Friday, 19 December 2014

Wake up and smell the pine needles!

And relax. Everything that has need to be done is almost completed. The rest must wait. Let the holidays begin!

How are you all? I have been away from my wee blog for so long it seems a little rusty and dusty. The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur, I was ill, E started off with a virus that evolved into a nasty skin infection. Even Rosie the Lab had to go off to the vets with a poorly ear. So we have all been cozily tucked up drinking hot milk spiked with honey, vanilla and cinnamon, crocheting and watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix. It is a little hard to see and crochet though with a needy dog in a buster collar determined to sit on ones knee!

After a little resistance, I have finally persuaded Mr S to splash out on a real tree. Himself and O manfully set off to brave the wild danger of the ahem shops to bring back a good 'un and the boys did very well. Mr S has conveniently forgotten that he asserted that the old artificial leaning-tree-of- Argos would do fine and has been striding into the dining room regularly to fill his lungs with the Christmassy smell of pine. Nice. I was surprised thought at how resistant the children were to getting a new tree and was reminded of the importance of the Christmas Rules for the kids, like we always have the same tree and we always go to Grandma's and E is always the present distributer at the great opening ceremony.

When I was little we would always visit all my cousins on Christmas Eve, my Dad was one of those visitors who would work the kids up to a high level of over-excited exhaustion and then feck off home! We would then finish off at my Granny's, walking home through the (always!) frosty night shouting Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas until we were no longer in earshot. A quick peek out of the bedroom window just in case and then into bed for the hanging of the stocking. There would be lovely smells coming from the kitchen, a faint odour of paraffin from our Christmas Eve oil lamp and perhaps Elvis on the stereo turned way down low.

For me, the wonderful thing about Christmastime is that every family makes it their own with particular traditions particular to them. Religious or secular, it doesn't really matter. So what if you are a lapsed Catholic atheist, I will take the tree, the tinsel, the dodgy decorations, visiting the family, rowing with the family over the yearly trivia quiz, eating Mrs Ps' Florentines, drinking champagne...

How are you all getting on with your Christmas prep? Love it or Loath it? I love this time of year but it can become a little overwhelming especially if illness or some other unforeseen emergency occurs. I had a little twinge of anxiety as I walked into our local bookstore for a book that E had placed on her letter to Santa, thank-fully they had it in stock. Tis silly really, all the rampant commercialism -don't even get me started on the Black Friday vulgarity- but I love watching their little faces when they open their gifts and can't quite believe that Santa has got it right again.

I also like taking some little quite moments for myself, having a few moments in an empty church, a long walk at dusk and some quick easy crafts. Every year we always make these very easy kid friendly crafts.

The orange pomanders are great for teacher presents and we always team them up with the shortbread stars, plain, iced or flavoured perhaps with orange, cardamom and black-pepper for the big kids? The ivy wreaths are just twisted ivy with gold-painted paper stars, I think they would be so nice with some holly popped through at intervals but I haven't been able to get any this year.
So I am now off to tackle the great pile of ironing that needs to be done before we set off tomorrow to visit all the relatives. I do wish you and yours a most abundant, relaxing and joyous holiday! xxxxxxx

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A study in Hibernation/Hibernia and Hairy Men in Flares.

Hello! Thank-you for coming back to Oriel. How fast this fortnight has flown. I have been sequestered at my desk, reading, reading reading and watching the rain. How dark and damp it has been, we have also seen pretty extreme flooding in these parts, thankfully not at the door of our home but elsewhere in the town which was fairly disruptive for a few days.

I have also been totally bitten by the crafty bug and have been waiting for a good light to share with you my works-in-progress. My big 'precious-yarny' granny-square blanket is nearly fully-grown, just six more squares and then I can tackle joining them all together. I am loving all the blanket making in the blogs, there is Lucy of-course, Bunny Mummy and Heather from Tiny Tin Bird all busily crocheting away. This long autumn certainly has been inspirational for gorgeous colour combinations and all those ladies are certainly a rich source of inspirational creatively.

I have also been knitting E a scarf-at a snails pace- but I do like the colours which remind me of a raspberry ripple.

I even started putting my skirt together, the McCall's A-line pattern, previously mentioned here and here and inspired by totally fabulous Lazy Daisy Jones blog.

Home has been such a comforting retreat, is has been very difficult to leave!  So much so, when my long suffering friend P called me up unexpectedly to go to the pub  I almost wailed 'Oh No!' I do fear the onset of a major inability to be spontaneous. Mind you, Mr S had just poured me a large glass of red and we were just about to sit down to a feast of pulled-pork from this recipe. These long evenings are perfect for slow-cooked meals like these.

I have been occasionally emerging from my cave for my music and driving lessons. I have written previously about my love/hate relationship with my violin, here. I have been making slow progress but was pleasantly surprised to find I had been promoted to 'Intermediate Fiddle'. Yay! Sometimes though my playing sounds so laboured and stilted I can barely pick it up to practise. Regularly, a new/rediscovered tune will bring a new energy to my practise, reminding me why I love Irish music so much. Last week we started this one:

I do so want to believe that this tune was the atmospheric battle-cry of the O'Neills of Ulster, a romantic legacy from the early-medieval Gaelic High Kings but a terse search of the internet can find no definitive source for this piece, perhaps it was composed by the brilliant Sean O'Riada  in the 1960's. Whatever its beginning this piece was incorporated into this piece of 1970's flamboyance:

These boys crack me up! I really don't know what was going on in the 1970's but I nearly like it ...then in the 1990's Ireland qualified for the world cup for the first time and some mad eejit did this:

I'm really not a fan of the football song as a genre but to me it shows the vibrancy of this music and how this wee tune has become almost embedded in our popular culture (and er the optimism of our football supporters) so it doesn't really matter if it is not an ancient song...and it is so much fun to scrape it out on my fiddle!

Next time...I brave the virgin roads of Dundalk for my pre-test practice...eek! Bye.xxxx

EDIT: So sorry but I have just discovered that the links may not work on some devices-I cannot seem to rectify that at the moment so here are the full links if you so wish. Apologies if some of the music gives you the Earworm. xxxxx

Monday, 3 November 2014


(A Young Girl Reading Jean-Honore Fragonard.)
It is very hard to concentrate on my degree sometimes. I do blame the OU for the percentage of online study it requires. Here I am on a most beautiful autumn afternoon supposedly broadening my understanding of the development of the political and social structures that were born out of the aftermath of the First World War, specialising in the analysis of the 'psychological modernity thesis' but because I am reading a journal on the PC, I am swayed, distracted and intrigued by many other interests. Thanks to the internet I have the attention span of a gnat, preferring to investigate:
  • recipes for banana bread, there are five very ripe bananas in the fridge.
  • recipes for toffee apples, we are not yet done with Halloween, it appears.
  • pom-pom scarf tutorials, so cute.
  • Mise's curtain malaise and subsequently what to do with my single quince...
  • The lovely crochet blog header on Emerald Cottage, so new blanket inspiration approaching very quickly. Need. More. Yarn.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch.
  • Is chocolate good for you? It is in The Guardian, must be worthy of a read, right?
  • the amount of dog hair that has suddenly become visible in the low afternoon light.
If I was in the dim library reading through a dusty old paper journal I would not have to endure these problems. In the years before the communications revolution, I would be frantically scanning through for the pertinent section and then queuing up at the photo-copier with my fellow students, desperately hoping for a pocket full of enough change. I do fear though that my restless brain is not the type of organ that wants to wrestle with phrases such as 'psycho-physical parallelism'. Instead it wants to laze around indulgently preoccupying itself with lovely fluff.

Friday, 31 October 2014

The Darkening Sky.

It is 3.30pm and already the light is leaving us. Do you like Halloween? I love this atmospheric time of year, lighting candles, brief chilly afternoons, the low golden light. Plum cake, wood-smoke and ghost stories. I'm not really sure about some of the Halloween traditions though, it's has all gone a bit too bling I think. Every year I trawl pinterest for some good pumpkin ideas, but mine the kids ones ALWAYS look like this.

The kids really want to go trick or treating-do you do this? This year I am crying off with the excuse of the beginnings of a seasonal virus and Mr S is talking about having a wee drink with some work friends so for us I think some cake, sparklers and a good film.

After the kids go to bed I think I will curl up with some hot damson vodka and a good book. Do you like my 'scary' picture above? It is an Victorian or Edwardian oleograph that I had had since I was a teenager. My friend M and I were two incorrigible Goths and we used to spend all our wages on getting the train to Bangor to buy Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus bootlegs from this brilliant record shop that used to be there. One day I spotted this in an antique  junk shop and dragged it home. Mr S hates it and since it hangs over the bedroom fireplace I do have some sympathy with him but I still have affection for it. The colours are not as dull as this photos suggests but it is a tad gloomy. Do you and your partner ever pour scorn on the others taste?

While I am tucked up in my bed I am going to call over to Plain Jane's blog, she is having a spooky storytelling session today/tonight and I have retold one of our family ghost stories. Why don't you pop over and tell one of your own? Also one of my favourite Irish authors has also been story-telling for Halloween, you can find the link to Nuala Ni Chonchuir's evocatively creepy story on her blog, Women Rule Writer. Don't forget to put a candle in a dark corner and set an extra plate for All Hallows Eve, you don't know just who may visit.

Here is the beautiful Peter Murphy and the deliciously dramatic Bauhaus to keep you company while you wait...

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


A Soldiers Grave
Then in the lull of midnight, gentle arms
Lifted him slowly down the slopes of death
Lest he should hear again the mad alarms
Of battle, dying moans and painful breath.

And where the earth was soft for flowers we made
A grave for him that he might better rest.
So, Spring shall come and leave it sweet arrayed,
And there the lark shall turn her dewy nest.
Francis Ledwidge. 1887-1917


Given that it is the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and given that I am studying 20th century history for my Open Uni module this year it was inevitable that I have been pre-occupied with thoughts of what was originally known as The Great War. The poem above is by a poet and political activist who may have walked the same fields and river banks as I; who loved the Boyne valley as I do now nearly one hundred years later. You can find out a little more about this remarkable man and Slane native over here.

Ireland, both North and South has had a problematic relationship with the memory and the re-memorial of the First World War. I did not study the poetry of Francis Ledwidge in my Northern Irish Catholic school, rather the famous English war poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon was studied in all it's heart-breaking majesty. My maternal Grandfather who came from a staunchly Unionist tradition retorted to a bemused sixteen year old me one day, that 'my lot' did not willingly participate in the blood sacrifice that was the Battle of the Somme. This stuck in my head for a long while for some reason.

While around 200 000 men and women from what was to become the Irish Republic went off to fight on the side of the Allies, back at home events were to occur that ensured that while approximately 35 000 of those individuals never made it back, those that did return faced a uncertain and dramatic future. Revolution, Civil War, Partition and the formation of a new post-colonial national identity would ensure that The Un-returned Army was for a very long time, airbrushed from our history.

Now, we are turning again to a re-consideration of these events and so I was delighted to attend the 20th John Boyle O'Rielly Autumn School which this year was devoted to the possibilities of how to re-examination the controversial legacy of this conflict. This historiographical conference is held every year by the Old Drogheda Society in our very own *'cup and saucer' Millmount and I would urge anyone in the locality who is interested in history (especially local history in the context of international events) to try and attend. Six fabulous speakers and a great lunch in The Tower restaurant proved a great day out. I really came away with a more nuanced understanding of how Ireland was shaped and is still being shaped by her position within this conflict.

One historian who really stood out for me was Phillip Orr, who has written extensively on Unionism and the Great War and his evocative sentence describing the departure of the 36th Ulster Division filing past the Victorian pomposity that is Belfast City Hall as being the moment that can be seen to symbolise the beginnings of a new Ulster Loyalist identity really brought me to a profound overview on the formation of the 'state' that I would call home and simultaneously feel culturally unwelcome for most of my formative years. You can see a version of his lecture on YouTube here.


Finally, I have been losing myself in the beautiful novel 'Fallen' by Lia Mills, which follows the story of  Dubliner Kate Crilly who finds herself torn asunder by both the First World War and The Easter Rising. This is a love story, of familial love, of sexual love and of the possibilities inherent in times of great change, the life affirming possibilities of meeting the challenges of fate. Mills manages to evoke the grief sodden atmosphere of 1916 Dublin society, the blunt eruption of violence that was the  Rising and develop the fledgling relationship between the two main characters with an economy of language that is enviable.

Sigh, I love it when life conspires to build layers onto a story, I think studying history and reading is the nearest I will get to a time machine. xxxx

*The 'cup and saucer' is the local nickname for our local landmark Millmount, the Martello Tower on the great mound that has looked over Drogheda for centuries and has many of its own tales to tell.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Rules for Autumnal Blackberry picking.

  1.  Go now and find a hedge.

2.Wear suitable clothes. Flared jeans suck up the damp mud like an oil wick in a lamp.
3. Do not take the greedy Labrador. She will always find the fattest, most juiciest berries before you and eat them all.

3. Do not wear your favorite scarf, it will get caught fast in the brambles and leave you tangled and stuck like some nineteenth century damsel except this time there will be no dashing hero riding by to rescue you.

4. Gather your berries, leaving enough for the birds.

5. Turn on rain.

6. Squelch home. (See No. 2.)

7. Throw into an oven-proof bowl with some stewed apple.

8. Top with some leftover frozen crumble.

9. Serve with assembled family and some M&S custard. (I can't make custard, 'blushes')

10. Light candles and eat in front of the Great British Bake Off Final.
Who is going to win and if you are reading this afterwards -was he/she a worthy winner?

Monday, 6 October 2014

There is a season.

Oh my, September has slipped by so quickly this year, in a swoon of golden light and a myriad of small tasks. It was hard getting back into the busy routine that marks the start of the school year but adjust to it we did and are all the better for it. Slowly, the house is being put back to normal after all the renovation activity and slowly all the plaster dust is being eliminated.

I have been preserving and gardening, simple life affirming tasks that I love doing when all is peaceful in the house I finally got around to making my marrow and ginger jam which has been a taste revelation! Spread on hot buttery scones the taste is of delicate sunshine with a little hot lick of the ginger, so so good. I posted the recipe last Autumn here. I have been planting in my poor neglected garden, 60 tulip and narcissus bulbs all waiting for the spring and a couple of bare root roses which I hope will inject some much needed summer colour and scent.

My tottering pile of granny squares is making me feel quite smug and is keeping me from getting back down to concentrating on practicing my sewing but I can feel the weather turning and cannot wait until all the squares are joined up into a lovely cosy blanket. In between all that, my Open University course has started again and I am loving it so much this my penultimate year. This module is a history module, my first love and we are studying Europe from 1914 to 1989 which gave me quite a start when I realized that the scope of this course ends the year I began to study history the first time around!

We have celebrated Life, E turned eight that the end of the month and is getting so tall sometimes I glimpse the teenager that will appear in my life one day, yet sometimes when she cries for me I sense that my wee cuddly girl will be around for a little while yet. The tooth fairy arrived and she was allowed to ride in the front seat of the car for the first time, big steps for a little person. O found it a little harder to settle back to school this year, he was upset at leaving his teacher from last year and while his current teacher seems fine, he had a special connection with his first year teacher that was always going to be impossible to replicate. Sometimes I do contemplate going back to work but it is such a privilege being here for them when they come home and to have the time to listen to all their little worries and triumphs.

We have also brought in a tiny harvest from our poor neglected allotment, we say this every year but next year we are going to be top growers. I was just delighted with the sunflowers this year and we had a good many cucumbers, courgettes, and the pumpkins are looking good for Halloween. Unfortunately O has adopted that wee pumpkin that you can see on the plate there, 'Pumpkiny' has been going to school with O for the past couple of days and I am wondering how to break the news that I want to roast and eat him...

We have saluted Death, my Grandfather's brother J, was laid to rest in the Co. Tyrone soil that sustained all eight of his brothers and sisters, his Father and Grandfathers. He was almost 95 and jokingly referred to himself as 'The Last Man Standing,' With his passing ends a generation of men and women that connected our familial memory to a past that is retreating all too quickly into our folk history. A history of collecting well water, gas lamps, drying clothes on the blackthorn hedge, thatched roofs and baking soda bread on the griddle. The Child of Prague on the wall and a best suit for Sunday. His family placed his cap, walking stick and wedding photograph on the altar, J and M smiled out from the frame, the joy of youth captured in a shutter click, filmic in their simple 1940's suits and sharp good-looking features, hair swept back. A blink of an eye is a life yet isn't there something so comforting, so right about a life lived well.

Thank-you so much for reading. have a fantastic week! xxx

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Town at the Ford of Elderflowers.


This is the thirteenth century St. Laurence's Gate at the bottom of my road, it is one of the finest examples of a medieval barbican gate in Europe. It stands as an imposing protective gateway to the medieval city of Drogheda and is potentially a defence against invasion from the sea. It is one of the main reasons we were so attracted to our street when house hunting.
'But', my children say, 'Can you go up it?' Er, well no actually since our local council does see fit to open one of our medieval treasures to allow the people and the tourists of Drogheda to interact with our history, but that is a rant for another post.

'We want a castle!', they said. So, while on holiday during the summer, we took them to St John's castle in the beautiful village of Carlingford, also in Co. Louth.

(image from copyright jai, licensed for further use.)
(image from The Dublin Penny Journal 21st July 1832, link here)
'But, can you go up it?' they demanded. Well no, sorry but you can walk around it. Look at the lough, can you see the boats? 'That is not a proper castle,' they insisted. 'We want one that we can go inside!'
Right we said, you want a castle! We will give you a castle. So we went on a trip to Trim, Co Meath.
Trim castle is the largest Norman castle in Ireland and was once part of the lands of Hugh De Lacy, the Anglo-Norman lord who founded our own Drogheda.
Trim is a charming little town also on the banks of the River Boyne and I love its poetical Irish name which is Bailie Atha Troim which means 'town at the ford of elderflowers, isn't that pretty? While the kids and Mr S went exploring the castle I was left to explore and look after Rosie as dogs are not allowed in the grounds of the castle. We found so much to see:

Pretty pastel houses:

Incredible vertiginous ruins:

Beautiful stonework:
A gorgeous river walk out to Newtowntrim Cathedral:
Leave the castle behind and say ahh to the donkeys,

Take a seat on a fallen acorn and look out over the porchfield into the big sky,
Stroll back into town and wait impatiently for the rest of the family to come back down from the castle so you can nip into the yarny treasure trove that is:
Marvel at the knitted goodies in the window:
Treat yourself to one fat squidgy ball of raspberry pink merino and one downy soft skein of grey alpaca, finish off in the sweetie shop and drive home tired but happy.
Later, we ask the children if they thought Trim Castle was a 'real' castle, - 'Hmph', said E with derision, 'It is still just a ruin!'


Monday, 1 September 2014

TGISD (Part 2)

As I sat drinking my tea, I had a light blub moment. Oh fantastic, maybe I will get to rev the Red Devil up for an afternoon of happy crafting! I have another pattern, a skirt pattern, this pattern:

I am liking 'Love Sewing', it seems to have replaced 'Mollie Makes' in my magazine heart. I'm not totally sure why, it seems more inspirational somehow instead of aspirational. Look at that lovely dress in issue 4, and aimed at the adventurous beginner. Why, I am sure that is me.

Out comes the sewing machine again, this time I brew up an espresso to assist concentration.
I read over the instructions - thankfully this pattern is in my size and this time a gratifying size 12 - and carefully cut around the correct lines. I repair to the living room and begin to experiment with the lay-out of the fabric. Hmmm, what does this mean?

What width is my fabric? 21 inches. Fold, what fold? Ok, now I see that the pattern pieces are designed to be placed on the folded material and when the section is cut out, a piece that is doubled in size is produced. Oh-Oh, I don't think I have enough material for this skirt. How on earth did that happen!

Not too worry, I spotted a retro duvet cover also in the charity shop, that will have enough material for the pencil skirt.

Annoying though, I really want to make the A-line which presents a dilemma. You know when you get something so entrenched in your mind that it stews away until it must be completed. However, I have resolved to boycott Amazon after reading of the bitter dispute waging between this mammoth organisation and Hachette the large French publishing house. You can read more about this here, if you like. Also we are lucky enough to have a Waterstones in our town and I really want to support our local bookseller much more actively this year. So, if I order the McCall's pattern, it makes the postage costs so much more reasonable if I include my set history book for this years OU course...and I really need that spare part for my Bialetti...

I buy the duvet cover because it has trees on it. Unfortunately, it has taken three washes to remove the fusty musty smell. Groan. Also, in the cold light of my garden I'm not sure about that greeny pattern. Would I really wear that? Oops, don't they always say on the Sewing Bee that pattern is very hard to sew with, to match for beginners?  Once again, the poor wee sewing machine is back in the box. Am I totally over-thinking this task? Is it time for a glass of wine?

Thursday, 28 August 2014

TGISD (The Great Irish Sewing Disaster Part 1.)

So some of you may have noticed that despite a proud display of a 'sew along with Daisy Jones' button on the blog there has been precious little sewing happening here in Oriel. What with OU study, house renovations, crochet addictions, child rearing, dog walking and the occasional chat with Mr S, I simply ran out of time to complete the project as it unfolded (!) on Daisy's blog.

I did however order the pattern, McCall's 3341, a nice simple A-line skirt. When I arrived my first instinct was to run down to the fabric shop and choose some gorgeous material but I was very good and supressed this urge and set off instead to the charity shop to purchase some cheap and potentially scrap-able fabric. After much bickering and arm twisting, the kids persuaded me to treat them to some of those blooming Rainbow Magic fairy books (E) and a dinky fork-lift (O). I don't know how such a modern mother as myself can end up with two such gender stereo-typical children! Anyhow, I digress- I was finally allowed to purchase for myself a large box-pleated skirt with lots of lovely material to play with.

I spent some of the lovely summer evenings of our holiday, drinking wine, watching the aeronautical display of swallows and un-picking and deconstructing the skirt. Then came the reclamation of our home and after days of cleaning and organising; after the welcome departure of the jolly electricians and the puerile plasterers and the incompetent plumbers, finally out came the sewing machine and my pattern. My first heart-breaking moment was when I realised that at just a smidgen under 30inches my waist was measuring in at a size 16! No, how on earth had that happened!

I composed myself. Off to Daisy's blog for advice, she says that 'the skirt comes up slightly bigger in reality' and 'why not try making it with scrap fabric first', now I am feeling smug. Sure it is only a number! Tentatively, I open the envelope, scissors and freshly brewed cup of coffee at the ready. I study the lines to make sure I am cutting the correct size, 4, 6, 8, 10...Erm where is 16?!
No, how on earth has that happened! I have ordered the wrong size, so instead of the correct 3341 DD  (12-14-16-18) I have the erroneous 3341 AAX (4-6-8-10)

Disappointed, I fold up the pattern. Marvelling as I fold at the teeny tiny waist that is a size 4. Do grown women exist that are actually this size? Briefly consider a starvation diet before good sense prevails. A good part of this learning to sew malarkey was to have nice flattering clothes that fit me .
Closer inspection of the pattern reveals that these sizes are 'Miss' sizes, right so I can keep the pattern for E. Although, how to persuade her that what she needs is a lovely wee A-line skirt and not a pirate princess skirt is another challenge for another day. I pack away the sewing machine and drink my tea.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Stories from the Sea.

It is time to get back to celebrating the lovely things that life brings. So, I am stealing my title today from the peerless P.J. Harvey and her gorgeous album of 2000 'Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea'.

We went to the sea and we brought back some treasure.

 A mermaid's comb.
A dinosaurs tooth.

A paperweight.

Emeralds and Pearls.
A restorative day.