A tomato for every day of the week… almost!

That beautiful season summer!

Filled was the air with dreamy and magical light;

and the landscape

Lay as if new created in all freshness of childhood.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As a way to encourage the girls into the garden and help water the plants, my husband painted the green house with a playful Tomato Time logo. He added a character, from the rather peculiar animation Adventure Time, that both my children love. Marceline the vamp queen can be seen biting into a tomato. Although he probably enjoyed painting more than planting! I am quite impressed however, as six varieties of tomatoes all grown from seed are thriving. The girls proudly showed me round and Dean named the different varieties as, Money Makers, Red Pear, Aisa Craig, Iloi, Alicante, and Tigeralla. There was also talk of natural insect and slug repellents. Therefore basil plants have been grown alongside the tomatoes to deter the insects and the floor of the greenhouse has been sprinkled with baking soda and kept as dry as possible to ward off those pesky, ever hungry slugs.

Hedgehog Hotel

Yay!!! Finally our beloved garden visitors will have a safe little hut to sleep and take refuge in during the winter months. Dean and the girls built this little hut below. It still needs a tunnel positioned at the entrance so that predators won’t be able to get at our endangered spiky friends.

For us the month of July has been busy. Thanks to the easing of lockdown restrictions we have been able to visit some other family members and celebrate birthdays and graduations. We have also been out and about a lot more and even though my mum is quite frail, it has been a refreshing change for her to have a drive in the countryside followed by a picnic. In addition to visiting beautiful Exmoor and Dartmoor I have been walking closer to home and enjoying the local Grand Western Canal and Knightshayes Impey woodlands. Both of which offer a much needed daily fix of fresh air and immersion of nature.

I am still in the process of learning to identify these beautiful flying insects so please do feel free to correct me in the comments below if I have named any of the above wrongly. We have also noticed on our walks Peacock butterflies, Painted Ladies, and Commas.

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.

Maya Angelou

Summer Solstice

The longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. Where did that go, I’m wondering. We pitched a tent in the garden yesterday for the girls to get some outdoor time. I have to admit I’ve become quite sloth-like lately which has had its pros and cons. We have been neglecting our countryside walks and instead for the past couple of weeks been cooped up indoors with books, online exams, and movies. I have avoided for the most part watching the news. We live in extremely tumultuous times. I can’t bear our conservative government with their smug propaganda and lies, they make me sick.

I have been inspired though by the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests that have been rippling over the world recently after the murder of George Floyd. A black man killed by a policeman in America. The protests make me hopeful that change is coming. We will have to fight for an egalitarian and anti-racist society. I believe the curriculum at schools could do with a massive shake up. Children deserve an education about colonialism from multiple perspectives and not just the Eurocentric perspective of old. We can’t move forward until there is acknowledgment about our ancestors part in slavery. It would require great sensitivity from teachers who would also have to reflect on their own prejudices too. Guilt is a tricky emotion that could conceivably hinder action. An opening up of dialogues and working through difficult emotions would be vital, so that students and teachers alike were not left stranded with destructive feelings and frustration.

My own knowledge and education is limited. During my time at school we were certainly given a Eurocentric version of history, where explorers like, Captain Cook, Francis Drake and Christopher Columbus were portrayed as benevolent brave men who brought civilisation and economic development to ‘uneducated’ natives. Instead of, genocidal, land grabbers, who exploited the natural resources of the land and enslaved people. Here is a link to just a few of the atrocities carried out by The British Empire. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/worst-atrocities-british-empire-amritsar-boer-war-concentration-camp-mau-mau-a6821756.html

For my part I have made a start on my own education by reading some books written by black British women, who’s voices we don’t hear enough of in the UK. I have bought a few books for my girls that briefly outline Rosa Parks and the influence she had on the Civil Rights Movement in the US. and another that tells the story of a refugee.

Please share with me your thoughts on the issues raised here. I’d love to hear about books you have read that have influenced your opinions too. In particular any suggestions of children’s books that will broaden the minds of my girls.

Medicinal Foraging and Stargazing

The month of May in our neck of the woods, has been a delight this year. Our walks on the canal were enhanced by a friend’s suggestion to check out a medicinal foraging group http://www.mind-body-medical.co.uk/ she thought we would enjoy. We started by collecting cleavers and nettles. instead of making it into an alcohol based tincture we opted for a cheaper and more child friendly cold infused tonic.

Once a few stinging nettles were picked and a huge amount of sticky willows (cleavers are fun after all) we washed our little harvested weeds thoroughly. We shoved a couple of handfuls of each into a carafe topped with a slice of lemon for good luck. Finally we filled the carafe with filtered water and covered it and put it in the fridge overnight.

The next day we all tried an espresso cup of our cold infused tonic. The girls sipped it cautiously and were not hugely impressed by the flavour. Never mind they loved the gathering process. It tasted a bit like lemony spinach and made my tongue tingle slightly. I quite enjoyed it!

Towards the end of the month and during the half term week my husband had some time off work and was able to devote some evenings to stargazing. The girls were thrilled by this and I heard all about their sightings the next day. They used a Skylux 70 and tripod to spot constellations like the Ursa Major/the Great Bear or as I like to call it the pot. Apparently they saw 53 satellites, a few shooting stars, the International Space Station and a fair amount of space junk. They also captured this shot of the first quarter of the moon phase.

How has the month of May been for you? Have you been able to access the countryside safely for a few walks? Have you done any foraging? Any stargazing?

Ee by gum! Love a duck!

A poorly written diatribe

I had set myself some goals at the beginning of the year with regards to writing my blog and reading. As sometimes happens with me, I started enthusiastically by writing a few nice little pieces and was happily reading some nature books too. Theses included Roger Deakin’s, Notes from Walnut Tree Farm and The Wild Places, by Robert MacFarlane. Both beautifully written and inspiring.

My aim was to complete at least one post on this blog a month and to read one book a week. Then we were battered by a succession of storms in the West Country for what felt like the entire month of February. Starting with Ciara and followed by the menace Dennis. Finally Jorge hit whilst we were still beginning to get our heads round the novel Coronavirus. This resulted in a dampening effect on my mood which I found hard to shake off.

During the first two weeks of March I watched the news obsessively. By Monday 16th, I was so frustrated by our government’s sloth like reaction to Covid 19 that I decided to deregister my children from their schools; much to the annoyance of my husband, which is a story in itself! I wasn’t prepared to play Russian Roulette with my family’s health, let alone their lives. I found little comfort in the patronizing, placating, assurances that were being spouted from an advantaged private school boy and his chums. Full of blustering bravado (remember the hand shaking in hospitals) and clearly, despite saying otherwise, was not following “The best scientific advice, at the right time” but was in fact drunk on his illusion of power and control and managed by Dom Cummings. Not to mention this government’s acquisition of PPE! I could continue but I feel my mental wellbeing slipping and would prefer to make a start on what I am truly grateful for instead.

My family, who are all at home. My two girls, who are (for the most part) enjoying setting their own goals for learning and having some projects set by me and some by their schools’ websites. My mum, who is keeping as well as possible by not going out and therefore eliminating her contact with people outside her own household. This is especially important for her because of her age and her underlying health issues. My husband, who has continued to work long night shifts as a key worker and is bringing home the bacon (ahem bagels). Our location, we live in rural Devon and not only are we fortunate enough to have a garden we are also able to access the countryside by walking from home. This has been crucial for our physical and mental health and is a part of our daily routine that we all look forward to. It has been a blessing and a comfort to have friends and other family members in touch via email, phone and social media. The NHS and a host of other essential and key workers, all of whom risk their health and lives everyday for the rest of us. Thank you.

How are all of you coping? What are you grateful for during these strange times?

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.

DSCN5764
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.

DSCN5782
Alice was very happy with her spinning windmill.