Imbolc

The Gaelic celebration for Spring or St Brigit’s Day (Bride in Scotland) was an important Pagan tradition. With the days getting longer and the very first signs of Spring emerging people would mark the 1st February with rituals such as making Brigit’s cross, picking snowdrops, lighting a fire, making a straw Brigit doll and lighting candles.

Last year I spent a week in Ireland and whilst driving along the stunning Ring of Kerry we stopped to take in the beautiful views. On the roadside a father and son were selling some reed crosses and I bought one. I had no idea at the time but it was a Brigit cross! I have it hanging on my bedroom wall as a lovely reminder of that trip.

To A Snowdrop – William Wordsworth (1819)

Lone flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they

But hardier far, once more I see thee bend

Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,

Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day,

Storms, sallying from mountain tops, waylay

The rising sun, and on the plains descend;

Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend

Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue eyed May

Shall soon behold this border thickly set

With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing

On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;

Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,

Chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring

And pensive monitor of fleeting years!

Faloula and Fuchsia

Over the past few months we have been visited by a pair of hen pheasants. Keen to encourage them back into the garden we would feed them each morning with wild bird seed bought from the local pet shop. The girls promptly named them Faloula and Fuchsia and have been delighted to see them each morning before heading off to school.

We did have a few days of nervousness just after Boxing Day when they didn’t visit us and I was concerned they had ended up on someones dining table or even worse just killed for sport. My husband, who’s a chef by trade amused himself by teasing me that they were looking quite plump and delicious and that we could eat them on New Years Day.

I’d not given much thought to hen pheasants, writing them off as boring, brown, brainless birds and not nearly as remarkable as their rather grand and colourful male counterparts. However, having spent some time with Faloula and Fuchsia, I have been surprised at our level of attachment to these plucky little game birds. We can tell them apart, thanks to their characteristics and one being a little darker and smaller than the other. Faloula is larger and has a paler plumage. She is also more confident and bold, being the first to run up to us excitedly in the morning. Fuchsia is smaller with a darker plumage. She is quite skittish in comparison, often seen running away rapidly when we move slightly too fast for her liking.

When I was 7 years old we lived in Banffshire Scotland and Mum would prepare pheasant for us to eat. I was accustomed to seeing the dead pheasants hang for a while and seeing Mum pluck and dress the birds ready to cook for our supper. Growing up eating meat didn’t bother me at all. Over the years of my adult life however I have had pangs of guilt at the unethical and often times cruel way some animals are treated before their unenviable demise. “But they’re bred for this, Morag!” would be Mum and Dad’s response when I became slightly squeamish as a child and occasionally shared my concerns with them. So for years and well through adult life, I’ve eaten meat and for the most part enjoyed it. Last April (2019) though, I watched the Netflix production of “Our Planet” narrated by David Attenborough and I saw the devastating consequences human’s have had on the earth. I watched in horror as Attenborough explained that we have entered into the Anthropocene generation where humanity has caused global warming, ocean acidification, deforestation and habitat destruction.

After watching that series I couldn’t in all consciousness carry on eating meat. I’m not a proper vegetarian though, as I still occasionally eat fish.

So my question is, why do we as a nation of animal lovers still continue to eat so much meat? Why do we disconnect what is on our dinner plate to the gorgeous frolicking lamb, or the beautiful brown eyed calf or the bright intelligent pig? We are a part of this magnificent planet and rely on it’s finite natural resources. Farming animals for our consumption has a huge impact on these resources.

What are your thoughts readers on this subject? I’d like to hear from you.

http://www.ourplanet.com

Old Apple Tree We Wassail Thee!

This January has been unseasonably mild but has not been without plenty of dull skies, gusty gales and heavy downpours. One way to motivate ourselves during this gloomy month is to celebrate by going to a local Wassail ceremony.

Different accounts are documented about how far back in our West country history this tradition goes. Pagan in origin Wassailing falls on the old twelfth night after Yule which is held on 17th January. Folklore suggests the King and Queen of the Wassail lead revellers through the streets of the community. Much merriment is had with singing, dancing, drinking mulled cider, ale or wine depending on the wealth of the particular region. The custom of banging on pots and pans followed by a finale of shooting blank rounds up in the air around the oldest apple tree in the orchard, was a way to ward off any nefarious spirits and wake up the trees from their winter sleep.

Was hael in Anglo-Saxon means good health and the appropriate response is drink hael. This is where a Wassailing bowl is passed around for everyone to share. The remaining remnants of roasted apples and spices are sprinkled around the trunk of the tree. The Wassail Queen then has the important role of placing pieces of toast on the branches of the tree. This is a symbolic gesture of welcoming abundance and a fruitful harvest during the year to come.

Homemade Hot Mulled Cider

We celebrated this year by making our own hot mulled cider and a hearty scrumpy sausage, lentil and apple casserole.

Lamb Inn Sandford Devon

This year we planned a trip to Sandford in Devon to go Wassailing. We arrived early with family and friends to soak up the atmosphere and have a warm mulled cider or hot chocolate at the Lamb Inn before the festivities started. It was the coldest night of the year so far! A beautiful clear and frosty night perfect for gathering together in the Millennium Green. Hosted by the local Scout group and Green Man who wore a stunning crown of holly, we watched the Morris dancers and listened to some history and traditional songs. The Wassail Queen had been chosen by being the lucky clove discoverer in her slice of spiced apple cake. We followed on behind her, the Green Man and the Morris dancers, some of which were lighting our way with fire torches through the streets to the apple orchard.

The Wassail Song

Old apple tree we wassail thee

And hope that thou shalt bear

For the Lord doth know

Where we shall be

Come apples another year.

For to bloom well

And to bear well so merry let us be

Let every man take off his hat

And shout out to the old apple tree.

Then we were encouraged to shout so loudly that Crediton and Exeter could hear us!

Old Apple tree, we wassail thee, And hoping thou will be. Hat fulls, cap fulls, three bushel bagfuls, A little heap under the stairs!

We had an exhilarating evening and it was a pleasure to take part in an ancient Anglo-Saxon ceremony. Thank you so much to the Sandford community for hosting this fabulous event!

https://www.sandfordorchards.co.uk/events/wassail-2020/

Save our Souls

On the 20th September my youngest daughter Alice and I prepared to join the Global Climate Strike. I had talked to both my girls about this the week before and wanted to give them the facts as I understood them so that they could make up their own minds as to whether to join the march on that day.

Megan was keen to come initially but decided against it as her friends weren’t able to join her. She also didn’t want to have an unauthorised absence on her record for the term. I respect her decision as I knew she felt quite torn right up until the morning of the strike. I had made it very clear to Alice that if she decided she did want to take the day off school to strike for climate justice then there would be sacrifice and consequences to pay. Sacrifice because this wasn’t going to be a cushy day off school playing Minecraft or watching TV. Consequences as I wasn’t sure how her school would react to the news that she was joining the strike.

Banner made and ready for the march
An impressive gathering of people in a small rural town in Devon

Alice wrote letters to her head teacher and class teacher explaining briefly why she wanted to join the march. She also created a narrative about her actions on the day. Finally she wanted to share her book, “The Lost Words” by Robert Macfarlane, which begs to be read aloud with captivating alliteration and acrostic poetry. Not forgetting the beautiful illustrations by Jackie Morris!

The following Monday I made sure I informed Alice’s class teacher that she had a letter for her to read about her experiences and why she wanted to join the strike on that day. Her teacher said, “Oh yes I noticed that was marked on the register.” Apart from that though, Alice said her teacher didn’t comment on her letter and didn’t offer her the opportunity to read the book she had brought along to class that week. The Head teacher thanked Alice for her letter as she was handed it that morning but made no further comment on it’s contents. Instead I was issued with a fact sheet from the head teacher explaining unauthorised absences and penalty notices. Not altogether surprising I suppose but considering the seriousness of the emergency we face you would hope that the school would at least acknowledge a student’s letter and discuss it further?

Extinction Rebellion Protests

The Autumn wave of protests in London have seen some truely brave and selfless actions from XR activists all around the UK. From climbing on top of a British Airways passenger aircraft at City Airport to blocking the entrance to the BBC headquarters and demanding they Tell the Truth about the climate and ecological emergency we face. Over the weekend we saw how protests had been targeting the financial area of the City. Highlighting that 33 banks financed fossil fuels with $1.9 trillion since the Paris Agreement with $600 billion funding aggressive fossil fuel expansion.

It would seem that XR has flustered them so much that The Met have announced new powers to ban all Extinction Rebellion activity in London. How can banning peaceful democratic protest ever be justified? Especially in a country that has a proud history of this.

Candles for Solidarity XR Exeter this wet and windy afternoon
Love and Rage

Master Tiggy-Winkle

“Bringing nature into the classroom can kindle a fascination and passion for the diversity of life on earth and can motivate a sense of responsibility to safeguard it” (David Attenborough, 2011).

About two weeks ago we had an unexpected visitor. This junior hedgehog appeared at our front door step. It was an unusually warm and sunny day and knowing that hedgehogs are nocturnal creatures I was a little concerned. I put on a pair of gardening gloves and gingerly picked up my spiky friend to take a closer look and see if I could find any obvious damage. Alice who was keen to help took some close up photos of the prickly ball and I posted them on my FB page asking for advice. I quickly received a phone number of a local vet who specialises in the rescue of these delightful animals. He recommended I take the hedgehog to the local vets which quite conveniently was just around the corner from our house.

The veterinary nurse, who very kindly opened up despite it being out of hours, meticulously combed off the fly eggs and ticks from the small animal. I explained how I had fed him some meaty cat food earlier and how active he was. After a final disinfectant spray I was able to take him back to our garden and placed him gently under the rosemary bush. I cautiously asked before leaving what the chances were of his survival. To my relief the vet nurse seemed hopeful. After seeing the little fellow grubbing around our garden snuffling out the slugs on our lawn with his adorable shrew like nose, I am optimistic that he survived despite not having seen him since!

There is a long term decline in the UK of hedgehogs. During the 1950’s it was estimated that there were 30 million roaming the British countryside whereas today approximately only a million are left. We are eager to help these much loved creatures and are researching how to make our garden hedgehog friendly for the upcoming winter months. Surprisingly no one garden is large enough for these petite mammals as they roam for up to 2km each night in search for grubs to sustain them during hibernation. Apparently making sure you have holes in your fences to allow the hogs to roam is vital. Our next project will be to make a hedgehog house. If you would like anymore information about these charming animals this site has been useful to us. http://www.hedgehogstreet.org

How to make a Paper Windmill

Alice has had her heart set on us making our own windmill/pinwheel for some time now. I’ve been putting it off thinking I would need to buy special materials to make it with but after a quick browse on the internet I realised how simple making one was. DSCN5761 DSCN5762 You will need Plain A4 sheet paper (or scrap book paper squares), Straw, Push pin, Ruler, Pencil, Scissors, Blue tac or glue. First you’ll need to make the A4 paper into a square by folding it diagonally across until the sides meet and then cutting the extra paper off.

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Once you’ve done that you have your square. Fold the square in half diagonally and then fold it again diagonally making a triangle. Open it up and mark the centre with the pencil. Then using your ruler draw four lines from each corner almost into the centre. Leave about 2cm gap from the centre. Cut along the lines.

DSCN5767 DSCN5770 Decorate both sides of the square to your hearts content.DSCN5772 DSCN5773 Add a small piece of blue tac to each corner. Fold each corner in turn up to the centre and push to stick (You can use glue instead of blue tac). Once you’ve done that take the push pin and push it first through the centre of the windmill and then attach that to the top of the straw.DSCN5800 DSCN5775 Very quick and easy! We went outside to test it out and it wasn’t windy enough. We used the fan inside to get the windmill spinning.

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Alice was very happy with her spinning windmill.

Autumn Leaves

“Come little leaves”

said the Wind one day,

“Come to the meadows with me 

and play. Put on your dresses

of red and gold; for summer is

past, and the days grow cold”

George Cooper

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Some beautiful fallen leaves gathered during our Sunday walk to the local park.

We had a very quiet weekend. There is something about autumn that just makes me want to curl up like a cat beside a log fire and sleep. When the days become short and nights get colder and longer there is a greater temptation to stay indoors with a good book and a cup of tea. The girls fortunately have other ideas. We meandered down the streets to a local park and explored some areas we had not seen before. There is quite a large selection of different birds in the park and Alice is particularly fond of the pukekos. Their long skinny legs and giant feet make watching them walk on dry land quite amusing. Megan is more fond of the black swans, elegantly swimming on the water. The geese with their snowy white feathers, sturdy thick necks and pushy attitude, always make me laugh. The girls enjoyed peering into the water in search of the eels and I had to remind them not to lean too far over the edge. After a go on the swings and merry-go-round we headed home. By the time we arrived back at our front door our pockets were bursting with leaves and Meg had dragged a large branch with her all the way back.

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Designing an under the sea landscape

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I had fun painting too!

Alice painting some leaves. We decided that they look like little fish and Alice gave them names.

Grumpy fish reminds me of a sad plaice. There was also Easter Egg fish, Sparkly Green fish, Spotty fish and Happy Pink Faced fish! DSCN5729 DSCN5746