwaves; the first was for three days in June, the second for three days in July, and the third for six days in August. These were periods of unusually hot weather caused by rising high pressure up from the European continent. There were also more grass fires and wildfires than average, and in August a drought was declared in many regions”.

We found our daily pattern was to move our planters from the overnight shelter of the porch to the patio each morning to catch the shade at the back of the house … and then by late afternoon they were all moved back to the porch as the sun blazed down on the back garden. Chasing the shade cast by the house itself was the name of the game!
Every drop of water we could collect from indoors was used for the planters too. Trying to keep little water pans scattered across the garden for the birds, and putting out apples each day was the best we could do to help the birds.
We had to move the cars to catch a little shade, and open their windows too … as the metal baked. Temperatures outdoors were in the high 30s at some point each day, and overnight didn’t dip below 20c.

Every window and door was open to the max. trying to get some circulation of cooler air. Not very successful as our houses are built and designed with heat retention in mind, not heat dispersal. I slept with just a cotton duvet cover (no duvet inside) and windows as wide open as possible … but sleep was difficult. We ate less, cooked very little and drank lots of water! As August passed and the temperatures moderated we were so grateful … just a taste of what most of Europe was enduring …. but enough for us!

It all meant that at least half the month was spent on dealing with the heat, and little else was accomplished. And we emerged from our brush with the heatwave feeling exhausted and low on sleep! So there wasn’t a great deal of interest to report!
I tried to keep my photography going, with different lenses recording the local scenes.

Infrared landscape

Using my infrared camera here to record the barley field across the road from us. I use infrared mainly for landscape shooting, and like my other landscape lenses it has been little used since the pandemic began!

Looking the other way from the farm gate, back up to the Kirk. The IR filter here is the 720nm, which gives a soft, gentle effect, and allows a little colour to enter the image.

Infrared local landscape
B+W Doorway at light

Another way to combat the heat was to shoot at night when things are cooler! Still too hot for comfort, as our windows don’t open very wide. But the front door looks inviting!

One thing I miss is my collection of sun-specs. When my eyesight was 20/20 I had some elegant and unusual sun specs. Now it is one pair of varifocals with light-sensitive lenses. Not quite the same!

Sun specs
Guitar abstract

My Flickr groups keep me alert with weekly challenges. Here a macro group asked us to shoot ‘sound’. This is guitar strings in the bright sunlight, seen up close from an unusual perspective.

And another macro shoot brought me close-up to my pink geraniums. As well as keeping them well watered and in the shade, they are also beautiful photography subjects!

pink geraniums
Agapanthus flowers

It’s not often I can find agapanthus flowers – these ones came from the supermarket. shooting them is a real challenge, as they have such an amazing flower-head!

One thing that I wanted to do was to celebrate my friend Laurie’s wonderful creative work with Japanese temari balls. While she was here in May she made me two new balls, and the making of one of them is described briefly here. It gives just the smallest hint of the skill and complexity of the art form.

making a temari ball
making a temari ball

And so on to September, when the world here cools down!

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2022 July

July 2022 cover
July 2022 calendar

Emerging from the 3 months of extra energy demands … in July we hoped for an energy rebound and to emerge refreshed and ready to enjoy the summer with our usual annual visits to our favourite spots both inland and along the coast. But I had forgotten just how long it can take for ‘recovery’ with ME/PVS.
So July was a struggle to recover any energy at all.

The biggest impact on my health and energy levels is always STRESS and this year stress has been all around me.
For as long as I have had ME/PVS I have tried to ignore external stresses, as they can be the most damaging, as chances are that I can’t do anything about them. So a somewhat selfish, blinkered approach to the wider world has proved therapeutic for me! Not what I want … as I studied politics, economics, sociology and social philosophy at university back in the day! But I live as carefully and patiently as I can with ‘Post Viral Syndrome’. Stress is the most difficult problem to control – I can stop myself from overexertion, work to improve my sleep pattern, make sure I eat wisely and take my essential NADH. But external stresses can be like trying to catch the mist in your hand!
Incidentally I see Long Covid as just the latest Post Viral Syndrome, and maybe the one that will wake people up to the wider picture!

This entire year has seen a steady increase in stressors – levels of Covid infection with Omicron running unchecked – the war in Ukraine – Spring and summer droughts that are getting worse each year – spiralling inflation with food, petrol, and energy costs increasing. And as the summer continues we are promised heatwaves, wildfires and water shortages.

So my focus has been on the smallest of things! The world of home and garden, and of course, expressed through photography.

yellow potentilla

Bringing in flowers from the garden to shoot together with my collection of miniature Japanese vases is a way to celebrate the joys of having a good size garden.

The potentillas are all colours, and form colourful hedges throughout the whole garden. These are mainly hardy Abbotswood, and seem to thrive even in our cold northern climate.
And the miniature vases I have collected are beautiful hand-thrown, glazed gems by Yuta Segawa . I have an album of photos using these vases on my Flickr site here

white and pink potentilla

More potentilla, this time edging a path, and also softening the lines of the small walls that divide the front garden into 3 layers. They flower well into autumn.

white fuchsia in a vase

A great delights this year is the addition of a white fuchsia bush. I’ve tried for years to grow fuchsias and failed, but this hardy Hawkshead variety has withstood frost, heat and drought! Here with a Yuta Segawa vase.

daisies and grass

It may seem silly, but you really start to appreciate simple grass when the drought begins to bite! Luckily we have had enough nights with mist and morning dew to keep most of our grass green!

The entire summer in the garden has been dominated by the drought. Not as severe as in parts of England, but our local river, the Ythan, has been flagged as in danger. Farmers have been warned about taking water from it for irrigation. No hosepipe ban, but we have a routine for collecting any useable water from indoors into buckets and using it to water plants and planters. As long as it doesn’t have detergents, soap etc. we can use it! Yes, it takes time and patience, but it has helped the garden to survive thus far!
And indoors, with my cameras?

cherries

Well, anything and everything that catches my eye.
I use Flickr challenges to keep me looking for interesting ways to shoot the daily events and things around me.

push-pins

I frequently shoot with macro lenses, and they can give an interesting perspective on even the most mundane of items! Add a little sunshine and a reflective surface …

gladioli

And yes, I do still sometimes buy flowers from the supermarket. But as the inflationary spiral continues, it is an occasional indulgence. I admit that gladioli are one of my weaknesses! They are so amazing …

dried hydrangea petals

But a dried hydrangea flower found under a bush can make a wonderful macro subject! Again with added sunshine and cast shadows … just as beautiful as when it was ‘alive’.

And of course I never stop shooting the landscape. We have wonderful skies, and I can capture both sunrise and sunsets even though we are in the howe (valley) of the Ythan.

the colourful sky
playing with the colourful evening sky

Here I played with a sunset shot, using Photoshop (yes – post-processing is a vital part of digital photography!) Transforming the sky with imaginary colours of the aurora borealis. Great fun!

But to end on a more serious note. I was thinking about the stresses of not just this month of July. A very personal stressor for me has been the supply of my essential ME. ‘medication’. In recent months supplies of the NADH dried up, and I could not find supplies anywhere.
It is an enzyme that affects every cell in the body, enabling the ‘food’ to cross the cell wall from the blood stream, so the cells can work as normal. Without this enzyme my body can’t operate, and my energy vanishes, and I return to the early ‘hell’ of barely being able to lift my head off the pillow, and not being able to think, or digest my food. It is quite simply my lifeline!

NADH or ENADA

Years ago I found out about NADH and have supplies of the one product that works for me. There are others on the market, but after trying one, and coming dangerously close to a relapse I have stuck with my trusty MoJo ….

This sudden drying up of MoJo supplies left me in a panic – I had to try and find an alternative! The only way to discover if a brand will work for me is to stop using my MoJo completely and replace it with the new one … for an entire week. By then I will either feel OK or crash completely into the beginning of a relapse. A dangerous tightrope to walk!

Through June and July I tried out 3 products that I can source in the UK. The first 2 proved to be good, and could give me energy close to my MoJo. As July started I was testing out the third one – and by day 5 of the trial I was struggling to get out of bed in the morning. So I stopped, and returned to my dwindling supplies of the MoJo!
It meant that the first half of July I was feeling very low and struggling to get back to my ‘normal’ equilibrium. I had to rest a whole lot, I found my hands were shaky so I couldn’t hold a paintbrush, or use a camera without a tripod. I had to monitor food, only eating easily digestible food, and in small quantities – too much and I break out into a cold sweat, and must lie down until my body can digest the food. Loud music, or bright lights on the TV screen were both painful …. it was a salutary reminder of what ME had originally done to my life – eating up whole decades!
[see the page on “ME and me” here. Although written a few years ago, it is still true today! ]

So on to August ……. and it gets really hot!

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2022 April

April 2022 Calendar
April 2022 Calendar with tiny daffodils

April always seems such an ‘in-between’ month, suspended between winter and Spring, havering, unsure whether to let go of winter and commit to Spring! And this year it has seemed just as indecisive as ever!

Spring snow

The month began with some dramatic displays of winter weather. Whiteout conditions, blizzards and sub-zero nights were common – too common!

April snowstorm 1

It looked as though another Spring would be blighted, as the early Japanese plum blossom struggles with the snow. Last year much of the garden suffered with blackened buds.

Xmas cactus

The plants that had overwintered indoors thrived, sheltered from the cold – and our Xmas Cactus gave us a lovely colourful display – at Easter!

Victoria plum blossom

And as April drew to a close the Victoria plum was full of blossom. We kept our fingers crossed that no sudden blast of frost would kill the blossom before the fruit buds were established. Maybe a good crop this year?

With the weather still cold, and the arctic winds strong, I spent most time indoors.

macro of computer circuit board

Here I was shooting macro, and having fun with what the macro lens can show. This is a small 1 inch slice of a computer motherboard!

Two clear crystal balls

I love to shoot glass, all sizes and shapes – it is always a delight and a surprise too. Here a burst of evening sun caught two crystal glass balls ….

lines and light

…. and here shooting a glass cube on a glass side table, against the reeded glass of the front door. Shooting on glass or through glass there are always interesting effects to find!

And finally the collage of all my uploads to Flickr this month. My uploads reflect only a small selection of what I have been shooting, out and about as well as indoors in my little studios.

Collage for April 2022
Collage for April 2022

On to May …… which brings us a visitor from the USA
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2022 Vision

Happy New Year
My New Year greeting Card for 2022

So, we look forward to 2022 with hope, but tempered by the sense of Deja Vu – that we have been here before! Last year we were facing the first big Covid variant, called Delta – and wondering if the newly tested vaccines could help us through. This year we are triple vaccinated, and facing the next major Covid variant – called Omicron – and wondering what the variant will throw at us, and how we will cope!

Scotland begins 2022 with the promised ‘tsunami’ of new infections. Omicron is highly transmissible, but seems to be ‘milder’ in that the symptoms can be quite like a bad cold, and it doesn’t seem (so far) to be damaging the respiratory system as badly as Delta does. Omicron has been circulating mainly among younger adults and children, as they are the most socially active, and the least vaccinated groups. It remains to be seen how badly it will affect the older age groups, and how well the vaccines will protect us. Being among the most vulnerable group, we are especially cautious when leaving home!

For us, the ‘Pandemic Reality’ has limited us physically. There are shops and locations we haven’t visited since 2019. The shops and locations we do visit are ones we have become happy with in terms of the protection they offer. They form our new ‘comfort zone’. Wearing masks, physical distancing, limiting number in a shop at any one time, spacing while queueing, paying by card and screens at checkout points. All these are the pandemic ‘normal’. Open air or good ventilation are very important … so grocery deliveries to the gate are safest (we take items up the drive in the car, or by hand ourselves) again masks worn even outside now. Omicron is many times more transmissible than Delta, so we are super-careful!

The year and the day starts with the usual daily pattern of checking for cases in our local area, especially when planning to go out. But the numbers now are so far beyond anything we have encountered before – so we no longer feel that anywhere is ‘safe’ or ‘low risk’. So we feel we are in new and uncharted territory once again – which raises the anxiety level.

So… on to the monthly record of our journey through these partly familiar, partly uncharted waters:
January – and the 3rd year of the Covid-19 Pandemic begins, and I have a new lens to play with in my photography!
February – and the winter of storms continues. From Arwen to Franklin, we have clocked up 7 storms dangerous enough to be named!
March – and a new variant, Omicron BA.2 sweeps through Scotland. The government acts as if the pandemic is over, and number soar locally!
April – the most volatile month as winter finally gives way to spring.
May – which brings Spring and Laurie to visit from Texas!
June – as summer blossoms, we are in recovery mode.
July – summer and the world around us gets madder!
August – and it gets really hot!
September – when the world here cools down!
October –

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2022 January

calendar January 2022
My Calendar cover for January 2022

Yes. Year three of the Covid-19 pandemic begins. It has been such a long journey since November/December 2019 when we first read about a virulent new virus causing concern in Wuhan, China …. then January 2020 when we found it was here in Aberdeenshire, brought back from Italy by someone returning from a ski holiday in the Italian Alps.
It is hard to recall just how innocent, how ignorant we were of what might lie ahead as the new decade began! So how does the world look as 2022 begins?

In pandemic terms the Westminster government is yet again trying to suggest that the pandemic is over … well NEARLY. Desperate for some ‘good news’ it is repeating the mistakes of last year by trumpeting the next “Freedom Day” of no face masks and back to work in the office.
The reason for this (looked at with a cynical eye) is to divert the populace away from the ocean of lies, corruption and sleaze that is engulfing Boris Johnson and his government. It is difficult to find a way to summarise this … Partygate, lying (both to the Commons and the people), bullying and intimidation of MPs … just a tiny taste of the sewer that the ‘national’ government has become. It is being revealed day after day. Desperate attempts to shore up the government mean that throwing vulnerable citizens under the Covid bus is just one plan to divert attention away from the mess they are in. Declare the pandemic over – compare it to a winter ‘flu once again.

And where am I personally as the year begins? Well my energy seems to have shrunk to the size of a walnut! I guess 2 years of constant stress and anxiety would be enough of a problem for the ME/PVS (Post Viral Syndrome) my body has had to live with over the past 30 years. I used to avoid the annual ‘flu jab because it took months to recover from the after-effects. But Covid has redrawn the map! Now I have had 2 ‘flu jabs and 3 Covid jabs. I guess the answer is right there! And since the booster jab of Pfizer I have had some strange side-effects such as alterations to my sense of taste. Nori, which I love, became quite horrible. This winter’s ‘flu jab was administered at the same time as the booster shot, and the arm muscle involved has remained painful – even now – 3+ months after the jab.

So I find very little energy for my creative drive. Even back-pedalling on the housework, and neglecting the garden, I find myself sinking into watching DVDs or recorded TV programmes rather than beginning my painting for the year! And endless card games on my iPhone take the time I used to spend reading poetry, or books on Cezanne, or my only magazine on B+W photography. My eating is chaotic, with far too much sweet (cakes and chocolates) and little salad and fresh fruit! So I have a mountain to climb to get myself back on track!

It is only slowly, as the end of the month approaches, that I feel able to take some tentative steps towards what was ‘normal’ in 2021, or further back in 2020, and even pre-pandemic times. I sourced a ‘new’ vintage lens on eBay, and now have a second Meyer Optik Gorlitz lens – this time a closer Domiplan 50mm. Not expensive, and very like the Helios range, but giving an hexagonal bokeh light ball. And I am beginning the year by brushing up on my photographic skills.
Something I can do every day, especially in the early morning, is to step outside and shoot the dawn from the garden. It is often the most interesting and colourful time of the day.

morning sunrise

In winter a stunning dawn like this can resolve into a grey, overcast day. So the zoom of my RX10m3 is by the door, to catch the ‘lightshow’ that welcomes the morning!

Misty winter world

The other photogenic morning offering is the early mist. Here I tried out the new Domiplan 50 lens outdoors. Focusing on something as insubstantial as the mist across the howe is quite demanding of any lens!

And indoors I’ve been using the Domiplan 50mm as my ‘go-to’ lens. I find it’s the best way to learn a new lens, to have it to hand as much as possible, and shoot anything and everything that catches my eye. Looking at the results later on the PC monitor I can discard disappointing shots, but all of them build up my knowledge of what are the strengths and weaknesses of a lens.

fading yellow tulip

The remnants of a vase of yellow tulips, caught in the sunshine and reflected on the wooden table surface.
The hexagonal bokeh in the window was a delight.

glass and light

A ‘grab the camera’ moment as the sun caught some glass photo props before I put them away! I was about to finish for the day … and prepare some lunch.

One of the few remaining ‘normal’ activities we have is the weekly shopping trip to Inverurie. The range of shops we visit is reduced to just two, and has been since the early days of the pandemic. It makes for a quick ‘exposure’ with masks and sanitiser …. early in the day before the shops are crowded. But there is a bonus to the early start, especially in the winter, as it means we drive through the dawn! We drive into the sunrise as we go, and the sun is behind us as we return. Both effects can create beautiful photographs!

January dawn

As the daily ‘light show’ of the dawn unfolds before our eyes, there is the chance of the sky silhouetting the trees by the roadside. Irresistible for me with my Sony RX100 – which is perfect for such ‘drive by’ shots.

On the road with lenticular clouds

By the time the shopping is done, the day has opened up, and with the low winter sun at our backs we can take in the full glory of the world we live in. I’ve recently learned that the clouds we often see here are called Lenticular and can look like rolls of cotton wool.

By the middle of January we made our first (short) trip to the coast – the first since last April! The day was grey and cold, but we missed being able to walk by the sea and enjoy the freedom to exercise in fresh air, walk on the sand, and feel the power of the sea as it meets the shore. The damage inflicted by Storm Arwen has closed our local exercise places, Fyvie Castle and Leith Hall, so the sea is the only space that is open to us.
As it turned out we found that Storm Arwen has robbed us of our usual seaside spots too! The road to Banff Scotstown was closed off, with nowhere to park. so we couldn’t even park and investigate on foot!

Banff Bay January 2022

I had to shoot Banff Bay from above, fighting a gale as I tried to catch the sea with my new lens! It was beautiful, but I couldn’t stay long, as standing upright was a battle in itself!

We decided to try Portsoy, further up the coast. If the sea was too wild and windy, then the shelter of Little Loch Soy might be a place we could stretch our legs and get some exercise. We discovered that Storm Arwen had marked even Little Loch Soy, with trees destroyed, and only freshly cut tree stumps remaining in some places.
I had decided to take my Lensbaby Double Glass lens with me, as it too had been languishing over the past few months. At least I could try for some interesting lens effects, if the day was grey and the lochside walk was dull!

Little Loch Soy with Lensbaby

As it happened the Lensbaby did transform the dull day into something more magical! Back home I took 3 Lensbaby shots and wove them into a wintery wonderland. It is amazing what the Lensbaby can create!

tulip petal

Back home I played with the Lensbaby indoors. With macro rings I can get in really close. There are lovely swirling patterns the lens can create with a fallen tulip petal and stamens, on pebble glass.

As the month progressed we continued to slowly clear up the damage from Storm Arwen. So many branches brought down in the garden, and debris together with leaves needing to be hauled up to the recycling centre in Turriff. As the month drew to a close we were warned of another severe storm arriving. The closing weekend was going to be graced with not one but two storms – Storm Malik and Storm Corrie. So before the worst began to hit Aberdeenshire we returned to the coast and treated ourselves to fish and chips by the sea at Whitehills.

Banff from across the Bay

The weather was already becoming wild and stormy, so we ate in the comfort of the car before venturing out to catch the surf breaking on the rocks. As it happened this was the quiet before the real storm arrived!

Storm Malik

An online capture of the two storms! We waited for power cuts, and for trees in the garden to be brought down, but we were lucky and survived with just more debris to clear away!

And so the month draws to a close with us feeling battered and bruised and very tired! Anxiously waiting for both storms to pass, and wondering how we could run our generator with 70+ mph gales battering us. We look forward to a more peaceful February, and are in need of time to rest and recover!

On to February, and the hope of calmer weather!
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2021 August

the garden in August
The garden in August is alive with colour!

After the deluge that closed July, the whole garden has sprung into life with renewed vigour! The months of little or no rain saw the blossoms fall early, and growth severely limited. Now there is a sense of catching up with our chaotic year of 2021 – an overlong winter, cold and frosty Spring, and dry summer. Not too promising! But we even have hopes that the Victoria plums will revive and fatten – fingers are crossed!
There is sense of optimism as we approach August, Covid numbers are down to quite low levels – we might finally see some summer weather – and there is the promise of some return to ‘normal’ pre-pandemic life!

Barn swallow nests
A good year for our resident barn swallows!

High under the eaves, above my bedroom, we have the ‘homes’ of our summer visitors – barn swallows. This year they have been very busy! We suspect that their first brood didn’t survive the late and long winter, as there were no signs of new life apart from the eggshells. But since then there have been at least 2 more broods, with copious bird droppings adorning the honeysuckle that grows below them 😊
I can see the shadows of the swallows against my bedroom curtains, as they swoop up and into the nests, feeding the young. Some mornings there seem to be dozens of them circling and zooming in to the nests. I watch them with amazement!
And through August we have seen a new nest, and a first brood appear under the eaves at the side of the house! They are spreading their wings – quite literally!

A Yuta Segawa miniature vase
My turquoise Yuta Segawa miniature vase with a cocktail parasol

I was given a miniature vase years ago – a blue one I use often use, with a few small flowers, in my still life photography. I’ve never found another so small and so photogenic …. until now! They are hand-thrown and beautifuuly glazed. There’s a link here to a video of how they are made. I am having fun shooting them!

Fiesta steering wheel
Driving again! Brushing up my solo driving skills!

And by the middle of August I have started driving again! I need to keep my driving skills up-to-date. The very long and hard winter meant I avoided driving in such difficult conditions. Since then we have had our two Covid vaccination shots, each of them takes away energy, and has left me more tired – not good for the low energy levels from my long-term PVS/ME. But with Mike’s back problems I figure it is wise to make time and find the energy to polish up my driving. So a few early morning sessions at weekends have got me feeling safe and confident – though the energy has only taken me to Turriff a few times!

Japanese snacks
More delicious Japanese snacks to taste and enjoy!

Since Laurie introduced me to the delights of Japanese snacks, cakes and pancakes I have been enjoying adding to my range of eating experiences. And I confess to being well and truly hooked! Just like here, it is the small, traditional artisan makers who produce the best flavours. This lovely delicate momoyama snack is just one example.

bees on the lavender
Our wild bees finally feasting on the lavender

August has been a poor month weatherwise, with little rain to help the crops or our garden! And there has been even less sunshine – the skies have been a leaden grey most days. So we are relieved, as the month draws to a close, to finally see the small wild bees returning and swinging in the breeze on the lavender. Usually the garden is buzzing with activity, but everything is late this year – and insects, especially bees and butterflies are here in much smaller numbers.

And finally, as the month ends, I have to include a Covid reality check at the end of August.

Covid-Delta numbers quadrupled during August! Yes! We started the month feeling optimistic about the progress we had made against the Covid-Delta variant. But as August ends things are running madly out of control here!!
Our schools have been back 2-3 weeks now, and colleges are ready to return. And this is all on top of a summer of football, sporting and music festivals, and now the Edinburgh festival.

Previously Aberdeenshire had seen low infection rates – but in the past month infection numbers have more than quadrupled!!
August 1st – 230 cases reported a rate of 88.2 per 100,000
August 31st – 1,159 cases reported a rate of 444.4 per 100,000
VERY locally we have usually had weekly numbers too small to count (0-2) with a max of 3 and an occasional 4. As the month draws to a close we have 25 reported cases.

It seems that most hospitalizations are of younger age-groups, mostly unvaccinated or with a single vaccine. But the authorities won’t give the go-ahead for school-age children to be vaccinated yet.
And about 1/3 of hospital admissions are among the older and double-vaccinated groups.
ICU figures are slowly creeping up, but so far deaths remain low. But there is no idea of what long-term damage there could be from Covid-Delta itself.
The Scottish Govt. is holding its breath and hoping that we can ride out the current wave. But already the demands on hospitals are forcing them to cancel non-urgent surgery etc. as the wards are filling up again with Covid cases.

On which happy note we end August! September means we are moving into autumn and winter weather (with more indoor activity). So it looks like we will remain essentially self-isolating and relying on masks and keeping away from any crowded places.
But before we move on to September, a look at my Flickr activity for August. I post regularly to Flickr, with a mix of macro, still life, landscape and experimental images. And as the month ends I create a collage for each month. They act as dividers in the flow of images, and also as a reminder to myself of what I have been up to over the previous weeks!

August collage of Flickr postings
My August collage of all the shots I’ve uploaded to Flickr this month

So – on to September, and the approach of autumn.
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2021 July

close up of dried twigs and petals
Inspiration from the garden – some dried hydrangea flowers caught in a dead twig. Macro captures so much more than the naked eye

I’ve taken a break from Flickr for a couple of weeks this month, mainly because Mike’s back is bad and I need to take over a lot of the lifting, bending etc. There just isn’t the energy to do it all. But the odd moments I have managed to carve out of the housework have been devoted to my much neglected watercolour project! And I’ve managed to do a little almost every day … keeping my new ‘habit’ of touching base at least! So I decided to give over most of the July Journal to my painting.
I use the ‘dining room’ as an art room – always have, as it houses the big paper storage unit and the large draughtsman’s table that I use(d) for pastel painting. But until recently I have felt the watercolour painting space to be cramped and inhospitable. I finally sat down and looked at it, and pondered how it could be improved. The biggest problem is the light, closely followed by lack of table space.
I reversed the table so I sit close to the only window. That single move has made a massive difference! Then I have added a second fold-out table behind, for extra lights, paintbrush holders etc. Mike found me a small portable easel to allow the right gentle angle for the paper … and I am in business! It is such a transformation – I actively want to be in the room, where before I had to reluctantly drag myself in!

my art room 1
Looking from the living room into my art room space
work surface from above
My working surface seen from above. A friendly clutter!
my painting pin board
The draughtsman’s board used as a pin board for bits and bobs.

I have moveable lamps to add to the lighting, as well as some light from the front room, through the archway between the rooms. The room is also full of my pastel paints, with pastel works on the walls …. and then there are my photography prop stores ….. so there’s not a spare inch of surface anywhere!
I’m having fun, and learning a whole lot about watercolour painting. The more I expore, the more I understand why it is considered the hardest and most demanding of paint media! There is no room for changing your mind, or correcting a mistake – once the paint mark is made, it is final! No scraping back, no rethinking …. you are committed!

OK! So I’ve reached a sticking point here! There is so much I want to write about that it will swamp my more general monthly Journal ‘digest’. So I am going to do a spin-off into another part of the website. I’ve called in HANDS ON as it seems to sum up all my creative pursuits over the years since Post Viral Syndrome put an abrupt stop to my career in the educational world.

The garden in full bloom
The garden is suddenly full of colour and growing apace!

And so July passed, with the world shrunk to our own home and garden. Back to ordering groceries online for delivery to our door – an absolute blessing for when we can’t get to the shops ourselves. Mike is slowly recovering. It is a painful process, but he has discovered that simply walking, to strengthen his leg muscles is also strengthening his back muscles, and he is building up the total of steps. Great news, and a real sense of progess! His world is still limited to walking, lying down and the occasional sitting at a table for meals. Sitting for long hours at the computer is definitely out for the moment!

raindrops into the clear water
And it rained – like nothing we’ve seen before here!

And the month ended with a spectacular day of rain! After nearly 3 months of very little rain we had forgotten to check the gutters and down pipes – they just weren’t in our minds. Hosepipes, and keeping the newer plants in the garden alive were our main concern.
And then, after reading about torrential and spectacular flooding across Europe, and in areas of the UK too …. we had our own taste of ‘climate change’. A day so full of torrential rain that the paved areas were under water and the gutters couldn’t cope at all. Solid sheets of water poured from the gutters over front and back doors …. threatening to collapse. And the water rose too close to the actual house for comfort. We spent the day with buckets of all sizes, trying to carry the flood water to the storm drains, and wondering if it would ever end!
Sheer madness, but standing in my knee-high red wellies I just had to capture the beauty of the clear water on the flag-stones … inches deep! The water brought out the colours and the textures! I couldn’t resist!

And so the month ends, and there is the first touch of autumn in the air, as the nights begin to draw in…..
And on to August, as summer begins to fade just a little.
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