Writer, Textile Artist, Plantswoman

Category: Family Ties

May has come and gone…


This post is dedicated to my sister Elise who is 71 today. She was my first roommate and confidant, although I admit we did fight like cats when it came to things like cleaning up our room. I remember that on one of these occasions, my father strode into the room, took all the bedding off the beds and threw it all out into the hall. He then picked up everything else and tossed it on the pile he had made. “There!” he said. “Maybe now I can get some peace.” When he stomped off, Elise and I looked at each other and collapsed laughing. And then we cleaned up the mess and went out to play.

She has a mischievous sense of humor and a ready smile. A true healer, she is gentle, kind, patient and a gift to everyone who knows her. Elise, I hope you have the best birthday! No one deserves it more ❤️🎂❤️

Elise 70 years ago today!

The news media reports that May was the driest month. I don’t know where they got that impression. Down here in the southwest of Ireland, with the exception of a couple of days in the middle and the end of the month, it was gray, gray, gray and almost always wet, even when it wasn’t actively raining. Nothing got enough light and heat to actually dry out much. The ground was still too cold for things to come forth. Even the peas took at least a week longer to germinate and are only now starting to flower, some six weeks after I sowed them. In any event, with all that rain, everything looks lush and green.

Happily, all that rain meant I spent a lot of time knitting and piecing quilts. I have one quilt ready to put on the frame. I’m doing that one for my granddaughter. I’m planning another for a daughter-in-law. These will have to be finished by September when the family will be over here for a weeklong trip. I may get going on those projects this week. In the meantime, I’m finished with the second project (a cowl) in one KAL (Knit Along) club and coming to the end of another KAL (a cardigan). Sadly, I have not even started with the third one but as it’s a blanket throw made of twenty 10” squares I should catch up soon. I really must get my impulse to buy yarn and patterns and join project clubs under control! I had great intentions of using up as much of the wool in my stash as I could but my desire to learn new techniques and undertake the challenges of a mystery knit along is hard to resist.

I did get up to Dublin for a Mother’s Day theatre matinée. I’m lucky, I also get Irish Mother’s Day in March! I went to The Gate Theatre with cousin Paula Bán where we saw “The Pull of the Stars” based on a book by Emma Donoghue. It was amazing, moving, and powerful. At the end, even before the curtain call, the audience was on its feet roaring its applause. I want to read the book but it will have to wait until I can give it the space to be its own thing.

The day had threatened rain but cleared as soon as we came out and strolled down O’Connell Street (oddly the setting for the play) toward Dublin Castle to Café Max, a sweet little French bistro nestled in Parliament Street, the shortest street in Dublin, I think. Moules Frites, a Côtes de Provence white wine and great company. It was a lovely relaxing day. I think we’ll make it a tradition.

On the Blackwater Cruise

There were some family things in May that got us out of the house and back into the swing of things. Robbie’s cousin Leish brought the ashes of their cousin Cáit to be interred in the family plot in Carrick-on-Suir. The following Tuesday we took Leish and her husband with us on Tony Gallagher’s boat up the Blackwater—the long trip with a picnic in Villierstown. While the sun wasn’t actually shining (no surprise there), it was pleasant and almost warm and, as my mother would say, any day on the water is a great day. Later that month, Máirtín de Cógáin invited us to a session at The Local in Dungarvan. Robbie’s cousin Dónal was there with an amazing box player, Joseph Mannion—definitely a man to watch! Robbie reckons he’ll get the All-Ireland this year. At some point in the evening a Bodhrán solo started. It soon became FOUR bodhráns. Often that’s considered three too many but not this night! See the video: Bodhránimania!

It’s election time here, and we are voting for local councilors and EU representatives. Next year is the national election. We’ve had weeks of the doorbell ringing and campaign flyers in the mailbox. Friday, we went to the local school and cast our ballots and now we are keeping “radio silence” as nothing will be finalized for about a week and the airwaves are full of speculation until all the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. votes are redistributed. It’s proportional representation here. You vote for as many candidates as you are willing to support in the order of preference. Counting the votes is time consuming.

I often wonder how history would have been different had a similar system be used in the United States for federal elections. For instance, would Al Gore have been clearly elected when Ralph Nader’s second preference votes were redistributed, assuming that anyone voting for Nader would have been unlikely to have chosen Bush as a second preference? Would we finally be able to divest ourselves of the Electoral College—an 18th century compromise institution that was invented when news travelled on horseback and now results in a handful of states wielding greater power than their populations warrant? From where I’m sitting, it seems to me that more people would actually vote if they could vote their conscience—if they could vote for the person they most strongly support first and then for whichever they consider the lesser of the remaining evils as second preference, and so forth. How much more invested would we be if the person who wins the election was someone we actually were FOR, even if they were our second or third preference? After all, no one has to vote for someone they absolutely do not support. That would feel unethical. All these questions (and indeed, this whole paragraph) is dedicated to my dear friend June who is herself an elected representative in Rhode Island as well as a professor of Political Science.

Back to less contentious matters. Below are photos I took throughout May (and maybe into June…). Now that we are a week into June, things are looking much better. The roses on the corner of the shed have never been so abundant, the potatoes we planted in the beds outside the studio have really come on—we scrabbled around for some early potatoes and, while they weren’t very big, they were very tasty.

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!

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.



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.

Poem from the Archives

I’ve been ploughing through boxes and boxes of paper collected over the past 40 years, shredding most of it (old bank statements, the kids applications to college/university) and using the shredded paper to put the dahlias to bed for the winter. Waste not, want not.

Today I found a typed (yes… Courier on paper) poem written by Paul (son #1) as a book report for Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. It delighted me then and delights me still.


by Paul Sean O’Connell

Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which
Did a switch
That changed the children’s material graph
So they could transport in a flash.
They transported to Uriel
In order to make their father get well.
(He had been captured by IT
And didn’t like it one bit!)
After, they went to Camazotz
Where they saw a man with eyes like red dots.
They found their father after all
And that is it, that is all.

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