A feast for the senses (Part 1).

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Sight: Sensory bottles are great fun..They are essentially baby and toddler friendly snow globes. I have only become acquainted with them since having children, but I think more adults need them in their lives too. All you need is an empty plastic bottle, a lid, some interesting items (shiny is good, glitter is better) and water. Today we made a ‘wildflower’ version containing Herb Robert, Daisy, Buttercup, Cow Parsley, Clover, Fuchsia and Rose petals. You can hot glue the lid in place if you are worried about little fingers prising it off. I tend not to but they are only played with under supervision.The bottle is very hypnotic to watch, and quite soothing. JoJo was instantly mesmerised.Tip the bottle upside down and the flowers dance their way to the surface. Whirl it gently and a mini tornado spins them to the top, a confused riot of colour.Hours of entertainment, and that’s just for me!DSC_0046.JPG

Touch: After dinner we went out in the garden without shoes. There is something very grounding (pun intended) about walking barefoot over the earth. Taking shoes and socks off always makes me feel more connected with Nature. I tend to go barefoot alot at home, if it is really muddy I  wear flip flops. At the moment JoJo isn’t in need of shoes as she is still in baby slug mode. C wears wellies outdoors so it was a novel experience for her to be allowed out without anything on her feet. The newly mown lawn was stubbly and tickled our feet. I could feel rough earth underneath, the odd sharp stone pricking at my foot. C liked scrunching her toes into the grass.

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Sensory nature box for babies and toddlers: Pine cones, rose petals, Jackdaw and Swan feather, Magnolia leaf, Cow parsley, Fern, Snail shell.

 

We also created a sensory box. Over the past couple of weeks I have been picking up bits and pieces that I thought were suitable. To make it in the box the items must be ‘interesting’ in terms of texture, shape, colour or smell. Above all they must be safe if they accidentally find their way into little inquisitive mouths. C enjoyed pulling things out, naming them, describing textures and colours. JoJo preferred to spend her time pulling up the grass! The box has been put on the new ‘nature table’ in the kitchen, next to Nigel and Steve’s wormery. The girls can explore it whenever they want, and we plan on adding new finds too.

 

 

 

Day 15- #2minutebeachclean

DSC_0013Do you ever have days when it seems like the sea is calling to you? Sometimes I can feel the waves pulling me to the beach. On days when my head is mush and the darkness is creeping in I find the crash of surf on the shore incredibly calming. I will go in rain, wind, sun, even at night, if I feel the need to. The ability to drop everything and head to the beach has become harder with two small children in tow, but I still follow that feeling when I am able.

Today we had an hours gap in our schedule so I decided to answer the shorelines siren call. We headed off along the stretch of the A487 that curls around the coast between Haverfordwest and St. Davids.This is one of my favourite bits of road. It has some amazing views, my favourite being the descent to Newgale beach.

 

The tide was going out, exposing a wide strip of golden sand. Some paddle boarders were in the turquoise waters, along with a handful of surfers. Dog walkers  strolled along the beach with their furry charges cavorting and bounding around them. Newgale is the kind of place that absorbs people. There always seems to be plenty of room, no matter how full the car park is.

It isn’t the most accessible beach as it is bordered by a pebble bank. I left the buggy in the car and carried JoJo in her wrap, making the short journey to the sand alot easier.

Once on the sand I picked out a good spot and settled down to eat lunch. JoJo had other ideas .She promptly sprawled out and started shovelling sand into her mouth, pausing every now and then to sit up and grin and squeal with glee.

Whilst she was busy playing, I decided to do a 2 minute beach clean. On first glances, Newhall didn’t strike me as messy. Once I actively started looking it soon became clear that there was ALOT of man made waste lying in amongst the rocks, seaweed and sand.Without moving more than a few feet from where JoJo sat I managed to pick up enough litter to spell out the first words of my challenge. Most of it was pieces of polystyrene, fishing wire and bits of coloured plastic.

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We sat for a few minutes and soaked up the sunshine. I tried to be in the moment as much as possible, feeling the grains of sand slipping under my toes and listening to the gentle ebb and flow of the tide. Soon JoJo had had enough and it was time to move on. We headed on to pick up C. from nursery, bringing our ‘finds’ to recycle and dispose of appropriately.

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Day 11-Can you smell fox?

Sorry to disappoint, this blog is not about Vulpes vulpes.It is about flowers.I have mentioned my rudimentary wildflower identification skills before. My scant knowledge isn’t from lack of trying. I have lots of ‘fond’ childhood memories of asking my exasperated Mother for the nth time ‘what is this ?’, whilst holding up some sort of hedgerow plant between my grubby fingers. Despite being told what they were, usually prefaced with ‘how many times have I told you?’ it never seemed to stick. Seeing as I now have my own kids to exasperate me, I figured it was time to try and commit some names to memory.

Off I trundled to the ‘meadow patch’. Within minutes I had a handful of flowers and armed with my new bible , I settled down on the patio to figure out what they were.

Wild Flowers by Colour

The book is a treasure in itself. The illustrations are beautiful, and each drawing is accompanied by a short written description. Add in the fact that the plants are categorised by colour and I can see why Michael Palin dubbed it a book for ‘the curious non expert.’

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My modest collection contained

Pink specimens:

  • Herb Robert. This is possibly my favourite. The flowers are neat, pink and unassuming. The stalk is blushed red. The best bit is the smell, a woody, earthy, musky, unmistakeably foxy tang.
  • Red Campion. Tall stemmed with bilobed pink petals.
  • Shiny Crane’s bill. This looks alot like Herb Robert, but has red tinged leaves and lacks the foxy odour.

Blue specimen:

  • Speedwell. There are lots of types of Speedwell. Lots and lots. They all belong to the Figwort family. I scrutinised the various entries and settled upon mine being the ‘common field Speedwell’.

Yellow specimen

  • Buttercup. Again the book informed me that there are several types of buttercup. These are distinguishable by their petals, stems and fruit. Mine appeared to be most like the ‘Small flowered buttercup’

White specimen

  • Cow parsley. The only one I didn’t need to check. 1 out of 6 isn’t bad, right?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 10 – A clattering of Jackdaw

DSC_0592.JPGThis evening the sky above the farmhouse is peppered with Jackdaw. From my vantage point in the front garden  I estimate there to be over 100 individuals preparing to roost. I watch their black silhouettes wheeling and gliding over the Orchard before they finally settle in a stand of Sycamore.

There are 3 nest sites on the farmyard. Nest one, which has been used for the last 3 years, is in the eaves of the old Turkey Feathering Loft. This nest has chicks, although I don’t know how many. The adults are constantly popping through the gap under the tin roof to feed their hungry brood.

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I have tried sneaking a look inside the nest but to get close enough requires scaling a storage unit that was built decades ago, and I really don’t think it will hold my weight!

Nest two, used for the past 2 years is in a hollow in the trunk of an ancient sycamore by the front gate. This doesn’t have any chicks in, and I think it may only be used sporadically by last years chicks from nest one.

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Nest site 3 is new, and is located in another Sycamore tree hollow. It is exceptionally well camouflaged and virtually invisible from the ground. This nest too is full of hungry mouths, and an awful racket explodes from the tree at feeding time. This tends to draw the attention of other nearby Jackdaws, who subsequently flock to the tree.

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Jackdaw are probably my favourite member of the Corvidae, followed closely by Jays. They are the smallest of the Crow family and can be distinguished by their light blue eyes and silvery neck feathers. They strut when they walk, as if going along to the sound of their own personal Bee Gees soundtrack (Ah ah ah ah, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive). Being social birds they tend to roost together of an evening, often with crows or rooks, hence the large numbers gathering over our farm. The collective noun for a group of Jackdaw is either a ‘train’ or  a ‘clattering’. I much prefer the latter. It has a touch of onomatopoeia, conjuring up their harsh ‘jack-chak’ call .

 

 

 

 

Day 9 Rockpool

I managed to prise F away from the farm this evening. Anyone who is or knows a Dairy farmer will understand how difficult this can be. Farming is not a 9 to 5 job, it is a 24 hour 365 days of the year way of life. At the minute, with the price of milk being so low, this way of life is a hard slog and at times quite demoralising. Making time to get away, even for an hour or two is important. So in order to ‘kill two birds with one stone’ (strictly metaphorically) I decided we should go rockpooling for our 9th day of Wildness.DSC_0553

 

I made a picnic and got the car loaded up so all F had to do was shower and change once he had finished his evening chores. We headed for Poppit Sands, a beach in the North of the county. The beach forms the start (or end) point of the Pembrokeshire coastal path. The sun was still shining as we pulled up at the car park,  but a blanket of sea mist hung ominously just off the shore.

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The start of the picnic wasn’t particularly auspicious. C had fallen asleep on the journey and woken grumpy. She refused to eat anything except for the Mr Kipling cake slices I found at the bottom of the changing bag (individually wrapped-super handy). JoJo wanted to eat everything in sight-sand, pebbles, driftwood,she thought it was all perfectly  acceptable to teeth on. F refused to take his work boots off, and looked as natural on the beach as I imagine a white rhino would in the Antarctic.

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In an attempt to liven things up, I headed for the rockpools. C immediately perked up and started paddling about. She marvelled at the gelatinous sea anemones suckered to the rocks (Look Mummy, they are like Jelly babies) .We scooped up handfuls of Sea Lettuce, holding it up to look through it, like sheets of  acetate. Then we let it slide between our fingers back into the pool with a satisfying ‘plop’.DSC_0561

Laver, the key ingredient for Laverbread, lay draped over the rocks like a red-purple shawl. Fronds of Bladderwrack dangled into the clear pools, unsubmerged airbladder bursting like firecrackers if we accidentally stood on them.

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With all our ungainly splashing and Cs’s lack of patience, I didn’t think we would spot any fish. In a shallow pool that still held warmth from the hot afternoon I noticed some thin tracks snaking across the sand. I waded slowly through, and a flash of gold caught my eye. A small fish had darted under an overhanging rock, possibly a Goby. I tried to get C to come over for a closer look, but she lost her footing and landed with a splash.I braced myself for the inevitable wail, but it never came. Instead she giggled ‘ Mummy, i’m soaking! I need a new dress.’ By now, the mist had started to roll in , so we decided to head back to the car. Hopefully we will come back and finish our exploration another day.

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Day 7-The day Nigel & Steve moved in.

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I’m going down the garden to eat worms….

Let’s get it straight from the start, I don’t condone the consumption of Earthworms. Well, not by humans anyway. I just like the catchy little song, an ‘earworm’ (sorry) from primary school. If you don’t know it, you should look it up. I remember singing it with glee one morning to my girls, only to look across the table to see F with a look of abject horror on his face.He didn’t seem share my enthusiasm to get our angelic (who am I kidding)  little girls joining in with a song about snacking on earthworms.

Anyway, I think wormeries are a quintessential part of childhood.C made one at nursery when she was about 18 months old, but it was a disaster. The poor worms lasted a few days, despite our best efforts. This time would be different.DSC_0525.JPG

We followed the instructions from the Wildlife Trust, which worked really well. It was straight forward to make, and took about half an hour by the time we had assembled all the components. The worms, named Nigel and Steve by C, came from the log pile. We raided Granddad’s kitchen garden for some compost and the soil came from the meadow.

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I used an empty lemonade bottle , which cost about 17p when full of very tasty fizzy drink. C completed all the other steps on her own, not bad for a two year old. JoJo liked watching the worms wriggle about on my palm, flipping themselves about before I popped them on top of the leaf layer.They quickly disappeared, making their way down into the depths of the wormery.

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The wormery had pride of place in the new ‘nature’ corner of the kitchen. We’re looking forward to watching the distinct layers get churned together as the earthworms enjoy their temporary home.

Day 5- Bioblitz

 

Today was the last day of C’s half term, and most of it was spent trying to complete the garden ‘bioblitz survey’. I soon discovered that this was going to be a bit more complicated than I had thought. I should know by now that most things in life are, when you are accompanied by a teething baby and a toddler shaped Tasmanian devil.

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Our ‘bird banqueting hall’ in the midst of the nettle patch.

 

Our garden is a wild and messy jungle. Once upon a time, when F’s grandparents lived here it was a rather different affair. Tidy borders and meticulously pruned shrubs were the order of the day.Everything grew in its allotted place, and wild flowers were considered the enemy. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint) the house and garden then spent 12 years without a human occupant, and both became a bit forgotten. Now it is in my incapable hands. As I am really not a gardener (I have managed to kill cacti…)I haven’t done much to it. I really do prefer it the way it is at the moment, with Nature allowed free rein. No ‘rewilding’ necessary here!

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Red Admiral alights on thistle.

 

I started the list with the trees – not too many and something I was confident in identifying. The hedgerow that borders the garden has several mature specimens. There are 2 ash , a sycamore, hawthorn and oak. In the garden itself we have an immature oak tree, which has become part of the ‘bird banqueting hall’. We also have a lazy magnolia. Father in Law threatened to chop it down 3 years ago, but I spied a single flower so it had a reprieve. It has never produced a petal since!

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Wood louse explosion.

 

Next I went for a poke about in the log pile with C. Levering up a large sycamore stump sent woodlice and centipedes scuttling for cover. There were worms wriggling through the leaf litter, and two millipedes locked in an embrace. We also uncovered some leatherjackets and another larva of some sort. It was fascinating to watch: its head end looked a bit ‘Alien-esque’ with hooks protruding around what I presumed were mouthparts. It was surprisingly mobile, despite its stubby appendages, and soon wriggled free. C was mesmerised by the yellow and grey garden slugs we found, sliming and sliding under the bark at the base of the pile. A solitary black slug sat hunched under another log, with some wriggling nematodes as housemates.

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Unidentified larva

 

We moved on to the rock pile- formed from the debris of the chicken shed. We found a couple of garden snails, one yellow and one brown lipped snail.

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Brown lipped snail

 

By this time the sun was beating down on the garden, so we moved to the shade of the patio. Here we watched the ‘customers’ at our newly opened bee café. The favourite plant at the moment is the Centaurea, ‘Amethyst on Snow’.

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Bee customer

 

After a while I went to inspect ‘the meadow ‘. Red admiral, speckled woods and the odd orange tipped butterfly danced over the patch. Damselflies, both red and blue, flitted past  Various species of fly hummed about , occasionally alighting on the grass stems. I came across what I think is a lacewing resting on top of the log pile, and several moths skittered amongst the nettles.

By now C decided that she’d had enough, and headed inside to watch some CBeebies. JoJo had drifted off for a nap so I was free to indulge in some bird watching. Soon enough I spotted a great tit hanging off the feeders under the sycamore. Chaffinches bounced in the hawthorn, and a wren warbled from its perch on the oak. The jackdaws were feeding their brood, with one lookout at the top of the sycamore. A pair of collared doves raided the bird table, and a blackbird came to perch on the garden gate. Our new friendly little robin came to watch proceedings, perching on the corner of the house. Last of all, a shy dunnock hop hopped along the chicken shed, picking at bits of seed.

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This is our new pal.

 

After a  while, JoJo woke and it was time to adjourn for lunch. The flowers and plants would have to wait for today, as we had a long list of mundane chores to tackle.

Although we didn’t finish, the ‘bioblitz’ made me realise how little I really knew about my own back garden. It made me mindful of how I take the space for granted, and how much life is living alongside me.

Day 4 (Al)Luring

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Todays activity…moth trapping. I used to live in a very rural part of Ireland and remember moths covering our kitchen window at night if we turned the indoor lights on. I haven’t seen anything like that since living in Wales, and can’t actually remember the last time I saw a moth . This seemed like the perfect chance to become reacquainted.

I knew that there were essentially 3 options:

  1. Ready made light trap.
  2. Home made light trap.
  3. Sugar solution.
  4. Rotten fruit

The first option turned out to be a bit too expensive for my ‘surving-on-maternity-pay’ budget. Fear of electrocution or a power tool related trip to A & E crossed ‘home made’ light traps of my list of options. We already have a ‘butterfly snack bar’ out, with fruit gently decomposing , so that left option 3.

Sugar lures seemed the safest, cheapest method of seeing Moths. Apparently there are various different tried and tested ‘recipes’available . The common denominator amongst them seems to be sugar (well Duh!) and beer, fortunately both things I consider to be ‘store cupboard essentials’.

My chosen recipe used approximately 250ml of stout, 500g brown sugar and 3 tbsp syrup. Other alternatives are treacle, and dark molasses sugar is the bees (or rather moths)knees. You can also try adding a drop of rum or vanilla essence to the mixture to make it even more tantalising.

In case you fancy giving it a go, this is what I did:

  • Put ingredients in pan and bring to boil, stirring continuously.
  • allow to simmer for 5 minutes before removing from heat.
  • Allow to cool, stirring occasionally.
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Sugary stouty syrupy goodness…it smelled divine!

 

The site I found the recipe on suggested pouring the mix into a coffee jar when cool, but I decided to work with it whilst it was still warm. I took the pan outside and selected a few logs (with ready made ‘handles’) to adorn, as well as an old gatepost at the side of the house. It was quite good fun!

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Then it was time to wait. I’m not very good at being patient, so it was a good thing that I had the usual bedtime struggle with the baby and toddler to distract me.

I decided not to get my hopes up. This might not be a very lucky night, and I might not attract any moths at all. Apparently some nights are naturally better than others (low wind, warm and humid conditions) but sometimes no moths will appear even if the night is deemed ideal.

At 10.30 pm I couldn’t wait any longer. I grabbed a torch, and some red acetate to act as a filter (Moths are less affected by red light). Guess what? Not one moth on any of the sugar lures. 2 woodlice were enjoying a snack but that was it.

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I did spot a few moths flitting about over head. One alighted on the wall long enough to get a photo, but I haven’t been able to identify it yet. DSC_0427.JPG

I think this may be one to revisit and try out another recipe. I did enjoy being out after dark though, something I haven’t been able to do since having my children. As a student in Edinburgh I used to venture up Arthurs seat in the dark so I could look down on the city lights .When I first moved to Wales I often went for runs on the beach once the sun had gone down, relishing the alone time and the crashing waves, cold sand beneath my toes . As kids in Ireland we would play out in the summer until we couldn’t see the ground in front of us. We would take torches and go out to see the Sika deer that came to graze at night in our fields, or watch bats or barn owls. On one occasion my sister and I set our alarms for 2 am to get up and watch  a meteor shower. I don’t think I would have thought to go out at night again if it wasn’t for the 3o days wild challenge.

Day 3-Gone a hunting.

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_03Day 3 already, time is flying. This morning everyone was awake by 4.30am so this post should probably be about the dawn chorus I was privileged to hear thanks to my child shaped alarm clocks. It isn’t- mainly because I crawled back under the duvet and tried unsuccessfully to get a few more minutes sleep.

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Voila…a scavenger hunt fit for 30 Days Wild.

By 8.30 am everyone was dressed and fed. We had already read 3 million books (possibly an exaggeration), played with sensory toys and sung an awful lot of nursery rhymes. Time to head outside. Whilst C was putting her wellies on the wrong feet, I managed to draw up a scavenger hunt suitable for a toddler and baby. Considering I was using a gardening book as a ruler, I don’t think the result is too bad!

 

C managed to work out what she had to do, and raced off with her trusty collecting bucket. We had lots of fun figuring out where we might find things, and managed to tick off everything apart from butterflies. In hindsight it was probably a bit early for them.

 

First up were flowers…easy peasy! C chose some buttercups from the meadow patch .  Next were leaves…oak leaves to be specific, but my drawing wasn’t great! C knew they were leaves though, which was something!DSC_0373

We headed to the log pile to see if we could find some of the mini-beasts. With one flip of a log we ticked of millipede, woodlice and a worm. I was so incredibly proud of C- this is the first time she has held a worm. She has developed some sensory issues over the past year, and up until this point hasn’t wanted to touch ‘creepy crawlies’. Today felt like a break through. She gently picked the worm out of the palm of my hand and studied it carefully before breaking into song …”There’s a worm at the bottom of my garden….and its name is Wiggly Woo!” We were in fits of giggles.

DSC_0382She also found a snail shell, hidden in the moss on the chicken shed wall. I couldn’t see it at first, but C has amazing ability to pick out tiny details after just a quick glance at her surroundings.DSC_0387We also found an obliging Garden Spider, but it didn’t make it into the final picture! It seemed too content on its web so we left it be. Once the last item was ticked off, C skipped off across the garden, flapping her arms pretending to be an Owl. Game over for another day!

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Our scavenged items; Flowers, oak leaf, millipede, wood louse, pebble, feathers, stick, spider, butterfly, grass blade, worm and snail.