BKA bird sale

When we found out that the BKA (Bird Keepers Association) were having a bird sale on February 14th, we knew our Valentines Day plans were made. Luckily we both enjoy a good bird sale or this could have been awkward!

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I wore my owl finch necklace to the show
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It’s all in the details!

On the day we left at around 9.30. The sale was to start an hour later but, knowing that these things can be busy (and hard to find) we wanted to get there early.

This sale was held at a much larger venue than the last; The Mill Hall, Bellingham Lane, Rayleigh, Essex – so we were quite excited at the prospect of what we might find. We had decided between us that we really wanted a pair of goldfinches but would settle for a cock goldfinch and hen canary if needs be. (So we could still breed them.) We also decided on a budget.

Getting there was easy enough, and the bird sale itself was sign-posted well. When we got there a few people were milling around reception, also similarly eager to find a bargain – but it wasn’t what you’d call busy so after buying our wristbands, we decided to head to the cafe for hot chocolate and orange juice. Rookie mistake. By the time we’d actually got our drinks, a huge queue had formed through the reception and out of the door! We hurriedly joined it to shiver outside in the cold and chat to other attendees about birds (because, well, that’s what bird people do.)

When we finally entered it was manic. Previous to this sale we had attended two others and both had been really busy but this was something else. Everyone came prepared with boxes and cages and it seemed like everyone had something in mind. It was hard to get down each aisle because of how bustling it was but, on display were some beautiful birds.

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One thing I did notice about this event, was a slight lack of British birds. Most seemed to be foreign and there was a great selection of parrot finches, gouldians, etc etc as well as zebra finches, budgies and even some quail. We came across just two goldfinches in the whole place – and before we could buy them, they were snapped up for a bargainous £65 each by someone else! This was a shame for us, however we still had a lot of fun peeking in at all of the other birds and becoming gooey-eyed at the tiny timor zebra finch.

One highlight of the event was a stall set up by a company called Owls R Us who have static bird displays. I, like the rest of the modern world, am obsessed with owls and it was nice to see so many of them perched there. I paid a small donation and even got to hold a gorgeous tawny owl which was very exciting for me! Prior to this I’d held and flown a  few different owls/birds of prey but never a tawny. It had such a sweet little face and feathers as soft as a cloud, holding a beautiful bird is always a wonderful experience.

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Holding a tawny owl was a real highlight for me.

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We didn’t stay for long after that. We picked up some british bird seed from the Essex bird centre stall (an essential if you find yourself at a BKA event.) And then headed off. It was a little too busy to just stand around.

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Instead we decided to head out to some specialist shops in search of our wanted goldfinches. After a short search (and discovering beautiful European bullfinches) we did eventually come across two that had very natural colours. I know this is best for the bird as it means it hasn’t been fed dye, but to me they weren’t the most beautiful. These birds were also quite skittish which is something we’ve heard before.

After some consideration we decided to go for two redpolls instead! We already have redpolls and they are such lovely birds, so it was nice to get some more and extend the family. I really hope to breed these in the summer. We have named them Buttercup (hen) and Parsley (cock.) They are such friendly and interesting characters and Muffin and Chestnut our other redpolls are obsessed with them.

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Not the best picture but our new redpolls are beautiful.

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We will be looking out for the next BKA show – but hopefully we can show some restraint as I don’t know how many more birds we can house! I don’t think I will be looking for goldfinches in the future because I think they may be difficult to look after. Perhaps this is something to consider again when we have an outdoor aviary.

 

Quick Etsy shop update

I have decided to open my Etsy shop a little earlier than I originally anticipated. Largely because I’m impatient, but mostly because I really want to get the ball rolling with this one – and I now have everything ready and in place.

If you’d like to take a look, you can find my shop here

I am selling handmade wooden necklaces featuring garden birds.

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I have a limited number of lovely blue tits.

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And a limited number of beautiful bullfinches. But I will re-stock (and add some new designs) if and when these sell out.

Get buying people – help me create more things and realise my dream of working from home in my PJS all of the days.

Garden birds update

It has been a few weeks since my last post on the birds that visit our garden and since then we’ve had a few more in so I thought I would update.

All of these photos were taken through a glass door, and some are a little blurry but you should be able to make them out well enough!

As always we’ve had our old friend the robin visit (a few robins actually.)

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Our robin loves to sing.

The great tits have been back in force too

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Having a little preen.

And we’ve spotted some blue tits as well (my favourites.) Today I managed to capture a shot of some lovely long tailed tits that paid us a visit.

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I love their little pink backs, and if you look closely, this chap has some yellow eye shadow!

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Last but not least, we spotted a plum headed parakeet on our feeder. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked out of the window and saw a bright green bird feasting on the peanut granules. For a moment I thought we’d bought her back from Rome! She appears to be ringed so I am bit concerned she has escaped from somewhere. I haven’t seen her since but I’m keeping my fingers crossed she’s okay.

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We’re still on the lookout for some goldfinches, so hopefully we’ll see some soon. What have you spotted in your garden recently?

 

Etsy reviews (haul)

Last month I decided to treat myself to a few bits and pieces from my ever-growing list of Etsy wants. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I love buying handmade and think it’s vastly superior to mass created crap.

I thought I’d do a little review of some of the things I have purchased and the shops I purchased them from for anyone looking to treat themselves (or a friend!) this month.

Please note: this post contains affiliate links.

Birds in Hats

You can visit the shop here

It does what it says on the tin. I’ve loved this shop ever since I first discovered it which was quite some time ago now. The shop sells lots of amazing art prints and cards featuring – you guessed it- birds in hats. The illustrations are quirky, cute and just really appealing, especially for bird enthusiasts. I have wanted to purchase a calendar for a few years running – but somehow the window of opportunity always slips past and someone else will buy me another one. Anyway, I noticed that in the shop was a card with a print of a Zebra finch wearing a straw boater. Self proclaimed queen of the zebra finch and crazy bird lady, I have 14 of these fluff balls ‘irl’ and figured it wouldn’t hurt to add a card version to the collection too. I purchased this adorable card for a very reasonable £3 (not inc p&p) This print is way too cute to send out in the post however so I’m going to frame it and hang it up on the wall with pride.

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Tukoni Tribe

You can visit the shop here

I originally discovered this adorable moth brooch (and Tukoni Tribe) through a friends Instagram and I fell in love. Tukoni Tribe features lots of beautiful and inspiring art-prints and brooches based on animal illustrations. The moth brooch struck me the most because it is quite simply adorable. I have a friend who used to squish moths when they invaded her room – to make her feel super guilty about this I told her that moths were just butterflies in business suits! I’m sure not even she would want to squish this cute lil guy though – I’ll be wearing him everywhere to spread the word; moths are awesome! He wasn’t super cheap, around £16.33 including postage and packaging. So this one is definitely a treat for me. I am happy to pay that though because he is very nice – I’m sure he’d make a great gift too.

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This isn’t my picture, I took it from the Tukoni shop site. Doesn’t little moth look sweet?

Charming Creatures

You can visit the shop here

I reviewed this Etsy shop some posts back but it’s always a winner for me. Technically I didn’t treat myself to this one – my boyfriend did! But I certainly would have treated myself to a cute critter if he hadn’t. Charming Creatures sells stunning custom pet ornaments and necklaces and I’ve had a couple pieces from here that I adore. This time my lovely boyfriend requested a custom necklace of one of our owl finches. I couldn’t be happier with the result! It is made so well and looks just like little Pipkin. I can’t wait to wear this out and about!

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Nikki McWilliams

You can visit the shop here

Another firm favourite of mine is Nikki McWilliams and her biscuit goodies. This shop sells amaaaaaazing biscuit-themed treats for your home, your office and you. My mother purchased me a wonderful jammy dodger necklace for my birthday and for Christmas this year I was incredibly lucky to receive two fantastic custard cream cushions! When I heard there was going to be a seconds sale and the opportunity to buy a pick n mix bag I was (rather sadly) besides myself with excitement. In the end I went for the pick n mix bag (the bourbon was cruelly snatched from my cart before I made it to checkout.) I didn’t technically buy this on Etsy – I actually visited her other online shop. However, she trades over on Etsy and that’s why she’s included in this list!

So, what did I get in the Pick n mix bag?

I got a wonderful custard cream necklace! (my favourite)

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A sew your own cushion kit (again custard cream) which I sewed rather clumsily but had a lot of fun with. And a pack of cards! All the things were wrapped up in the cutest of packaging.

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Overall I think I spoilt myself quite a lot but what can I say, I’m worth it (I’ll keep telling myself that!) Have you made any Etsy purchases lately?

 

An update

Life has been pretty hectic lately and it feels as if I’ve not stopped. But it’s a good kind of hectic, the kind where you feel you’re making progress.

My job as a copywriter takes up most of my waking hours but in my precious spare moments I’ve been cramming a lot in. When I’m not writing/blogging, adventuring or adding to my ever-growing feather family (yes we did finally get those quails) I have been working on a creative side project.

It has been a dream of mine to create and open an Etsy shop for a long time. Previous posts will show you I’m the crafty type and and fully support handmade. So the ideas I’ve now ‘realised’ have been on the back burner for quite some time, they haven’t just popped up over night.

Recently I’ve been playing around with a lot of creative mediums and trying to discover what it is I really want to create. After a lot of playing around I decided to combine my two greatest loves: birds and jewellery.

The process of creating my pieces was understandably time-consuming and much of it was a learning curve as cliche’d as that probably sounds. But now I’ve created some pieces that I’m really proud of (and this is a big thing for me, because I’m not ever proud of myself!) My Etsy shop is set to open next week, Saturday 13th February. More details of this can be found over at the Pretty Little Finch Instagram.

The whole idea around my shop and my pieces is centred around birds that you might find in a back garden in Britain. Here’s the spiel:

Pretty Little Finch is a collection of hand-painted, digitally edited and laser cut wooden jewellery inspired by the beautiful and varied birds that visit British back gardens.

Carefully selected for their beautiful colours and patterns, the collection focuses on birds that can be caught at a tantalising glimpse in gardens across the country. This natural beauty found in the most ordinary of spaces is translated in to highly wearable pieces that will lend a touch of charm to any outfit.

Each piece is lovingly hand-painted in our studio before being adjusted digitally and prepared for the laser cutting process. Pendants are crafted from plywood and glossed for protection.

And here are some shots of the finished pieces

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I’m hoping that this venture will be successful because I’d love to continue creating more pieces. I have a lot of ideas and designs in the pipeline…it would be fantastic to realise them. For now though, I’m just having a lot of fun with it!

 

Day three: The Forum, Palatine Hill and parrots.

On our last day in Rome we woke at six but snoozed until eight. Almost overcome with exhaustion yet not wanting to waste time this felt like a good compromise. My legs had seized up and were sore but today we had planned to see the forum and walk up Palatine hill.

Ideally it’s best to visit the Colosseum and forum together because they are in such close proximity. We would have done this ourselves but, not wanting to miss the Capuchin Crypts (and not being able to find out if they’d be open on a Sunday) we chose to break our time up and leave the forum to last. Besides, this way we had more time to give to our surroundings.

We stopped first for breakfast. Our last day in Rome required a breakfast befitting of such an occasion. I had a beautiful custard pastry and milky coffee whilst Gareth had a pain au chocolat and freshly squeezed orange juice – this was vastly nicer than the offerings of the hotel and left me feeling ready to take on the day.

We took the Metro to the Colosseum.

When we arrived at our destination, we wandered around for a while stupidly unable to find the correct entrance.

Inside the forum were beautiful and intriguing ruins and as we rambled further among them I felt as if I were in a story book or film set. Some of the charm was lost to the pain I felt in my legs as I struggled on. Often I had to take a seat on a bench. Sometimes this was pleasant, especially when I could hear the melodious sounds of a violin waft on the breeze (it felt like a private concert.) Other times it was frustrating as I willed my poor legs to work so I could explore this exciting place. Although there are plaques up to briefly describe what everything is, not much information is given. For those who want to learn the history I’d recommend a tour. Personally I just enjoyed soaking up the surroundings and feeling as if I’d stepped in to a text book.

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As we walked around the Forum we came across this adorable bunny who didn’t seem very shy!

We eventually found ourselves traversing up Palatine hill and taking in the views of the forum below us which were stunning. At the top we came across orange trees, fountains and exotic green parrots feasting on seeds and berries. I was truly surprised to see parrots as I hadn’t expected them at all. I also caught site of two chaffinches which made me happy.

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And that was it. Our trip to Rome was over and it was time to catch the plane back to rainy England.

I had a wonderful time in Rome and saw some beautiful and extraordinarily interesting things. It’s more than possible to see a lot in a short space of time but if you’re thinking of visiting Rome as a weekend break I’d recommend sticking to the main attractions – they are more than worth it!

 

Day two: The Colosseum, Capuchin Crypts and pizza.

We woke early on Saturday morning and my legs ached like they hadn’t before. Standing on my feet I felt unsteady and like my legs were untrustworthy. However, I didn’t have much time to contemplate my aches and pains because we had booked a tour of the Colosseum at 10.40.

We showered and dressed quickly before heading down to the cafeteria of the hotel for breakfast. Usually this wouldn’t be done, but it was included in the booking and we were trying to keep costs down. The breakfast was pleasant enough – a selection of warmed croissants, fresh fruits, juices and coffee. I wouldn’t say it was one of the finer meals we ate in Rome but it was fuel for the busy day ahead.

We arrived at the Colosseum early to collect our pre-booked tickets (thus enabling us to avoid the horrendous queue that would form just an hour later.) Eager to start seeing more of Rome we decided to have an unofficial snoop before the tour started. The structure itself is very iconic and magnificent to see in real life- it loomed up in to the sky and we felt very excited to see something we’d read about in books and watched in films so many times before.

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After a quick look around and some snaps we assembled at meeting point 3 and waited for our guide to arrive. One of the reasons we booked the tour as opposed to walking around ourselves was that in a tour you can access the upper and lower levels of the Colosseum -something which you cannot do if you decide to go it alone. Included in the ticket price is also access to the Forum and Palatine Hill which are just metres away and well worth a look.

The tour itself was very informative and our guide helped us to imagine how the Colosseum once was. Tales of gladiators fighting lions sparked my imagination and as we wandered through the ruins I imagined to myself all of the weird, wonderful and horrifying things that had taken place where I stood.

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The view from the lower levels – you can only access this if on a tour.
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The view from the upper levels of the Colosseum was fantastic.

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Throughout the tour my legs began to seize up and I felt increasingly uncomfortable so afterwards we sat and rested on a bench for a while before searching the back streets for a pizzeria. We found a small cafe and ate hot, fresh slices of Margarita pizza washed down with cold lemonade. Lunch was delicious and everything I had hoped it would be. Refreshed and content we headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved 30 minute nap.

Batteries temporarily recharged once more we hopped back on to the Metro and towards Barberini in search of the Capuchin Crypts.

Inside the small, quiet museum we learned about the Capuchin monks and observed objects that belonged to them including rusted pocket watches and retooled books. No photos were allowed inside the museum or crypt and I respectfully abided this despite my burning desire to capture every tiny little thing I saw. The winding museum led us down in to the crypts which were dull – lit only by faux flickering candles.

Inside were ornate patterns and designs spread carefully across the walls and ceiling, macabre lampshades made of human bones. Hooded skeletons guarded the crypts, humbly bowing their skulls down to the gritty soil beneath them.
I have visited the Catacombs of Paris and as such, did not anticipate feeling ‘creeped’ out by these crypts. How wrong I was. I learned that no one really knew how the bones had come to be in the crypts or who had arranged them in such a manner. I felt a shiver crawl across my shoulders. Some of the skeletons still had withered skin that clung to their skulls and looked to be mummified. This combined with the thick hooded monk cloaks made them look terrifying. The detached thigh and shin bones placed to make shapes were easier to digest but having no idea of the sort of man who might arrange them as so made the whole experience feel unnerving. I would definitely recommend a visit to the Capuchin Crypts for anyone who wants to see something different and unique. The experience was haunting but grossly interesting.

From here we roamed the area until we came to a cafe. Outside we sat and had a glass of red wine whilst observing the bustling streets. I was happy to see a pair of chirping sparrows and fed them crumbs which they greedily pecked up.

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We fed the sparrows over a glass of wine.

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When the wine had been drunk we wandered further in to the city and perused the shops and busy cobbled streets until my legs felt as if they were on fire.

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Muscles screaming we headed back to the hotel to freshen up and rest some more before the evening ahead.

Once again we headed for the Trevi fountain and the plethora of restaurants that surrounded it. We settled for a small restaurant with outside seating and heat lamps to keep us toasty. Here we had beautiful cold beer and bruschetta to start, followed by spaghetti and meatballs and lashings of salty Parmesan cheese. Although it was not comparable to our first nights dinner, it was still delicious and very enjoyable.

After a very quick stop by the Pantheon, we headed back to Pepy’s bar, as we had done the first night. Here we had bourbon served with bitter dark chocolate and chatted about our adventures in to the night.

By the end of our second night in Rome we had walked 30 miles.

Day one of Rome: Sistine Chapel, St Peters Basilica & lasagna

I’m painfully aware that my last blog post was a whole 12 days ago…the reason for this is that I have been extraordinarily busy! I guess now is as good a time as any for an update and I’d like to talk about my recent trip to Rome.

I have decided to break up each day in to a post (I went from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon.) The reason for this is the sheer volume of photos and stories I have to share! (Please bear with me.)

We left our flat late, half an hour late to be exact. Even though we’d carefully laid our plans the night before and had set up the timed lamps, cleaned out all of the bird cages and packed – we still didn’t make it out on time. Rushing to the airport, we boarded the plane – just. Our flight took two bumpy hours before we landed in Italy. The sun was shining, the skies were blue and the air was crisp – not quite cold yet not particularly warm either…my ideal weather. We took a taxi to the hotel (Hotel Gambrinus) and as our taxi hurtled its way through the cobbled streets and outskirts of the city, I marveled at the beautiful old buildings that looked set to crumble at the slightest touch. By the time we reached our hotel I had decided my jacket wasn’t to be needed that day.

At the hotel we quickly decanted and arranged our belongings about the room. Our stop was quick – being in Rome from Friday to Sunday meant that time was against, it was precious and we didn’t wish to waste it.

Our first stop in Rome was to be the Vatican, and as we walked along the dusty pavements to the Metro we saw that the streets were lined with orange trees, heavily laden with fruit.

We decided to take a tour of the Vatican museums and walk the (quicker) route through and to the Sistine Chapel. We moved slowly from room to room soaking up all there was to see. The rooms were opulent with floor to ceiling paintings or carefully carved statues of marble. The thing that most impressed me (even more so than the art on display) were the ornate ceilings with their beautiful depictions, paintings and carvings in rich inky blues interjected with gold and swirling patterns. Each room seemed to be in contest with the last and I found myself drifting through them with my head craned skywards.

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A stylish spiral staircase in the Vatican museums.
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Stopping for snacks to keep us going. The pizza snacks were bland but we were fans of the bacon.

Along our way we saw Matisse and Dali and felt quiet satisfaction at being able to recognise something. At the end of our route we came to the Sistine Chapel. Of course everyone in this room had their eyes fixed firmly to the ceiling and that iconic painting The Creation of Adam. Photographs were not permitted here and without the clicks of flash the room seemed darker and stiller. Much more peaceful than it had been moments before outside of it. I thought the paintings were amazingly beautiful but architecturally the chapel is not spectacular.

From here we moved out on to the grounds and strolled through them with the sun on our faces. We walked further still towards St Peters Basilica stopping for our first taste of gelato at a grubby vendor. Unfortunately the ice cream tasted stale and I worried we would be sick so the limp coned ice creams went in to the bin and our first lesson of Rome was learnt – do not buy from street vendors!

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The Basilica is very beautiful to admire from the outside, but inside it was breathtaking. The ceiling rose up so high it was almost lost but I could make out yet more magnificent paintings and depictions of Rome. The Basilica felt very special to me was a real highlight of the trip. I would recommend this to anyone wishing to visit Rome.

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On our back we stopped at a proper gelato bar and got our first real taste of the city. I had a delicious chocolate and Nutella cone that tasted just like a frozen Ferrero Rocher and burst with flavour in my mouth. Gareth had chocolate and stractiatelli.

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Gareth thinks Jesus is cool.

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Back at the hotel we quickly changed in to smarter attire before hopping back on the Metro in search of dinner. In Rome there are two lines A and B – we quickly established which lines we needed to take to get where (or rather, Gareth did) and it was simple enough to get around.
We headed to the Trevi Fountain because we had wanted to see it and we had heard there were a lot of restaurants around it. By the time we got there it was dark. The fountain was much larger and more beautiful than I could have anticipated. The water was aqua and highlighted with spot lights that reflected and sparkled on its surface. The fountain was bustling with activity. Tourists stopping to take photos of the enchanting scene, street vendors selling selfie sticks and Italians having a quick kiss by the water.

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We ate nearby in a pretty restaurant that was covered in ivy with twinkling fairy lights poking out from between the lush green folliage. Inside the walls were lined with tempting bottles of wine and the atmosphere felt relaxed and happy. The tinkling of glasses, scraping of cutlery against plates and the gentle murmur of Italian accents made the place feel welcoming. Our service was wonderful and we were recommended a strong red wine which we sank half of as we hungrily made our way through the basket of fresh breads. We both ordered lasagna and I can say with confidence it was the nicest meal I have ever eaten in a restaurant before. Beautifully rich and creamy, every bite of the lasagna was like a slice of heaven that left me wanting more.

After our meal we wandered through the city and came across a bar called Pepy’s. There we ordered Italian Iced Tea (just like a Long Island Ice Tea but with amaretto.) At night the street sellers come out in force and try to sell you all manner of rubbish from collapsible baskets, to hunks of goo and laser pens. Sitting outside the bar we were constantly swatting away the sellers like flies, although one managed to coerce one euro out of us for two African bracelets.

By the time we curled up in bed much later that night we had walked 15 miles.

Attracting garden birds

When I was younger my mum and dad used to leave stale bread out in the garden for the birds. I would sit on the step of the back door and watch the sparrows and blackbirds with fascination – sharp beaks and shiny feathers rooting around in the grass for a feast. When my mum got cats we didn’t leave out anymore bread, and we didn’t see anymore birds.

A garden has always been an important specification for me when looking at potential homes to rent. When we moved to East London the flat we rented had the smallest of concrete patches with a tiny unusable shed and a huge towering tree that blocked out all of the sunlight – but it was a garden. A garden in London no less. So we rented that flat and I set out to entice the birds in.

I bought a feeder, and a bird box and I left out a tiny china plate with mealworms on – all to bring the birds in. They never came despite my attention and best efforts. Ironically I never saw a single bird in our garden – not until a week before we left when I saw a lone blue tit singing high up in that wretched tree.

Moving to Essex a garden was still a must. We got one, albeit a very small one. And once again, the birds were on my mind. This time I was determined to bring them in… and I was successful!

After a great deal of  research I learned some important things that I’d like to share with anyone who is looking to bring some feathered friends in to the garden.

  1. Different birds like different foods. Buying one type of seed and hanging it in a feeder will not attract different kinds of birds – it might not even attract one kind. It’s important to buy different feeders and supply different feeds. I now have seeds, sunflower hearts, fatballs and peanut granules. The blue tits and great tits love the peanut granules and a rather fat robin seems to have made his way through four fatballs with minimal help from the blackbirds. We got our feeder from B&M for a bargainous £8! B&M is also really great for bird food and does some great deals on feeder/seed combos. Wilkos is another shop I’d recommend if you want to cut down the cost of feeding wild birds.
  2. Water is key. Right now I have a little dish that I fill with water – it sits on the bird feeder and is there to provide fresh drinking water or a little bath to birds who may require it. Eventually I’m hoping to get a birdbath as I have read that they help the process along even more so.
  3. Shrubs / greenery is a must. My garden overlooks another which is a little awkward. But the garden it overlooks is filled with bushes and trees and things that can provide cover for birds who need to dart. During the summer I will be looking to plant some bushes of my own. I am hoping to attract goldfinches – I have read they are fans of teasel.

Baring these things in mind we have been able to attract a few different types of birds to the garden – even some I can’t identify! Below are some photographs I have taken of just some of the sweet birds that frequent our garden. Please note, these photographs were taken through a glass door and as such are not in pin sharp focus!

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We purchased this feeder station from B&M. The coconut fat ball and feeders/seed came separately but were reasonably priced.

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Etsy review – Charming Creatures

Disclaimer: I have not been paid or gifted anything in return for this post. I’m a big supporter of handmade and I’m writing this to share with the world one of my favourite Etsy shops.

Please note: this post contains affiliate links.

You can visit the shop here

I have been shopping with Etsy for a few years now. I am a firm believer that handmade is best – the quality of a handmade item is just far superior than that of a mass manufactured one and I really like the idea of owning something unique and tailored to suit my tastes.

I first came across the Charming Creatures shop when looking for a zebra finch necklace. Unsurprisingly I wasn’t overwhelmed by the scarce options available to me. But my search did pull up one thing – a link to a little handmade clay pet bird necklace.

I contacted Emily (the mastermind behind the clay creations) about getting my little zebra finch Cheeks immortalised in clay. I sent her a couple of photographs of Cheeks and paid the (small) fee. At every step of the process I was kept updated – I was sent photographs of the clay shape, and then of the painting. This part of the service is just one of the many things that sets Charming Creatures apart from other Etsy shops I have visited (and I believe it deserves a mention.)

When clay Cheeks arrived in the post the packaging was absolutely wonderful and very secure. The actual necklace itself was beautiful-well made, well painted – and Emily managed to capture the likeness of my sweet little bird perfectly. The necklace exceeded all of my expectations.

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Clay necklace of Cheeks
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Actual Cheeks (and little Biscuit)

Some time after this I saw Charming Creatures was having a competition over on Instagram. Of course, after receiving such a beautiful piece I definitely wanted to own more. The competition was to post a photograph of your pet and write a few sentences about him/her – the prize was to be a little clay sculpture of said pet. I posted a picture of Muffin, explained why he was special and waited.

I couldn’t believe it when I won! I have never won anything in my life and was so excited to win such a fantastic competition.

Clay Muffin arrived in the post today (yay for a happy post day!) and I was blown away by how special he is.

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Clay sculpture of Muffin by Charming Creatures

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Muffin

Once again the packaging was fantastic – a small little box with ribbon and wrapped felt to enable clay Muffin to arrive minus any damages. The sculpture itself is stunning – and once again the likeness has truly been captured (most especially around his eyes.)

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Size difference between a custom pet sculpture and a necklace

The great thing about Charming Creatures work is the attention to detail. I have painted clay before and it’s not the easiest of things to do – yet these beautiful sculptures have so much precise detailing and really do look lifelike. I can only imagine a whole lot of love goes in to them. They are also really sturdy and although I am very careful I imagine them to be quite hardy.

Charming Creatures doesn’t just create birds, so if you’re looking to get your pet immortalised in clay, whether it be a feathered friend or a four-legged friend this shop is for you. I can imagine also that these would make fantastic and incredibly thoughtful gifts for those that you love -I would be delighted to receive one! Here are some examples of the charming clay creations (photos taken from the Charming Creatures website.)

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Wonderful Goldfinch trinket bowls – I have my eye on these!
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Pet sculptures. Charming Creatures doesn’t just create feathered friends.
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Custom cake toppers – custom is key.

Do you have a favourite Etsy shop? Please share in the comments below so I can check it out!

 

Birds of Thorndon

Some photographs I snapped of birds in Thorndon Country Park.

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A very blurry pic – of a chaffinch we saw. This was the only snap I managed to get!

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Thorndon Country Park

It was a grey weekday- and as we rolled through the car park, gravel crunching satisfyingly beneath the wheels of our car, I noticed that Thorndon country park was just as busy as it had been the weekend before. I wondered to myself if it was always as busy, or if everyone was there out of guilt from overindulging over the festive period.

We parked the car and stepped out in to the chilly air. This time we came prepared. Instead of flimsy trainers and battered chelsea boots, we were clad in (definitely not cringe-inducing) matching black wellies. I delighted in striding purposely through the murky puddles and to my favourite bird-snapping spot just outside the cosy little shop that sells hot chocolates and pin badges.

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As I did last time, I stood frozen to the spot just by the bird feeders. At first I watched the blue tits and great tits squabble over the best places to peck at the peanut granules, but then unable to resit I grabbed my camera and took some photographs. I stood there for a long time, my fingers growing numb and tingly with cold, my nose positively glowing. This time I managed to capture some of the beautiful blue tits I love so much – darting around in that frantic manner they adopt when you stand just a little too close, fighting off bigger birds to defend their territory. I took a lot of photos of the birds – not wanting to spam this post (too much) I have created another just for the birds (so go check it out.)

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Determined not to miss out on the rest of Thorndon like the last time however, I eventually managed to tear myself away from the feeders and take the muddied path in to the woods. The first thing that struck me about Thorndon was the beauty of it. The paths although slippery and littered with an obstacle course of branches and puddles were wide and open – allowing the woods to feel safe and well-traversed. That said the trees and shrubs were magnificent in size and gave the feel of wilderness. I’m not sure how a place can feel so open and familiar yet leave you with the impression that you could get lost for days, but somehow that’s the feeling it imparted on me.

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For those that haven’t visited before, the woods have a very popular Gruffalo trail for younger children. I often saw wooden sculptures with small children clinging to them, grinning gleefully at the cameras their parents clutched. Thorndon is a great place to take children if you have them. Even if you don’t, (like me) it’s still a wonderful place to take a walk.

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We walked for a long time, following signposts for squirrel and bird trails, stopping every now and then to listen to the bird calls, or to take a photograph of something beautiful and wild. The woods were thriving with squirrels that bounded playfully from treetop to treetop – and I must have counted at least six robins singing their distinctive song. I was surprised to see so many. Along our way we also saw a chaffinch, a bullfinch, nuthatch, multiple tits and a tiny green bird that we couldn’t identify from our position down on the ground.

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Throughout the woods there are clearings. Some spaces created with benches to eat at and gates to keep dogs from bounding in. One clearing we came across did not have these gates or benches but the ground was soft and mossy and damp with raindrops. Small ponds had formed in places and reeds had gathered around them. The thing that struck us most about this clearing was the beautiful smell in the air – like incense curling in the sky and snaking its way up our nostrils. Of course it wasn’t incense at all. It was the smell of wood smoke combined with the dewy grasses and trees. I wish I could have bottled up the scent and taken it home with me – it was very enchanting.

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As we rambled further in to the woods we eventually found ourselves off the beaten path. We began to realise that we hadn’t seen or said a cheery good morning to a stranger in at least 20 minutes and no bright-eyed dogs were in sight. The bushes and brambles became thicker, wild and tangeled…much less manicured than they had been when they framed the paths we had taken earlier. We came to realise that we were completely lost. How funny that we could even find ourselves lost and unable to find our way back in such a relatively small space (500 acres.) Using my partners GPS we managed to find our way back through the woods and to the cabin where we drank lemonade and poured over the photographs I had taken.

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I haven’t visited Thorndon in the summer but I imagine it is just as (if not more) beautiful during that season. I am looking forward to exploring even more of the green spaces that surround me but for now, Thorndon is my favourite.

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Top tips for taking care of yourself this month

As I enter the new year heavier around the stomach and lighter in the pocket I can’t help but experience those post-Christmas January blues. Christmas has been and gone, the festivities are over and the time for washing every meal down with a creamy snowball and a fistful of Quality Street has passed. Getting in to the swing of working and not laying in bed until noon is difficult and walking to work with my cheese, biscuit and sugar-clogged arteries is nothing short of an exhausting chore.

If this is all sounding familiar then rest-assured, you are not alone. It is universally acknowledged that January is a horrid month; the fact it exists is downright offensive to all. Joking aside, January can be a real struggle to get through. Here are my top tips for taking care of yourself this month.

Take a mental health day

Maybe you spent the festive season slumped on the couch in a mince-pie induced coma despondently watching Eastenders, or maybe you spent it ferrying between friends and family and fitting in as much as you could. Whatever you did, it probably wasn’t as relaxing as you had anticipated. Whilst it’s nice spending time with loved ones it can be exhausting. All those parties and special events to attend are fun but can leave you feeling wiped. Not to mention a month of eating horrific processed food and drowning in booze – it can all take its toll. For me Christmas is always a fun time. I love seeing my family and hitting the boxing day sales gives me a buzz – but it’s not relaxing. Even so, getting back in to the swing of work can be really difficult after taking some time away. If you find it’s all a bit too much, take some time back to recover. January is a good time to take some leftover holiday or pull a sickie for the sake of your mental health. Use your day to take a refreshing walk in the woods or to catch up on some much needed sleep. Just as long as you’re not skiving left right and centre you should be fine.

Treat yourself

This might sound a little odd after you’ve probably been spoilt rotten by friends and family at Christmas. But I think it’s always nice to give yourself a tiny treat to perk yourself up when you’re feeling sad. So maybe you’re on a strict diet or detox to get rid of that festive flab – but it won’t hurt to have a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit once in a blue moon. Or maybe you fancy a new book to get stuck in to. You don’t need to overdo it especially if you’ve overspent this month – one small gesture of kindness to yourself can really lift your mood. Be selfish, you just spent your hard-earned wages on friends and family, now it’s time to treat yourself.

Get organised

A new year – a new you…or maybe not. January is a month of change though and people often use it as a platform for motivation. Whether you want a new job, lifestyle or partner or want to stay in your cosy little rut, getting organised can help keep you on track. My aunt recently suggested I buy a planner as she swears by hers and I’ve been on the hunt ever since. As a serial list-maker I find it’s really conducive to put thoughts/dates/aspirations down on paper so I can free my mind up to think of other things. Everything is a bit wobbly in January, a diary or planner can really help you to keep track of those all-important goals you might otherwise conveniently forget.

Take time for yourself.

When you feel sad it’s important to make sure you’re talking to and spending time with friends and family. These people are best-placed to cheer you up however it’s also good to have some alone-time. Sometimes we can become overwhelmed with all the plans we’ve made and all the people we have to fit in to our already tight schedules. If you’re feeling like you need some space to just relax, cancel your plans and have a night in in front of the telly. As long as you don’t isolate yourself or become a social hermit, it’s perfectly fine to have and want time to yourself. Friends and family are sure to understand, don’t forget – they are probably longing for a rest as well.

Be kind

Don’t forget to do everything with kindness. Other people are sure to be suffering this month too. A little bit of consideration can go a long way.

How do you improve your mood when you’re in a funk?

 

Thorndon and the robin

As I poured myself a cold glass of water to drown my vague new years hangover with, I noticed a tiny Robin Redbreast out of the kitchen window. For a while he sat perched on our fence, his head cocked and looking inquisitive. Before long he’d moved to the fat ball feeder to peck away happily at the food we’d left out for him.

I decided then that today would be the day I used my new zoom lens to capture some birds with. I bought the Sigma 70-300mm lens for my Nikon last week for the express purpose of bird photography.

I must have sat by our living room patio windows for over an hour as my hands began to grow cold and numb. Eventually I got some shots of the birds that visited our garden – including the little robin. These shots are through a glass door, so they are not pin-sharp perfect.

 

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A while later my very understanding boyfriend realised my need to go out, get some fresh air and snap some birds in the wild. Full of eager excitement (all mine) we set off for Thorndon Country Park. I had never been there before and was quite excited to explore. Whilst we did look around I probably spent at least an hour at the bird feeders snapping away at the great tits, blue tits and robins – I was truly in my element. My boyfriend was incredibly patient despite the fact I would continuously apologise for “being annoying”, pull a face and then continue snapping away at the birds! Eventually we took a walk through the woods but the rain came and we hobbled back to the car with frozen fingers and muddy shoes. For this reason I won’t yet describe this beautiful country park – however, I will re-visit so a post is sure to follow.

The following photographs were taken at Thorndon Country Park with my Sigma lens. Again, these aren’t all in pin-sharp focus. I am still an amateur getting used to my camera (despite the two year photography course) and getting sharp images of birds is hard. Firstly because they are so small, and secondly because they move around a lot!

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I saw about two or three robins at Thorndon which surprised me as I know they are territorial creatures. This one was very beautiful and even posed for a photo!

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The above is the only shot I got of a blue tit. Blue tits are my favourite birds and smaller than the great tits shot above. It was hard to capture but very beautiful to watch.

All in all I had a wonderful day and I’m quite happy with the shots and new lens! Watch out for more bird photography.

Goodbye 2015, hello 2016!

As 2015 comes to a close, I thought I’d write a little reflection post about the kind of year I’ve had and finish with a few goals for 2016.

It has been a busy year to say the least, but also the best year of my life. For me this year was all about adventures and growing as a person – improving myself and my life and really just doing the things I want to do. After a tough few years, this was really important to me. I can’t say the entire year has been perfect. There have most definitely been some very personal and ongoing struggles; but for the most part, this year has been good to me.

I started out 2015 as I start any new year – with lots and lots of lists. The first was a list of new years resolutions. These were:

  • Sort out my health problems
  • Advance in my career
  • Write more/publish more
  • Read more
  • Finish dissertation and graduate
  • Learn to drive
  • Try to eat healthier
  • Try to eat less/smaller portions

Of these goals I made steps to sorting out my health problems and although there’s still some way to go, I am hopeful I will get there. I advanced in my career, I wrote less (giving up my freelancing position) but then I started this blog so will be writing more. I finished my dissertation and graduated (yay!), I have started to eat healthier and less and so far I’ve lost 9 pounds through that. Overall I’d call that a success. The goals that weren’t fulfilled this year are naturally being carried over in to 2016. As far as the reading is concerned, I’ve already bought a book ready to get stuck in to and learning to drive is a big priority of mine.

My bucket list was also updated and I managed to tick off a large chunk of it (but this list is far too long to publish here)

However, from that bucket list, this year I managed to set up a blog (obviously), take pottery classes, take knitting classes and learn to knit, knit my own scarf, go strawberry picking in a field, get my thighs tattooed and a cactus tattoo, write my dissertation and graduate, take up a hobby, start a collection, visit Paris, have my first proper holiday abroad, go to a London show and take the Jack the Ripper walk in London.

If it sounds like a busy year, that’s because it was. Perhaps the busiest year I’ve ever had. I managed to squeeze a lot in to it. My personal highlights were collecting all of my lovely finches which have changed my life indescribably for the better, moving house twice with my boyfriend, exploring the Catacombes of Paris and seeing the Eiffel tower, exploring different caves in Spain, swimming in our private pool under the stars and watching a concert on a lake at the Caves of Drach, holding and flying owls and a harris hawk on a bird experience day at Eagle Heights, holidays at the caravan in Dorset and all of the many wonderful adventures we had there (including the less wonderful getting stuck in sinking mud in the New Forest) and so much more.

I also created a list of things I definitely wanted to do and experience this year (my adventure list.) Of that list I did the following:

  • Visit the British Wildlife Centre
  • Visit Dennis Sever’s House
  • Highgate Cemetery
  • Birdworld
  • Chistlehurst caves in Kent
  • Theatre (we saw Bend it Like Beckham and it was wonderful)
  • London Zoo
  • Car bootsale
  • Picnic in a London park
  • BBQ
  • Strawberry field picking

Of that list there are a few things I missed out on and will be pursuing in 2016 – Kew gardens being a big one for me as I have wanted to go for years. I think there will be a couple of revisits to the above also as some of the days out were really amazing and I’d like to record them properly here.

It feels like it has been a very special year and I personally feel very blessed and lucky – especially to have spent it all with my partner in crime.

So what does 2016 have in store for me? If it is even a fraction as good as 2015 I will be a very happy woman.  I have already got a list packed full of things I hope to do and achieve. My new years resolution list is somewhat shorter and perhaps simpler this year though:

  • Read more
  • Be kinder
  • Keep doing more of what I love
  • Learn to drive
  • Get down to X stone. (my goal weight.)

I think I will get there and I’m certainly excited for the journey! Writing out goals is a big thing for me because it forces to recognise all of my achievements and reflect back on happy times.

How has your year been, and what are your goals for 2016?