Posted by: christinelaennec | July 19, 2016

Plainsong recommendations

Thank you for enjoying my special weekend with the Scottish Plainsong Choir on the Isle of Cumbrae!  A couple of you have asked where you can hear the kind of music we sang.  I’ve asked Alan Tavener, the conductor of the Scottish Plainsong Choir, to give you some recommendations.

He and his wife Rebecca formed the professional choir Cappella Nova more than 30 years ago here in Glasgow.  Cappella Nova is now well-known for its performances of early, as well as contemporary, choral music.  In 1998 Rebecca Tavener created Canty, “Scotland’s only professional Medieval music group”.

"Wings of Wisdom" and "Apostle of Ireland" CDs by the group Canty.

“Wings of Wisdom” and “Apostle of Ireland” CDs by the group Canty.  (I don’t generally leave my CDs out on the lawn, but I thought the clover made a nice backdrop!)

I can personally recommend two CDs by Canty:  “Apostle of Ireland:  An Office for St Patrick” and “Wings of Wisdom,” which includes Scottish medieval music and chants by Hildegard of Bingen.  I find this music both haunting and also very soothing indeed, if that makes sense.  A tremendous amount of scholarship and study has gone into these performances.  Certainly from reading the CD booklets, I can see that I have a great deal to learn about plainsong and medieval music!

Two CDs featuring Scottish plainsong performed by Cappella Nova are “The Miracles of St. Kentigern” and “Columba, Most Holy of Saints”.

If you would like to hear plainsong without plumping for a CD, here is a link to a video of the well-known chant “Veni Creator Spiritus” with accompanying images of medieval music.

When we were singing Vespers, I found it very moving to think that this music has been sung for well over a thousand years.  At a time when the news seems to offer so little to celebrate, it is comforting to me to know that certain things are enduring.  I suppose this is why music is so often associated with heaven – it speaks to us of transcendence.

If you do explore medieval choral music, I hope you will enjoy it!

Posted by: christinelaennec | July 8, 2016

A musical adventure at the Cathedral of the Isles

As I was telling you in my last post, I had an amazing weekend on the Isle of Cumbrae singing with the Scottish Plainsong Choir.  Many of the choir members were staying at the College of the Holy Spirit, which as you can see below, adjoins the Cathedral.  The Cathedral was built in 1851, and is the smallest cathedral in Britain.  It’s an Episcopalian cathedral.

The Cathedral of the Isles on the left, and the College of the Holy Spirit on the right. July 2016.

The Cathedral of the Isles on the left, and the College of the Holy Spirit on the right. July 2016. (Sorry to cut off the top of the steeple – I couldn’t get further back!)

We spent Saturday rehearsing in the Cathedral:

The Cathedral of the Isles, Millport, Isle of Cumbrae. July 2016.

The Cathedral of the Isles, Millport, Isle of Cumbrae. July 2016.

We were well-catered for with tea breaks and lunch, through in the College.  The weather was rainy and cool, but a friend and I managed a quick walk before lunch, in between showers.  At the entrance to the Cathedral we found these ancient carvings:

Stone carvings from the island

Stone carvings from the island

Below you see the cloisters, a beautiful feature of the College.  I managed to find a brief moment when it was empty except for me:

The Cloisters, College of the Holy Spirit, Isle of Cumbrae.

The Cloisters, College of the Holy Spirit, Isle of Cumbrae.

We had coffee and tea in the Cloisters, as well as a short back-stage rehearsal on Sunday before Vespers.  It was lovely to sing there!  During the weekend, we also had the use of the sitting room, and the library beyond it:

The sitting room, College of the Holy Spirit, Isle of Cumbrae.

The sitting room, College of the Holy Spirit, Isle of Cumbrae.

Note the wine glasses – many people brought wine to share with dinner.  Upstairs are the rooms, each named after a saint.  This one was presumably the cell of the infirmarian (my Latin is very rusty!):

One of the doors of the rooms in the College of the Holy Spirit, Isle of Cumbrae.

One of the doors of the rooms in the College of the Holy Spirit, Isle of Cumbrae.

This stained glass panel intrigued me.  A card in the sitting room said it refers to the medieval legend of a monk who was a tumbler (as in acrobat).  He devoted himself and his tumbling to Our Lady the Virgin Mary.  You can read a version of the legend here.  It either has a sad ending or a happy ending, depending on how you look at it!

The Blessed Juggler?

Stained glass of “Our Lady’s Tumbler,” College of the Holy Spirit, Isle of Cumbrae.

I found the Cathedral and College to be excellent examples of the medieval revival in the 19th century.  The Victorians were drawn to elements of medieval culture and were fond of recreating them in art and architecture.  Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, was very inspired by the legends of the Knights of the Round Table, and the ideals of chivalry.

The acoustics in the Cathedral, along with our choirmaster’s excellent warm-ups and constant reminders to keep our throats OPEN, meant that even after an entire day of singing, my voice didn’t feel a bit tired.  I set out for another evening walk, and was joined by a friend – whose ears I probably talked off!

Here is the view from the side of the College down to the front gate:

Setting out on another evening walk: looking down towards the front gate of the Cathedral. July 2016.

Setting out on another evening walk: looking down towards the front gate of the Cathedral. July 2016.  You can just about see the little meerkat dolls inside the window.

Once again we were very lucky with the weather!  We walked away from the shoreline and up the hill.  The Isle of Cumbrae is not very big.  There is a road around the circumference (11 miles) and a road that goes up to the hill in the middle, and down the other side.

We were soon looking down on the houses of Millport stretching around the curve of the bay, and the Cathedral on its wooded knoll.  We saw a few of the island’s many rabbits, and some lovely cattle, including some calves who came up to bat their eyelashes at us (alas, no photo of them).

Walking up towards the viewpoint, Isle of Cumbrae: the Cathedral nestling below. July 2016.

Walking up towards the viewpoint, Isle of Cumbrae: the Cathedral nestling below. July 2016.

The Cathedral spire, from further up:

The Cathedral, with the sea beyond, from further up the hill. Isle of Cumbrae.

The Cathedral, with the sea beyond. Isle of Cumbrae.

We climbed up as far as a spot with a number of benches, and a fantastic view.  On the horizon, barely visible, we could see Ailsa Craig.  That’s a haystack rock that lies off the coast near Stranraer, 36 miles south of Cumbrae.

Closer by is the island of Little Cumbrae.  It was bought by an Indian guru some years ago who seems to be the topic of some controversy, including investigations for tax evasion.  All that is just a speck in the long history of the island, which has seen castles built and demolished, a very early lighthouse lit by a fire, and a garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll.

Little Cumbrae, lying to the south of the Isle of Cumbrae (known also as Great Cumbrae). July 2016.

Little Cumbrae, lying to the south of the Isle of Cumbrae (known also as Great Cumbrae). July 2016.  I think this was about 9 pm.

I was sorry to turn and come back down the hill, it had been such a beautiful walk.

When I got back to the B&B, one of the owners had very kindly ironed my choir clothes for me, which had allowed me to be out as late as I wanted.  I thanked her sincerely, and we had an interesting talk about growing up on the island, and the difference between the island in summer and in winter.

After another good night’s sleep and tasty breakfast, it was back to the Cathedral.  Many of us sang at the 11:00 Eucharist, and all of us sang Vespers at 3:00, which was part of the Cathedral’s summer concert programme.  Here is a glimpse of our music:

Some of the Gregorian Chant that we sang at Vespers.

Some of the Gregorian Chant that we sang at Vespers.

Some of the choir members can read the medieval music, written in “neumes”.  I, however, relied on the round-note transcription above – and on my many markings to keep me straight!  Do you see the asterix after “ibant”?  This marks where the cantor finishes singing and the choir joins in.  Thus it is a particularly important symbol.  I was amused by this poster in the vestry:

Poster in the vestry

Poster in the vestry showing the Cathedral of the Isles and College of the Holy Spirit, and with a reminder for singers of Gregorian Chant.

Words cannot express how amazing it was to find myself singing this very pure form of music (everyone singing the same note together), in such a beautiful place.  The acoustics were such that the faintest whisper could be heard by all, so I was really concentrating!

The Cathedral of the Isles, Millport, Isle of Cumbrae.

The Cathedral of the Isles, Millport, Isle of Cumbrae.

All too soon we had finished, to kind applause from the audience.  I was sad that it was over.  However, I hope to have another chance to sing with them in the future.

When I got back home, the Dafter and Michael were out, and Tilly came to snuggle up with me.  I will confess to having had a wee nap, with many happy memories, and the music still running through my head.

 

 

Posted by: christinelaennec | July 5, 2016

A magical getaway: the Isle of Cumbrae

Last weekend I had the most wonderful opportunity!  I sang with the Scottish Plainsong Choir at the Cathedral of the Isles on the Isle of Cumbrae.  I’ll tell you about it over two posts.  Having prepared Michael and the Dafter for my three day absence, on Friday I took the train from Glasgow to Largs (about an hour), and walked down to the pier to take the ferry across to Cumbrae, just a bit more than a mile away.

Largs used to be a very popular summer destination, especially before the era of package holidays abroad.  As the ferry slipped away, I could see Nardini’s distinctive Art Deco restaurant near the waterfront:

Leaving Largs: Nardini's famous ice cream. July 2016.

Leaving Largs: Nardini’s cafe on the left, famous for its ice cream. July 2016.

It must be one of the shortest ferry journeys on the Cal-Mac timetable, just ten minutes to cross:

It's ten minutes' ferry ride to the Isle of Cumbrae.

On the ferry to Cumbrae.

The bus was waiting, and in another few minutes I was in the town of Millport.

The bay in Millport, Isle of Cumbrae, with the Isle of Arran in the distance. July 2016.

The bay in Millport, Isle of Cumbrae, with the Isle of Arran in the distance. July 2016.

I recognised the peak of Goat’s Fell on the Isle of Arran from our visit there in 2014.  I was a bit sad to think that the Dafter had enjoyed those months of improved health before her relapse in January 2015 – but she is making steady progress.  I was made very welcome at my B&B, where I once again (as in April on Harris) experienced the delicious feeling of being able to read for a while, knowing I was responsible only for myself and wouldn’t have to jump up.

Just before 7 pm, I walked up through a beautiful back lane to the College of the Holy Spirit, which is attached to the Cathedral of the Isles.  It was originally a theological college, but is now a retreat and guest house.

Walking the back way to the College of the Holy Spirit and the Cathedral of the Isles, Cumbrae. July 2016.

Walking the back way to the College of the Holy Spirit and the Cathedral of the Isles, Cumbrae. July 2016.

There I was warmly welcomed by the staff of the College (and a beautiful golden Lab), as well as by the choir members themselves.  Most of them were staying at the College for the weekend.  We all had dinner together at long tables in the Refectory.  A few of the people there were friends I’ve made in the choirs I sing in regularly, and I met many more people over the weekend.  It was a very friendly atmosphere.

Another view of the Cathedral of the Isles, Millport. July 2016.

The Cathedral of the Isles, with the College of the Holy Spirit adjoining it, on a summer evening.  Millport, Isle of Cumbrae, July 2016.

After a filling dinner, and coffee in the Library, I went for a walk.  Having come to the Cathedral by the back way, I went out the front entrance.  Millport is a popular holiday destination amongst Glaswegians, and several people had told me how lovely it is.  But a few of them had never realised there’s a Cathedral there.  When I looked back from the front gate, I understood how you might miss it:

Just inside the main entrance gate.

Just inside the main entrance gate:  in the summer, the Cathedral is well hidden.

I walked down to the seafront, and enjoyed the smell of the sea and the sound of the oystercatchers.

Evening walk in Millport, July 2016.

Evening walk in Millport, July 2016.  The island of Little Cumbrae is on the left.

As in many parts of the West of Scotland, the Gulf Stream makes for a microclimate that palm trees enjoy:

Millport: palm trees and roses. July 2016.

Millport: palm trees and roses. July 2016.

I was amused by “The Wedge”, which claims to be Britain’s narrowest house:

"The Wedge" is apparently the narrowest house-front in Britain. Millport, Isle of Cumbrae, July 2016.

“The Wedge” apparently has the narrowest house-front in Britain. Millport, Isle of Cumbrae, July 2016.

Presumably it widens at the back, as the painted design of its name suggests! It must present some interesting problems in terms of furniture arrangement.

I ran into a friend also out for a walk, and we went on further together.  The weather forecast had been pretty grim, but we didn’t get wet.  There were beautiful evening skyscapes to admire over the water:

Beautiful evening skies and sea. View from Millport, Isle of Cumbrae, July 2016.

Beautiful evening skies and sea. View from Millport, Isle of Cumbrae, July 2016.

It was a lovely walk.  I did feel a long ways from my life in Glasgow!  Back at my B&B, I read some more, and had a few message-conversations with my two ones (phone reception was pretty minimal but I had WiFi).  And I slept very well indeed.

In my next post, I’ll tell you about Saturday and Sunday!

Posted by: christinelaennec | July 1, 2016

An armhole steek, and a drawing

Hello again, friends!  The past week has been intensely busy as the Dafter has needed a lot of help and Michael has been working every waking minute hosting an international conference. No prizes for guessing the main topic of conversation.  I haven’t had time to do much for myself, including reading blogs – apologies to my faithful blog-friends.  But here is a wee post about steeking.

First, however, a lovely pen-and-ink drawing that the Dafter is permitting me to share with you.  We have been doing some sorting in her room and this was one of many art pieces that emerged, done when she was 15.  At this point she was not yet studying art in school.

Pen-and-ink drawing by the Dafter when she was 15.

Pen-and-ink drawing of me napping, done by the Dafter when she was 15.

And now to knitting.  The past week I have particularly been following the advice of the great Elizabeth Zimmermann, who counselled:  “Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises.”  So here are some photos of how I have cut open one of the armhole steeks, and begun the sleeve:

Here is the armhole steek, about to be cut open.

Knitting the Oregon cardigan by Alice Starmore.  Here is the armhole steek, laid flat, about to be cut open.

Starting to cut down the middle.

Starting to cut down the middle.

Cut all the way open now.

Cut all the way open now.

Beginning to pick up stitches along the edge of the steek.

Beginning to pick up stitches along the edge of the steek, starting from the underarm.  The safety pins are to help me count how many I have picked up.  The instructions tell me how to centre the design.

All the stitches have been picked up and I'm ready to begin knitting the sleeve from the shoulder downwards. Note the cut steek isn't doing anything alarming!

All the stitches have been picked up and I’m ready to begin knitting the sleeve from the shoulder downwards. The stitch markers are at the pattern repeats.  I will say that I had some redoing and recounting before I got it right – but that’s fine. Note the cut steek isn’t doing anything alarming, it’s just lying there very obediently!

The sleeve so far - I have moved from the circular needle to double-pointed needles. I am decreasing as per the instructions, each side of the underarm stitch.

The sleeve so far – I have moved from the circular needle to double-pointed needles. I am decreasing as per the instructions, each side of the underarm stitch.  The cardigan’s centre steek is still intact but once I have finished the sleeves, I will cut it and add the buttonbands and neckband.

A closer look. I have to read the chart upside down as I am now knitting top-down.

A closer look. I have to read the chart upside down as I am now knitting top-down.

Peeking inside, you can see the steek stitches are still behaving themselves.

Peeking inside, you can see the steek stitches are still behaving themselves.

I know from experience that the steek stitches will not unravel, because I am using wool, which has a lot of fibres that cling to each other (felting if rubbed too hard).  A steek will work very well with wool, but won’t work with less “clingy” fibres such as cotton or silk.

I won’t do anything with the steek stitches until I have finished the sleeves and the buttonband.  When I get that far, I’ll show you how I finish them.  I will admit I am not a very elegant finisher of steeks.  There are some very good tutorials online of different ways of steeking, and finishing steeks.  I would recommend looking at Kate Davies’ online tutorials for more information.  My point here is that I know the steeks will be just fine, and they will not unravel.  I know this because I forgot to finish one armhole steek in the very first steeked jacket I ever made, back in 2001.  I didn’t discover this omission until nearly a decade later, when I turned it inside out to show someone how it had been put together.  It’s still just lying there obediently, slightly felted down from wear.

I am off on another getaway soon, and I will tell you all about it.  I’m nervous and excited!  It involves the Inner Hebrides and singing….  I wish you all a lovely weekend and beginning of the week to come.  For my American family and friends, happy 4th of July!

Posted by: christinelaennec | June 26, 2016

June surprises

I have often reflected that life is indeed full of surprises, many of them good.  The result of the recent vote, however, was not a good surprise for our family.  I will just say that many on both sides of the debate are now in agreement that the entire thing has been a sorry mess.  Apart from that small matter, this week has contained some lovely surprises, as well as a bit of an adventure.

Last weekend I travelled to Perth to meet a dear friend who came down from Aberdeen.  It happened to be World Wide Knit in Public Day, although every day can be Knit in Public Day for me:

International Knitting in Public Day, 2016 - on the train to Perth.

World Wide Knit in Public Day, 2016 – on the train to Perth.

I had just begun knitting the sleeve.  I will do a separate knitting-a-steeked-cardigan update soon!

My friend was very glad to have a bit warmer weather, as it had been 10 C / 50 F in Aberdeen when he’d left mid-morning.  In Perth we enjoyed warm weather (for Scotland: 16 C / 61 F), and ate a lovely lunch outside in the sun.

Perth: the River Tay. June 2016.

Perth: the River Tay. June 2016.

It was great to catch up, and enjoy a walk together after lunch.  Here is the unmistakeable Salutation Hotel, which dates back to 1699 and has a connection to Bonnie Prince Charlie.  There was a wedding party there, and I thought some of you might enjoy seeing the kilts (on the men as well as on the statues):

The Salutation Hotel, Perth.

The Salutation Hotel, Perth.

I was surprised at what a difference there was in terms of blooms – as you might recall, my peonies were in full bloom in Glasgow, 60 miles southwest.  In Perth, they were just beginning to open, and the hawthorn was only starting to blossom, whereas it had already finished in Glasgow.

Rodney Gardens, Perth, mid-June 2016.

Rodney Gardens, Perth, mid-June 2016.

We saw what we thought was a young otter swimming in the river, near some wooded islands.

Looking across the River Tay to Perth city centre.

Looking across the River Tay to Perth city centre.

All too soon it was time to say a fond farewell til next time.  I was at the train station at 4:30, with just 20 minutes to wait.  However, things did not go to plan, due to signal failure to the west of Perth.  There were several hundred people waiting to go in all directions, and eventually a large train was cobbled together to take us to Edinburgh.  We went through parts of Fife that passenger trains don’t usually traverse, before joining the main line that follows the North Sea.  I hadn’t been that way for some time, and it was lovely to see Edinburgh in the distance on a fine evening:

Edinburgh seen from Fife. 8:30 pm, mid-June 2016.

Edinburgh seen from Fife. 8:30 pm, mid-June 2016.

I could also see the new Queensferry Crossing which is still under construction, beyond the Forth Road Bridge:

The new Forth crossing, under construction.

The Queensferry Crossing under construction behind the Forth Road Bridge, seen from the Forth Rail Bridge.  mid-June 2016.

From Edinburgh I took a train that crawled to Glasgow via a very circuitous route due to the closure of the Queen Street Tunnel for repairs.  It was just as well that I’d had a substantial lunch.  I got home at 10:30 (about 4 hours late) and was absolutely famished.  But I had achieved a lot of Knitting in Public!

The summer solstice was cloudy but still impressive.  This was the sky at a few minutes to 11 pm, a few days before the Longest Day:

Evening sky, a few days before the longest night, Glasgow June 2016.

Evening sky, a few days before the shortest night, Glasgow June 2016.

As well as a trip to Perth, I went to see the Ideal Hut exhibition celebrating Scotland’s Year of Architecture and Design.  Michael took a morning off work and we enjoyed spending some time together.  The sheds were very imaginative.  Here is one with a changeable view:

A shed in the Ideal Hut show, Glasgow Botanical Gardens, June 2016.

A shed in the Ideal Hut show, Glasgow Botanical Gardens, June 2016.

And a deconstructionist one with jokes:

Joke shed from Ideal Hut Show, Glasgow Botanical Gardens, June 2016.

Joke shed from Ideal Hut Show, Glasgow Botanical Gardens, June 2016.

The bottom joke strangely parallels reality at the moment.

I thought the “Notional Theatre of Scotland” shed was funny:

Lulu, Nessie and Charles Rennie Mackintosh in the 'Notional Theatre of Scotland' shed, Ideal Hut Show, Glasgow Botanical Gardens, June 2016.

Lulu, Nessie and Charles Rennie Mackintosh puppets (with Michael looking on) in the ‘Notional Theatre of Scotland’ shed, Ideal Hut Show, Glasgow Botanical Gardens, June 2016.

And here I am wearing my Balance shawl.  I rather blend in to the borders!  Note the beautiful Scots Pine behind:

me in the Botanics, June 2016.

me in the Botanics, June 2016.

And then on Saturday morning, Michael and I cycled to the University of Glasgow.  There is an extensive network of cycle paths in Glasgow, so we hardly had to go on the streets at all.  I was very pleased to see some annual poppies, as mine have all been eaten by slugs:

Poppies on the Glasgow University campus, June 2016.

Poppies on the Glasgow University campus, June 2016.

We went for a coffee at the 1930s Italian ice cream shop Nardini’s, which was good fun.  (And necessary, as it had been a year since I’d ridden a bike, and I felt as if I’d walked there on all fours!)   After coffee we discovered this beautiful garden tucked away:

A garden near the University of Glasgow.

A garden near the University of Glasgow.

It is very shady but must get sun for all the roses, peonies and other sun-lovers to do so well.  You can see someone else loves “Bowl of Beauty” peony in the photo above.  There is a memorial to Adrian there, and a bench next to a handmade sign that says “Love”.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh rose, Glasgow.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh rose, Glasgow.

There is even the gorgeous blue Himalayan poppy, doing very well:

Himalayan poppies, Glasgow.

Himalayan poppies, Glasgow.

The Dafter has been doing fairly well, with ups and downs as always.  She’s started doing some yoga to build her strength, and has had a few chances to meet up with her pals.  I am so very grateful that she has a circle of friends now.  And on we go!

 

Posted by: christinelaennec | June 13, 2016

June blooms

Hello again and thank you so much for your lovely comments on “Crossing the Finish Line”.  It is just marvellous to have that particular cloud of uncertainty and stress lifted from us.  For the Dafter, exams were not the Finish Line.  Prom, last week, was the equivalent of the final exam of social life.  She’s not the sort of person to relish the prospect of a formal dinner dance at a swanky hotel, but she wanted to spend the night with her friends.  It was very warm indeed for Glasgow: 28C / 82F and very humid.  But she went, on her crutches, and was glad she did:

The Dafter on prom night, June 2016.

The Dafter on prom night, June 2016.

All growed up!   Blossoming, even!

The beginning of June has been full of appointments, since I delayed all the May ones.  Last week the Dafter had four appointments and I had one, within four days.  And as I mentioned, it was very warm.  Good drying weather.  I discovered that Tilly, who like most cats will hop in an empty box or basket in the house, is equally happy to do so outdoors in plain sight.  Here Tilly is having a sun-bath:

Tilly loves being in a basket, even outside in the garden. June 2016.

Tilly loves being in a basket, even outside in the garden. June 2016.

The garden has required watering, which is a very unusual thing here. But it has rewarded us with wonderful flowers:

Back garden: Boscobel shrub rose, foxgloves, 'Bowl of Beauty' peony. Early June 2016.

Back garden: Boscobel shrub rose, foxgloves, ‘Bowl of Beauty’ peony. Early June 2016.

When the rains finally came two nights ago, some of the stems of my Kansas peony snapped.  Next year I will have to stake them higher up:

Peony 'Kansas,' early June 2016.

Peony ‘Kansas,’ early June 2016.

The roses are all blooming.  I don’t think I ever had a rose in bloom before the very end of June in Aberdeen, so this is such a treat.  (The number of times we drove to Harris in July with a bouquet of roses in the car – because I had waited so long for those roses I wasn’t about to miss out on a week of them!!)

'A Shropshire Lad' climbing rose. Early June 2016.

‘A Shropshire Lad’ climbing rose. Early June 2016.

I’m sure the animals can feel the drop in tension level in the house:

Happy cat.

Happy cat.

We continue to work with the rats every evening.  We now understand that they were quite neglected at the pet shop where we bought them, where they were probably never handled except to be caught.  They are highly strung and even after eight months in a loving home, fearful to leave their cage, and reluctant to be handled.  They’re about ten months old and a lot smaller than it seems they ought to be.  Who knows where they were bred or under what conditions.  I am a bit sad, as I see photos of rats happily exploring and going on their owners’ shoulders – as my childhood pet rat did.  However, I know we will continue to make progress if we persevere:

Artemis enjoying a little cuddle.

Artemis enjoying a little cuddle.  He stayed there for five minutes.

The Dafter loves them so much, and says she feels so much less lonely with them in her room, during the hours she has to rest every day.  I find them beguiling and can’t go past their cage without a wee hello or a visit.

The first bouquet of the summer went to friends:

First bouquet of the summer: 11 June 2016.

First bouquet of the summer: 11 June 2016.

Knitting continues, of course.  (Scroll down for Scottish evening photos if knitting construction isn’t your thing!)

Body of the Oregon with the sleeve seams grafted but steeks not yet cut: front.

Body of the Oregon cardigan with the shoulder seams grafted but steeks not yet cut: front.  The cardigan narrows towards the top because once the centre steek is cut, it will form a v-neck.  (The safety pin secures a dropped steek stitch that I found too late to pick up.  I’ll secure it later.)

Body of the Oregon cardigan with sleeve seams grafted: back. The poochy bit is the back of the neck, with stitches on holders and a small steek for a few rows of decrease to make a rounded curve.

Body of the Oregon cardigan with shoulder seams grafted: back. The poochy bit is the back of the neck, with stitches on holders and a small steek for a few rows of decrease to make a rounded curve.

Grafted shoulder seams with steeks still uncut. I didn't actually graft them, but used three-needle bind-off with wrong sides together.

Grafted shoulder seams with steeks still uncut. I didn’t actually graft them, but used three-needle bind-off with wrong sides together.

It’s not long now until the shortest day, and the evening light is very special.  The flowers, especially light-coloured ones, seem to be lit from within.  Here are two photos of the garden taken at 10:15 pm (no flash or any adjustments):

Early June, Glasgow, 10:15 pm.

Early June, Glasgow, 10:15 pm.

Early June, Glasgow, 10:15 pm. The peonies are closing up for the night!

Early June, Glasgow, 10:15 pm. The peonies are closing up for the night!

So that’s us at the moment.  I’m enjoying not having a tight chest from stress.  I seem to have a long list of jobs to do, and that is because I have deferred so much for so long, with the focus on helping the Dafter get through her Highers.  The Dafter is pretty tired out but has had a few chances to see friends, and has some summer projects she wants to get on with.

Mostly, I just feel so very, very grateful for all that has gone well.  I wake up in the morning, and then I remember we don’t have to worry about exams!  There will be future challenges of course, but the relief is great just now.

I wish you all a good week!

Posted by: christinelaennec | May 31, 2016

Crossing the finish line!

Hello again!  This is a lengthy post but with a happy ending.

For a lot of my life, I’ve felt I never was able to appreciate the month of May properly, because it was always a time of exams – taking them, marking them, helping students through them.  For four years the Dafter was too ill with ME/CFS to take exams, and needed to be looked after by me, so exams weren’t a feature of either of our lives.  But she was aware of them happening, and often said, “People complain about exams, but they are SO LUCKY to be able to go to school!”  So this year, we have been lucky to have exam stress.  It has been so intense that I redoubled my usual efforts to experience springtime.  And May this year in Glasgow has been really beautiful:

Beautiful cherry blossoms. Glasgow, mid-May 2016.

Beautiful cherry blossoms. Glasgow, mid-May 2016.

We’ve had weeks of sunny, warm weather – everyone asking “Is this going to be our summer?”

Clematis gracing a blue fence, Glasgow, May 2016.

Clematis gracing a blue fence, Glasgow, May 2016.

It’s been a time of intense struggle and work for the Dafter, and therefore for us.  She’s had a number of hurdles to cross in order to finish Higher Photography and Higher Art & Design.  She worked hard all through March, April and May, not even having an Easter holiday as she was going to Easter school.  Her health, not surprisingly, suffered from pushing herself so hard.  It has been a precarious month of battling through.  For example, one morning she woke up unable to see and in intense pain with a severe eye infection – two days before her final photo shoot.  I would say for most of May we have been taking things not one day at a time, but one hour at a time.

I’ve tried to rest as much as possible, and Tilly has helped:

Resting with Tilly, May 2016.

Resting with Tilly, May 2016.

I have also tried, but often failed, to go for a daily walk.  I was amused by these banners, and wanted to show you one after our conversation in January about the iconic traffic cone on the statue of the Duke of Wellington, and the affection Glaswegians have for the sight (see the comments on this post).

The Duke of Wellington statue used to advertise broadband. Glasgow, May 2016.

The Duke of Wellington statue used to advertise broadband. Glasgow, May 2016.

Tilly, in her second summer of being allowed into the garden, has begun to relax there:

Tilly in her preferred hiding place in the garden.

Tilly in her preferred place in the garden.

She prefers to hide and have a lookout but the other day she amazed us by settling down and closing her eyes in a very exposed expanse of stonework:

A first: Tilly relaxing out in plain sight in the garden.

A first: Tilly relaxing out in plain sight in the garden.

Staying calm has been a challenge this month.  Jigsaw puzzles have helped.  This one was particularly engaging:

Puzzling to stay calm: 'Jigraphy' map of Glasgow city centre.

Puzzling to stay calm: ‘Jigraphy’ map of Glasgow city centre.

By May 23rd, the Dafter had managed to complete all the work for her Photography course.  That was a big accomplishment, though she was overly exhausted.  She still needs to rest for hours a day, has only a couple of hours each day when she can work, and usually needs a day of total rest once a week or more often.  However, she had few rest days, and knowing there is so little room for maneuvre with deadlines looming doesn’t help the stress level. or make true rest easy.  For her final Photography task, a one-and-a-half hour evaluation done under exam conditions, she told me that by the end “each word I had written corresponded in my mind to a musical note.  When I get really exhausted, I get synesthesia.”

Only the two-hour Higher Art and Design exam remained.  As an educator, I have always felt that exams are a blunt pedagogical tool, and that they assess one’s ability to take exams more than one’s learning.  However, they are part of earning most qualifications. Regular readers may recall that the Dafter was too unwell last spring to finish Art, so has been completing the course over two years, this being the second.  The stakes were thus fairly high, as we all desperately wanted her to be able to complete it.

She had managed her Art prelim in January, the first exam she had ever sat, and did another one-hour practice exam in April.  These were very helpful in preparing her to take the May exam (they were the first exams she had ever been well enough to take).  Also the school was well aware that she might not manage the exam in May, so they were happy she had done well on both the prelim and practice exam, in readiness for appeal.  I cannot praise her school enough for the true support they have given her and us.

The garden during May was undergoing huge changes and was a great solace to me.

Dutch iris 'Symphony'. Glasgow, end of May, 2016.

Dutch iris ‘Symphony’. Glasgow, end of May, 2016.

My one gardening sadness is that slugs or snails (? I guess?) have eaten almost all my poppy seedlings.  This is the first time this has ever happened to me, in 22 years of gardening in Scotland.  I’m not sure what to do next year, as poppy seedlings generally resent being transplanted.  Any suggestions are welcome!

Rose 'Guinee' in bloom, Glasgow, end of May 2016.

Rose ‘Guinee’ in bloom, Glasgow, end of May 2016.

To continue with the Dafter’s journey, she was pretty flattened after finishing her work for Photography last week, but had five days to prepare for the Art exam.  Her ME was very bad, and then she came down with a stonking cold.  She spent the five days either in bed or, on two occasions, out in the wheelchair.  She was very unwell, and hardly able to revise.

This morning, exam day, dawned.  She was determined to take the exam, or at least attempt it.  She felt the chances of her managing a two-hour exam (with extra time granted, which is not always an advantage with ME/CFS) were fairly slim, given how words had become musical notes after an hour an a half, the week before.  She managed to get a bit of breakfast down, got into her school uniform for the last time, had a collapse on the floor, but revived with some foot massage and a pep talk from me.  I drove her to the school door, wished her blessings and luck, and drove home.  Michael and I sat at the table in silence, him unable to work and me knitting.  The time of the start of the exam came and went; half an hour passed and the lovely Depute Head emailed to say he had looked in and she was working away; another half-hour passed, and we were jubilant, expecting a text any minute.  Then two hours had crawled by, and the only texts were from friends hoping she had managed.

I was at the school by the time her extra time had elapsed, and she was just coming out the door, beaming.  She told me that she had been close to fainting at one point, but had been allowed to eat, which made a big difference.  She was able to answer all the questions, and told me about several of them, particularly the ones with unseen pieces to analyse, and talked me through her answers.  “I felt interested and engaged,” she said.  She must have delved deep within herself to find that stamina and focus, below her pain, fatigue and nasty cold.

Needless to say she is very tired, as am I.  But she has accomplished a great deal – her first high school qualifications, although we must wait until August to see what grades she will be awarded. She still has a ways to go before she finishes her secondary education, but I think this will have given her a great boost.

I mentioned knitting – as always, Thank Goodness for Knitting.  I finished the project that I was knitting at the Eagle Observatory in Harris:

'Orangery' shawl by Carol Feller.

My “Balance Shawl” – green being the colour of balance.  Knitting it has been a great help in keeping my balance the last while!

The pattern is called “Orangery Shawl” by Carol Feller and the yarn is Sweet Georgia sock yarn. You can find the details on my Ravelry page here.

My Oregon cardigan continues:

Oregon cardigan, with armhole steek on the left and centre steek on the right.

Oregon cardigan, with armhole steek on the left and centre steek on the right.

In fact, I finished knitting the body during the Dafter’s exam this afternoon.

Echoing the cherry blossoms this month, my easy knitting is now this lovely scarf:

Start of 'Firiel' shawl pattern by Lucy Hague.

Start of ‘Firiel’ shawl pattern by Lucy Hague.

So we made it!  Yesterday, a friend wrote, “It feels as if she’s climbed up a sheer cliff and now has to pull herself up over the top” – which is exactly how this month has felt.  But she did it!

Strangely, 20 years ago almost to the day, Our Son came to us, age nearly 4, and we began taking him to (nursery) school.  Now we are no longer parents of a school child.  But learning, healing and life carry on, even with these markers.  Thank you all so very much for your encouraging comments, messages and friendship.  Your good wishes and thoughtfulness have made a real difference to our whole family.

I wish you all a great start to June.  Let the summer begin!

Posted by: christinelaennec | May 4, 2016

April into May

It’s been nearly a month since my wonderful break on Harris, and it feels like far longer!  As I mentioned, things immediately became difficult, and my escape seemed like a dream.  But life back home – looking after the Dafter, and being at church and in the choirs – has kept me grounded.

I was delighted to see the first daisies come up:

Daisies, mid-April 2016.

Daisies in the back garden, mid-April 2016.

I remember crawling around in the freezing rain planting these and other wildflowers, for the pleasure of one of the Dafter’s favourite flowers, the daisy.

We have had very cold temperatures, but nevertheless the first of the blossoming trees carried on undeterred:

Blossom, Glasgow, April 2016

Blossom, Glasgow, April 2016

The Dafter was felled by a most horrendous cold.  She had three massive and disfiguring cold sores on her face, and looked rather like some kind of illustration in a medical book, the poor darling.  However, to our amazement, these awful cold sores were healed within just over a week!  A sign of progress.

She has been battling on to complete her coursework, with only a few hours of energy and concentration available to her every day.  Regular classes have now finished, and she has study leave and exams for the next month.  She has a fair amount of schoolwork yet to do to complete her two Highers.  She has never before had the experience of study leave and exams, having been too ill for the past five years.  So the pressure and stress is enormous.  Very fortunately she is blessed with a wonderful, supportive teacher for both her subjects.  “By coincidence” (?!) her teacher has experience of suffering from ME/CFS.

Added to the stress of schoolwork is the emotion of the end of her school days, the end of regular lunchtimes and classes with her friends, and farewells to those who will be leaving Glasgow to go to uni in other cities. But she said to me, “All I ever wanted was to make friends that I could see at high school – and I’ve got my wish.”  It was a very long time coming, but I am so grateful that she got her wish.  Many healthy people don’t have that experience!

One really good piece of news is that she now has an unconditional offer to do another Higher at college next year, which is a great relief.  (To my American readers:  the Dafter still has a ways to go in terms of achieving the equivalent of a high school diploma, but she will be doing that in Further Education – college as opposed to university, which is Higher Education.  Perhaps the best US comparison is community college.)

In April there were many sunny and cold days.  Good Tilly-watching weather:

Tilly, bathing.

Tilly, bathing.

Tilly, transitioning from bath to nap.

Tilly, transitioning from bath to nap.

Tilly has enjoyed going back out into the garden, although as you can see she really is a housecat at heart – in this case, a summerhouse cat:

Tilly outside in the garden, end of April 2016.

Tilly outside in the garden, end of April 2016.

The end of April and beginning of May brought really cold weather with hail and even snow at times:

Hailstones, end of April 2016.

Hailstones, end of April 2016.

Hailing on the back garden, end of April 2016.

Hailing on the back garden, end of April 2016.  If you look closely you can see the hail on the grass.

Very fortunately we haven’t had any badly killing frosts.  My sweet peas, cosmos and ranunculus planted in trays are all coming up (brought back inside at night).  And the spring bulbs have brought me great happiness, particularly these lovely tulips:

'Jenny' tulips on a warmer day, May 4th 2016.

‘Jenny’ tulips on a warmer day, May 4th 2016.

For fellow knitting enthusiasts, the Oregon cardigan is growing, slowly.  Here is a photo of the start of the armhole steeks.  Once I have knit to the top of the cardigan, I will slice down the middle of the steeks, graft the shoulder stitches together, and then pick up stitches along the sides of the armhole and start knitting the sleeves from the top down, on circular needles.

Steeks for the armholes of the Oregon cardigan, April 2016.

Steeks for the armholes of the Oregon cardigan, April 2016.

Below you see the front steek.  The top few rows in the below photo I had begun to decrease on either side of the centre steek, to shape the V-neck.  The steek stitches continue the same, while the patterned stitches in between grow fewer in number.  In the photo above, you can see the decreases at the bottom of the armholes.  (In fact, I could no doubt have done them a bit more neatly – the yellowish stitches really stick out.  Next time I will plan ahead the row before.)

The Oregon cardigan, just beginning to decrease for the V neck, and having started the steeks for the armholes. April 2016.

The Oregon cardigan, just beginning to decrease for the V-neck, and having started the steeks for the armholes. April 2016.

I hope you have all had a good start to the bonny month of May.  The old adage “Ne’er cast a clout til May be oot” is certainly valid here at the moment, but we are due to have some warmer weather in a few days.  19 degrees C (66 F) is predicted for Glasgow at the weekend – a scorcher!!  We shall see!

Posted by: christinelaennec | April 30, 2016

Car, ferry, bus, trains: back home to Glasgow

All too soon it was the last morning of my getaway.  I had relished every minute of respite.  I’d done quite a bit of knitting, seen dear friends, loved being out and about on Harris, read part of Jung’s autobiography, as well as about dowsing and Near Death Experiences.  It was just what I needed to put my and our current situation into a good perspective.

One of the things I enjoyed about staying at Two Harbours Guest House is their beautiful Portmeiron ‘Botanicals’ china.  Not only do I love that pattern because I love flowers, but it was the favourite china of a beloved childhood friend of mine, Diane.  She is long gone but is never forgotten.  (You can see a photo of her and me when I was 18 at the bottom of this post.) Diane would have loved this breakfast table:

Breakfast table at Two Harbours Guest House, Isle of Scalpay.

Breakfast table at Two Harbours Guest House, Isle of Scalpay.

I said goodbye – but not for too very long because I intend to bring Sean a book when we’re back this summer.  I drove first to Callanish, where I nodded hello to the stones but went on to a friend’s house for a lovely visit.  She was widowed less than a year ago, and her faith, fortitude and humour are very inspirational to me.  After a lovely elevenses of freshly-baked scones and homemade jam, I drove across to Stornoway, where I left my little hire car.

I found a good seat on the observation deck of the ferry, and enjoyed watching the view as we pulled away.  Here you can see Lews Castle behind the houses of Stornoway.  It sits within a pretty woodland – as you know, trees are a special thing on the Outer Hebrides.

Leaving Stornoway on the ferry. Lews Castle is in the background. April 2016.

Leaving Stornoway on the ferry. Lews Castle is in the background. April 2016.

The crossing was beautiful:

The Shiant Isles seen from MV Loch Seaforth, crossing the Minch back to Ullapool. April 2016.

The view from MV Loch Seaforth, crossing the Minch back to Ullapool. April 2016.

View from the ferry. April 2016.

View from the ferry:  the Shiant Islands, off the coast of Harris.  April 2016.

I was interested in this board, and surprised (in my ignorance) at how many people were on shift:

It takes a lot of people to run a ferry! MV Loch Seaforth, April 2016.

It takes a lot of people to run a ferry! MV Loch Seaforth, April 2016.

The bus to Inverness was waiting just outside the ferry terminal and soon we were on our way:

Snow-capped hills as the bus heads from Ullapool to Inverness. April 2016.

Snow-capped hills ahead as the bus heads from Ullapool to Inverness. April 2016.

A striking rainbow accompanied us part of the way:

Rainbow!

Rainbow!

I had a bit of time in Inverness before the train to Glasgow, and then I was on my way south.  The sunset was far prettier than I managed to capture in any of my through-the-window photos:

Sunset over the Monadh LIadh mountains south of Inverness. April 2016.

Sunset over the Monadh Liadh mountains south of Inverness. April 2016.

I changed trains in Perth, and was home by midnight.  I was met with hugs and kisses, presents were given out, and we all got to bed late.  The Dafter and Michael had done very well.  It was a big contrast with my first solo trip to Harris two years ago.  The Dafter was nearly completely bedbound back then, and Michael hardly spoke for the first 24 hours after I had returned, he was so exhausted from being the full-time carer for five days.  This year, although they were both glad to see me, they weren’t enormously worse for my absence.

Home again! The garden greets me. Early April 2016.

Home again! The garden greets me. Early April 2016.

Life immediately became quite stressful and complex, for various reasons including the Dafter having a bad cold and a downturn, and Michael needing to go off the following week. My holiday soon seemed like a dream!  But doing these blog posts has brought it back to me, and I’ve been able to recover the sense of peace and well-being that I had at the end of my trip.

Thank you all for coming along with me on my most recent trip to Harris.  We are hoping to go as a family in August, so it’s not too long to wait until our next Harrisian adventure.

Posted by: christinelaennec | April 24, 2016

A magical spring evening on the Isle of Harris

I could not have asked for a lovelier last evening on my visit to Harris.  After I had finished my picnic tea, and communed with the cattle for a bit after my afternoon in the Uists, I drove back up the West Side.  I stopped at the golf course to admire the clouds on top of Chaipaval:

Chaipaval (Toe Head), and Scarasta Beach. The Isle of Harris, April 2016.

Clouds on top of Chaipaval (Toe Head), with Scarasta Beach in the foreground. The Isle of Harris, April 2016.

The light below the lid of clouds was growing more intense:

Nearing sunset, the West Side of Harris. April 2016.

Nearing sunset, the West Side of Harris. April 2016.

I thought about going down onto Traigh Iar, but it was chilly, and besides which three photographers with tripods and huge zoom lenses appeared, which gave me an (admittedly feeble) excuse not to!  I do love this beach, though.  You can just see the standing stone on top of the hill.  This is where the Clan MacLeod had their meeting place in former times.

Traigh Iar.

Traigh Iar, Isle of Harris, April 2016.

I went on to Seilebost beach.  You park your car near the school (sadly now closed, but it’s a campervan rental agency at the moment), and then walk across the machair and up across the dunes overlooking the beach.

Taransay, off the Isle of Harris.

Taransay, off the Isle of Harris.  From the dunes above Seilebost beach.  April 2016.

I didn’t quite have the energy to climb down onto the beach itself, but enjoyed the view:

Seilebost beach, Isle of Harris. April 2016.

Seilebost beach, Isle of Harris, looking across to Luskentyre (point of land on the right of the photo) and the hills of North Harris beyond.  Taransay is the land on the left of the photo.

The sun was sinking ever lower:

Seilebost beach, Isle of Harris, April 2016.

Seilebost beach, Isle of Harris, April 2016.

I left and drove back towards Scalpay.  As I climbed the steep brae past the Laxdale fishery, the colours in the sky were becoming quite dramatic:

Looking west from the road to Kyle Scalpay, April 2016.

Looking west from the road to Kyles Scalpay, April 2016.

A moment later I was rewarded with this:

The sun sinks below the clouds.

The sun sinks below the clouds.

I was grateful that there happened to be a safe place to pull over along there.  So often on Harris the most marvellous sights greet one, but stopping safely to take a photo isn’t possible.

As I crossed the Scalpay bridge, I saw what might well have been an eagle swooping around over the narrow kyle (strait).

Sunset behind Tarbert, from the Scalpay end of the Scalpay bridge.

Sunset behind Tarbert, from the Scalpay end of the Scalpay bridge.  There was a large bird of prey – an eagle? – swooping about.  You can just make out its form above the water.

The colours of the sky and the crepuscular rays just seemed to get more and more intense as I went along:

The sunset, continued, from the Isle of Scalpay. April 2016.

The sunset, continued, from the Isle of Scalpay. April 2016.  About 7:15 pm.

And then, the last colours fast receded from the cloud cover:

The North Harbour, a few minutes later. Isle of Scalpay, April 2016.

The North Harbour, a few minutes later. Isle of Scalpay, April 2016.  Looking west towards Tarbert, where the land dips to meet the sea.

That evening, I went to Catriona’s house for a wee visit.  As usual she served me several kinds of baked goods and cakes, as well as tea.  She had a lovely peat fire going, and we sat knitting and talking.  I felt so very privileged.

Catriona's peat fire, complete with wally dogs (and two other smaller porcelain dogs).

Catriona’s peat fire, complete with wally dogs (and two other smaller porcelain dogs).

If you are wondering what a “wally dog” is, they are iconic porcelain dogs that many traditional Scottish houses have near the fireplace.  “Wally” is a Scots word for porcelain.  There was an interesting discussion of the word in the comments of my post on The Tenement House!

And so my three days in Harris were nearly at an end.  I had been pretty busy, really, apart from my morning of reading and knitting on the first day.  But they say “a change is as good as a rest” and besides, meeting up with dear friends was just as important to me as communing with the beautiful colours and landscapes of the Isle of Harris.

In my next post, I’ll take you back to Glasgow – but I don’t blame you if you don’t want to go!

 

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