Category Archives: Nature

Silly Memory That Still Makes Me Smile

Jillian here. I was working on an upcoming blog post for a friend for the month of October which is apparently Family History Month. My post for then is about my two great aunts. One of which I knew well and one who died before I was born. It reminded me of a funny event involving the one I knew and I thought I’d share it for my post here this month.

My family is from North Alabama. Even though I never lived there, we visited a lot.

My great aunt Lit was my paternal grandfather’s sister. She was married to a man named Charlie Sandlin and I loved, loved him- her, too, but her husband was my pal as a kid. My grandparents owned a house on the Tennessee River and Uncle Charlie and I would swim the mile and a half across it all the time- we’d try to touch bottom way out in the middle. Sometimes we could and lots of times, we couldn’t. The Wilson Dam was not too far away and the water levels rose and fell as the dam was used to let boats in and out of the lock.  It was always deep in the center, but sometimes, near shore, you could walk out a number of feet and pick up stray clams in the mud. All the kids grabbed them a lot and then we’d put them in steaming water to see them open. Charlie was a big ole kid and we had a special bond.

Uncle Charlie had a brother named Buddy and he was an inventor. It was a lot of fun to see him on occasion- usually running into him at a store or something like that. He didn’t come out to the lake house and I didn’t know him well and never met any of his kids or grandkids.

Years later, after Uncle Charlie died, I was in law school in Birmingham, Alabama and met a guy in one of my classes named Jimmy Sandlin. I couldn’t resist asking him if he was from Florence, Ala. He said he was and I told him I had a great aunt named Lit who married a man named Charlie Sandlin and he had a brother named Buddy. I asked if he knew them.

He said he was Buddy’s grandson but I was wrong about his Uncle Charlie because his uncle was married to a woman named Marie. It was just so weird, I couldn’t believe it. I said, “I promise you, her name is Lit and it has to be the same person- how could it not be?”

Shrugging, he said, “What can I tell you? Uncle Charlie’s wife was named Marie. I swear.”

I went home and called my dad to find out exactly what Uncle Charlie had been up to with two wives. My dad laughed and laughed and when he finally got hold of himself, he said, “Her name is Lydia Marie and the family have always called her Lit.”

Man! Did I feel silly, but you know what? In all my life, I’d never heard her called anything but Lit.

The next day, I told my new friend we did indeed share a great aunt and, from then on, we called ourselves cousins-in-law.

How about you? Any stories about mistaken identity?

Here’s a picture of the two great aunts I’ll be on my friend’s blog talking about in October. Lit is the one in the seat and Hoovey (another one with a nickname as her real name was Louise) is the one on the arm of the chair. Image-1 (2)

 

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A Summer of Firsts

This summer has certainly been sweltering so far, and I love it. But it has its downside too, for keeping the garden thriving has been a major task. Thankfully we’re not on a water meter or a hosepipe ban so the new flower border is more colourful than ever.

But despite our best efforts our vegetables have been a failure – a first for Dave. The broad beans cropped well but of once shelled were all covered in black spots and consigned to the compost bin. We managed about three meals from the runner beans before they withered. Dave has cut them back in hope they’ll reshoot. The peas were a non-starter and the sweet peas although flowered had stems no longer than 2 inches and soon died in the heat. That said, the onions, carrots and potatoes are cropping, so at least we’re not starving. But therein came another first for us.

We kept finding the onions pulled out and scattered around the vegetable patch, we’re talking here about the whole matured, fully grown and ready to harvest bulbs. Then some of the dahlias were pulled out of the ground. A few mornings on we found tattered and chewed children’s soft toys discarded amongst the veg. Big holes were appearing in the ground, too big to be cats and we have no wild rabbits here. The culprits were seen one evening when I spied them coming into the garden through the adjoining hedge – foxes, a family of 7. Urban foxes have always been around but we’ve never had any damage. They’ve even dug large holes under a neighbours’ new fence.

But there have been some lovely firsts too. We haven’t seen many butterflies here this summer apart from the pesky cabbage whites. One appeared that I hadn’t seen before – a marbled white. Not as troublesome as the cabbage whites.

Marbled White Butterfly

The butterflies might be scare but there have been plenty of moths. One was  a privet hawk moth, with a wingspan of approx 4 inches, these moths are the largest in the UK. I haven’t seen them since moving away from London so a first for my garden. It was also unusual in that there are no privet hedges locally!

Privet Hawk Moth

Another morning I noticed a strange-looking black and white butterfly sitting on one of my flowers. A closer inspection showed it was a moth. I grabbed my camera and tried to take a photo. As I did, it opened its wings and took flight revealing the most beautiful orange wings as it fluttered over the fence into another garden. Research told me it was a tiger moth, and that the unknown hairy caterpillars I kept finding on a rose bush were in fact tiger moth caterpillars. More firsts. As always, I’m too slow with the camera so I’ve had to obtain these 3 ref photos.

Tiger Moth

Last Wednesday as Dave and I were enjoying a coffee on the patio, he noticed a very fat, long (at least 3 inches!) green caterpillar making its way across the slabs. It looked rather like those stuffed draft excluders we all had years ago to keep the wind from blowing under the doors. He took a photo and ran inside to look it up on the internet as neither of us recognized it. Whilst he was gone, I spied another happily munching away on a fuchsia bush. They turned out to be elephant hawk moth caterpillars – I never knew they also came in green, I’d only ever seen the brown ones. We found out that they start off green and over the course of a few days slowly turn brown.  Two days later, trundling along the patio heading for the undergrowth along came a brown one. At least they shuffle along slowly so I was able to capture them on camera. (As I’m writing this post, Dave has just come upstairs to show me another green one he’s found chomping on a plant!)

Another first is a sunflower growing in the new border. In all the 40 years I’ve been gardening here, I’ve never grown one. I’d popped a few sunflowers seeds from the birdfeed into the ground out of curiosity to see if they would grow. Two of them I must have pulled out when weeding but one has grown into a beauty, almost 6 feet tall with lots of buds coming out.

But the best first of all wasn’t a moth, butterfly or caterpillar or a flower. It was a pair of goldfinches settling on the birdfeeder to enjoy a feast of nyger seeds. I knew goldfinches were in the area, I’d seen and heard them about them since last winter, so I’d put out the nyger seeds in the hope they would come into the garden. They did, and a few days later two youngsters joined them. Now we often have 7 or 8 around the feeders. They take no notice of Dave or me or of the resident sparrows.

Talking of sparrows… Billy One Mate still pops into the garden for a feed on the ground but he’s now with a small flock of his fellow starlings. I know it’s him as he has a white flash down his chest. He’s thriving, bless him, after such a shaky start.

And with summer still not over, who knows what other firsts might appear.

Billy One Mate

Meet Billy One Mate. He (I say “he” but it could well be a “she”) is a young starling that thinks he’s a sparrow.

I first became aware of him few weeks ago when the local starling flock of descended into my garden with all their noisy fledglings to feast on the birdseed dropped by the sparrows. The fledglings were able to fly reasonable well and most could feed themselves but preferred like most youngsters to let mum (or dad) feed them. I noticed Billy approaching one adult bird, begging for food. The adult kicked him away. Hmm, I thought, obviously wrong mum. He begged from another. She too kicked him on the head rather aggressively. This treatment was metered out by every adult Billy went too. He’d been pushed , almost trodden on, kicked and clawed away. I’d never seen birds do this to young ones before.  You couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. And when the flock finally flew off, Billy was left on his own. It was obvious he’d been orphaned.

For the next few days Billy No Mates as I christened him was in the garden on his own, sleeping in the holly tree by the fence and during the day sitting on the fence in the shade. I swear every time the starlings flew over he watched them with a forlorn look on his little face. He looked so sad. He spent a lot of time watching the sparrows darting to and fro from the bird feeder. He tried to feed from it too but was unable to get the hang of clinging to the perches. All he could do was follow the lead of the adult sparrows feeding their young on the ground with the dropped seeds or chipped nuts in the bird food. He begged from the sparrows to no avail. so found what he could on the ground.

I happened to look out of my bedroom window one morning to see him flapping about in the koi pond, trying to get out. Not a good place to take a bath and Dave had to rescue him. Billy toddled off into the undergrowth to dry out, no doubt feeling very miserable and sorry for himself. The following day he sat on the fence watching the sparrows bathing in the bird bath. Ahh, that’s where I bath, he must of thought, and joined them. The sparrows accepted him, ignored him really as he splashed and drank and shook and washed.

From then on, he flew with the sparrows. Whenever they came into the garden, you could guarantee Billy was coming up the rear. He’d seemed to have latched on to one sparrow in particular and wherever that sparrow went in the garden, Billy followed, be it among the flowerbeds to hunt for mealworms, up onto the feeder, not that he could feed from it, or into the bird bath. From then on he was known as Billy One Mate. It seemed the two couldn’t be separated. Over the course of the next few weeks, he became braver and bolder, seeing off other young starlings that landed too close to “his” food or his little friend. One morning he even squared up to a female blackbird but soon learned there is a pecking order and blackbird always wins over starling.

As the days have progressed he’s never far behind his little sparrow friend, but more and more now he’s flying with several other young starlings. I’d like to think in a few weeks’ time instead of having just one little playmate, he’ll be accepted into the starling flock and have lots of big friends to keep an eye out for him.

Good luck, Billy. You deserve to do well.

A Daffodil for a Dreary Day

So, that’s dark and dreary January over. Thank goodness. February here may still be dreary but at least the days are getting longer in soggy England. February hasn’t gone well so far for us. Only three days old and already three bad things have happened. First, a close family member on my husband’s side has passed on. Next, we hear some other bad news, upsetting us both. And this morning, though nothing as bad, nonetheless annoying, my dishwasher decided it’s had enough and promptly went bang, knocking out the house’s electricity.

The power’s now restored (hence why I’m a little bit late with this post!) but it’s back to dishpan hands and soap suds for me this weekend. (Dave, where’s the handcream?) One bright start to the month was having a lovely lunch with Tricia. The okay food was more than made up for by the company, conversation and laughter – it’s the reason why we meet, after all. Thank you, Tricia. Looking forward to the next time.

It’s been so wet, cold, windy and miserable here in Britain, that it’s been impossible to do anything for the last three months in the garden to restore it to normal after last November’s major overhaul. Instead, we’ve filled the house with flowers and bulbs, rooms filled with the scent of hyacinths and the amaryllis a giant at over 3ft tall with three magnificent blooms.

The gardens are now springing back into life. (Pun there, did you notice?) The front lawn a riot of snowdrops and crocus and first of the daffodils in flower.

Out back, primroses are brightening the pond and the hellibores up and coming. During the dark days of January, I’ve been plotting and planning and ordering new plants. I want the garden to be a blaze of colour this summer, in fact all year round if I can achieve it, and if the winds don’t take it all down.

I mentioned last time the birds are returning. I was so pleased, until… Last weekend was National Birdwatch Weekend in Britain, organised by the RSPB. As several of our birdfeeders were damaged, we bought new ones and stocked up with plenty of bird feed and treats. I was looking forward to spending a happy hour or so watching my delightful garden visitors. I think the birds must have known something was going on as both Saturday and Sunday, not one single bird arrived. It wasn’t just in my garden either. For some unexplained reason we saw none in other gardens, or in nearby trees, and none flying overheard except one solitary gull, and they don’t count. Low and behold, this morning they are all back, so I’m one happy bunny again.

PS: I was just about to publish this post when I received a bit of good news which has also cheered me up. Hope you don’t mind me sharing it with you?

Silly question, really…

Kit’s Website and Blog  and  Kit’s Art  Site

 

Building Fences

I can’t believe it’s December already! The past month has gone by in a flash for two reasons. One, we’ve been exceptionally busy during the first half; and second, the past few weeks I’ve been laid low by a nasty chest infection which is still hanging on. Whilst I won’t dwell on the latter, the busy part was exciting but messy. But heck, it’s what we wanted. I’ve mentioned before our intention to revamp the backyard as Dave wants a larger greenhouse, I want more space on the patio, and the fence between us and our neighbour has over the past few years disintegrated due to the high winds we experience here.

Before the start

So we decided it was time to put plans into action. We wanted a garden contractor who would do the complete works: remove all shrubs and trees, take down a high wall and build new fences and a gate, as well as lay a new larger patio. The first quote we received sounded good, we liked the chap and the very same day we agreed, he left his labourer to help Dave dismantle the old greenhouse, which by the end of that Friday, was gone, never to darken our door or garden again (the greenhouse that is, not the labourer!).

And so it begins

Monday morning and the sun was shining. The contractors arrived early and began knocking down the wall with a mini JCB. This had to come down first so they could get the digger into the garden in order to rip out the trees and shrubs. Job done, they then started lifting the old patio slabs.

Nearly ready for the new patio

The next day, the heavens opened, the garden rapidly becoming a quagmire, but they continued on. Fence erected, remaining slabs lifted but, oh boy, the mud! Undaunted by the weather, slowly things took shape. A major problem was found in laying the new slabs. It was hoped the foundation from the old patio would be solid enough for the new one but not the case, so extra work and hardcore were needed. This delayed progress and by the end of the week the timetable was running over. On the Saturday, there were still finishing jobs needed but Dave agreed to do the work himself; it would give him something to do. A project until the new greenhouse arrived.

Some 200 slabs later

We’re pleased with what had been done. The greenhouse duly delivered,  Dave has spent the past week putting it all together as well as running up and down the stairs looking after me. Good job he’s fit. If he wasn’t before, he certainly is now.

The new area

There’s still lots to do gardening wise, but it’s the wrong time of year to dig the soil, put in plants and repair the lawn. It must all wait until spring. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying myself planning out my new borders, ordering new bulbs and shrubs, but I do miss my birds. Their trees and hiding places have gone and for the time being so have the bird-feeders and birdbath, consigned to other places but in the last few days I’ve noticed they’ve found both and are slowly returning. They’re in for a treat next spring too because I’ve a new birdbath planned as the old one leaks. (My Christmas present from Dave, although I haven’t told him yet! 😉 )

This has all helped keep me going during the past dark days of barking, coughing and wheezing. As we approach the winter solstice and the toughest time of the year for me, I can dream, plan, and organise the garden for next year. Bring it on!

Meanwhile wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and everything you wish for in 2018.

Experiences Old and New

I hope my American bloggers enjoyed a Happy Thanksgiving Celebration yesterday with family and friends.  Thanks to everyone for your supportive messages last month.  Peter is visiting the hospital for various tests and this week we are meeting with the Consultant to discuss results.  We hope for a diagnosis, treatment plan and information as although Peter is brave and stoic it will help to know what we are dealing with – fingers crossed.

This month has been reflective in many ways but I have had some old experiences which are helping me deal with my stress levels and new experiences which have been very thought provoking,  I will tell you one old experience which we have repeated over many years.  A regular walk of ours is along part of a canal near to our house, we have various routes to and from it but the canal part of the walk remains consistent.  Different seasons add to the experience but this time of year is our favourite as less people are using the canal and fewer cyclists.  The light is different therefore the views of surrounding countryside seem enhanced.  Lots of wildlife thrives alongside the canal and various ducks, moorhens and occasional fish inhabit the area so it is interesting.  Occasional hazards occur when a local fishing club hold competitions and block the path but on the whole each group of people (and animals) co-exist. Strange specimen featured!

The highlight this weekend was a heron.  I wonder if it is the same one that we have seen over the years but is probably an offspring.  I keep meaning to find out more about herons as I am fascinated by their inscrutability and patience. This one waited for Peter to approach him, seemed to pose for the photo, glanced around then took flight looking majestic.  These birds look so elegant even when flying despite their long legs.  Our next encounter was with a pair of swans who swam right up to the bank, pecked at some reeds, then seemed to pose for the camera before gliding gracefully off.  I wondered at first if they thought we had some titbits but they didn’t seem bothered.  The two incidents enhanced our walk.  I reflect on magical moments like these during the dark grey days.

My new experience is Gong Bath or Sound Yoga (Suntatya Yoga).  Whilst yoga is one of my main exercise routines of the week this is totally different. Several of my friends have followed my example despite my not talking about my individual experience (unusual!!) as each person’s reaction is different. We assemble in a local hall, normally 8 or 10 of us, with yoga mats, blankets, cushions, comfortable clothing and lie on the floor for an hour with our eyes closed! BUT during this time Helen, a young qualified yoga teacher friend of mine, plays a variety of sounds using singing bowls, gongs, bells, pebbles, rain maker and other instruments but I am unsure of all the names.  Occasionally Helen reads a piece of poetry near the end of the session or plays a piece of music. One week around Harvest she played Eva Cassidy’s Fields of Gold which conjured up various images for me. I have given a brief resumé of the sessions as it is impossible to describe. We are in a totally safe environment, in soft light and the effect for me is total relaxation. Apparently the scientific theory is that toxins are released by the sound waves which help release stress, thus helping the body heal and restore itself.  I cannot say anything other than during the past year it has made an unbelievable difference to my stress levels.  I sleep well the night of the session and the feeling continues for a several days.  It is important to drink lots of water to rehydrate thoroughly as the toxins continue to be released.  I am unsure of why this works for me and for other people I know, I am pragmatic yet spiritual too so might be susceptible.  Two of my friends are deaf and wear hearing aids which they remove for the sessions but they experience similar feelings.

Old and New Experiences indeed but invaluable at this stage of my life. Relax is my word of the moment.  I hope you NaNo Challenge writers are able to do the same! Good luck for the last week amazing people.

September…Arachnophobics Beware!

Ah, September … leading us gently into the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. But, of course, it’s also spider month, that time of year when the males begin to search for a mate and the little critters head indoors to find a place to spend the winter.

20170927_092530

Essential household equipment

I’m no fan of spiders and would never hurt them, but I don’t especially want to share the house with them either. Usually, the old upturned glass and cardboard removal does the trick, but so far this month these invaders have been pretty large and so I’ve been on the hunt for deterrents.

To date, I’ve tried herbs – lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint – and scattering horse chestnuts around the room, but they don’t seem to work too well, especially the chestnuts because I found a spider virtually sitting on top of one!  And they were also too attrac tiveto a certain Ms. Vivvy who thought they looked like a fun new thing to play with. But then she also finds the spiders themselves pretty interesting and pounces on them as if they are new playmates.

20170927_092400

Bad mummy.

She’s very disgruntled when we bring out the glass and cardboard and they’re removed from her vicinity.

Things I still plan to try out are citronella spray and lemon surface cleaners and polish, both of which have been recommended.

One of the things that really surprised me while researching the internet for natural deterrents was how many sites have photos of huge, and I mean huge, spiders on their web pages. Surely many people looking for deterrents are going to be mildly arachnophobic. The last thing they’d want is a massive spider looking out at them. Much the same as when I purchased a commercial spray to try. I bought a couple for my mum as well and had to cover the depiction of a spider on the bottle with a stick-on smiley face before I gave them to her.

Speaking of arachnophobia, be warned that the following video is probably not for you. Someone let loose a tarantula on a London tube train. They were lucky someone didn’t have a heart attack!