Posted by: christinelaennec | February 27, 2015


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

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

A granite house with lots of pink granite.  Aberdeen.

A granite house with lots of pink granite. Aberdeen.

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

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

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

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

The church garden in February 2015.

The church garden in February 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We stopped above the fishing village of Johnshaven:

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

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

The wind was cold but the views were stunning:

Looking south towards St. Cyrus, February 2015.

Looking south towards St. Cyrus, February 2015.

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

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 24, 2015

Dreaming of summer

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


Hailstones at my window. Glasgow, 24 February 2015.

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


Tilly on alert

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

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

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

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

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

View from the summerhouse last summer.

View from the summerhouse last summer.

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

I hope your week is going well!

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 20, 2015

Surreptitious sewing

Last month the Dafter turned 17.  Golly!  And I was very pleased to have a little surprise tucked up my sleeve to give her:  a patchwork camera strap cover.  This was an idea I’d had for nearly two years, but because she was so ill and we were together all the time, I never had a chance to do any secret sewing.  However, over the Christmas holiday she was away seeing friends overnight, and I swung into action.  I took a few photos to show those who might be interested in how I did it (see below).

She was extremely pleased.  She uses her camera a lot, and I chose meaningful scraps.  She recognised pieces left over from her coat-of-many-colours, her nappy bag, her thinking cap, my apron, a curtain that hung over a cupboard in our kitchen in Aberdeen, her star dress (when she was 1 1/2), the skirt I finished by hand on holiday in Paris, and other confections over the years.

A birthday surprise for the Dafter:  a patchwork cover for her camera strap.

A birthday surprise for the Dafter: a patchwork cover for her camera strap.

The hardest thing was measuring the camera strap without being found out.  Another day I rooted around in my cupboard for scraps to use.  Then when I had a chance to sew, I made up a simple pattern extending about 2 cm each side, plus seam allowance.  I decided on slanting pieces, as so:

Drafting a pattern.

Drafting a pattern.

The final pattern.

The final pattern.

I pieced the slanting strips, and then sewed them to a single long piece for backing.  I then tested the entire thing by cutting a piece of cardboard the same dimensions as the camera strap, turning the cover right-side-out, and seeing if the cardboard fit easily, which it did.  Then I turned it wrong-side-out again, and trimmed the seam to about 1/4″.

Sewing the pieces for the patchwork side.

Sewing the pieces for the patchwork side to the piece for the underside.

I turned it right-side-out again, and handstitched a hem for each opening.

Right side out, hemmed and pressed.

Right side out, hemmed and pressed.

I see I included a piece of the living room curtains as well!  (A leftover scrap, not an actual piece of the curtains.)  As you can see from the top photo, it tends to ride up a little bit, even though it fits perfectly when lying flat.  If I were to make another one, I might add an extra half inch to each end.  But it’s fine.

It was good fun, took just a few hours, and the best thing was her surprise, as she realised I had been pretty sneaky!

I wish you all a great weekend.

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 18, 2015

Snowdrops at Gargunnock House, Stirlingshire

I thought I would combine Katherine Stewart’s essay for February 18th with showing you our recent visit to Gargunnock House, a few miles west of Stirling.

The year that Stewart was writing, the weather on February 18th was “Showers of sleet … and a wind rising to gale force 8 or 9″.  She goes on:  “As the sleet begins to whirl in horizontal pattenrs and the wind howls among the slates, I tire of watching the tree’s precarious bending, turn from the window and pick up a gardening magazine sent by a friend.  It makes fascinating reading, but its world seems totally unreal.  Asparagus beds, pagodas, outdoor peppers and tomatoes… would any of these survive in a hill-top garden, in a climate full of wild uncertainty?  I suppose some of them would, with adequate shelter and sources of labour.  Certainly there have been gardens in Scotland, and in the higher reaches of the country, for many hundreds of years.  I think of the Queen Mother’s garden at the Castle of Mey in Caithness.  You can’t get a place more exposed than that.  Mary, our Queen, [Mary Queen of Scots] had a tiny garden made for her on the island in the Lake of Menteith, where she played as a child for a short while, before being sent to France in 1548.” (p. 48-49)

Last weekend, Michael and I had the chance to go for a country drive and visit a garden that is not so very far, as the crow flies, from the Lake of Menteith.  (The Lake of Menteith is the only lake in Scotland that isn’t a loch – but I don’t know why!)  Gargunnock House was originally a tower house built in the 16th century.  It has a walled garden (which we didn’t visit), which may well date back as far as the house.  Perhaps, a few miles away, young Mary Queen of Scots was having her own garden made at the same time.

The house was bought in 1835 by Charles Stirling.  Much of the planting of the garden must date from the 19th-century, such as the redwood trees lining the main drive:

Walking up the drive from the car park near the entrance.  Gargunnock House, February 2015.

Walking up the drive from the car park near the entrance. Gargunnock House, February 2015.  You can see why Gargunnock House garden takes part in the Snowdrop Festival.

To go back to its earlier history, according to a man who stopped to talk to us in the midst of restocking the plant stall, Gargunnock House belonged to a family who were supporters of the Stewarts – the side that lost the battle of Culloden.  I presume they were a Catholic family.  I asked what happened after the 1745 uprising, and he said he thought the house was taken from them and given to the Campbells, who were loyal to the King. He told us that to the south of Gargunnock, is “the marsh”.  The aristocracy hunted in all the hills surrounding the lower lands.  Gargunnock House, at the foot of the Gargunnock hills, would have been a prime base for hunting.  He told us that from the upper stories of the house you could see Stirling Castle to the south.

In the 18th century, the house was remodelled and given a Georgian front and terrace.  As the Landmark Trust (who now own the property) say, “[Eighteenth-century] visitors glimpsing it across the park from the south would be lulled into thinking it an apparently modern house.  Only when they came closer did tell-tale turrets and crow-stepped gables give the game away.”

Gargunnock House, visible in the distance from the drive.  More snowdrops!

Gargunnock House, visible in the distance from the drive. More snowdrops!

Nowadays, the house is a holiday house – sleeping 16, if you’re planning a weekend away with a large group – and the gardens are open to the public at certain times.  You park near the gate and put £3 in the honesty box, and take a laminated map to guide you around the gardens, keeping away from the front of the house, so the paying visitors aren’t disturbed.  I found out about it through the Open Gardens scheme, as Gargunnock House takes part in the Snowdrop Festival.  And rightly so, as you can see!

Continuing up the drive, Gargunnock House, February 2015.

Continuing up the drive, Gargunnock House, February 2015.

On your way up the drive, you notice two commemorative stones on the left.  The first is to mark the planting of a tree by the Princess Royal in September 1952.  I presume this was a young Princess Anne, as Elizabeth had become queen earlier that year. [Edited:  apparently this was Princess Mary, Countess of Harewood, Princess Anne’s great-aunt.]  Just beyond it you see another stone…

Tree planted by the Princess Royal.  Behind it to the right, another important commemorative monument.

Tree planted by the Princess Royal. Behind it to the right, another important commemorative monument.

…which is mossy and intriguing.  It’s one of the stones marking the graves of beloved animals connected to Gargunnock House.  This stone goes from Anna in 1958, through to Penny in 1986:

Memorial stone in the pet cemetery, Gargunnock House.  February 2015.

Memorial stone in the pet cemetery, Gargunnock House. February 2015.

I found the cedar trees quite amazing, in their snowdrop carpet.  I don’t know what kind of cedar tree this is, or why their trunks have this form.  Perhaps it’s one of the botanical wonders that Charles Stirling acquired to impress his visitors.  I was impressed!

Are these cedar trees?

Unusual cedar trees.

As you follow the drive up to the house, you glimpse a structure in the field beyond, and the map tells you it is the “doocot,” Scottish for dovecote.  Close up, it’s quite a structure!  The original residents of Gargunnock House must have enjoyed their pigeons:

The doocot, Gargunnock House.  February 2015.

The doocot, Gargunnock House. February 2015.

Visitors can go around the back of the house, where there is a plant stall:

Plant stall at the back of Gargunnock House.  February 2015.

Plant stall at the back of Gargunnock House. February 2015.

And guess what I found!  Winter aconites – something I saw in Aberdeen recently.

Winter aconites!

Winter aconites!

Our garden in Glasgow will now have its own winter aconites.  I hope they are happy here.

I asked the man who stopped to speak to us about the harling on the house, as I knew that Craigievar Castle in Aberdeenshire was re-harled at great cost.  He said that it was far too expensive to reharl the house itself, though the modern cement harling didn’t seem to be harming it.  But he told us that the stable block had been redone with lime harling  by the same restorers who reharled parts of Stirling Castle a few years ago:

Stable blocks, Gargunnock House.  February 2015.

Stable blocks, Gargunnock House. February 2015.

Visitors are allowed into the house garden, which is to the side of the house.  It’s a lovely, slightly wild garden.  When we were there, several groups of children were running around it and playing hide-and-seek, having a great time.  I think they might have been staying with their parents at the house for the weekend.

The side of Gargunnock House, seen from the house garden.  February 2015.

The side of Gargunnock House, seen from the house garden. February 2015.

I spotted these beautiful hellebores mixed in with the snowdrops:

Hellebores and snowdrops in the house garden.  February 2015.

Hellebores and snowdrops in the house garden. February 2015.

We didn’t go to the walled garden, as I could hardly feel my fingers by the time we had gone through the house garden.

Last view of the house from the house garden.  February 2015.

Last view of Gargunnock House from the house garden. February 2015.

I would very much like to return here in the springtime, when the azaleas and rhododendrons are in bloom.  And I will definitely want to see what they have been growing in the walled garden.

To return to Katharine Stewart’s essay, she writes that “Scots gardeners are, of course, renowned practically the world over. Even to children they are famous, since the appearance in Beatrix Potter’s tale of Mr. McGregor.” (p. 49)  I hadn’t realised until visiting the Beatrix Potter Centre in Dunkeld some time ago that Scottish gardeners had this reputation.  Apparently if in the 19th century you were in a position to hire a gardener, particularly a head gardener, the top of the line employee would have been a gardener from Scotland.  So the first readers of Beatrix Potter would have recognised that Mr. MacGregor was a Scottish gardener, fiercely devoted to his patch and therefore an arch-enemy of the rabbits.

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 16, 2015

Byways and back streets of Aberdeen

Michael and I went on a little walk when we were in Aberdeen, through many of the lesser-known streets in the city centre.  Some of this route used to be my walk to work when we lived there, and I have to say it was so nice to go back again.

To begin with, I always found this house name amusing:  “Vulcanvale”.  Is/was the person who named the house a Star Trek fan?  The other thing that I like is the juxtaposition of the name with the sign, with its curly metalwork and Scottish thistle.  I presume that the sign was handmade some years ago:

A house called "Vulcanvale".  Aberdeen.

A house called “Vulcanvale”. Aberdeen.

The photo below shows how the city centre was once a semi-rural area.  You can see a former barn or byre, with its green doors.  I don’t think this building was quite as grand as to be a carriage house.  It has lost the bar extending out from the flat roof of the top door, which you sometimes see on such buildings in Aberdeen.  The bar held a pulley, to hoist up hay or other goods.  You can just see, above the black sliding door, a former brick arch.  I expect that this large door was arched to accommodate a horse and wagon.  Next to the byre is an old cottage, whose top floor was extended in about the 1970s.  There are narrow lanes running up through these buildings.

A former barn or byre, Springbank Terrace, Aberdeen.

A former barn or byre, Springbank Street, Aberdeen.

This one, Springbank Place, has gates to houses on the left, and on the right, what I assume was once an shrine built into a wall:

Springbank Place, Aberdeen.

Springbank Place, Aberdeen.

A shrine in the old wall?  Springbank Place, Aberdeen.

A shrine in the old wall? Springbank Place, Aberdeen.

At the top of Springbank Place is a fine house:

A rather grand house at the end of Springbank Terrace, Aberdeen.

House at the end of Springbank Terrace, Aberdeen.

I imagine it would have been the residence of a wealthy merchant at one time.  And no doubt it is now the residence of quite a wealthy person, as detached houses with gardens in the centre of town don’t come cheap!

Turning up into Dee Street, I’ve always enjoyed this grand portico on what seems otherwise to be a rather ordinary building.  Notice the house set back behind a long front garden next door:

A grand porch on Dee Street, Aberdeen.

A grand porch on Dee Street, Aberdeen.

I’ve always wondered about the history of this large building, Seabank House on Dee Street.  I like the cast iron decoration on the roof, and the balustrades:

Seabank?? House?  Dee Street, Aberdeen.

Seabank House, Dee Street, Aberdeen.

I think Seabank House is now a care home.

Here is another house that was no doubt grand when it was first built:

A once-grand house, perhaps belonging to a merchant, whose garden is now a car park.  Dee Street, Aberdeen.

A once-grand house, perhaps belonging to a merchant, whose garden is now a car park. Dee Street, Aberdeen.

I believe this house is now an office building.  It’s not too hard to imagine a beautiful front garden where the car park is now.  Do you see how tall the chimneys are?  This was to keep the smoke as far up above street level as possible.  In the days of coal fires and “pea-souper” fogs, that would have been an important consideration.

Continuing up Dee Street, we pass the back of the Crown Street Post Office:

The back of the Crown Street Post Office, built in 1904?.  Scottish baronial style?  Dee Street, Aberdeen.

The back of the Crown Street Post Office, built in 1907, Dee Street, Aberdeen.

The Crown Street Post Office is a very large building (with its front door on Crown Street, the next street over).  The style of architecture is Scottish baronial.  When we first moved to Aberdeen, it was still a post office, and I always enjoyed going there to mail a parcel.  The Royal Mail moved to more modern facilities some time ago, and the building was made into flats.  You can read more about it in this post by Doric Columns.

We have nearly reached Union Street.  First we cross a narrow street called Langstane Place (pronounced “Langston”).

Coming to the top of Dee Street, at Langstane Place.  The Music Hall on Union Street is half-visible.

Coming to the top of Dee Street, at Langstane Place. The Music Hall on Union Street is half-visible.

Langstane Place takes its name from the Lang Stane (the long stone):

The Lang Stane, on Langstane Place, Aberdeen.

The Lang Stane, on Langstane Place, Aberdeen.

There seems to be some mystery surrounding the Lang Stane.  According to Wikipedia, it may originally have been part of a stone circle, and later used as a boundary marker.  It does certainly look like the stones one sees in the many standing stone circles in the North-East of Scotland.

A few steps beyond the Lang Stane and we have arrived at Aberdeen’s main thoroughfare, Union Street.  And what greets us, where Dee Street joins Union Street, is the beautiful granite Music Hall:

Turning onto Union Street from Dee Street:  the Music Hall.

Turning onto Union Street from Dee Street: the Music Hall.  The Town House further down is having some work done on its tower.

Designed by Archibald Simpson, it was built in 1859 and is still a Music Hall (in the sense of being a concert venue, not as in vaudeville).  One of the things I like about the Music Hall is that the columned porch, with steps leading down, extends out over most of the pavement / sidewalk.  When walking past the Music Hall, I like to go up the stairs and through the porch rather than along the steps or in the small space besides the steps.  It’s just a quirky thing, and maybe the porch is a nuisance to some people, but to my childlike mind, it’s a chance for a little bit of fun.

My Old Farmer’s Almanac tells me that today “Winter’s Back Breaks”.  And indeed this morning in Glasgow it is sunny and mild, almost springlike.  Happy start of the week to you!

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 14, 2015

Valentine’s Day: blackbirds, and the magical properties of trees

In her February 14th essay in A Garden in the Hills, Katharine Stewart describes the joy of listening to the blackbird’s song:  “My valentine arrives in the form of a burst of song from the top of the tallest cyprus opposite the window….  It’s now the full-throated song. … It’s a moment of magic.”  (p. 44)  As her earlier essays talk about her life with her husband and children on the croft, I presume that by the early 90s, Stewart was widowed.  I’m glad that there was a blackbird to give her a Valentine.

I have continued, after more than 22 years, to celebrate Valentine’s Day the American way.  I make handmade Valentines for family and a few Scottish friends who are used to my startling ideas.  In Britain, Valentine’s Day is only for lovers.  I’ve always thought that was quite ridiculous and hurtful (sorry, lovers!).  The Dafter is now of an age where she too thinks the amount of heartbreak generated by Valentine’s Day – oh I’m all alone, I don’t have anyone to give me a Valentine – is ridiculous.  Apparently there are more relationship breakups in the days leading up to February 14th than at any other time of year.  Who needs the pressure?!  So I’m glad I’ve maintained the understanding that Valentines are an expression of affection for anyone that you love.   Here’s what my Valentines look like this year:

This year's Valentine.

This year’s Valentine.

Some chocolate will also be involved.  And do we have blackbirds singing a Valentine’s greeting here in Glasgow?  I haven’t heard any, but I will continue to listen out.  I did, however, see crocuses!

Crocuses!  Up, but not open as there was no sun.  11 February 2015, Glasgow.

Crocuses! Up, but not open, as there was no sun. 11 February 2015, Glasgow.  As I took the photo, a man came out of a nearby house and joked “That’ll cost you a fiver!”

Katharine Stewart goes on to write about trees, their healing powers and significance.  “It has taken us a long time to accept what our forebears knew generations ago – that native plants, including trees, may provide cures for even the worst of human afflictions.  The bark of the willow, long known to contain healing powers, is now being studied as a possible cure for cancer.” (p. 45)  Is this the drug combretastatin?  Perhaps there are others derived from willow as well.  She mentions the name “salley” for willow, as in Yeats’ poem “Down by the salley garden” (which I had only known as the traditional song).  I believe that a variation of “salley” – “sauchie” – gave Sauchiehall Street its name.  The Willow Tea Rooms was named accordingly.

She writes also about the rowan tree (mountain ash):  “It’s a tree with magical properties.  I had a neighbour not long since, who would never burn wood from a fallen rowan on her fire, though she would use it outside to heat food for her hens.  Every house had a rowan by the door and a small branch would be fixed over the lintel of the byre and the stable to ensure protection for the beasts against evil.  … [Rowan berries] certainly make a wonderful wine, with a touch of magic in it, and a good red jelly.” (p. 45)

It’s not just in the countryside that the rowan was considered to be a protective tree.  I was told by a neighbour that when our houses were built, a rowan was planted in each front garden.  You can still see some of these old rowans about the neighbourhood.  We ourselves have planted a rowan in our back garden.  Our reasons for doing so were that it’s a native species, has good fall colour, berries for the birds, and won’t grow to be too huge.  But it’s good to know that it’s magic as well.

Amongst other trees, Stewart writes about the hazel:  “In Celtic legend the nuts of the hazel tree contained all knowledge.  It was said that the salmon in the pool ate the nuts that fell from the hazel and so became the ‘salmon of wisdom,’ having eaten the ‘hazel nuts of knowledge’.  To divine water the hazel-twig was always considered the most appropriate.” (p. 46)  Have you ever tried dowsing for water?  I bought some metal dowsing rods on my mother’s last visit to Scotland, and we tried them out.  Her father, my Grampa, had often dowsed for water to find where to dig a well.  We balanced them gently on our palms and walked about our back garden.  It was quite amazing how they slowly crossed when near a source of water!  She was so entranced with them that she took them back to Portland with her.

I will finish with a photo of some lovely anemones and daffodils:

Beautiful anemones.

Beautiful anemones.

It’s been a pretty good week.  As expected the Dafter felt horrendous and was in great pain on Monday, but has been a little bit better each day since.  Yesterday she was able to go into school for two hours, which is very good!  I have been enjoying choir very much.  We’ve been singing South African songs, which I really like.  Here is a link to an old video of Bright Blue singing “Weeping”.  It was written in 1987 as a protest against the apartheid regime, and incorporates the Zulu anthem “God Bless Africa,” which at the time was banned.  Have a listen, it’s nice (I think).

I wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day, and a good weekend!

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 11, 2015

A return to Aberdeen

Thank you all so much for your good wishes and lovely comments to my last post.  We all appreciate them so much.  We did manage our weekend in Aberdeen!  The weather smiled upon us, the Dafter was of course tired but also hugely boosted by seeing friends.  It was the first time that we’d returned all together since we left over a year and a half ago.  I will have three posts about our trip back, which I will interweave with other posts as February continues.

The drive down was beautiful.  This is the best photo that I managed to take – you can just about see the snow-covered hills to the east of Stirling, off in the distance.  There were other moments of much more dramatic views of the hills – but as I was driving, I can’t really show you!

View of snowcapped hills near Stirling.  February 2015.

View of snowcapped hills near Stirling. February 2015.

We stopped at Glendoick Garden Centre, someplace the Dafter knows well.  Somewhere in the archives I know I have photos of her at a very young age crawling around their play area.  Here she is at 17:

Revisiting swings of her youth.  Glendoick garden centre near Perth.  February 2015.

Revisiting swings of her youth. Glendoick garden centre near Perth. February 2015.

We took a family shot.  The Dafter pointed out how pale she is compared to us, even in winter – this is the paleness that many other ME/CFS parents have seen in their children.  Sometimes the paleness comes quite quickly, and is a sign that your child is becoming particularly unwell.  But the Dafter coped very well with the three-hour drive:

Family selfie, February 2015.

Family selfie, February 2015.

On Saturday morning, Michael and I walked up into the city centre – I will do another post about our walk.  It was so nice to be back in such a familiar place:

King Edward, Aberdeen spires.  February 2015.

Aberdeen spires. February 2015.

A familiar sight, birds on the rooftops.  Note the grey snowguard just at the bottom of the steep roof.  You still see them on older buildings in Aberdeen and other places in Scotland.  They are there to catch the thawing snow.  The snow melts through the holes, and passersby are not endangered by an avalanche:

Pigeons on a roof, Aberdeen.  February 2015.

Pigeons on a roof, Aberdeen. February 2015.

A photo of me with Union Terrace Gardens behind, and a Kelly’s cat next to me:

Me next to one of Kelly's cats, Union Street, Aberdeen.  February 2015.

Me next to one of Kelly’s cats, Union Street, Aberdeen. February 2015.

Michael was very interested to see the newly-opened up vista in front of Marischal College and the lovely Provost Skene’s house:

Provost Skene's house and Marischal College, Aberdeen.  February 2015.

Provost Skene’s house and Marischal College, Aberdeen. February 2015.

I hope that Aberdeen City Council will change their minds about filling in this space with more buildings. Many people have been clamouring for this to be made into a public square, where everyone can admire these stunning examples of Aberdeen architecture.

Signs of spring:  winter aconites!

Winter aconites, Aberdeen, February 2015.

Winter aconites, Aberdeen, February 2015.

A beautiful gate and fence:

Art Nouveau railings in Aberdeen.  February 2015.

Art Nouveau railings in Aberdeen. February 2015.

And a stunning sunset that evening:

Winter sunset, Aberdeen.  February 2015.

Winter sunset, Aberdeen. February 2015.

We’ve been home for two days now.  The first day back, the Dafter felt absolutely horrendous and was in a lot of pain.  But yesterday she managed to come out with me, to meet friends.  So that is a very good sign.  I think the happiness of reconnecting was worth it.

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 6, 2015

Snowdrops and Dafter update: no picnic, but could be worse

To begin with the weather, like Katharine Stewart we had a sunny St. Bride’s day, so presumably we have “the hauf o’winter to come and mair” (half of winter to come and more).  It has continued very sunny, and very cold.  The birdlife in the park has been confined to an even smaller area of the pond as it’s been almost completely frozen over.

Sunny and cold in Glasgow, early February 2015.

Sunny and cold in Glasgow, early February 2015.  Flowerbeds in the park.

Stewart’s essay for February 6th describes a spring-like day in winter:  “The snowdrop month came in with much chirping of finches…  Fresh snowdrops were opening daily and a blue primula was venturing into flower in the shelter of the ivy-covered wall.  there was warmth enough for the bees to fly down looking for their beloved crocuses.  They were not disappointed.” (p. 42)  Well, the snowdrops are out here, but not the crocuses, although their leaves are poking up:

Snowdrops in the park, Glasgow, 4 February 2015.

Snowdrops in the park, Glasgow, 4 February 2015.

On this day about twenty-one years ago, Katharine Stewart had a picnic outdoors with friends who came by:  “I spread a rug on the short, dry grass and entertain them out of doors.  To go inside would be unthinkable.  It’s a day for the first picnic of the year.  Soup and sandwiches, taken under a sky of speedwell blue, in the company of singing birds and happy bees…  There are gales to come and blizzards and floods.  But a February day of sun and calm makes the most memorable entr’acte in the drama of winter.” (p. 43)  We have not had picnic weather this week in Glasgow.  If I have friends stopping by, it would be unthinkable not to invite them inside by the fire.  But I’m sure we will have some “entr’actes in the drama of winter”.

Many of you have been following the unfolding story of the Dafter’s ME/CFS over the past few years, and I thank you most sincerely for your interest, encouraging comments and prayers.  I mentioned a few weeks ago that she had been feeling worse again, and had been hoping it was low iron, but it was not.  She has had a pretty bad relapse in fact.  However, things are not as bad as they could be.

The Dafter taking snow photos, delighted.  Glasgow, January 2015.

The Dafter taking snow photos, delighted. Glasgow, January 2015.

For most of January her health plummeted downwards, which was frightening for all of us.  We were back in the days of her crying with pain, needing a lot of help to move about the house, not able to leave the house very easily if at all.  Since the holidays she has had to drop her volunteering, her babysitting, and a lot of church activities.   She has thought about using the wheelchair again, but we haven’t actually got it out of the loft.  But I’m happy to say that during the past week, her health and energy levels seem to have stabilised and even picked up a bit, which is a great relief.  In the past six days she has managed to get out of the house to do something for about two hours nearly every day.  Sometimes she’s also has enough energy to do a little bit of schoolwork or some other project, but mostly she has to rest apart from those couple of hours of activity.

She has managed to keep going with school to some extent.  The brain fog is once more very bad.  However, the school has been hugely supportive.  She doesn’t have to sit her prelim exam until she is ready, which may be another couple of months, and she will be allowed to type instead of hand-write.  While drawing and painting are now (at last) possible for her to do on most days, reading and writing remain very difficult.  In fact, her language skills generally are clearly affected by the ME.  She muddles her words and syntax when speaking, sometimes to comical effect.  One example is:  “There’s no happy fruit!  I mean, there’s no fruit that I like!”  So doing a two-hour written exam is going to require a lot of training and building up. She has had two writing practice sessions.  She managed to do 13 minutes the first time, and 20 minutes the second time.  I will be her coach for the exam, both in terms of learning the content, and also in terms of helping her build up to taking a 2-hour exam.  The actual exam is at the end of May, so we have some time.

As usual one of the hardest things about being so ill again is the social isolation.  We know that it’s vitally important for her to be with other people, especially other people her age, and for her to get out of the house every day that she can manage.  One of the difficulties is that the Scottish school system for her age involves many weeks of “study leave” in the spring.  There are three weeks of study leave and holiday at the moment.  She has been going into school to work with the teacher on her portfolio, but none of the people she has lunch with are there.  Classes will resume in mid-February, but only for 7 weeks.  After Easter there is study leave for the rest of the year – a big gap, from April until August.  She has never managed to break into the lunch crowd to the extent of being invited to socialise with them outside of school.  In her words, “If you’re not part of the group from the beginning, you’ll always be a visitor.  They’ve known each other from primary school.”  Teenagers are all very busy, and if you can’t manage to come to the group or to school, then in most cases you just have to accept being by yourself.  The internet does help a bit with this but isn’t a replacement for face-to-face contact.  And the Dafter wants nothing more than to be with other people.  As one friend of the family put it:  “She is a gloriously gregarious girl.”

I know that other teenagers with ME/CFS find social isolation a huge problem.  It’s good to know that you’re not alone, but at the same time it’s really very hard to live through.  She was 13 when she fell ill, and has just turned 17.  At a time of your life when you aren’t feeling tremendously confident or sure of who you are, it is easy to think there must be something wrong with you.

The Dafter (wearing her Dad's tie), January 2015.

The Dafter (wearing her Dad’s tie), January 2015.

But she is enjoying life as she can, and she has definitely gained confidence since last summer.  She and we both know that things could be much worse.  For example, she is still able to eat all meals at the table – something she was unable to do for nearly the first three years of her illness.  And she will have learned something from this relapse.  She was already very good at pacing herself, and trying to avoid stress, and she is even more finely-tuned to her physical and emotional state now.  After three and a half years, it would be wonderful if this illness disappeared tomorrow – and I continue to focus on the idea that she will make a complete recovery – but we have to be realistic and just get the most out of each day.

I continue to work with the 40 things that help me.  We are back to a rhythm of life in which either myself or Michael must be on hand pretty much all the time to help the Dafter, with transportation, meals, appointments, life in general.  But I fix my mind on the idea that this is a stage we are passing through again, and that every day is a day closer to her being well, and able to lead an independent life.  I am very grateful that Michael can do so much to help, and I’m grateful to be more settled here in Glasgow, to have the choirs I sing in, and my church.  Even on the most difficult weeks, I can see other people on Sunday mornings and one evening, and those singing-praying times shine like beacons for me.  Michael and I have worked out times for me to have other breaks, get-togethers and fun times in the months ahead as well.

Having written about how unwell she is again, you may be amazed and possibly disapproving when I tell you that today we are heading, for the first time as a family since we left in July 2013, north to Aberdeen.  The main purpose of this winter trip is for the Dafter to be able to see her friends there again.  She has a week off school following, so we hope that she will be able to recover fairly well.  One of the things that we have learned in this journey is that sometimes doing physically tiring things is worth it if you are able to have an experience that brings you joy and emotional energy.

Fingers crossed the weather will smile upon us.  I imagine I may have some photos to show you once we are back!  I wish you all a great weekend.  Let me know if you manage to have a picnic, wherever you live!

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 1, 2015

St Brigid’s Day and Candlemas

Tilly watches the hungry birds.  End of January 2015.

Tilly watches the hungry birds. End of January 2015.

In her book Garden in the Hills, Katharine Stewart devotes an essay each to February 1st (St. Brigid’s Day) and February 2nd (Candlemas).  Four years ago, I wrote a post covering Imbolc, the start of the pagan year, St. Brigid’s Day, Candlemas and Groundhog’s Day, all of which take place on February 1st and 2nd.

Katharine Smith writes “This [February 1st] is the festival of St. Bride.  Her name is the Christianised version of the Celtic goddess of spring – Brighid…  The time of Brighid was a celebration of the first signs of returning light and life, after the darkest of the winter was past, a time of creative impulse and energy.”  She then goes on to write that, as St. Bride was the saint of milkmaids, she gave the name Bride to her Sanaan goat, “she of the golden eyes and the elegant, capering legs”.  “She came into milk about the time of Bride’s day, always giving an adequate supply, on a diet largely composed of natural herbage.”  (p. 37)

She wrote, “This year St. Bride’s Day dawns incredibly bright.”  We, too, have had some beautiful sunny winter’s days.

Jacob the Redbird of Happiness, a gift from Roobeedoo and made from her handspun Jacob fleece!

Jacob the Redbird of Happiness, a gift from Roobeedoo and made from her handspun Jacob fleece!

At the same time as the sunny days, we have also had a lot of precipitation, rain and snow – 7″ in my rain gauge this month.

Stewart described the walks she took with a friend:  “We can take our pick of walks from this particular spot – along the peat-road onto the hill above the tree-line, where the old peat-workings are filled with water now; the old ‘funeral road’, the way that was used to carry the coffins shoulder-high to the horse-drawn hearse waiting at the foot, or along the track to the old crofting settlement where only one house still stands.”

The walks available to me in Glasgow are not so open as the ones she took in Abriachan, but I can easily imagine them.  There are peat-roads all over the Highlands, less worked now than in former days.  When I first came to this country, I wondered why, in seemingly empty landscapes, you would see stacks of blue and green plastic bags in certain spots.  I came to understand that these were recycling feed bags holding the peats that people had laboriously cut, stacked, and dried.  The “coffin-road” is familiar to me, too, from my time in Harris.  Why a coffin road?  It’s because of the geography and the history of the Highlands.  During the time of the Clearances, those Highlanders who didn’t emigrate were pushed onto the rockiest, least profitable land, so that the landowners could graze sheep on the best land.  The rocky land is so hard that graves cannot be dug, so people had to bury their dead at some distance, where the earth allowed for a graveyard.  And the old crofting settlement where only one house still stands – how many ghostly ruined villages does one come across while hill-walking in Scotland?  It is a sad and common sight.

Stewart also writes about the supernatural.  It’s hard to say whether she believes it’s a possibility or not:  “I can understand how people living in these idyllic places… dependent on things beyond their control – gale, snow, flood – could well imagine that there were creatures around which were also beyond their control, beyond their ken.  A man from these parts, who became a minister of the church… told me not long ago that, as a young boy sent to herd the cattle in a green place not far below the house, he encountered a small group of ‘fairy folk’.  He took the cattle home and went excitedly to tell his mother what he had seen.  She promptly gave him a skelping for telling lies.  He firmly believed, for the rest of his days, in what he had seen.”  (p. 40)

Are there fairies in the garden?  A friend says that the stones around the pond are probably from Ailsa Craig granite, the same that they make curling stones from.

Are there fairies in the garden? A friend says that the stones around the pond are probably from Ailsa Craig granite, the same that they make curling stones from.

Stewart also touches on adoption and fostering:  “Until quite recently the people of the crofts often brought up orphan children along with their own.  Fostering had been widely practised in the old days.  The chief’s son would often be reared in quite humble homes, thus forging a link between members of the clan.” (40 -41)  Now, as an adoptive mother, I find that very fascinating.  How different it must have been to live a society where children were to some extent communally reared, and where it was considered important for the clan chief to have experienced the challenges of ordinary life?  Compare that to our atomised everyone-for-themselves society, and the placement of a child often in a succession of foster homes, or perhaps with a “forever Mummy and Daddy”  – knowing both that it takes a village to raise a child, and that about 50% of non-stepparent adoptions break down?

Stewart’s entry for February 2nd shows the link between Candlemas (the day when church candles were traditionally blessed) and the idea behind Groundhog’s Day.  She quotes a rhyme her neighbour used to recite every year:

Candlemas day, gin thou be fair  [Candlemas day, if you are fair]

The hauf o’ winter’s to come and mair [Half of winter is to come, and more]

Candlemas day, gin thou be foul  [Candlemas day, if you are foul]

The warst o’ winter’s ower at Youl.  [The worst of winter was over at Yuletide.]

On the year that Stewart was writing, her Candlemas day was very fair indeed, and she spent a happy time working in the garden.  She concludes “It has been a good day, come what may.”

Despite freezing weather, some of the spring bulbs are starting to come up.

Despite freezing weather, some of the spring bulbs are starting to come up.

I shall have to see what weather Candlemas Day brings to us tomorrow.  In addition to candle-blessing and weather-predicting, at our house it is a day of a bit of celebration:  this year, 27 years of Michael’s and my marriage.

Happy February, everyone!

Posted by: christinelaennec | January 28, 2015

Knitting at the dentist’s

One of my recent challenges has been having some dental work done.  Now, as you can see from any photo of me smiling widely, I have strange teeth.

Big smile!

Big smile!

I was born without any lateral incisors, a huge gap between my front teeth, extra cartilege, etc., and had to have quite a bit of work done as a child, including surgery and braces.  In fact, my teeth have on at least two occasions caused me to be recognised.  Once was at a reception, where a man came up to me and said, “You had a blah-de-blah-de-blah-plasty done at the Oregon Dental School didn’t you?  I recognise your mouth!”  The operation (when I was 12) was filmed and showed to dental students.  Fame at last!

Another instance was when I was staying in hostel in France as a teenager.  A young woman came up to me, with a letter:  “Are you Christine?” “Yes, how did you know?” “They told me to look for the girl with gaps in her teeth.”

My funny-looking teeth have never really bothered me, for some reason.  There are worse things to be saddled with than gaps.  But the less noticeable thing I have inherited (my mother blames her French-Canadian ancestors for all this) is very soft teeth.  Unlike my mother, I do have enamel on my teeth, but despite being a dedicated brusher and flosser I think almost every tooth in my mouth has had to have some kind of filling.

So you would think I would be well used to the dentist’s chair and all that it entails.  However, recently I have had new dental adventures in the form of crowns, for molars that had been filled to within an inch of their lives.  I was fearing getting these crowns, but when one of the molars broke apart just before Christmas, the prospect of having them fixed became somewhat less horrifying than the prospect of them crumbling in my mouth.

And so I went in three times in three weeks: for a temporary fix, crowns Part 1, and crowns Part 2, on two molars.  And here is the best part.  My dentist had seen me knitting in the waiting room.  She’d told me (during the temporary fix) that her mother had been a knitter, and had kept all six of them equipped with Aran jumpers.  I was trying to uncurl my toes while she worked, humming my alto part for the blessing that we sing at church that goes “Courage in Every Endeavour”.  (Only afterwards did I think of “Crown Him, crown Him…”)  My dentist said, you should knit while you’re in the chair, if it would help at all.

And so I did, for the second two appointments (50 minutes and 25 minutes).  Nothing fancy – no Aran cables, nothing requiring counting or looking, just garter stitch.  But it was hugely, hugely helpful!

A garter stitch square made from Colourscape Chunky wool.  Part of a project to make a patchwork blanket.

A garter stitch square made from Colourscape Chunky wool. Part of a project to make a patchwork blanket.

During the third appointment, the dentist and the nurse said, “We’ve been telling everyone we have a patient who knits in the chair!”  I said, “I’ve been telling all my knitting friends that I have a dentist who lets me knit in the chair.”  My dentist said, “They should ask their dentist if they can knit, I don’t see why a dentist would refuse if it helps them.”

So there you go, if there are any fellow knitters who need dental work (I almost wrote “needle-work”!), a little tip for you.  You can refer your dentist to this post if it helps!

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