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.
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.
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 🙂
I’ve been checking my tomatoes, french beans, sweet corn and courgette (zucchini), as well as the new Brussel sprout and lettuce seedlings, every day. We’re at the point where the things that are bearing fruit, especially the tomatoes growing in containers in the greenhouse, need feeding every week. Well, all that work is finally being rewarded. The big surprise this morning was a gleam of orange red behind the giant tomato leaves—two tomatoes ripening up! I was so excited, I went around the garden to find what else might be hiding from me under the leaves—aside from the dreaded slugs… ugh!
Today, our dinner was accompanied by yellow and green french beans and lovely new potatoes from our garden. Earlier today, I brought a big bunch of rainbow chard up to a neighbor for their dinner. In a little while, I will treat myself to a serving of gooseberry crumble, the fruit courtesy of another neighbor who was overwhelmed by the abundance of his bushes. Life here, in this moment, is very good.
I finally found the GIY website and their 12-week gardening videos—a homegrown Waterford success story! They are wonderful and inspiring. So much so that I’m ready to add another couple of raised beds for growing things in spaces we didn’t know what to do with. So I went to Quickcrop’s website and ordered a couple of VegTrugs—Hey Presto! One and a half square meters of garden without all the hard landscaping! I’m excited.
We also saw a home gardening video on BBC’s Gardeners World where a viewer has created a wall of strawberry plants, solving a couple of problems: the whole “straw” bedding thing to keep the dirt off the fruit… and greedy, sneaky slugs. You know what happens. You espy a lovely big strawberry a day or two away from being just perfect to pick and you come back the next morning to half of it eaten away. The disappointment! So Robbie and I are going to up-cycle a couple of sturdy pallets and create a “wall” with “shelves” for strawberry plants in pots in a nice south facing spot that has the added advantage of screening off the compost area. I’ll wait until the fall to transplant our strawberry plants to that new location and use the resulting ground space for more plants in the herb garden.
I’ll be honest. Last week I was feeling a bit negative about the garden. I had a case of weed fixation—it seemed that the only thing I noticed growing in the garden was the weeds. And the weather made it too miserable to even contemplate getting down on my knees to get at them. People waiting in line at the bottom of our drive for the Fish Fellas were commenting on how lovely the garden looked and I had to bite my tongue to stop from pointing out every flaw, straggly seed head and weedy patch. I simply could not see the beauty for the weeds.
The three lovely sunfilled days we had at the beginning of this week have worked their magic. And the on again/off again rain we’ve had the last few days has filled the water butts and cleaned the air. The garden is lush and green with bright flashes of yellows and reds from the dahlias and poppies. The views from my kitchen window and from the bottom of the garden, underscored by the burble of the pond stream, punctuated by the flutter of wings at the bird feeders give me the feeling of having been dropped into a midsummer Garden of Eden.
Forgive me readers for I have sinned… it’s been a month (and four days) since my last post. I wish I could say that was because I was busier than usual—I wasn’t. And it wasn’t because I didn’t have stories to tell or projects to report on—I did, although some of the newsy bits are sadly out of date or obsolete and there are always projects.
It was just because.
The Sound of Music?
The most recent project was cutting my hair… something that took two of us, a cordless clipper and a pair of (cheap) scissors. I later found out that a close neighbor of mine had trained as a hairdresser and, had I known, I would have happily paid her whatever she asked to do this. I can deal with the emerging COVID gray/grey. It was the frizzy ends and unflattering length of the “coiffure” that was getting me down the last four or five days. I haven’t seen a hairdresser since January—that’s how bad it has gotten.
So with the full length mirror out on the kitchen patio and armed with the cordless clipper Robbie bought on Amazon, I set about trying to tame the sad condition of my COVID hair. I had to call Robbie in to help with the back after I cut it way too short and too far up because, despite the fact that my children believed I had eyes in the back of my head, I simply could not see or control or evaluate what my hands—and the clippers—were doing. So now I have what I like to think is the Julie Andrews/Maria von Trapp haircut from the Sound of Music.
There’s a Mouse in the house
We have a new member of the household—Mouse O’Líní (“líní” is as gaeilge for “lines” like the ones on the top of his head). We brought him home on June 15th, when he could easily fit in the palm of your hand. He has since doubled in size.
He is adorable, small for his age, but fearless in everything he does. Which is why we are very careful not to let him out of the house as he’d get flattened in no time by a hay tractor or milk tanker passing by on the road.
Having a “house” cat is not part of the cat owning culture here. Our garden has a parade of cats that wander freely from the various houses all around us. Most don’t have collars and some might be wilder than others. We shoo them away in the interest of saving the birds Robbie has worked so hard to attract. When Mouse is big enough to go out into the garden at all, he will be sporting a bell on his collar. Until then, he stays in the house with only supervised explorations of the outside world. He won’t stay this small and cute forever so we are enjoying this time to its fullest.
The Garden is a Jungle!
Back in late May, early June, it looked like this was going to be a hot, dry summer. As soon as Uisce/Irish Water (the water services board) declared a hosepipe ban due to water shortages, we started to get rain—every day. Sometimes an inch or so, more often just an annoying drizzle that made it unpleasant to work outside, or go for a walk or do anything. Every once in a while we’d get a burst of sunshine, the temperature would go up into the 70s in the sun and the heat loving plants like corn, tomatoes, and squash, would be grateful.
Over the past week the winter squash has taken over the paths and the courgette (zucchini) has commandeered the corner lot. The potatoes have overtaken where the raspberries are staked and all the herbs in the small kitchen garden have filled out and spread into each other. On the other side of the path the verbena bonariensis are taller than me and the dahlias are putting out new blooms every morning. In the front cottage garden, the tall daisies and crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ I rescued from the back garden in November when we were regrading it are more than happy in their new location. It was a gamble and it really paid off.
Village Life — FISH!
Wonderful things have come to pass in this little village. The Fish Fellas, Danny and Adam, started selling fresh fish from their van every Thursday—right here at the bottom of our garden! They have their own boats in Ballycotton and come here with the freshest fish ever! We generally buy enough for two days and haven’t been disappointed.
Then, a couple of weeks later, another member of the Ballycotton boat family, Vanessa, brought her gourmet fish and chips “airstream” to the village and set up by the river. They sold out of everything the first time and looks like they’ll sell out again tonight. Of course, this is better news for Robbie as I cannot eat anything battered in flour, HOWEVER, they use a different fryer for the chips!! So I have had my first feed of chips in what feels like decades but is really only SIX months! It made my weekend—I actually saved half to have tomorrow reheated in the oven. Irish chips are not like those skinny “french fries” you often get, all precut and frozen. They are freshly cut, thick and floury and taste like real potatoes. I can’t use malt vinegar (that coeliac thing again) but I’ve discovered that mayonnaise is yummy on chips, as is organic ketchup. I’m covered for the rest of the summer.
Village Life — the Big “C”
June was “100 K in 30 days” for Breast Cancer Ireland. I got more than 100k in even though I started a little late and I loved walking with my neighbors and friends, two of which were in treatment at the time. Their determination, cheerfulness and camaraderie was inspiring. Sometimes we were only four or five walking, other times we had 14 or 15 walkers, husbands and children joining in with the late evening sun shining down on us. A highlight was the 10 km walk up into the hills behind Mount Stuart church arranged by the Clashmore Set Dancers. At one point, we were up above the wind turbines. We walked by a freshly harvest timber farm that had turned into a field of foxglove and meadowsweet as far as the eye could see. It was stunning but I don’t know if I could do it again for a while—not at the pace that was set anyway.
Most days our walks would bring us in a 4 k figure eight leading up the hill and down to the river Lickey, back to the grotto, down the river walk to Raheen Quay and back. One evening, I walked out on my own, earbuds tuned to a book on Audible, up the village and out the back road to Dungarvan. I’d never walked that way before and I was surprised at how peaceful it was and how walking on one’s own can be centering. In the last weeks of the challenge, one of my neighbors undergoing breast cancer treatment got the word that she was clear and her elation was beautiful to see.
Sadly, a few weeks later, she discovered that, while she no longer had any evidence of breast cancer, there was cancer in her liver and it was quite advanced. She died shortly after. We were devastated—it seemed that everyone from the village and beyond stood for a mile on both sides of the road in a “guard of honor” on Monday as the funeral cortege passed by. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.
So, while June was full of sun and walking and gardening, July has been tougher so far. My hope is that the rest of the month will lighten up a bit and bring us some long evenings sitting by the pond in the gloaming—tine, fíon, cairde agus scéalta—with the chiminea burning, the wine flowing, friends appropriately spaced, with stories and laughter lifting our spirits. It’s how it should be.
I spent my quilting time this week getting this project done—just the top and the back prepped for staging on the frame. I think I will need to get batting and I wouldn’t just order that online without actually seeing it and feeling it. A poor quality batting will take all the pleasure out of finishing the project. Staging it will wait until the nights come earlier in the evening—sometime in September, fitted in between the harvesting and winter planting.
Robbie loves this quilt and wants it for his study so the pleasure of quilting it is doubled. I’ve always felt like that about finishing my projects. It’s as if making the patchwork top is an exciting creative puzzle. The magic happens on the ironing board as I press the seams of the fabrics I have just sewn together creating a new and different patterned fabric. I’ve been known to stay up late into the wee hours of the morning working on putting blocks together, watching the magic happen at the ironing board—the kaleidoscope of color and shape changing under my hands as each block and row come together. It’s a bit like gardening, putting flowers and plants together in colorful combinations that, thanks to mother nature, are not the same as any other garden bed in the world. But patchwork is so much quicker!!
But putting the whole thing together and finishing it requires the intentionality of “gift” for energy—who is it FOR. If there’s no one, the project tends to languish in the UFO box… Un-Finished Objects.
I’m going to use the same Traveler ‘Round the World method to do a quilt I promised to my grandniece Ella two years ago when I was quilting a baby quilt for my neighbors’ new baby, Emma. I’ve been thinking about it a good deal and even ordered a couple of yards of fabric that might complement what I already have. It will be a smaller quilt — a bed topper or something to wrap up in while reading a book or watching TV. I’ll start that in a couple of weeks.
For now, I’m going to use the strips of fabric I have left from this quilt top to make a table runner. I’ve been musing about it all along… and I can use some scrap batting for it. I’m excited about it and will have itchy fingers unwilling to wait for a rainy day to work on it. I might even start today!
At the same time as folks have been making 9-Patch quilt blocks and reusable face coverings, I’ve also been messing with the mountain of fabric scraps and remnants I have, putting together a fun scrap quilt based on the Traveler Round the World pattern. Instead of using the same eight fabrics throughout, I based the fabric choices on the shades, from light to dark, of basic colors (black, blue, violet, brown, red, orange, yellow, white). The piece didn’t need t be all of that color, but rather contain something of that color in the fabric — and maybe a little of its contiguous colors. The result has been startling and quite harmonious. I’m nearly done the blocks and am trying to decide how the layout from the central diamond will go. Leaning toward “barn raising”.
Here’s what that would look like (based on tessellating an image of one block)
Problem is I only planned for 32 blocks — don’t know why. So now I have to go back through the scraps and find four more blocks worth of strips. Happy days!
June is, indeed, busting out all over… although these last couple of days have been more early April than June. The tomato plants in the green house are flowering… as are the five tomatoes planted outside, although those are slower in growing taller. My guess is overall production might be less with the outside tomatoes — but maybe more flavorful for having been grown out in the ground.
I also planted out Cape Gooseberries in three different locations to see which would work best. You’ve probably seen these as garnish in a trendy restaurant. They are also called ground cherries. I have a few more plants I hope to give to some friends to try. I decided to transplant the one rhubarb plant that seemed to be floundering. I reckoned I was going to lose it anyway so I may as well try it in a different spot. I cut away any of the big floppy looking stems, gave it a big drink of water and mulched with composted horse manure. In a day it put up new shoots and it looks like it will pull through. Yay!
I have some video of the garden as of 8 pm on June 1…
The Garden and Greenhouse on June 1, 2020
We have since mulched all of the garden (except the strawberry-herb garden which will get done today) and we’ve got all the garden beds planted up. So, apart from watering, weeding and feeding, things should progress from here.
This being the first year, I don’t have expectations of berries or fruit—however, the tomatoes, potatoes and peas are definitely coming along and we should get plenty of veg in about a month’s time. I’ll post a video every week so we can see the progress.
We had a gorgeous double rainbow on Friday—it was one of those days when the sun and the rain played tag all day long. And our first dahlia, Bishop of Llandalf bloomed—a stunning red in the afternoon glow. And the days are still dry enough for haymaking. This will be the first week when people can go anywhere in their home county and, to other counties, 20 km from their home base. And we can have a small group (4-6) people over if we can maintain appropriate social distancing. That shouldn’t be a problem in our garden.
I cannot believe I haven’t created a post in over two weeks! Where has the time gone? What on earth have I been doing? Well, gardening for sure—and making cotton masks, lots of them over 120 so far. And continuing to learn about the nature of sourdough (the gluten variety). It’s been a difficult journey, largely because I cannot eat the stuff, as much as I would love to. So why do I torture myself with this one thing? Because it’s a puzzle to solve and, if I can figure out how to make it with gluten, I might be better at making it gluten free. And because it gives such gustatorial pleasure to my husband as the aroma of home baking permeates the house.
Enough. While I have been busy in these pursuits, those of you in and around Clashmore have been providing finished blocks for our Tidy Towns 9 Patch quilt. Here is a gallery, set almost as a quilt if you can imagine the navy blue sashing between the blocks.