Writer, Textile Artist, Plantswoman

Category: Undecided

Belated April Post

It appears that birthday wishes aren’t the only things that can be belated. I was taking photos and thinking about things for an April post all month long but never got there. I have inundated myself with various knitting projects (see links below) and, by the end of the month, got started on a new quilt. Keeping my hands busy has been my salvation through what has seemed an unending series of April showers and torrential downpours. To be fair, we did have a few days where the sun came out and it only rained after dark—but only a few. May, at least so far, seems to be following suit.

May (Bealtaine in Irish—click link for how to pronounce it) is supposed to be the beginning of summer in the Irish calendar. Hence, June 21st, the summer solstice, is called mid-summer’s eve. From that point on, the days will begin to shorten, but it’s too soon to think about that. Let’s hope next week will begin to show us the summer we’ve been waiting for.

I did get my tomato seeds sown in the greenhouse. It will be a while before it will be warm enough for them to thrive outside, if we do that at all. They may just have to stay in the greenhouse when everything else gets planted out. I will be potting them on this coming week, along with Cosmos, and Dahlias (Bishop’s Children) and anything else that’s in need of something more sustaining than seed compost. I sowed the sweet corn into regular compost in deep root trainers because it will be at least 6 weeks before I’ll be able to plant them out. I have Patty Pan and Butternut squash to companion plant with the corn and I’ll probably put in some climbing beans, but only one climber per stalk! Volunteer potato plants have sprung up in the beds I planned to use for the corn, squash and beans (see Three Sisters) so we’ll just harvest them for those little baby potatoes that we love. I’ll top up with compost and manure and put everything in when the weather is warmer and a little drier. Those are my grand plans. We’ll see how they come out.

Knitting Projects—All from Stolen Stitches:

  • Grianchloch Shawl #4 — for my Physio therapist. I told her if she bought the yarn, I’d knit it up for her.
  • Torc Cardigan — something for me 🙂 and a KAL (Knit Along) that’s still open to join!
  • Galway Blanket — using the wool from Galway Sheep
  • Blanket Club KAL — a collaboration between Carol Feller and Thea Coman
  • Celtic Knits Club — So far it’s been a hat and mitts… waiting to see what the next project will be.
  • Ravi Nua Cardigan — I’m planning this one for my dear friend Kate (since our dear friend June is getting a shawl.) The yarn color is “Hatters Teal Party”!

More about the Quilt project later this month when I have photos. It’s made entirely from HST (half square triangles) with a couple of borders. It’s something I can do down in my studio on these rainy days when I can’t be in the garden.

Until then, here is the garden update:

A visual walk around the garden

Lots of needlework — very little gardening

Here we are—almost at the end of what must be the wettest March I have ever experienced. Even when the day gets a bit of sun, the ground is so heavy and wet that there’s little can be done in the way of gardening. With the help of cousin Fionán, we did cover and mulch the Blackcurrant bed. What was a lovely ground cover of Ajuga Reptans (Wild Bugle) had become choked with creeping buttercup. When I could, I dug up the small ajuga plants and potted them up to grow on. We’ll replant them in the edges of the bed and in the rockery. Once (if ever) the bed is free of buttercup, I’ll replant the ajuga again. In any case, the bed is all mulched and will need very little attention for now.

The other project I completed was a lacy shawl for Lizzie. I learned several new techniques and stitch patterns doing this, sitting by the fire in the long winter nights while listening to all the Terry Pratchett Discworld books on Audible. This is something I find I’m doing more of… going through whole books (and authors) while my fingers are busy with needles and soft fine wool… sometimes with a glass of wine or a brandy & port. It really puts me in my “happy place.”

Much of what is happening in the garden is taking place without my attention. The daffodils are on the wane and the tulips are beginning to bloom along with the gorgeously scented skimmia. Of the fruit trees, the plum tree is the first to show any flowers, the others just barely in bud. The rhubarb has been coming up and the early variety, Timperley, is just about ready for a crumble. I’ll add some of the frozen blackcurrants I put by from last August and it will feel like summer is nearly here.

I am now on to a massive dose of quilting. Much of this spring has been spent on hand quilting my daughter’s quilt. I bought the fabric last September when I was in Ballard visiting my dear friend and colleague Kathy. She is also a quilter although she’s been very busy remodeling her new house there. Shout out to Quilting Mayhem! A most amazing quilt store — I WILL be back! I know there are some who would rather spend five hours in a dentist chair than 5 minutes hand quilting anything but I find a calm and serenity in my needle and thread, using my stitches to create the subtle third dimension in the quilt. The very intentional divisions and the re-joining and defining of two-dimensional patterns add complexity to the quilt no machine could achieve. It soothes and satisfies me and makes me feel like I’ve brought peace, order and beauty into my small space.

I’m beginning work on a new quilt for my sister Monique who turns 60 this April. I think I’ve found a combination of blocks that fit her life: Traveller ‘Round the World for the center, Slip Knot, Storm at Sea and Sister’s Choice for the framing blocks, which should look like Dutch tiles. There’s a bit of geometry and math required as two blocks are a 4-patch base while Sister’s Choice is a 5-patch base and I need 12″ finished blocks to make the 60″x60″ quilt (not including the outside border.) So there’s a challenge involved… and the making of “test” blocks to make sure my math is correct before cutting into the fabric for the final quilt. A little stressful, but it’s creativity stress, so that’s okay.

All of this should tide me over until I get a sunny enough day to clear out the greenhouse. I’ve detected aphids so I think I need to take EVERYTHING out and spray it down and maybe add a bit of garlic or vinegar to the sprayer. And we probably should tidy up the tool shed as well… that’s two days work and we have not had a warm enough (or sunny enough) day to get that done. But April is just two days away. Maybe we’ll get lucky. Saturday promises a sunny afternoon and sunset at 8:04 pm… so maybe we can get something started. Although that WILL be April Fool’s Day. Finger’s crossed!

 

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.”

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.

Almost a Poem

I didn’t think I was a poet… it wasn’t until I went to the Molly Keane summer Writer’s Retreat in 2018 that I found a poet’s rhythm in my writing. But it was there before. Maybe it comes from being a singer—who knows. But I was thinking that I’d like to put what little pieces I have in this blog because trying to find them in emails or old journals is just too time consuming and frustrating.

This really came about today when I thought of a poem I wrote back in 2016 when I was traveling around the west of Ireland planning and designing the TravelBlogging Ireland student trip that my colleague June and I did in 2017 and 2018. On the rainy days when driving around back roads was just too daunting, I started doing the writing exercises in Ursula LeGuin’s Steering the Craft—a way to turn a day full of lemons into written lemonade. More than a year later I came across it again and sent it to Renée Soto, a dear friend and colleague who also suffered migraines and was… a poet.

Reading it over now, having exposed myself to much more poetry in the years since I first jotted this down, I realize that it’s really “pros-etry”—but it could be pared down to essentials and turned into something better.

Excerpted from an email, November 30, 2017:

Subject: Because I know you understand…

I did this as a SHORT AND LONG exercise from Ursula LeGuin’s book Steering the Craft… The sentences are short enough to almost create poetry… what do you think? 😉

It starts with a stiff neck.
Slowly, a shadow spreads over my cheek.
A hot spot takes root over my eye.
It begins to throb.
And then it’s there—migraine.
Words are lost.
Time is an endless vortex.
I want to come to the end of it.
Once it’s rooted, my only hope is sleep.
But that’s not always possible.
Sometimes I work.
I burrow into a spreadsheet.
Pushing the pain away.
If I get outside myself it gets better.
And then, suddenly, it’s gone.
The pill did its work.
I am whole again.
But the day is lost.

 

If there’s one thing I love about my iPad it’s the Featured Photo that shows up on my home screen first thing in the morning. Today, I got a trip in a wayback machine all the way to Elkins, West Virginia for an unforgettable week at the Augusta Heritage Irish Week. I’ve decided to post the videos, despite the slightly off key harmony of the camera person (me!) in the big singalong. To be fair, it was a noisy night, full of high spirits and, it being the Ice House, alcohol had been taken 🙂

This first is from the Teacher/Student (?) soccer match. If you’ve ever been to West Virginia in July, you’ll appreciate the stamina this required!

These five videos are from the big session in the Ice House on the last night of Irish Week.

 

Just click on the link — I suppose I could upload these to YouTube, but I’m not sure I want to put this out to the world. The only folks who can see this are those who come to my blog — family and friends. And that’s just fine.

I don’t know if Irish Week will come back to Augusta but for those that have experienced it, Irish Week was something incredibly special and I treasure the memories of the music and the craic.

Give a girl a staple gun!!

I have been away from this blog for a good while. I’m not sure why. I think I found myself vortexed into my computer whenever I started writing from here. And that was disorienting me. I have this desire to be less and less digital as the pandemic wears on. I don’t know if it is related to COVID or not—maybe it’s just where I am in my life. It isn’t about writing. I write by hand (nearly) every morning and get great satisfaction from thinking on the page. It was the idea of sinking myself into writing one of these personal essays—content creation, research, photos, editing, telling a coherent story. I would have an idea and I’d want to write about it but I would often be in the middle of something else—something with time restrictions like making bread or getting plants potted or watered. There simply wasn’t the time to stop and just jot something down off the top of my head, because that was never the actual process.

Today is a little different in that I started with a couple of projects that were supposed to take much longer and then… didn’t. And I have my new staple gun to thank!

This is not my first staple gun. To my recollection I have two somewhere between the tool shed and a box or drawer somewhere here in the studio. But after a couple of days of searching I decided to stop at Flynn’s hardware on my way to do the grocery shopping and just get ANOTHER one. If all goes the usual way, I will find one of the other (or both) staple guns any day now.

Bilious plush seat cover fabric

For some time now (decades!) I was planning to recover two things—a sewing stool that was my grandmothers and a small chair I had picked up somewhere with an appalling gold-green-brown plush seat cushion—a color found in nature but usually associated with the result of a night of guinness and enchiladas. The chair was against the wall in the dining room as a spare for when we had a crowd. It is narrower than most and light to carry. The sewing stool was frequently used as a piano stool. Actually, both the chair and the sewing stool were called into service when we had the whole family for Thanksgiving. Maybe, because this is Turkey week and a very strange one at that, recovering these two seats became something of a mission for me.

That I’ve been thinking of recovering these seats for about 20 years means that I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I’d like to have for the finished product. However, nothing ever caught my fancy sufficiently enough to get me going.

That changed when I decided I needed to cover my new work area. The work surface is MDF and could be painted, but not until we have a really nice, long, dry, day so I can do it outside. That won’t be until May if past experience is anything to go by. I needed something durable, water resistant, and nice enough to make it a pleasure to see, and I needed it now.

In sorting through the many boxes of stuff I had collected and stored over 39 years and then shipped to Ireland, I found about 3 yards of oilcloth in a Newgrange triple spiral inspired design I bought some time in the mid-1980s. I remember buying it in Ireland for our family kitchen table, an oak trestle table made by Colleen Miller (of Montana) that could comfortably seat a crowd. With four kids, it needed a bit of protection. However, as is often the case with material I buy, it was stored away and never used—but it was perfect! I measured off the length I needed and I had some left over. And, there, just below the work area was my grandmother’s sewing stool.

I set to work on cutting a piece of the oilcloth, pressed out the wrinkles and folds and went to work with the staple gun and voilà! A lovely rebirth of a family heirloom.

Carried on by waves of excitement and the thrill of having achieved something on this gray, dull, rainy day, I looked at the little chair with its bilious seat cushion.

Years and years ago, I had a book of oriental carpet patterns for needlepoint. (I would love to find it now but I fear it has gone missing in all the moves.) I remember doing a motif in needlepoint for a pillow that, while the tapestry piece itself was finished, the pillow never got made. I found the tapestry in a UFO (Unfinished Objects) box with a few other needlepoint and cross stitch projects that also were awaiting finishing touches (my personal “Isle of Misfit Toys”.) It comes as no surprise to my family that the needlework itself is where I get my pleasure—more than a few projects are to be found in that box. The pillow tapestry was just the right size for the chair cushion. Sometimes things just fall into place.

The piece needed work. It was all askew and had to be blocked so that it would lie straight. I thought it would take days. I would need some kind of board I could pin it to. I would have to wet it and stretch it, and what if the colors ran!?! And then I thought of my trusty steam cleaner… and didn’t I have an extra IKEA shelf that would be about the right size? And some of those map pins that I use for sticking up all kinds of thing? Usually, any one of these things would be a set back—a barrier to getting something done when I actually felt like doing it. But today, it seemed as if I was meant to get this done. The shelf was just the right size, the steamer worked a treat and, before the steamed, straightened piece of tapestry was dry, I was able to stretch it over the seat cushion and staple it into place!  I am so pleased with the result—20 or 30 years in the making.

Girls with tools… it’s a beautiful thing 🙂

Garden Update: End of Easter Week

The weather has been wonderful up until yesterday. The sun, the air, the warmth of the soil, the plants in the greenhouse—all contributing to a deep sense of well being that evaporated yesterday afternoon as the skies darkened and the air grew chilly. Thankfully, we got the potatoes in. We’re trying a “no dig” method, although we actually had to dig because of all of the rocks and roots. Even that felt good. At one point I was beginning to feel a bit low but an hour of forking over the strip between the hedging and the raspberries had me feeling lighter at heart. The very air itself felt tingly and sweet.

The “no dig” method has the seed potatoes (properly chitted) planted and covered with compost instead of with the heavier garden dirt. The hilling up will also be compost and mulch and the hope is that the harvesting will be a simple matter of pulling up the stems. At least that’s what Charles Dowding says.

We have two long drills, an early variety ‘Orla’ and a main crop ‘Cara’. We also planted up three potato bags with varieties you can’t buy in shops here like ‘Setanta’ and ‘Maris Peer’, and ‘Yukon Gold’ which is common in the US but not in Ireland.

I had my first disaster. In the joy of the warm weather, I planted out my ‘Blauhilde’ climbing beans and they seemed to get on really well for a couple of days. And then I came out and they were all shriveled and unhappy looking. I was worried about leaving them in the greenhouse because they were getting a little too tall for the shelves… so I planted them out. I really should have put them in the cold frame for a full week or two to harden off. Lesson learned. I’ll sow some more and be more careful. Everything else that looks ready has been moved to the cold frame where it will stay until at least next weekend (May the 4th be with you, little seedlings!)

Things are slowly shaping up. I’m seeing great signs of beauty to come. The peonies are pushing up, the transplanted Heuchera looks happy in its new home, the climbing roses are leafing and budding, the valerian in the stone wall is just about to flower, and the jasmine has wound itself around the greenman on the gable end of the shed. And May is less than two weeks away!

 

 

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