Posted by: christinelaennec | March 25, 2015

Knitting: easy and challenging

Like a lot of knitting addicts, I often have more than one project on the go.  Recently I had the greatest pleasure in knitting two projects concurrently:  one easy, one challenging.

The easy project was a garter-stitch scarf made of two skeins of Colinette Point 5 wool.  I’d bought it on a trip to the Wool Shed in Oyne with Roobeedoo last year.  I loved the colours, and thought the thick-thin texture would be fun.

Colinette Point 5 wool.

Colinette Point 5 wool.  Colinette is Welsh wool.

It was SUCH a pleasure to knit with!  I actually knit it twice – the first time I was aiming to make a buttoned cowl, but it wasn’t right.  So I undid it and reknit it into a scarf.  I loved every stitch, both times:

scarf made from Colinette wool, 15 stitches wide on size 11 needles.

Scarf made from Colinette wool, 15 stitches wide on 7mm needles.  Tilly helping model.

Not only was it wonderful to watch the colours and thick-thin texture glide through my hands, but it has been a warm and beautiful scarf to wear.  There was a frost on the ground this morning, so I may get a few more weeks to wear it yet.

My challenging project was the most complicated thing I have ever knit!  I have a friend who turns 80 this spring.  I wanted to knit her something – she’s a knitter herself – but I didn’t want to make anything with the faintest suggestion of invalidity.  No bed jackets, slippers, or lap rugs.  I hope she remains as active as she is now for a long time.

At the Glasgow School of Yarn, which I visited very briefly last October, I met the designer Lucy Hague, who designs with an astonishing “vocabulary” of Celtic cables.  There is a photo of her in her stall at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival here.  I bought her pattern Taliesin, and made the smaller size using Shetland wool.  I am very pleased with the result, and I hope the recipient will be too:

Taliesin shawl by Lucy Hague.

Taliesin shawl by Lucy Hague.

The wool is beautifully heathered:

Taliesin, made of Shetland wool (Jamieson's

Taliesin, made of Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift (colour: 722, Mirage).

I think, in terms of the knitting (as opposed to construction), this is the most complicated project I have ever done.  I ended up working from the written-out instructions, and when I got to the final third of the pattern (the edging), I had to highlight the different sections just to keep them straight:

Taliesin pattern (part of).

Taliesin pattern (part of).

I learned a lot of new cabling techniques!  Cables carried horizontally, cables made with wrapping the stitch twice so it will stretch, cables done on the wrong side, masses of “tbl” (through back of loop) stitches.  It was utterly absorbing and I loved watching the design emerge!

But it’s not the kind of knitting you can do on the train – hence the wonderfully relaxing Colinette scarf.  For those on Ravelry, details are on my project page.

WordPress tells me that I started my blog five years ago today!  Fancy that.  So much has changed, and yet some things, like the joy of knitting and frosty spring mornings, haven’t!  Tilly begged to be let outside this morning, so I put her collar on and opened the back door.  But when she sensed the cold, she decided just to watch from inside the door!

I think I'll just stay here on the mat!

Frosty out – I think I’ll just stay here on the mat!

I hope your week is going very well.

Posted by: christinelaennec | March 23, 2015


[Before I begin this post… you might have seen that a reader contacted me to ask why her comments had disappeared.  I concluded they must have come into the sp** folder and been deleted, and I promised to sift through the sp** for legit comments.  Well, whereas I had been receiving about 30 a day into said folder, since that post I have been receiving over 200 a day!  260 just last night.  I’ve since deleted that short post.  Until things calm down again, as I hope they will, it’s a physical impossibility for me to sift through them all.  Some of them are a page long.  So if you have been leaving comments and they are not appearing, please try again and perhaps also contact me.  My email address is on the sidebar.]

Spring is here!  I was thrilled to pieces to see a blossoming tree the other day:

Blossom!  16th of March 2015, Glasgow.

Blossom! 16th of March 2015, Glasgow.

That was the first tree in blossom I’d seen this year, and in the last few days there have been a few more.  The weather has begun to be less wintry, but the swans in the park are still sheltering, and hungry:

Hungry swans, Glasgow, March 2015.

Hungry swans, Glasgow, March 2015.

They were so agitated it was difficult to count them, but I think there were at least 25 that morning.

Here at our house it has been stressful, for a few reasons as I wrote earlier, but one massive source of stress has now been resolved.  The Dafter, who is still trying to recover from her bad relapse that began after Christmas, was struggling mightily to get to school (averaging about two classes a week, with difficulty) and is still hardly able to read and write.  She has been having such terrible brain fog that on her best days she can only concentrate for about 15 minutes, and on many days, remembering and learning concepts and words has been impossible.  Knowing that she would have to sit an hour-and-a-half-long exam soon was giving us all the feeling of running after a train that is inexorably moving further and further away.

So she has made the difficult but very wise decision to defer her Higher Art by a year.

The Dafter being eclipsed by her father.  20 March, 2015.

The Dafter being eclipsed by her father. 20 March, 2015.

Luckily, her Head of Year was understanding and granted her request.  Her art teacher was less so, and hasn’t been able to believe that she is really struggling.  I asked the Dafter, “Did you explain to her?” She said, “No.  I’m happy to have confrontations with kids my own age, but not with authority figures.  But I’m the one who has to live in my body and suffer the consequences if I overdo things – not my Art teacher!”  I could only give her a big hug and tell her how very proud I am of her.

So on Friday we were all home at the time of the solar eclipse!  I remember the last one, in 1999; we were on the Isle of Harris and it was a clear sky.  I took the children to walk near the beach and the light became very, very odd indeed.  If you put your hand out, there was no shadow.  This time the sky in Glasgow was cloudy.  But we went outside to experience it anyway.  And it was definitely odd – darker, as when the rain is coming on, but with a different cast to the darkness somehow.  Tilly was very excitably running about, and the birds seemed to be a bit nervous:

Tilly gets spooked by the eclipse.  20 March 2015.

Tilly gets spooked by the eclipse. 20 March 2015.

We didn’t have special glasses, but at one point when we were wondering where the sun was located behind the clouds, they suddenly parted and we saw what looked like a crescent moon before it was gone again and we hastily looked away.  Dancing Beastie posted some beautiful photos of the eclipse from further north of us, in this post.

Family selfie, 20 March 2015.

Family selfie, 20 March 2015. When I look at this photo, I see the tell-tale dark rings under the Dafter’s eyes that are my best gauge of how unwell she is.  (As long as she hasn’t yet done her expert application of concealer.)

We wandered about a bit, just experiencing the strangeness; we went into the house, which was really dark, and came outside again to feel the difference.  And we took a photo of ourselves to mark the occasion.  On the news they’d been saying the next total solar eclipse here will be in 2090, and we talked about how we hope the Dafter will be around to see it – do you know the Mary Chapin Carpenter song Halley Came to Jackson?  I felt the same sense of blessing our children’s futures from this moment in time.

Not only was there an eclipse of the sun on Friday, but it was the new moon and also the Vernal Equinox.  A good time for new beginnings, don’t you think?

I know that the Dafter will continue to recover and heal.  It just takes time, and sometimes so much more time than you would imagine.  I was recently thinking back to when she had been ill for only (!) a year.  The hospital tutor came to the house and the Dafter was only able to do a bit of colour matching, and after 10 minutes sitting in the chair she was collapsing off the side.  This went on weekly for about six weeks, and then the tutor said to us all, “She isn’t really trying, and she’s just too cosy at home.”  This was devastating to the Dafter, as you can imagine.  And it was not to be the last time that she encountered professionals whose ignorance of ME/CFS was very damaging.

These days the Dafter is still very unwell, but she has come such a long ways since then.  She gets to school for a few lessons a week, and she likes going to school.  She is able to draw and paint once again.  She’s made friends there.  And although she is still struggling to read and write, she is learning other, very important, lessons:  taking care of herself, standing up for herself, speaking her truth even in the face of disbelief.  The Head of Year said a nice thing:  “She is using the system to her advantage”.  Until then I had felt really frustrated at the limitations of the UK exam system – either this spring, or next.  But that was a very nice way of putting it.

So, on we go!

Posted by: christinelaennec | March 20, 2015

Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2015

Golly, it’s been quite a week with us here, and I feel as if I am behind with everything!  Anyhow, nearly a week ago I had a wonderful getaway to the large town to the east of Glasgow.  I met up with Roobeedoo’s mother, who lives between here and there, and she and I travelled to meet Roobeedoo herself, who had travelled down from the depths of Aberdeenshire.  And we went to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival!  It was in the Corn Exchange this time, which is far larger than the Drill Hall where it was two years ago.  But it was still very crowded indeed.  Taking the bus out from the city centre was very amusing, as more and more women wearing beautiful hand-knitted or -crocheted things piled on.  The driver announced we had arrived at the Corn Exchange stop and out poured about two dozen fibre maniacs!

I managed to get a few photos of things to show you.  For example, don’t the colours available at Jamieson’s of Shetland just make your mouth water?

Jamieson's of Shetland stall.

Jamieson’s of Shetland stall.

I love Shetland wool and work with it quite a lot.  At least here in Scotland, it is very good value for money.

Below is something I spied at the back of Elena Costello’s stall:  a quilt that she organised at the time of the Scottish Referendum last September.  Each square was made by a different group across Scotland, and no group knew what the adjoining squares would look like.  I think the result is an amazing, and very beautiful, map of Scotland:

Embroidered map of Scotland organised by Eva ???

Knitted and embroidered map of Scotland organised by Elena Costello.

I was happy to be able to chat briefly to Lucy Hague, as I have just finished making a shawl designed by her.  I’d bought the pattern from her at the Glasgow School of Yarn last October, and was able to show her how it had come out, which was nice.  Her Celtic cable designs are something else – I will blog about that project soon.

Lucy Hague in her stall.

Lucy Hague in her stall.

This stall of hooked pieces was very attractive, and if I had had more money I would have bought a kit.  It was just as well that I didn’t, because I already have enough project materials to last me another few years!  But maybe someday…  My Grampa used to do rug hooking in his later years, and I have always loved hooked chair covers and rugs.


Hooked by Design stall.

As you can notice in the above photos, seeing what everyone was wearing was just as interesting as looking at the things in the stalls!

Roobeedoo wore “Convergent,” the test knit she recently completed, with a stunning shawl pin:

Time to knit with Roobeedoo!

Time to knit with Roobeedoo!

As we stood in the queue for coffee and cake, the woman behind us said hello – a reader of Roo’s blog.  It was funny to recognise people that one sees in magazines and online.  I was very happy to meet Katherine of Chatiryworld for more than just Hi and Bye!

We didn’t take any classes this year (I learned to crochet at EYF2013!) but just enjoyed having a look-see, chatting in turns with Roo’s mother who was conveniently stationed with the coffee and cake for much of the time, and people-watching.  You can read Roobeedoo’s post about the event here.

By mid-afternoon, our thoughts were turning towards trains home.  We took the bus back into the city centre.  It being Edinburgh on Saturday afternoon, it was pretty crowded.  We all oohed and aahed at the appearance of a tram:

It's an Edinburgh tram!

It’s an Edinburgh tram!

If you aren’t aware of the saga of the Edinburgh trams, this is not the time and place to go into it, but the fact that they are actually up and running after about 10 years of difficulties is quite something.

What did I bring home with me?  This pretty kit for a friend:

Shetland wool knitting kit.

Shetland wool knitting kit from The Knitting Gift Shop.

The Knitting Gift Shop had lots of reasonably-priced gifts for knitters.  They are based in County Durham and you can find them online here.

I was also looking for some variegated yarn to match the colours of a compact that I was given, and which needs a cover.  I found the perfect yarn at the La Maison Tricotée stall – and even got to chat a bit in French with the Québecoise owners.  I have failed to find the right light to photograph this little skein of yarn in – all the pictures I’ve taken make the colours seem very muddy, so you will just have to imagine that they are brighter and deeper than this:

Koigu yarn from La Maison Tricotée.

Koigu yarn from La Maison Tricotée.

It was a wonderful escape from the various problems I am dealing with at the moment.  My trip home was very lengthy, because part-way home (and having bid Roobeedoo’s mother farewell), we were suddenly told that the rail line was shut due to “a person being struck by a train”.  We all knew what that meant.  An African man asked me, “Is the person okay?” and I replied, “I very much doubt it.”  He hadn’t thought of the possibility that someone would intentionally jump in front of a train, but the rest of us immediately thought so (and it proved to be the case).  People were inconvenienced and having to make other plans, but I noticed that no-one was really complaining – everyone was talking about how dreadful it was that someone should feel so despairing.  After returning to Edinburgh, and taking another train to Glasgow by a different route, I was home a few hours later than planned, but very much counting my blessings, and aware that no matter how tricky certain things are at the moment, we have so very much to be thankful for.

Starting with knitting, in my case!  Well done to the organisers of EYF2015.  It was a wonderful event.

I wish you all a very good weekend, and Spring Equinox!

Posted by: christinelaennec | March 17, 2015

Of saints and cattle

On March 17th, about 1994, Katharine Stewart wrote:  “St. Patrick’s Day!  It’s good that we should set aside certain days to commemorate the lives of people who left their mark on time.  St. Patrick, of all the saints, would have felt at home in these hills, I think.  So today’s a day for the ‘wearing of the green’ and for hoping that that lovely island of his will find its way again.  Two great men of comparatively recent times were Columba of Iona and Francis of Assisi.  Both were men of the world, with inner visions of how good life could be.  Both built their citadels in places apart, for both wanted close contact with the natural world, with the cycle of sun and moon, of life and death.  Both loved their fellow creatures, animals, plants, all created life. … ” (p. 54)

St. Patrick is well-known as the 5th-century missionary who brought Christianity to Ireland.  In St. Patrick’s time and for several centuries to come, until the Vikings invaded, both Ireland and the western part of Scotland were one kingdom called Dalriada.  If you look at a map of Ireland and the west of Scotland, and you consider that waterways were the highways and roads of that time, it becomes clear how close the two are.  They shared the same language (Irish Gaelic and Scots Gaelic had yet to split into two branches), and the same culture and customs.

We think of Patrick as Irish, and Columba as Scottish, but in fact each started out in the other place.  St Patrick was from the part of Dalriada that is now Scotland, and was kidnapped into slavery in Ireland when he was 16 years old.  St. Columba – Colmcille in Gaelic – came a century after St. Patrick, and was originally from what is now Ireland.  He was instrumental in Christianising Scotland and began a community on the Isle of Iona, off of Mull.

It so happens that Michael’s mother’s family come from the same place as Colmcille did:  beautiful Gartan in Donegal.  We have often gone to this cemetery, where some of Michael’s ancestors are buried:

Loch Gartan, Donegal.  Birthplace of St. Columba / Colmcille.

Loch Gartan, Donegal. Birthplace of St. Columba / Colmcille.  April 2008.

Stewart goes on to write about the significance that various animals had for the Celtic people of long ago, beginning with cattle:  “For the Celts cattle were the mainstay of life.  The bull was practically deified… The cow was regarded as the provider of earthly bounty – fertility, nourishment, clothing.  There would appear to be an Indo-European link here, as the cow is the most sacred animal of India.   Cattle were also the mainstay of later Highland people, until the coming of the ‘big sheep’ towards the end of the eighteenth century. … The cow gave milk, butter, cheese and even, in the hardest times, blood to be mixed with meal for an emergency diet.  The country is criss-crossed with drove roads used to take the cattle to far-off markets and many tales are told of the experiences of the drovers.” (p. 54-55)

I am fascinated by the stories of the drovers, who came on the scene in about the 17th century.  It is true that Scotland is traversed by old drove roads.  Many popular walking trails, such as the famous Lairig Ghru between Aviemore and Braemar, are drovers roads.  Another is the Cross Borders Drove Road, and there are many more.  It is said that as the drovers made their way with the cattle to markets in the south, they paid in advance for their dogs to be fed on the return journey.  Once the drovers arrived at the market with the cattle, the dogs were sent back to Scotland on their own, and they knew to stop at the same places they had come, where they found food.  I don’t know if this is a fanciful tale or not, but I think it is plausible.

Highland Cattle near the gate leading to Luskentyre beach.  Isle of Harris, April 2014.

Highland Cattle near the gate leading to Luskentyre beach. Isle of Harris, April 2014.

It is now much rarer to see cattle than sheep in Scotland.  Stewart wrote, “The last of the cattle have gone now from our hills here, cattle that kept the land in good heart…  Only the sheep remain, leaving the ground bald with their constant over-grazing.” (p. 55)  But perhaps cattle are making a bit of a comeback. When I was back in Harris last year, I saw there were more cattle than previously, which I like.

Michael’s Irish family were cattle farmers.  His grandfather Anton used to drive the cattle from near Garten down to Donegal Town, where he used his Irish Gaelic to get a good price.  He was a drover.  Anton’s daughter Mya, Michael’s aunt, was a gifted cattle breeder as well, though she didn’t have to walk the cattle great distances to sell them.  I loved Mya dearly, and she taught me a lot.  I was fascinated to watch her with her cattle, especially when they were expecting.  She was so gentle with them, and had such a rapport with them.  She used to say, “I’ll just go down to the field and check if she’s still in one piece” – meaning, had the cow begun to calve or not.  She was always helped by a very well-trained collie (usually named “Coolie” meaning collie).  When we went for a walk, she would command Coolie to wait at a certain corner of a field, and even if we walked for quite a distance and stopped for a picnic, returning later in the afternoon, there Coolie would be, faithfully waiting.

Katharine Stewart writes about how beneficial it was for people to live so close to nature.  “Small waves of wisdom emanate from all forms of life.  The deer, the song-bird, the leaf, the flower, they all accept life as it comes and death as it comes.  Immortality is a very old human concept, though the Christian form of it is comparatively modern.  To the ancient Celts, with beliefs, as it seems, perhaps more akin to those of the Indo-Europeans, it appeared that we all passed through various life-forms during our time on earth…  We therefore share kinship with every form of life and have much to learn from our fellows.  The American Indians had this feeling for life and would ask forgiveness of a tree which had to be felled.  The sad feature of modern times is that urban life cuts people off from the life-forces, even of night and day, of sun and moon.” (p. 55)

I have always been a town-dweller, and think that I am not completely unaware of “life-forces”.  But I agree that much sensitivity has been lost.  One of the places that I love dearly is a holy well in Ireland.  Although I’m not Catholic, I find it very comforting that people have been coming to this spring with their troubles and petitions for healing, probably since before the arrival of Christianity.  Today you will find modern religious symbols left there:

Offerings at a holy well in Donegal, Ireland.

Offerings at Doon Well in Donegal, Ireland.

But I believe Doon Well has been a source of healing since before St. Patrick came along.  To me, it is a symbol of a remaining closeness of the people to nature.  You could argue otherwise; you could say it’s a cynical enterprise.  But, being acquainted as I am with the family who are the guardians of the well, and who have tended it lovingly for generations, I would have to disagree.  This holy well, like so many others in Ireland and no doubt elsewhere, is a “place apart” where one has close contact with the source of life itself.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Posted by: christinelaennec | March 11, 2015

Someone watching over me

Things have been challenging lately.  Since the Dafter fell ill three and a half years ago I have become pretty used to being philosophical, looking at the bigger picture, looking for the good.  But recently I have just felt so worn out!  In October, I was so exhausted that we had planned for me to take a short break the first week of November.  We all know that my own well-being is critical to our family’s functioning, and the Dafter’s recovery.  But a few days before I was due to take my autumn holiday, I received the news that my Dad had died, and I was headed in the other direction.

I returned the night before Michael went on the first of a series of work trips; then he fell very ill and I had two people to look after, though the Dafter was doing pretty well in the weeks before Christmas.  The holidays were busier than usual because for the first time in years she was able to get out and about.  And then her relapse came, and since the beginning of January my life has been almost completely tied to her needs.   I have also, since November, been working very hard to deal with my father’s estate, and it is still far from resolved.  And Michael has continued to travel every few weeks for work.

And yet, although I have lost some sleep worrying about how things will work out, I have also had the distinct feeling that I am being looked after.  Do you see the angels perched up on the building, looking down at us?

Cherubs looking down, Glasgow city centre, February 2015.

Cherubs looking down, Glasgow city centre, February 2015.

The Dafter has been pretty unwell, again.  But not so unwell as a year ago.  On bad days, she can be crying with pain, but that doesn’t happen every day.  On bad days, she can still move about the house.  About half the time she manages a bit of school, so for every day I have a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C, depending on how things go.  And I know the most important thing is that I actually be FINE with whatever happens, for her sake.  Because she is doing all she can.  On the days she’s able to go to school for a few hours, she is still feeling dizzy, exhausted, foggy, unwell.

The Dafter, unwell but trying to be happy.  March 2015.

The Dafter, unwell but being as happy as she can be. March 2015.

At the end of January I had to have some medical tests at the hospital.  It wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had, but I discovered another Glaswegian Victorian park, and it was beautiful in the snow:

Springburn Park, Glasgow.  January 2015.

Springburn Park, Glasgow. January 2015.

I’ve since learned that all is well, and no more Procedures are needed.  Phew!!!

We all have moments when we feel we can’t take any more, and when we feel alone and perhaps even abandoned by God (if we believe in God).  This stained-glass window depicts Jesus in the garden of Gesthemane, his disciples asleep while he faces what he knows lies ahead.

Stained-glass window in St. Margarets Episcopal Church, Newlands, Glasgow.

“The Garden” by John Clark, 2002.  Stained-glass window in St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, Newlands, Glasgow.

These moments of feeling forsaken are part of human life, moments which we all wish we could escape.  But, assuming we don’t crumble (it is a possibility), these times are what make us value the good in life.

For quite some time I have been praying for a worrying situation where I felt a friend was in danger.  The situation has now been resolved, to my great relief.  My friend said to me, “Someone was watching over me.”  “Someone was,” I replied.  It’s not that I necessarily believe that my prayers did the trick.  That would be presumptuous and anyway my own understanding is pathetically small compared to the workings of the universe.  But it was a great comfort to me that things turned out well, in more ways than one.

Crocus tomassinianus in the lawn, March 2015.

Crocus tomassinianus in the lawn, March 2015.

The hardest thing, for me, is to trust — really trust — all will work out well, and along with that, to be grateful for all that has healed and been good, and is good.  I know I’m not alone in this weakness; I’m human, after all.  I would quite like rock-solid assurances that the Dafter will completely recover, that she will manage not to melt down with stress about her schoolwork, that my Dad’s estate will be resolved without ongoing problems or another trip across, etc. etc.  I would quite like it if God would provide me a clear plan of the weeks and months ahead, if possible with ideas for meals as well, so I know where I stand.

But that’s not how life works, nor would I really, in my heart, want it to be.  How boring life would be if I really did know what lay ahead, and there was no sense of discovery or possibility.  Hope can only exist in a world of uncertainty.

Tilly came to us nine years ago.  She had been a stray and was skinny and very untrusting.  She didn’t purr for the first year and a half of being with us, though eventually with my encouragement she learned how.  She didn’t come on a lap for at least the first year — too frightened to trust.  But look at her now!

Tilly sleeping on my legs while I knit.  March 2015.

Tilly sleeping on my legs while I knit. March 2015.

Because I am still badly in need of rest, we’ve arranged that I’m going to go to the Isle of Harris for a four-night getaway next month, as I did last year.  I’m so grateful to my family for considering my needs.  I know there are many carers out there whose worries and responsibilities make my own life look like a vacation in the Bahamas.

So I am very grateful to feel that God is at work in our lives, and that we are all being cared for.  I am trying to learn from Tilly, and just trust and be grateful.

Posted by: christinelaennec | March 7, 2015


The year that Katharine Stewart was writing the essays in A Garden in the Hills, March 7th was “a day of calm, when to get up and go straight outside is sheer indulgence”.  She made a bonfire and began clearing her borders, in the company of the blackbird that lived in her cypress tree. (p. 53)  It hasn’t been a day for gardening here today, but we have had company and have kept busy out and about in other ways.

She goes on to write, “It’s good to be able to share… plants with people starting gardens from scratch.  Scratch it really is, up here.  The first year must be spent digging up heather, rushes, all the moorland scrub, before applying a good dose of lime.” Lime is used to counteract the acidity of the peaty Highland soil.  “Black plastic is spread and at last some sort of tilth emerges.  But all that work goes for nothing if the garden ground is not protected from the invasion of rabbits, hares, roe deer, sheep.  John Reid said in the seventeenth century ‘As there is no country can have more need of planting than this, so none more needful of Inclosing, for we well know how vain it is to plant unless we Inclose’.” (p. 53)

She then goes on to discuss various plants used for hedging:  briar rose, broom, and gorse, called “whin”.  Here is a photo of a whin hedge in Donegal, Ireland, where Michael’s family comes from:

A whin hedge in Donegal, Easter 2006.  With an 8-year-old Dafter and me.

A whin hedge in Donegal, Easter 2006. With an 8-year-old Dafter and me.

Curiously, Katharine Stewart writes as if she has only heard of whin made into hedges, not actually seen such a thing:  “A New Zealander tells me that they make hedges of whin (gorse).  That should keep everything out!  There is certainly plenty of whin here.  In early summer it brightens the whole landscape.  At one time growth was encouraged, as whin was used as fodder for the horses when winter supplies were finished.  Every place had a ‘knocking stone,’ a hollowed-out stone in which the plants were pounded into a mealy substance.  … Broom too, makes great splashes of yellow, of a much warmer shade than that of the oilseed rape favoured by the low ground folk.  Ach buidhe, the yellow field, is a common place-name in the heights.” (p. 54)

It’s true that the yellow of both whin and broom are wonderful to see in the spring countryside.  What she doesn’t mention is that whin smells like coconut – really divine!

The fact that these two plants were of great importance in former times is reflected by street names.  In Aberdeen, for example, Broomhill Road and Whinhill Road are close to one another (linked by Fonthill Road, which goes past the church).  In Glasgow, Broomhill is the name of a neighbourhood, and there are many place names beginning with Whin-.  (My favourite is Whinny Burn.)

I hope you are all enjoying the weekend, and indeed the month of March!

Posted by: christinelaennec | March 4, 2015

The And-so-to-bed jacket

It’s been over two years since I left my job to look after the Dafter full-time.  My workmates gave me a marvellous farewell gift, a voucher to Loop in London.  With it I bought a few things for immediate consumption, and also the wool to make a bed jacket.

This pattern was one that I’d wanted to make for quite a while.  But I didn’t start on it right away. I was fully occupied with looking after the very ill Dafter and with selling our flat while Michael was working in Glasgow, and I didn’t have the concentration to begin a project that was so different from things I had knit previously.  The wool (Berroco Ultra Alpaca) came along with me to Glasgow and spent a year in my craft cupboard here, and I began the bed jacket last September.

I took my time knitting it, as I was making other things and also had my unexpected trip to Portland.  I finished it in February, and it has been a great thing to have:

Jennie Atkinson, Bed Jacket, from Buttons, Beads and Lace.

Jennie Atkinson, Bed Jacket, from Buttons, Beads and Lace.

The alpaca wool is so soft and warm!  With the big collar, it’s very cosy to wear while reading in bed at the end of a long day.  (Link to Ravelry notes is here.)

As usual my family witnessed the ongoing project – in this case, my bafflement at attaching the collar (got it right the third time), and the knitting of nearly three meters of lace edging.  And then when it was done, I had a hilarious conversation with Michael.

Michael:  What are you going to wear that with?

me:  My pajamas.

Michael:  ???

me:  It’s a bed jacket.  For keeping you warm when you’re sitting up in bed.  Haven’t you heard me referring to it as my BED jacket over the past four months?

Michael:  Yes, but I thought that was just a metaphorical expression.

These are not my pajamas...

These are not my pajamas…

I was tempted to say, “No, it’s LIT’rally a bed jacket!”  I thought I would model it for you, but not in my pjs.  It was fun to make, and a lovely reminder of almost nine happy years in my last job.

I hope your week is going well!

Posted by: christinelaennec | March 2, 2015

In like a lion

The night of February 28th to March 1st was very stormy indeed.  I found it hard to sleep for the noise of the slates rattling and the house being buffeted by the wind.  In Aberdeen I was very used to sleeping through just this kind of racket, but it’s not such a common occurrence where we live in Glasgow.  Yesterday in church, there were such heavy showers that the noise on the roof nearly drowned out the sermon!  And, as is the way in spring, there were also sunny intervals:

A (non-native) primrose and some tête-à-tête narcissi.

A (non-native) primrose and some tête-à-tête narcissi. 1st of March, 2015, Glasgow.

Do you see the plant behind the primrose that looks like clumps of grass?  I’m not quite sure what it will be.  A neighbour gave it to me, saying that the lady who owned our house for 61 years before we did, had it in her/our garden, and had given her a cutting years ago.  So it has come back, and I hope it will be happy.

Are we in spring, or winter still?  The spring equinox isn’t for three weeks yet, but the meteorological year counts spring as beginning March 1st.  It’s an in-between time, that’s for certain.  In her March 2nd essay, Katharine Smith wrote:  “Waking to what looks, from the window, like a reasonable day, reminding myself that this really is March and we should be heading for spring, I hurry through a watered-down version of essential indoor jobs and make for the garden…  Scanning it today I smile ruefully as I look in vain for a rewarding sign of anything green. … This is the time when, every year, I wonder if I’ll ever get things to grow again in any sort of order, yet, somehow it is achieved.” (p. 51)

Here in the lowlands of Glasgow, we do have green in the garden, and even little primroses and narcissi, as you can see.  There are also lots of dead leaves piled in various corners.

She goes on to write, “I very much hope, too, that some of the young people who live here now may get the gardening fever.  It has to be a fever, I think, and an incurable one at that…”  I agree that it’s important to give children a taste of gardening.  But I will say that my own early experiences with gardening were extremely off-putting.  I spent many hours working in the garden as a child, but my father was a hard task-master and his love of tomato plants left me cold.  I did enjoy gardening with my Granny, however.  I could see that it was a joy for her.  It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I planted my own garden, with the things that I longed to grow, and it was then that I began to discover the thrill of gardening.  And for me, happily, it has been a fever that hasn’t lifted.

Katharine Stewart’s foray into her garden on March 2nd was short-lived.  She stretched some black plastic bin liners over a stretch of earth, weighing them down with stones, in order to begin to warm the ground for spring planting.  “The rain really has an edge to it now, coming almost horizontally, in wind-chilled bursts.  My morning thoughts and hopes of spring are dashed.  Of course, our seasons don’t go by the calendar, but by whatever is brewing up in Siberia.  I have to acknowledge this was a false start.  There will be more to come.”  (p. 52)

False starts:  the encapsulation of spring, it seems to me.  We are so impatient for warmth, growth, and new life.  We are given glimpses that are both hugely satisfying and tantalising, so that we are left wanting more.  And that is the nature of spring!  It’s a test of patience and faith.  Is it any wonder the early Christian church fixed the season of Lent and Easter in the springtime?  Yesterday Tilly and I went out into the back garden, me to collect leaves from the lawn and Tilly to chew on grass.  The sky blackened and there was a sudden, thunderous downpouring of hailstones.  Tilly dashed inside ahead of me, and stood in the porch looking out, aghast.  Like Katharine Stewart, Tilly and I retreated into the kitchen.  Tilly didn’t join me in having a cup of tea, but I certainly enjoyed mine!

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 27, 2015


It’s three weeks now since our weekend in Aberdeen.  Let me show you a few more photos of the end of our stay, and our trip “home again, home again, jiggety-jog”.

On the Sunday morning, which was a beautiful crisp winter’s morning, I walked to church.  People complain about the grey granite in Aberdeen, but (as I’ve written here and here) I find Aberdeen’s granite beautiful, and by no means always grey.  These houses are a lovely example of the decorative use of pink granite:

A granite house with lots of pink granite.  Aberdeen.

A granite house with lots of pink granite. Aberdeen.

Can you see the seagull on top of the bell tower at South Holburn Parish Church?

South Holburn Parish Church, with a seagull on top of the bell (tower?).  Aberdeen.

South Holburn Parish Church, with a seagull on top of the bell tower. Aberdeen.

I was happy to see Ally’s donated snowdrops still coming up under the memorial, next to the Bonica roses.  As you may know, I used to be the church gardener, and working there was a great joy to me.  Since we moved to Glasgow, the people looking after the garden are older folks who aren’t so able, and thus much of the former garden has been gravelled over.  However, that’s reality, and the garden is still pretty, if less lush.

The church garden in February 2015.

The church garden in February 2015.

Michael and the Dafter packed up the car while I was in church, and then they came along to coffee hour, which was a wonderful occasion for me.  They hadn’t been to South Holburn in a few years, and it was so nice for the Dafter to see for herself how many people have been praying for her and asking after her – they were just tickled pink to see her on her feet and having turned into a very bonnie young woman.

We left after a quick picnic lunch, and it was so gorgeous that instead of staying on the A90, which veers inland after Stonehaven, we took the coast road south.  Such beauty!  My photos, taken through the car window, aren’t fantastic, but I hope you can get an idea of the beautiful scenery we were travelling through:

Driving south from Aberdeen: fields and the North Sea.  February 2015.

Driving south from Aberdeen: fields and the North Sea. February 2015.

Coming into Inverbervie:  sun on the North Sea.  February 2015.

Coming into Inverbervie: sun on the North Sea. February 2015.

Plowed fields, trees, and the North Sea.  On the Coast Road south of Inverbervie.  February 2015.

Plowed fields, trees, and the North Sea. On the Coast Road south of Inverbervie. February 2015.

We stopped above the fishing village of Johnshaven:

Just south of Johnshaven, on the North Sea.  February 2015.

Just south of Johnshaven, on the North Sea. February 2015.

The wind was cold but the views were stunning:

Looking south towards St. Cyrus, February 2015.

Looking south towards St. Cyrus, February 2015.

We stopped for coffee near Perth, and waited til after 4:00 when the sun had set, so that we wouldn’t be driving against the dazzling, low winter sun.  By tea-time we were back in Glasgow, happy to see Tilly (who wasn’t fond of the new catsitter, for some reason!), and happy to have had a weekend seeing old friends and Aberdeen herself.

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 24, 2015

Dreaming of summer

Katharine Stewart begins her February 24th essay thus:  “Persistent cold winds, driving flurries of snow, mean that outside work is held up, though the lengthening days tempt everyone to get on with it.”  Certainly here in Glasgow it has not been weather for gardening:


Hailstones at my window. Glasgow, 24 February 2015.

Even Tilly has been reluctant to be outdoors – this photo from last month shows how on edge she often is.  She was hearing a cat in the garden next door:


Tilly on alert

The weather has been stormy and very changeable.  Last Friday I had the afternoon off, and had the chance to walk across Glasgow Green. I really enjoyed the wide open space, and the view of the coming showers:

Storm clouds coming in from the West.  Glasgow, 20 February 2015.

Storm clouds coming in from the West. Glasgow, 20 February 2015.

As I type this, a dark cloud has come over the house, and now the hail is falling thick and fast outside.   It’s the wintertime!  Katharine Stewart thinks of balmier days, and writes:  “It’s good to have the mind stocked with memories like these, as good as having a library, shelves well filled with books and documents which can be consulted at will, when you’re coping with the present or planning for the future.” (49-50)

And that is very true!  One of the delights of gardening is that now is the time to make plans, order seed, clean tools – because in fact, before we know it, it will be time to plant the sweet peas and clear the flower beds for poppies.  And while we are planning, we can take some time to inhabit happy memories of summer:

View from the summerhouse last summer.

View from the summerhouse last summer.

In five months’ time, I will once again (God willing!) be enjoying a wee retreat in the summerhouse, or maybe sitting with a friend at the table.  And I will definitely enjoy my morning jumps once the trampoline is back up!

I hope your week is going well!

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