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!

Posted by: christinelaennec | January 25, 2015

As the day lengthens…

Beautiful amaryllis in bloom.  January 2015.

Beautiful amaryllis in bloom. January 2015.

“As the day lengthens, the cold strengthens”.  Katharine Stewart starts her January 25th essay with this well-known Scottish saying, commenting that “These old sayings invariably ring true” (p. 34).  After a week of ice and snow lying over much of Glasgow, we had a bit of a thaw, but rain falling at freezing temperatures has meant ice and black ice again (the poor postie took a tumble).

Ice, 24th January 2015, Glasgow.

Ice, 24th January 2015, Glasgow.

Stewart goes on to talk about changing weather patterns:  “Something has happened, lately, to the direction of our wind-flow.  The prevailing westerlies, reasonably mild and bringing welcome soft rain, have been swinging to the north, and even to the north-east or south-east.”  I believe she was writing in 1994.  Twenty years later, I at least have adjusted to the idea that the weather patterns are clearly changing.  There’s no longer a sense that we can look back to former times to show us what to expect.  One thing remains the same:  “The television weather-men rarely get their suns, clouds and arrows quite right for our particular area.”  We now have as many weather-women as weather-men. (Does anyone else miss “Heather the Weather” – pronounced Hayther the Wayther with a slightly rolled r at the ends?  She always stuck in the word “old” – “It’ll be a chilly old day near Auchterarder”.).

It does still seem to be the case that tv weather forecasts are only very general indicators of what actually happens.  I’ve noticed over the years of visiting the Hebrides that it’s almost pointless to watch the weather report, as the reality so seldom matches, unless it’s a very obvious matter of a huge Atlantic storm coming in.  Many people nowadays rely on weather websites online (xcweather is meant to be good, particularly in predicting wind strength and direction – something people pay attention to here, just as Katharine Stewart did).

In her garden, “Branches and twigs lie in unusual places, scattered by those alien gales.”  This has been a common sight here in Glasgow for the past few weeks.  Most of the pathways have been cleared now, but if you look, the ground is littered with branches and twigs:

Branches and twigs brought down by winter storms - and also some daffodils starting to come up!  Glasgow, January 2015.

Branches and twigs brought down by winter storms – and also some daffodils starting to come up! Glasgow, January 2015.

Because I love trees so much, I used to find the sight of broken branches very sad.  Now that I am older, if not very much wiser, I understand that the winter storms have their use.  The trees are thinned out by the winds.  It’s the weak branches that break off, except in exceptional circumstances.  Just as it’s nice to give the house a really good clean after Christmas, the winds leave the tree a bit cleaner, and even more ready to withstand future storms.  Having said all this, I was weeping the other morning to hear the whining of chain saws at the back of the house and see a beautiful mature tree – one branch had come off in the storms – being killed.  The moment when the branch with the crow’s nest toppled was the worst and I just went to the other side of the house and covered my ears.  It is probably true that the tree had grown too large for a city garden and lane.  But the birds and I will miss it very, very much.

Stewart writes that “In a sheltered corner… I come on a tiny primula, blooming quietly to itself.  That atom of reassurance is enough to make the day.” (35)  Spurred on by her discovery, I went to look in my own garden.  Sure enough, there is a small pink primrose just putting out a flower.  But the primula she was writing about was surely the native primrose, and the ones in my garden are blooming away:

Native primrose in my back garden - much eaten by snails!  Glasgow, January 2015.

Native primrose in my back garden – much eaten by snails! Glasgow, January 2015.

She ends her essay by describing her Burns’ Night Supper, as January 25th is the birthday of the Bard:  “In the evening, sitting at the fire, I eat supper of mashed neeps and tatties, with a mealy pudding (haggis is not for me) and drink a small toast to Rabbie.  He had a kinship with animals and flowers, with the whole earth, which so many have lost.  His ‘Red, red rose’ is surely the greatest love song of all time.” (p. 36)

So I will finish with the first verse of Robert Burns’ famous poem, and you can judge for yourself:

My love is like a red, red rose

That’s newly sprung in June

Oh my love is like the melody

That’s sweetly played in tune.

If you’d like to hear the song, here is a link to Karen Matheson singing it.

I wish you all a good Sunday, and a good start to your week.

Posted by: christinelaennec | January 22, 2015

A cold week

It has remained below freezing for the past week in Glasgow, which I think is fairly unusual.  I went to see how the swans in the park were doing:

Frozen pond at the park.  Glasgow January 2015.

Frozen pond at the park. Glasgow January 2015.

A lot of the pond is now frozen solid.  And you can see what the state of many of our pavements are like as well – packed snow and ice.  I counted 13 swans, including the resident mother and four of her young.  They and the ducks and moorhens were mostly all swimming in the unfrozen part of the pond:

Swans on ice.

Swans on ice.

You can just about see in the above photo that the swans were swimming amongst broken plates of ice.  The swan stopping to have a drink is standing on the ice.  It’s a bit difficult to see where the ice ends and open water begins.

We shall see what today brings.  Stay warm, everyone!

Posted by: christinelaennec | January 17, 2015


The dreams of all the children in Glasgow have come true:  we have snow!  Or “sna” as they say in Aberdeen.  It was a beautiful sight yesterday afternoon:

Central Station Hotel, Glasgow.  4:15 pm, 16 January 2015.

Central Station Hotel, Glasgow. 4:15 pm, 16 January 2015.

And as I write, more is falling.  This morning, I took Tilly out into the garden.  She made her way with with great caution:

Tilly carefully picking her way across the snowfield.  17 January 2015.

Tilly carefully picking her way across the snowfield. 17 January 2015.

We know this isn’t the first time she has experienced snow, because she was rescued when she was a stray kitten out in the snow in Aberdeen in February 2006.

So, just when I was thinking we wouldn’t have any snow such as Katharine Stewart described in her January 12th essay, we have a little taste of it.  Her essay for January 18th begins by extolling the virtues of the hellbore.  One of its nicknames is the “Christmas rose”.  She writes:  “The darling bud is lying there, tight closed, on the white ground, ready to open when the cold eases.” (p. 33) Some of my hellebores have sprouted up in the last week or so, despite the cold:

Hellebore, also known as Christmas rose, and Lenten Rose.  17 January 2015.

Hellebore, also known as Christmas rose, and Lenten Rose. 17 January 2015.

I know from my garden in Aberdeen, which experienced much colder weather than here in Glasgow, that the hellebores will be just fine.  There are buds on the camellia, and I am hoping that it will give us as beautiful a show as it did last year.  There are plenty of camellias in Aberdeen, so I am fairly confident this one will cope.

Camellia bush, 17 January 2015.

Camellia bush, 17 January 2015.

Katharine Stewart writes, “This is not the weather for garden work, except checking fences, but in the short, bright afternoons there is time to walk and look and plan.”  Well, my fences are fine and I don’t need to walk far to survey my garden, but I have been planning – spending time with seed catalogues, which is the gardener’s favourite winter past-time.

She then writes about weeds, taking up a few of the threads of her earlier essay.  She says that her “most persistent and invasive plant” is sweet cicely, but that it can be used as a sweetener with rhubarb, and that she gives “small plantlets to friends, with dire warnings about keeping it in check”.  She also finds feverfew beneficial:  “I now give plants of feverfew to friends who suffer from migraine and they consider it beneficial.  A few leaves eaten straight from the plant do bring relief”.  I wonder if I have feverfew in my garden?  I do leave some volunteer daisy-like plants to grow.  I must give this some thought next summer.

She writes about clover, which is so helpful for bees.  When I was, for a few years, head gardener at South Holburn Church, I worked hard to convince members of the church that we should leave the clover in the lawn, rather than to spray weedkiller on it, as had been done.  A lot of the older members considered that clover was a sign of an untended lawn.  Perhaps some of them had been groundskeepers; a lot of them were keen lawn bowlers.  After a few years, along with efforts of others in the church to qualify as an “eco-congregation,” and also publicity in the media about the plight of bees, they stopped killing the clover.  As far as I know, no children or others were stung by bees, and I think people became more open to the idea that leaving the clover was making a positive contribution to the environment.

Last year at this time, I spent some absolutely freezing sessions planting wildflower plugs in our little lawn.  They are intended for a lawn that is regularly mown short, and include red clover, white clover, lawn daisies, oxeye daisies, birdsfoot trefoil, chamomile and lady’s bedstraw.  It was hard work and I often wondered if my church garden colleagues in Aberdeen would be horrified.  We did have a few daisies this summer, and the clover has done well.  Katharine Stewart might have been amused at the idea of city dwellers spending time and money to bring wildflowers in to their gardens, when they are so plentiful out in the country.

She finishes her essay by mentioning the dreaded horsetail, or equisitum.  “It’s not a plant I’d care to talk to,” she writes (p. 34).  I had never encountered horsetail before moving to Glasgow.  Some tiny bits of it came with the new soil – to my and the landscapers’ utter horror.  Luckily, I think I was able to get them all out.  I shall have to be vigilant next spring.  I literally had nightmares about it!  There is a lot of it about here.  J has spent hours in her new garden trying to deal with it.  She said a friend of hers spent eight years ridding her garden of horsetail, by making sure that “never a Sunday went by that it wasn’t all pulled out”.  You see it growing up through concrete!  It would take over the world if given half a chance, I’m sure.

I know I am a day early in writing about Katharine Stewart’s January 18th essay, but this will have to do as I have a full weekend ahead, including shopping for a black top for Liturgical Choir today, and singing in a special ecumenical Unity service tomorrow.  I shall let you know how it goes!

I wish you all a good weekend.

Posted by: christinelaennec | January 14, 2015

Hebridean Average Temperatures Scarf

I recently finished a project that gave me great joy for months.  In August, I found Kristen Cooper’s “My Year in Temperatures – Scarf” pattern.  (I hope this Ravelry link will work for you!).  The original pattern is for a long, Dr. Who-like, scarf, with one stripe for the high temperature each day.  Thinking of a friend of mine from the Outer Hebrides who is a bit of a weather buff, I decided to make the scarf have one stripe per week, and the stripes running lengthwise:

Hebridean Average Temperatures Scarf for 2014.  January 2015.

Hebridean Average Temperatures Scarf for 2014. January 2015.

Hebridean Average Temperatures Scarf for 2014.  January 2015.

Hebridean Average Temperatures Scarf for 2014. January 2015.

Because the Outer Hebrides don’t experience such a wide range of temperatures as, for example, many places in North America, I realised that if I just used the colours of the official weather records, my scarf would only have about five different colours at the most.  So  I made up my own colour key, working in Fahrenheit:

My own colour coding.

My own colour coding.

The weekly high temperature range for 2014 was in fact between 43F and 64F, with one scorcher of a week in July when the average high reached 72F!  You can see the red stripe that corresponds to that week near the middle of the scarf.  It was a lot of fun to work out the average high temperatures for each week of the year so far, and from that the corresponding colour.  I used leftover Shetland wools (Jamieson & Smith 2-ply and Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift) and bought a few balls of wool where I thought I would need more.

Charting the average high temperatures for each week in 2014, in Fahrenheit.

Charting the average high temperatures for each week in 2014, in Fahrenheit.

I was really happy with the colour pattern that emerged.  Once I had knit all the weeks up to the present moment (in September sometime I think), I enjoyed finding out what the average high temperature was at the end of each week.  On New Year’s Day, my very first thought was:  “Ooh I can look up the high temperature yesterday, and find out what colour the final stripe will be!” (Atlantic, appropriately)

I’m hoping that my friend enjoys the scarf.  I sent it with accompanying paperwork, and a note saying, “No-one else will have one like it!”  I had such fun making it that I may do another such project in the future.  If I do one based on the weather records in the Hebrides, doing an Average Max Wind Speed scarf might be interesting!  The storms and gales there have continued to be very damaging, as you can see in this post from the Barefoot Crofter.  Friends of ours were without power for several days – not easy.  At least the phone land lines held up, and of course I hear there was tremendous community spirit on the islands.

The weather can be a trial, but for this project, it provided me with a lot of fun as well.

Posted by: christinelaennec | January 12, 2015

Happy old New Year!

This is the second in a series of posts reflecting on Katharine Stewart’s essays in A Garden in the Hills.  Today I’m reflecting on her entry of January 12th, which begins:  “With the ‘new’ New Year well and truly brought in, we remember that today is the day of the ‘old’ New Year.” (p. 25)

What is she talking about, the old New Year?  In 1752, Scotland changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar – the calendar we all know.  This resulted in the “loss” of 11 days.  Many people were unhappy about this, and in parts of the Highlands the “old” New Year (beginning January 12th) continued to be remembered.  One ongoing custom marking the “old” New Year is the Burning of the Clavie in Burghead, near Fraserburgh in the North-East of Scotland.  As the town’s website explains:  “People rioted, demanding back their 11 days – but not in Burghead.  Brochers [people from Fraserburgh] decided to have the best of both worlds, by celebrating New Year twice – on 1st January and the 11th January.”  So, happy old New Year to you!

Katharine Stewart then notes that “an elderly neighbour used to say that by this date there was ‘an hour on the day’.  Sure enough there is a feeling that this old planet may just be tilting its face towards the sun.” (p. 25)  I was very interested in this idea that by January 12th, three weeks after the Winter Solstice, there might already be another hour of light.  And I think this may well be true.  It’s a little hard to judge, because the weather has been stormy and very dreich indeed.  Yesterday it was still quite dark at 8:45 am.  But on Saturday, which was a day of snow showers and sleet, I noticed that it was still light in the sky at quarter to 5 pm, which is at least half an hour more light than before Christmas:

The sky to the west, 4:45 pm, Glasgow.  10 January 2014.

The sky to the west, 4:45 pm, Glasgow. 10 January 2014.

I imagine that if the weather hadn’t been quite so foul over the past few days, I might have seen that the mornings have half an hour more light as well.

The weather has really been pretty awful, although more for folks to the North and West of Glasgow.  Winds in Stornoway reached 113 mph on Saturday and friends on Harris have been without power for days, sleeping by the fire and cooking on one gas ring.  Very fortunately the phone lines are still okay, but there is always the fear that they will be blown down as well.  Here there has been some damage:

The trees here are all bent from the prevailing westerly wind, but this one obviously could take no more... so sad.  Glasgow, 10 Jan 2015.

The trees here are all bent from the prevailing westerly wind, but this one obviously could take no more… so sad. Glasgow, 10 Jan 2015.

But we are cosy and warm at home, with light to work by, and we are very grateful.

Katharine Stewart wrote: “the second snowfall of this winter keeps us from work outside, but watching the whirling flakes and the ever-lengthening icicles along the eaves you remember the blessings of winter”.  Though we’ve had snow falling at times, none of it has stayed on the ground.  That isn’t too surprising insofar as Glasgow is about 100 miles south of Abriachan (near Inverness) where Stewart lived, and we are at sea level rather than in the uplands.  I daresay there is snow up in the hills, north of the city.  But boy have we had rain!

Three inches of rain in the rain gauge, morning of 11 January 2015.

Three inches of rain in the rain gauge, morning of 11 January 2015.

Yesterday morning, as you see in the photo above, our garden had received 3 inches (7.5 cm) of rain since the 1st of the month.  But this morning it is up past 4 inches (10 cm).  So we have had 4″ of rain in the first 10 days of 2015, with an inch of that falling just yesterday.  Wet!

Katharine Stewart describes waking up to a new snowfall in Abriachan:  “… by morning the whole world has changed shape.  Trees are bowed down, the tips of their branches touching the ground.  The boundaries of field and road have disappeared under great mounds of snow.  Everywhere there are sculpted patterns of indescribable beauty.”  (p. 26)

Stewart also writes about the riches growing wild all around them in the countryside.  She lists the nutrients found in many wild plants, and their uses.  Chickweed – rich in iron and copper; nettles – rich in iron; heather – used to make rope, baskets, bedding, fuel, and ale.  She remarks:  “We’re lucky enough to miss out on chemical spraying”.  (p. 27)  I have often been tempted to gather some of the wild plants that I see growing around Glasgow, especially nettles – but I have been afraid to, because I know that the Council sprays weedkillers, and also most of the places I know of where I see nettles or brambles are dog-walking places.  I know that nettles are an excellent source of iron.  The poor Dafter is having another bad patch and is hoping against hope that it’s another bout of anemia and not a bad ME/CFS relapse.  Results are due this coming week.  [Edited to add:  Worryingly, her worsening symptoms are not due to lack of iron.] We always do what we can to boost her iron levels (cast iron cookware, Floradix) but I have often passed stands of nettles and wondered if I could harvest some to make soup.  I have wanted to do this since Jacqui posted her recipe for it.

I’ve also wondered if I could grow nettles in my very small garden.  They do come up voluntarily in the spring.  Instead of plucking them out, could I transplant them to some spot where they wouldn’t sting us and could just grow?  The only place I can think of is under the hedge, where there is a narrow strip:

Would nettles be happy in the narrow strip of ground under the hedge?

Would nettles be happy in the narrow strip of ground under the hedge? (Tilly is pondering other things as she patrols the back fence – you can just see her white paws.)

What do you think, readers?  Should I harvest municipal nettles and just wash them very well?  Or try to grow my own?  Also, I know that nettles are good for encouraging certain butterflies.  But if you chop them down in the spring to make soup, would they grow enough to be helpful to butterflies later in the season?

So many questions!  I wish you a good we.k, and a good old New Year.  It’s still raining here.


Posted by: christinelaennec | January 7, 2015

A visit to Luss at Christmas-time

On the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s, Michael and I had the chance to take a little trip out to the countryside.  We opted for a run up to Loch Lomond, which is a quick drive from Glasgow.  Last winter, we went on an excursion to Balmaha, on the east side of the Loch.  This year we decided to visit the village of Luss, on the west side, more or less across from Balmaha.

We arrived about 3:00, as the sun was making its slow descent.  It was a cold and clear winter’s afternoon, with the half moon hanging in the sky.  We parked (the car park is enormous, but doesn’t charge during the winter months) and walked over to the shores of the loch.

View of the pier at Luss, on the shores of Loch Lomond.  3 pm, 29 December 2014.

View of the pier at Luss, on the shores of Loch Lomond. 3 pm, 29 December 2014.

In Scotland, the sun rises in the southeast and sets in the southwest in the winter, making a low arc in the sky around the Winter Solstice.  In the photo below, you can see the last golden rays on the hills behind me.  It was cold!

Freezing and glad for my hat!

Freezing and glad for my hat!

The building behind me in the photo above is the Lodge on Loch Lomond, which is to the north of the village.  We walked along to the pier, by which time the light was much more pink.  Ben Lomond had a dusting of snow:

Ben Lomond, seen from the pier at Luss.  29 December, 2014.

Ben Lomond, seen from the pier at Luss. 29 December, 2014.

Here is Luss village, seen from the pier:

Luss village, seen from the pier.  The sun had set by 3:20 pm.  29 December, 2014.

Luss village from the pier. 3:20 pm, 29 December, 2014.

I think the official sunset time was about 4 pm, but at 3:20 the sun was very low.

Luss became well-known in Britain when a long-running tv show, the High Road, was filmed there in the 1980s and 90s.  The village is very small, and very attractive.  Next to the car park, there is a visitor centre and other amenities.  The day we visited, there were loads of (other) tourists everywhere we walked.

Even though by this time we could hardly feel our fingers and toes, we walked out along the pier.  In the summer there is a boat that sails across from Balmaha.  That would be fun!  We were so cold that we didn’t go into the Gift Shop and Art Gallery – perhaps next time.  You can see the frost on the rooftops:

Art Gallery by the pier at Luss.

Art Gallery by the pier at Luss.

We went to a lovely place, the Coach House Coffee Shop.  We had a short wait, as it was full.  We could see why – the service was friendly, there were two open fires, and it was just such a relaxed place to be, with lots of families.  Michael had a hot chocolate.  Isn’t the mug pretty?

Hot chocolate at the Coach House Coffee Shop, Luss.

Hot chocolate at the Coach House Coffee Shop, Luss.

The tartan stoneware is by Anta – I do love nice pottery.  Here’s the two of us:

Michael is warming up...

Michael is warming up…

... even though he let me sit by the fire.  The Coach House Coffee Shop, Luss.  December 2014.

… even though he let me sit by the fire. The Coach House Coffee Shop, Luss. December 2014.

The (decaf) coffee was just the ticket, especially with a drive home in front of me.  Here is a view of the Coach House Coffee Shop as we left.  I thought the candle lamps were so pretty and inviting.  As you see, the roof was covered by frost, but inside was as cosy as it looks:

The Coach House Coffee Shop, Luss. 4 pm, 29th December 2014.

The Coach House Coffee Shop, Luss. Just before 4 pm, 29th December 2014.

From outside the coffee shop, you look down to the church.  The moon was still very clear and bright in the sky.  Luss church is known for being one of the first in Scotland to put its services live online.  You can watch here.

The moon is over the church.  Luss, 29 December 2014.

The moon is over the church. Luss, 29 December 2014.

The houses in the village were built in the 19th century to house quarry workers, and were restored in the 1990s.  It is now a conservation village.

Luss village.  29 December, 2014.

Luss village. 29 December, 2014.

There isn’t a lot to it, but it is very pretty to walk around.  At 4:00, we set off again for home.

Heading back, with some light in the Northwest sky.  Luss village, 29 December 2014.

Heading back, with some light still in the northwest sky. Luss village, 29 December 2014.

We had to be careful walking, as the streets were icing up already.  We said goodbye to Luss, happy and warm from our walk and hot chocolate.  I would love to go back again.

Posted by: christinelaennec | January 2, 2015

A new year, and a new project

We have come through the door into a new year – Happy New Year to you all!  I hope 2015 brings you many blessings.

Wreath plus hearts and angel, January 2nd 2015.

Wreath plus hearts and angel, January 2nd 2015.

Tomorrow we will be putting away the Christmas decorations and taking down the tree – which is still lovely.  I will be sorry to say goodbye to its scented branches.  I’ve enjoyed it so much.  There have been a few minor changes since before Christmas:

The angel of tea has joined the nativity!

The angel of tea has joined the nativity!

My friend J, sweet soul, gave me an amaryllis after I got back from Portland, and it is fitting that it’s been shooting up just next to my Dad’s statue:

An amaryllis has sprouted by the umbrellas and Christmas trolls.

An amaryllis has sprouted by the umbrellas and Christmas trolls.

I thought I would try something new this year for my blog.  I may have mentioned before how much I enjoy Katharine Stewart’s writings.  She lived on a croft (type of small farm) in the Highland village of Abriachan, high up above Loch Ness.  Her book The Crofting Way (1999) is a series of short essays that chart the changes in crofting between the 1950s and the 1970s.  I very much recommend it.  The book below, A Garden in the Hills (1995) was written after she had left her croft and moved into the former schoolhouse in the village.  As its name suggests, she writes mostly about her garden there, but also about life in Abriachan, reflecting back to former times.

A Garden in the Hills by Katharine Stewart.

A Garden in the Hills by Katharine Stewart.

I thought that I might try to follow along A Garden in the Hills, which is a series of small essays throughout the year (albeit starting in October), here on this blog.  I am interested to see if my life in 2015 in Glasgow has any similarities to what she describes.  I also thought that rereading these essays would give me an interesting prism through which to see my own journey (God willing!) through the seasons this year.

On January 2nd (presumably 1994) she wrote:  “Nowadays we meet in the house of our oldest neighbour for Hogmanay, drink a toast as midnight strikes and then it’s singing, in Gaelic by our host and by some of us trying valiantly to follow, in English by others, and a dram by the glowing fire for each succeeding visitor, till the room is so warm that pullovers are discarded and tea is made to revive flagging energies.  Neighbours who may not meet often, leading very separate lives these days… cherish this chance to meet…” (p. 24)

I remember some of this tradition from when we first moved to Aberdeen in 1992.  We were invited to see the New Year in at a downstairs neighbour’s, and were astonished to find ourselves in a room packed with people, each one doing their “party turn” i.e. reciting a poem or singing a song.  When my turn came all I could think of that I could sing was “I have a mule and her name is Sal, fifteen miles on the Erie Canal”!  They seemed to like it.  After the bells (of Big Ben, which I think we listened to on the radio), people went out to first-foot, with small gifts of shortbread or even something useful for the house, such a a packet of sponges.  There were people visiting from house to house until the wee hours, and yes, whisky was involved.

The old traditions are dying out, or perhaps just changing.  What did our family do on Hogmanay 2014?  We were invited to the house of friends, where we saw in the New Year by setting off fireworks in the garden, with small children safely inside behind a window and the cat locked away.  We toasted it with Bucks Fizz and fruit juice.  The family then Skyped with their father, who is away on business.  We three walked home, not far, through empty streets.  We sent a few texts ourselves, and got to bed about 1:30 am.

On New Year’s Day, we sent quite a lot of texts, and phoned a few people to wish them Happy New Year and Bliadhna Mhath Ur.

Today, the 2nd, we invited our neighbours on the street to an Open House, as we did last year.  We enjoyed getting ready for our party.  Several of the items on the table were gifts from friends, as were the gold stars.

Open House for our neighbours, January 2nd 2015.

Open House for our neighbours, January 2nd 2015.

Everyone crammed into the living room and people enjoyed catching up.  We live close together but people don’t often stop and chat anymore.  So in some respects, it wasn’t all that different from Katharine Stewart’s New Year’s gathering, except that it happened the next day in the afternoon.

Here’s to 2015 – may it be good to us all!

Posted by: christinelaennec | December 30, 2014

Christmas 2014

Thank you for your kind comments on my “What Christmas Means to Me” post.  I was a bit nervous about posting it, so was happy that it was a welcome perspective for some people.

We have had a fantastic Christmas – especially when I think that for the last three Christmasses, the Dafter was nearly completely bedbound with ME/CFS.  What a difference this year!  She had asked if we minded her doing some volunteering on Christmas Day, and of course we were delighted.  We were up early that morning, and as usual we were spoiled rotten by our friends and family.  So many thoughtful and useful gifts!  Then I dropped the Dafter off at a church where they do a Christmas dinner for those who would otherwise have none.  She knew no-one there, but she kissed me goodbye and went to help.

So Michael and I had a lovely walk before, rather than after, our Christmas dinner.  It was a beautiful day:

Christmas Day walk.  The Forth & Clyde canal, from the bridge across to Westerton.

Christmas Day walk. The Forth & Clyde canal, from the bridge across to Westerton.

When we got home we enjoyed two of our presents:

Harris Tweed tea cosy (with midge) and special Christmas tea.

Harris Tweed tea cosy (with midge) and special Christmas tea.

Yes, we have three teapots!  The white and blue one we use for Rooibos tea in the evenings; the polka-dot one (in the tea cosy) is for special occasions, and the blue one behind is our everyday teapot.

The Dafter's balloon.

The Dafter’s balloon.

We picked the Dafter up several hours later.  She was glowing!  She’d had a great time, mostly keeping children entertained.  She was given this beautiful balloon, which has been a lot of fun to watch bob around the ceiling.

Then it was time for our Christmas dinner, cooked as always by Michael.  A dear friend gives us fancy Christmas crackers every year:

The table is set for Christmas dinner.

The table is set for Christmas dinner.

We had a beautiful meal (vegetarian!), pulled our crackers, put on our crowns and generally were pretty silly:

Fun at Christmas dinner.

Fun at Christmas dinner.

At the weekend, the Dafter went on an adventure by herself, travelling on the train to see friends overnight.  Amazing!  Michael and I enjoyed perusing some of the sales in town and seeing the Christmas decorations:

Fraser's department store, Glasgow, December 2014.

Fraser’s department store, Glasgow, December 2014.

We also took a trip out to the countryside, which I will show you in another post.  It was beautifully frosty the days after Christmas:

Frost on a wrought-iron fence.

Frost on a wrought-iron fence.

We were snug inside.  I love the handmade card from a young friend of the family:

Christmas cheer, with handmade card and glass angel.

Christmas cheer, with handmade card and glass angel.

Monday morning we awoke to the deepest frost I think I’ve ever seen, and fog as well:

Frosty garden, Glasgow, 29 December 2014.

Frosty garden, Glasgow, 29 December 2014.

Michael and I went through to Edinburgh to have lunch with Our Son.  The train was unheated and I was perishing with the cold by the time we got there.  But I warmed up.  Michael and Our Son both commented that I had my usual pink cheeks back, having apparently been quite white earlier on:

Our Son and me, Jenner's Coffee Shop, Edinburgh. 29 December 2014.

Our Son and me, Jenner’s Coffee Shop, Edinburgh. 29 December 2014.

I liked the poetry on signs declaring that Edinburgh is a UNESCO City of Literature.  This verse by Scott is a good description of the city, I think, though our visit was such a quick one that I didn’t get any snaps to illustrate it with! (You can see some photos of “massy, close and high” Edinburgh in this post.)

Literary quotations at Waverley Station, Edinburgh.

Literary quotations at Waverley Station, Edinburgh.

Back home, the garden was still immersed in what I think is “rime” (and not as in the Ancient Mariner):

Frost on the roses, late December 2014, Glasgow.

Frost on the roses, late December 2014, Glasgow.

One of my regular readers, oldblack in Australia, recently asked how the roses cope with the winter weather.  I took this photo to show you, oldblack!  These blooms will not fully open now, and although the rosebush is still producing buds (one is on the top of the photo), I don’t think there will be any more now.  I’ll give the bush a trim in March, while it’s asleep, and it will send out new shoots and buds in early June I think.

There is another “rose” in the garden that is coming into its growing season:  the hellebore, or Lenten Rose.  It is beginning to bud, and the frost and snow won’t hold it back too much.

The "Lenten Rose" (hellebore) is not bothered by the frost.

The “Lenten Rose” (hellebore) is not bothered by the frost.

The Dafter arrived home tired but very happy from her journey, and is having a friend to stay overnight tonight.  And tomorrow is the last day of 2014!  We stand at the threshhold of the New Year, an exciting time.

I wish you all a good end of this year and start of the next.  Bliadhna Mhath Ur, ‘nuair a thig i!  Happy New Year when it comes!

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