Thursday, May 30, 2013

Things Around the Yard and Current Project

Things are definitely blooming in the yard. I've been taking pictures and downloading them for the last two weeks, but I never seem to get around to posting them. Well, this should make up for it! Dad's been doing a really good job around the yard on the last several weekends. I've had to mow the grass about five time already and have been working on pulling thistles from the flower garden. All in all, the yard is starting to look nice and spiffy!

The first picture shows some of my transplanted Buttercups. Buttercups used to grow all around yards and banks when we were little, but the various sprays and chemicals seem to be successfully eradicating them. Before that happened, several years ago, Mom and I transplanted some of them into the flower garden. It had been a very small bunch, but it has certainly spread out. In fact, it's taken over a whole chunk of the pathway! The poppies are not doing well this year, but I did get a picture of a nice one. The hops plant had gone nuts. Dad cut a lot of the extra off the other day, so it doesn't look quite this wild anymore. It's actually growing up the clothesline beam --- it didn't even wait for the strings. The flowering trees are fabulous this year. This is the best Spring they've had in a lot of years. The locust trees have had blossoms on them for a full week now and still look beautiful.

The bottom two pictures are taken "of and at" the shed in the back. Believe it or not, you are seeing the front of the shed. We planted one of those Japanese Willow bushes on the right side, a Forsythia on the right front and one of those old Bridal Veil bushes on the left front. They have obviously done very well. We are beginning to realize that we need to put in some kind of arbor or something to open up a pathway to the door. The other picture shows our little bunny rabbit. We've had a rabbit living in our yard for years, and I love seeing him. He doesn't really love seeing me, though.

Now to take a look at the back of the shed! This is our current project, though I can't take any credit for any of it, yet. This is our "kitty cemetery". All of our special babes find their resting spot back here, so we wanted to fix it up. Dad has laid a bunch of bricks (a nice "free" find from Tradio some years ago) over the area where all the burials are. He's also making a border out of some left-over landscape timbers. I'm going to bring some hostas and lilies down to plant in the area. Oddly enough, one side is almost complete shade because of the Oak tree and the bushes. The other side is full, scorching sun. Hostas for one side and Lilies for the other! The pile of branches there is just from Dad's working out there.

Well, this gives everyone a pretty good idea of how things look at our house right now. More later.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

More on Prince Hugh O'Donnell of Donegal

After the short post yesterday about Disney's film The Fighting Prince of Donegal, I thought that I'd post just a little more about the real Prince of the O'Donnell Clan. He was born in 1572, and his story begins quite early. In 1587 , when he was fifteen years old, the British abducted the young heir of Donegal and placed him in the prison of Dublin Castle. The British recognized the power of Hugh's father and hoped to squelch an Irish uprising by capturing the young O'Donnell. Three years later, Hugh tried to escape from the Castle but failed. During his captivity, Hugh's mother and father actually bargained with the British for their son's release. The O'Donnell's returned 25 Spanish captives to Dublin Castle, as well as paying an extraordinary sum of money to the British. Of course, just as you would expect, the British "agreed" to the bargain. They took the money and the prisoners, but refused to release Young Hugh.

"The Gaelic Chieftain"
Commemorating O'Donnell's victory at the battle at Curlew Pass in 1599

Finally, on Christmas night of 1591, Hugh and two O'Neil brothers escaped from the Castle. They had to walk across the mountains to reach Donegal. One of the O'Neils died of exposure on the way, and Hugh suffered from such sever frostbite that he lost both of his big toes. Hugh and Henry O'Neil did arrive at Donegal, though, which makes them the only people to successfully escape from Dublin Castle in the history of Ireland!

Hugh rallied the Clans for multiple battles against the British. All went well until he decided to side with the Spanish Armada at Kinsale. The Spanish and the Irish were defeated by the British, so Hugh escaped to Spain --- where he lived for some years. (The cause of his death seems to be debated. Some say that he died of a fever, but there was, apparently, documentation stating otherwise. I'm for the "otherwise" version, so we'll go with that!) Just as Hugh was planning to return to Ireland to rally the clans again, the British sent an Irish double-agent, James Blake, to poison him. Sadly for Hugh and Ireland, Blake succeeded. The O'Donnell was buried in a monastery in Valladolid, but that was torn down in the nineteenth century --- so, the spot of Hugh's grave is unknown.

O'Donnell Abu is considered the most famous song to sing the praises of Red Hugh of Donegal. They actually sing this at the end of the Disney film, but I didn't know that until just now! Here are the words to the song:

Proudly the note of the trumpet is sounding
Loudly the war cries arise on the gale;
Fleetly the steed by Lough Swilly is bounding,
To join the thick squadrons in Saimear's green vale.
On, ev'ry mountaineer,
Strangers to flight and fear;
Rush to the standard of dauntless Red Hugh!
Bonnaught and Gallowglass,
Throng from each mountain pass;
On for old Erin, "O'Donnell Abu!"

Princely O'Neill to our aid is advancing,
With many a chieftain and warrior clan;
A thousand proud steeds in his vanguard are prancing,
'Neath the borders brave from the banks of the Bann:
Many a heart shall quail,
Under its coat of mail;
Deeply the merciless foeman shall rue
When on his ear shall ring,
Borne on the breeze's wing,
Tír Chonaill's dread war-cry, "O'Donnell Abu!"
Wildly o'er Desmond the war-wolf is howling,
Fearless the eagle sweeps over the plain,
The fox in the streets of the city is prowling -
All, all who would scare them are banished or slain!
Grasp every stalwart hand
Hackbut and battle brand -
Pay them all back the debt so long due;
Norris and Clifford well
Can of Tirconnell tell;
Onward to glory - "O'Donnell Abu!"
 Sacred the cause that Clan Connell's defending -
The altars we kneel at and homes of our sires;
Ruthless the ruin the foe is extending -
Midnight is red with the plunderer's fires.
On with O'Donnell, then,
Fight the old fight again,

Sons of Tirconnell,
All valiant and true:
Make the false Saxon feel
Erin's avenging steel
Strike for your country! - "O'Donnell Abu!"

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Prince Hugh of Donegal & The Wonderful World of Disney

We've been enjoying The Wonderful World of Disney for the past week --- and more to go. When you hear the word "Disney", it's always the animated fairy tales that pop to mind. It is for me, anyway. Well, Disney made a lot of live-action films (just think of Fred MacMurray, Dean Jones, etc.), and it is those that we have been trying. How this came about is a long string of circumstances, but Elizabeth ordered a whole bunch from the library for us to work through. We've seen Hans Brinker (wonderful, sweet and definitely worth watching!), The Great Locomotive Chase (Fess Parker and Jeff Hunter in a real-life Civil War adventure) and The Happiest Millionaire (Fred MacMurray and a great cast in a hilarious Disney-style musical).

That's not all we've seen, though. We've been watching a bunch of them that are period stories in England, Ireland and Scotland. Specifically, The Sword and the Rose (the story of Mary Tudor, sister to Henry VIII), Kidnapped (not at all the type of story that I thought it was --- and absolutely fabulous!), Rob Roy (another great one!) and The Fighting Prince of Donegal.

The Fighting Prince of Donegal. Wow! It's the story of Red Hugh O'Donnell, a prince of Ireland who lived from 1572 to 1602. The story is based on some real events in the life of O'Donnell (of course, it's been modified for the screen!). He gets captured by the British and held in Dublin Castle. He escapes. He gets recaptured. He escapes again. He leads the clans in a battle against the British at Donegal Castle. He falls in love. Really, it's a fabulous story. Fabulously acted and so well produced. I really liked it. Peter McEnery, the actor playing The O'Donnell is as good as it gets --- followed by Andrew Keir as The McSweeny. I don't want to spoil the movie for anyone, so I won't say more.

The acting in Disney's film is great. The sets are great, and you'll see some beautiful painting by Peter Ellenshaw. Disney movies wouldn't have half of their beauty without the remarkable talents of Mr. Ellenshaw. Wow! So, if you haven't seen the story of the Prince of Donegal, then you should. :) It's just fabulous. More later.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Group Pictures with the New Poirot Dolls

Here are some "group pictures" showing some of my other needle felted dolls or sculptures standing with the new Hercule Poirot dolls. It's very hard to get pictures of them together as many of the dolls vary in size --- not to mention that some of them are sitting down. So, I posed them on the piano. It shows the scale of the different dolls, anyway!

First, here is Mom's Poirot doll standing with the two new ones. This makes three large Poirot dolls that I've felted, and it's amazing how each one has its own personality. In fact, I had so much fun making them that I've decided to start a Captain Hastings doll today! Captain Hastings is my very favorite character from the Agatha Christie books (particularly as portrayed by Hugh Fraser in the TV shows), so it's only fair to make a doll of him as well. :)

Next, here is a group shot that shows some of the more recent dolls (minus all of the gnomes). You can see that the Poirot shows have played a rather active part in my felting inspiration. The two dolls in center are based on the Meissen figurines and Victory Ball costumes as seen in the episode, The Affair at the Victory Ball. As of now, I'm planning on Captain Hastings next and, hopefully, Elrond after that . . . but things are always subject to change!

It's been absolutely freezing here all day yesterday and again today. We're actually having to heat the house again. Sad thing is, I have to go out and mow the lawn (I'm not a fan of cold and windy weather!). The good thing is that the sun is shining a bit, so maybe it won't be too bad. ;) More later.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hercule Poirot Dolls: Two More Needle Felted Sculptures

I can't believe it, but I have now made twenty needle-felted wool dolls (or "sculptures")! These dolls have quite a story, too. Two and a half years ago, I made a smaller felted Poirot doll as a surprise Christmas present for Mom and posted the story here on my blog. It has been quite popular, and I've received quite a few comments and e-mails asking if I would make another Poirot doll.

One thing that you have to know about me is --- I don't duplicate any of my original handwork. I didn't always have strong feelings about this, but after a few trials of duplication (mostly because Elizabeth just had to have "the same" something) I soon learned better. When working with something handmade and without a pattern, it is impossible to make an exact duplicate. It never looks just the same and the person on the receiving end is always disappointed.

So, I stubbornly refused to make another Poirot. Then --- it happened. I got a really nice e-mail from a lady in another country who wanted to know if I would make a Poirot doll for her. I sent back a long e-mail explaining my reasons for not duplicating. And the fact that felting is really just my hobby. Well, she sent back a nice chatty reply, told me that she totally understood, but would I please keep her in mind if I ever felt like making another Poirot?

Elizabeth is a great sister. She and I talk about a lot of things, and on this occasion E. did a lot of talking. In fact, she talked me into agreeing to make one more Poirot. Not only that, but she actually talked me into making two more Poirots --- that way we could always list the other in our Etsy store. So, I sent an e-mail back to the nice lady saying I would be glad to make one. I even explained that I was planning on making two, so she could have a choice of outfits and colors. What I hadn't figured on was her writing back and saying that she would like both of them --- one wearing the classic light grey suit and the other in his cream-colored "Travel" suit. Wow!

So, for the last several months I have been working on two little Poirot dolls. Finally, yesterday evening, I put the finishing touches on them. Making one of a character at a time is great, but making two of the same was a bit challenging. It kept them at a similar shape and size, but it also felt like I was always making mistakes, since I had to keep "recreating" the same pieces all along the way. In the end, it really did pay off, though, as the finished dolls are an absolutely adorable pair!

Each doll weighs two ounces. They were made with .40 and .42 gauge felting needles and took approximately 110 hours to make as a pair. The doll in the light grey suit stands 8-1/2" tall and the doll in the "Travel" suit stands 8-1/4" tall. Dad made their canes out of wood and used metal beads for handles. The doll in the grey suit has a real sterling silver "stud" on his shirt, and the doll in the "Travel" suit has a fly-swatter made (also by Dad) of Buck Tail and Quill. The watch chains and fobs were made by Elizabeth and are made from real jewelry chain and a "dangle-y" jewelry piece for the fob. The lapel pins are made of some unidentified silver jewelry thing, and the flowers are felted. The doll in the light grey has a light pink rose the color of the "Hercule Poirot" rose as seen in the David Suchet TV episode How Does Your Garden Grow?.

Now that they are finished and sitting here, I am so happy that Elizabeth talked me into making them. They will be leaving for their home in a private collection in the next few days. Mom and Elizabeth are going to be sorry to see them go. Mom's just a teeny weeny bit jealous, as these two Poirots are infinitely superior to her doll. :) It is too bad that I won't be able to enter one of them in the State Fair this Summer, so the Mark Fain doll will just have to go alone! These Poirots certainly are cute, and they are even better in person than they are in photos.

If you'd like to see more photos of the dolls, you can see their photo albums by CLICKING HERE. So, I have made twenty dolls now --- and even duplicated a character. Poirot certainly lends himself to felt. I'm planning on taking some new "group shots" of some of the dolls tomorrow, so I'll post more later.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Long Weekend, Painting and Jane Austen

We've had a pretty busy weekend. Dad took today and Friday off of work, which means that it feels like we're having an extra-long weekend. It has given him the chance to get a lot of work done outside. He's finished painting the fence at the side of the house and has been busy painting the garage. Just take a look at these before and after pictures of the fence in my Gnome Garden.

I spent Friday mowing the lawn and weeding in the flower garden. A lot of the baby Pin Oak trees that I've been nurturing since last Spring have come back and are budding. I weeded around them and checked them all out.

Thursday was a big rummage sale and we went grocery shopping. Saturday was the annual town garage sales. Not many this year, so it didn't take us very long. I've been working really hard on a custom order for two dolls. The end is in sight, which means that I want to see what they will look like finished.

Flowers are popping up and all the trees are budding. Some earlier trees, like the Crimson King Red Maple have full leaves already. We spent a couple of hours yesterday afternoon out photographing at a cemetery. We had a lot of fun, as there was a nesting Killdeer in one of the sections. She actually flew after Elizabeth once. She was out protecting her area --- acting injured and screaming her head off. Then, she would come and fly after you and flap her wings. I couldn't get really close long enough to take a good picture, but you can see her in the light circle in the right-hand picture.

We watched the 1996 version of Jane Austen's Emma --- for the first time, amazingly! We've loved the 1995 versions of Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility for years, but we'd never watched Emma. I really enjoyed it. It was just under two hours, and it wasn't as glamourous as some of the others, but I think that it was the most "realistic" of all of them. You really felt like they were real, normal people that you could meet today. Mr. Knightly was fabulous, too! Wow! Well, there isn't a lot more to report. This has all kept us pretty busy. More later.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Exchanging Plastic Food for Felt Food, etc.

The time always comes when you have to sort through childhood toys. We had a lot of toys. Elizabeth and I have always loved playing and imagining, and that was aided by things like Playmobil, board games, dolls, figures and the like. One of our all-time favorite things to play with, though, was play food. Little plastic pieces made to look like everything from hamburgers to ice cream. We've saved most of our toys in a big closet upstairs for use by our children one day, but . . .

Several years ago, as a family, we began really working at eliminating plastic from our house. We've successfully removed zip-locks, plasstic wrap, plastic water bottles and containers, plastic Christmas decorations --- and plastic toys. This was a reaction to the BPAs that are found in everyday plastic, not to mention the other chemicals that are in there, too. We kept the Playmobil, because it is a BPA-free plastic and would be impossible to replace. But Elizabeth and I decided that we would only keep a few plastic toys and work on replacing or substituting the rest. Play food was one of the things that we did keep, as it makes for fabulous imagination. Besides, what could replace it?

Well, we found out about felt food and that seems the perfect answer. A couple of months ago, Elizabeth and I bought some patterns on Etsy for various meals. This gave E. an idea of how to cut things out and construct them, so she started working on them a few weeks ago. Of course, being Elizabeth, she isn't making the food that's on the pattern! ;) It's coming along so well (and looks so cute) that we've decided to sell all of the plastic food that we played with as children. Not to mention the fact that this way we can make the kinds of food that we actually eat, where lots of the plastic food is not food that we would eat.

Elizabeth brought the bin down from the closet a couple of days ago and sorted everything into groups and counted it. There were 493 pieces!! Mom was having a bit of an emotional morning, as she has lots of memories attached to those toys, but after seeing the felt food versus the plastic --- there wasn't really any competition.

So, that's one of the things that we've been up to lately. I've also had to mow the lawn twice already, and Dad has worked on painting the fence around the gnome garden. Pictures of all that to come, but I see that this post is plenty long enough. Buddy and Kay came up for a visit yesterday, so that was a fun evening. More later.

Deanna Durbin: 1921-2013

Wow! I was coming down this morning to post a normal "daily" blog entry (frar from daily these days, but --- oh well), but Elizabeth and I woke up to an e-mail from a friend telling us that the news has just been released that Deanna Durbin died a few days ago. She was 91 years old. Amazing. Somehow, you always think of her at about 15 years, singing away!

She's Elizabeth's favorite performer, and we've watched her movies, sung her songs and all for years and years. We even wrote to her over ten years ago and received autographed pictures. Cool! This doesn't leave many of "our generation" surviving, but the great thing about film and recordings is that the beautiful music lives on. People will be able to enjoy Deanna for generations more. It will take some getting used to --- to really think of her as gone. More later.

If you'd like to see some great pictures of Deanna, then CLICK HERE.