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.

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!

Welsh botanical gardens

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Ok…in the interests of ‘transparency’ and ‘honesty’, this post comes with a disclaimer. Day 14 actually happened on Day 1 of 30 Days Wild (collective sharp intake of breath from readership). I know, I know, that’s cheating. But I have a gap in my posts. I don’t like gaps. I also really want to share my bioluminescence story. Therefore day 14, written on day 30, experienced on day 1, is about Fungi. And I suppose it’s not really cheating. I can put a spin on it…yes, Day 14: Reminiscing on a wild day out.

The National Botanical Gardens of Wales is a real gardeners delight. And for a cactus killing, not-green-fingered person like me it is still a treat.  It is fantastic for families (the new adventure playground has a trampoline!!!)  and those in need of easy access as most of the paths are flat.

The massive dome glasshouse (reminds me of the Eden project) at the top of the garden houses an impressive collection of Mediterranean plants. It is also home to the a touring exhibition (from Edinburgh) about Fungi.

Fungi are neither plants, nor animals. They belong to a whole separate kingdom, hence the title of the exhibit. Like plants they are stationary and have cell walls, but like animals they get energy from digesting matter.

 

The exhibition space is dark and had an earthy, damp soil smell to it. We were immediately confronted by a towering Toadstool. I felt as if we had become Alice and’gone down the rabbit hole’ to Wonderland.

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Behind the Toadstools something was giving off a faint green glow. We went in for a closer look and found tanks full of these bioluminescent fungi.

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This process occurs due to a chemical reaction (the oxidisation of Luciferin) creating energy which is converted to and emitted as light without causing any heat to be produced. It is a common phenomenon amongst marine life, but on land is restricted to Fungi and invertebrates.The resultant eerie glow may function to attract prey or warn off predators. Neat!DSC_0307

 

 

 

 

I love interactive exhibits. I can’t stand stuffy cases full of dusty objects that are virtually impossible to identify due to poor labelling or tiny writing. Boring. Fortunately this exhibit was all about putting the FUN into Fungi (yes, I really did just write that.). I enjoyed fiddling about with the light up ‘Russian roulette’ good and bad fungi exhibit, very helpful for anyone wishing to rustle up a mushroom based snack.

 

If you are thinking of doing a bit of ‘foraging’ make sure you follow this advice

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The exhibition space was not very big but the exhibitors have managed to cram in a lot of stuff. Quantity with no loss of quality, I hasten to add.Around the corner from this was a light box and stack of ‘x rays’ and CT scan images to explore. They had been taken from patients suffering from Aspergillosis, a respiratory disease caused by mould spores. The disease also affects other species, including dogs, chickens and parrots. Once I’d managed to figure out which way up the radiographs were supposed to hang (i’m a vet,not a medic…thankfully) it was interesting to see how the fungal spores affected humans.

 

I was being dragged about by my whirling dervish toddler (fortunately JoJo was having a snooze) so I didn’t manage to see everything. Some times I just grabbed a quick photo before moving on. I’m glad I did.

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I have walked past the sign for this exhibit on several previous visits,  always thinking that one day I will make it across the threshold to explore its offerings. I’m glad that participating in  30 Days Wild made me finally go in!

Day 30- Au naturelle

DSC_0420 (2).JPGI can’t believe 30 days have passed. For the final day of 30 Days Wild we had a go at making natural dye, following the Wildlife Trusts instructions, which you can download here.

How to make a leaf or petal based dye:

Take one baby muslin, a handful of pansies, a posy of roses, a sting of nettles, a glass full of buttercups and a fistful of grass. Boil with some water…ta dah, natural dye! ok, ok so it is a little more technical than that.

  1. Fill a bowl with cold water.
  2. Add 1 cup vinegar to 4 of cold water.
  3. Immerse your chosen white fabric (I sacrificed one of the many, many white muslins we have. White is not a good colour for mopping up baby stains. I know this now).
  4. Leave for about 2 hours. If you want to be fancy, tie knots in it or tie string around it. This will create patterns when dyed.
  5. Add chosen leaves/petals to a pan, cover with cold water and simmer for an hour. Make sure to stir occasionally.
  6. Drain, retain liquid.
  7. Take fabric and rinse in cold water.
  8. Add to dye, completely submerging it.
  9. Leave overnight
  10. Air dry and admire!

For berry dyes (e.g.rosehip, elderberry) you will need to add salt in step one. See the Wildlife Trusts instructions for more info.

Fortunately the rain had stopped long enough for us to  wander round our very damp garden and collect a variety of materials. Initially I thought we could create a rainbow of dyes.One look at a very black clouds gathering on the horizon and I shelved our ambitious plans, choosing just 3 colours.

Green: Nettle and Grass.

Purple: Pansy and Hedge Rose. This mix produced my favourite dye. Not only did it smell divine (think Turkish delight, rose water, soft floral perfume) but the colour was quite impressive.

Yellow: Buttercup (This looked very pale when simmering so I cheated and added ginger.)

 

Having read blogs from people who do this sort of thing routinely, I expected the colours of dye to be rather muted colours. However the purple is really quite strong, sitting somewhere between lilac and buddleia on the colour wheel.

 

The green and yellow are unfortunately rather insipid! In fact, I think the green may turn out to be a rather ‘weak tea’ shade of brown. The yellow looks a bit like elderly cat pee. At least it smells nice, thanks to the ginger!

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The next steps ,drying and turning it into bunting, will have to wait till tomorrow. Guess that means I’ll have to continue the random acts of wildness!

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!

 

Day 27 -Jumping in muddy puddles!

Me: ” What are you doing?”

C: “Jumping in muddy puddles”

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Me “Right. Where are your wellies?”

C “I can’t see them anywhere.”

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Me: “But you had them on your feet just a second ago.”

C: “No. Can’t see them. I cannot find them anywhere”.

Me: “They are there, right behind you.”

C: “Oh YEEEESSS.” She places a sponge that we used to clean the outdoor toys into the puddle. “Look, its a trampoliiiiiiiiine”

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Splash. Squelch.Splosh.

C “Look at meeeeeeee….”

Me, sighing:”Yes, I’m looking at yoooooouuuu”.

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C,noticing she is being watched by a four legged friend:”Oh, Hello Cow! How are you today?”

 

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 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 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!