Roxanne O'Connell

Writer, Textile Artist, Plantswoman

Lá Fhéile Bríde Shona Daoibh!

Imbolc (Imbolg)– the first day of Spring and the feast of Brigid!

Signs of spring are already showing up in our garden, green things pushing up through the ground, the sun rising earlier and earlier, bird song abounds and, the most heart lifting of all, there’s a stretch in the evening—that soft blue gloaming in the west that stretches the light after sundown.

This year will be the first time a feast day celebrating Bríd (both the mythic and saint) will be a public holiday. It falls on the first Monday of February, completing the cycle of the four Celtic feasts for which there is a public holiday, the other three being Samhain (November 1), Bealtaine (May 1), and Lughnasadh (August 1).

Lá Fhéile Bríde is the first public holiday that celebrates women—even Nollaig na mBan, Women’s Christmas doesn’t do that. As is fitting, some of Ireland’s finest traditional musicians have composed and choreographed pieces for the day. I’ve posted these pieces by Caitlín Nic Gabhann—a slip jig Lá ‘le Bríde, Síle Denvir’s song Seo í isteach mo Bhrídeog, and Louise Mulcahy’s jig Port Naomh Bríd.

Enjoy the day and celebrate the end of Winter—even if it doesn’t look much like it wherever you are.

For the record…

I’m not one to get involved in New Year’s Resolutions—particularly resolutions involving activities for which I have no great desire. That’s really setting one’s self up for failure. But for things that I might have deferred or got out of practice with, having a promise to indulge in these in the coming year has its attractions, reminders that there are these things I really do want to do and now is a good time to do them. So, keeping the list to just five things I really DO want to do, here goes:

  1. Get out the mountain dulcimer and really learn how to play it. I have started on this already by asking Robbie to string it for me and I’ve dug out the books we have. I’m going to research some YouTube videos as well because I’m someone who uses ear as much as eye in learning things. If I give myself over to doing this even once a week, I’ll get there.
  2. Get back into doing Yoga. I was doing well with it when there was a regular yoga class here in the village. I’m going to find out if such a thing will be starting again soon. If not, I’ll just make the effort once a week to use the video to get back into the swing of it.
  3. Do what I can to help get the community basketball court up and running. We’ve been given the money but there hasn’t been much activity. The weather hasn’t helped. Now that the holidays are over, maybe we can get things going. I will make it a point to be at the next CAKCC meeting.
  4. Do what I can to help with the Grotto plantings and the pond. This will be equal parts money and time but my own garden will not come second this time.
  5. Quilt and/or knit daily. Sitting with my earbuds, listening to a book that engrosses me or makes me laugh out loud, while moving my hands in a creative project puts me in my Happy Place. I want to have even one hour of that a day.

There’s my start. New desires might come onto the list but this feels like a good start and enough to be getting on with.

If I wanted to add one more thing, I think it would be “Write a blog post once a month.” Well, so far, since last month, I’ve been doing that. So I’ll change that to “KEEP writing a blog post once a month.” The other thing is the Ancestry/Photo work. It’s the kind of thing that acts as a time vampire—once you start hours, days, weeks elapse. There might be a point at which that will seem attractive again but for the time being, I think I’ll just leave that in the “resting” pile. I’m resting from doing that kind of stuff until something comes up that makes it take precedence over the five or six things I have on my list.

Not a bad start. I’ll check in next month to see how I’m getting along. Checking in with myself may be the most important resolution of all.

Things to look back on

This is largely a post to remind me of midwinter 2022. Days are passing so quickly that it’s difficult to remember what happened just last week, let alone last year.

This was my year of travel! I went to the States for a month—probably a week or two too long but I had a lot to catch up on. I enjoyed the whole thing but was glad to get home—my new home. It made me realize that you can’t really go back to any part of your life. The more time that has passed, the more difficult it is to fit back in to where you left off. But, with true friends, one can always get together in the now and feel as if no time has passed at all. That’s certainly how it was meeting Catherine BS in Morocco in November for her birthday week In Marrakech. We’ve known each other nearly 50 years and only see each other every now and again. And yet, it seems as if no time passes in between our visits with each other. She’s a little younger than me but I can’t help feeling that she’s my older sister—must have been so in a previous life time. I will not likely go to Morocco again but I’m glad I went. Even if I was sick as a dog for over a week at the end.

From the warmth of Marrakech to rainy, wet Ireland was a bit of a jolt. Even the gardening has been perfunctory given how the weather was either really wet or really, really cold. We’ve just come out of two weeks of below zero celsius temperatures and days so short the sun didn’t have time to melt the frost that lay like snow over everything. All those little things, like taking up the dahlias and swapping the summer plant inground pots for the ones with spring bulbs in them, just didn’t happen. If there’s even one day with a bit of sun this week, I’ll at least chop back the flower beds at the grotto. And maybe get up the lovely white dahlia. It will all depend on the ground thawing a bit.

I’ve been mostly involved in knitting and quilting for the past few months. But I have been MAKING all kinds of things, learning new techniques and stretching myself in between doing those things that are tried and true. And that makes me happy:

  • A big bulky jumper, hat and mittens for Robbie’s cousin
  • Mittens for Alice, Robbie and a neighbor, Gretta… oh, and myself. That was the “practice” pair
  • A cowl for Catherine BS’s birthday
  • A calendar for my Morocco friends to send as a “Jour de l’An” gift
  • Cath and Mike’s quilt
  • Some awesome banana bread… changed the recipe to use a little maple syrup and cranberries
  • The trifecta of roast chicken/roast chicken stock/chestnut mushroom soup

In the works now is the homemade beef stock for Christmas Onion Soup. Starting Friday, the 23rd, I’ll be making loads of pastry for Tourtière and mince pies and maybe a Quiche Lorraine for Christmas morning. We will be having something else for Christmas dinner (smoked ham) because we’re keeping the turkey for Robbie’s birthday. Cath and Mike will be here for four short days. But I imagine next Christmas will be very different. Owen and Liz will have their cottage up/down the road and I’m hoping they’ll be here and that a few of the others will be here too.

I’ve been reading my way through two authors: Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Some I listen to on Audible while I’m knitting and quilting, others I read either curled up by the fire or in bed before sleep. I kept to the Tiffany Aching group for a while, not knowing that The Shepherd’s Crown was Terry’s last book. Looking back, it seems he wrote all the Tiffany books at five year intervals (give or take)… except for the first two. I enjoyed them enormously and wished I had known of them when Sofia was younger. But I discovered them after 70 so she’s got time if she’s as avid a reader as I think she is. But she’s 14 so who knows.

There are plenty of Pratchett books left and a few books on paper that I’m saving for Christmas week and the New Year. I’ve realized that I have gone back in time in a way—to a time when Robbie and I were first together and we spent our time reading and cooking and being together. Only now we have a fireplace to sit by on these cold winter nights.

Here are some images to go with this post.

Time to get back to the quilting frame on this wet (albeit mild) Sunday afternoon.

Beannachtaí na Nollag oraibh go léir!

We’re having a heat wave…

Or as one neighbor put it, “It’s Costa del Clashmore!” We are none of us accustomed to this kind of heat, let alone four or five days of it. But if we slow down and stay in the shade, it’s nice to get summer weather in the actual summer. Generally, summer is the last week of May and the first few weeks of June when the students are doing their exams, after which we get clouds and rain and weather cold enough to light the fire.

Where the garden has dense planting, there’s still enough moisture in the soil. The window boxes and containers, however, need almost daily watering. I harvested a lot of black currants and raspberries as the heat was ripening them at full speed. I’ve been freezing the fruit and sometimes baking a Summer Berry Picnic Cake (recipe from Elizabeth Atia) The raspberries are in an area that is naturally dry due to the very big sycamore tree… so those canes, and the kale I just planted, got the sprinkler every 3 or 4 days, as did the corn, beans and peas in the front veg garden.

Speaking of peas—the hot weather really accelerated the mangetout peas—so much so that only a small percentage were still edible as pods. And the plants themselves went absolutely crazy BIG! The whole pea teepee went askew under the weight leaving me with the Leaning Tower of Peas. The picture below is AFTER I cut back half the pea vines and pulled the supports back up—still not entirely upright but it should hold until later in the week when I’ll harvest the rest and clear that part of the bed for some Chard. Anyone remember shelling peas? It’s quite a peaceful, meditative activity, perfect for a warm summer day if you can do it in the shade.

So the end of this week is supposed to get much cooler and we might get a little rain. A month from now I will be flying to the States for a month of family visits—a couple of important birthdays, a wedding celebration and a family reunion in Quebec. I’m looking forward to it. I will try not to think of what the garden will look like when I get back—I’m sure “it’ll be grand.”

Stroke of genius?

ASometimes the garden just sends you a message. For a while now we’ve been concerned at the height of our raspberry canes… at least 10 ft tall when the frame we built is only 6 ft. It can get a bit windy up there and I’ve watched the canes get a bit of a whipping and that’s not good. When we first set up the raspberry frame, we put up two… one for summer bearing and the other for autumn bearing, although they don’t generally need a frame. We just thought it would be tidier. The summer raspberries took off from the get-go. The autumn berries just never delivered… and we tried twice. However, because we have two frames about 5 feet apart, I can do something pretty neat… put bamboo stakes across the two frames like a pergola and tie in the very tall canes like a grape
arbor! The raised bed below is asparagus in its first year in place with some strawberries down the middle. It will be a couple of years before we will be able to harvest there. But its aspect is south east so it gets plenty of light, especially when the leaves haven’t come out on the trees yet.

As for the empty frame, I have plans… At the moment there’s some kale that has gone into flower. We’ve been eating the sprouts and they are fantastic—something you only get to eat if you grow your own! But I’ll be pulling that up and planting some winter squash to train UP the frame in bags of compost, their favorite medium. My plan for the bed that is currently growing red onion and shallots is to put some cavallo negro kale there, bordered by marigold to discourage any pests (and pets). So I had better get sowing!

 

March update…

Spring is definitely on its way—even if we had hail, sleet and thunderstorms yesterday. The hills and valleys are showing signs of winter’s retreat. The furze are in flower, primula peeking out from under the hedges and a verdant glow on the fields makes you stop… and breath the clean earthy air.

I’ve lightened up on the scanning and Ancestry projects. The weather, while still unpredictable, has been sunnier and a little warmer. The greenhouse is calling. A week ago I sowed my first “propagator” seed. I bought a propagator last fall when I saw they were back in stock. I’ve discovered that there’s no point in waiting until you need something to order it. Everyone else in the gardening world seemed to have done that and now there’s nothing left. So I keep a mental list of the things I need/want and when I see they are available or even ON SALE, I hop on it. The propagator stayed in its box for months but now I’ve put it to work and it does a great job. My tomato, basil and jalapeño pepper seedlings have come up. The sunflowers have not appeared yet but they do take longer. I’ll sow some Sweet Pea today and check on the chitted potatoes. We want the earlies in by Patrick’s Day. For the record, this is what the garden looks like today. I’ll try to remember to post what it looks like on April 13!

Speaking of potatoes and Patrick’s Day, the few sprouting potatoes I planted in a grow bag in the green house have taken off and we’re hoping to harvest some for the day that’s in it (Thursday!). They may not be very big, but they will be VERY new potatoes. And we’re still harvesting chard so that will make a nice dinner.

We watched the first Gardeners’ World episode for 2022 on Saturday. It has become a ritual with us to listen to the soothing tones of Monty Don and make notes about planting trees, sowing seed, and pruning. This week featured cyclamen coum and I’m planning to get some for the grotto. It is hardy and will self-seed in the shady areas. That and some snow drops and hellebore will make the woodland areas we are planting out have color and interest through the winter and into the spring. Last Sunday we planted out shrubs and perennials with the Foróige Junior Tidy Towns committee. Six young people planted and as many adults supervised.

Now it’s time for me to swing into quilting. I picked the fabric months ago for a friend’s wedding quilt. The colors I chose were blue white and yellow—blue and white being the Waterford hurling colors and, as it turns out, blue and yellow are the colors for An Rinn’s team. And they look fantastic together—bright and cheerful. Never did I imagine that the quilt would take on a geo-political theme. It will make working on it interesting as the conflict in northeast Europe plays out. Let’s hope that as I finish it, the war, too, will have come to a satisfactory end.

Four generations

As people marry and have children later and later in their lives, having four generations in the same photo is increasingly a rare event. Going through the family archives I came across two photos taken shortly after my birth. The first is with my mother Mariette, her mother Marie Rose and her maternal grandmother Clarina. The second is with my father Paul, his mother Cécile and his maternal grandmother Delia. Had I not inherited the photo albums of both my grandmothers, it’s unlikely I would have ever seen these.

 

 

Mackerel Skies…

I’ve been kept inside by the weather—Storm Dudley followed by Storm Eunice. Strong winds and lots of rain, although to be honest, we needed the rain. It’s been a dry year so far and 6 inches down, the soil had little moisture in it. So it’s odd that my indoor occupation—going through the family archives and scanning photos—unearthed a sheet of lined paper with these nautical weather rhymes on it. It could be my father’s writing but I’m not 100% sure.

Mackerel skies and mares’ tails
Make tall ships carry short sail.

When the wind shift against the sun
Trust it not for back it will run.
When the wind follows the sun
Fine weather will never be done.

If the wind is North East, three days without rain.
Eight days will go by before South again.

If wooly fleeces deck the heavenly way,
Be sure no rain will mar a summer’s day.

With rain before the wind
Stays and topsails you must mind.
But with the wind before the rain,
Your topsails you may set again.

When the sea hog (porpoise) jumps,
Stand by at your pumps.

First rise after low
Foretells a stronger blow.

Seagull, seagull, sit on the sand.
It’s never good weather when you’r on the land.

Match the Picture with its name

This is for our Clashmore Tidy Towns Foróige team.

All the plants we are going to plant in the grotto are in this photo gallery. See if you can match the plant to its name on the handout! You can click on the picture to see a bigger image. Treats if you can get them all matched and if you can tell me if they like SUN or SHADE… or a little of BOTH. You can absolutely use Google or Wikipedia 🙂

Latin Name Common Name Variety
Camellia japonica Camellia Buttermint
Cornus Sanguinea Dogwood Anny’s Winter Orange
Diosma Hirsuta Sunset Gold
Edgeworthia chrysantha Oriental Paperbush Grandiflora
Hydrangea quercifolia Oak leaf Hydrangea
Pennisetum Fountain Grass
Rhododendron Green Gift
Rosemarinus officinalis Rosemary ‘Pyramid’
Spiraea japonica Shirobana

Family ties and mystery faces

In the post Christmas clean-up, I tackled the trunk we use as a coffee table in the loft room that is Robbie’s “office”. I thought it was full of home movie reels and 35 mm slides on carousels—and, yes, there were those, but there were also a couple of shoe boxes crammed with photos and letters and a crate of photo albums from my grandmother Marie-Rose. A wave of despair came over me. I thought I had found and scanned ALL of the old photos already!

There were 12 albums altogether. Eleven were the kind where the photos were stuck to a backing with a cellophane film over them. Very 1990s. I think putting these albums together was what kept my grandmother busy when she moved to a little apartment in Marlboro to be closer to my mom and dad. There was one other with just the plastic pockets, each filled with a negative and multiple prints. I think she intended to make an album for each of us and perhaps I will sort these out and send them in packets to each of my sisters. She was living right in the center of Marlboro then and very near a CVS pharmacy and the camera shop. Nearly all of them are of me and my sisters when we were very small.

The sticky back albums posed a problem. I could not scan the photos while they were stuck to the backing. But removing them was a delicate operation. After a few mishaps, I decided I needed to get out the iron to warm up the glue. For each page, I pulled back the cellophane protection, covered it with a manilla file, opened to its full size, and gently pressed the page with my iron set very low, just slowly swirling the iron over the file paper. Sometimes it took two passes. Eventually, I was able to get all the photos out of the albums and could start scanning.

Some of these photos seem to be very old, from the 1920s and ’30s. But the clarity of those black and white photos is remarkable—much better than the color photos taken 50 years later.

A few have names or dates on them, but not many. I can recognize my grandparents and my great-grandparents, Damase and Clarina Breton. I recognize some of my mother’s aunts and uncles, especially those like Alfred and Juliette and Phillipe and Germaine who lived, as did my grandparents, in Connecticut. The other aunts and uncles are familiar but I get their names mixed up. I would have met them, repeatedly, at large family gatherings, the language barrier complicating things. And some names have just gone out of my head completely, only to pop back in hours later… but still disembodied.

I do remember going around towns and villages in Québec and Lewiston, Maine, with my grandparents, staying with one relation or another, meeting my mother’s cousins and their children. “On faire la visit”—”We make the visit”, a pilgrimage to the heart of family and family ties.

In the rambling farmhouse of one of my aunts or uncles, my sister and I would be put to bed in the room just above the kitchen, the warmest bedroom. Set in the floor there was usually a grill that allowed the heat from the kitchen to rise, a natural “central” heating. I remember lying down near the grill to listen to the grownups’ conversation. My “baby French” didn’t get me far—their Québecois French was so fast and truncated—but I would sometimes get the gist of bits and pieces—especially if I heard a name I knew. I remember there was a lot of laughing. My Pépère, Odias, and his brothers-in-law were great ones for earthy jokes.

It amazes me that there are so many group photos in this collection of close to 1000 photos spanning 70 years. I often wonder, who was the person with the camera? Clearly, every time they got together was an occasion for recording their family ties.

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