Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Because Life begins at...

Today life begins, again, at 41. Isn't it great?! The day started in the blurry regions of 5.30 am as the little princess snuggled in to say 'Can I rub your tummy Mumma?'. Poor thing thinks that there are more babies waiting in there to come out...mind you, it may appear a bit like that... And then the 10 week old wriggled on the other side and let a yelp out of him - cat like - not to be forgotten. A few doors away I could hear the rustle of Holly's tail, picking up on the waking sounds - ears pricked, waiting for the door of her sleeping quarters to open and her breakfast to arrive. 

Birthday bouquet
Morning is a strange time in our house, for me anyway. It kind of creeps in, steadily and stealthily from about four-ish when Oscar wakes for a feed. After that I don't really sleep...I generally just hold him in my arms or on my lap and lie back and enjoy the moment for it's immense peace and silence. He sleeps, in that blissful space that only a well fed newborn can sleep. Is he dreaming? And we sit or lie there for a couple of hours, until herself awakes around the six mark and then it's full steam ahead for the next fourteen hours, until she fades again back into the mess of quilt and pillows left over from the night before. 

Smile! And the whole world...
Today is my birthday. And what a lovely day it turned out to be. Instead of bemoaning the fact that I was another notch on the 40 decade, instead of freaking out about the three silver hairs that have invaded my fringe, instead of tainting the day with downbeat and defeatist thoughts I decided to go with the positive and run the risk of joy. Oh happy day! Cuddles and smiles abounded, only a few moments of angst with herself near bedtime and no sudden clothes changes where Oscar's nappies just couldn't take it. A precious shower early in the day, a sneaky coffee before 11am, a nap with cutsie newborn, baking with the princess, and candles blown out more than four times with small people, and dearest brother and father. And wildflowers on the window filling the room with heady scent Meadowsweet, every shade of green in the garden and a homegrown blackcurrant enlivened smoothie startling my tastebuds. Simple pleasures. But pleasures nonetheless. And a whole host of other birthday pleasures yet to be enjoyed with friends and family, not least of all when the man gets home. 

Life beings when you decide to live it. Usually only when you realise how easily it can be taken away. And that probably meant a painful experience and some serious soul searching. Well, the measure of pain only amplifies that of joy when it comes, and when joy comes in simple daily pleasures, well...then life surely has begun. 

"Just another little stretch baby brother..."

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

July is Green

July is green, officially. And every shade of it - all more than forty of them. The perfect lucent green pearls of peas, the pine forest green of phallic courgette, and all the others - emergent pear green, leek green, fig green, spinach green, cucumber green, tomato green and so and so forth. And then of course the leaf greens: mint, oregano, thyme, chive, blackcurrant...July is indeed awash with green! Add a splash of blackcurrant, an emergent golden sunflower, cornflower and starflower blues, purple beetroot tops and lavender meets oregano flowers. Poppy red and pale pink rose draws the eye in the midst of all these representatives of rainbow. 

Green collection - with splash of strawberry
And we are all the better for it. All that green has now been proven to be beneficial to the viewer. 'Restorative environments' - places with a green space basically - is the phrase that some give it. And aren't we lucky to have it? And not just to look at. Summer's bounty so far has been rewarding - although in truth, I really wouldn't like to be reliant on our garden for complete sustenance. Our limited space - or is it limited experience and know how? - means that we would be pretty hungry if we were hanging on for the modest spud harvest or the odd bit of fruit and veg that we can sustain on our maxed out back garden. The peas are delicious but take a lot of space for the return, the courgettes are ridiculously plenty for a time and the spuds disappear quickly. Tomatoes and cucumbers require sun and heat - and the small greenhouse only fits a few. And five pears? Better than none! Maybe some smart choices in relation to timing and/or a polytunnel and things would be better. 

Or maybe leave it to the experts? Ah, but where would the fun be in that? The picking of peas with the little princess, her wonder as the spuds are unearthed, the joy of a late strawberry after sun has completed its ripening and it is picked at the moment of perfection. And no air miles on those artichokes! Simple pleasures. Sure, we reap what we sow - and one could barely imagine such a rainbow of colour in the deepest dark days of winter. And while the pain in my back makes me wonder sometimes why we bother to do it at all, the bountiful shades of green that restore us each day coupled with the perennial hum of our busiest bees, probably equal in the pleasure. And sure, we're only halfway there - plenty of tastebuds to be tested yet. 

Life with two small humans is busy but I did manage to capture essence of rhubarb today in a form that will surely last beyond and long after Christmas 2016 (dare I mention it!). Rhubarb chutney - a simple but powerful blend of fresh rhubarb, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, ginger, oranges and mixed spice. And barely a dent in the wall/glut of summer rhubarb. Jam will make another small hole in the supply, but barely. Apparently it can make
a great wine but I'm not quite ready for that adventure yet. Plenty of time for that. 

Simple pleasures for sure, and plenty of green to frame it. 

Monday, 11 July 2016


Life is a tad busy here at the Holly Cottage. Have I adjusted to being at home 24/7? Yes. Am I glad to be a full time domestic goddess? Sure. Is everyone happy and healthy? Gloriously and thankfully. Am I on holidays, as so many casually refer to maternity leave being? Absolutely not - far from it. Hats off to stay at home parents! Forget the midnight and early morning feeding sessions for the new arrival, herself is also up at the crack of dawn and she definitely qualifies as the duracell kind. Wow. Where does all that energy and enthusiasm come from? Poor mumzy sadly laggs behind - must be those midnight feeds. It's certainly nothing to do with midnight parties.

And so, all are busy. The 8 week old being his cutesy self, the near 3 year old being her adorable threenager self, Holly being...well, Holly. And the rest of the residents? Just being, watching on in a surreal blur of parenthood.

Bee heaven, HC 2016
Busy as bees. And they - the bees - certainly are busy. And not a cry of complaint sounded. Thankfully we seem to have a very vibrant and healthy population in our garden - my next job is to set to identifying each of the different species present. And figure out how many of the 97 species - yes!! 97 different species in Ireland - are frequenting the Holly Cottage garden. Luckily there are some online resources available to do this - thanks to the great work of the National Biodiversity Data Centre based in County Waterford. Bees are important for our lives, not least for the delicious honey they create and which we seem to consume a lot of here in the Holly Cottage. Beware of what type you lift off the shelf in the supermarket though because not all honeys are created equal. Blending and processing can remove most if not all of the goodness (proteins, natural superpowers etc.) - so best to buy local and possibly even direct from your friendly suited beeman or beewoman. 

Red-arsed bumble bee....awww.
Listed as vulnerable to
 extinction in Ireland...double awww.
So how important are they and what are we doing about the widely reported global decline? Well, some clever economist/scientist types have estimated that the work of the bees is worth millions...more would say priceless. Our cute little black/amber/ginger/blonde winged friends are of enormous significance in terms of pollination and provide an altogether free service to us to pollinate food crops for our human family. What would happen if we lost them? Global famine? Global collapse of economies? Let's hope that doesn't happen, but it might. And the pollination of cherry blossoms by hand, as has to happen in regions of China, may have to be carried out by us clumsy and ground-bound humans in a ridiculously more widespread fashion. 

Thankfully we have a National Pollinator Plan in Ireland (of which I was humbled to be even a small part of its creation) which we hopefully will see the fruits of (pardon the pollination pun) in years to come. On a local scale, and I guess you can't get more local than your own garden, pesticide free and a generous planting of wildflowers will do the job. Nothing too fancy, as bees are less fussy than us in what they might consider worthy - dandelions provide the forage food for the hungry gap in May and clover species are also a significant food source. Basically, less weeding!

A Humble Bee made this :)
On a more sensory front, we have also discovered a very sweet and beelicous way of supporting the local bee economy. And it comes in a very attractive and tempting way - honey cake! The talented work of the Humble Bee company has given life to what may be one of the most interestingly irresistible cakes to be tasted outside of our own kitchen for some time. Made in County Offaly, this is one to watch out for. Simply beelicious to paraphrase a well known Corkonian domestic queen! Watch out for it. And in the meantime, spare a thought for the busy bee. We need them a hell of a lot more than they need us.  

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Celebrating Oscar

The Irish summer is truly upon us - glorious sunshine and thunderous showers interspersed with periods of intense heat and then sudden wintry temperatures. And all in the space of five minutes! This is Ireland. And this is why our winter wardrobe also doubles us as our summer one - albeit without the gloves and scarves. 

We do have to be grateful however for the summer we had in May, those fabulously Mediterranean like days that beckoned the arrival of the newest member of the Holly Cottage brigade, the little bundle that is Oscar. 

"You talking to me?"
And this tough little man is testament to the truth that every child is different. Where Alannah required hourly attention, he is more than content to sleep for periods of hours in the daytime while the rest of us are busied with blowing bubbles through the hollyhocks, and stalking the emerging fruits of the Holly Cottage summer garden as we wait impatiently for their juicy, sweet delivery. 

Alannah has adjusted, though she does have a tendency to shout loudly into his face while hanging clothes pegs off his ears. He just stares in meditative silence. And she doesn't quite understand why we have to bring him with us everywhere we go - "leave him here Daddy, Oscar doesn't want to come" - just as well the 31 month old isn't in charge. Or is she? More of that again.  

Oscar just watches on, watching all stoically - and what does he see? At this stage it's only what lies within arm's reach. And yet somehow it feels he can see through us all. 

Our 42 days of togetherness has come to an end, and he is officially out of the newborn stage - already??!! The rabbit sized sleep suits of the earliest days are now giving way to more robust and manly outfits be-decked with dinosaurs and the cutest lions and elephants. This time is going to ebb and flow too fast. 

The nights are long but I am rewarded with the sweetest of secret smiles and unlimited hugs. And mummy's recovery from the guts of a year of carrying this handsome little warrior has been thankfully smooth and uneventful. Sore shoulders and lower back pain have returned - a sharp reminder of the challenges of nourishing a ravenous, exponentially growing human. But funny how the immense pleasure and satisfaction in watching him grow and develop cause all these irksome side effects - and the memory of nine months of nauseous pregnancy and intense hours of birth - to fade in the shine of his smiles and the light of his eyes. Mammy's boy, eh?

This is a time to celebrate. So here's to Oscar and the life before him, here's to the people who have helped us on his journey into this life, here's to the Holly Cottage brigade who are humbled at the gift of him and here's to the joy that he has already given. 

We are celebrating Oscar, heartfelt and wildly.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

A year in the Holly Cottage

The summer solstice is upon us and what better day to begin to tell of our year in the Holly Cottage. That it has been a year since I last pressed the publish button here on this blogosphere - or just a couple of weeks shy of - is a sobering thought. Sobering because I am keenly aware that so much has passed and come and gone, and yet it might seem as if nothing has changed at all. We are the same - aren't we? Maybe just a bit. The world is the same? Definitely not. Change is our only constant. And the heart? Oh dear! Battered and bruised beyond belief in the past year but somehow still beating and stepping up, ready to take on another year's random symphonies of being. 

"The only way is through" said Holly to Alannah, as they both passed through the fairy door.
Every day we wake, we rise, we greet the new day and welcome a new beginning. When the night comes we acknowledge day's passing and we give thanks for the life we have had and the adventure that it did/might/could bring. And that day passes, never to return again - save of course for in that imaginative space where it becomes altered in movie like memory that accentuates some, colours others and chops entire pieces on the editing floor to suit the playback mode and desired effect. New day comes with the morning, dying day gives life to the next and so on and so forth. Only the present remains true and real, the past fantastically edited and the future existing only to be fantasised. 

So I will try not to trawl too much over the past year to detail every moment - but I will in time reflect over that time and bring you the edited clips as they spill out onto the pages. And it was a busy year. Lives were lost and gained, a toddler turned into a little princess, books were re-written and edited, yoga lessons were received and given, holidays were had, a garden was harvested and re-planted, wetlands and woodlands were re-wilded, articles were written and views were aired, difficult conversations were had and endured, sickness was faced and uncertainties accepted. With a few laughs (to be sure) in between. Those moments that tower over all: the death of a beautiful mother and the precious birth of a beautiful boy. Both events have me alternating between the worlds of joy and sorrow, elation and exhaustion, and all states of emotion in between. 

Sometimes I do feel somewhat overwhelmed, but that's when I must remember to dance, dance, and more dance to the music of it all. For it is only in the dance that we can flow and bend and quiver to the joyous and painful beauty of it all, and only then that we won't break under the sheer force and power of it all. 

So, onwards and forwards. Here's to another year gone in the Holly Cottage, and another adventurous year to come. Best that we set off with an open mind and a brimming heart, and of course a good pair of dancing shoes. For in the words of the Bard - the readiness is all. 

Saturday, 11 July 2015

The thirty nine steps

"One step at a time," said Holly to Alannah as they journeyed together through the woods
on their great adventure.

The thirty nine steps - written this time last year year on the cusp of turning 39...almost a year out of date! So time to publish methinx..

The 1st step was in the 70s, more than likely to a Jimmy Reeves beat (with a dash of Elvis) than a Jimi Hendrix kick.

The 2nd was finding a new world by falling down stairs and standing in awe of big brother and sisters.

The 3rd was more aware – it had to be? - an independent stance while full acceptance of last in line of pecking order, a bellyful of laughter.

The 4th I remember - kind of - packing up beds and stuff out of presses and moving to a new home not too far down the road but far enough away being a whole other townland and a whole other outlook in so many ways: the first of many travel adventures. That fourth step also beckoned first entry through the great giant doors of National School surrounded by green fields and stone walls. How brave was I holding on for dear life to handle of brand new pink schoolbag that somehow has vanished from existence except from the pictures taken by my mother and father on that very first day, tongue-lolling wiry terrier by my side for support.

The 5th step was learning, learning, learning. Playing with the boys and sometime knitting by the fire after school while waiting for the bus to come; playing games and ‘ring a ring a rosy’ with the grown up girls from the master's room – them playing mothers to the high infants in their twelve year old skins.

6th was skipping and running and falling, tattered dolls and playing ‘house’ in hayfields and straw sheds with the nearest and dearest.

7th was a rite of passage all dressed in a barely white dress as candle burned through netted veil and dripped onto sparkling black patent shoes - the only thing new after two sisters before.

8th and 9th were passed watching and waiting not patiently my turn as brother and sisters came of age in remote disco hall under the watchful eye of father; the baby at home minding the mother and suffering the un-fairness of it all. Being small. Old enough to know I was waiting, waiting, waiting.

By 10 I stepped on to football field and local stage - recitations, dancing, play acting and more dancing; still watching as brother and sisters went through the trials of teen-dom before me, me with shy wonder.

11th and 12th saw tomboy emerging - more jeans than skirts, and pink bag of four traded for red of the Gunners big brother's chosen team. Playing gaelic on grey and damp Irish evenings; changing with the boys already uncomfortable in emerging form.

Hair grew long again by 13th and boys were becoming a different species. First kiss was had and by 14th step I might have been used to it but it would take some time yet. Valentine cards came but never from the beloved; always the ones that persisted – god loves a tryer – but they got nowhere for all of it.

Step 15 was looking beyond school walls and into career and I stood firm on the earth and vowed to be her champion companion. Though persuaded to a different route by those that knew better  – what would I know in my 16th step? - but fate kept my path. A brief tryst with religion and love just enough to keep me grounded, and sounded, and wiser - not cynical - for years to come.

Just turned 17 comes tender and excited long step down concrete tunnels of UCD towards beloved ecology. At seventeen those long cold tunnels saw rural child dragged up through rock band and heartbreak, and sudden urgency of peer acceptance, to become young adult of sorts. Inbetweener. I found – they found me? - The Cure – what a night in a packed Point!, The Doors, The Pixies, the rich country of music made solely for the purpose of late teenage adventures. Blissful tragic soundtrack of Smiths to first kicks in the heart guts - that pain to linger a long while. Touching the face of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder when it seemed most important.

18th  and 19th steps buried in learning – sometime head up to view world changing about me – but I stayed focused with bruised heart – or was it just ego? - as the obvious soul-mates and long haired fians admired from afar turned to the glamour and comfort and those more experienced in matters more fair. In over-sized and home knit jumpers hanging over leggings and army boots, I peddled my way to botanical and zoological scholarships and browsed topic irrelevant novels in the spider web-strewn library (not a hint of the other kind yet), the loneliest Arts section.

How sweet the coffees on study breaks that 20th step watching the innocents in all my experience. Growing into my skin, aware, concerned but still not steady. Loving every delicious lick of it. A summer in US of A was the cherry on top of it.

By step 21, I was done and dusted, head full of ideas for saving the planet and the need know more – for what did I know? - and want to do better. In a rain sodden crowd I sang along to Radiohead. And somehow I chose a path that led west – to freedom? – To wilderness, I bared my soul to the best.

What drives us on when uncertainty and confusion reign? Blind foolishness, trust, belief in our instinct or is it just mein insane? It all began to change beyond then as light hearted student bore responsible next steps – quest for scientific knowledge, clarity, right enquiry, right impact – for that is PhD if not pure more insanity. A car equals freedom, petty cash more experience.

And so, steps 21, 22, 23, 24 – all peppered with adventure between west and eastern shores. All packed to the brim with music and clan ship, back of the motorbike trips up Dublin sunshine mountains and shennanigans galore. Glad for the invisibility of it all now and the delicious absence of social media folklore from back the,. Loves were found and lost, limits tried and tested, but just trial runs for the real thing, lessons in how to be sure. And defining unsure which is happiness undone.

The 25th step saw east come to an end and west won out and the PhD thesis did end. Oh joy of joy – to me like wedding day. Four years of sweat blood and tears, and questioning and self doubt and poverty – though no poverty of adventure. And after that came the real world – PRSI and pension and stamps. And strong minds of a different, conflicting opinion. The war waged, but I was ready. Mind struggled to get around it but I made of it the best. Restoring the wild to fund adventures South American, Italian, Spanish and Canada’s best Quebec, and shopping in Galway and Sligo - travels to test.

26th and 27th were blissful steps in music while work life outdoors in the wild formed the gel. Long days in the rain and nights by the fire of the devil’s darkened nest The river flowed, the winds blew and the musical spirit poured.

The 28th step saw me singing for sure – up there with Takamine beauty – oh what might have been? Five minutes of fame in Hotpress and local radio fm. Oh what could have been, what has been – femme fatale with Fender plugged in? And I was so ripe for it, then – all brimming with harmonies and lyrical tales to tell.

Step 29 and then 30, brought me deeper in work, music brushed aside and guitar lay to dust as I learned how to run and to run, and create a life by the river that just wasn’t to be. Diving deep in the blue of Madagascar’s clear water – saved by the angels and saints of pure reef, that had never seen human before – clarity of vision from shores near and far.

Somehow I found myself, again, alone – two Cranes wrapped in love on the shores of the Biebrza – a Polish Shannon, but joyous in being there, in 30-some skin. All shiny and glossy and scars hard won, despite a brush with malaria and a month out of the sun. Living alone in the bliss that had come.

Oh shenanigans they court you in times that you need them and shenanigans and more music they came and the pleasures that meet them. The learned steps of 31 and 32 didn’t make for wiser moves just more adventures or twenty-two. Mature experiences shall we say? Glad to have made them but glad to move on. 

Headstand to relieve feet as 32 wore on – a month in the Alps to connect mind, body spirit. But only baby steps on lifelong sadhana. Back home to snowdrops and a diversion of conference, an arduous course that led my feet to the One. And there he did find me, and we became One. Sweet. 

I had foreseen Step 33 to be christ-like - all monastic with sharp insight – longing for a chance to shave my head at last, but the loving twas done was near on fantastic. Work in the background – still leaving room for more diversions – music, writing, some yoga, more work and of course, lover. Adventures in Nawlins, Memphis and Greece, not least of all in the People’s Republic. 

Baby steps at 34 with long distance loving – just missing and knowing we needed each other. Another plunge and a foot into debt at hoped for mature 35th step. But the halls that we walked and the cottage we found feels more right as years pass and cosy comfort abounds. 

Married in Cuba, warm sea ‘neath our feet - the 36th step the lightest I felt.

Step 37 we gardened and reaped the fruits of our labour, a crazy dog Holly to join us and keep the ancient woods in our favour.

The pain at 38 was heavy to bear but we faced it together at little one lost. Soft steady steps treading the water - turtles at home from home in a warm, Bajan sea reminding how precious is life and the love that we share.

And now here I stand at this thirty ninth step – one foot light and lifted, the other firmly rooted in depth. Me, all that I am, was and ever will be - daughter, sister, lover, mother, sometime friend and colleague, mistress of Holly, custodian of Holly Cottage and the ever-giving garden. Still aspiring to champion of earth, her mindful companion.

Foot lifted I wonder - is every step pre-empted? Guided, baited, fated? Will I know the next step to take or will I just follow blind?

Thirty nine steps – maybe the end, maybe mid-way but it feels like beginning.

I am armed with - the wonder of a toddler, the hope of tomorrow’s warm weather, the readiness of Holly to go for a run and not know the turnings, the wisdom of 39 steps of experience, the acceptance of chaos and change ever present. The fire of childhood that has always stayed lit, to light my guide on this journey so far. So keenly aware, so thankful and grateful, for the greatest love of all.

And now, here am I, keeper of the flame for one just like me, but even more. A small bundle of blond only just begun – first step taken and close to a second. Best not to think too much – just follow heart, stay mindful, stay hopeful.

Face and foot forward, my armour around. One step, then another. 

Infinite possibilities abound. 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

March On

Snowdrops a'plenty and bright purple and deep mustard coloured crocuses are littered around the Holly Cottage paths. A golden lesser celendine flower is starting to peep up from a country green base. This is the colour we have. Tiny specks that draw the eye in an otherwise green and grey land. Fifty shades of green - and grey ;) 

It's a challenging month. We've been so good - biting our tongues in January and accepting the lingering darkness. Making the most of it with warm turf fires and hearty stewpots. And we didn't shirk at the bracing cold and snow. And February too - we welcomed the sun on St. Bridgid's Day - Imbolc - and we said, "she's just around the corner now". Within a hair's breadth. And we kept the fires burning and we waited for the sentinels of spring - crocus and pluirini sneachta - to lift our spirits. And they did. And they still do too.

But the warm sunny day of the 1st of February must have meant that Cailleach was gathering her firewood for a long winter. And the dry cold that whipped our cheeks last week, and the howling winds of last night that almost wrestled the towering trees that line the estate wall down, stand testament to that. And sure, why not resort to ancient celtic mythology that has been distorted by millennia of mis-interpretation to explain the weather? Even a scientist might sometimes rest back on the couch of imagination and explain things away by the complete mythological. It makes for a better fireside tale than "the empirical data tells us that..."Nerd ;) Oh my life...

Warriors of the cold - respect
And so - the long awaited March has arrived. March is on. Accompanied by a dusting of snow just for good measure. And while daffodil buds peep up for a look, still we wait. Will they decide not to come this year? Will they stick their heads back in the cold earth and just say - "nah, let's sit this one out?" But no they won't. We know that. They March, on. Just like us. 

Spring will come. Any day now. It will descend upon us from an apparent nowhere and we will magically emerge from our heavy cloaks of winter and forget that it was ever here. No dwelling on the dark forces that were, and those that are still to come. And that my friends - that, is the real magic. 

Stay strong, stay ready. March, on