Big Garden Bird Watch

This afternoon the Pilgrim family took part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch for the first time.


I placed myself by the patio doors with some binoculars, a pen and the RSPB bird identification sheet. Setting the timer on my phone for an hour, I waited.


A bird has to land in the garden to be counted so the gulls flying overhead and the crow over the fence were ignored. 


Surprisingly after a short wait, a robin appeared in the garden. Small Boy and Little Miss were very excited and I dutifully wrote ‘1 robin’. 


Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash


Then I waited and watched.


We looked at the snow drops.


I asked for a cup of tea.


A bumble bee appeared. 


I drank the cup of tea.


The children tried the binoculars: ‘Everything looks smaller, Mummy!’


We looked at the garden.


We looked at the timer.


Branches danced in the wind.


We watched.


And waited.


‘How much longer, Mummy?’


I watched – sometimes alone, sometimes with a child in my arms.


Birds flew overhead, almost tumbling in the wind.


We kept looking.


And waiting.


We saw the bee again.


We looked at the garden.


We looked at the timer.


I looked.


I spotted two birds in the branches of a tree. Too far away to really look at without the binoculars, I urgently called Mr Pilgrim over.


We stood still, staring and studying.


What were they?


And then they were gone.


We kept watch a few minutes more and then the timer sounded signalling the end of the hour.


Using the Collins bird identification app on my phone (recommended at the duck workshop we attended), Mr Pilgrim identified the birds as goldfinches. 


I filled in the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch form (robin 1, goldfinches 2) and then Small Boy and I walked to the post box to send off our results. 


I’m surprised and delighted – I wasn’t sure we’d see anything! 

Quack!

Mr Pilgrim lovingly agreed to attend a Duck Identification Workshop with me (run by the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust) last Saturday. We spent an hour in a community centre listening to a fascinating presentation about local waterfowl and their habitats, and then walked around nearby Stockers Lake looking for ducks. The workshop leader had great binoculars and a telescope plus expert knowledge which we needed!

Coots and some gadwells (kleptoparasitism in action!)

We saw: coots, tufted ducks, a swan, cormorants, goldeneye, gadwall, great-crested grebe, mallard, pochard, shoveler, wigeon, moorhen, lapwing, lesser black-backed gulls and black-headed gulls.

Tufted duck

We learnt:

  • Ducks can be dabblers, divers, grazers or predators
  • Ducks can’t fly when they are moulting
  • Gadwalls kleptoparasitise coots
  • Coots and moorhens operate in different ecological niches (and so have very different looking feet!)
  • An unfamiliar bird Small Boy and I had spotted earlier that week was a little egret

The presentation finished with some ideas of how we could help ducks (interestingly, mallards – the ducks of our childhoods, the ducks of picture books – are in decline). One of the ways we can help local waterfowl is by using less water; households in Hertfordshire (for reasons unknown) have above average use of water (160 litres per day rather than 150 litres).

Mallards

So what can we do to reduce our household water use?

  • Affinity Water suggest having four minute showers rather than a bath. I’m not sure this is realistic! I’ve been timing my showers this week (try it!) and I can have a shower in under four minutes if I don’t wash my hair but it’s nine minutes if I do.
  • Ensuring the washing machine and dishwasher are full before using.
  • Turn off the tap while brushing teeth (does anyone still leave the tap running?)
  • Only boil enough water for immediate use.

So much of choosing to seek to live justly is about less – less comfort, less convenience, less choice, and maybe less cleanliness!

Looking back and looking forward

Last year, I had two lists of challenges: Going Wilder in 2018 – 18 countryside activities and the Better World Book Challenge.

I picked up rubbish, developed a new hobby of butterflying, started looking for birds near our home, visited Bempton Cliffs to see sea birds, read a lot of books about nature and wildlife, climbed Roseberry Topping, spent a total of 25 nights sleeping under canvas, looked up at the stars, watched live badgers, walked on beaches in the south-west and north-east of England, had a tour of Church Farm by Farmer Tim, and read BBC Wildlife magazine.

I didn’t achieve my goal of freshwater swimming although I did swim through Durdle Door in Dorset. We also didn’t make it for a walk by a viaduct as when we got there Small Boy and Little Miss were fast asleep and it was raining!

And the reading challenge? I appreciated being more experimental in my book choices and enjoyed trying new genres and authors. My favourite reads were A Woman’s Work by Harriet Harman (a book by a politician no longer in office), The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (a book involving magic) and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (a book nominated for a literary prize).

This year I will be doing the Read Harder Challenge by Book Riot and as last year, I want to use the library as much as possible.


We encourage you to push yourself, to take advantage of this challenge as a way to explore topics or formats or genres that you otherwise wouldn’t try. But this isn’t a test. No one is keeping score and there are no points to post. We like books because they allow us to see the world from a new perspective, and sometimes we all need help to even know which perspectives to try out. That’s what this is—a perspective shift—but one for which you’ll only be accountable to yourself.

https://bookriot.com/?p=248175

I also want to read:

  1. Facism by Madeline Albright
  2. William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner by William Hague
  3. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  4. The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr
  5. Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
  6. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brendan Manning
  7. The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma

Throughout the year I will be reading Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals and The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019.

Other goals:

  • Learn the biblical Hebrew alphabet
  • Go swimming in a freshwater lake or river
  • Discover nature in my local patch – both the hyperlocal and in Herts and Middlesex (Mr Pilgrim and I are booked on a duck identification workshop!)
  • Continue to learn about butterflies
  • Keep picking up rubbish
  • Write a list of what I buy as a way of aiming to consume less
  • Simplify my online life

Thoughts before Christmas

The frenetic season before Christmas has drawn to an end and now it is time to rest; the to do list has been abandoned, the out of office is on, and I’m choosing to slow down. 

(For me being slower means less internet, more play, more cups of tea and more Sorkin dramas!)

I last wrote a post a month ago and since then I have tried to sit down and write several times but struggled to put my thoughts into words. In some ways, I am still in that place, I don’t have a theme, an activity or a specific reason to write yet I need to write to process the swirling thoughts.

A Just Christmas?

This year I’ve tried to buy less and to buy better (fair trade and zero waste) and, as last year, presents are wrapped in old maps. We’ve wanted to be generous and for our gifts to be a sign of our love and appreciation to the recipient – I’m not sure how well we’ve done here, and I know that in the busyness there are cards I’ve not written and presents I’ve not bought.

A visit to the Lego Shop did result in some unplanned unnecessary purchases but every time I look at my new Wonder Woman Mini Figure key-ring, I remember the Wonder Woman pose and feel empowered!

Photo by Zhen Hu on Unsplash

Amid the busyness of the past month, I managed to have a few hours to myself and went for a calming walk one day in my local nature reserve to look for birds. I don’t find it easy to choose a peaceful activity and as I set off it did feel like ‘a waste of time’ but in a week full of work, volunteering, appointments, Christmas preparation and children’s parties, it was a vital sustaining pause.  

Advent began with Small Boy, Little Miss and Mr Pilgrim being ill, but our activities have gone well – better than expected! The Jesse Tree book has been very popular with Small Boy and Little Miss. They’ve enjoyed colouring in the pictures and listening to me retell the Bible stories. My Christmas tree hat gains me more attention than I thought but I think it’s made people smile! Our reverse Advent calendar has been good, and I will do this again – buying the items in advance certainly helps.

I will finish now with a quote from the Advent devotional, God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas (a collection of writings from
Dietrich Bonhoeffer), that I’ve been reading – words that I’ve been reflecting on throughout this month.

And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly . . . . God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and the broken.”

May you know God’s nearness this Christmas.

Love, Dido x

Bake, write, give, play, pray

I like shopping. I like buying new things. I like having stuff. But I know I consume too much and I want to live more simply. But this is not something that comes naturally to me.


So I’ve written a list of five activities for Black Friday (by the way it’s also Buy Nothing Day!) to position myself away from the pull of purchasing and possessing.


1) Bake a cake – did you know that bananas are the UK’s most wasted food? I’ve used our squidgy bananas to make (hopefully!) delicious banana bread. Creativity – even if it’s a simple cake – is a fantastic antidote to consumerism. 


2) Write a letter – I’m going to write a letter (with a pen not a keyboard!) to a friend to thank her for her decades of friendship.


3) Give – I’ve found some books to share with the Community Book Swap and will take some clothes to a local charity shop.

4) Play – Small Boy and Little Miss are full of creativity, imagination and enthusiasm. They don’t seem to want or need that many toys for their games of ‘pretend’. I’m going to enter their worlds joyfully and with a grateful heart. 


5) Pray – I will spend some time praying for my family, my local community and the work of Tearfund

What’s on my shelf (part 3)?

This reflection should be titled ‘What’s on our shelves?’. Small Boy is now bringing home reading books and this weekend we’re enjoying reading about Tim and his dad catching cod with a rod. It’s wonderful seeing the world of words open up to Small Boy.

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

Trips to the library are important; Little Miss chose Don’t Wake Up Tiger – a beautifully-illustrated book where the readers get involved by stroking Tiger’s nose and blowing balloons. Family Pilgrim are also big fans of Richard Byrne’s This Book is out of Control – another book where the reader needs to help out!

My local community association has just this week started a book swap which is a great idea.

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This photo was taken on Tuesday and the shelves looked very different today (Sunday!)

And what’s on my shelf?

I’ve just finished reading Birdwatching with your eyes closed by Simon Barnes but listening to the accompanying podcast has been tricky as it upsets the cat! I’ve realised there is a greater biodiversity where I live than I thought but it’s frustrating how hard it is to distinguish which species is singing (I know that listening to the podcast will help!). Previously I didn’t know how much I didn’t know (and to be truthful, I probably didn’t care too much) but now I feel frustrated at my ignorance and the pace of my learning.

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Walking places is taking longer as I keep looking up and trying to spot the singer!

At The Justice Conference, I was intrigued by a book called Blue Planet, Blue God and it’s not like any book I’ve ever read before. It’s a mixture of biblical studies, English literature, oceanography and ethical living. It’s intellectual but contains practical steps on how we can – and should – care for the sea and the creatures that dwell there. It’s a quirky and compelling read.

Next on the list is The Seabird’s Cry, recommended by my friend over at Hearten soul. We loved seeing gannets on holiday at Bempton Cliffs (and returned with the cuddly Flappy!) and I’m looking forward to learning more about them.

The year is almost over and so I’ve been taking stock of my two lists of challenges: the Better World Books Challenge and Going wilder in 2018: 18 countryside activities. I’m also beginning to think about what to do for 2019! Any ideas?!

The Justice Conference

I have just spent two days at The Justice Conference – well, almost two days, I missed the evening sessions as finishing at half nine is just too late for me now! I hope to catch up the sessions I missed through purchasing the talks on a USB.

Not too far from home, the conference was at The Drum in Wembley, the UK’s greenest public building. Little Miss, Small Boy and Mr Pilgrim came with me on the train on the first morning – a train ride is fun when you’re small and I was glad of the company!

My head is still spinning as I begin to process the sessions and seminars. Full of poetry, drama, talks, panel discussions and audience questions, the days were full of challenging content. I want to think more about:

  • Encouraging young children to engage with the Creator and the natural world (I found out about a church that meets in a park! Park Church, Luton)
  • White privilege
  • Climate change
  • The theology of justice – I will be reading Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma
  • Making space to be creative and the importance of creativity
  • The Pilgrim family’s giving
  • Connection and holism – why is it that many of us don’t join the dots and see how our the way we live our lives (often in over-consumption) has an affect on others? Why is there still a dualism to our thinking? What can be done about this?

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The highlights from me were the variety of voices – there was a diversity in gender, colour, nationality and background. An LGBTQ+ perspective was missing though.

My favourite speakers were Mandisa Gumada, a South African woman from Green Anglicans, and Micah Bournes – my new favourite poet. If you have time, I recommend listening to some of his spoken word poetry.

I’ve signed up to Jeremy Williams Make Wealth History blog and am looking forward to reading his book, The Economics of Arrival, which comes out next year.

Hopefully, as I read and write and think and talk, I will be able to share further thoughts here.

Getting ready for Advent

Advent starts in about six weeks and I’m already looking forward to four Advent activities I’ve planned.

Wearing my fair trade Christmas tree hat – I didn’t need it but it’s beautiful and fun! Little Miss adores wearing it and looks so winsome. I don’t look quite so cute but it’s creating joy and laughter.IMG_20181023_083100

Reading God is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer – I have recently read Eric Metaxes’ biography of Bonhoeffer which I wholeheartedly recommend. I’m now ready to read some of Bonhoeffer’s works and this Advent devotional of compiled writings seemed an appropriate place to start.

Reverse Advent calendar – Grandma has already bought the children some exciting Advent calendars. Thank you, Grandma! But I want to do something alongside Lego and Peppa Pig which turns our attention – and our time and money – to those who are in need of some help.

We are going to make a reverse Advent calendar. In previous years, the logistics have overwhelmed me but I have just added 24 items, such as a bag of sugar and tins of rice pudding and custard, to my online shopping order. Each day in Advent the children can choose an item to go in our Advent Box and then together we can take these gifts of food to a local charity which runs a foodbank  – dropping off weekly rather than just before Christmas.

Last year, a friend told me about the Jesse Tree – making ornaments for a Christmas tree which tell the story of Jesus. I’m fairly rubbish at craft and so have ordered a book to help! My hope is that this activity will not only help Little Miss and Small Boy learn about Christmas but will also remind me and Mr Pilgrim of the wonder of Jesus’ birth.

It can be easy to have good intentions but then not to actually do anything. I find planning – and then writing about my plan – means my idea is more likely to become reality!

Advent is still over a month away so there’s still time for you to plan a way of giving, discover something to read or do, or even buy Christmas-themed head-wear!

 

Plastic-free experiments

I thought it was time to experiment with some new plastic-free alternatives.

I’ve steered away from DIY toothpaste as I want something with fluoride. When I saw discovered online company Anything But Plastic was selling Denttab Toothpaste tablets with fluoride I thought I’d give it a go. I’ve bought six-months supply because it is cheaper that way. I clean my teeth twice a day and alternate between the toothpaste tablet and usual toothpaste in a tube. I’m still getting the hang of it! You need to make the paste in your mouth with the tab and it’s quite a different feeling to toothpaste.

IMG_20180928_204457For the last 18 months I’ve been using a foundation from Green People. It’s great but expensive and in a plastic container. Lush are selling Slap Stick, foundation without any plastic. I went to my local Lush to find out what shade would suit me – there are 40 to choose from! But Slap Stick foundation is only available online although there is a helpful guide to choosing the right one for your skin tone. I picked 8N which is more or less the right shade. I’m still getting used to it but I love the concept. IMG_20180928_204646Crocheted make-up removers – I was kindly sent some of these for free from The Willow Tree Yarnery. They’re not as soft as cotton wool but they do the job!


And in other news, I always have one (or two) notebooks on the go and, thanks to a friend’s extremely generous birthday gift, I am now the proud owner of an Elvis and Kress notebook (which is refillable). It’s made out of decommissioned fire hose and is truly sustainable luxury.  A special thank you to my kind friend for such a wonderful present.

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For some reason, I thought that I’d never find a pair of jeans I liked in a charity shop. Recently I’ve bought as-good-as-new Monsoon and Fat Face pairs from local shops. It takes 1,800 gallons of water to make just one pair of jeans so second hand denim is definitely a good ethical choice and they are so much cheaper too! I may be spending more money on food but I’m definitely spending less on clothes.

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One of my earliest blogs on living justly was about the chagrin I felt on purchasing a pair of Converse trainers. I’ve been waiting until they needed replacing before buying an ethical alternative. They are looking pretty grubby now and I was pleased to receive an Ethletic pair for my birthday.


Once again, I am conscious that consuming better is still consuming and there is plenty of plastic (particularly small insect-related toys) in my life! But hopefully my small changes make a little difference and maybe inspire you, and others, to try a plastic-free alternative.

Loving and living local

At the start of this year when reading Free by Mark and Lisa Sandrette, I wrote a list of my five personal values: local, community, social justice, growth and creativity. This exercise turned out to be pivotal when, a few months later, I came to make a decision about whether or not to pursue a potential new job; a role which would have fitted with four of these values but was most definitely not ‘local’. I realised then just how highly I hold this value; local does not mean less.

It may be laziness but I just like having everything near each other! I hated the daily commute when I had a job 30 miles away from my home and conversely love my current 10 minute cycle from my front door to the office car park. (Thank you Mr P for rescuing my bike this week when I lost the key to the lock!)

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

It’s important to me to be part of a church in the community where I live as well as being involved in the community itself in some way. I am blessed in being part of a church family which loves our community and have the privilege of being involved in the local community association.

I’m now learning to appreciate my local environment. I have recently discovered, through reading Matthew Oates’ The Pursuit of Butterflies, the Welsh word ‘cynefin’ meaning ‘homepatch’ or ‘heartland’. My current home hasn’t been my home for very long and so I don’t know if the natural world here will ever make my heart sing in the same way revisiting the countryside of my childhood does. But maybe. If I watch and wonder and love and live with the eyes of a child, then as seasons pass, I will be able to say this locale too is the land of my heart.

David Lindo, The Urban Birder, writes about the importance of the naturalists’ ‘local patch’. The ever-generous Mr P presented me with a surprise gift recently of a colourful weighty tome all about butterflies in Hertfordshire and Middlesex – our local patch. There is so much for me to discover and enjoy without having to travel too far.

This week I enjoyed a nature walk with a friend in a nearby nature reserve – a short walk down the road from where I live. The term ‘nature reserve’ may conjure up inaccurate pictures in your mind as this particular site is fairly small and was developed from a site of redundant allotments. Yet, it’s a area near where I live full of wildlife. My friend and I enjoyed watching:

  • A common frog in the pond
  • Dragonflies
  • A red admiral
  • Many speckled woods
  • Beetles (which require further research in my Collins Gem Insects book)
  • Squirrels
  • A robin

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Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

[Note 1: Small Boy was at school and Little Miss was with us but fast asleep. I doubt we would have seen all the above otherwise!]

[Note 2: We also saw a black cat.]

I have a nature notebook in which I am jotting down different wildlife I see each day to help me build an appreciative picture of what is in my ‘homepatch’ and maybe over time to note any changes. I have frequently spotted a red kite flying overhead and spotted a fox twice late at night in the same place.

The Urban Birder’s catchphrase is ‘look up’ but I think mine is just ‘look!’