Animals

Catty Xmas Traditions

Continuing my journey through posts of Xmas past, it’s time to revisit one of my favourite characters – The Yule Cat of Iceland!

To learn more about Jólakötturinn and to hear a song about this scary cat simply click Kitty Claws Is Coming To Town! 🙂

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Red Red Panda

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Saturday the 15th of September 2018 is International Red Panda Day!

Celebrated every year on the third Saturday in September, IRPD was created to bring awareness to the plight of the red panda. Red Pandas are endangered due to habitat loss and illegal poaching. IRPD is celebrated by zoos and individuals around the world with special events and red panda themed fun. Some zoos celebrate on a different day, so check with your local zoo to see if they are doing anything and on what day. For more information on IRPD and red pandas in general visit the Red Panda Network.

I was lucky enough to participate in the 1st International Red Panda Day at The National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra. As it was supposed to be the only zoo in Australia participating in the event that year, I planned a weekend trip to the zoo including a red panda encounter. When I rang to book the encounter, I also asked what festivities they were doing for the special day. We were both surprised when they said they had never heard of International Red Panda Day! Happily a few hours later I got a call saying they loved the idea and that they were now officially participating in the event. I had a great time celebrating IRPD at the zoo and thoroughly enjoyed my awesome red panda encounter. Each year I look forward to this special day.

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Happy Red Panda Day!   

Flight Of The Puffins

I saw my first puffin in Iceland in 2007 and immediately fell in love with these quirky little birds. At the end of 2007, I adopted my first puffin through Project Puffin, an organisation that helps restore puffins and other seabird colonies to islands in the Gulf of Maine.

Every year I receive an update of what my puffin got up to on Eastern Egg Rock Island over the past summer. Sometimes the news is happy and sometimes sad. I celebrate when my puffin’s chicks fledge, and cry when they don’t. The worst updates are the ones informing me my puffin didn’t return to the island. EN 53 was my first puffin, followed by the intriguingly named Q. Sadly, neither of these puffins have returned to the island. My current puffin is MR 795.

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Since adopting my first puffin, it has been a dream of mine to travel to Maine and visit Eastern Egg Rock Island. Ten years after I adopted my first puffin, I fulfilled that dream. The best way to see the puffins and Eastern Egg Rock Island is on a puffin cruise. As I had traveled a long way to get there, I treated myself to a morning and evening cruise.

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My first puffin trip was Cap’n Fish’s morning cruise which left from Boothbay Harbor. A Project Puffin staff member joined us for the trip and gave an informative talk. As we made our way to Eastern Egg Rock Island, puffins were spotted in the water. I leaned over the side of the boat and saw a group of puffins bobbing in the waves. They were so close! I watched as their orange feet paddled under the water and marvelled at the way they launched their black and white bodies into the sky. The closer we got, the more puffins we saw. There were puffins flying across the skyline, some with beaks filled with fish. We watched as they flew to the island and landed on the craggy rocks. We spent a good amount of time circling the island and watching the puffins go about their daily business before returning to Boothbay Harbor.

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My second puffin trip was an evening cruise with Hardy Boat Cruises in New Harbor. We departed around sunset, so although the trip was similar to the morning one, it had a very different feel. Watching puffins fly across the sky at dusk was magical. Again we saw puffins bobbing in the waves close to our boat. When we we arrived at Eastern Egg Rock Island, we actually picked someone up from the island. We watched as a Project Puffin staff member was rowed to our boat, boarded, and then watched as the rower returned to the island. This was an unexpected surprise. I’m so glad I did both trips.

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When I received my latest puffin adoption update I was happy to discover that MR 795 was at the island when I visited and successfully fledged a chick called A4 and adorably nicknamed “McFluffin.” I’ve already asked if I can adopt McFluffin if she/he ever becomes available 🙂

Nothing To Fear Here

Friday the 13th is nearly here, and while some of us celebrate this day, many fear it. In Melbourne, this Friday the 13th also coincides with a Dark Moon. As some people also fear the moon, this may indeed be a very scary time for that unfortunate few.

The word phobia is derived from phobos, the Greek word for fear. Add it to the end of a word and you have a term for the fear of something.

A fear of Friday the 13th is called friggatriskaidekaphobia. The word combines Frigga, the Norse Goddess of Friday, with triskaidekaphobia, the Greek word for the fear of the number 13.

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the dracula tarot

A fear of the moon is called lunaphobia, derived from “luna”, the Latin word for moon. It is also called selenophobia, derived from “seleno”, the Greek word for moon. Luna and Selene are also the names of the Roman and Greek Goddesses of the Moon.

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snake on a beach

If you aren’t terrified yet, Monday the 16th might tip you over the edge as July 16th is World Snake Day! The day was created to help people learn about snakes, understand their role in our world, and hopefully combat some of the fears associated with them. The fear of snakes is called ophidiophobia, derived from “ophis” the Greek word for snake.

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I was born in the Year of the Snake and have always felt connected to them. I love touching non-venomous snakes and don’t mind having a python draped around me. When I tell people I don’t have a fear of snakes, I mean I don’t have a phobia or irrational fear of them. But having grown up in Australia, I do have a rational fear of snakes. We are home to some of the world’s most venomous snakes. Being alert around snakes is ingrained in us. Having encountered a few of these deadly creatures in the wild, and in my backyard, I can tell you the first thing that runs through me is fear! Happily the next feeling that runs through me is fascination. I love watching them from a safe distance, keeping my eye on their movements as they slither back into the wild or the snake catcher comes to collect them. So while I do have a respectful fear of snakes, I don’t have an irrational fear of them.

Do you suffer from any of these phobias or will you be celebrating Friday the 13th, the Dark Moon and World Snake Day free from fear?

Days Of Bears And Fears

Wednesday October the 11th is Bring Your Teddy Bear To Work Or School Day. Observed on the second Wednesday in October, this curious day is a day to celebrate the importance of teddy bears in our lives. Will you be bringing a teddy bear to work or school on Wednesday?

As I work from home I don’t have to worry about being stared at if I bring a teddy bear to work. In fact my home is already filled with panda bears so it’s business as usual here! Sometimes I like to have a break from the computer so instead of taking a panda bear on my break I thought I would take one of my rare teddy bears for an outing. Here is Ursa, named for the Latin word for bear, enjoying Bring Your Teddy Bear On Your Break From Work Day.

Ursa loves riding camels. Coffee after camels. The music of the night.

And what did my panda bears get up to while I was away? Well they were getting ready for
Friday the 13th, one of their favourite days of the year. This will be the last Friday the 13th for 2017.

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Happy Friday the 13th!

A fear of Friday the 13th is called friggatriskaidekaphobia.
The name is a combination of Frigga, the Norse Goddess for Friday, with triskaidekaphobia, the Greek word for the fear of the number 13. Triskaidekaphobia combines the words tris meaning 3, kai meaning and, deka meaning 10 with phobia meaning fear.
An alternate term, paraskevidekatriaphobia, was used by an American psychotherapist in the 1990s. It is a Greek word combining paraskevi meaning Friday with dekatria meaning 13 also ending with phobia for fear.
As I don’t like Goddesses being replaced, I’ll continue using the term friggatriskaidekaphobia!

To find out more about Friday the 13th, check out my previous posts: Friday On My Mind / Bad Moon On The Rise and Deathly Delights For Friday the 13th 🙂

Celebrating Red Pandas

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Saturday the 16th of September is International Red Panda Day!

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Celebrated on the third Saturday in September, IRPD was created to bring awareness to the plight of the red panda and the need to protect this very special little panda. Red Pandas are endangered due to habitat loss and illegal poaching. IRPD is celebrated by individuals and zoos around the world who raise funds for red panda conservation. Some zoos celebrate on a different day, so if you are interested in participating, check out the IRPD page at Red Panda Network.

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Mother’s Day

From ancient Goddess cults to the Christian Mothering Sunday, mothers in all their forms have been celebrated for millennia. The modern Mother’s Day celebration is part of that tradition. After the death of her activist mother Ann Jarvis, Anna Jarvis wanted to create a special day to honour mothers. Unlike former celebrations, Anna wanted her Mother’s Day to be reserved solely for your very own mother, not mothers or mothering in general. Anna succeeded in her quest, but she quickly regretted her victory.

Anna had envisioned a Mother’s Day where children of all ages would visit their mothers and spend quality time with them. Any gifts would be homemade to show the value of the relationship, not the value of the gift. She was devastated to see the holiday turn into a commercial enterprise for florists, confectioners and card manufacturers. She spent the rest of her life trying to destroy what she had created. Despite the commercialisation of Mother’s Day, it continues to be a very important day of the year.

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Ironically, one of the reasons Mother’s Day remains so popular is that it has returned to the more Pagan understanding of mothers and mothering. Rather than focus solely on your own mother, Mother’s Day is promoted as a time to remember all forms of mothering including symbolic mothers and mothers in the animal world. Many zoos have special Mother’s Day events and encourage people to think about giving a donation or animal sponsorship as a Mother’s Day gift. It’s not what Anna wanted, but maybe by focussing on a broader meaning for Mother’s Day, we can also heal some of the stress that comes with this complicated holiday. Those who have bad relationships with their mothers or children, those who aren’t mothers and those who are mourning children or mothers who have passed away may gain some comfort from less rigid interpretations of the day.

As someone who has always been passionate about animals, I love the idea of including them in Mother’s Day celebrations. My first two posts on Mother’s Day were both panda film reviews – ACHOO! The sneeze heard across the world and Kung Fu Panda 3. Both posts look at the beauty, power and struggle of mothers and babies in the animal world. By including all forms of mothers and mothering in Mother’s Day celebrations, we can bring new focus to the holiday and give support to some of the rarest mothers in the world.

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In honour of all mothers I thought I would create an apple flowerpot cake with apple crisps. The cake can be presented in its pot as a gift. The apple crisps are a personal reminder of the bamboo and apple slices baby panda Miao Miao munched on during a cuddling session with one of her Aunties – me 🙂

Apple Flower Pot Cake

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Ingredients
170g butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup of sweet apple cider
2 tablespoons of elderflower cordial
Icing sugar for dusting

Instructions
Preheat oven to 170C / 340F.
Line an unglazed flower pot or glazed baking pot with baking paper – (approx 16 cm diameter and 10 cm deep)
In a large bowl using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.
In a separate bowl sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves.
In a jug, combine the apple cider with the elderflower cordial.
Add the flour mixture alternately with the cider mixture to the creamed butter. Beat until well blended.
Pour batter into prepared flower pot.
Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow cake to cool for a few minutes before removing from pot.
Gently peel away the baking paper.
Place cake on serving plate and dust with icing sugar.
Serve with apple crisps.

Apple Crisps
Ingredients
1 red apple
1 green apple
elderflower cordial for brushing
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Instructions
Preheat oven to 130C / 250F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Thinly slice the apples crosswise and remove the seeds.
Using a pastry brush, lightly brush both sides of the apple slices with elderflower cordial.
Combine the sugar and cinnamon together and use to lightly dust both sides of the apple slices.
Place in a single layer on baking trays and bake for approximately 2 hours or until dry and crisp. Turn over every half hour.
Remove from oven, transfer to racks and allow to cool.

Kitty Claws Is Coming To Town!

Did you survive Krampus night? Well don’t rest easy, because there is another scary xmas monster coming your way! I am happy to introduce you to Jólakötturinn – Iceland’s Yule Cat. Steeped in the mythology of countries that have long, cold, dark and deadly winters, rises the giant black cat of xmas. Jólakötturinn is monstrously huge, has glowing eyes, whiskers as sharp as nails and razor sharp claws. As if cats weren’t scary enough, Jólakötturinn takes feline fear to a new level.

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Jólakötturinn prowls the night of xmas eve, looking in windows for a Yule offering. But what offering could subdue such a terrifying beast? If you’re thinking food you’d be wrong. Your soul? Luckily nothing so dramatic. This fashionista feline desires an offering of new clothes. Bizarrely, the clothes are not necessarily for the cat – I mean cats aren’t known for their love of being dressed up! No, the new clothes are for you and your children. If there are no new clothes to be seen, the feisty Jólakötturinn may take all your gifts, eat all your food, eat you or take away your children and eat them. What better incentive do you need for new xmas threads!

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In some ways the scary kitty myth brilliantly mirrors our capitalist and consumerist approach to xmas with its emphasis on buying new clothes. Some say the myth of Jólakötturinn was used by farmers to frighten workers into finishing processing all the sheared wool before xmas so that new clothes could be made. Others say that the threat of a visit by Jólakötturinn was used to encourage people to work hard all year so they could have the money to buy new clothes for xmas.

It’s not clear when Jólakötturinn joined the cast of Icelandic monsters but the creepy cat’s popularity surged when Icelandic bard Jóhannes úr Kötlum wrote a poem about Jólakötturinn. Interestingly, the poem suggests that we should make sure that the needy, particularly poor children, are given a special piece of clothing at xmas. The basic theme in the poem is that if those who have give to those who don’t, Jólakötturinn will be thwarted. It is actually a beautiful xmas message clothed in a scary cat tale!

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I enjoyed reading about Jólakötturinn but the Yule Cat really came alive to me when I heard Icelandic singer Björk’s version of Jóhannes úr Kötlum’s poem. My favourite link is one that features animation with a written English translation of the poem and Bjork’s haunting voice singing the poem in Icelandic. So before I share my catty recipe for xmas, sit back and enjoy this powerful myth in images and song: Jólakötturinn – The Yule Cat.

We know the Yule Cat wants new clothes rather than food, but I can’t resist trying to tempt the scary kitty with a black bottom cupcake – a chocolate cupcake with a cheesecake filling. Will Jólakötturinn be the cat that got the cream? If creamy cheese isn’t enough, there’s also catnip! Catnip is part of the mint family so you can use any mint you like for this recipe. Chia is also part of the mint family but I’m not sure if cats would be tempted by chia seeds 🙂

Creamy Catnip Cupcakes

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Ingredients
for the cheesecake filling
8 ounces (225g) cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature

for the chocolate cupcakes
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon peppermint essence, or to taste

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
Make the cream cheese filling by beating the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and egg and beat until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
Make the chocolate cupcakes by sifting the flour, baking powder, cocoa, salt and sugar into a jug. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together the water, oil, cider vinegar, vanilla extract and peppermint essence.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients until smooth.
Evenly pour the batter between the 12 paper cases.
Spoon the cream cheese mixture evenly into the center of each cupcake.
Bake for 10 – 25 minutes or until the cupcakes feel springy and the cream cheese filling has set. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Pretty in Red

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Saturday September 17th will be International Red Panda Day. I’ve been celebrating IRPD since it first began in November 2010. Zoos around the world will be celebrating with special events and red panda themed fun. If your local zoo has red pandas, ask if they are celebrating. If they aren’t, see if they can next year. Information on IRPD can be found at Red Panda Network!

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On December 10th, 2015, Melbourne Zoo’s red panda mum Roshani and red panda dad Seba became proud panda parents to two adorable male cubs, Mandu and Keta. Mandu is short for Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city and Keta means boy in Nepalese.

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We decided that we would visit them as often as we could and make a photographic journal. We visited the zoo often throughout December, January, February and March but with no sightings. Finally, in early April, we saw them for the first time. And they were worth the wait! Two little bundles of fur clung to their tree branches whilst devouring an enormous amount of bamboo. Mum watched over them protectively.

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Since April we have visited them 6 times 🙂  It’s hard to pick a sample of best shots as they are adorable in almost every shot but I have given it a go. I hope you enjoy this small sample of the journey of Mandu and Keta, so far!

For my tasty Red Velvet Cupcake recipe created especially for IRPD and an hilarious panda cartoon by Anne Belov, please click here 🙂

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Blondies for Blondie

I thought I would make some blondies in honour of Blondie, the beautiful European brown bear that made our stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge so awesome 🙂

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Blondies are a variation of brownies. They are usually made with butter and brown sugar which gives them a lovely butterscotch taste. For these brown bear inspired blondies I decided to brown the butter which gives it a nutty flavour. I also added macadamia nuts and white chocolate for a bit of crunch.

Brown Butter Blondies

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Ingredients
165g unsalted butter, roughly chopped
1 + 3/4 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup demerara sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
75g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
170g white chocolate, roughly chopped

Instructions
Place the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Carefully swirl the pan and cook until the butter becomes tan in color. Be careful as it is easy to burn. Once tan, remove saucepan from heat and pour butter into a heatproof bowl.
Heat the oven to 200C / 400F.
Line a 20cm square baking pan with baking paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl.
Stir the sugars into the cooled butter.
Stir in the eggs and vanilla.
Gently fold the wet ingredients into the flour.
Add the white chocolate and nuts. Stir until just combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Place on a wire rack to cool before cutting into pieces.