Gwennol- A Swallows Song

“I am, I am, I am”

She cries,

As she skims over treetops and barns.

“I am

here,

After Six thousand miles,

At last!’

The staccato song of her travels,

A whirring, churring, chirping call

Traces her journey back

To these green pastures.

It tells of her flight,

From the arid scrub of South Africa,

Across shifting Namibian dunes.

Skirting the skeleton coast

She flew North.

She soared over the Zambizi,

Swept down to drink from the Congo’s water,

Twisted and flitted through crowded Brazzaville streets,

Then on,

Over Savannah

And dense rainforest,

Where Colobus calls echoed amongst the trees.

Before her the Sahara,

She crossed it,

in two hundred thousand wing beats,

To reach the Souks of Morroco.

The Straits of Gibraltar beckoned winged migrants on

To Europe.

A skipping flight through Spain and France,

She barrel rolled over the channel

To these familiar shores.

Along the way we called to her,

Pointing

At her tumbling, tearing flight.

We named her;

Inkonjani

Tififiliste

Hirondelle.

She is

Malenkama

Nyenga

Golondrina

Gwennol.

She is

Swallow

She is

All of these and none.

30 Days Wild 2017- Prologue

One day until our 30 Days Wild experience begins. Well, technically speaking there are only approximately 3 hours left of May, but I’m not planning on kicking off this years challenge with a dawn chorus walk or a spot of midnight moth trapping.

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It seems bizarre that an entire year has passed and we are planning on taking part again. Last year was my first year being involved in this month long challenge. It was a fantastic experience, spending a whole month immersing ourselves in nature. Looking back I’m not sure quite how I managed to squeeze in so many acts of wildness with the a 2 year old and a 7 month old in tow. We created a wormery to watched red kites soar above us, collected finds for a nature table, visited a bug farm, took part in a bioblitz, attempted to lure moths and even managed a beach clean with the baby ‘helping out’. The whole month passed by in a blur, and I can honestly say the experience left a lasting imprint on our lives. It helped me start along my road of recovery, away from depression ( a road with many potholes, dead ends and detours), which was one of my hopes in the run up to last years challenge. It reconnected me with writing, and my passion for the great outdoors which had somehow got lost under the everyday mantle of ‘being a mum’. As the challenge is self driven, I could dip in and out as much as I wanted. On ‘bad days’, when the ‘dementors’ were knocking on the door, we managed small nature based goals. On ‘good days’ anything goes. This year, the cloud of depression has lifted, only to be replaced by Partial Seizures. My newly acquired condition means I get tired easily and (worse still) can’t drive. I have done some ‘pre planning’, jotting down some ideas of things I would like to attempt, and I hope we can at least tick off a few.

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Participating in 30 Days wild also means you get to meet a lovely group of like minded individuals through the online 30 days wild community- on twitter and facebook. Seeing what others get up to daily, learning from each other, helping identify nature finds and sharing ideas on what to do next all adds to the fun.

I can’t wait to see what this years challenge brings. Reflecting on  the legacy left by last years experience was wonderful . It allowed me to see how much of a personal journey I had made over the month. If you feel like joining in this year there is still time to sign up here, and you can even nab yourself a free pack too (it has stickers, who doesn’t like free stickers?!).

 

 

 

Spring- blossoms and polygamy.

Spring has crept in under the cover of winter, kicking back the blanket of dark mornings and early dusks. Still, sunshine is a fickle beast; weak, and wan, glancing in and out of our days on the farm.  Yet, the garden is waking . Golden daffodils nod their heads in time to the trill of a blackbird perched on a hawthorn branch. A string  of pearl white snow drops trace along the side of the farmhouse , their delicate flower heads outlining long forgotten borders. Buds and new shoots burst up and out, ready for warmer days.

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Bird life on the patch is changing with the coming of Spring. The starlings have left, after a long winter vacation. Their absence is conspicuous. Peace reigns once more, and I do not miss the noisy, whirring, chattering din above our heads.

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The house sparrows have reappeared after their winter absence, and have set about tidying up last years nest sites. For the second year in a row a pair of sparrows have stolen the house martins nest. Calf hair from the sheds seems to be a popular choice of nesting material, and the females busily flit about gathering beakfulls of it.

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The bird feeders are a constant hive of activity, with blue tits, coal tits, chaffinches and robin being regulars at the ‘buffet’. Four or five blue tits on a feeder in one sitting is common, suggesting our garden provides for up to 20 of this species. A willow warbler has started to appear, shy and flighty, but his visits are infrequent. A pair of collared doves often come to perch side by side on the swing set, preening and cooing at each other. A dunnock, or Hedge sparrow, now comes to sift through the debris at the foot of the feeders. Last year a single pair frequented the garden, this year I have counted four on one occasion. They are busy, unassuming little birds, similar in size to the house sparrow but with a sleaker silhouette. The population expansion on our patch matches the general trend around the uk;  numbers are increasing, but the species remains on the Amber list. Their ‘plain jane’ appearance hides a rather quirky reproductive trait.  Dunnocks practice monogamy and polygamy. Depending on the territory available to them , their ‘mating’ relationships can be polygynous (one male, multiple females),  polyandrous (one female, multiple males) or even polygnandrous (multiples of both sexes). Quite a lot of nest hopping for such an unobtrusive bird.

Under 5’s at the National Museum of Cardiff

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If you happen to find yourself in Wales this summer and are looking for something toddler (and adult friendly) to do on a drizzly grey day, I can highly recommend a trip to the National Museum Cardiff. We went last month, just before the Schools broke up for Summer. It is a bit of a trek from the Farm, and I was slightly apprehensive at the thought of a 2 hour road trip with C and JoJo screaming in unison. Fortunately it turned out to be a super straight route and, despite gatecrashing some Graduation photos on the steps of the Museum (!) , we had a fantastic time.

Here are my top 5 reasons to visit:

1.Hands on exhibits

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I have been to a fair share of stuffy museums and exhibits , with and without small children in tow. I remember getting ‘politely’ asked to leave the Tate as a child when my brother accidentally waved his arm too close to a priceless painting. I hate it when I can feel the guards eyes boring a hole in my back if I lean in towards a cabinet, bearing a ‘Do not touch’ sign .

It gets worse when there are toddler shaped tornados following me. It is seriously no fun for anyone to spend the whole visit listening to me bark orders ‘Don’t touch that! ‘Don’t lick the cabinet!’ ‘Don’t climb on the Reliant Robin (yes, it did happen.)’ No. I am avoiding any museum or gallery that is not interactive, engaging and entrancing until my little ones are safely through the toddler years.

Fortunately the National Museum is very hands on and accepts sticky toddlers. We skipped the  floor which houses the art exhibitions .C was in ‘Whirling Dervish’mode , and when we got out of the lift on the top floor she made a bee line for a bronze statue, arms outstretched in preparation to climb. I managed to spin her back round into the lift, and we went to look at ‘Wriggle: the wonderful world of worms’ exhibit. DSC_1115__1470740494_22576

The centre piece of this amazing family friendly exhibit is the Wrigloo, which is essentially a giant wormery. It offers visitors a chance to experience a worms-eye-view on life, complete with predators watching your every move . JoJo and C thought it was great!

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C enjoyed dressing up as a caterpillar, but wasn’t keen on trying the ‘Scientist’ costume on!

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I managed to do some learning and exploring of my own whilst the girls checked out the worm related book corner.

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My favourite discovery was that the late Lemmy from Motorhead had a ‘late’ worm (a fossil) named after him.How very rock and roll. I have somehow managed to cut the model out of the photo (well done me), so I’ll leave it as a surprise for you to find out what Kalloprion Kilmisteri looks like!

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This exhibition runs until September 2016, so still plenty of time to check it out.

The Clore Discovery Centre, located on the ground floor to the left of the main entrance, is another wonderful family friendly area. I couldn’t get over the fact that we were free to explore the items on display here.

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Skulls, arrowheads, fossils, preserved insects ;things that are normally encased in glass, behind barriers or locked in storage vaults.

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It was really enlightening to be able to  handle them and even use a microscope to get a closer look.

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2.Toddler time

We discovered that this is on (during Term Time) completely by fluke. On every floor, tucked into a quiet corner were little ‘treasure chests’ stuffed full of toys, instruments and books.

Each box was themed to the relevant section of the museum. They seemed really popular, so much so that we had to circle the dinosaur section twice before we could get to the box!

The marine box had a fantastic selection of toys and books which occupied the girls for quite a while.

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We also had fun taking part in the play activities in the Clore Discovery Centre.There were lots of different musical instruments for the kids to try, with some supervision from staff members. C also got to make a jingley jangley set of bells. She chose to put a single bell on. One. Measly. Bell. It was still a lot of fun.

3.Its Free!

Need I say more? Not much in life is free any more, certainly not when it comes to amusing children. I advise using the car park at the rear of the museum.(Currently priced at  £6 for a days parking). There is a direct path round to the entrance and tickets for the carpark are bought in the museum gift shop, so no faffing for change! We got there at 10.30 and left at 4, so that makes it a pound an hour for entertainment!

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Winning at ‘rewilding’- just beside the car park.

There are touring exhibits, which require tickets to be purchased.’Treasures:Adventures in Archaelogy’ is currently based at the museum, but as this is on until the end of October 2016 we opted to save it for another day.

4.Child friendly feasting

The café downstairs has a great set up for the under fives.The food looked and smelled delicious, but being the skin flint I am we had our own packed lunch. I did stretch to a caffeine hit and a piece of cake, mainly so the girls could take advantage of the games and books stationed around the restaurant.Our seating area was right next to a trolley full of things to keep little hands occupied. I think JoJo’s favourite bit in the whole day was playing with an activity cube, the very same make and model as the one we have at home. The museum is also Breastfeeding friendly, with a designated room should you wish to use it.

5. Something for everyone

There is an awful lot packed into this museum. The ‘Evolution of Wales’ gallery was so good, we went round twice. In fact, C watched the audiovisual about our galaxy three times. I think she’d still be there now if she’d taken enough food in with her.

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The natural history galleries are also jam packed with interesting finds. I dare you to stand under the Basking shark and not be amazed at the sheer size of a creature that feeds only on Zooplankton. Mind blowing stuff!

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If nothing else in this blog takes your fancy, go and visit Kevin the crab. For a hermit crab, he’s pretty friendly!

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For more information and an up to date list of ‘what’s on’ take a look at the Museums website. If you do visit, let me know what your favourite bit was and why!

Day 19- A change of perspective

Age 5. It’s the early 90’s and I’m in the playground at primary school. We are looking for stones along the pavement beside the nursery. Something shiny catches my eye, caught between the cracks in the concrete slabs . I crouch down and carefully poke a stick into the crevice to retrieve my treasure. A gold bracelet. I scoop it up and run to the teacher, expecting praise for handing in my find. “Why do you spend so much time looking down?” she says, scornfully”Look up, look up at the world. Don’t you know how much you will miss if you spend all your time looking down?” Slightly ironic telling a 3 foot child to ‘look up at the world’ but never mind.

Despite her warning, looking at the ground is a habit that has stuck. Sometimes it is handy. As a very broke student I found a trail of £5 and £10 notes in the city centre that nobody else had spotted. All because I was looking down. Anyway, I digress. Todays random act of wildness challenged me to change my perspective for the day.

I decided to ‘look up’.

Up at the clouds.

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Up at a sycamore leaf

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Up at an oak leaf.

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Up at the roof.

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Up at the horizon.

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I guess that teacher had a point.

Day 28- Showcase on a nature table

During the whole month of June we have been collecting, sorting, storing and growing our treasure trove of nature finds.  The nature table takes pride of place in our little Montesori inspired corner of the kitchen.

 

The tally so far includes : Sensory box, wormery, Ladybird ‘viewarium’, Insect guides from the bug farm, Wildlife trust guides and our Go Find It cards (a fantastic nature based card game for families) .

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Decoration includes our 30 Days wild poster, stickers (lots of stickers) and a cool Ladybird lamp that happened to be here already!

 

I couldn’t fit all of the childrens nature books on, so we’ve had to have a second nature table in the living room! I’ll post about this later.

I am enjoying watching the girls being able to explore and learn about nature at any point in their day. C enjoys pulling a chair over to check out the finds on top of the table and to see if anything new has been added. This morning I watched as she ran her hand along the top of the unit until her fingers bumped into the cold, hard snail shell. She stood, with her face turned away towards me, running her fingertips over her find, tracing the outline of the coiled carapace. A slow smile crossed her face. ‘Ooh, smooth’ she exclaimed, before skipping off to take an important phone call from the Teletubbies .

She has started to learn the names of garden birds, and yesterday flapped across the living room, pretending to be a Blue Tit. When I asked her what colour feathers she had, she looked at me with a mix of disgust and disbelief and said ‘ Blue of course, you can stroke them if you like.’ Gosh, how wonderful it would be to be two again!

 

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 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 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.

Day 2- Getting arty!

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_02.jpgOur eagerly awaited 30 Days Wild pack arrived in the post today. I don’t know who was more excited, me or the girls! We took it outside to open so we could spread out in the sunshine.

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C immediately claimed the badge for herself, and spent the rest of the day proudly wearing her ‘medal’ (she is only 2 and a half after all!). JoJo made a bee-line for the Random acts of wildness cards, mainly so she could chew them! I had a quick look at our selection of cards, fortunately they were mostly toddler  and baby friendly, before letting C select todays card.

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Number  23- Sketch something up close. Pay attention to detail.

I fetched the drawing paraphernalia, and we got comfy in the shade of a large sycamore. Why can you never, ever find a pencil sharpener when you need one? I guess they must be all hanging out with the odd socks, wherever they are!

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I also gathered some things I thought might be good to draw, and asked C to do the same. Then we each picked something. C chose to draw the dessicated bee that I had found a few weeks ago. I settled on a piece of grass, laden with seed. JoJo wasn’t left out. She had a fun ‘sensory experience’ with some pine cones and a twig, twirling them in her fingers and bashing them on the ground. 2016-06-02 11.42.20(1)

It was quite a surreal experience, as I haven’t drawn anything in such detail for a long, long time. It took me back to the Zoology lab, where we used to make scientific sketches in practical classes. I was never very good at it then! The pencil seemed too fat, the grass too fine, and I think I might need an eye test as I couldn’t see the detail on the seeds!!

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C took a more ‘abstract’ approach, adorning her bee with a green jumper to cover his yellow stripes! She enjoyed touching the bee, stroking its fuzzy back and gossamer wings. She wasn’t concerned it would sting her, in fact she thought it a very friendly bee exclaiming “look Mummy, it’s waving” when a breeze blew it across her page!

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All in all I was quite pleased with our 2nd ‘wild’ activity. It kept my two free spirits grounded for 20 minutes, and let me reminisce about care free student days!