Arthur and Martha and The Duck Song by Whalebone

We called our ducks Arthur and Martha after the Duck Song by Whalebone

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We went to see Whalebone during their Mirabillia Tour at a Shropshire Wildlife Trust evening and were enchanted by the musicians and their special brand of folk music.  They also play a spellbinding rendition of Stairway to Heaven.  Our Martha has just decided to go broody so we might have some baby Arthurs and Marthas by the end of the month.

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Martha nestled on her eggs, closely watched by Arthur, standing guard

Elderflower Champagne

Midsummer – time to make Elderflower Champagne – which is not champagne – or alcoholic – at all – but, according to my family, is every bit as good as champagne:

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Elderflower Champagne

4 large elderflower heads
2 lemons – rind and juice
2 tblsp white wine vinegar
1 lb 8 oz of granulated sugar
7 pints cold water

You will need 2 large clean buckets – one to make the champagne in and another to strain the champagne into.
Remove flower petals from elderflower heads (just rub the flowers off the stalks – it’s not critical if some stalks get in as well) and put in a bucket with rind and juice of 2 lemons.
Add water and vinegar and stir well.
Leave for 2 days, stirring night and morning.
Strain through a stocking held over a sieve or colander into the second bucket.

Add sugar and stir well.
Leave 24 hours then bottle in screw top bottles.  (Plastic pop bottles will do fine.)

It should be ready to drink after about a week.

If not drinking straight away you will need to release the tops of the bottles regularly so they don’t explode – or you can use old port bottles with corks.

Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle

Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle

Mitchell’s Fold in South Shropshire is a Bronze Age stone circle dating back to 2000 BC (making it older than Stonehenge) and it lies on one of the mystical ley lines.

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We still do not fully understand why stone circles were built, but it is clear that they were ritually important for prehistoric people. Most of them have precisely aligned stones marking important lunar and solar events which became festival days like Beltane and Midsummer.

Neither do we understand ley lines – they are thought to be invisible alignments of mystical or magnetic energy areas in the Bronze and Iron Ages connecting sites like stone circles, standing stones, holy wells, hill tops and cairns.  They were forgotten in modern times but the networks of leys were accidentally preserved because many medieval churches were built on top of pagan sites.

There is also a suggestion that there is a connection between ancient sites on ley lines and extra-terrestrial craft which use them as a point of navigation – or to refuel by tapping into the energy.  Mitchell’s Fold is a location of high UFO activity with several sightings of discs and triangles over the years.

Whatever you believe, I have always had a strange feeling that ancient stones hold supernatural powers and I have to touch them to reach out to this energy.  When we visited Avebury I touched each of the stones – after all – they must have been touched by generations of people over the last two thousand years and those people must have left something of themselves in these special places all those years ago.

It was a beautiful Spring day and a lovely walk along the lane and across the heath to the stone circle; we counted the stones (we could only find 14) and then stood in the centre of the circle and admired the views east across Shropshire and west over Powys into Wales.

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As with many of these prehistoric sites, local folklore has a story to tell:  Once upon a time there was a great famine and a fairy gave the people of Mitchell’s Fold a magic cow – that would fill any container with milk.  One night an evil witch milked the cow into a sieve.  Once the cow realised the trick she disappeared, the witch was turned to stone and a circle of stones set around her so that she could not escape.

Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle is now an English Heritage site.  There is also a Bronze Age axe factory nearby at Cwm Mawr, where distinctive axe-hammers were made from a rock type known as picrite which is found on a small hill just to the north-west of Hyssington.

The Height of Laziness – waiting for dinner – Lunar the Cat!

The height of laziness – waiting for dinner – Lunar the Cat!

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Reading this website, a friend in Birmingham, who adores cats, emailed me this morning:

“Yesterday was such a lovely day, our queen cat was basking in the sun and I noticed her watching the skies, I looked up to see seagulls high above, riding the thermals. It’s still strange to me that they have made the cities their home – but the city is a survivor’s success story for them.”

It’s buzzards that wheel in our Shropshire skies, keening and calling and being chased by crows.

She also asked for some pictures of our  cat – so here he is – he’s a Russian Blue and belongs to Dane, our eldest son.  Very good at catching mice, but usually doesn’t kill them, Betsy the dog does that – if Dane doesn’t get there first and rescues them by tip of the tail!

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Poppy Seed is it safe to eat?

Poppy Seed – is it safe to eat?

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The opium poppy, papaver somniferum, family Papaveracae, is the species of plant from which opium and poppy seeds are derived. The Latin botanical name somniferum means the “sleep-bringing poppy”, referring to its sedative properties.

I have always wondered if it’s safe to eat poppy seeds from the garden so I did some research. Evidently the seeds contain very low levels of opiates and the oil extracted from them contains even less. Poppyseed oil has many uses and poppy seeds are used as a food in many cultures. Poppy seeds are rich in oil, carbohydrates, calcium and protein.

The opiate drugs are extracted from opium. The latex oozes from incisions made on the green seed pods and is collected once dry. Tincture of opium or laudanum consisting of opium dissolved in alcohol or a mixture of alcohol and water, is one of many unapproved drugs. Laudanum was historically used to treat a variety of ailments but its principal use was as an analgesic and cough suppressant until the early 20th century.

Poppy seed is mentioned in ancient medical texts from many civilizations. The Minoans a Bronze Age civilization (around 2700 BC) on the island of Crete, cultivated poppies for their seed, and used a milk, opium and honey mixture to calm crying babies. Poppy seeds have long been used as a folk remedy to aid sleeping, promote fertility and wealth, and were even once believed to have magical powers of invisibility.

Morphine is the predominant alkaloid found in the cultivated varieties of opium poppy. In some countries it is illegal to grow poppies although generally poppy seeds as a food are allowed. In the UK there are no restrictions on growing poppies, only for extracting opium for medicinal products.

Ripe seed from both the opium poppy and corn poppy (papaver rhoeas) does not contain harmful substances and can be used as a spice in curries and sprinkled on bread and cakes.

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So now I feel reassured that I can safely collect poppy seed and sprinkle it on my home-made bread, sausage rolls and mince pies.

Hello world!

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life, be careful how you use it.”

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When I’ve had really bad days – and everyone gets them sometimes – there’s always something that you can enjoy for just a moment – the scent of a wild rose, the wings of a butterfly, the liquid notes of a blackbird singing at the top of the tallest tree – and that’s what life is all about – those moments.  Treasure them and remember them when you need strength to get you through.

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Each day is special and my blog is intended to help everyone find a special moment in every day, celebrate high days and holidays with simple things – lighting a candle on Candlemas day, making a Yule log on 1st December and watching the stars on Midsummer night.

Today, 24th June is Midsummer, let’s share a little Moominsummer Madness:

moominMoominvalley is flooded by a wave caused by a nearby volcano. While escaping the flood the Moomin family and their friends find a building floating past, and take up residence there. They believe it is a deserted house until they realise someone else lives there, Emma, who explains that it is not a house but a theatre. The Moomins start to understand about the scenery, props, and costumes they have found. The theatre drifts aground and Moomintroll and the Snork Maiden decide to go and sleep in a tree. When they wake next morning the theatre has floated away again and they are alone.

Meanwhile, Little My accidentally falls overboard, and by some strange coincidence is rescued by Moomintroll’s adventurous friend Snufkin who is setting off to seek revenge on a grumpy Park Keeper. He tears down all the “Do not walk on the grass” notices, fills the lawns with electric Hattifatteners and sets free twenty-four small woodies who immediately adopt him as their father. The coincidences continue as Moonmintroll and the Snork Maiden meet Emma’s deceased husband’s niece, the Fillyjonk, and all three get arrested burning the signs that Snufkin tore up.

Meanwhile in the theatre, Emma helps Moominpappa write a play and the family decide to stage it. The woodies find a playbill for the play and cajole Snufkin into taking them to the theatre. The Hemulen who has arrested Fillyjonk, Moomintroll, and the Snork Maiden also finds a playbill and leaves his cousin to guard the prisoners while he heads off to see the play. The cousin is persuaded of their innocence and lets them out to go to the play too, where everyone is reunited and ends up on stage, the play itself collapsing into a big reunion party. When the floods recede everyone gets to go home.

The author, Tove Jansson, found her treasured moments in writing the Moomin stories.  Her life was quite difficult at times and Moomintroll and Snufkin, and all the other incredible characters she created, helped her through.