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The thirty nine steps - written this time last year year on the cusp of turning 39...almost a year out of date!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


Marching.
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

Monday, 5 January 2015

Farewell 2014

Farewell 2014 and welcome 2015. Farewell sleepless nights and being shoved down to one corner of our small double bed by fierce, kicking, wriggling 16 month old beauty. Farewell to sitting through 9am meetings feeling like I'm living in a human experiment to see how one can exist without the fundamental sleep that so many take for granted. 

Ah...2014. It was a tough one. Not without it's beauty and it's joys mind, but nevertheless a tough one.  And it got to the stage where even I was fed up of hearing myself saying to everyone how tired I was. So I just stopped saying and realised that no-one really cared - except for me of course. I was the one struggling under the weight of exhaustion - martyr to the cause of child rearing - too soft to ignore the cries of the now just over 1 year old in the middle of the night and too scared to wonder at what might happen if I did ignore them .  

And so, two weeks ago when the world of work stood still at 12.30pm on the Friday before Christmas, I stopped all pieces of my life that I could stop, and I endeavoured to stop myself. That meant - no more hauling weary legs carried by weakened lower back over miles of soggy bogland, no more over-active mind, no more martyr, no more nothing. And I let the man take over the nighttime stuff - with a break every now and then of course (need to ease him into it). 

I pretty much took a minute to bury my 'schoolbag' in the closet and at the same time I consciously buried all associated thoughts of work with it. And surprisingly enough, I did. 

And I lay on my back on our little daughter's play mat. And I let it all happen and I've pretty much being doing that for two weeks ;) (until today). Sure we had to venture out to let families know that we were still alive, and sure there were the post-christmas bargains to be had...but just that was enough. 

Lying on that playmat, no pen, no laptop, no phone, no diary. Just sweet and full o'boldness Alannah climbing and jumping and crawling over us as we watched the saddest of Christmas movies - why are kids' movies the ones that always make you melt?!! - and ate the finest of food and shared the tastiest seasonal treats that you never, never feel guilty about at this time of year. 

Oh sweet restful, decadent, lying on the floor in a heap doing nothing. I recommend it. Because now I actually feel near to normal. And when the 'schoolbag' was dusted off this morning on my return to work, I had the strength and the power to say - bring it on 2015. If 2014 didn't kill me, then don't you even bother trying. 

Happy 2015!

Holly racing into 2015


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Clearing the path for winter

Winter has landed with all its force and unapologetic power. The heavy rains that pounded down on us all this week - causing roads to merge with waterways and keep us all indoors for as much of it as we could - is a stark reminder that no more is the phrase winter is coming  (in all its Game of Thrones foreboding doom and gloom) apt, and once more winter has come. The towering beeches that line the estate walls are completely bare of their golden leaves - earlier that normal it feels, and spindly oaks are bereft of leafy crown for  another five months at least. And the dark is back and dark is the new black for the season that's in it. 

Winter's garden
I don't see how we can ever get used to this forceful annual event - one day sunshine and bare feet, and then the next hats and scarves and wellied up to the nines - it's an annual imposition ;)  And so this weekend I suited up and wellies were donned for the (literal) clearing of the path for winter. 

I don't get out into the Holly Cottage garden as much anymore, not since golden haired child appeared on the scene and the demands of motherhood that go with that. So when I do get out, it seems to me to be a rare treat and very much an event. And yesterday was the day for it - rain had cleared, sun was shining and a blue sky above to restore faith in the November sheltering canopy. 


Starflower blue remains to brighten our days
First there were the standing-dead forms of ornamental clover that lined the path to clear - how different they stood as skeletal lignin stems from the vibrant green and purple of summer. The grow-bags and falling down tomatoes of August and September were dismantled onto the compost heap. The tumbledown nasturtiums were forked away too, and the sturdy starflowers that bulged up between the patio slabs were ceremoniously taken away to the decaying pile of 2014 in the corner of the garden. Mint in disarray was ordered; withered oregano stems were chopped back and collapsing gladioli spikes dismembered - all traces of 2014's summer whisked away in the quick flash of a garden blunted scissors. And then the yard brush was brought forth to clear leaves and bits of sand and grit and bark that had spilled onto the path, and then my work was done. 

Inspector of paths
There are still a few things left out there, the stuff that doesn't mind the cold and most importantly, the stuff that's easily accessed in all types of weather: the protective green manure to feed the soil for next year - the colourful purple Phacelia; the hardy turnips; the leafy cabbage; the bursting brussels sprouts and the curliest, curly kale. These things will keep our vitamin levels up in dark days to fight off the colds that seem to be a much more frequent visitor to our door these days. 

And so we are ready. Ready for winter, again. Path is cleared. Wellies are off and packed away until spring time. Time for sitting by the fire. Time for winter to have its own way and do its own clearing and cleaning - changing the garden in the way that we can't, returning life-that-was back to the cold comforting, embracing earth so that 2015 can live its own new way. 

And just the time for us to do the same.



Thursday, 13 November 2014

Letter to Alannah: Part II (a year of mothering)


This article first appeared in Elephant Journal, September 23rd 2014

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/09/on-our-first-birthday-a-letter-to-my-daughter-catherine-wilkie/


Dearest Alannah,

Today you are one year old, which really means you spent one of our calendar years breathing on your own.
This past year I’ve been bound to you, as mother and observer, often too immersed in being mother to even consider being observer. But now you have taken your first steps, now you are starting to pull away and I can see that whole year for some of what it has been.
Me—catapulted into the role of mother—and you, from soft and helpless bundle to warrior of infant-hood.
Before these thoughts that seem so urgent to me now fade in the tiredness of the working week, I want to share a few things with you from my journey this last year.
I want to share a few things with you—sure, you’re way too young and far too blissfully unaware to want to know or even want to understand—but in time, maybe.
If and when you might have your own little angel to shake you into the sudden and utter awareness of the fragility and wonder of creating, and then sustaining life…maybe then you might linger over some of these words.
Keeping up with the world

1. Nothing and no one can prepare you for being a mother.

Or a parent, a father, whatever.
Being of the female kind, I can only talk about being a mother and that’s more than enough for me. I thought I knew. I thought that by watching my brother and sisters, spending time with a few close friends, by looking on from the side-lines that I had it figured.
I thought that I knew what it would be like to be the one wiping the nose, changing the nappies, delivering the endless hugs and kisses and soothing the seemingly un-soothable cries when they came. And I thought that I knew how I would do it better. Wow. What an awakening.
So when you see a mother struggling with a cranky baby, or you find yourself saying—oh, I’d never do that, or the classic—Oh my god, did you see what that woman just did to that child?—slap yourself and please remember these words.
Until you are in it, never assume you know diddly squat about it. Instead, please watch and listen, empathise, help out where and when you can, and be ready to wait your turn, for when your turn comes.

2. Forget about your previous understanding/definition of a good night’s sleep

Ah, sleep. My old friend.
Get as much of it as you need, when you can, while you can. On those first two days of your life that we spent in the hospital, we (your father and I) wondered why you weren’t waking and wished that you would open those amazing bright blue eyes and share with us the story of your life so far—even though we knew more of that than you did, what with scan after scan and the solid kicking I was getting for the last month of our pregnancy.
Maybe we should have just slept as you slept instead. That first night home in the Holly Cottage was the first and only night I didn’t wake to your call. And that first night at home when I did eventually wake, I realised that my love affair with a good night’s sleep had been eternally dissolved.
You still wake at least once, if not three times, in the night—and you curl into me with your need for warmth and assurance and I am more than happy to respond and pull you into me. I know it won’t last forever, but I wish people would stop asking if you’re sleeping through the night, like it should be happening. Ah yes, there’s that word.
We’ll get back to the damming should later.

3. Be open to a greater awareness of your body

When you are pregnant and when you have a natural birth, your body is no longer your own.
It is working for two in those times and apart from the really important things day to day things like breathing, healing, self renewal, etc. etc., it is in the serious business of growing, forming, nurturing and stretching/squeezing to accommodate the smaller version of yourself—which is indeed a very precious cargo.
It’s absolutely amazing how it happens and for the most part you won’t be aware that you are doing anything. Life takes over. Stretching and squeezing can be alleviated—the body is more than capable.
My advice? Do pelvic floor exercises as often as you can. Do breathing exercises. Do yoga. Embrace the changes and embrace the challenges. Welcome every pain and moment of nausea. Go with it. There is no room for fear in this. This power, this magic—it is there in all of us, in you and in me. It’s been there since we started to walk upright.
Be in awe of the ability to grow life, deliver it into the world and the stupendous and miraculous healing power within you. And yes, you will want to do it all again. Even the bits you thought might never be possible again! But take your time. The body of a woman is a power house but it needs to recover. And maybe this power is the reason why in some cultures we are so feared and so repressed.
I repeat, your power is amazing. And to a small baby that is a wonderful thing. Rejoice in it. And if and when you feel tired of waking up for yet another late night feed, or changing a nappy from hell, try to remember that you are not alone. You are one of millions, and all power packs need recharging (see number 7).

4. Be grateful for the little things (they are not all that little)

Every breath you take is a blessing to me. Every day that you grow and change and develop and grow more is a miracle.
You have grown and changed so much in this last year I barely recognise you from the baby that tumbled out from me onto the labour-ward bed. From the first smile, to the first gurgles, the first steps and the first signs of growing awareness – pointing, recognising names and words—each moment has been a wonder, and I am grateful to still have one of the best seats in the house to watch you.
And when I think of all the things that might happen and could have happened I bow my head in humility and I give thanks. To the universe, for the wonder of it all. And these things may seem small to you now, but you will understand when you see it for yourself. As I watch you, you have this ability to scan the room and find the smallest grain of sand or dirt or rice cake or hair and you are enthralled by it. Enthralled by the smallest things of all.

5. Cherish the wonder of it all

Take stock as you go. Appreciate the moment as it happens. Time only goes one way—that I know of—and there’s no going back.
I look at pictures of myself at your age and it is a different person looking back. But that was me, the one who looked like you. The one in thumb sized socks and curls that mock gravity. The one who loved to be held in her father’s arms, to know the comfort of the smell of mother’s bread baking in the oven and the closeness of brother and sisters. Life is precious. If you ever doubt that, look at your own child and think on all the stars and planets and events and moments that had to align for that child to happen. And, sure, there were all the boyfriends and heartbreaks that had to be suffered, that you may suffer. But cherish even the most difficult of moments—those are the moments that you are most alive.
And so, I wish you joy and sorrow. May the depth of each be reflected in the depth of the other so that you understand and know the difference. Like when you lose someone you love—because that will happen.

6. Throw the word should out of your lexicon

I won’t bore you with examples, but when somebody—especially another member of the motherhood—even begins to form the word “should” with their mouth, close your ears, smile and nod if you have to, but don’t listen.
“Should” is the curse of well-meaning others. And just because they think they should, and they say you should, doesn’t mean it’s true. Close your eyes and think of a waterfall or a rose in bloom. Like the one that covers the back wall in autumn—the dusky pink rose that rambles there now—hat heralded your coming into the world this time last year.

7. When you’re exhausted, allow yourself to fall in a heap (preferably onto a soft bed)

Being mother, in my experience, is demanding. There are times when you’ll feel on top of the world, full of energy and full of readiness for what may come your way. This probably won’t happen often. Be prepared for being tired and be prepared to feel at sea from time to time, and by that I mean most of the time.
If, like me, you are somewhat used to being on top of your game,” please be kind to yourself. Having a baby changes the way we live and the way we used to live. Go with it. And when you need to rest, find the means to do that. Which brings me to the next bit.

8. Don’t forget those around you

My wish for you is that you are surrounded by love. But not just any love—the love that lasts.
The love that will carry you to the bathroom when you can’t carry yourself anymore, and hold you and mind you and take you for what you are, wherever you are. In the moments that matter. Don’t pretend to be too strong to need that sort of love, but don’t pretend to be weaker than you are to find it. That just leads to problems, and imbalance.
You have the strength of generations of women within you and you can move mountains if you have to. But in those times when you find yourself falling, don’t be too proud to call.
I will move the mountains to be there with you. And I am only your mother.

9. Follow your instinct

The more I live, the more I learn, the more I know that this is one of the strongest pieces in my daily armour. If you sense something is wrong, then you are probably right. This is something that you will have to learn to interpret and rely on for yourself. For instinct is very different from what you will see all around you, and what you will be told and what you will hear all around you. But remember, it is your movie, your experience. And everything is unique to you.
Learn from others but don’t underestimate your own understanding and knowledge. Everything you need is within you, you just need to learn your own language. To do this you need time alone, you need time in silence. Find the silence. Do yoga. Do meditation. Do breathing. Do hill walking. Do mountain climbing. Seek out inspirational people. Seek the ordinary. Find it in yourself first and then you will recognise it in others.
And when your small baby cries, trust that you will know what to do. And that may be as simple as a kiss and a cuddle, or a walk around the garden on a fine autumn day to watch the beech leaves fall, or a nursery rhyme sung for the 1000th time that never loses comfort.

10. Forever begin again

I would like to say that I will have the answers for you when you come—I wonder, will you come?—to ask me, and I would like to spare you some of the mistakes and tumbles that I’ve taken in my time of living, and my one precious year of mothering. But everyday you change and even though it may not be so obvious, I know that everyday I change with you. And for that reason, we must be ever ready to begin again.
Every time you stumble and fall back on your cushioning nappy, you get straight back up and you don’t look back. And I watch you and I draw strength and inspiration from the determined spirit that refuses to recognise obstacles like chairs, tables, doors, mounds of toys and blocking (yet well intentioned), cushioning arms. Don’t lose that spirit. You have no idea how it lifts those around you and those who will come to know and love you. When you do encounter limits, be wise, choose your approach and your strategy carefully. But don’t let fear turn you back. It is up to you to turn fear around into something of use—a stepping stone to the next level. Take the fear as a sign that the comfort of the level you are in is starting to stifle and the experience is becoming stale.
And there I will stop, for this year. 
My dearest Alannah, there is so much to learn and I see it in you with every breath. When we sang your birthday song to you the other day I fought hard to hold back the tears, not wanting to appear too soft, too motherly, and too enthralled by your innocence and beauty, and blissful ignorance to what was going on. Only once around the sun and already a blazing star.
I stand in awe, and I am honoured.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Once around the sun

September is back. And stuff always seems to happen for us in the Holly Cottage in September. Maybe it's the palpable return of winter that makes us want to squeez one last drop of happiness out of the summer, or maybe it's just the way it is. But, as a rule of thumb, when I see blackberries I think of 'stuff happening'. Like far flung trips to Nawlins and Memphis, Barbados and Cuba; a whirlwind wedding (thankfully minus hurricane) under a Caribbean sky; a little one lost; and a not-so-little one gained. And then Holly and the man's birthday celebrations sitting on top of all that. Yep, stuff sure seems to happen in September.

...there's now.
Budding geologist.
Then...
And so it's once around the sun for our little star Alannah. She tumbled out a year ago, wide eyed and full of warmth and full of wonder. And we're still here, thankfully. If only I knew then what I know now, but where would the fun have been in that? I still can't believe that they let us out of the hospital that calm September afternoon. We couldn't even get the car seat working so I sat in the back seat with her held close to me all the way home - praying not to meet a garda - and the man driving at a snail's pace for fear of doing some harm to her. It took me at least three weeks before I would take her out on my own in the car - that damn car seat would challenge Houdini. 

Anyway, we made it. We spent most of the first six months walking back and forth between the Holly Cottage and the Charleville woods - Holly minding us as I took care not to slip in my specially purchased Hunter wellies (every city slicker wears them in Stockholm). I didn't know it then, but the baby phase is probably the easiest in so many ways, and for sure the hardest in others. The easiest in that she really just lay there, or sat there in her chair, or fed, or slept, or tried to sleep. Now that she's on the move....well, it's a different story. I have considered getting eyes in the back of my head but decided it might cause problems in our relationship in the future ;) She's into everything, and especially anything that may have dirt written all over it. Sigh. I have surrendered to her fascinations - within reason of course. And she has finally accepted that stones are not for eating. Holly is still going through that phase mind you. Oh well.  


'What you mean you don't
speak russian?'

Once we had hit the six months and emerged from the cloak of winter it was time for Mammy to step out of the slippers and wellies and well - um - back into the wellies full time. Thankfully the work of an ecologist is never done and instead of twiddling my thumbs and having time to miss her, I was back in the chase of building dams and making wetlands and making trouble before the man even had her pushed down the road to the childminders that first day. Amazing how we adapt. As the great bard wrote so eloquently 'the readiness is all' or perhaps the wild abandonment of worry is more appropriate. She is as happy as a pig in muck with her childminder and she is well on the way to becoming number one tomboy on the road. After her mother of course. 

Easter came and went and then it was time for hollydays and she ran into the waves on the shores of Donegal, she swallowed the sand on the beaches of Clare, caused a riot in Limerick before charming all the shopkeepers in Killarney and rolling off the bed in Kenmare. All with Holly in tow. Holly didn't make it to Latvia though, and we were sad about that at times. But we tested and tasted Rigan delights and lounged about in coffee shops and city centre parks, and Alannah loved every minute of it. I'm sure she knew everyone in Riga by the end of it, she certainly waved at most of them and even had a television encounter - part of the Latvian 25 years of freedom from Soviet tyranny celebrations. It was a good time to be there, and we were treated to some of the best open air classical and operatic music I have ever heard. Thank you Latvia. 

But now summer has come to an end and we are officially once around the sun, mother and daughter, father and loyal madra. I'd like to say I still had no gray hairs but from time to time I see the odd one poking out from a post pregnancy re-growth fringe (they don't tell you about that shit by the way). But hey, all those sleepless nights had to find their expression somewhere. To be honest, it feels like a lot more than one year but I guess that's because we packed so much in. I'd love to have captured every moment to play them back in the decades to come as we all grow together, but we have plenty of postcards and scars to remember. And sure we need to keep plenty of space for all our solar revolutions that have yet to come. 


Happy Birthday Alannah and here's to many more (eventful) trips around the sun.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Summer delights in the Holly Cottage garden

It's August. And despite the slight chill in the air since the start of the month beckoning the dawn of autumn, here in the Holly Cottage we are still hanging on to the notion of summer. And I have to look back over the last couple of months since I wrote here and wonder where did the time go? And what of the delights of summer that are now packed away in a 'full to the brim' freezer and memories of brightly lit evenings locked in digital memories in the shape of pictures on a smart phone?

You could swear
you were in...
Well. Most of June was spent keeping up with the bounty of strawberries. Every year - for the last four - I have to stand back in awe of how six strawberry plants came to be over a hundred, and are still multiplying. And every year there are more and more soft, sweet, perfectly shaped strawberries presenting themselves for nourishment duty. The fruits are put away in various forms - in the belly of course (straight up strawberry, strawberry cake, strawberry sauce, strawberry yogurt, strawberry ice cream.....), in the freezer and a in few pots of jam mixed up with raspberries and blackberries. The tops of the plants have been cut back for new leaves to form for next year. Not too late to do that still if you're wondering. 

Thankfully the raspberries present less work and we always leave the lion's share to the blackbirds and the sparrows. They have been cut back also - and careful they don't take over your garden! There's a few autumnal raspberries out there yet, waiting to surprise us in colder days. This year we managed to lock away some of the raspberries saved from our feathered friends in a few precious jars of jam (and cake - recipe available on demand, and yogurt and....), along with a few jars of the blackcurrant neighbours which are just way too delicious to be real. Again, they have been cut back too - I only wish we had space for more. One tip - the bountiful blackcurrant bushes that we have all came from cuttings from the Cappaduff homestead - no need to be buying plants if you know someone with a good stock nearby. 

Peas are packed away also and a delicious pea soup recipe developed by head chef in the Holly Cottage kitchen (I've been demoted to sous chef since Alannah came), and despite a bounty we are down to the last few. We were surprised at how excited Alannah was about them - she would stand in her play station watching us harvesting - One for Alannah, one for Holly. Poor Holly only got the ones that escaped her though. And she was so careful not to drop one in her pincer like grasp that has all the intensity that only a 10 month old person can invest. Again, I wish we had space for more (peas that is ;)), but we have new plants coming on and we might be rewarded with a few more autumn peas if the weather delivers. 

And what else? A bounty of rhubarb packed away - some in promising jars of rhubarb chutney (recipe still being developed, and an easy rhubarb cake recipe also developed), but most in the freezer for working on in darker days. Broad beans are also packed away - one hint - this year we just froze peas and beans direct, with no blanching. Much tastier when they are defrosted ;) 

As all fruit cakes should be...
Spuds are still in the ground, most of the Orla earlies are devoured and we are breaking into the Colleen and Sarpo Mira now. Disappointingly, despite the promise of 'blight free', all were touched a bit and we shall await and see if and how they have been affected, but not so bad yet. Beetroot and carrots are still sweet and full of earthy flavour. Sweetcorn, turnips, cabbages, kale and brussels sprouts are left for the cooler days while tomatoes and peppers are still 'coming on' in the greenhouse. I have to say that I think the tomatoes outdoors are always a lot healthier, but maybe that's down to our inexperienced and still, pale green fingers. Courgettes on the other hand, well - do they need any looking after at all I wonder? They just bolted from early summer - small baby courgettes were savoured first followed by later brothers and sisters of gigantic proportions. Still tasty despite the size and I recommend growing these to everyone - especially those who have little time to be worrying about more delicate species!

And so, just this week I spread some of our green manure seed onto the ground left bare by peas and those spuds devoured. We'll invest more time this year - I think, I hope - in getting more winter crops going. But in the meantime, we shall await the coming of the two tiny pears and the dozen or so apples that are slowly ripening down fruit alley. 

Summer delights
It's funny, but this summer seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. Not to worry, still plenty of nasturtium colour and lavender scented pathways to keep us happy. And shur, autumn is always a crowd pleaser despite its more fickle summer predecessor. Enjoy the last days and be sure to pack in plenty of sunshine to savour in the darker days.