Posted by: christinelaennec | June 9, 2015

Happy St. Columba’s Day

Following along with Katharine Stewart’s A Garden in the Hills, she wrote essays on the 8th and 9th of June.  She began with the comment:  “A June day at last!  They have to be counted in ones, or at the most, twos.”  (p. 77)  She was experiencing a very cold spring and early summer, and it has been the same with us this year.  Not only has it been cold (most days in the 40s / under 10C) but very stormy and windy:

After the storms...

A morning after a stormy night…

On her warm June day, Stewart mentioned the inconvenience of the Highland midge:  “[Lotion] is not totally effective.  Gardening friends have invested in masks which, though expensive, do seem to keep the creatures at bay.  I have tried my bee-veil, but the mesh is not fine enough [to keep midges out].” (p. 77)

Pink chestnut, early June, Glasgow, 2015

Pink chestnut, early June, Glasgow, 2015

There are midges in Glasgow, and I have already been bitten by one.  But our Lowland Midge isn’t nearly as much of a menace as its Highland cousin.

The spring has been cold, but the blossom has been just magnificent.  I don’t know if there is a causal link.  I walked past this hawthorn on one of the rare occasions that I had no way of taking its photo.  The blossoms were very pink, with many pink dots on the ends of the tiny pistils (if that is the right term).  When I went back a few days later, much of the pink had faded:

Hawthorn tree, early June, Glasgow 2015.

Hawthorn tree, early June, Glasgow 2015.

Oh well, something to look out for next year!

Yesterday we had a lovely sunny afternoon.  I had the distinct feeling that in the course of a few hours, flowers were blossoming:

A lupin colouring up.

A lupin colouring up.

Today, June 9th, is St. Columba’s feast-day.  (I wrote a bit about St. Columba / Colmcille here.) Stewart devoted much of her essay that day to him:  “He passed this way some 1,400 years ago and has left his mark in the remains of his settlement down by the big loch [Loch Ness – not sure what the settlement is she refers to, though].  The sanctified ground extended well beyond the initial boundaries.  At one time the whole area was considered a sanctuary, though it is not marked out, as it was in Applecross.  A sanctuary meant safety in a place beyond the reach of the law or the sword.  It is said that in this place some MacDonalds sought refuge after the [1692] massacre in Glencoe.  It is certain that the name MacDonald is still the oldest here…” (p. 78)

Quaking grass.

Quaking grass.

She continues:  “Columba’s island, Iona, is a magic place even today. … I understand his love of the place, for an island gives one a sense of wholeness, of circumscription.  One is held by the surrounding sea, but not limited by it.  It bathes one round in reassurance, yet it beckons, too.  It carries pictures, visions, of boundless, unnamed possibilities, not outwith one’s grasp…

It is sometimes difficult to remain whole on the mainland.  I try to visit an island every summer.  I come home wearing what my friends call my ‘island smile’.” (p.78)  I know just what she means:  ever since we came to Scotland nearly 23 years ago, islands have been our choice of retreat.  (See my posts about Scalpay, and our trip to Lindisfarne.)

Violas, astrantia, columbine.  Early June, Glsgo, 2015.

Violas, astrantia, columbine. 8 June 2015, Glasgow.

The end of her June 9th essay is taken up with one of her favourite topics, the medicinal uses of common plants.

More violas.

More violas – they have survived over the winter from last summer! – and nigella seedlings.

She writes about the bog-plant meadowsweet, “that supreme provider of cures”.  Its city cousin is feathery astilbe.  She notes: “It deserves its name ‘queen of the meadows,’ for its properties are many.  Its fragrance made it a ‘strewing herb’ in older times… It has anti-inflammatory properties, so is helpful to sufferers of rheumatism.  Its tannin content can cure cases of diarrhoea.  It has an antiseptic action and also contains vitamin C.  It really is a miniature ‘pharmacopeia’.” (p. 79)

I should say here that I am not advocating that you rush out and start medicating yourself with meadowsweet, or any other plant.  However, I don’t think we should discount the wisdom that our ancestors gained.  Stewart continues, “Often, as I walk around the garden, going from job to job, I pick a handful of feverfew, leaf and flower, to chew on, though I’m lucky enough not to suffer from bad headaches.  Thinking about it now, perhaps this habit is the reason why!” (p. 80)

Apricot foxglove.

Apricot foxglove.

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you not to eat foxglove, which can be poisonous because it contains digitalis.  Like so many plants, it can also heal (heart maladies, in particular) if administered properly.

Most of the days of June so far have left us all shaking our heads and wondering at the weather:  “It’s just like March!” I hear people say.  We have had the fire going for guests, and the heating on to dry their soaking wet coats and shoes as they’ve come dripping and windblown through the door.

But, on those few fine June evenings, we’ve been reminded that it is indeed summer, and indeed not all that far from the longest day:

Nearly 10 pm in early June, Glasgow, 2015.

10 pm in early June, Glasgow, 2015.

These Scottish summer skies are such a treat to experience.  I leave you to imagine, perched on one of those antennas, a blackbird singing its melodious song.

Katharine Stewart says that St. Columba’s day is the “best day for making a start to anything” (p. 77)  The Dafter began sixth year (very part-time) yesterday, so that’s good to know.  Whatever you are making a start on, I wish you well with it!

Posted by: christinelaennec | June 4, 2015

Twa shawls

(My silly post title is a nod to the Scottish children’s song, “Twa craws, sittin’ on a wa’… ” [Two crows sitting on a wall]…)  This spring, I made two shawls.  One of them is yet another Holden Shawlette (I’ve made this pattern twice before, for gifts).  I made it from the beautiful Skein Queen rainbow yarn that generous Roobeedoo gave me for Christmas.  You might have glimpsed me knitting it at the lighthouse on Scalpay.  Here it is finished (full Ravelry details here):

Rainbow shawl:  Holden Shawlette pattern by Mindy Wilkes, from Skein Queen Lustrous yarn (wool and silk).

Rainbow shawl: Holden Shawlette pattern by Mindy Wilkes, from Skein Queen Lustrous yarn (wool and silk).

Rainbow shawl.

Rainbow shawl.

The other shawl I made this spring was in remembrance of my father.  When I was in Portland on that sad trip home after he died in November, towards the end of my stay I had a few hours in town.  Surprise, surprise, I ended up at a yarn shop, Knit Purl.  There I found some very interesting locally spun and dyed yarn:

Alpha B yarn, Single B

Alpha B yarn, Single B

I liked the kinkiness of the yarn, and the beautiful colours.  But I was particularly drawn to the names of the colours.  The green is “Columbia Gorge” and the blue is “Mighty Columbia”.  Now, the Columbia River was an important part of my childhood.  Partly because we used to sing Woody Guthrie’s “Roll on Columbia, Roll On” in school, and I loved the idea of the powerful river “turning darkness to dawn” (via the hydroelectric dams on the river).  The river itself was a part of my childhood because my Dad loved the Columbia.  He loved boats and the sea and rivers, and the Columbia River is indeed mighty where it opens into the Pacific Ocean just northwest of Portland.

Our family often went to the waterfalls along the Columbia Gorge.  (Gracie’s posts here and here have lovely photos of the area.)  I remember once being at Multnomah Falls at the same time as Ladybird Johnson was visiting, and my mother explaining to me that people were booing her because of the Vietnam War.  I hated the war, which dominated all our family dinnertimes and distressed me, but I also felt sorry for this small lady in a blue suit and matching pillbox hat.

We would hike up around the different waterfalls, or go to Crown Point to see the stunning views along the Gorge, or sometimes we would just “scrounge” along the beaches of the river, poking through driftwood for treasures such as the rare Japanese glass fishing float.  For a couple of years, my father had a small aluminium rowboat, and we all had a few hair-raising afternoons on the Columbia in that tiny boat, caught in the wakes of the huge container vessels headed out to sea!  I can’t say I was heartbroken when someone stole it from our carport.

So I bought the wool, and brought it home and thought about what to make out of it.  And the Cladonia Shawl by Kristen Kapur came to mind:

Cladonia shawl by Kirsten Kapur, knit from Alpha B Single B yarn.

Cladonia shawl by Kirsten Kapur, knit from Alpha B Single B yarn.

It’s a great project if you have two colours you want to combine.  And it’s the perfect size for these chilly days, either to wear around the house or to tuck in under your coat or jacket:

"The River's Wild Flight," shawl in memory of my Dad and celebrating the Columbia River.

“The River’s Wild Flight,” shawl in memory of my Dad and celebrating the Columbia River.  (Not my favourite photo of myself – I look very haughty!  I was absolutely exhausted that day.)

I thought for a long time about what name to give it, and decided on a phrase from one of the last verses of Woody Guthrie’s ballad:

“These mighty men labored by day and by night / Matching their strength ‘gainst the river’s wild flight / Through rapids and falls they won the hard fight / Roll on, Columbia, roll on.”

When I arrived in Portland, I was relieved and delighted to learn that my Dad arranged to have his ashes scattered at sea.  That wouldn’t have occurred to me, and I feel the sea is the perfect resting place for him.  “The River’s Wild Flight” to me symbolises the idea that his spirit is free and reunited with that aspect of nature he loved so much, flowing water.

Posted by: christinelaennec | June 1, 2015

June! Anticipation…

Katharine Stewart’s essay for June 1st begins:  “A dry day, but a cold one.”  (p. 74)  Today in Glasgow has been a wet day, but a cold one.  In fact, this has been a very cold spring all told.  My garden had 5″ of rain in the month of May, but the high temperatures in the day lately have been between 8 and 12 C / 46 and 54 F.  The result is that many plants in the garden have been waiting to flower:

Peony bud.  Photo taken 31st May during a rare moment of sunshine.

Peony bud. Photo taken 31st May during a rare afternoon of sunshine.

Stewart wrote, “This is a time of waxing moon, a propitious time for planting.”  It’s the same with us this year: the moon is full tomorrow.  She continued, “Older Highland people still watch the moon closely, in all its phases, for weather predictions, days appropriate for certain activities and so on.  The waning moon is good for ploughing and peat-cutting, for the ‘sap’ is going, leaving everything dry.  An old lady will still walk clockwise three times round the house at the first appearance of the new moon.  People don’t like to see the half moon ‘lying on her back’.  This is a bad omen.” (p. 74)

Back garden, Glasgow, 31st May 2015.

Back garden, Glasgow, 31st May 2015.

I don’t take on new superstitions, so I won’t be walking around the house at the new moon, or worrying about the half moon on her back (though I have a Highland friend who will comment on such a sight: “seall, a’ghealach air a cùl”).  But I try, where possible, to plant at the time of the new moon, because this does seem to be a sound and time-honoured principle of gardening.  The lupins that I grew from seed collected in Aberdeen are doing pretty well, in their second summer.

Lupin coming into bloom, slowly.  31 May 2015.

Lupin coming into bloom, slowly. 31 May 2015.  The columbine behind and to the right is interesting:  the blooms below are purply but the ones near the top of the plant are a deep red.

The garden probably looks like a sea of green to most people, but to me it is brimming with possibility:

Rose buds on Constance Spry, Glasgow, 31 May 2015.

Rose buds on Constance Spry climbing rose, Glasgow, 31 May 2015.

And the cosmos (planted inside the porch at the time of the new moon) are doing pretty well.  I am just hoping the snails keep away from them…

Cosmos seedlings, 31st May 2015.

Cosmos seedlings, 31st May 2015.

Katharine Stewart writes about something called “Gudeman’s Croft”:  “a small piece of land dedicated to the ‘Gudeman,’ a kind of earth spirit, which was sacrosanct and not to be touched by plough or spade.  There are one or two such spots up my way!  I call it Permaculture!” (p. 75)

I want most of my garden to be “permaculture,” the same plants left undisturbed to flower year after year, or plants like foxglove that self-seed in profusion so I can choose which ones to keep and where I want them.  But I have also planted some annuals, besides the cosmos.  The sweet peas went in yesterday, and I bought lobelia to put along the edges.  The poppies, nigella and marigolds that I planted as seed are all up, but not putting on a lot of growth just because it has been so cold.

As I write, the rain is lashing the back of the house.  But it’s now light until after 11:00 pm in the western sky (unless the clouds are particularly thick), so it does, despite the weather, feel like June.

Happy June, everyone!

Posted by: christinelaennec | May 27, 2015

Travelling Companions

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about my trip to Harris last month was observing and talking to other travellers along the way.  The first leg of my journey there was the train from Glasgow to Inverness, about a three-hour journey.  As we were leaving Glasgow, a mother and about 8-year-old daughter were talking to the train conductor. The mother wasn’t an experienced train traveller and hadn’t reserved seats; the daughter was very tired and grumpy.  I welcomed them to sit across from me, as the people who had reserved the seats hadn’t shown up.  The mother told me her daughter was very tired as they’d just been sleeping on a sofa the last few nights.  The girl glared at me but was also interested in my knitting.  As we went along, the mother relaxed and bit by bit the daughter also unwound.  I asked the girl, had she ever played Treasure Hunt?  I said that was a travel game my own kids had always liked.  This got her attention.

Near Blair Atholl, Perthshire.  April 2014.

Near Blair Atholl, Perthshire. April 2015.

I drew up a list of things we might be likely (or less likely) to see on our way:  sheep, cows, a house, a river, a castle [thinking of Stirling], a crow, a stop sign.  The daughter and her mother played this game for quite a while, and I was really happy when the daughter started smiling and laughing.  At Perth we were joined by a woman who knew a lot about the countryside we were travelling through, and explained to me where the highest points were along the journey.  She and the mother talked for quite a while about living near Inverness, and about musical opportunities for young people, such as the Fèis movement for learning traditional music.

From Inverness I took a bus to Ullapool, a journey of about an hour and a half.  I sat next to a very interesting woman from India.  She told me about her work with children, and asked what I did.  I said I used to be a lecturer, but am now a full-time carer for my teenage daughter.  She then told me a fascinating story:  in her early twenties she became paralysed down one side, and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  One doctor told her that she might die from it.  Despite (or because?) of this terrible diagnosis, she and her husband decided to have a child.  And during her pregnancy, she healed completely.  I told her that two separate people have said to me, “The cure for ME is to get pregnant,” which clearly isn’t a realistic option for the Dafter.  This woman told me that in pregnancy, the body heals itself, in order to support the baby.  When we parted ways, she said she would keep me and our family in her prayers.  I think I will never forget her, she was a very special person.

The next leg of my journey was to cross the Minch.  I did so on the new ferry, M V Loch Seaforth. (M V means Motor Vessel – not quite as poetic as “His Majesty’s Ship”!) The crossing time is now down to two and a half hours, instead of three.  As you can see from the photo below, the new ferry is a lot bigger than the old ferry:

The old ferry (Isle of Lewis) on the left; the new ferry (Loch Seaforth) on the right.  Stornoway ferry terminal, April 2015.

The old ferry ( the Isle of Lewis) on the left; the new ferry (Loch Seaforth) on the right. Stornoway ferry terminal, April 2015.

The Loch Seaforth had only been running a few weeks when I travelled on her.  I sat in the dining room, across from a family with a very sweet little baby.  As it so happened, the following Sunday I was present at that baby’s baptism.

In a way, the ferry itself was one of my travelling companions.  Let me show you around:

Dining area, Loch Seaforth, April 2015.

Dining area, M V Loch Seaforth, April 2015.  Foot passengers boarded before vehicles that week, so I had my choice of seats!

I like the retro styling.  Here’s the staircase to go up on deck:

Stairwell, Loch Seaforth.  April 2015.

Stairwell, M V Loch Seaforth. April 2015.

Even the smokestack has that Art Deco streamlined aesthetic:

Smokestack, Loch Seaforth, April 2015.

Smokestack, M V Loch Seaforth, April 2015.

There was a lovely sunset, although let me tell you the breeze coming at me was very stiff!

Sunset over Harris and Lewis, from the ferry between Stornoway and Ullapool.  April 2014.

Sunset over Harris and Lewis, from the ferry between Stornoway and Ullapool. April 2015.

The ferry was about 40 minutes late but the kind car hire man was waiting for me, and showed no sign of impatience.  After an hour and a quarter’s drive, encountering only mist and some sheep, I was in Scalpay at the B&B.

On my return journey, I sat up in the observation lounge.

Observation lounge of the Loch Seaforth, April 2015.

Observation lounge of M V Loch Seaforth, April 2015.  My trusty blue backpack!

Next to me, in that front row of seats, was a lovely couple.  They were probably in their 70s, and spoke Gaelic to each other.  They didn’t have a Lewis accent, but I couldn’t quite identify what part of the Gaeltacht they were from.  What struck me the most was how loving they were with each other.  They had that easiness with each other that comes after years of jogging along side by side, but also they seemed really to delight in each other’s company.  In their very understated way, they laughed a lot at each other’s jokes.  It was really nice to be in close proximity to that atmosphere of quiet happiness.

Stornoway, seen from the observation deck of the Loch Seaforth.  April 2014.

Stornoway, seen from the observation deck of M V Loch Seaforth. April 2014.

The sea was stirred up from the storms of the previous day, but the new ferry rolled less in the waves than the old ferry would, being so much bigger.  Downstairs, I ran into a former colleague from Aberdeen, and we had a chance to catch up on family news, and exchange email addresses.

A wet but smooth crossing back to Ullapool.  April 2014.

A wet but smooth crossing back to Ullapool. April 2014.

On the bus from Ullapool to Inverness, I sat across from an interesting family.  There was an exhausted mother, a father, and two young children.  They had North American accents but the father also spoke French to the children.  His French didn’t have a French-Canadian accent to it, however, so I was left a bit mystified as to where they were from.  The mother fell into a much-needed sleep and the father managed to keep the children entertained.  He certainly had an extensive French vocabulary, because as we went past forests he played a game with them, looking for various wild animals:  “Tu vois un écureuil? Squirrel?  Do you see a wild boar? Un sanglier?  Any deer? Des cerfs?” and so forth.  In Inverness they told the children it would only be an hour’s wait until the next bus, and they seemed to be upbeat and relaxed.  Very experienced travellers, I thought.

The very last leg of my journey was the train back to Glasgow.  I sat across from a table of extremely entertaining women.  They were in party mode, but very elegantly so.  They set their table with plastic stemware, plates, napkins, and brought out a cheese platter.  They were very funny with the conductor, offering him a Prosecco, “or we have soft drinks if you prefer”.  He kept up amusing banter with them throughout the journey:  “Let me know when you get to the dessert course, I’ll be back then.”  They were obviously old friends, celebrating something or other together.

Their conversation was very witty, and although they made no attempt not to be heard, I wished I could have laughed out loud at some of their quips.  I knitted and kept quiet.  After their meal they brought out a trivia game, and that made it even more challenging for me to keep my mouth shut.  “She’s a singer, North American.  From a fundamentalist Christian family.  Initials A. L.  Her name in French means The Vine”….  I wanted to raise my hand:  I know this one!  I know this one!  (Avril Lavigne)

As with so many of my other travelling companions on that trip, just being nearby their party and the glow of their friendship was a lovely feeling.  Really the world, and all the precious and unique lives here, is extraordinary!


Posted by: christinelaennec | May 23, 2015

Late spring or early summer?

I’ve missed the May 19th entry in Katharine Stewart’s A Garden in the Hills, so I’m going to combine the 19th and the 23rd.

She began her essay of the 19th with: “If April is the cruellest month, May, so far this year, is not much kinder.” (p. 70)  It had been a long cold spring in Abriachan that year.  While we had frost on May Day here in Glasgow, this last week has seen a distinct warming, although it’s been wet.  We’ve had four inches of rain this month so far. But the combination of warm and damp makes the garden grow very quickly.  At the moment there are various shades of green and not a lot of colour:

Marigold seedlings, catmint/catnip, roses, peony.

Marigold seedlings, catmint/catnip, roses, winter jasmin, peony.

Almost all the spring bulbs are finished, but the camassia are lovely:

Camassia spires in front of the summerhouse.

Camassia spires in front of the summerhouse.

The columbines are flowering, and also the little heartsease that I planted from seed last spring:

roses, foxgloves, pinky columbine, lupin, and heartsease in front.

roses, foxgloves, pinky columbine, lupin, and heartsease in front.

Katharine Stewart describes going for a walk:  “The houses are fewer now, for they are bigger, the people in them not depending on their surroundings for a living.  But some of the little abandoned gardens can still be seen.  The little old houses would have had a few flowers growing near the door, but the word ‘garden’ would have meant a small plot, walled with stone for protection from the wind and predators, on the edge of the ground cultivated for the main crops of the croft- oats, hay, turnips, potatoes.  In the garden would be grown ingredients for the soup-pot – carrots and kale and some soft fruit for puddings [desserts] and preserves.

Some years ago… I came on one such garden, a long narrow stretch beside the burn.  Rhubarb plants had grown to the size of small trees, there were blackcurrant bushes drastically overgrown, but alive, and gooseberries still bearing yellow fruit.  I took cuttings of these and now have half a dozen good bushes fruiting happily.  Gooseberries and blackcurrants were always part of the summer diet and made valued winter preserves.  Raspberries were gathered wild, for puddings [desserts] also and for jam.  Wild mint and wild garlic were everywhere.  This little garden must have had a really devoted gardener, for in one corner was a lilac and in another a gean [sweet cherry tree]….  my thoughts went out and back, through the years, to the crofter’s wife who cherished this plot.” (p. 70-71)

This past week, I had a very special afternoon at a very grand estate with a grand garden, Ross Priory.

Ross Priory, on the shores of Loch Lomond

Ross Priory, on the shores of Loch Lomond

The weather was alternating heavy showers and bursts of sun, so we sat inside where it was dry and warm, having our lunch and looking out onto splendid views.  In one direction, massive rhododendrons in bloom, and in the other, a stunning prospect towards Ben Lomond:

View from Ross Priory up to Ben Lomond.  May 2015.

View from Ross Priory up to Ben Lomond. May 2015.

You can’t easily see it in the photograph, but there was still snow on the top of highest peaks.

On the 23rd of May, Katharine Stewart wrote about the “garden’s own secret flowering” – the plants and flowers that come along unbidden to surprise us.  I showed you a lovely surprise primrose that has similarly come along into my garden.  She writes, “Now, over the last few years, there have been some really astonishing surprises.  The sudden appearance of poppies, enormous poppies, in great profusion, and of all shades of mauve and pink, brought neighbours to admire and to beg for seed.  How they came is a mystery.  We accept their presence with great joy.” (p. 72).  A friend of mine had one such mystery poppy appear, and she sent me seeds from it.  The seeds have now germinated, and I’ve been very carefully tending them.  Fingers crossed there will be some beautiful poppies in my garden this summer too!

Katharine Stewart concludes: “Even with vicious east winds and cold mist, May is still the season of forward-looking days.  Everything will right itself in the end, we feel.” (p. 72)  Yes indeed.

A reader asked me if I would post photos of our young rowan tree, as she had wondered what rowans look like.  Rowan is the Scottish name for mountain ash.  Our wee tree has blossomed now:

Young rowan in blossom, Glasgow, end of May 2015.

Young rowan in blossom, Glasgow, end of May 2015.

Rowan blossom, Glasgow, end of May 2015.

Rowan blossom, Glasgow, end of May 2015.

Sorry the photos aren’t better quality, but that gives you some idea if you were wondering.

I’ve been pondering the question of when spring ends and summer begins.  I remember years ago being puzzled when a Gaelic-speaker referred to August as the “autumn”.  They explained, “if May-June-July are the summer, then August is the autumn”.  This year, at least, May has not felt like summer.  When frost is still a possibility, I don’t think in terms of summer.  It was forecast to get down to 4C/39F last night.  But we are definitely on the cusp of summer.  It’s still light out at 10 pm, for one thing.  And it’s less than a month now until the summer solstice.

I wish everyone a very good weekend.  It’s a Holiday Weekend on both sides of the Atlantic.  In America, Monday is Memorial Day; in Britain it’s a Bank Holiday, which means that some people in Scotland have the day off, but many do not.  The high school pupils have exams on Monday, so they don’t get a break.  But there are lots of sales in the shops, and a general air of festivity.

Posted by: christinelaennec | May 18, 2015

We have a winner!

Thank you everyone who entered my giveaway.  I wish I could give you each a Harris tote bag.  I wrote names on slips of paper, as usual:

Who will it be?

Who will it be?

The Dafter was very dramatic about picking one at random, and killing me with suspense once she had done so:

Drum roll.....

Drum roll…..

Before finally revealing that the winner is:

giveaway_3Congratulations, Charlotte!  I hope this will perk you up as you recover from your eye surgery.  I’ll be in touch to find out your address.

My No-Knit Week ended yesterday morning.  What bliss it was to be able to knit again!

The delights of a picot-edge bind-off!

The delights of a picot-edge bind-off!

I am usually a bit lazy on Sunday and don’t have time for much besides practising the hymns before choir rehearsal and then the service.  This Sunday, I made time to knit.  Now once more every day can be a knitting day!  It was harder than I’d thought to forego knitting for a week, but I raised £520 for AYME, which is way beyond my wildest imaginings.  My friends are very generous and obviously they appreciated what a sacrifice it was for my tiny mind!

I wish you all a good week ahead.

Posted by: christinelaennec | May 15, 2015

Mid-May: no snow, no knitting

On May 15th, ca. 1994, Katharine Stewart wrote:  “Today, drawing back the curtains, I looked out at the morning in disbelief.  I thought it was a dream.  I rubbed my eyes and looked again.  It was reality.  There was a white garden out there, a spring garden lying under snow, quietly accepting its fate.” (A Garden in the Hills, p. 69).

I’m happy to say that we do not have snow today!  Although only a few weeks ago friends in Aberdeen had a little blizzard.  Here in Glasgow, the nights have been staying above freezing.  Last night was the first time I let my cosmos and sweet pea seedlings brave the outdoors all night long.  Until now, I’ve been bringing them back inside at night, but I’m progressing the “hardening off process”:

Cosmos and sweet peas after their first night outside.

Cosmos and sweet peas after their first night outside.

Some of my tulips in pots have blown over, but others are still looking lovely.  (Note the daisies in the lawn!)

Tulips, past and present.  Mid-May, Glasgow.

Tulips, past and present. Mid-May, Glasgow.

This week is ME Awareness Week, and I have been doing a fundraiser.  For a long time, I’d wanted to raise funds for AYME, the Association for Young People with ME, for those with ME age 25 and under. They have been very helpful to our family.  For example, when the Dafter was at her absolute lowest, bedbound and so terribly isolated, they matched her with an older teenager, further along in recovery, who wrote to her for a while.  That was a huge boost for her.

So I’d wondered what I could do to help them out in return.  I’m not sporty, so running a 10K or doing a swimathon was out of the question.  I would love to do a long walk such as the West Highland Way, but that sort of project is unthinkable when you’re needed at home 95% of the time.  A sponsored silence would have been impossible, given that I am the Dafter’s connection to the outside world in terms of appointments and so forth.  And then I hit upon the idea of giving up knitting for ME Awareness Week.  So, since 11:45 pm last Saturday night, I have NOT knitted.

What have I done instead?  Gardened, some crochet, read old knitting magazines, worked out how to assemble a knitted jacket:

Instead of knitting, planning the construction of my New Leaf jacket.

Instead of knitting, planning the construction of my New Leaf jacket.

Got my hair cut:

Instead of knitting, I got a haircut.

Spring chop!

And last night, I sang in a concert:

Instead of knitting, singing in a choir!

Instead of knitting, singing in a choir! (Mendelssohn’s As the Hart Pants).  I am a low alto – four of us were singing a Quintet with the men and a soprano.

I knew that giving up knitting would be a challenge, but I had underestimated how very hard it would be to go a week without it!  I’ve allowed myself to crochet (and in theory, mend), but crochet is nowhere near as relaxing for me as knitting.  I have been far more tired than usual, and all week long have felt as if my shoulders are up around my ears.  Normally, I knit for a few hours a day – taking the Dafter to appointments, waiting for her to be ready to leave, keeping her company, and especially unwinding in the evenings.  I really cannot WAIT for Sunday morning to be here!

But the whole idea is that I am giving something up, because she has given up so very much, and has had no choice about it.  And it’s all been worth it, because my friends have been astonishingly generous.  I’ve raised over £500 now!  Incredible.  Yesterday, via AYME, I received an email from another “ME mother,” whose 10-year-old is bedbound with ME and suffering terribly, both physically and psychologically.  Of course I wish I had some magic wand to wave, but at least I can support her and say, You will get there.  Brighter days are coming!  So I’m very pleased to be able to raise money for this good cause.

The Dafter has had her ups and downs this week.  Last Saturday she had a collapse in a shopping centre, and I had to borrow a wheelchair to get her back to the car.  That gave us both a bit of a fright, and she really did not enjoy being back in the wheelchair after a year without it.  But after this event she was also frightened to go out, for fear of getting stuck somewhere.  So she now has a walking stick, and loves it!

The Dafter with her walking stick.

The Dafter with her walking stick.

When she’s not doing a Cabaret-style performance at the bus stop, it has come in very handy for that bit of extra support to make the last part of the walk home.

She had to defer taking her Art exam until next May, and all her friends are on study leave and taking their exams, so she has been a bit at loose ends.  However, I am very proud to tell you that although she is having to do her Art over two years, she has won the Subject Prize in Art and Design for the Senior School, based on the work she was able to complete.  So that is a huge boost.  And she and I have fun together.  Here she is amusing herself while I have a cup of tea in town:

Out and about with the Dafter, May 2015.

Out and about with the Dafter, May 2015.

Glasgow is such a friendly city.  We went to the bank the other day, as the Dafter wanted to put some money in her account.  The lady there said, “Hello there!  We haven’t seen you for ages!  No wheelchair – that’s great!  And – didn’t you used to have glasses?”  The Dafter was amazed and replied that most of her friends hadn’t even noticed she’d started wearing contacts.  These kinds of friendly encounters, which do happen so often in Glasgow, even with complete strangers, can make the struggle of getting out of the house very worthwhile.

So this week, there’s been no snow, and no knitting.  But some happy times.

I wish you a very happy weekend, and in case you missed it, I’m doing a Harris-related giveaway at 8 pm GMT, Monday evening May 18th:  click here if you’re reading this before then.

Posted by: christinelaennec | May 11, 2015

Souvenir giveaway

Dear Readers,

I’ve so much enjoyed sharing my little trip to the Isle of Harris with you over the past few weeks.  Thank you for “coming along with me” by reading and commenting.  One of the joys of blogging is seeing something interesting and thinking, “Ooh I’d like to show them that!”

To thank you for your interest, I brought back something to give away to one lucky reader:

Cotton shopping bag, sold in aid of Isle of Harris Disabled Group.

Cotton shopping bag, sold in aid of Isle of Harris Disabled Group.

This is something you won’t find anywhere else in the world!  An Isle of Harris shopping bag, which I bought from the Harris Disabled Group charity shop in Tarbert.  It has photographs of the Harris coastline, St Clement’s Church at Rodel, and a sheep standing in a bus shelter.  There are also eagles – possibly silhouettes of the sea eagles which nest on Harris.  And it has English and Gaelic versions of the island’s name.  Both sides of the bag are printed with the design you see in the photo.  It has nice long handles for carrying it over your shoulder.

If you would like a chance to win this elegant and practical souvenir of the Isle of Harris, leave a comment here before 8 pm GMT on Monday, May 18th 2015.  I’m happy to send this anywhere at all.

Good luck!

Posted by: christinelaennec | May 8, 2015

Early May

This is a delicious time of year, I think.  For a long time in my life, May was the season of exams and stress (either studying or marking).  I often felt I wasn’t quite able to take in the beauty around me.  I very much hope that next year the Dafter will be well enough to sit her Higher Art exam, so I am keen to make the most of springtime now.

Rainbow over the park during my evening walk.  Early May, 2015, Glasgow.

Rainbow over the park during my evening walk. Early May, 2015, Glasgow.

Katharine Stewart’s May 3rd essay describes a trip she took from her home near Loch Ness to the West coast.  She wrote:  “There’s always a feeling of growth in the west and of kindness, kindness in the air and in the people.  Frost and snow don’t linger.  The prevailing wind is soft and brings welcome rain.” (A Garden in the Hills, p. 66)

I agree with her about the kindness of the people in this part of the world.  So many people smile at you, or stop to talk.  And the rainy weather has its own soft beauty.

Evening rain shower in the park.  Glasgow, 5 May 2015.

Evening rain shower in the park. Glasgow, 5 May 2015.

She writes of visiting a Victorian garden on the shores of Loch Broom, which “for 45 years, from about 1940, lay unattended”.  So the restoration would have been underway for a decade when she went in about 1994.

“We followed the path and pushed open an enormous door.  It was like entering the realm of the secret garden of childhood days.  The lilac was in bloom.  There were rhododendrons of colours that took the breath away, trees that had overgrown into the most fantastic shapes and small, unexpected patches of plants among the rocks.  Paths led in all directions.  We followed one to the shore, lured by the scent of salt water and seaweed, then back by mysterious ways to the vegetable plots.  Here seaweed was mulching strawberries!  I grew the tatties, one year, on a bed of seaweed.  They throve magnificently!  Then we came on a real surprise – asparagus!  The balm of the west was at work.” (66-67)

Tulips and narcissi in the back garden, late April.

Tulips and narcissi in the back garden, late April.

She doesn’t name the garden she visited, except to say they went there instead of their usual destination, the famous Inverewe gardens.  Could the secret garden have been Leckmelm?

On May 8th, back home in Abriachan, she set about planting her potatoes.  “In they go… with a blessing on their heads.  They are Kerr’s pinks.  I’ve never found one I like better.  Sometimes I wonder who this Kerr was and how he grew his pink potato.” (67)  I don’t often eat potatoes because I have found they (and peppers and tomatoes) make my incipient arthritis flare up.  But I agree that Kerr’s pinks are very nice.  Wikipedia tells me they were created by J. Henry in Aberdeenshire, in 1907.  But it sheds no light on why they are called after Kerr. (“This potato-related article is a stub.”)

Michael had some raised beds in our garden in Aberdeen, but having downsized very much, we (I) concentrate on growing flowers.  This was something my father could never understand – why would you grow something you couldn’t eat?!  Well, the pleasure I get from my flowers is very great.  And I am fortunate to be able to leave the vegetable-growing to the experts.

In the front garden, Shirley tulips and forget-me-not.  Early May.

In the front garden, Shirley tulips and forget-me-nots. Early May.

Katharine Stewart wrote, “At this time of the year if you turn your back on one bit of the garden for five minutes or more it goes completely out of hand.  You wonder if there will ever be a time when you can walk round appreciating everything without seeing something – an outcrop of weeds, an unpruned bush – that urgently needs doing.” (p. 69)  Although my garden is quite small, I have the same sense of things happening even faster than overnight.  For instance, the rowan tree that we planted last autumn.  One day there were fat buds, and then the next day there were tiny green leaves and blossoms:

Our new rowan tree in leaf.  Early May, Glasgow.

Our new rowan tree in leaf. Early May, Glasgow.

I have written before about the magic of the beech hedges.  One minute they are covered in dead leaves that have clung on stubbornly through all winter storms, and then in the twinkling of an eye, the dead leaves have gone and new leaves have come out:

Beech hedge, both copper and green beech.  Behind, trees leafing out.  Early May, Glasgow.

Beech hedge, both copper and green beech. Behind, trees leafing out. Early May, Glasgow.

Katharine Stewart writes about her patch of grass:  “I prefer to call it the ‘green’ …  Let it grow and it’s a meadow, a dampish meadow with lots of moss, wild flowers – eyebright, lady’s smock, lady’s mantle, self-heal, speedwell, stitchwort, hawkbit, bird’s foot trefoil, buttercups and daisies.  … Over the years it has given so much to the life of the house – picnics, night out in a ‘bivvy’ [bivouac] to catch the early sights and sounds, sunbathing and football games.  This year I shall cut a good patch in the middle for the ball games and leave wisde swathes round the edges for flowers.”

I love how perfectly she captures the meaning of a garden:  not something you look at from a path, but a place to play, rest, and just be.  The Dafter was appalled when we realised our new back lawn had no daisies!  What is the point of having a lawn if you can’t make daisy chains?  So winter before last I planted a number of the wildflowers Stewart names into the lawn.  I see the clover, birds-foot trefoil, lady’s bedstraw and two kinds of daisies are doing well.  I’m so pleased.

I wish you all a very enjoyable weekend, which hopefully will include some enjoyment of nature.  Check back here next week for my last Harris-related post, which will be a giveaway!

Posted by: christinelaennec | May 5, 2015

The stones of Callanish / Calanais

I have neglected to follow along with Katharine Stewart’s A Garden in the Hills recently, as I’ve been posting about my trip to Harris.  Interestingly, her essay for the 1st of May overlaps with something I wanted to show you:  standing stones.  So I will weave them together.

On the last day of my time in Harris, I drove up to Callanish in Lewis.  You may have heard of the amazing standing stones there.  They are believed to date back to the 3rd century B.C.

Coming up the path to the stones, I had a flashback from when the Dafter was very young.  You can’t see the stone circle from the car park, or indeed until you’ve climbed up the gravel path to the top of the hill.  I suddenly remembered a small Dafter entranced by the pieces of golden gravel:  “So pretty – the stones of Callanish!”  For her, those small, slightly polished, loose stones on the path were reason enough for an hour’s journey in the car.  We had a hard time tearing her away from her own “stones of Callanish” and I’m sure she came away with a few in her small fists and pockets.

Here is what grown-ups refer to as the Stones of Callanish:

As you enter

As you enter

They are located on the edge of a very ordinary Lewis township – or more accurately, a township sprang up next to them.  The stones form the shape of a Celtic cross, with a circle in the middle.  Many believe that the circle was planned as a kind of early observatory, aligned with the planets and stars.  In the words of Historic Scotland, who care for the site:  “The layout of the site, along with many others across the British Isles, appears to have an association with astronomical events, the precise nature of which cannot be determined.” (from this page)

Here you see the top branch of the cross, an avenue of stones:

The ??? avenue, with houses behind.

The north avenue, seen from the centre of the circle, with houses behind.

In the centre of the cross there is a circle.  According to the Historic Scotland website, the central stone is a “monolith” measuring 4.8 meters (a little over 15 and a half feet).



There is a burial chamber at the centre:


Centre of the stone circle (with a young visitor snapping away as well)

In her May Day essay, Katharine Stewart writes about the tradition of going outside to bathe her face in May Day dew (meant to keep one beautiful); and about visiting a well of which only she seemingly still knew the location.  The area where the well was located had been planted with trees.  What struck me about Stewart’s thoughts was the feeling of somehow touching people of the far distant past, a feeling that being at Callanish gives one.

“Here, once, a stone-age dwelling stood, the outline of the foundation still clearly visible.  Here, before the trees were planted, I had come on arrow-heads and a scraping tool on the fresh-turned furrows.  … Pulling aside the ferns and rushes, I gaze into the water.  It’s still dark and clear.  I scoop up a handful and drink it slowly, relishing every drop.  I gaze into the water again and put up a small plea, not for healing or protection for myself, but, perhaps, for the earth, for the whole earth which is in more danger than any of us.

I imagine a man of the flints, tired and thirsty from the hunt, coming for a drink of the water, the water that meant life as surely as fire did.  As he stooped over the smooth surface and saw his face reflected there, did he stop for a moment to wonder where he came from, where he might be going?  I think he did, for he spent so much of his strength hauling those enormous stones and standing them upright, pointing to the sun, moon and the stars.  That labour did not profit him or his family in any material sense, but it must have given him immense satisfaction.” (p. 65)

Visitor centre

Callanish visitor centre

Although it isn’t as famous as Stonehenge, I think Callanish is just as impressive.  Of course, Scotland is peppered with stone circles.  I wrote about one in Aberdeenshire here.

I knew that gales and rain were to come in from the west that afternoon, and I arrived at the stones when the wind was merely icy.  I always enjoy walking around them, along with other people who have come.

Regular readers will know me well enough by now to surmise that going inside for something warm to eat and drink afterwards was just about as much of a pleasure to me as seeing the stones themselves.  The Callanish visitor centre is beautifully designed.  It nestles into the landscape below the hill where the stones are, as you can see in the photo above and below.

Sympathetic architecture, Callanish visitor centre

Sympathetic architecture, Callanish visitor centre

Best of all was that I was able to meet a friend for lunch.  My delicious soup and bread and coffee was enjoyed over a long catch-up.  As we sat there, the rain moved in from the west, but we were snug in the restaurant, looking out over the moorland and lochans as the windows were pelted.

Callanish is a very special place.  The kind of place that puts one’s problems and indeed existence into perspective!

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