Saturday, 31 August 2013

Big Butterfly Count 2013

Last year's weather was so vile, I was determined to do more butterfly counting this year. Unfortunately, the period for the count coincided with a knee OA flare and an operation on the OA in my right big toe, so I haven't been as mobile as I would like.  Still, I got out when I could, and here are the results.

The count started on 20th July, so on 21st I took my stick and pottered out to one of our closer fields, which was still ungrazed, uncut, and covered with flitting butterflies. The count is very easy to do, really - just watch for 15 minutes and count the peak numbers of each specie.  Most of the butterflies flitting around were Meadow Browns and I got up to 12, but there will have been more around.  Keeping lower in the grasses were Ringlets (4).  All the others where whites, but which? I could look more carefully at the closest ones revealed 3 Green-Veined and 5 Small Whites, but I could see another 16 or so whites flitting around and could not tell at that distance which they were.

The next time I could get out was 8th August, 2 weeks after my operation, when I could just about get one of my elasticated sandals on my foot. With my camera, notebook and pen in a light bag to hang on my crutches, I tottered out to inspect the buddleias between the cottage and the barn, and by the side of the road. At the start of the count period, the buddleias showed a little colour, but hadn't opened their flowers, but in that couple of weeks they had opened and it was glorious to stand surrounded by their scent and the butterflies!

The bushes growing on rubble near the barn on the north side of the cottage had attracted a good crowd.
5 Peacock, 2 Red Admiral, 2 Small Tortoiseshell, 2 Large White, 2 Meadow Brown, 1 Small White and, just as I was leaving, 1 Comma, more interested in the bramble flowers on the fence than the buddleias. There was also a Silver Y moth whirring around.

The buddleias by the side of the road are south-facing and attract more butterflies. 7 Peacock, 3 Red Admiral, 4 Small Tortoiseshell, 6 Large White, 2 Meadow Brown, 5 Green-Veined White, 4 Small White, 3 Silver Y moths ( the Big Butterfly Count includes some of the day-flying moths). I probably stood for more than 15 minutes just enjoying the sun, scent and the way that the whites rose up in bickering clouds from time to time.

The next day, I had a consultant's appointment to check the progress of my toe and to trim the ends of the stitches.  Waiting for my lift with a cup of tea, I gazed out into the back garden of the cottage (such as it is - since I had to stop working on it, everything has grown so much!). A couple of bickering Speckled Wood rose from the weeds, there were 2 Large Whites around the Elder, a Ringlet and a Small Copper in a patch of sunlight and a Silver Y visiting the honeysuckle.

After the consultant's appointment, I had a bit of a magical mystery tour which involved a stop in Ammanford.  My friend parked next to a couple of small buddleias, apparently self-seeded in the municipal planting of the car park. While she dashed to the bank, I saw 2 Small White, 2 Large White, 1 Small Tortoiseshell, 1 Red Admiral and 1 Peacock.

According to the Butterfly Conservation site, the Big Butterfly Count officially finished on 11 August, but as I was inputting results today, I noticed that the results period runs for the whole of July and August. I was a bit confused by that, so I decided to test it by adding an observation from the week my parents were here, when in addition to the usual suspects on the yard buddleias, there was also a Painted Lady and more new-looking Small Tortoiseshells. Those results were accepted, so I went out to have a look at the roadside buddleias in the sunshine earlier and recorded those too: 1 Peacock, 6 Large White, 2 Green-Veined White, 8 Small Tortoiseshells and a Silver Y. The Small Tortoiseshells mostly looked very shiny and new. Herein lies the value of repeated observations in the same place; you see the changes in species' numbers over a couple of months, as new generations start to fly.

We've had lovely weather this summer, but I'm noticing the change now.  Night temperatures are down into single figures (Centigrade, not Fahrenheit!). It's getting darker earlier, the swallows are still here but look like they're thinking about going, blackberries are ripening and schools start back next week. Still, there is beauty in transformation and there will be other butterflies to see before I make do with memories until next summer.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Energy and the Art of the Microburst

I was up with my alarm this morning, partly to get the bins out, and then so that I could take a painkiller to stop the party going on between my knees, toes and hips. I lay back down to listen to the news and plan a little what to do this morning and then next thing I knew, it was 3 hours later. Everything had stopped hurting and I was very comfortable, lying on the bed with both cats purring away, but I couldn't stay there; the most urgent job was to stagger out to the barn and let the hens out. As it was a grey morning, they'd gone back to bed too, but my cockerel Red came bustling out, clapped his wings and started to crow.  It sounded rather like 'For goodness' sake! Where have you been? You've got things to do!'

Like many other chronic (that is, long-term) conditions, my osteoarthritis (OA) can fluctuate between good hours, days, weeks, months perhaps, when I'm just a bit stiff, to being completely debilitating.  When I'm having a flare, the maximum dose of my painkillers works well enough for me to be pain-free if I don't move, but it will also make me too drowsy to concentrate, or even stay awake. Even without taking painkillers, I was unprepared for the fatigue associated with constant pain. So, with my left knee still not taking my weight, and my right toe still sore after the op, getting anything done at all is something of a challenge.

I think I may have spent the last year in denial a little, but this latest flare-up in my left knee has been going on for nearly three months now and I have started to see the potential benefits of bungalows and the riser-recliner chairs and stair- and bath lifts which are advertised so much during daytime TV.  It all leaves me a bit depressed, wondering how long I'll be able to go on dancing and if I'll even be able to dance again.

During May, my knees were feeling more than usually stiff, sore and creaky, but with a bit of a warm up before dancing, people who didn't already know I have issues were astonished when I told them. At one hafla, someone incredulously asked, 'How can you dance and teach if you have severe osteoarthritis?' to which the answer is, most of the time it's okay, and during a flare, with extreme difficulty or not at all.

A friend of mine has become seriously and chronically ill in the past year and I have other friends with various chronic illnesses which the casual observer would not guess at. In other words, they don't look ill.  The 'spoon theory' by  Christine Miserandino came up in conversation a few months ago.  This is an article which explains the practical considerations all those with chronic conditions involving pain and fatigue have to give to their daily life, using spoons as a tangible example of energy credits. Anything which needs movement or energy to do costs you one or more spoons; you don't have as many spoons (energy credits) as you might want or need to get everything done, you need to make them last to the end of the day, and if you go overdrawn, you pay for it the following day, and perhaps longer.

Years ago when I was learning about project management, I got a lot of practice breaking jobs down into tasks in logical steps.  Time management courses were hot on multi-tasking and fitting small jobs into odd blocks of time. It wasn't until recently that I'd heard of the 'microburst' in the sense of activity, rather than meteorology.

Activity microbursts are a good technique for getting started on a job which you've been putting off, by doing a very small, non-threatening task or two just to get the ball rolling. For those with a tendency to get obsessed or stuck on a job, deciding to microburst by doing just a couple of smaller tasks ensures you can get on with other things too.  They are the classic way to fit a small job into a block of time, for example if you have 20 minutes before you have to set off for somewhere, pick up a job which will take 15 minutes.Alternatively, since work often expands to fill the time allotted to it, pick a task and give it five minutes.

And then there's microbursting for those who, for whatever reason, can't complete the whole job in one go, so jobs become a series of five minute tasks. It's strange to think that, for instance, getting a load of laundry done can be broken down into yet smaller tasks, but it's possible. I have to accept the fact that, for the time being at least, I can't manage to get the last load out, sort out another load and get that on, then carry the basket through and hang up the wet washing, without having to sit and rest a couple of times.  (How to carry the washbasket and use a stick? Carry the basket on your head.) So the job which used to take 20 minutes now takes 30 or more. I can microburst other tasks into my rests, such as answering an email, but on more than one occasion I have sat down on the sofa or bed and woken up a couple of hours later. It's frustrating, makes me feel like I'm being lazy, pathetic, not trying hard enough.

For some light relief, I did an Internet search for 'microburst'. The first result was the Wikipedia entry on the weather phenomenon and I was tickled to read that 'There are two types of microbursts: wet microbursts and dry microbursts. They go through three stages in their life cycle: the downburst, outburst, and cushion stages.'

Perfect.  I shall now demonstrate a wet microburst by washing up. Filling the sink is the downburst, the outburst stage finishes with all the washed bits and pieces in the drainer and the cushion stage is me sagging gratefully onto the sofa. Then I think I shall try a dry microburst, as I drop to the floor to do some physio, curse out loud when I push my toe a bit too far and crawl back onto the sofa.  If I've still got some energy, another dry microburst will be me dumping a load of dry washing onto one seat of the sofa, sitting and folding it all into neat piles ... then probably falling asleep on it. Again.

Thursday, 29 August 2013


I've just had a lovely few days when my parents came to visit. They were full of apologies that they hadn't been able to come when I first came out of hospital, but I'm glad of that - they would have been so bored, with me trying to get organised for the Cardigan Belly Dance Festival and sleeping the rest of the time!
As it was, we didn't do all that much, hampered by my inability to walk limp far.  We made it to the leisure centre a couple of times, where Dad went to the gym and Mum and I went swimming.  It was so good to feel released from gravity for a while! The pool was reasonably warm and fairly empty considering that it's still the school summer holidays (though not for very much longer - where did August go?).

We had a little excursion to the Wildlife Centre at Cilgerran for lunch at the Glasshouse Cafe, which was packed but the food is always good. Then on to see my friend Rose at Sculpture Heaven, where we pottered around the garden rooms, admiring the trees and flowers, and browsing in the reorganised shop. Rose serves tea and fabulous little cakes with profits going to charity.  Apparently, there are no calories in cakes on Wednesday afternoons (when the sewing circle my Mum belongs to meets to stitch, chat and have tea and cakes).

My parents did some housework for me, as I haven't been able to do much for a few months now and it was lovely to have their help with mundane things like washing up, looking after the hens, or just making a pot of tea.  A lot of the time, we just read the papers, watched TV and talked about computers (Dad) and patchwork (Mum). The chat generated a new idea for me, which I'm now exploring and costing out (but that's all I'm saying for now!)

They couldn't stay for the bank holiday weekend, but I enjoyed my few days of TLC, comfortable, healing and nurturing. Everyone should have some.

Cardigan Belly Dance Festival 2013

Several years ago, events such as haflas and workshops were fairly rare in south west Wales.  Now you can find something to go to at least once a month and there are often clashing events.  However, there has also been a lot of debate about the lack of support for these events, especially from local dancers.  I was one of the organisers of a hafla in Haverfordwest at the beginning of July, and very few of the dancers from my classes came to it, despite my encouragement. Although the (third) Cardigan Belly Dance Festival was better attended than I expected, I was terribly disappointed that only one person from my classes could make it.  The date had been known for a few months, but in the end, there was a clashing alternative lifestyle show in Tenby, and various other holiday and family commitments meant that many dancers missed it.

Missed the opportunity to watch, dance, shop, chat belly dance! So, shaking my head and muttering to myself about priorities (I know, I'm kidding, honestly!) I decided that I should blog about the haflas I go to. If you danced and don't get a mention, don't worry or take it personally. It's not meant to be a full review, just some highlights, so you know what you missed.

2013 is proving unlucky for some. This year's show was like a meeting of walking wounded dancers.  Someone jokingly remarked that we were not a good advert for our dance classes, but in fact, none of us had hurt ourselves actually dancing.  If there had been a prize for the most extraordinary accident, it would have gone to the lady who'd just spent some weeks in hospital after a microlight aircraft crash!

My friend and fellow teacher Rose is the main organiser for this yearly event and I do a few bits and pieces, like putting together the playlist, running order and any technical requirements notes, even though getting confirmation and information from some of the dancers is like trying to herd cats.  The day before my foot op, Rose fell heavily and broke her arm badly, so both of us were trying to organise things while battling with pain and fatigue. Luckily, she has some amazing ladies who always help out and manage the door/front of house, setting-up and refreshments side of things. Some time previously, Rose had already decided to have a technician to deal with music and lighting for the show. Thank goodness, because between us, we currently make one whole dancer; it would have been very difficult to cope without a tech.

When I covered a couple of Rose's classes for her a couple of months ago, I learnt parts of her choreographies for this show. At that time, of course, Rose's dancers were expecting to perform with their teacher in front to follow.  After an initial panic, they practised hard and performed well.  I especially love Rose's choreography to Yay! by Nancy Ajram, an irresistibly uplifting love song. With her arm in a traction sling hidden under her dance cover-up, Rose did her usual great job of compering the dances, with information about rhythms, singers and cultural history bringing context and additional interest to the performances.

The other local teacher, Guinevere, performed a drum solo which showcased her pizazz.  I particularly liked the hand gestures which supported, rather than distracted from the hip movements, reflecting the rhythms through the whole body. She also led some of the children from her afternoon children's workshop in a little dance, and they were so cute!

We had a great selection of guest dancers from further afield. Being so far west, it takes some dedication for dancers to come to us (and for us to go elsewhere, come to that). Dominique Flook (Long Black Veil) was as beautiful, dramatic and magnetic as ever and bravely tackled getting to Cardigan from Gwent by public transport.  Stephanie Gawne performed a sweet and delightful Persian piece and did a darkly fabulous sword dance.  Julie Campbell came all the way from Brighton and sparkled as much as her mega-sparkly galabeya. Zara danced with her usual energy and brilliance.  She also brought her souk and I only realised afterwards that I had been so sedentary and dozy, I had not gone to browse for a few bits and pieces.

I couldn't dance fully after my recent foot operation and with my knee OA still in flare (or whatever the hell is wrong with it!), but I was prepared for this eventuality and had sorted out a dance to be performed seated, essentially dancing from the waist up.  I'd had Song to the Siren by the Cocteau Twins on my choreography radar for a while, envisaging a sort of tribal/contemporary fusion style piece with mermaid inspired costuming. The seated version ended up as a mixture of dance theatre with belly dance chest and arm movements and added undulations. I had a mermaid scales foil jersey in my stash and bought a length of organza with glitter stars. Designing and making the costume was fun and left drifts of green glitter all over the cottage.  The piece seemed to go down well and I've been asked to perform it again at a charity show in Cardiff at the end of November, by which time I will have amended the costume a little, and may even be dancing properly again by then (I hope!).  It was also a great opportunity to wear a couple of my big sparkly bindis (made by the Funky Faery, who was also there with a lovely selection to sell). I need some proper spirit gum. I've been getting power surges again, so I could only get one bindi to stick to my slick forehead, and even that fell off while I was getting changed.  I looked all over and couldn't find it, and it was only when I was getting ready for bed later that I found it stuck to my tummy!

I think I need some pearls
The evening came to an end soon after the show's Khaleegy inspired finale. The limpy duck step was perfect for me with one good knee and foot, and Rose could have done with my walking stick as a hook to get me offstage as I was enjoying whirling my hair. No-one had the energy to dance or drum much after that and a few had to get away to relieve their baby sitters.

It was so strange not to be teaching one of the Sunday workshops and sad to miss them. Cardigan is a 40 mile round trip, and with not being able to drive because of my foot, no lift, no public transport (no Sunday service, but even if it hadn't been Sunday I would have had to walk hobble four miles to get the bus) and a taxi would have been too expensive. Ah well, next year.

A few weeks and several vacuumings later, I'm still finding bits of green glitter. Normally I love a bit of glitter, but it's too much when the cats start to wear it!