Monday 31 December 2012

Blog of the Year Award

Blog of the Year Award 1 star thumbnail

I was totally delighted and indeed honoured to be nominated for the Blog of the Year Award by Woodland Matters, the blog of the Woodland Trust. What a lovely way to end the year (and a nice birthday present too!). Before I nominate some blogs in turn, here are the rules:

The “Blog of the Year” award is a little different from some other awards, because you accumulate stars. Here are the ‘rules’ for this award:
1 Select the blog(s) you think deserve the ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award
2 Write a blog post and tell us about the blog(s) you have chosen – there’s no minimum or maximum number of blogs required – and ‘present’ them with their award.
3 Please include a link back to this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award – and include these ‘rules’ in your post (please don’t alter the rules or the badges!)
4 Let the blog(s) you have chosen know that you have given them this award and share the ‘rules’ with them.
5 You can now also join our Facebook group – click ‘like’ on this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award Facebook group and then you can share your blog with an even wider audience.
6 As a winner of the award please add a link back to the blog that presented you with the award – and then proudly display the award on your blog and sidebar … and start collecting stars… Yes – that’s right – there are stars to collect!
Unlike other awards which you can only add to your blog once – this award is different! When you begin you will receive the ‘1 star’ award – and every time you are given the award by another blog – you can add another star! There are a total of 6 stars to collect.
Which means that you can check out your favourite blogs, and even if they have already been given the award by someone else, then you can still bestow it on them again and help them to reach the maximum 6 stars! For more information check the FAQ on The Thought Palette.

 So, my nominations are: 

for her delightful year long creative, bunny themed quilt project Michelle of The Raspberry Rabbits.

for Nature Notes and her environmental awareness and love of nature Michelle of Rambling Woods

for her daily short observations of nature Lucy of Out with Mol

and for environmental campaigns in the UK and as a thank you for giving me the award, Woodland Matters

and I'll end there, in fear that if I continue it will be a new year before I've listed all the blogs I've enjoyed in 2012 and there are very many of them!

Sunday 30 December 2012

The Year in Birds 2012

It's been a good year for birds! I've seen 116 species this year - almost all of them in Edinburgh and the surrounding Lothians and all of them in Scotland.

Six of the species I've seen this year have been lifers (ie I've never seen them before!) these are: snow bunting, velvet scoter (a duck with a wonderfully weird face), purple sandpiper and gadwall (all seen for the first time on the one day on 18 January at Musselburgh) Slavonian grebe (in winter plumage), grey plover and long tailed duck (also seen at Musselburgh, which is definitely the best birdwatching place near Edinburgh and very accessible by public transport too, unlike many of the other excellent sites along the East Lothian coast)

The most amazing bird encounter of the year was seeing a short eared owl fly out of a bush right in front of me in the woodlands at Musselburgh Lagoons.

Equally amazing was being surrounded by waxwings! I'd spotted some near the centre of town and knowing their favourite places in previous years worked out where they'd be and found them in some rowan trees on Fountainbridge and then realised they were flying between these trees and some on Dalry Road so that's where I headed to find myself caught up in the flock. That's the only time I've seen them this year, they're elusive birds but apparently it's a particularly good winter for them in the UK and there are good chances of seeing them even away from the east coast.

I saw my first nuthatch in Edinburgh (I've seen them before in England and in Peebles in the Scottish Borders but they've only recently arrived in Scotland and are still not really established in Edinburgh apart from at the Hermitage of Braid where they seem to have made themselves very much at home on the bird feeders outside the Ranger's Centre.)

My bird of the year in many ways is the goldcrest - I've seen more of these adorable tiny little birds this year than I've seen in the whole of my life before, they just seem to have been everywhere and very obliging in coming very close to me and bowing their heads so I've been able to have a clear look at their gold crest.

My non-bird of the year was the Musselburgh hooded crow. I thought I'd seen a full hooded crow (which would have been a local rarity), but in retrospect, and having seem probably the same bird again since, it was almost certainly the famous Musselburgh 80% hooded crow. You can read more about it here.

As ever red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more, mostly to the RSPB website, which has been recently updated so that the bird ID pages are even better than before!

Saturday 29 December 2012

Chasing Ice

Chasing Ice is a visually stunning, sobering documentary about extreme photography (and extreme adventuring) in the name of cataloguing the evidence of the effects of climate change on glaciers in Greenland, Iceland and Alaska.

James Balog is a photographer with a scientific background who set up the Extreme Ice Survey to document the changes that are happening to glaciers across the world. This film follows the project over several years, showing the technical and physical challenges facing Balog and his team. Equipment failure and extreme knee injury alike fail to deter Balog from his task.

The resulting photography is stunning, and the cinematography of the film is amazing (especially the ending sequence showing a major glacier calving (splitting up). The before and after photos of various glaciers demonstrate just how quickly and how entirely glaciers are shrinking and in some cases entirely disappearing.

Balog has through his work in photographing glaciers become a spokesperson on issues around climate change.

This is a must see film, both because of its message and because it is visually so beautiful.

Chasing Ice is showing at Edinburgh Filmhouse tomorrow and Monday 31 December

Find out your nearest UK screening on the website or request the film to come to your local cinema!

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Friday 28 December 2012

Trilobite! by Richard Fortey

I've been disappointed by Richard Fortey's book before, I felt that both Life: An Unauthorised Biography (which bizarrely I don't seem to have reviewed) and Earth An Intimate History (which I reviewd here) tried to cover too much ground and ended up being unsatisfying reads.

However, despite this and the fact that on his otherwise interesting TV programme on prehistoric animals he seemed almost obsessed with eating the nearest relative of every extinct creature, I do have a lot of respect for Fortey as a scientist. Given also that Trilobites are his specialism I expected great things from this book. And I was not disappointed.  

Trilobite! is a wonderfully engaging, fascinating and beautifully illustrated history of that mysterious and incredibly varied prehistoric group of animals that were the dominant type of life on earth for roughly six times as long as the reign of the dinosaurs.

Fortey is not just interested in Trilobites for their own sakes either (though he fills us in on fascinating details about their natural history and habits) but is interested too in what they can tell us about the prehistoric earth and the movement of the continents and the evolution of life in general. He also muses on the creativity involved in paleontology and the false split that many see between science and arts, he suggests for example that trilobites offer great inspiration for poetry.

Even his insistence on finding and eating a horseshoe crab (the closest living relative to the trilobites) couldn't put me off this brilliant book.

Trilobite! by Richard Fortey published by Flamingo (part of Harper Collins)

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other pages where you can find out more

Thursday 27 December 2012

Mistletoe Madness

Hope everyone is enjoying the festive season! Properly speaking the Christmas season continues until Epiphany (6 January) so that gives you plenty of time to read 'Mistletoe Madness' a new anthology of writing about Christmas just out from Kind of a Hurricane Press. You can find it in their book-store (as I write this blog-post, it's the top item in their book-store, but they publish quite a lot of anthologies, so it may be that you need to scroll down to find it!).

I'm delighted to have a poem in there, alongside 34 other writers!

Best wishes for the rest of the Christmas season!

Monday 24 December 2012

Seasons Greetings

Christmas rain -
every tree decorated 
with diamonds

Seasons Greetings to everyone who reads this blog!

Sunday 23 December 2012

Sunset and wildlife article

sunset glows apricot behind the castle

That was the beautiful sight earlier this evening as I travelled across town in a bus. I had supper with a friend and got home to find that Edinburgh's Winter Wonderland the last of my articles about seasonal wildlife in Edinburgh and the Lothians has just been published on Lothian Life.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Friday 21 December 2012

Oh Christmas Tree!

We have a living Christmas tree, sitting in a pot of soil in our living room. It will return to Crafty Green Boyfriend's parents' garden after the New Year. It's larger than we usually get - actually come to think of it maybe it's always the same tree, in which case it's natural that the tree always seems to get bigger!

I'm quite minimalist when it comes to Christmas decorations. I gave up on the handmade paper chains when I got fed up of them dropping on our heads on a regular basis.

I decorate the tree with ribbons, two fairtrade wooden birds that I've had for ages, a star I made from felted shed fur from our rabbit Anya  (she may have passed over the Rainbow Bridge a few years ago now but there are plenty of things around to remind us of her). Oh and odd earrings! Those earrings that have lost their partner make really nice decorations!

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Festive Spicy Tomato and Mushroom Sauce

One of the things I love about Twitter is the unexpected connections you can make and the interesting conversations that can happen. Some things though are too long for Twitter, like recipes. So, in response to a Twitter conversation with @centre_alt_tech about festive food (that links to this post on the Centre for Alternative Technology blog) here's my recipe for festive spicy tomato and mushroom sauce. It's perfect to serve with nut roast, potatoes and vegetables, that staple vegetarian festive meal. (The sauce also goes beautifully with fish, in fact I originally started making this sauce to go with the Malawian chambo fish (now threatened by overfishing!) when I lived on the shores of Lake Malawi.). All quantities are approximate as I don't actually use a recipe to make this. I always make quite a generous amount though as Crafty Green Boyfriend likes it so much.

Festive Spicy Tomato and Mushroom Sauce (to serve two Crafty Green people)

olive oil
half an onion, chopped
quarter of a small pepper, chopped (I try to buy one of those multi-coloured peppers but you can use red or green pepper depending on which you prefer)
six medium mushrooms, washed and chopped
six medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
cinnamon or mixed spice to taste (or another spice if you want, it might be nice with paprika for example)

1. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan
2. Add the chopped onion and cook until it goes clear
3. Add the chopped pepper and stir
4. Add the chopped mushroom and allow to brown just slightly
5. Add the chopped tomatoes and some water and stir
6. Turn the heat right down and let the mixture simmer, adding water as necessary to stop the mixture sticking to the pan and to create the required consistency
7. When the sauce is almost ready, add some cinnamon or mixed spice, stir thoroughly, allow to simmer for another few minutes and then pour over the nut roast and potatoes.

I tend to start making this as soon as I put the nut roast in the oven and let it simmer all the time the roast is cooking.

Oh and if you're ever in Machynlleth, Wales, do visit the Centre for Alternative Technology, it's a fascinating and inspiring place!

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more. 


Saturday 15 December 2012

Daily Haiku

I'm delighted to have been be featured on Daily Haiku every day this week. I've been posting the links at the bottom of each day's blog post. Here is today's haiku.

You can read all my haiku on Daily Haiku here - and this link will be updated with all my future haiku on the site. I have another two featured weeks over there in this publication cycle.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Friday 14 December 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

This is a film that came from nowhere and got a lot of critics heaping praise on it. It's the story of a six year old girl (wonderfully played by Quvenzhane Wallis) who lives in a forgotten bayou community on the wrong side of the levee in New Orleans.

When the big storm comes, as all of the bayou residents know it must, then the community needs to fight for its survival.

There are some very moving scenes of community self reliance, people fishing together and building gardens out of nothing and lots of social gatherings where it becomes obvious that the company matters more than anything else.

On the other hand, the six year old's commentary about everything being connected is either super cute or rather annoying depending on your point of view and the film does seem to lack energy and direction at some points.

Overall though, it's an important film, because it forces the viewer to think about what might happen when the waters rise where we live.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is on at the Edinburgh Filmhouse until Thursday 20 December.

Meanwhile, my haiku today on Daily Haiku is here

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Thursday 13 December 2012

One Bird Flying by Lesley Harrison

In 2007 - 08, Lesley Harrison spent a year working in Mongolia with The Journals of Marco Polo as her constant reading companion. This small but perfectly formed chapbook is the poetic result of her year.

One Bird Flying is beautifully spare, meditative and evocative. The reader is taken instantly to the wide open lands of Mongolia,

 a mountain lake, its jade skin
delicate and fractured.

(from Green)
to spend time with the nomadic peoples and the birds that live there. There is the sense of a culture that is one with nature (or at least more at ease with it than we in the West have mostly become) 

Bury me
at the beginning of the sky
an empty road full of sunlight,
one bird flying overhead.

(from Blue)

Harrison's own poetry alternates with her poetic renderings of The Journals of Marco Polo:

The Mongol way of hunting is not to fire
at herds, for perhaps a higher spirit
lives in the body of a wild gazelle

and its light and holiness
bow gather other animals round it. 

(from The Journals of Marco Polo, Book II.10)

Together they weave a beautiful tapestry of  Mongolian culture and landscape:

this radiance, this water light
this empty room of light and list

a single bell
that holds its note, inaudibly, for days.

(from White)

One Bird Flying by Lesley Harrison, published by Mariscat

Lesley will be reading from her new collection Beyond the Map at the Scottish Poetry Library tomorrow at 6.30pm. The event is free.

and meanwhile I have another haiku on Daily Haiku today, you can read it here.

Wednesday 12 December 2012


Low sun shivers the frozen pond
Patterns in the icy puddles like the contour lines in a map of a lost world
Brambles crisp with frost

meanwhile I have another haiku on Daily Haiku - you can read it here

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Colinton Dell

It was a winter wonderland today in Colinton Dell along the Water of Leith. And guess who forgot to take her camera? Oh well!

The branches of the trees were white with frost. The last remaining leaves and the grass were edged in white and the wooden fences and paths glittered in the low sun.

The jackdaws were noisy around their usual nesting site and they seemed to be pairing up already!

Meanwhile in the river, two dippers were diving into the water and generally hopping around. A handsome male goosander glided past on another stretch of the river.

At one point I got caught up in a flock of mixed tits. Mostly they were long tailed tits  (which aren't actually tits at all) - one of my favourite birds, so cute with their long tails and pinkish tinged plumage.

Meanwhile I've got another haiku on Daily Haiku, you can read it here.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other pages where you can find out more.

Monday 10 December 2012

Intersections between Arts and Environment

Last week I was at an excellent Insights and Ideas event, organised by Creative Scotland and Museums and Galleries Scotland. These events are held regularly and offer the chance for people from the creative industries the opportunity to hear interesting speakers and to take part in discussions over hot drinks and cakes.

Last week's event, which was the first I had attended was on the topic of Creative Carbon - looking at how creative organisations can take on board environmental issues (and how creative projects can offer new ways of looking at environmental issues). As the title suggested it was mostly about measuring and reducing our carbon footprint rather than about biodiversity, though a couple of speakers did talk about the latter topic. There were lots of interesting ideas in the talks and in the discussions. (I was also very impressed by the herbal tea that featured nettle and fennel or some such interesting combination!). Here though, I'll just pick out what were for me the highlights of the talks.

Jeanne Robinson (Glasgow Life) and Kat Jones (RSPB) talked about their partnership work at Glasgow's Kelvingrove Museum. The RSPB Date with Nature project at the museum offers tours, family activities and outdoor field teaching sessions in Kelvingrove Park for school groups, covering topics such as Woodlands, Urban Wildlife and Understanding Birds.

Ben Twist of Creative Carbon Scotland talked about the forthcoming Green Arts Portal, which will be launched early next year and which will allow organisations to measure and improve their environmental sustainability. He also made the very good point that for organisations to truly embrace and act on environmental sustainability they need to have the top level managers totally committed to the idea and put it in everyone's job description.

Hannah Rudman of AmbITion Scotland (a digital development agency for the arts) talked about a lot of interesting environmental arts projects around the country. Here are just some of them:  

* The Revolutionary Arts' Empty Shops Project 'Pop Up People' enables creative people to use empty shops for creative projects on a short term basis.

* The National Maritime Museum project Your Ocean explores the impact of the ocean on our lives and the importance of sustaining it for the future. The exhibition connected to the project has been designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible. 

* The Royal Scottish National Orchestra has put together an innovative performance in the Shetland Islands where groups of musicians played in different venues around the islands but then video technology is used to mean that the whole orchestra comes together in a virtual sense so that audiences in each of the venues get both the live music experience and the full orchestra effect. (I think this is wonderful, because there is something about live performance that is lost in the digital sharing of video links which is preserved here while at the same time the carbon and financial costs of touring are reduced). 

* Set Exchange is a project that allows theatres, film makers and television companies to share sets and costumes. 

So there was lots to think about! I hope to be able to attend some of the future events, though I think they'll often clash with my teaching commitments. 

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more. 

I have another haiku on Daily Haiku today, you can read it here

Sunday 9 December 2012

Haiku Update

As some of you may be aware, I'm one of the featured poets in the current season at Daily Haiku. This week is the second week where every day will feature one of my haiku. You can read today's haiku here

I'm also delighted to have two haiku featured in the Haiku Anthology on War, which you can pre-order here. It's an ambitious anthology including 900 poems by 420 poets from 45 countries and features 33 different languages!

Saturday 8 December 2012

Fungi and ladybirds

 I posted a previous, very poor photo of these ladybirds in a previous blogpost. They're orange ladybirds (Halyzia 16-guttata) and there are hundreds of them hibernating in the tops of the fences along part of the Water of Leith.

A couple of days ago Crafty Green Boyfriend and I walked through Colinton Dell, along the Water of Leith. As well as the ladybirds we also noticed this very impressive fungus. 

Crafty Green Boyfriend took the photos in this blogpost.

Friday 7 December 2012

Food of Ghosts by Marianne Wheelaghan

I don't often read crime fiction, so this isn't going to be a regular crime fiction review. However, having read Marianne's earlier book The Blue Suitcase (which I reviewed here) and having been invited to the launch of Food of Ghosts (a tropical themed event that brightened up a chilly Edinburgh evening) I was keen to buy and read this, Marianne's debut crime novel!

Food for Ghosts is set on Tarawa, a coral atoll in the Pacific republic of Kiribati. It features Detective Sergeant Louisa Townsend, who was born in Tarawa but has lived most of her life in Edinburgh. She has only just got to the island when she finds herself investigating a violent murder case.

I thought the novel was excellent at conveying culture shock with an admirable honesty about the fact that sometimes you don't like the place you find yourself. (I remember this myself from when I first arrived in Malawi and there were certain aspects of the culture which I never got used to in the two years I lived there, much though overall I grew to love the country). As a writer you want to be respectful of a foreign culture you're writing about, but you also want to be honest. In Food of Ghosts the reader can really empathise with Louise's discomfort with the culture shock she experiences, not least her extended family deciding that the best way to welcome her to the island is to camp in her back garden.

Many of you will have realised by now, that the books I review on this blog have some sort of environmental content. Food of Ghosts doesn't have an environmental focus (the rising sea levels that threaten Kiribati are present as an issue only in the mind of an informed reader) and nature is very much in the background most of the time. However, the action takes to the water often enough for there to be several passages about the underwater wildlife, this one showing how the benign beauty of the surroundings can hide a threatening danger:

'It was like being in a massive aquarium, but better: clown fish scurried between forms of red coral; wave after wave of silver slithers did the loop the loop; a bunch of toothy, multi-coloured parrot fish five bombed an oblivious gliding ray. She didn't know how long she's been snorkelling aimlessly  for when she saw the turtle. It paddled on the sea floor before swimming further and further into the cavernous ocean. Curiously, Louisa followed it. The water became cloudy. The outline of the turtle grew fuzzier. Louisa kicked faster. Then it was gone and she was alone in the grey green vastness of the bottomless sea.'

It's a very readable story, set in a fascinating location and with an intriguing cast of characters both Kiribati and expatriate.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more. 

Thursday 6 December 2012

RIP Humphrey

I was saddened to read that Humphrey, the rabbit at Cottontails Baby recently died.

Humphrey recently won the competition on this blog to find a bunny star for a short story I was writing (which is currently looking to be published). The story will be incorporated into the novel I'm currently working on too, where Humphrey will star alongside Sydney and Tyler from The Qi Papers who won the starring roles in my novel. (By the way, this isn't a children's novel about talking rabbits, it's a novel set in an island community in a future independent (and much flooded) Scotland. Many of the characters keep rabbits both to eat and as pets. The star rabbits are (obviously) pets.)

 Humphrey will be much missed by all the bunny bloggers who enjoyed reading about his adventures as a shop assistant rabbit.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Vintage toys

In a recent post I shared a photo of Peter Rabbit, my first (misnamed) teddy bear, meeting Sylvain, the travelling rabbit who visited us from Cottontails Baby. Lucy commented on how good Peter looks for his age. I mentioned a photo in that blogpost of me holding Peter Rabbit, when we were both about two years old. So when I was at my parents recently, I took a photo of it on my digital camera and here it is - as you can see both of us have changed over the years:

Meanwhile, here are photos of some other, older vintage toys from my family.

 Mum has had Big Ted since she was about three, so he's at least 70 by now.

 Boody actually belongs to an uncle, though he's lived with my parents for as long as I can remember. He's quite threadbare and so Mum made him a little knitted suit, as you can see below.
As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Misty Trees and spiders webs

We've just come back from a pleasant few days in the suburbs of Manchester, visiting my parents. The first day there it was incredibly misty so we walked to Parr Fold Park and I took these photos.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Children and Nature

I've been reading a lot recently about the importance of children spending time in nature so that they become interested in conservation when they're older.

(It seems to me that a lot of teenagers are interested in the carbon footprint reduction aspect of environmentalism but perhaps fewer are interested in conservation of wildlife and wild places, which would fit with my overall perception of the general public's attitude to the environment these days).

People's arguments are that how can children grow up to protect nature if they don't learn to love it? And how can children learn to love nature if they don't spend lots of time outdoors getting muddy and looking for bugs, plants and animal tracks?

I totally agree with all of that. I think it's more vital than ever that children are out there, experiencing nature.

However, it's interesting that when I was growing up, I almost never played outside except in the back garden of the house where my parents still live (which is nice and big and has a wild patch at the bottom but it's still a domesticated garden). Although we had regular day trips and holidays to relatively rural places, I wasn't encouraged to actually explore the great outdoors and certainly never ran wild. My knowledge of wildlife was for a long time based largely on what I read in books.

And look what happened to me!

I'm taking a wee blog break - back early next week!

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Oaken Wood public inquiry

Oaken Wood is a wildlife-rich area of ancient woodland (it has been continuously wooded since at least 1600) in Kent in the south of England. It is threatened by the expansion of a nearby quarry. The quarry would destroy around 32 hectares of Oaken Wood and would have a devastating effect on the remaining wood.

These days when so much of our woodland has been lost, every hectare is precious and deserves to be protected for the wildlife, for our recreation and for future generations. 

The Oaken Wood public inquiry, which has just started, is the biggest test for the future of ancient woodland since the National Planning Policy Framework was established. The result could set a precedent for the way planning applications for mineral extraction are decided upon in relation to loss of ancient woodland.

You can keep up to date with the campaign on theWoodland Trust blog Woodland Matters and you can read more on the background to the case on the Woodland Trust website.

Monday 26 November 2012

Words about Birds

Wild waves on the sea. I can just about see some black ducks sitting in the troughs of the waves, bobbing up and down. Are they velvet scoters? Probably (I often see these birds here) but I can't be sure enough to record them this time as a sighting on Birdtrack!

Meanwhile, a long line of mallards sails out from the river into the sea. There's something comical about this seeming bravery, touching too. Though it's off that it should seem like that as mallards are much more robust than most sea going ducks!

A flurry of meadow pipits over the long grass.

A kestrel hunting over the same grassy area.

One of the Lagoons black with oystercatchers, and the sudden red of a beak as one turns to preen itself. The other lagoons are spotted with lapwings, teal and wigeon.

The wind so wild that my coffee flask wobbles in the bird hide.

today at Musselburgh

If you are going birding in Edinburgh or the Lothians, how about checking out the Lothian Birds Recent Sightings page before you go? This page tells you what unusual species have been seen recently.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Saturday 24 November 2012

Festive Robins and Etsy update

A reminder that Crafty Green Boyfriend's robin photo is now gracing one of the Friends of the Earth Christmas card designs. You can see it (and buy it!) here. It's a great photo of possibly one of the fattest robins ever.

Thinking about robins, I was inspired to put together this festive robin treasury on Etsy. (For anyone who isn't on Etsy, a treasury is a selection of favourite items made by other people. I didn't make any of the items in the treasury!). I'm constantly inspired by the range of amazing crafts and vintage items on Etsy and if money weren't an issue I could be tempted to spend a lot of money there.

I've been steadily adding things to the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop, Today I added this interesting piece of sea glass to the sea glass and sea pottery section of the shop. I'm hoping to add more to the beaded bookmark section too and also am putting together another mini collage kit for the supplies section of the shop

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more. 

Friday 23 November 2012

Souls in the Great Machine by Sean McMullen

Crafty Green Boyfriend recommended this book to me. We rarely read the same books, even when we choose science fiction, we read different types of science fiction. But he thought that I would be interested in the alternative technologies in this book. He was right too.

Souls in the Great Machine by Sean McMullen is set in Australia about two millenia into the future. The continent is ruled by war-like librarians. Nuclear winter is long in the past and the world has developed new technologies since then, but without fossil fuels and with electricity and steam engines being banned by all major religions, the technology has developed in interesting, labour intensive ways. Messages are sent long distances using beam-flash towers, trains are driven by wind power or by galleys of slaves and passenger volunteers, who have to put in a lot of hard work to get to their destination. Computers aren't even a memory in this culture and instead complicated mathematical calculations are performed by slaves in the Calculor - a huge hall full of rows of abacuses. There are smaller, mobile calculors that can be used on the battlefield.

And oh there are a lot of battles. Far too many for my taste. The opposing sides seem to take to the battlefield for no apparent reason and apart from the first extended battlefield scene that outlined the use of the battle calculor, I found these scenes tedious. Instead of all the constant fighting I wanted a bit more character development - John Glasken the maverick, serial seducer and unlikely hero is entertaining and feels like a real person, whereas I didn't get a feel for a lot of the other characters beyond their roles. That may be deliberate of course, but it didn't help in engaging me with certain parts of the story.

The comments above are about my tastes rather than about the quality of the book. It's totally fascinating if you're interested in technological solutions to possible futures, but really it's written for people with more of a taste for lots of battles.

Souls in the Great Machine by Sean McMullen published by TOR Science Fiction

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other websites where you can learn more. 

Thursday 22 November 2012

Shop Less, Live More!

Buy Nothing Day is tomorrow in the USA and on Saturday in the UK.

Buy Nothing Day highlights the environmental and ethical consequences of consumerism.As the website says, it’s not shopping in itself that’s harmful, it’s what we buy. The idea is to help people to think about what and how much they buy and how their purchases affect the environment,  developing countries and their local community.

Many large companies for example use labour in developing countries to produce goods because its cheap - but these countries don't have the systems to protect workers that there are in the west.

Any product that contains palm oil (unless it is certified sustainable palm oil) plays a role in destroying rainforests and reducing the habitat available for orang utans and other endangered species.  (This is a difficult one to avoid, almost all processed foods seem to contain palm oil as do many brands of toiletries and cosmetics.)

Many people prefer to shop in out of centre shopping malls, but these drain life out of the city centre, which can create unappealing areas in these cities.

There is always the temptation to buy buy buy, even when we don't actually need to. So, many of us rush out to buy the latest style of shoes or mobile phone, even if the one we already had is still in perfect condition. The current economic climate is probably pushing more people into considering alternatives to buying more - in terms of fixing things or wearing clothing until it wears out rather than replacing it as soon as it goes out of style.

But as I said earlier, it's not about shopping being in itself a bad thing. So a few ideas of better ways to buy:

* buying locally made products and reduces the distance your products need to travel, thus reducing the carbon footprint of your purchases;
* buying in local shops helps to support your local economy and to maintain a vibrant community; 
* buying products that are made to last reduces waste;
* buying second hand promotes recycling and often supports charities;
* fair trade guarantees a fair wage for the producers;
* organic agriculture reduces the amount of pesticides and other artificial chemicals used in farming.

Also remember, that if you are feeling down, a walk in the countryside is more likely to cheer you up than buying the latest fad! (Though for many people that of course depend on the weather!).

As ever, red text contains hyper-links that take you to other web-pages where you can find out more.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Mute Swans on Blackford Pond

I took these photos the weekend before last at Blackford Pond

I don't tend to photograph birds, preferring to enjoy the moment than obsess over focus. However, big waterbirds like swans are easy to photo!

Tuesday 20 November 2012

The Water of Leith Walkway

I recently posted some photos of autumn leaves along the Water of Leith. Rabbits' Guy left a comment asking: is there a regular foot path with easy visibility of the river? Or what is it like? 

The answer is that yes, there is a regular footpath all along the river, which mostly has good views of the river. The area of the river that I help to look after has a lot of paths in fact, some of which are right next to the river, some of which are further away. Some areas of the river upstream from 'my' area have the path quite a distance from the river and it can be difficult to get to or even see the water from the path. Downstream, the path tends to be mostly very close to the river, though some parts of the path are closed at the moment because of the flood prevention works, which are running behind time and costing a lot of money. (For all that I would, in an ideal world, prefer to see natural flood prevention measures, in very built up areas this is impossible and you need to use less natural methods. Having said that the work needs to be done as speedily as possible to avoid long term damage to the river. You can read more of my thoughts on the flood prevention works here).

The walkway was first though of in the 1940s, the first section was built 1973 and it was completed 2002. The Water of Leith Walkway Trust campaigned for and developed the first walkways.

The charity that I volunteer for, Water of Leith Conservation Trust (WOLCT) was set up in 1988 by residents concerned about the river. It was the first river charity in Scotland (now there is also Friends ofthe River Kelvin (FORK)). 

Colinton and Craiglockart Dells, which is the area I help to look after, will not have flood prevention works, as the area is not residential. In fact it's a lovely wooded area, which is perfect for a birdwatching walk!

 As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more. 

Monday 19 November 2012

World Toilet Day

 Pit latrines, Malindi Primary School, Malawi

I imagine that most people reading this blog take your toilet for granted. In the richer countries of the world, we expect to have a toilet. Most of us have a water flushing toilet, though perhaps some people reading this have a water saving composting toilet.

However, one in three people in the world (that's 2.5 billion people) do not have access to a clean, private toilet.

Sanitation is a basic human right.

Toilets can help prevent the spread of disease.

Good school toilets can help girls continue their education.

Sanitation is an environmental issue too. If you're appalled by dog dirt along your favourite countryside walk, just think about how much worse it would be if it were human waste.

Well today is World Toilet Day. World Toilet Day was created to raise global awareness of the daily struggle for proper sanitation that a staggering 2.5 billion people face. World Toilet Day brings together different groups, such as media, the private sector, development organisations and civil society in a global movement to advocate for safe toilets. Since its inception in 2001, World Toilet Day has become an important platform to demand action from governments and to reach out to wider audiences by showing that toilets can be fun and sexy as well as vital to life.

Find out more on the World Toilet Day website

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other websites where you can find out more.

Sunday 18 November 2012

The Wildlife Information Centre conference

Yesterday I went along to the Wildlife Information Centre conference, which this year focussed on the wildlife and management of grasslands. There were some excellent speakers on a range of topics.

Ali Murfitt from Plantlife Scotland talked about grassland fungi, which are indicators of unimproved grassland (ie grassland that has not been farmed). She talked about the most common families of grassland fungi (Clavariaceae - the coral fungi; Hygrophoraceae - waxcaps; Entolomatacea - pink gills; Geoglossacea - earth tongues and Dermoloma - crazed caps). Waxcaps are a relatively easy group to identify but the others often can only be identified to species level through microscopic examination of the spores. If you're interested in learning more about identifying and recording fungi in Scotland you can find out more on the Scottish Fungi website.

Duncan Davidson of Butterfly Conservation talked about grassland butterflies and moths. Scotland has significantly fewer species of butterflies and moths than does England, but whereas most species are declining in England, many are remaining stable or even increasing in Scotland. Some species are starting to move north into Scotland due to climate change. I was fascinated to discover that in one species of moth - the ghost moth - the males gather and display to the females. I was also fascinated to learn that in the UK birds eat a total of 35 billion moths a year!

Andrew Jarman of Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society talked about recording this interesting group of insects, concentrating on the solitary species. If you think of bees you probably think of honey bees that live in hives with a colony structure that includes a queen and a lot of sterile worker bees. Solitary species don't have this colony structure, though often they are more sociable than their name suggests, they often nest close together. Many species are difficult to identify. I was fascinated to learn about the parasitic species that invade the nests of other bee species, kill the eggs and steal the food supplies!

Stuart MacPherson from East Lothian Council talked about how the council manages its grasslands and the balance that needs to be struck between protecting the grasslands habitat (which is rare in the area) and protecting scrubland (which can encroach on grassland and is a good habitat in its own right but common in the area). There are also sometimes potential conflicts with golf courses. The expense of good management was discussed, including the potential of grazing by livestock. At one point rabbits were discussed as a good management strategy, apparently there aren't enough of them in the area!

Heather McHaffie from the Royal Botanic Gardens talked about the work the gardens do in conserving and reintroducing native species. The garden has an extensive seed and DNA collection for Scottish plants and is involved in several projects including helping to sustain the population of the unique species of rowan trees found on the Scottish island of Arran.

The Wildlife Information Centre itself plays a vital role in collating records of all sorts of wildlife in Edinburgh, the Lothians and the Scottish Borders. They are currently running a special 'Spots and Stripes' survey focussing on badgers and leopard slugs. So if you can help them with that survey or with general wildlife sightings do get in touch with them via their website. If you're in another area of Scotland, you can find out your local records centre from Biological Recording in Scotland Campaign and if you're outside Scotland, you probably have a wildlife recording centre or similar close by.

Wildlife recording is a great way to learn more about nature and it helps conservationists to know how well (or badly) species are doing in the wild. 

As ever, red text takes you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Friday 16 November 2012

The Feel Good Factory on Creative Thinking

The Feel Good Factory on Creative Thinking explores the techniques used to spark ideas that free our minds. It is an inspiring read, full of ideas for tapping into and making the most of your creativity.

It starts with a useful quiz to explore your attitude to procrastination and balancing your tasks. It then goes on to offer:

* Advice on time management, making 'to-do' lists, breaking tasks down into manageable chunks, how to identify your optimal thinking environment

* The importance of lifelong learning, research and creative problem solving and the value of being silly and allowing yourself to make mistakes

* Advice on finding and capturing creative ideas, how to improve your innovation skills and how to avoid information overload

* The importance of storytelling

* The value of networking

Some quotes from the book

'A big part of being creative is not simply about being inspired; it's about simply getting things done'

'It's much better to greet the new day with a messy desk and a clear head rather than the other way round' (though the book does emphasise that de-cluttering your space can de-clutter your mind too!)

'Deadlines help you to be decisive'

'Think of your brain as being a bit like a computer - a lot of processing goes on in the background and that needs downtime'

'It's important to develop a sense of curiosity about everything'

'Pay attention to your intuition'

'Most creative ideas are just.... two or more elements connected in a new or novel fashion'

'You only ever learned to walk after a lot of falling over'

'Many of the greatest inventions were accidental'

The Feel Good Factory on Creative Thinking is published by Infideasbooks.

The book also recommends Pinterest as a useful social networking site and a place for collating visual images to inspire your work, so for better or worse I've now joined Pinterest.  

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other pages, where you can find out more

Cross posted here

Thursday 15 November 2012

Wednesday 14 November 2012

The Next Big Thing

I was delighted when Marianne Wheelaghan asked me to take part in The Next Big Thing

It works like this: a writer answers ten questions about an upcoming publication and they tag five more writers. Each of these writers answers the ten questions by the following week and they recommend five more writers. It grows, week by week.

Before I start,  a few words about Marianne: I was delighted to win a copy of Marianne's first novel The Blue Suitcase in a competition on her blog and I reviewed it on Over Forty Shades here. I recently attended the launch of her second novel Food of Ghosts which I look forward to reviewing soon! I'm particularly interested in it as it is set on a low lying Pacific Island which fits in with one of the themes of my novel in progress.

Which leads us on to my answers to the Next Big Thing questions about my novel in progress:

What is the title of your new book?

Tidal (this is a working title and may change)
Where did the idea come from for the book?

I've always wanted to write a novel but not just for the sake of it, I wanted a story to find me and demand to be written. Then I was thinking about how Scotland might look post-Independence and post extreme climate change. Add in the fact that Tuvalu, one of the island nations most threatened by climate change has a surprising amount in common with the Western Isles off the coast of Scotland. (Though Tuvalu won't actually be named in the novel it is the model for the island where the climate change refugees originally come from) Oh and Donald Trump makes an appearance with his descendants doing their best to disrupt Scotland in good Trump style! I've written part of the novel as a short story and am currently working on the main storyline and weaving the short story back in. 

What genre does your book fall under?

Speculative fiction. It's not tech-y enough to be really science fiction....

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

There are lots of characters, too many to cast, but the cast could include:

The Western Islanders

Malcolm MacDonald - Peter Mullan
Catriona Tilda Swinton 

New Lanark

Sheena - Kelly MacDonald (or maybe she'd be better playing Aggie?)

The Climate Change refugees

Noa - Jessica Mauboy

I'd like the rest of the refugees to be played by unknown Pacific islanders but if not then for example:

Rachel - Thandie Newton 
Amos - Morgan Freeman

Forest Whitaker might also have a cameo role as Idi Amin in a historic flashback

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Climate change refugees make a new start in a future independent Scotland

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I hope to get an agent. 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I wrote a very rough draft of the book for NaNoWriMo in November 2011. Since then I've been working on producing something more readable. I'm currently happy with bits of it and working hard on the rest!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The only other two novels about climate change in Scotland that I'm aware of are: But n ben a Go-Go by Matthew Fitt and Writing in the Sand by Angus Dunn.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The urgency of the issue of climate change. Though for an urgent novel it's taking a long time to write!

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The many bunny bloggers who read this blog will be hopefully captivated by the bunnies in the novel. 

The Writers I’m Tagging

Alison at Diamond Cut Life whose novel Revelle is just out.

Caroline at Coastcard whose poetry pamphlet The Holy Place (co-authored with John Dotson) is just out.

Michelle from Tales of the Raspberry Rabbits who has just launched Briarside Lane - a book of folk art fusion

Diana from The Qi Papers who has two writing projects on the go (and two bunnies starring in the novel).

And given that a couple of people who I asked aren't able to take part, then I'm still looking for a fifth person to tag! So if you're a regular reader of this blog and would like to blog about your new book or your next writing project just let me know!

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Seeing things in a new light

These days we all know that the old fashioned incandescent light bulbs are not a good idea, because they're inefficient.

However energy saving flourescent bulbs aren't exactly perfect - given that they contain mercury (which is a serious issue when it comes to disposal, and although they last longer than conventional light bulbs, they don't last forever and do need to be disposed of at some point). The quality of the light emitted by these light bulbs is thought to also be behind some health problems so again not ideal. Unfortunately though we're being pushed into buying fluorescent bulbs to save energy. Many countries are phasing out the use and sale of incandescent light bulbs.

So I've always been interested in trying out the LED lights (Light Emitting Diodes). These don't contain mercury and are more efficient and longer lasting than incandescent light-bulbs. The main problems with these so far have been a) high prices, b) incompatibility with conventional light fittings.Both these problems are likely to be addressed in the near future.

So I was delighted when digital media agency Spread It Fast sent me a couple of LED bulbs to review. As I noted above, LED bulbs aren't always compatible with conventional light fittings and I was disappointed that of the range of  LED bulbs available, only one was compatible with any of the light fittings in our flat and most of our light fittings can't take any of the bulbs I was offered.

 First impressions though are very positive. The bulb is expected to last for 15 years and is guaranteed for two.

  It is obviously very energy efficient, being rated A.
  It looks nice too, much more discreet than your average compact fluorescent.
As soon as you switch it on, it reaches full power, which is a great advantage over the compact fluorescents which take a while to get to full power. It gives a directional light, which is very noticeable, this is a great advantage for example in a reading lamp but could be a disadvantage in a more general purpose light.The quality of light is quite nice too, even if that isn't captured perfectly in my photo!

So if you're looking for new light bulbs, I would definitely recommend looking at LEDs at least to start with, They are coming down in price and there seems to be a greater variety of designs all the time, so that hopefully soon it will become easier to find an LED bulb for any light fitting.

Monday 12 November 2012

Brilliant birds!

It was lovely weather for ducks today at Musselburgh! Not only were there wigeon and teal on the Lagoons and goldeneye and red breasted mergansers on the Forth and at the mouth of the River Esk but also I saw my first ever long tailed ducks! Two very handsome males with such elegant long tails! All these are beautiful species of ducks - follow the links to find out just how beautiful!

I also saw a buzzard and a female kestrel flying around between Musselburgh Boating Pond and the Lagoons nature reserve.

On the Lagoons as well as the ducks there were a lot of bar tailed godwits, a few lapwings, a few knot and three grey herons. It's a while in fact since I've seen such a variety of birds on the lagoons, but I thought to myself, as I was sipping the last of my coffee, a short eared owl would just be perfect now! These owls hunt in the daytime and are quite frequently reported from the Lagoons, just that I've never seen one here.

Well I thought to myself after putting my flask away, I can't sit here any longer, I've seen plenty of birds. So I walked down the path and stopped to watch an adorable wee goldcrest that appeared in front of me and carefully showed me its yellow head markings. Then suddenly, a commotion in the trees, lots of blue tits making a lot of noise. Then wow! Right in front of me a short eared owl! Close enough that it almost stroked my face with its wings! Wow! I couldn't believe it!

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other pages where you can find out more!