Posted by: christinelaennec | April 16, 2015

Burning the heather: falasgair

Hello folks!  I am back from a fantastic few days on the Isle of Harris, and once I get myself a bit more straightened out, I will share my lovely holiday with you.  Michael and the Dafter were definitely both much less exhausted than when I took this holiday a year ago, which was a good measure of how far she and we have come since this time last year.

For now, let me comment a little bit on Katharine Smith’s essay for April 16th.  She wrote:  “Working alone, one yet has a sense of companionship, as all life is busy at renewal, bees foraging, birds nesting, trees budding into leaf, early flowers blooming.” (p. 59)  It is just the same here this year.  I came home after five days’ absence to find that the narcissi I planted last year had almost all come into bloom.  And just before I left last week, the most enormous bumblebees were bumbling around the garden.  Let me show you how things are looking this evening:

Narcissi 'Actaea' and 'White Cheerfulness'.  I think the yellow one behind is 'Quail'.  Glasgow, 7 pm, 16 April 2015.

Narcissi ‘Actaea’ and ‘White Cheerfulness’. I think the yellow one behind is ‘Quail’. Glasgow, 7 pm, 16 April 2015.

Carnations growing on in pots, a peony waiting to grow through the support, a cowslip, a fading hellebore, and a pot of narcissi.  7 pm, Glasgow, 16 April 2015.

Carnations growing on in pots, a peony waiting to grow through the support, a cowslip, a fading hellebore, and a pot of narcissi. 7 pm, Glasgow, 16 April 2015.

Tiny and highly scented narcissi 'canaliculatis', next to a cheerful violet that survived the winter.

Tiny and highly scented narcissi ‘canaliculatis’, next to a cheerful violet that survived the winter.

Do you remember this rose bush?

Frost on the roses, late December 2014, Glasgow.

Frost on the roses, late December 2014, Glasgow.

Here it is now, raring to go:

'Boscobel' shrub rose, 16 April 2015.

‘Boscobel’ shrub rose, 16 April 2015.

Before I get even more carried away with excitement about the garden, let me share one photo from my recent trip to the Outer Hebrides with you, that relates to one of the things Katharine Stewart touched upon in her essay:  burning the heather.  She begins by recounting a frightening wildfire on the moor close to her croft:  “… for hours they hosed and battered the flames.  Such fires can smoulder for days when they get a hold of the underlying peat.”  Then she writes, “Muir-burn, or the burning of the heather, inadequately supervised and outwith certain times of the year, is an offence, punishable by law.” (p. 62)

It’s in the spring that landowners burn certain patches of heather, I believe partly to control what is an invasive plant, and also in some areas to give the grouse fewer hiding places come hunting season.  On the bus from Inverness to Ullapool, I saw a huge area of heather burning:

Burning the heather, near Ullapool, April 2015.

Burning the heather, near Ullapool, April 2015.

The burning heather has a very distinctive smell, one I came to be able to identify even in the city of Aberdeen at this time of year.  A Gaelic-speaking friend told me the word for the smell and the practice is “falasgair” (something like FOWL-ash-geth), and that’s the word I think of when I smell the heather fires in the springtime.

The heather fires are planned and very well-supervised.  But the danger of wildfires is great, even so early on in the year.  In fact, just an hour or so after I took the above photo, I was watching the news while on the ferry to Stornoway, and one of the lead stories was about a massive wildfire further north.

I wish you all a good weekend.  I will be back with tales of my travels as soon as I get a bit more organised!

Posted by: christinelaennec | April 9, 2015

In the garden and in the park: 9th of April

Katharine Stewart begins her essay for April 9th with:  “The curlew’s call now accompanies all the garden work.” (p. 58, A Garden in the Hills).  Here in Glasgow I don’t think there are curlews about – I could be wrong – but the blackbirds, sparrows, tits and starlings are very vocal, which delights me.

Bird life in the park is mysterious and interesting.  One of the swans – Mama swan from last year? – is now sitting on the nest:

Mama swan on her nest, end of March 2015, Glasgow.

Mama swan on her nest, end of March 2015, Glasgow.

But there are still masses of other swans in the park.  I counted over 25 of them yesterday.  And they are courting:

Courting swans, end of March 2015.  Glasgow.

Courting swans, end of March 2015. Glasgow.

They are beautiful to watch, when their two bowed heads seem to form a heart shape.  Where will all these potential swan couples find a place to nest?  Will they fly off soon?  Will there be a dozen swan families in the park?  Time will tell.

Katharine Stewart quoted T.S. Eliot’s “April is the cruellest month” and reflected:  “I wonder if he really knew how right he was. The vegetable plots are ready now and I am tempted to sow and plant.  But the whisper of experience is there, close to my ear.  There’s frost to come and lashing rain…” (p. 58)

We had a frost here yesterday morning, so it will be a while yet, even in the tropical lowlands of Glasgow, before it is safe to plant tender things.

Stewart wrote:  “The laborious task of clearing is often relieved by the unearthing of strange things. … An interesting find one day was a Lovat Scout badge, perhaps fallen from the lapel of a digger years ago!” ( p. 58-59)  (The Lovat Scouts were a Highland Army unit raised by Lord Lovat at the beginning of the 20th century.)  In my garden I have also been tidying and clearing, and have found a treasure:  a primrose that I didn’t plant myself.  Look how charming it is:

Volunteer primrose in my front garden.  Glasgow, 9 April 2015.

Volunteer primrose in my front garden. Glasgow, 9 April 2015.

I did plant the narcissi bulbs myself last October, and it is good to see their cheerful faces.  I believe this variety is in fact “Yellow Cheerfulness” from Clare Bulbs.

Narcissi in my front garden, 9 April 2015.

Narcissi in my front garden, 9 April 2015.

Even with frosts still possible, things are beginning to really put on growth.  If you click here you will see the difference a few weeks has made:

For point of comparison:  growth spurt! 9 April 2015.

For point of comparison: growth spurt! 9 April 2015.

Katharine Stewart, curbing her impatience to sow and plant, writes:  “We must wait a month yet, and try for a waxing moon.” (p. 58)  I am not going to wait a month to sow my poppies, nigella and marigolds.  Partly because I do want to wait until the new moon, and partly because I’m about to leave for five days, and I don’t want to add watering to Michael’s responsibilities while I’m away.  Also, the poppies need to be sown before it warms up too much – they need cold to germinate.

The poor Dafter has been particularly unwell with tonsillitis.  She has been amazed by the sympathy she’s received – this is clearly an ailment that people recognise as painful and serious.  Since she feels so unwell with ME/CFS at the best of times, she has been joking about answering any queries about her health with “Well, I’m not quite up to 50%, but getting there!”

I have been sitting by the bedside a bit more than lately – a salutary reminder that she is better, because for so long that was my and her reality.  And I’ve used the time to fashion a little pouch for my trip, made from the yarn I bought at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival:

Wee pouch made from Koigu yarn, April 2015.

Wee pouch made from Koigu yarn, April 2015.

Ravelry details are here, if you are interested.

So I am away tomorrow, God willing, to the Isle of Harris for a getaway.  I’m really looking forwards to it.  If you’re interested to see where I’m going, here are some links to the posts I did last year:

The village of Tarbert

The Harris Tweed Shop

Eilean Scalpaigh

The Sabbath on the Isle of Harris

The West Side of Harris


Mar sin leibh an drasda / cheery bye the noo!

Posted by: christinelaennec | April 6, 2015

Women in Clothes: some excerpts

I recently, on the recommendation of Roobeedoo, read a most interesting book called Women in Clothes.  It was published in 2014 by Particular Books and is by “Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton & 639 others”.  It began as a survey of women’s feelings about their clothing, and contains interviews, quotes from the surveys, photographic projects, and more.  What it does not contain are photographs of the women interviewed.  There are photographs of clothes on mannequins and hangers.  The only photographs of women in clothes are those of mothers of some interviewees, before they became mothers, accompanied by commentaries from their daughters.

Me in the last sweater my Granny ever knit, early 1980s.

Me in the last sweater my Granny ever knit.  I wore it for over 25 years myself, but it is now too thin to repair further.  I plan to make a reproduction of this cardigan, or as close to it as I can.

As someone who sews and knits, and as a woman, I have long been aware that clothes are far from neutral.  This book brought out how very far from neutral clothes are.  They convey messages, to ourselves and to the world; they involve us in the economics of the production of clothes, how people in other countries are treated, the impact of our choices on the environment, and so forth.  Clothes are about race, class, age, aspiration, imagination.  We can find comfort in clothes; we can use clothes as a fantastic way of expressing ourselves; we can be misunderstood.  We can judge and misunderstand others.

Women in Clothes doesn’t limit itself to reflecting on clothes.  Many women – in answer to questions such as “When do you feel most attractive?” discussed their body.  (I found it intriguing that at least five women answered this question with “When I’m ovulating”.)  I think the book could also have been entitled Women in Bodies.

Like Roobeedoo, I feel there is no way to do a “review” of this book.  As Roobeedoo says, this is because “what this book does more than anything else is celebrate difference”.  So I thought that I would share some exerpts with you from the book, without commentary, and in order of their appearance in the book.  You may consider some of the viewpoints contentious, but if that is the case, you will be in good company.  As you will see, clothing, bodies and even scent are never “just” that…

Amanda M. At school, a Muslim girl spoke about why she chose the burka. She said, “You American girls have it rough. You constantly have to be thinking about what looks good on you, how to look hot, how to hide flaws. You’re slaves to fashion. I’m never self-conscious about how sexy I look.” When I see women in full coverings now, I wonder, “Are they freer than I am?” (p. 19)

Claudia Eve Beauchesne It’s difficult to express personal style through clothing or the way you decorate a space, when you live out of a suitcase and occupy spaces for short periods of time, spaces that have been decorated by other people. I suppose a personal style can emerge from transience, but my transience hasn’t been consistent enough for me to build a style around it. I see expressing personal style in everyday life as a luxury. It implies you occupy a space consistently enough to “make it your own” and have a readily available selection of clothes or objects to choose from and add to and subtract from. It also implies you’re willing to spend time thinking about how to express yourself through the selection and arrangement of clothing, furniture, and so on. (p. 73)

Sheilah Ray Coleman From a young age, I was aware of the luxuries in other households – girls whose mothers took them shopping for clothes, who vacationed at Disney or in the Bahamas. Our parents viewed these other families’ values as moral failings (they were labor activists and professors). On the positive side, our household was incredibly rich with people stopping by all the time – writers, artists, and musicians – and with talk of politics and books and ideas. I remember as a little girl telling my dad I thought a friend’s mom was beautiful. I told him how I loved that sometimes she wore an amazing pair of green leather trousers. He rolled his eyes and said green leather pants did not equal beauty; they only made her nouveau riche. (p. 74)

Malwina Gudowska I grew up in a Polish household. As a child, my mother wanted me to be a professional launderer. I now work in the UK in the fashion industry, which pays horribly – an irony that is not lost on anyone I work with, since none of us can afford the clothing we write about. (p. 74)

Amanda Miller I come from a line of low-maintenance ladies. Solid United church stock. Short hair, flat shoes, trousers or A-line skirts, minimal makeup, no fragrance. The women in the family still carry the baggage of a community that believed that fancy things were for lazy, spoiled women with the wrong values in their hearts. (p. 74)

Karima Cammell So many psychological problems fell away when I started tailoring my clothes to my body instead of the other way around. (p. 98)

Liane Balaban Dressing is about helping yourself do the work you were put on this earth to do. Everyone has their own relationship to beauty, but I would say: Don’t be obvious. Try not to buy things that are mass-produced. Flea markets, church bazaars, or local boutiques are good. Curate rather than shop. Your wardrobe should be a collection of beloved pieces you wear for decades. (p. 98)

Ana Zir My world is hospice patients and their families. … I hope they remember me not just for what I do, but because I left a positive impression by the way I dressed. People do notice. Even very sick ones. (p. 134)

Rebecca Ackermann It’s so strange to me that dressing down can signal power for men but never for women. (p. 134)

Melissa Henderson I grew up around educated black people who ingrained in me that style and dressing well were key factors to success and combating stereotypes. I never go out of the house with my hair not done. (p. 134)

Elissa Schappell We focus so much in politics on what women look like – look at the Hillary Clinton headband debacle, or the focus on Michelle Obama’s wearing sleeveless dresses that show off her ripped arms… Does anyone ever say… that Justice Roberts would look less dumpy if he ditched the made-in-China blue suit and showed off his toned ass? (p. 134)

Umm Adam I feel bad for women who spend hours dressing every day, and days or months planning what they will wear for a party and how they can look more attractive… When I see what the women on billboards, commercials, and game shows are wearing, it really aches my heart. I mean no offense to anyone, but it hurts me to see the bodies of these innocent women being used to sell products. And they are made to believe that this is freedom. This is slavery. (139)

Leap, a garment worker in Cambodia: The bras I make are very beautiful with a variety of quality fabric and I sew them very well. The fabric is good, it’s so soft, and it will make the person who wears it feel cool and comfortable. I used to think that if I could have one quality and beautiful bra like I make, I would be really happy and I would be very beautiful. But it’s impossible. These bras are for export, and the price of one of the bras I make is almost equal to my salary. While working, I hold the bra up in front of my face, then I ask myself who is the woman who will wear the bra I am sewing. I also wonder how the women in those countries are so rich and lucky to wear these expensive bras while the person who makes that bra just wears a very cheap one bought from the pile of clothes on the ground under the umbrella. So I feel jealous. (p. 230)

Leslie Vosshall, a smell scientist, sniffing coats in a coatcheck in New York:
Ticket #401
Man’s Barbour Oilskin
Oh, this is terrible. This is a deeply conventional man, this is exactly what I was complaining about. The terrible, conventional men’s aftershave called Axe. It’s the biggest blockbuster. The old generation, people in their sixties and seventies, buy Old Spice, but Axe is marketed to teenage boys. Then they grow up and keep wearing it.

Woman’s Tan Wool J.Crew Coat
This smells like really powdery violets. This is someone who is refined and subtle. It’s a very nice scent. I think she’s with the wrong guy. Yeah, I feel for her. It’s gonna end in… They’ll probably make it until the kids are out of the home, and then she’ll realize that there’s really no reason to stay married to him. (p. 258)

Mansoura Ez Eldin One must choose when to rebel with clothing. Three years ago, I participated in the anti-government demonstration known as “Friday of Rage,” which turned out to be the most important and violent day of the January revolution in Egypt. … At the last stop, my friends urged me to use the scarf wrapped around my neck to cover my hair. I refused. … it had been years since I had worn a headscarf, and I refused to put any covering on my head, even for a minute, as compensation for the many years I had unconsciously covered my head as an innocent girl. We exited the metro and instantly ran into Central Security Force officers hiding behind their shields. I quickly put the scarf on my head to avoid any trouble. (p. 175)

Emily Stokes I have a theory that most of the clothes I pick out in stores have ur-versions from my childhood. The ur-version of this skirt, I realize when I get home, is a blue Liberty-print skirt that my sister called her magic skirt. She would pick out shells from the pleats during magic shows she would put on for me while I was in the bath. [Price of skirt purchased:] $78. (p. 290)

Karima Cammell In my family, I was known for my “sausage fingers”. There was a family friend I really respected, a father of one of my friends. One day in the summer when I was reading on the couch, just being an awkward teen and feeling really ugly, he walked through the room and said, “You have the hands of the Madonna.” I realized that we tell ourselves stories about how we think we are. It’s better if it’s a nice story. (p. 329)

Dorla McIntosh [commentary on photo of her mother] It’s ‘60s-70s in the Caribbean. She’s about six feet tall. You can’t see her feet but she has size 13 triple E feet. She’s carrying a Bible and a songbook, which means she’s going to church, and she probably made the dress herself, with the long collar. She was a seamstress. And she’s not really looking at the camera, which is exactly right for her. I think she was probably very shy and still is. She was always proud that I could read. The only time she wouldn’t let me read was when I was cooking. She made me wear socks and shoes in the Caribbean in the frickin’ heat. Later I understood, it was because she had such big feet she couldn’t buy shoes, and so she had to stop going to school. She didn’t tell me this until much later. It made me really sad. For her it was pride that her daughter was going to school and she could provide socks and shoes. The thing I remember the most are those long legs. I just remember being around her legs all the time.

Shani Boianjiu Here are my ten fashion Dos and Don’ts for the teenage Israeli female soldier. 1. Don’t wear lipstick. It’s not allowed. It will get stolen. You’re no Angelina Jolie. Your guy is no Brad Pitt. He is a dude whose interests are balancing plastic spoons on his nose and clapping. …. 5. Do wear a linked dozen 7.62 bullets as a necklace. (p. 355)

Renate Stauss Haptology is the science of touch. A haptology professor in Leipzig did tests where you feel an object without looking at it, then draw what you feel. The drawings done by anorectics were really off. In the same way they had an inaccurate perception of, say, the size of their own thighs, they could not accurately feel or draw the shape of an object. … He wondered whether you could remap their body image to make it more realistic. He came up with a neoprene wetsuit. His patient would wear this for one hour a day, then three hours a day – so there’s the constant stimulating touch of the wetsuit…. The results were incredible in terms of weight gain. (p. 406)

Nancy Forde I’ve never felt as beautiful as I did in the days after giving birth to my daughter. In the days that followed, I felt transformed. … When I became a mother, I didn’t become someone else. I simply experienced a version of myself that had been hidden from me until my daughter burst into the world. (p. 421)

Heidi Julavits The older I get, the less interested I am in how my clothing looks, and the more interested I am in how clothing feels on my body. … I mean literally the feel registered by my body when I put clothing on it. … When I got to the beach, I lay front-first on the hot rocks. … I thought, Why doesn’t anyone make dresses that feel like smooth, hot rocks against your skin? This struck me as such a colossal oversight. People design clothing that makes you imagine you might be the sort of person to lie on a beach of hot rocks – a frequenter to St. Tropez – but they don’t design clothing that makes you feel like you’re lying on a beach… (p. 424)

Farah Bashir I have … multiple sleeveless tops, as I love my shoulders, but for the last year I have hardly had the “societal permission” to wear those. I have to depend on occasions when I go out with my husband to enjoy wearing those tops. (p. 427)

Rebecca Scherm My husband sees his body as himself, and as a tool to do what he wants to do. I see my body as a case for my self, which lives inside my body. I think of my body as my adversary, something that often keeps me from doing what I want to do. (p. 438)

Beth Follett … I [used to work] as a therapist, most often with women survivors of sexual and other forms of physical abuse. During my practice I saw hundreds of women who carried deep shame in their bodies, broadcasting that shame and confusion in their gestures, habits, and ever-changing manner of dress. I believe all women carry shame to some degree, and it has been my practice to explore where and how mine resides in or moves through my living body. I would rather not hide the facts of my living self through tricks. (p. 439)

Advice and Tips section: “Try not to eat cake every day.” – Friederike Girst (p. 455)
“If it’s over a hundred bucks, wait twenty-four hours. Money is freedom. Don’t give away your freedom for assimilation.” – Amy Turner (p. 456)

Rachel Andes Sometimes I wish I could walk down the street like a man and not be scared of other men. Which is not really wanting to be like a man. I just don’t like men staring at me on the street or making comments. I would probably dress sexier if men didn’t exist. (p. 464)

Posted by: christinelaennec | April 4, 2015

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to you!

Easter tree made by Michael, April 2015.

Easter tree made by Michael, April 2015.

Cowslip, early April 2015.

Cowslip, early April 2015.

I wish you all a very happy season of rebirth and hope!

Posted by: christinelaennec | March 30, 2015

A fun cèilidh and an Easter cake

Thank you everyone, for your lovely comments hoping that the Dafter made it to the cèilidh.  She did!  Our Son came for a visit on Saturday, and she was feeling pretty awful.  When Our Son saw how ill she was, he said, “Do you think she’ll be able to go?”  I said, “Knowing the Dafter, and since she’s been looking forwards to this for months, I think there’s a good chance.”  She hauled herself off, and re-emerged dressed and ready:

Our Son and the Dafter before the cèilidh.

Our Son and the Dafter before the cèilidh.

She wore a silver lamé dress that she found at a vintage shop, with a Katharine Hamnett leather jacket from Oxfam, along with fairy wings, and black lipstick (“my boy repellent”).  She wore a necklace I made when I was her age, and borrowed the tiara from the stuffed tiger.

We all went.  Our Son was surprised at how groovy the Dafter’s church is.  He didn’t dance, but Michael and I enjoyed doing couples dances.  The youth group had a wonderful caller, and the dances were both to traditional cèilidh band music, and also to pop music.  I had such fun dancing the Gay Gordons to CeeLo Green’s, “Forget You”.

The Dafter had a great time.  She managed to dance quite a bit.  Here is a phone snap of her waiting to be spun around in an Orcadian Strip-the-Willow:

At the cèilidh!  Dancing an Orcadian Strip-the-Willow.

At the cèilidh! Dancing an Orcadian Strip-the-Willow.  You can see the fairy wings here.

In case you’ve never had the good fortune to go to a Scottish cèilidh dance, they are great fun.  A lot of the dances have links to North American square-dancing traditions:  the Virginia Reel, the Canadian Barn Dance, Strip-the-Willow, the Boston Two-Step.  I presume the North American dances crossed the Atlantic from here, but the opposite could be true.

I only danced couples dances and sat out the group dances because my old back injury has flared up.  Some of those young men – I didn’t get a photo of the kilted ones – can spin even elderly ladies like myself pretty darn hard.

The Dafter had a joyous time.  We came home just after 10, which magically became 11 as it was Spring Forwards night.  Needless to say she has taken a couple of days to recover.  She said something recently which really struck me.  She had been on a bike ride, and when she came home she said, “One of the problems with being ill is that you can’t share your achievements with people because going for a bike ride doesn’t fit into their expectations of what you ought to be able to do when you’re ill.”  Before the cèilidh she was worried that if people saw her dancing, they would assume she is malingering the rest of the time.  Nothing could be further from the truth, and if people had any idea of the pain and fatigue she feels on her best days, they would probably be shocked.  I advised her that people who understand about illness would realise she would have a price to pay afterwards, and that she shouldn’t limit herself for the sake of the people who don’t understand.

It really struck me forcefully, the truth of her phrase “you don’t fit their expectations” of illness.  So very, very true at times.  I often think that having ME/CFS is like what having epilepsy must have been like when people thought it was caused by demonic possession.  Interestingly, a study at Columbia university has recently demonstrated a biological basis for ME/CFS.  Apparently it’s like a post-viral “hit-and-run” event where the immune system goes into overdrive and produces too many of something called cytokines.  The body is literally at war with itself – something the Dafter has said more than once.  The study found that the body usually begins to stop overproducing cytokines after about three years or so.  I know there are people who have been suffering for decades, who would dispute this timeline.  However, the study is significant because this is the first time that an identifiable biomedical explanation of ME/CFS has been discovered.  So we are moving along slowly from “it’s all in your head / it’s just those pesky demons”…

The Dafter slept around the clock and then some, but wasn’t too immobilised the next day.  A friend came over for a cup of tea and brought us a beautiful gift:

Gorgeous Easter cake made for us by a kind friend.

Gorgeous Easter cake made for us by a kind friend.

So it was a great weekend!  I hope yours was as well.

Posted by: christinelaennec | March 28, 2015

Birds, trees, besoms

Katharine Stewart’s essay for March 28th (ca 1994) discusses birds and trees, and the changes she had witnessed over the years.  She hears the curlew:  “It’s a sad, lonely, quivering call, but it means that these incomparable birds are back.  They’ve left their wintering on the coast and are here to nest and make increase.  That’s enough to lift the day.” (p. 57)

Clouds, Glasgow, end of March 2015.

Clouds, Glasgow, end of March 2015.

We’ve had some wonderful blue-sky days here this past week.  Cold still, and frosty some mornings, but everyone has remarked – even on Radio Scotland – on the increase in birdsong.  I haven’t heard any curlews (or, to be more accurate, I wouldn’t know if I had), but I have really been enjoying the birds.  I stopped to watch a pair of greenfinches the other day.  I can recognise their “greeeeen” long chirp, but these two were making a different kind of a sound, and I was hoping I might learn it and remember it.

Stewart writes also about trees, and the changes she had seen in the countryside near Loch Ness.  “We have one thing to be grateful for, as we look out on our changing landscape.  Foresters are abandoning the planting of dense stretches of conifer.  ‘Bring back the birch’ is a welcome slogan today.  The birch – from the winter outline of its mauve branches to the May-time greening and the autumn gold, and the year-long shine of the silver bark, it’s an incomparable tree.” (p. 57)  I fully agree.  I have loved birch trees ever since I made friends with two beautiful specimens across the street from the house we lived in when I was four years old.  I just loved those trees with their peeling, white bark.  They stood in front of a white picket-fence belonging to a house where a sweet elderly couple lived, and the lady sometimes gave me freshly-baked cookies.  No wonder I love birch trees!  Here in Glasgow we don’t have a birch in our small garden, but there are quite a few around, including one that I can see from the house.

Stewart goes on to write, “Bunches of [birch] twig still make good garden besoms”.  Until I looked it up, I hadn’t realised “besom” is a Scottish word for a broom (or brush, as people often say here – “brush the floor”).  I had only heard “besom” as a derogatory word for a girl or woman:  “she’s a right wee besom”.

I have had a few urban excursions recently, and have enjoyed both nature and the man-made environment:

Clouds over Glasgow, late March.  These feathery clouds were very swiftly moving across the sky.

Clouds over Glasgow, late March. These feathery clouds were very swiftly moving across the sky, and if you stood and watched them, you felt as if the buildings were moving instead.

Berkeley Street, Glasgow.

Berkeley Street, Glasgow.  (pron: Barclay)  You can see a Sikh temple (Gurdwara), and a church steeple which I think may belong to a building no longer used as a church.  Beyond the trees is the Glasgow Gaelic School, which provides Gaelic-Medium Education for pre-school through age 18.

I know that my American friends and relations have already “sprung forwards” but here the clocks leap ahead tonight.  Before that, we have a visit from Our Son, and a cèilidh at the Dafter’s church to look forwards to!  Fingers crossed she will be able to go and enjoy herself.  She will rest all day.

I leave you with a sweet photo of our Tilly:

Big and little cats, March 2015.

Big and little cats, March 2015.

Tilly had her annual check at the vet’s yesterday.  For the first time in 10 years, she has put on weight!  The other morning she woke me at 6:30 am by gently attacking my head and biting my hair, she was so hungry.  (This is a very rare event.)  So we shall have to think this through a bit.

I wish you all a very good Palm Sunday weekend.

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!

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