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.