2021 June

Yunomi and mochi
A Japanese Yunomi cup and a mochi snack with red bean paste.

June 2021 – in which I discover the joys of Japanese snacks, find that we are in a drought period here, and try to get a grasp on the Covid ‘Delta’ variant.

I’ve long been an admirer of many things Japanese; from their food to their philosophy and art, there are so many things to enjoy, admire, and ponder. ‘Art’ is a word that you can extend to encompass almost every aspect of Japanese life – from the tea ceremony to making paper, there is an expertise that has been developed over centuries. And recently my friend and fellow Japan admirer Laurie Kern introduced me to the taste experience of traditional Japanese ‘snacks’.
Laurie discovered two suppliers offering snack-boxes on a regular basis, each with a selection of traditional artisan-made snacks and sweets. Sakuraco supplied their April box that included the Yunomi cup and mochi in the shot I took as the header photo for June.
There are many different kinds of mochi. This one is red bean paste encased in a soft cake.
The snacks seem to be less sweet and sugary than our usual Western sweets or snacks, and the tastes are more subtle and gentle. And they are wickedly delightful and ‘more-ish’ 😊.
Each box comes with a booklet that describes each snack included, so it is a learning experience as well as a taste experience! And after sampling some of the delights of Laurie’s April box, she sent me a box of my own from another supplier, Bokksu as a surprise gift!

Bokksu Japanese snack box
My surprise present of a Bokksu Japanese snack box.

And like Sakuraco it came laden with snacks, and an accompanying booklet about each snack. No little porcelain cup this time … just delicious treats to nibble!

Momoyama Japanese snack
Japanese snack called Momoyama, which is quite delicious!

Apart from savouring the different tastes from Japan, the month of June was also one of the driest on record! After a prolonged winter that lasted through until May, we were looking for some relief for our garden. Some plants didn’t survive the winter, and those that did were blighted, with new leaves and buds blackened by constant overnight frosts. So we hoped to welcome some warmer and sunnier weather, to allow the garden to revive. It was such a blow to find week after week with no rain! We had to resort to using hosepipes to keep everything alive …..

June garden colours
The blossoms which make our garden so colourful were quickly dying due to the drought.
The back rockery
The light sandy soil doesn’t hold the water well – and strong sunshine will soon defeat the plants!

Some areas like the back rockery find that the steep slope means our light, sandy soil doesn’t hold the water well – and strong sunshine will soon defeat the plants!

And so onto the third and final part of my June Journal – the progress of the pandemic!
I saved writing about this aspect of June until the month ended, as it quickly became apparent that there was a further wave (3rd? 4th? I’ve lost count!) of Covid infections breaking on the shores of the UK – the Delta variant.
“SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant, also known as lineage B.1.617.2, is a variant of lineage B.1.617 of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It was first detected in India in late 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) named it the Delta variant on 31 May 2021.”
[source: Wikipedia]

I live in Scotland, so I keep an eye on the Covid statistics for Scotland, and in rural Aberdeenshire, so I track and record the statistics for my area too.
This variant was being tracked at it was even more transmissible than the Kent (Alpha) variant. And instead of closing down international travel between the UK and the Indian sub-continent, the Westminster government allowed hundreds of thousands of potentially infected travellers to enter the UK without testing or quarantine. Another political disaster, to add to the seemingly endless succession of disasters the Westminster government has inflicted on us! I despair /0\
The Indian (Delta) variant quickly took hold and throughout June it spread like a wildfire throughout the UK, especially in densely populated cities. Scotland has fared worst of all, with almost double the number of confirmed cases when compared with England.

A quick snapshot of the data here in Aberdeenshire shows the trend throughout June:
* May 31st – 22 recorded +ve cases.
That is 8.4 people infected per 100,000. And a test positivity rate of 0.4%
** June 29th – 514 recorded +ve cases.
That is 196.8 people infected per 100,000. And a test positivity rate of 5.9%
And Aberdeenshire has been one of the least badly affected areas of Scotland.

A snapshot of the state of things in mid-June. By no means as bad as it was when June finally ended! On this daily tally for June 18th we are only 54.4 per 100,000. By June 28th we were 196.8 per 100,000.

Scotland COVID June 2021
Delta variant cases in Scotland by mid June 2021

Truly horrifying and exponential growth! The figures just got worse and worse as the month went on. We became even more aware that we were guinea-pigs in a giant experiment to see how far vaccination could protect us all in the real world ‘laboratory’. Every afternoon we checked for the latest stats, and drilled down into the Aberdeenshire figures. It was the only way to find information to guide our decisions about when it might be safe to go grocery shopping, or to go out for exercise. The detailed statistics were always lagging 3 days behind, so it could only be a general guide – but it was better than nothing!

Broadly the results seem to suggest that vaccination (double vaccination) does help to protect against the severe form of Covid, as hospitalisation; intensive care numbers and registered deaths all remained low. But the infection rates for the younger and unvaccinated groups have soared, and the implications in terms of Long Covid, and longer term effects remains unclear. And as July approached we wondered about the promises from London of “Freedom Day” and a quick return to ‘normality’.

On to July – and where next for the pandemic?
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2021 April

plum blossom
The Japanese plum tree is usually a mass of pink by now – but winter is still with us!

April is the cruellest month! How right T S Eliot was!
Winter continues unabated – sub zero nights and cold days have dominated April 2021. The plum blossom is almost completely killed on the Japanese flowering plum tree by the gate. Usually the tree turns into a pink delight in April, but this year there are just a few random pink dabs among the bare branches! The new green buds on the hydrangeas and azaleas are blackened and blighted too. It is indeed cruel! There is more hail than snow, and the high winds sweeping down from the Arctic are driving the hail off the large field behind the house, and into our garden, building up against the house, and into our faces when we open the back door!

winter in April
The garden is full of the snow and hailstones blown off the field behind the house!

By the middle of the month the snow has been replaced by overnight frosts and bright sunny days. Better than the constant snow and hail, but the weather pattern is still so very cold, even at midday. The blue skies are very welcome, and the sun is hot through the window glass – but it is deceptive! And there is now no rainfall at all – so the land that has been soaked all autumn and frozen solid all winter is now too dry for the Spring planting to germinate properly.

winter sunset in Spring
It looks more like midwinter than April!

On the personal front we have managed to continue to do some of our own grocery shopping. The lockdown together with the vaccine roll-out has seen a welcome and reassuring fall in infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths. There is now a Covid Dashboard provided by PH Scotland that shows cases by Local Government areas, and within each area too. So we can check to see how safe the places we wish to visit are.
It is a strange world when the freedom to enter a shop and choose my own fruit and vegetables is a real treat! What used to be a regular chore has become a mark of returning normality, and real delight to look forward to!

April 14th – and another milestone. We both get our second vaccination jag!
That is only 8 weeks since the first, and we were expecting to wait another month. So now we only need to wait another 3 weeks to ensure the antibodies have built up fully. Early May will be so good!
No ill effects from the 2nd AZ shot – a mild ‘flu’ feeling for a day, but not even a sore arm!

April 26th – and there is a lot of easing of restrictions, both for travel, meeting others, and for opening up of shops, cafes and pubs. The emphasis is on outdoor meetings and venues as these first tentative steps test how effective the lock-down and vaccine roll-out have been.

But most of these changes are not affecting us two, as cold winter weather continues to make indoors most appealing! So I have been enjoying shooting anything and everything that I can find lying around in my studio! Catching the fleeting moments of sunshine, and celebrating the feeling that the year of constant stress might be loosening its grip…

feather and hydrangea
Feather and hydrangea, one of my many ‘odds and sods’ shots.

I call this slightly frivolous excursion into random still-life shots my Flickr Odds and Sods album, and am happily adding to it as often as I can!

tiny medicine bottles
Some of my tiny antique medicine bottles – as a monochrome
feather and stone
Feather and stone, one of my many ‘odds and sods’ shots.

And before April ended we managed another trip to Fyvie Castle and grounds, to see if the new green of Spring had finally managed to emerge. This time I took a Sony NEX-7 with the magical Zeiss Makro E 50mm F2.8 lens. Usually used for close macro photography, I have discovered it is a wonderful landscape lens too!

Spring at Fyvie loch
Spring is finally showing the first signs of new fresh green!

To round off April with the photography I’ve posted on Flickr, here is the collage of my online month.

collage of shots for April 2021
The collage of shots taken and uploaded for April 2021

April ends the way it began, with driving hail and freezing temperatures.

And on to May, and has Spring arrived .. at long last?
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2021 March

winter road shot
The bleakness of winter still remains in March!

March began with the first vaccination accomplished, and a wait for the second dose that may reach into May. It developed into a month of unholy wrangling with the EU over vaccine supply. Over half of the UK adult population have received a first dose, and the impact has been striking. Numbers in hospital with COVID, in the ICU, and dying from COVID have all fallen dramatically since December when the vaccination began. Studies are showing that the gamble of maximizing the range of the first jab and delaying the second jab has paid off.

The EU has been slow to give medical approval for the vaccines, and also slow to place orders for them. They have an average of 10% of their populations vaccinated, and are facing a third wave, with lock-downs. The immediate outlook is bleak for people in Europe, as the variant becoming dominant is the B117 (Kent variant) that has plagued the UK too. It has proved to be more tranmissible, and more deadly than the original virus here.
Sadly the EU Commission response has been to try to block vaccines produced on the continent from being exported to the UK. They have spent two months trashing the reputation of the AstraZenenca vaccine, and are now trying to ‘sell’ it to their populations! Currently there are significant numbers who are refusing the AZ vaccine, despite growing research evidence of its efficacy and safety. What a mess!!

Here we both had the AZ vaccine, and after a couple of days feeling like a mild dose of ‘flu we have had no adverse effects. The Shingles vaccine was much worse!! So now we feel more confident going out and about. Still in lock-down in Scotland in March, so exercising at Fyvie Castle and essential shopping in Inverurie are the extent of our ‘out and about’. But there is a slight feeling of returning normality, as we are no longer totally dependent on deliveries for our weekly grocery needs!

Infrared of Fyvie loch
Winter still rules! Infrared at Fyvie loch

The weather has been against us, as sub-zero temperatures (especially overnight) have made for bleak, cold and windy outings for exercise. The trees have been battered by the severe winter and are not at all photogenic , and only snowdrops are adorning the pathways at Fyvie

snowdrops at Fyvie Castle
Snowdrops make for a magical white carpet at Fyvive Castle.

With a little Helios lens magic the snowdrops appear to swirl, and add a little magic! Indeed magic is needed to see the beauty hidden in the wintry corners of the castle grounds….

Lensbaby snowdrops and fence
Last years leaves and this years snowdrops caught with the Lensbaby.

This time it is the Lensbaby optic adding some colour and sparkle to the cold day!

So much of my time has been spent indoors – too cold to think about tackling the garden and all the dead-heading and clear-up after the winter!
Decision time! I am still determined to fit my watercolour adventure into the already cramped timetable for the day/week/month! It does take my energy reserves right to the edge, and it does mean the housework is being neglected!
The more I dig into my first watercolour venture (some 20+ years ago), the more I understand when artists say watercolour is the most difficult and challenging medium of all! I have a whole lot to learn or re-learn, and yet I know where I want to go ….. so balancing the need to learn important things with wishing to avoid a “watercolours by numbers” approach is making for slow progress! I don’t want to lose my own vision …. The first thing that I need to get a grasp on is the colours that I have got.

watercolour transparency chart
My watercolour transparency chart

I want to use as many transparent colours as possible, as they can let the paper glow through – but there are so many qualities to each paint. Transparent, semi-transparent and opaque is only one quality to weigh! There are staining/non-staining colours, and then reflective colours, and sedimentary colours … and then how about warm and cool colours, colour dominance? …. and I am nowhere near the paper choices, or the brush choices!

I have decided to simply throw myself in the deep end, and sink or swim. The problem is that I am not good at failing … especially not repeatedly! I tend to beat myself up, and get discouraged…. so I am trying to fit a small watercolour ‘corner’ into each day … failing, but gradually getting closer to every other day! So I have ‘built’ my first palette.

My starting palette
My first palette selection, with transparency in mind.

I’ve already been experimenting with mixing my painting with my photographs ….

Eggs blending photo and watercolour
Daily sketch eggshells and blend with photo
Blending art and photography
Blending art and photography

See more on the August 2020 page, and on Flickr I have an album of all kinds of blending and merging of media. I want to use some of the landscape images I’ve captured over the years, and express them in watercolour too … like this winter sunrise as we drove along ..

freezing fog on the road
Ice and fog, a dangerous but magical mixture.

So, as March draws to a close, and the sunny days begin to outnumber the wintry ones, my ToDo lists are packed with ideas for photography and painting, and my online Flickr presence will vie with the demands of house and garden! Hopefully there will be the chance to travel to the coast, as lock-down restrctions ease. It may be May before we see a second vaccination jab … so extreme caution is still the 2021 ‘normal’. Here are the images that I posted on Flickr during March ….

The collage of shots taken and uploaded for March 2021
The collage of shots taken and uploaded for March 2021

And on to April – has Spring arrived .. at last?
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2021 February

snowy fields
February brought us a white winter!

February began with snow. The deep freeze that ended January moved into the heaviest and most prolonged snow that we’ve seen for several years. I’ve got photos from when we moved here in the 1990s, and we regularly had a foot of snow, or more, each winter. Now we lament that all we get is a small snowfall that melts overnight! So far this winter we have experienced prolonged freezes, gales, hailstorms and finally by mid February most of Aberdeenshire was snowed in and paralysed for several days!
It made for a mainly indoor month, with outside photography limited to the garden!

hydrangea in the snow
The beauty of a frosty winter morning

The frost and snow added a sparkle to everything in the garden. Even these hydrangea flower heads I haven’t cut can glow in the winter!
And the bad weather did bring us some unexpected visitors – blew them into our garden!

a fieldfare in the garden
A rare visitor to our garden – a fieldfare.

Fieldfares took refuge in our garden. We rarely see fieldfares, but a small group visited our garden and enjoyed the cotoneaster berries from our hedge. They must have resumed their flight south to warmer places to overwinter, as they are gone now! We hope that they will make a regular stop-over here.
Towards the middle of the month the weather got seriously bad, and the village, indeed most of the entire county, was snowed in by Storm Darcy. We have thousands of miles of roads in Aberdeenshire, many of them small rural roads, and single track. So many local farmers have snow clearing equipment that they can attach to tractors, and help to clear the roads.
For us there was an additional anxiety, as the storm hit just as we were due to go for our first Covid vaccination!

Vaccination information
The COVID vaccine roll-out in Scotland

The vaccine roll-out in Scotland has picked up speed during February. By the end of the month about 30% of our population have received their first jag. And our turn came as the snow fell! We had to cancel, and try again when the snow began to melt, and the traffic began to move again!

snow and meltwater on the roads
The treacherous road to the vaccination centre.

Even after the worst of the snow had been cleared, it made for a treacherous journey! The round trip of over 30 miles was quite daunting. Initially we went to check out the location of the centre, and the availability of parking. Once there, we enquired, and were so relieved to discover that they could vaccinate us then – they had the information about our snowed-in cancellation. We were only a few days late! So we only needed to drive through the slush and meltwater once.

Azaleas in the snow
The snow was so deep it buried some of our garden… including this azalea bush.

The garden was slow to release its snowy grip – areas of the garden were buried deep as the high winds had blown the powdery snow into drifts. Here an azalea bush was almost completely covered.
And as I had a folder full of snow images, and nowhere to go – I played in Photoshop making snow abstracts!

A snow abstract
So much snow I was making abstracts of the images I shot!

So – as the white month draws to a close, it is time once again to look back over the photographic images I posted on Flickr, before moving on to the new month of March.

collage for February 2021
My collage of all the shots I uploaded to Flickr in February 2021

And on to March, and has Spring arrived?
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2021 January

spectacles
Lines and patterns in the ordinary moments we often overlook.

As January begins we are in a worse place with COVID than we ever expected to be! The virus is mutating, and the more it spreads, the more opportunities it has to create variants that will make it more successful. We have vaccines already rolling out, but mass vaccination is a daunting and long process – and all the while there is the threat of a mutation that the vaccines cannot combat. Our current mutation (B 1.1.7 – the Kent variant) is thwarting all attempts to contain it. It is filling the hospitals to overflowing, and with a younger age profile than we have seen.

Covid statistics
How the new variant COVID is changing the vulnerable age-group profile

Those aged 60+ are highly vulnerable now, not just the 80+. So we start the year with an almost total lock-down across mainland Scotland, reinforced with travel bans entering or leaving the country. Needless to say the general background stress level is high, even though we, personally, are as well protected as possible. The change in the age profile has lifted us both into an earlier group of the vaccine. Hopefully February will see us getting the first dose.

Sunrise and the tree line
Morning across the howe, a sigh that never fails to delight!

So, while keeping track of the local and national progress of the pandemic, I am trying to keep a clear eye and close focus on the beauty that lies all around me, and close at hand! We’ve had some wonderful red dawns … and I grab a camera and capture the view as the sun rises over the far hillside! The weather has been cold since the start of the year, with overnight deep freezes that mean icy roads and some freezing fog too.

freezing fog on the road
Ice and fog, a dangerous but magical mixture.

Before the lock-down we drove to Inverurie to fill up the car at our nearest ‘pay-at-the-pump’ filling station. The ice and fog made for a beautiful sight but a treacherous drive!
And January 7th and 8th saw our first real snow event of the winter!

Night snow
The snow caught in the night street light – hypnotic!

It started overnight, and the street light allowed me to watch the snow swirling as it fell silently. I wondered if it would all be gone by the morning …..

sunlight on the snow
The pristine world when the day dawns and the sun shines.

…. but the delight of sunshine and crisp dry snow made a white wonderland of our world!
As the month progressed we see-sawed between deep freeze and torrential rain. The ground was either a muddy mess or a frozen muddy mess!
So I decided that it made good sense to look for some inspiration in the garden, and began shooting some things I usually overlook. One of these is our crab apple tree. The blossom is gorgeous in Springtime, but the fruit is usually ignored, both by the birds and by me too! I brought indoors a few of the last apples hanging tenaciously to the tree …..

crab apples
Shooting the winter garden and looking closer at the humble crab-apples

And we finally DID make a few trips to Tesco in Inverurie! We needed to fill both cars with petrol, and it is the only ‘pay-at-the-pump’ place we know. And along with the petrol I also raided the store for fresh cut flowers. They lift my spirits so much with their beauty, and also inspire me to reach for my camera and my paintbrushes.

chrysanthemum on the table
Chrysanthemum on the table – my first fresh flowers since January

Then, just before the month ended, we drove to Fyvie Castle. It is under 5 miles if we drive the narrow road over the hill – but with snow and icy roads we took the longer route using the main road. There is still lockdown, and the request is not to leave home, but there comes a point where the need for exercise and fresh air is paramount. Regular exercise keeps the muscles in shape, and that is essential. And our village only offers one pavement to walk along – and walking on concrete is not good if you have a bad back or hip!
So we took cameras, and went to see if the grounds remained open during this lockdown! They were indeed open, but the parking area was closed as it was too icy to approach. We managed to walk across the lawns, all icy and crunching underfoot. I took an infrared camera, wanting to see how winter looked through the IR lens.

infrared trees at Fyvie
Our first visit of the year to Fyvie Castle grounds, caught in Infrared.

We couldn’t do much, as the grounds were so icy and slippery. Even the loch was frozen! But the visit was a real tonic – and along with the flowers it marked a high point of January.

collage for January 2021
The images I uploaded to Flickr through the month of January 2021

And so to the collage of all the shots – indoors and outdoors – that I posted to Flickr this month. In 2020 I used these monthly collages as the page header. As a change I think I might use them as a ‘footer’ instead of a ‘header’ from time to time!

And on to February, and the roll-out of the vaccine, and a story of snow!
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2021 Vision

The shape of 2021
What will the shape of 2021 look like?

2021 and we are in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic. 2020 began with hope and a sense of a fresh start to not only a new year, but a new decade. Hopes were quickly dashed as the virus spread across the globe, and we all struggled to handle the new reality. It changed the shape of our lives!
2021 begins with a new and more transmissible variant of the virus threatening to overwhelm our medical services, with another lock-down across Scotland, indeed across the whole of the UK, and a small glimmer of hope as the first vaccines are rolled out. So the question I ask myself is … what will the shape of 2021 look like? At the moment, as the year begins, I see it defined by the monthly blocks of vaccine jabs … we are being divided up by age and vulnerablity, and will be allocated a vaccine slot accordingly. So the months will be blocked out for me as I wait my turn.

So I am starting the new year as I always do, with the one resolution, to see clearly! To see with camera lens – and hopefully with the paint brush too this year.
There is something magical and paradoxical about the camera lens … when I look through it I can somehow see more than I can when looking around with just my eyes. I guess there is something about the narrowing effect of the frame together with the extra concentration demanded to frame and focus the shot. But the world can surprise me through the camera lens. And increasingly I find I can ‘see’ the reverse process … I look around and can see the potential photograph or painting that is there. I guess that the two sides of the coin are gradually coming together!
My ‘canvas’ has been radically and progressively restricted through 2020 – as the pandemic has developed my freedom of movement has been curtailed. Add to that the way that the pandemic has also taken so much of my small energy store away from anything creative, and focussed it on the increasing challenges of simply getting through the day/week/month.
And so the 2021 journey of discovery begins:

January – and the pandemic worsens, forcing another lock-down. And I try to keep focussed and creative.
February – the roll-out of the vaccine, and the worst snowstorms in years.
March – and has Spring finally arrived? And my painting picks up momentum.
April – Still no Spring, but we do get our second vaccine shot!
May – and finally Spring? And lockdowns are gradually eased once more.
June – and who has heard of the ‘Delta’ threat?
July – and the world shrinks as we tackle health issues
August – and summer is overshadowed by a 400% rise in Covid-Delta cases
September – and it’s all about shortages!
October – where Covid-19 meets Beowulf!
November – winter creeps closer and we meet Storm Arwen
December – recovering from Storm Arwen, and meeting Omicron.

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