Friday 27 October 2023

Viral Welsh Cakes!

Hello friends!

Well, I don't know quite how it happened, but I seem to have a viral post on Facebook. I suppose it depends how you define viral but when you go over 1000 likes and upwards of 160 comments I'd say that's pretty much gone viral, wouldn't you? 

Updating this because a few people have said they can't see the photo on Facebook so here is the picture and it is now well over 2000 ūüĎćūüĎć

It's a public page so this link should work even if you're not on Facebook and you'd like to see it.

Viral Post

Until next time
Stay safe, stay well
Debbie xx

Saturday 21 October 2023

If You Plant It, They Will Come.

Hello Friends!

Thank you everyone for your kind wishes yesterday, and lovely comments for my birthday. Also, thank you to those who sent cards and phoned me. And if you sent chocolate even better, it was most appreciated!

I guess I'm playing with words from the film Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will come. Well, if you plant it, hopefully they will come. What are they? Why goldfinches, of course!  I planted, and come they did!

Teasles are a favourite food of goldfinches. And if you have teasels in your garden, you will pretty much be guaranteed to see goldfinches feeding, especially during autumn and winter. 

Back in the spring, one day my phone rang, and it was my friend Briget. Did I want some teasel plants? Did I ever? Yes please!!!  I'd no sooner hung up the phone and she was knocking on my door with beautiful teasel plants. She was kind enough to even dig them in for me because I couldn't dig the holes.

Here they are after a few weeks, the elongated pointy leaf plants on the left.

Over the summer months, I had to water them to get them settled in but they established quickly and they grew well. The only problem was with the sturdy winds that blew throughout the summer they keep lying down and having a rest.  I suppose I should have staked them.  I will know for next year.

The Mulleins also did well, they attract the Mullein moth and are one of my favourite garden plants.  I let this border grow wild, unweeded.

Unfortunately, beautiful though it be, the Mullein moth caterpillar has a voracious appetite and pretty soon the stalks of the Mullein are stripped bare, almost overnight!  They don't look very pretty, but I tolerate this leaflessness in order to encourage a healthy army of caterpillars.  The caterpillars get big!  I do my bit to help them along.

Despite the caterpillars stripping the stalks of the plant bare, they still managed to flower, so seeds will set plants for future years.  The cycle will repeat and Mullein moths will hopefully thrive!

Let's return to the goldfinches.  The teasles grew and flowered and seedheads formed.

They make me think of headbanded women working out to Flashdance in the early '80's when aerobic classes were a thing.

Then one joyful day, I looked out into the garden, and this is the sight that I saw.  Beautiful goldfinches feeding on the seed heads

Here's a couple of some feeding on some other seed heads that got left behind in the border.

While I'm fine with people feeding the birds, I look upon bird feeders as a supplementary food source.  Birds need to continue foraging, which is their natural way of finding food.  If they become too dependent on bird feeders, they lose the ability to forage then when we stop putting the feeders out, they can starve. This is why it is vital for us not to keep our garden borders too well manicured and try to grow native wildflowers. for natural bird feed. 

One of my lovely birthday gifts yesterday was this thoughtful mini art prints and holder set from Mary's House Designs

Which came with a packet of wildflower seeds that I will scatter next year.

The wildflower design my friend chose was Daisies and Forget Me Nots, the latter being the symbol of the Alzheimer's society, a cause very near and dear to my heart.

copied from Mary's online shop

Included in this set is a 5g packet of wildflower seeds; these seeds are specifically chosen to attract bees, butterflies and other insects. The BSBP 100% Bees & Butterfly Wildflower Seed mix is designed to provide maximum pollen and nectar and creates a beautiful meadow and wildlife habitat.

  • Contains 24 species from the RHS "Perfect For Pollinators" list.

  • Also includes borage and sainfoin to encourage a wide range of pollinating insects.

  • Inclusion of annuals species provides colour in the first year, plus yellow rattle.

  • Perfect for creating a long lasting meadow and wildlife habitat.

So I planted teasles and they came. Now, every afternoon, around 3:15. in they swoop, my little Charm of Goldfinches.  Next year, thanks to my gift, the variety of plants and birds will be even greater. 

Until next time
Stay safe. Stay well.
Debbie xx

p.s. Editing to add that teasels are so called because in the dried heads of the plant were once used in the textile industry to raise the nap on woolen cloth, or to tease the nap.

To Absent Friends: Celebration and Reflection

Hello Friends!

Today is a day of mixed emotions and time for reflection as I reach a life milestone. Not only is it my birthday, but it is THE BIG birthday upon which I start drawing what in my Grandmother's day we used to call the Old Age Pension. I am officially from today an OAP.  These days, it's more politically correct to refer to someone of a certain age as a Senior Citizen  or Older Person.  The other day, I was discussing all of this with a friend. We concluded that we had both felt the same almost all our lives, that drawing your state pension was something that happened to other people or to your grandparents as they got to the right age. Never imagining that we would be drawing our state pension ourselves one day, yet here we are. She has been drawing hers for a few months now.  Age is a number.  If my health was better I would not feel old, and probably still be working and as active as I ever was hiking the highways and byways, and still able to garden.  It was not to be.

I would be making the most of my All Wales Concessionary Travel Pass which I have had  for 6 years now.  It entitles me to free travel on all bus services in Wales.  I used to use it a lot, but have not used it at all during the Pandemic.  Of course, there are now other benefits too, to being of Pensionable Age, such as quiet shopping hours in stores, and special discounts in shops, cafes and at the hairdressers.  I look forward to those little treats at cheaper prices!

As I prepare to celebrate me and what will be a small, regular sum of money coming in, today is also a day for reflection for other reasons.

Firstly, I remember and honour my mother, for five years ago today I was sitting by my dear mother's bedside as she slowly slipped from this world. It is very hard to do that on any day, but it is even harder to do so on your birthday for there is a certain irony that the beautiful woman who gave me the gift of life was slowly slipping away on the anniversary of that day when she brought me into the world.  I send her my deepest love in Heaven in heartfelt gratitude for all she did for me.  She would not want me to be sad, I know, so I will be happy for her sake.

My Beautiful Mother

Secondly, It is the day I remember all my friends who have gone on before, some of whom saw their 60th birthday or their 65th. or drew their State Pension and benefits, their lives taken in their 50's.  I might not be in the best of health and I might be protesting at the labels I now must wear but they did not make it, their lives cut cruelly short long before they should have been.  

Plans for a trip to the beach with friends, to drink hot chocolate and eat cake sitting on the picnic tables overlooking the bay, are scuppered by the weather.  We will go again when it is not so wild, wet and windy. So while I shall sit quietly and celebrate by myself with a shop bought celebration cake and ice cream, and open the gifts that have arrived, I will also be remembering my school friends, particularly Carol, Susan, Raydene, and  sweet Elizabeth {who so tragically died age 11} gone before, and with especial love my dear mother.  Gone but not forgotten.

To Absent Friends!

Until next time
Stay safe, Stay well
Debbie xx

Thursday 19 October 2023

Autumn in a Picture

Rose hips ripening on the branch
Food for birds in winter months
Silv'ry spiders webs, like garlands weave
festoons of lace
invisible until the crystal raindrops fall
revealing one, revealing all

Sunday 15 October 2023

Sagas, Snorri and Tom

Hello Friends!

I'm going to be taking a completely different path today.  We're still in Iceland which, in my opinion, is the most interesting country imaginable. I was amazed to learn that most modern day Icelanders can proudly trace their ancestry right back to the Book of Settlements {Landn√°mab√≥k} with over 1000 years of history since the original settlers made their home in the Land of Ice and Fire as it is fondly known. As I shared in my previous entry, here, it could just have easily been nicknamed the Land of Waterfalls.  There will be more on the ice and fire in a future entry.

While there, I availed myself of their literary traditions. They have a rich tradition of sagas, but unfortunately the majority of them are not translated into English. So my research and reading was somewhat restricted, and, I become familiar with the works of Snorri Sturluson.  I also read  the available translated sagas, most notably Njal's Saga, Egil's Saga, and Laxd√¶la Saga which formed part of my studies towards my degree in Humanities with the University of Maryland.

One of the most memorable things I did while living in Iceland was attend a rare reading of Icelandic poetry and literary extracts in an ancient turf roofed dwelling. A small select group of us sat in the deepening twilight. The room lit only by traditional tallow candles and oil lamps. The Icelandic host read to us in English, Icelandic and Old Norse.  I cannot begin to explain how magical , how spiritual it was to sit there as they would have 100 or more years ago, indeed for a thousand years, in a house built of turf with no mod cons. While photographs were not allowed of the event this is a fairly typical interior, and very similar to where we were sitting for the reading.

Despite many of the earliest sources of their literature being transferred from generation to generation by the oral traditions of story telling and not written down nor attributed, many of the sites mentioned in the old stories are quite visible and known today. For example, 1000 years later, we know exactly where Snorri Sturluson lived and where he was assassinated.  We know where Bergthora is buried. We know the exact spot of the Law Speakers stone at the Al√ĺingi, the site of the Icelandic parliament in Thingvellir, the oldest parliament in the world, and so on.  This knowledge base can probably be attributed to the fact that Iceland is an island and was fairly isolated so that information remained reasonably complete without being disseminated, or contaminated and diluted by outside influences.

Thingvellir in Autumn and Winter

The chasm at Thingvellir which forms part of the divide between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates and the √Ėxar√° River Which leads to a ducking pool where many a wrongly accused woman met her fate accused of witchcraft.

I had many rare privileges while living in Iceland, and one was to stand at the Law Speakers stone one summer afternoon while part of the Laws of Iceland were recited in a modern day reenactment of an Al√ĺingi.  One thousand years ago, it was the job of the Law Speaker to recite from memory one third per year of the Laws of Iceland at the annual gathering of the clan leaders, who came from across Iceland to Thingvellir for the annual meeting, or Al√ĺingi, when law making happened and disputes were resolved.  One such law, for example, was the conversion to Christianity in the year 1,000.  Initially, this conversion was made purely for economic reasons, to facilitate trade with the rest of Europe, already primarily Christian and who were reluctant to trade with the pagan Icelanders.

The Law Speaker's Stone

Snorri Sturluson was a politician and historian, a writer and poet.  He was elected to the position of Law Speaker twice. He composed the Prose Edda which along with the more ancient and anonymous Poetic Edda form the basis of all Icelandic mythology and have influenced many notable modern authors, most notably JRR Tolkien and Ezra Pound.   He was assassinated at the at the age of 61 at his home in Reykholt, allegedly by men hired by the king of Norway.

Snorri Sturluson

The original bathing pool at Reykholt where Snorri was assassinated.

I'm not going to go in depth here otherwise we'd still be here when Spring melts into Summer. The sagas are hard work to read, in part due to the endless rounds of disputes! If you've ever read Tolkien, as I have done many times, I found The Hobbit very easy reading. The Lord of the Rings requires more concentration and focus. The Silmarillion requires an "ology" to read! However, I can find many fascinating connexions and similarities between the old literature of Iceland and Tolkien's writings. This is no new revelation, but it keeps drawing me back, and I have to say it was quite revealing living in Iceland, going from place to place exploring and discovering places that may well have been the source of inspiration for The Lord of the Rings especially. I truly believe that visiting Thingvellir for the first time that I was approaching Helms Deep. Mount Hekla and surrounding lava fields are widely believed to be the inspiration for Mount Doom and Mordor.  

Bubbling geothermal mud pit

Another similarity in Snorri's Edda is a list of names that we instantly recognise as the names of the dwarves in The Hobbit . They're all there: Dalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bombur and Thorin Oakenshield.  Even Ganalf's name is there!

Perhaps the one thing that I picked up on more than anything is the parallel I drew for a paper I wrote for a UMD university course on Icelandic literature about Tom Bombadil from The Lord of the Rings, and the conversion to Christianity in Nial's Saga.  Whether or not anyone has picked up on this before I do not know, but I certainly impressed my lecturer with my conclusion and received an A+ for my troubles.  

I argued in my paper that the chapters pertaining to Nial's conversion to Christianity could be removed and completely omitted from the saga without it having any overall effects. It happened and there was an end to it. Remove those chapters and it was as if the conversion had never happened. You could read straight across them without losing anything from the remaining text and I feel the same can be said of the Tom Bombadil chapters in Lord of the Rings.  Other than presenting us with a character who cannot be explained, you can remove the chapters surrounding Tom Bombadil from Lord of the Rings and the story would continue as if those chapters had never existed.  Yet Tom is a key character for many of us.

As an aside, if you are familiar with the character Tom Bombadil, you may be aware of the furore Peter Jackson caused when he directed his film trilogy interpretations of the books and he completely omitted the character and relevant chapters surrounding Tom Bombadil and Goldberry.  Despite Tom being a seemingly small and innocuous character, he was an important one, for he was the one true being impervious to the evil of Sauron.  That, my friends, is discussion for another day!

Until next time
stay safe. Stay well.
Debbie xx 

For purposes of ease I am using the anglicised versions of name places.
All photographs in this blog today are digital copies of original 35mm film.

Monday 9 October 2023

The Land of Fire and Ice . . . and Waterfalls

Hello friends!

Thank you all for your very kind words and support after my last blog entry.  I'm sorry I made some of you cry. I was crying myself when I was writing it, and again when I was reading some of your lovely comments.  You gave some very valuable feedback, and my mind is a lot clearer now.  Sometimes we just have to put our thoughts out there to see what we're thinking, and it helps to see it through the eyes of others. 

As some of you know, and for those of you who don't, I lived in Iceland for four years in the early 1990s.  Iceland is known as the land of Ice and Fire. Not unsurprisingly, because it has a high level of volcanic activity as it straddles the tectonic plates of Eurasia and North America, but it also has several glaciers most notably Vatnaj√∂kull in south east Iceland.  However, every which way you turn there are endless waterfalls from tiny rivulets of silver strands slipping silently over high cliffs, to the great gushing giants of Gullfoss and Dettifoss.  To me, Iceland is the land of waterfalls. I loved going out at every opportunity to discover more that I hadn't seen before.

The first big falls I visited just days after I arrived in Iceland is Gullfoss {Golden Falls} on the river Hv√≠t√° {White River} in Southwest Iceland, and is part of the famous "Golden Circle" which I will talk about in the future.  Gulllfoss drops approximately 33 metres into the 20 metre wide canyon below.  The Hv√≠t√° River originates from the Hv√≠t√°rvatn glacier lake on Langj√∂kull glacier in the highlands of Iceland.

The Hv√≠t√° River canyon below the falls.

Another famous waterfall in Iceland is Dettifoss, the second most powerful falls in Europe located in Northeast Iceland and originating from the Vatnaj√∂kull glacier in Southeast Iceland.  You may recognise it from the opening sequence of the film "Prometheus" representing an alien landscape.  At 100 metres wide with a drop of 44 metres, it is located on the Diamond Circle route.  

The J√∂kuls√°rglj√ļfur canyon below the falls

Next is Go√įafoss, waterfall of the Go√įi, or pagan gods.  Located on the Skj√°lfandaflj√≥t river near the main road in North Iceland, it has a drop of 12 meters and is 30 meters wide.  It is considered to be one of the most picturesque of the Icelandic falls.

Perhaps the falls with the saddest name and story is this one, Bjarnafoss, again on the  Hv√≠t√° river.  Local history records that two boys remained at home when their parents went to church one Sunday. but the boys grew bored and decided to follow their parents. They took a shortcut and crossed a stone bridge above the waterfall. But on their way, they  fell into the water and drowned. When their mother found out what had happened, she put a curse on the bridge saying that nobody would ever cross it without drowning. A little while later, the bridge was demolished in an earthquake.

Nearby is the Hraunfossar falls, a series of waterfalls formed by rivulets streaming over a distance of about 900 metres out of the lava field which flowed from a volcanic eruption.

In the middle of Skaftafell in Vatnaj√∂kull Glacier National Park is the most stunning waterfall of Svartifoss {Black Falls}.  The dark basalt columns provided the inspiration for Icelandic architects when building the cathedral of Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik. 

Seljalandsfoss is located in South Iceland with a drop of 60 meters from the Seljalands River that originates in the volcanic glacier of Eyjafjallaj√∂kull. Commonly called the E volcano It is the one that caused the disruption when it erupted in 2010.  Visitors can walk behind the falls into a small cave.

The last of the named waterfalls I'm going to show you today is called  Sk√≥g√°foss. With a drop of 60 metres and a width of 25 metres, it is located  on the Sk√≥g√° River in the South of Iceland at the cliff marking the former coastline. 

Icelanders will pitch up anywhere!

As I said before, Iceland is the country of 1000 waterfalls and more. There are waterfalls at every turn and. some of them although small and without name, are quite  beautiful and unusual.  So I'm going to finish today with a few random photos from across the country.

I hope you have enjoyed this whirlwind tour of waterfalls in Iceland. I have only just begun to scratch the surface of my time spent in this magical land that was my home for four years.

until next time
Stay safe. Stay well
Debbie xx