Why butterflies are best!

Butterflies are unendingly popular – and not just popular with us crafters, but also the world. They are beautiful fragile fluttery little things (and sometimes not so little) that captivate us all.

Butterflies also demonstrate so well how a very average looking young person can change into a real beauty as they mature – sadly it sometimes works the other way too and stunning little Hollywood starlets can look wonderfully average as adults!

For those of us fascinated by crafting, of any type, the butterfly has many good points. They are beautiful in shape and colour and can be the focus of any project, blending with any natural world theme. But the best – and I mean THE best – reason why I use butterflies so often is that they are the best mistake coverer uppers (is that a word?!) ever

So many times I have slipped with the glue, designed something and then hated the spacing, or had a helpful animal or small child add a pawprint or handprint that I needed to cover to save my projects. Enter the butterfly either in 2D or 3D and your project is saved.

I have often cut a little extra butterfly out and used it to make the card better balanced. As I mentioned I have covered marks/glue that shouldn’t be visible, but also adding a butterfly can just give your project that perfect finish and extra lift. These Jane Shasky butterflies come in a pad brimming with little butterflies and you can use them as the focal points like these examples or grab one to flutter on the side of a topper to make something wonderful!

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The hedgehog – not such a prickly character!

Well, there’s a thing! I looked out of the kitchen window the other evening and there, trotting across the drive in the dusk, was a hedgehog!

Fifty years ago, this would have been an unremarkable event as these prickly little characters were regular visitors to our gardens but, like so many of our native creatures, they have suffered a huge decline over the past few decades. Sadly, it’s the same old story – the once common hedgehog is under threat from development and the loss of its habitat with hedgerows disappearing.

In just the last 10 years, hedgehog numbers have fallen by 30%, and there are now thought to be fewer than one million left in the UK. The Wildlife Trusts say that hedgehogs are disappearing from our countryside as fast as tigers are worldwide – isn’t that sad.

There’s something terribly endearing about hedgehogs, from their funny little round bodies to their twitchy noses – and let’s face it, most of us were brought up with Mrs Tiggy-Winkle! A hedgehog washerwoman who lives in a tiny cottage in the fells of the Lake District, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle appeared in 1905 and is the creation of Beatrix Potter.

They are such comical little creatures, toddling around like little old folk that it always comes as a surprise at how fast they can move, and how long their legs are when a turn of speed is required! The one in my garden positively raced off into the flower border when the outside security light came on.

When I was a child, we would always leave out a bowl of bread and milk. Sadly, we now know that hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, so I don’t think any of us helped much, although we obviously meant well! Apparently, the best thing to give them is a dish of cat food. In the wild, hedgehogs live on a diet of invertebrates, such as snails, slugs and worms and can get through about 100 every night! Great news for gardeners, but of course you need to not use poisonous slug pellets.

Despite their beady little black eyes that appear so alert, hedgehogs have poor eyesight. They are quite curious animals and they do tend to fall into holes and get stuck, so make sure you cover up any open drains and gullies. If you have a pond, make sure you provide an access point so that hedgehogs can climb back out – this can be achieved by simply placing some stones at one end.

If you’d like to try and help and encourage hedgehogs, there’s really useful information on the Wildlife Trusts website.

Another really good website is Hedgehog Street 

 

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Milking it…

Lovely local milk in glass bottles in the village shop!

Sometimes, you just have to give a wry smile and resist saying anything… this was my reaction when I overheard some earnest 20-somethings discussing the environmental benefits of buying milk in a glass bottle from our local shop and what a brilliant development this was. It IS an excellent development and the aim of reducing plastic use is long overdue… but it’s hardly new!

As a child, I used to listen out for the hum of the milk float – a battery-driven vehicle (gosh, how very ‘green’!) and the clink of our pints of milk being delivered to the porch. There was always the rush to get to the bottles before the blue tits had pecked through the lids and got at the cream on the top! Amazingly… we even used to recycle back in the dark ages of the 1950s too! Every housewife would wash out her ‘empties’ and put them back on the step for them to be replaced with new bottles of fresh milk the next day.

We collected the silver foil caps and recycled them (care of Blue Peter appeals) and the trusty milkman provided an excellent neighbourhood watch facility, spotting when anything was amiss if a householder didn’t take in their milk. He also sold eggs, bread and tinned goods, amongst other things, and must have been an absolute lifeline for elderly customers. Fancy that – home grocery deliveries! Now, where have I seen that recently?

It is lovely to see milk in bottles back in my local shop although the realisation that the bottles were one litre rather than one pint took me a moment – I couldn’t understand why they seemed so large! The milk is from a local dairy so there’s no problem with ‘food miles’ and the cows that produced the milk would have been grazing in fields quite nearby. Who knows where the milk in our supermarkets comes from? And it seems sometimes we can’t even believe the cheery information on the label as some supermarket ‘farms’ are completely fictitious.

It sometimes seems to me that we rush headlong into new ideas and don’t think about the possible side effects, as with the dominance of the supermarkets and the loss of milk rounds and many of our high street shops. But most developments are, of course, huge improvements and we must be open to change. However, I for one will be very pleased if the milkman and his humming milk float make a return to our streets, perhaps other much-missed aspects of earlier decades will come back too…

 

 

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Egged on!

Whenever I am thinking about writing a blog, certain topics leap into my mind because they interest me (new craft ideas, gardens, cakes etc.) while others occur just because I’ve written about them before and found them so interesting I have to revisit them! Tea is one such topic, as are chickens and eggs.

Whenever I write about chickens or eggs, the blogs are always popular. Sadly, since she moved house, my partner in crime writing Julia no longer keeps hens, but I do love eggs and manage to buy lovely free range eggs locally. We eat more than 12 billion eggs a year in this country (amazing!), but when you look at how versatile eggs are, I suppose it’s not that surprising.

An egg is just such a wonderful thing – nature at her most clever it seems to me. The design of an egg is so perfect – their asymmetric tapered oval shape means that if you nudge them, they’ll come back to you. They’ll sweep out in a circle around the pointed end, and come to a stop with the pointed end facing uphill – pretty essential if you nest on a cliff edge! In fact, the eggs of birds that have their nests in precarious places are more oval than the eggs of birds that nest on the ground.

Another reason for eggs to be egg-shaped is that they fit together snugly in the nest, with only small air spaces between them so they help keep each other warm. And let’s not forget another reason that eggs are tapered – so that they can get pushed out of the hen more easily – ouch!

An egg contains every vitamin, except C, as well as calcium, magnesium, zinc and selenium, plus lots of other micronutrients. As you may know, all of the fat is in the yolk, but so is most of the goodness. Some terribly serious diet gurus want us to feast(!) on whipped egg white omelettes and, while I’m sure that’s terribly healthy… it’s also rather dull to my mind.

Eggs are so versatile, just think of all the things you can make with them… cakes (now why did that come into my mind first?!), omelettes, meringues and mayonnaise. They can be boiled and used in sandwiches, on picnics and for soldiers at breakfast. Great for glazing baked items and for thickening and lovely when scrambled and served with smoked salmon as a treat! And then, of course, the shells themselves – lovely to decorate, perfect for growing seedlings in and the best packaging ever for a ‘ready meal’!

However, the poor old egg has been through some crises in this country. There was the big salmonella scare in the late 1980s when everyone seemed terrified of eating them. Then we were told their cholesterol content is bad for your heart – it’s not. The egg is also often stated as a cause of constipation but that again, isn’t true, it’s just that they have absolutely no dietary fibre, so you shouldn’t fill up on eggs instead of high-fibre foods. How different from my childhood when I can remember those funny TV adverts with comedians Tony Hancock and Patricia Hayes telling us to ‘Go to work on an egg’ as they were supposed to be so good for you!

 

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The beauty of birdsong

The magical song of a blackbird at dusk…

Is there anything more beautiful than birdsong? From the first trills of the dawn chorus to the solo blackbird singing as dusk falls, it is the most magical thing.

I read recently about some musicians holding concerts in woodland in the hope that a nightingale would join in the music – how magical that would be. Sadly, not many people have ever heard a nightingale as they have declined greatly over the past few years. The RSPB says there are fewer than 5,500 now, down from 60,000 a few decades ago. Isn’t that sad? It is only the male bird that sings and what makes the nightingale unique is that they sing many different notes and appear to respond to music made by humans.

A song thrush singing early on a summer’s morning.

The nightingale is the bird widely regarded as the star performer, but I can think of several others that frequently wow me with their musical skills. Many times up on Dartmoor I have listened to the beautiful trills and twitters of a skylark – only visible as a tiny dot, high up in the sky. A song thrush, again a bird in major decline, is also lovely to sit and listen to, it’s song so varied and clear. The gardener’s friend and surely one of our cheekiest birds, the robin, also has a delightful song and a blackbird’s solo at dusk is the perfect end to a day.

Birds use their voices to communicate with other birds. A bird ‘call’ says something definite about the caller – for example, “I’m a robin and I’m worried about that cat down there”. Bird ‘song’ is a specialised form of bird call that is designed to ensure the breeding success of the singer, to indicate clearly that he is healthy and fit and ready to breed.

And yes, as is so often the way, it’s largely a boy thing, designed so that other females of the same species are attracted and males of the same species are repelled.

A cheeky robin serenading us as we work in the garden!

Birdsong is most highly developed in a group of birds called ‘passeriformes’ which include wrens, robins, blackbirds and song thrushes. Basically, it means ‘perching bird’ and it’s an enormous group – around 5,400 of the world’s 8,000 to 9,000 species are ‘perching birds’ and all of them sing differently.

Each species has its own signature song. Some are basic, chiff-chaffs just go ‘chiff chaff’, but many are complex and never fail to lift the spirit – the blackbird being possibly the best example. Each song is different. It has to identify the singer’s species and also say something about the health of the singer. Many species even mimic other birds’ songs just to increase their repertoire, and it’s not unknown for other sounds, such as cats’ calls, to be included as well!

Birdsong is an integral part of the soundtrack in our everyday lives (well, for we lucky country dwellers at least) and when the singing stops – it is quite unsettling. I recall when we had an eclipse about 10 years ago and, as we stood outside, marvelling as the light quickly faded as the sun disappeared… the birdsong ceased. I found that silence along with the sudden gloom, very unsettling. A world without birdsong would be a barren place indeed.

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