Thursday 30 June 2016

#30DaysWild 2016 2-Week Round Up

Another compilation round-up of the second half of 30 Days Wild 2016!

Week 3:

Wild Wednesday: a walk in the woods.
I had some time off of looking after my mum while my dad took her for a routine hospital check-up, so I took the opportunity to wander the nearby woods with Seeg, looking for creatures which weren't there - fortunately, I suppose. Can't say running into a leshen would be a good thing, really.

Throwback Thursday: flower pot cakes.
I revisited one of the simplest cakes I've ever made, but easily one of my favourites. These flowerpot cakes are just chocolate cupcakes set in plant pots with a bit of green fondant. Easy peasy!

Fantasy Friday: The Bragoh And The Rock.
Another story of Digaba, the little lichen-covered guardian of Erivana's northernmost forest, this one is inspired by a fossil we found after cleaning out our fishtank and dropping one of the big rocks that had been inside it on the ground. A fossilised shell was within it, so you can imagine how excited I was - we were the first people to ever see it - and I decided to base this story upon that!

Studious Saturday: a small study of blackbirds.
I've always loved blackbirds, but I don't see many of them in the garden. There used to be a few starlings about, too, but they're rarely seen about here anymore. But when I decided to take some time to watch the garden through the window on Saturday and finally saw a pair, I thought I'd do a sketch and a smidge of reading on them instead.

Sticky Sunday: new jewellery collection and the winners of my competition with Wildlife Watch, the junior branch of The Wildlife Trusts.

Mindful Monday: worked outside.
Along with taking my workouts this month - yep, still in the habit, even in the rain - I took my writing outside, too. It proved to be more difficult than I expected...

Tasty Tuesday: lemon spiced chicken with chickpeas and spinach.
I made a lovely dinner with locally-sourced ingredients, counted as 2 of my 5 a day, high in magnesium (to ward off migraines), low in carbs and 300 calories! Yay! I was a happy bunny, and my family was happy for a change, too.

Week 4:

Wild Wednesday: wandering in the woods.
I went out for another wander through the woods with Seeg, taking everything in and trying to absorb as much as I could, every detail, scent, sound. It was raining, which made it even better, because we were protected by the trees, for the most part.

Throwback Thursday: mini garden moss terrarium.
I revisited a post from 2013 for the final Throwback Thursday, wherein I made a simple terrarium with moss and rocks. Bring some of the 'outside' in!

Mindful Monday: rest and recovery.
I fell ill on Thursday night - at least that was when I noticed it - and on Friday morning I woke up feeling like the rising dead. It lasted all weekend, and I was even lucky enough to have a migraine early on, which made the whole experience worse. I suspect it was just a bug of some kind, but with the addition of migraine and post-migraine symptoms, it was made so very much worse.
   However, I did start feeling better on Monday (typical, isn't it?) so I sat out in the garden for some fresh air for the first dry day in a week, and did some yoga on the decking in the morning. I didn't dare try my usual workout, still felt too fragile for that, but I really resent the fact that I was forced to miss out on 3 of 30 Days Wild for reasons out of my hands, and as such my blogging schedule somewhat fell apart for the rest of the week.

Tuesday: nature art & handmade creators.
I decided to show a few of my favourite Etsy sellers who focus their efforts on making nature-inspired products and designs. I've loved these sellers for a long while and thought they deserved a look-in during 30 Days Wild for like-minded nature lovers!

Wild Wednesday: garden watching.
I've mentioned this month already how often different wildlife graces our garden, and I decided to gather a few pictures of some of them - prompted, admittedly, by a sighting of a woodpecker on the fat ball feeder! Very exciting!!

Tasty Tuesday-Turned-Thursday: clean eating pastry with garlic and moringa; spiced lemon chicken mini pot pie.
A bit of a mouthful - and a tasty one, at that - I revisited last week's lemon spiced chicken and made little pot pies out of it, and made a clean-eating pie crust lid which tasted divine even by itself! It also saved a ton of calories by only being a lid, and it was much more nutritious than most other pastries. Dinner: sorted.

Garlic & Moringa Clean Eating Pastry + Chicken Pie - 30 Days Wild - Tasty...Thursday?

   For my final Tasty Tuesday-Turned-Thursday, I decided to make something different. I love pie, but I don't love how unhealthy pie crust can be, or the calorie-count. If made with the right fats - because we do need to eat fat, as our bodies use it to protect organs and cells - and the right carbs, it can be great, however, and an easy way to cut back on the pie crust if you count calories is to make pot pies which removes the need for a body crust, meaning you only need to make a lid! Which is what I did.
   Using whole wheat flour for its amazing nutritional values and fibre content, extra virgin olive oil for healthier fat (everything you've heard about cooking with olive oil is nonsense and taken out of context - olive oil only becomes unhealthy when heated if it is heated to extremes, which standard household kitchens are incapable of doing), semi-skimmed milk for its calcium and reduced fat (but not fat-free), and moringa for its protein and nutritional values (hello, nature's multivitamin!), and garlic for flavour, I made what I consider to be the best clean eating pie crust I've ever tasted - because it tasted different. And good.
   For the rest of the pie, I was cheeky and revisited the lemon spiced chicken I made last week, but I loved it, so did the family, and it was an easy pie filling option. I used locally-sourced and organic ingredients once again.

Serves 4; 250kcals each
For the pastry:
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive/coconut oil
1/4 cup semi-skimmed milk
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp moringa (I used Aduna)

For the lemon spiced chicken pie filling:
400g organic chicken, diced
100ml chicken stock or chicken gravy
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
zest of 1 lemon
dash of olive/coconut oil for frying

4 ramekins, about 5-6cm deep by 9-10cm across
leaf-shaped cookie/fondant cutters - I used a set of ivy leaf cutters.

1. Mix the flour, moringa and salt in a bowl to combine it all, then add the garlic, milk and olive oil and mix by hand until you have a firm dough.

2. Roll out the pastry between two sheets of baking paper. It's quite strong, so you can roll it about 3-4mm thick.

3. Use leaf-shaped cookie or fondant cutters (I used the largest and smallest from a set of ivy leaf plunger cutters) to cut the pastry. The indent from the plunger didn't come out too clearly so I didn't expect it to show after cooking, so a plunger or veiner isn't at all required.

4. Set the leaves aside on a sheet of parchment.

5. Pre-heat the oven to 190 C/375 F/gas mark 5 and set your ramekins on a baking tray.

6. Heat a pan over medium heat and add a dash of oil. Add the diced chicken and fry for 5 minutes.

7. Add the spices and lemon zest and stir the chicken to ensure they're covered in the mix, then fry for another 5 minutes or until thoroughly golden.

8. Divide the chicken between the ramekins and add the gravy or chicken stock to fill the ramekins. It won't boil or bubble over, though it may rise slightly and dribble a smidge out from the sides. I filled mine almost all the way, leaving only about 5mm at the top.

9. Take your leaves and start layering them to cover the top of each ramekin. Use a little bit of water on the underside of each leaf to help them adhere to one another.

10. Set in the oven for 25 minutes, then remove and serve immediately - careful, the ramekins will be hot!

Wednesday 29 June 2016

Garden Watching - 30 Days Wild - Wild Wednesday

   Over the course of this month I've been paying closer attention to the wildlife in the garden, and there have been a few surprising visitors. It's a little strange that two of them would wait until June to appear, because it feels as if no one would believe me, but I think it might be because of 30 Days Wild and people's interaction with nature that has brought it about. Of course, there's always coincidence...
   Usually the garden has six guaranteed animals visiting it: a host of sparrows, a few great tits, some magpies, a pair of pigeons, and two squirrels. Crows appear from time to time to throw the fat feeder on the ground, at which point they steal a whole fat ball and fly off with it, but we've chained it down and they've subsequently given up and feed like normal animals instead.
   Sometimes a sparrowhawk also dives in, but I haven't spotted any this month. However, there have been three additional and, in one case, quite unexpected visitors in its place.
   Seeg saw a fox in the front garden early one morning on the weekend just passed as he took my place getting up early to look after my mum. Such a sighting is exciting, but not too unusual as , two years ago, they created a den beneath a dense bush out there and raised three kits which we watched playing in the street at night (we live in a culdesac, so they were safe) while one of the parents kept watch.
    There's also been a hedgehog building a nest in the back garden behind the bird feeder, which again isn't too unusual, though they usually nest beneath the shed. We've had babies out there countless times, but once when I was young we had to look after one, and we called someone over from Hedgehog Rescue to collect it, but sadly it died a few days later.
   The third and most surprising visitor this month was a woodpecker. We hear them from time to time but we've never seen them outside, but there it was, on the bird feeder, having a go at the fat cake without a care in the world. We've not see it since, and believe me, we've been looking, and it was actually quite exciting.

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Nature Artists - 30 Days Wild

   I've found that a lot of the things I buy from Etsy, when I buy from Etsy, are usually either animal- or fantasy-focused, and I thought it would be a good idea to show some of my favourite sellers - those I've bought from and those I plan to - who have, to my mind, some of the best wildlife-themed designs.

   Lyndsey Green is easily one of my favourite wildlife artists on Etsy. I've bought from her countless times, sometimes birthday cards for my parents, other times goodies for me. I  have many tote bags but the only ones I find myself using are her fox couple and jackalopes of the world. I have a few prints, a coaster, notebooks and a t-shirt, and I eagerly await her new designs. There's a decided simplicity to her work which I love, it's not overpowered by too much detail or too many lines, or too much shading - all things I tend to do - and I really love it when an artist is confident enough in their skill that they don't feel the need to give it too much to try to convince people of what they're looking at. There's a definite confidence and comfort to her skill that shines through in every piece. And, of course, when she gives it a bit of a twist - like jackalopes, tribal patterns or astronomy - it appeals to me all the more.

   Evgeny Hontor of Demiurgus Dreams is a wonderful Russian-based crafter who uses velvet clay to make fantastic animals in varying complexities - some are very, very simple in shape, while others are highly detailed, and I can't honestly say that I prefer one from the other. Some of those with great detail find it in the feathers and overall finish, while others have been impressed with her own unusual designs to give them a fantasy or tribal finish. She also makes a few more fantastical pieces, like dragons, winged rats, Anubis hounds, or on the flip side she paints silhouetted forests onto the animals.
   I've got three pieces from her: a blue moon wanderer deer, a grey moon wanderer wolf, and an impressed rat, which was the first thing I saw of hers a few years ago and fell in love. I've had 7 pet rats in my life, and I have to say, they're the best small mammals you can have as pets and as affectionate as dogs. While hamsters, rabbits and guinea pigs will typically scurry away from the edge of their house, and are more typically skittish, rats are very curious and instead rush towards the bars to say hello. Some of them lick you like dogs do, too.
   Also, I've been a World of Warcraft player for at least 8 years now, so her Ji-Kun caught my eye something fierce. She doesn't usually take on commissions, but I think this piece really shows off a lot of her skill.

   Francesca Mosmea of MosMea is an Italian artist who makes amazing - amazing - nature-inspired textiles, from animals to fungi - or should that be the other way around?
   I love the muted tone to her work, and I've had my eye on a little animal plush pillow for quite some time, I've just been unable to decide which! But I have to admit, I'd rather like a mushroom, too! Decisions!
   Everything is hand-painted - I'd assumed it was printed, but even just a quick look through her shop, facebook, twitter and so on shows countless images of her products in the making, which really just astounded me. She does lots of custom work, too; so many of them are images of people's pets from photographs, so MosMea is a wonderful place to go for custom gifts. I've done similar work with my jewellery, making tiny animals in jars based on images of people's pets, and it's a surprisingly nerve-wracking job because it would be so easy to miss characteristic details. I've had no complaints yet, though!

   ┼╗enia Kli Zafska of The Lady Moth is a UK based artist who uses needle felting to create wonderful nature pieces. Her moths (would you believe it) were what really caught my eye. I'm not keen on insects but moths actually charm me a little, when they're not eating my clothes, and, unlike other insects, the bigger the better. Fluffy-antennaed, fluffy-bodied, I love them. I've had my eye on one of these, too, and I think this grey one might just be it!
   Once again, this artist also uses quite muted tones, even on the needle felted blue tit, which is such a vibrant bird, but one thing I love about needle felting in general is the rough edges that come from the method of work. It gives everything a sort of glow, I've always felt, and that joined with muted tones and a moth is a recipe for win.

   Daisy Maude of The Inky Deer is another UK-based artist who creates art in a completely different direction to Lyndsey Green. Daisy's has a curious mix of seriousness and whimsy; creating elegant illustrations befitting a nature book, and using the most beautiful watercolour accent in the background. The colours are light and unobtrusive and really make each piece more interesting to look at, even indirectly. It doesn't draw the eye, but once you see it, you see it, and I think that's a quality that most wall art should have. Easy to ignore, nice to have around, but still worthy of looking at when your eyes do fall upon it.
   Or is that just me?

Oh, the cheek.

Monday 27 June 2016

Rest And Recovery - 30 Days Wild - Mindful Monday

   EU Referendum aside, a subject I simply refuse to talk about, this has not been a good weekend. I managed to catch something off of my 2 year old nephew and I've been sick in bed since Thursday night, and had a migraine hit during, so it's been three days of intermittent numbness, headaches, muscle spasms, shaking vision, dizziness and light sensitivity, on top of the need to keep a bowl of sorts handy. I doubt it would have been as bad if I didn't get the migraine, but the two together spelled out something awful.
   Fortunately Seeg was lovely enough to buy me season 1 and 2 of Creature Comforts, so I've been quite entertained. And I had Star Trek when I'd watched those to death. Not that I haven't watched that to death...

   I've been unable to do anything for 30 Days Wild for the past three days, however, which has been frustrating me because I hate committing myself to something like that and then being unable to see it through for reasons out of my hands, and I've also had writer's block since Tuesday which has been stressing me out additionally. Fortunately I started feeling well enough on Sunday evening to try writing again and I've been finding it easier, so at least the block is passing, but I was unable to get my final installment of Fantasy Friday up because I just couldn't write it.
   My whole blogging schedule for 30 Days Wild got turned upside down by the interruption, so I've decided to throw it away for the final few days. There are a few things I've wanted to do and I intend to fit them in before the end of the month, and I will do so as and when I can.
   Of course, July 1st doesn't necessarily mean that bringing a bit of the outside in has to stop, and I will endeavour to keep exercising outside when I can (not easy during English summer; it's little more than rain, and it's barely stopped since Tuesday), just as I will always leave out food for the animals and ensure there's room for them to hide - in fact we discovered a hedgehog building a nest behind the birdbath in the back garden on Sunday afternoon, with characteristically loud clumsiness.
   But there are a few little plans I had for the blog that I intend to get up, and I also hope to be able to get the final short story up, too, as it actually ties into The Archguardians of Laceria.

   So the past few days have been frustrating and uncomfortable, to say the least, but perhaps for the best in a warped sort of way. I'm the kind of person that simply cannot sit down, do nothing and turn my brain off. I'm always doing several things at once - making notes and working through character development while playing video games or eating dinner, writing my book while watching TV, making animals for my shop while writing out blog posts, articles, my book or watching TV. I'm constantly juggling things. There are only two instances in my day when I am doing only one single thing, and that is when I'm exercising, because I work hard enough that I can't possibly even think about anything else, and when I'm sleeping. That's it. So being ill and lying in bed (and I'm simply not the type to do that, if I'm ill I still get up and get on with things; I'm a full-time carer, I can't afford to wallow in bed), watching TV or sleeping, has been a frankly wonderful opportunity to switch off my brain and do nothing. It was hard, and I felt guilty for it at every moment, but it was ultimately valuable. My mind is a bit clearer, more organised than it was - than it has been for a long time, in fact - and I can think a little straighter. Which is nice.

   Today I managed to sit out in the garden with a book - The Tamuli by David Eddings - since the rain finally stopped, and I did some yoga in the morning on the decking. I didn't dare try any Hero's Journey stuff, I'm still feeling a little too fragile - but at least Mindful Monday didn't have to change!

   Also, for those interested, all pieces from my British Coasts collection have been listed in my Etsy shop as individual necklaces. 

Thursday 23 June 2016

Mini Moss Garden - 30 Days Wild - Throwback Thursday

We're going back even further with today's 30 Days Wild Throwback Thursday and looking at a miniature moss terrarium I made in 2013, to bring a little bit of 'outside' in! I love moss, how it looks, how it feels - I even made garden moss cookies for 30 Days Wild last year, which was another piece I considered for today's post, but I'll settle for a link to that instead...

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Wandering - 30 Days Wild - Wild Wednesday

   This afternoon I found myself with some spare time again (hooray!) so I dragged Seeg out of the house and we went wandering through the woods. It was raining but I figured we'd be all right, and I was quite correct! It was comfortably cool, we were dry for the most part, and once again I gathered inspiration for my writing. It sounds silly, but until you try to write a journey through a forest, you don't realise that you have no idea what it's like. We're always so connected to the hustle and bustle of modern life, even in rural areas, and it can be quite difficult indeed to escape it. So whenever these opportunities come up, I grasp them. The same goes with a family drive through the middle of nowhere - I look at the formation of the land, the natural details in the landscape I always overlook.
   Yes, I write fantasy - published, in fact - and in fantasy I can make up whatever I want, within reason. But nature itself, natural history, geology, is so important to me that I like to make sure I give my worlds a real foundation. This has caused me problems, I admit. Sometimes I find it hard to add fantasy elements because I'm so concerned about the world I've created being believable, so it's about trying to strike a good balance. After all, a believable world can make fantasy elements even more believable themselves!
   And fantasy is what I live for.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Lemon Spiced Chicken With Spinach & Chickpeas - 30 Days Wild - Tasty Tuesday

   I went out to the local farm's market this weekend and gathered up some lovely ingredients for dinner. I've been making more of an effort to use local ingredients this month, as at least I know where it's all come from and how the animals are treated, and I feel it's relevant. Well, I've not made any meals worth sharing for a long while - since this time last year, in fact - but on Monday I made something so simple and delicious I had to share it for Tasty Tuesday!

   It's a wonderful summer dish: lemon spiced chicken and spinach. It's 300 calories, healthy, serves 4, takes 15 minutes and provides 2 of your 5 a day! Serve with additional salad or baby potatoes - Seeg requested potato wedgies.

Serves 4; 290 kcals
1 tbsp oil - coconut, sunflower, etc
1 onion
4 organic chicken breasts/500g diced chicken
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
the zest and juice of 1 lemon
250g chickpeas (400g can, drained)
200ml chicken stock
250g spinach


1. Cut the chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces; wash hands, surface and utensils.

2. Chop the onion.

3. Heat the oil in a large pan and gently fry the onion on medium heat for 5 minutes.

4. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the chicken. Fry for 5 minutes or until golden.

5. Add the spices and lemon zest, stirring to coat, and fry for another minute before adding the drained chickpeas and chicken stock.

6. Stir for a minute, then put the lid on and turn heat down to low-medium and simmer for 5 minutes.

7. Add salt and pepper to taste, then add the spinach and replace the lid. Allow the leaves to wilt for 2-3 minutes, then stir.

8. Squeeze the lemon juice and serve. Fill out with baby potatoes or additional veg like broccoli.

Monday 20 June 2016

Work Outside - 30 Days Wild - Mindful Monday

   It has been raining a bit lately, which has been lovely - I love the rain, just like I love the cold - but it has meant that going outside hasn't been as easy. I've peered out from the conservatory, done yoga beneath the pergola (absolutely amazing when the rain is pouring beyond it), and brought the outside in with a batch of flowerpot cakes. So when the sun poked its head out of the clouds today, I took my work outside. I had a chapter to proof and parked myself beneath the pergola (just in case) and set to work, feeling the breeze, listening to the birds and, again, getting in the squirrels' way. I didn't work as efficiently, though, as I didn't consider how often the birds would sing nor how often ice cream vans would drive by along the nearby main road. Being synaesthetic, the songs of both birds and ice cream vans are very colourful and subsequently extremely distracting, especially when you grow to learn the tunes and then continue humming them when they've stopped, so what should have been an hour's job (it was a short chapter) became almost two. But I did get it done, and rather than grow irritated by the distractions, I allowed them. Because nature isn't so predictable. And neither is ice cream.

Sunday 19 June 2016

New Jewellery Collection + Wildlife Watch Winners - 30 Days Wild - Sticky Sunday

   Today's 30 Days Wild Sticky Sunday post is a bit of a cheat. Rather than providing any crafting tutorials, I thought I'd show a few finished things: my new jewellery collection, which I've finally completed, and the three winning pieces from my competition with The Wildlife Trusts' Wildlife Watch magazine!
   My new jewellery collection, which I teased on Twitter recently, is based upon British coastal wildlife. I made my decision on the theme shortly after the second post in 2016's 30 Days Wild when I talked about holidays I'd had as a child, and that some of my fondest are of rock pools and 'rock climbing' in Wales. It's only a 7-piece collection, and, like my previous collections, it's limited to just 6 of every design which are as follows: Atlantic puffin, grey seal, gannet, shore crab, hermit crab, common starfish and beadlet anemone. I wanted to give the latter two a different look and after a lot of time - a lot of time - I managed to find 2cm glass balls to use instead of jars.
   The full collection is available in a single listing at a £29 discount as either necklaces or ornaments, and sold individually as necklaces for between £18 and £24 depending on design. I'll be listing the individual pieces over the next few days; the full bundle is already available, and the individual pieces will be listed two a day from Monday to Wednesday.

   As for my competition with Wildlife Watch, the activity was my idea. I entered a lot of competitions as a kid and never won any, and I got quite upset about it. I think it was because they were never challenging; it usually consisted of just answering a question, and because it was so easy so many would enter, and only one would win. I never stood a chance. I decided mine would be a little more interesting, so I suggested that the children should make something and there would be three winners of fox jar necklaces. Well, the idea went down a treat. Using a number of different materials, kids between 6 and 12 made animals, and there were over 70 entries. I was so thrilled! I picked out my three favourites from the shortlist of 15 to win, and this is them!

   The hedgehog was made by Emily Toon, aged 9, which I chose because I loved the use of natural resources, and frankly the daisy eyes are just the best things ever.
   The owl was made by Tillie Moore, aged 10, because it was quite unique against the other entries, and really quite clever. The use of a handle for the owl's nose was brilliant since the whole central line of an owl's face stands out a fair bit due to the concave shape of their faces.
   The fox was made by Freya Mein, aged 9, because I liked its simplicity, and the combination of a featureless 2D exterior, even with a black outline, despite it still being 3D.

   There were so many good ones and it was quite difficult to pick winners to be honest. I kept their age in mind while looking at them and I considered the skill, material used and ambition as well as the finished thing.
   I absolutely loved providing for this competition, and I'm really surprised by how many kids took part. I'm certain there was some pushing by parents, but in a time when ten year olds have smart phones (I don't even have a smartphone!), I didn't expect such a great response and it's made me really happy to see so many make an effort.

Saturday 18 June 2016

About Blackbirds - 30 Days Wild - Studious Saturday

   Blackbirds are marvellous creatures. I've always loved them, how they look, how they carry themselves, how they sound - they dominate the airways with their songs even when only one is present in the vicinity. I don't actually see many of them in the garden anymore, it's mostly sparrows and magpies, and the occasional crow who likes to fly in, pick up the fatball feeder, throw in on the floor, steal one of the aforementioned fat balls and fly off with it, leaving the murdered feeder dead upon the grass without so much as an apologetic glance. *Ahem* I have seen a pair of blackbirds a few times over the past week, though - you can tell the males from the females quite easily, as it's only the males who are black, while the females are a modest brown.
   But they're incredible birds. Above all else, I love their mimicry. Their range of songs are broad, and they can mimic the songs of other birds as well as 'artificial' sounds if they're exposed to them often enough like mobile ring tones, ice cream vans, and even human whistles. They incorporate them into their already complex songs, and of course it all varies by the individual, both how it's incorporated, what it learns, and what it prefers to utilise out of its collection.

   I was watching a pair hop about in the garden today and decided that they would be my focus for Studious Saturday. I made a sketch and read up on them - these are the most interesting facts I discovered on the common blackbird:

• The song 'Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye, four-and-twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie' was supposedly a coded message used to recruit crew members for the 18th century pirate, Edward Teach/Thatch, also known as Blackbeard.

• Most English blackbirds remain near the area they hatched.

• Blackbirds are thought to be monogamous, meaning pairing for life, and are territorial.

• The male and female both gather food for chicks, making them both caring parents - but I suppose that comes with the pairing.

• If they're not caught by predators, a blackbird's natural lifespan can be 15 years.

• Blackbirds are omnivores, eating plants, insects and amphibians when they can catch them.

• They're extremely adaptable and have managed to settle over most of the world, though the only European country where there seem to be no breeding pairs is Iceland.

• Young blackbirds are keen and start singing as early as January and February, whereas older blackbirds wait until March.

Friday 17 June 2016

The Bragoh And The Rock - 30 Days Wild - Fantasy Friday

   Amongst the birdsong and gentle trickle of the nearby river, a shrill, babbling voice sang the late spring song of a blackbird, punctuated by rhythmic clatters.
   Quite joyfully, Digaba stacked pebbles and rocks upon one another, building a low wall like the ones he'd spied from beyond the range of the forest. Of course, he could not build one three feet high when he himself measured only two, but his enthusiasm wasn't dissuaded.
   A great collection of rocks sat near his bare feet, dutifully gathered upon his decision, and he rummaged through them every few moments for the next perfectly-shaped stone for his purpose. The wall held itself together through balance and weight alone.
   As his worksong reached its climax, the rock he'd next chosen suddenly slipped from his excited grip. He immediately jumped back to spare his toes and watched with disappointment as it shattered against the others.
   The area fell quiet as his song was silenced, and he sighed and tutted to himself as he looked down at it. It had been such a perfect rock.
   He bent down and lifted the pieces, rotating them so they might fit together again. If he could position it just so, it could still work.
   His brown, lichen-speckled brow furrowed, however, when he found a smooth protrusion in one of the fragments, and though it was clear which piece it connected to for the impression, the matter was suddenly forgotten.
   He placed down the other shattered pieces and peered down at it. It seemed, if such a thing could be, to be a rock within a rock. It had a shape too specific for chance, a water-smoothed finish - it even had a slightly different colouration. But it was encased in more stone.
   Digaba's large eyes widened. He'd never seen anything like this before.
   His gaze dropped back to the pile of rocks. Setting the first aside carefully, he picked up another and dropped it upon the others. Excitedly, he lifted each fragment and analysed their every side, expecting to see more concealed stones, but there was nothing to find in this one, nor the next, nor the one after that.
   Before too long he'd broken most of his rocks and his task lay forgotten, so focused he was on the rock within a rock, but he discovered no more. Every other stone was just that: a stone.
   He sat upon the pile of shattered pebbles and stared down at his finding. How had the rock gotten trapped inside another? Rocks didn't eat anything, as far as he knew, let alone other rocks, and he couldn't understand why anyone would wish to hide it. Hiding a rock within a rock and then amongst other rocks would make it very difficult to recover...
   There was only one thing for it: take it to the owless. She'll know what it is.

   Digaba rushed through the forest, the stone clutched tightly to his chest as he wove and wended his way amongst the trees towards the ancient giant oak where the owless resided. He slowed as he neared, peering up at it in awe as he often did and feeling far smaller and insignificant than the guardian of the forest should.
   He took a deep breath to whistle out an arrival tune for her attention, but hesitated when he considered that, at this time of the day, she would be sleeping.
   He sighed in defeat. It could wait.
   "Young Digaba," a voice hooted from above, stilling him before he could even complete a turn to head back in the direction he'd come from, and he spun right the way around again. A tawny form appeared at a large, knotted hole high up in the trunk, its black eyes peering out from the darkness and down towards him. There was age and wisdom within them, as well as interest.
   The owl stepped out into the light and with a sweep of her wonderful wings, landed upon the lowest branch of her tree. "What is it you have there?"
   Digaba extended his skinny arms and presented the rock towards her.
   She leaned forwards and cocked her head, staring at it for a long, studious moment, then perched straight again, inclining her ruffled head. "You possess a fragment of time," she told him in a soft, rippling hoot, "a record made by the earth to mark turning points in its life - when it grew, when it changed, when it hurt, when it thrived. Written in layers like the lines in the Princess's diary. This piece in particular is a memory of a moment, the death of a creature that called this world home."
   Digaba's brow rose, then dropped and knotted in distress.
   "Worry not, Master Bragoh," she hooted cheerfully, "this creature and its kin lived long before your time. Neither its life nor its death were your responsibility. It was but the natural course of things." She cocked her head again. "Though I find it remarkable that you should have found such a thing here. The earth keeps them hidden in Erivana - this is a place of secrets. In the mountains you may find them more easily - the mountains themselves are pages upon pages laid bare to read - but in these lower lands, the earth does not reveal her past so willingly. Beneath your odd little feet lie countless mysteries..."
   Digaba looked down towards his toes curiously, then back to the stone. A memory of the earth?
   He looked back up to the owless, who stared back at him just as closely as she had the stone, bowed very low in thanks and hurried away.

   He spent the next few hours searching for more, cracking so many rocks that he had found a wonderful place to do it, where a great boulder made them break more cleanly and softly than simply dropping them upon one another, but again, no matter how many shattered, he found no more.
   He grew tired as the sun descended behind the mountains, blanketing the forest in dusk, and eventually gave up. He sat upon the boulder, amongst the chips and stone splinters, and pondered the single fragment of time he had stumbled across.
   The earth really had done a wonderful job of hiding its history. That he could work for a whole day and find just one - just how many rocks could there possibly be to conceal things?
   ...Unless it was not the concealment, but the rocks themselves...or maybe he had found some more, but they'd broken just as cleanly on this supposedly perfect boulder and slipped out from his notice.
   His chest fluttered.
   What if he'd been destroying fragments of history? What if the rocks themselves were the history, pieces the earth had been gracious enough to share, but he'd been rummaging through, unsatisfied, trying to dig up and force to the surface that which it wished to keep hidden?
   All of a sudden his hunger for more diminished. He felt awful, and as he looked around at the mess he'd made, the broken pages and memories scattered into dust, he felt only worse.
   He slipped himself off of the boulder and immediately began trying to make amends, reassembling the stones with even more dedication than he had his little wall and carrying them all around, trying to find precisely where he'd found them.
   But of course he could never manage.
   He dropped down to the grass in defeat once the moon hung high overhead, fretting over how deeply he must have offended the earth. And he had so long been her servant, protecting her creatures, her trees, her rivers - only those within his domain, perhaps, but he'd given himself to her so completely. What must she think of him now? Nosing through her diary at things she had not allowed any others to see, kept concealed or hidden within plain sight...
   Unless...everything he'd uncovered, albeit forcefully, he had been allowed to, he'd just not taken the time to appreciate it. Every rock, pebble, grain of sand, all memories of her long life but overlooked by so many - overlooked even by him. But he had realised his misake, or at least one of them, and had seen the value in her work and tried to put it back together. After all, how long had it taken her to make them? And while he had been unable to repair the rock, who or what possibly could? Once they were broken, they were broken. Revealed to the world.
   The earth had the power to shift and hide parts of itself. These few stones he'd broken - for which he was still filled with regret - simply would not have been thrust up if the earth truly wanted to keep them hidden. Perhaps his rummaging and smashing was just a part of how they were supposed to be discovered, read and appreciated. For appreciate them he now did.
   A smile spread across his face and he looked at the first stone he had found, bathed in silver light, turning it to marvel at its curiousness.
   Yes, his rummaging and smashing was simply a part of that.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Flower Pot Cakes - 30 Days Wild - Throwback Thursday

   For 30 Days Wild and throwback Thursday, I revisited these little flower pot cakes I made back in spring 2014, so easy no one could possibly get them wrong!! Chocolate cupcakes, dropped inside plant pots, a small hole in the top with a bit of green fondant. Lovely spring seedlings! Tell me they don't look amazing.