Posted by: christinelaennec | September 19, 2016

It’s been a time…

I don’t know if I have ever gone so long without posting!  First of all, thank you all so very much for sharing our joy about the Dafter’s achievements.  Many of you have faithfully followed our journey with ME/CFS for the past five years, and your solidarity has meant more to our family than I can express.

I’ve been trying to think of what title to give this post – “It’s been a challenging time”? “Waving not drowning”? “We’ve had a time of it”?  But I think it’s just been a time…

Time in fact has been at an absolute premium in the past five weeks.  I have hardly had a moment to myself, and when I have had an hour here or there I have mostly just slept.  I still haven’t sorted our photos from Harris but I look forwards to doing that and sharing them with you.  I have some time to blog this evening because I am shut up in the bedroom with poor Tilly, who had an operation today.  Instead of a big plastic collar to keep her from pulling her stitches out, she has this fetching post-surgical suit:

Tilly in her post-surgical recovery suit. 19 September 2016.

Camo-cat:  Tilly in her post-surgical recovery suit. 19 September 2016.

(We were joking about how the Dafter should have a “recovery suit”.)  Until we found a lump on her breast last Thursday, Tilly had been enjoying some lovely Indian Summer weather:

Tilly basking in the sun, mid-September 2016.

Tilly basking in the sun, mid-September 2016.

The lump is now removed and along with a lymph gland biopsy is away to the lab.  Results are expected in 7 to 10 days.  This evening she has been very brave, and has been putting her tail straight up when petted.  She’s also purred a bit, which is unusual for her, so I think she is really relieved to be home again.

Cosmos in the garden, September 2016.

Cosmos in the garden, September 2016.

The garden has been pretty neglected this past month.  The Dafter started her college course four weeks ago and it has been a tough old time for her – physically, emotionally and in terms of her concentration.  She has battled on, and I by her side.  She goes to class for two hours, three days a week, and has found that utterly exhausting.  Unfortunately the three days are in a row, with no rest day in between, so she has been spending days in bed afterwards trying to recuperate, and rather dreading going back.  She has been able to keep up with the work, however, which is excellent.  She will try to extend the time she spends in class little by little, if she can manage that.  I pray she will be able to continue.

The Dafter is doing my job!

The Dafter is doing my job!

I had a birthday, and the Dafter and her father organised a lovely day for me.  Look – the Dafter is bringing the birthday cake in!  Michael took the day off work; he has been working absolutely flat out and will be doing so for the foreseeable future, so that was really good.  The Dafter managed college that day, so he and I were able to go for a walk and have lunch together.  Such a treat!

My birthday, September 2016.

My birthday, September 2016.

And I was really spoiled rotten with presents and cards, too.  To top it all off, at choir rehearsal that evening, they surprised me with a serenade.  I’ve never had 30 people sing Happy Birthday to me before!

My midge-induced trigeminal neuralgia (which I wrote about here) has almost completely cleared up now, very thankfully.  I just have to be careful how I touch my left ear.  People are saying that the midges this summer have been the worst in living memory.

Here is an interesting new word:

A new word for 2016.

A new word for 2016.

The joke is based on the nickname for Glasgwegians – “Weegees”.  Do I feel like a “Refuweegee”? I’m not a refugee, thankfully, but I do feel embraced by the people of Glasgow.  I have always felt very welcome in Scotland, since coming here in 1992.  This has been a consolation to me, as in the past few weeks I also discovered the new tax laws for American ex-pats, and the limitations on us in terms of some banking here now.  I’m not going to discuss it further here, but particularly if you know any American citizens living abroad (and this includes any children of theirs, born anywhere in the world), you might be interested in this video.  I am not endorsing this organisation at all, but the video from a Dutch news programme is informative, though it does not cover other aspects of the new laws such as reporting savings.

Another thing that has weighed heavily on me is that my mother has been very unwell.  She is now home from hospital, and it looks very likely that her health problems can be stabilised for some time to come.  Whereas the Dafter was doing much better when my father died, and I was able to be away for 10 days, it’s clear that I cannot make that journey just now.  My family here would pay far too high a price.  My mother has told me that she doesn’t expect me to come, and for that I am very grateful.

For some reason many of my favourite knitted sweaters have worn out recently:

Must keep knitting!

Must keep knitting!

But that is okay, because it means I need to knit more!  I have knit quite a bit over the summer, and will show you that when I get a chance.

I did sew something – a sling to carry the rats about in.  I designed it myself and it works very well:

Rat cosy, September 2016.

The Dafter with her rats, September 2016.

The rats are still shy, but they now come out and ride around our shoulders for a few hours a day.  They love snuggling into a hood, but this has the disadvantage that you can’t really interact with them.  With the sling, you can enjoy their company, and pet them as you go about, which they love.  They are very sweet:

Happy rats being carried in their cosy.

Happy rats being carried in their cosy.

Tilly sees them up on our shoulders, but she doesn’t seem to feel jealous of them.

She is now curled up, trying to sleep a bit.  Tomorrow will be a better day!  And alongside these various worries and problems, I am very conscious that the most important thing in life is relationships.  We are so blessed with our happy family, and it’s the strength we give each other that gets us through challenging times.

I hope this finds you all doing very well, and enjoying the shift to autumn.

Posted by: christinelaennec | August 16, 2016

Great news!

I am absolutely delighted to tell all you lovely readers who have followed the Dafter’s journey over the past five years that…

Caspian in the Dafter's hood.  August 2016.

Caspian in the Dafter’s hood. August 2016.

… she passed both her Highers and even got an A in Higher Art!

Lilies in the back garden.  Glasgow, mid-August 2016.

Lilies in the back garden. Glasgow, mid-August 2016.

Our happiness has been very deep, let me tell you.  People say, “You must be so proud.”  Yes I am – but even if she had not passed the courses, I would have been just as proud because I know that she gave her all, every step of the way.  It’s a relief, though, that her hard work has been recognised.  And to think she had never been well enough to sit a full exam until May!  I am deeply grateful to her school for giving her such excellent support.

Tilly monitors the end of the garden.  August, 2016.

Tilly monitors the end of the garden. August, 2016.  Sometimes there are strange cats beyond the back fence….

We’ve had a cool and quite wet summer with temperatures mostly in the 50s and 60s F / single digits C.  But the garden seems very happy, and there are bees and also a few butterflies.

Three bees on the sedum.  August, 2016.

Three bees on the sedum. August, 2016.

Today we’ve had a warm summer’s day, in the 70s F / 20s C.  That is very nice.  Of course, the schools have all just gone back!  The Dafter was saying how every year the P1s, who are just starting school at age 4 or 5, seem even wee-er than the year before.  (Is wee-er a word, or did we just make that up? A question for my Scottish readers.)

We managed to have another holiday on the Isle of Harris, which I will share with you once I get my many photos sorted.  We had old friends staying with us at the cottage, and it was great to catch up.  There was lots of happy laughter from the girls’ room!  We had mostly pretty good weather, and the Dafter was able to walk a bit each day, which was excellent because she has struggled over the summer.

Back from the islands:  sweet peas waiting to be picked, shells from Harris, a new mug with the Gaelic tree alphabet.  August 2016.

Back from the islands: sweet peas waiting to be picked, shells from Harris, a new mug with the Gaelic tree alphabet. August 2016.

The only thing that has been less than wonderful for me is that on my marvellous outing to Arran I was in fact very badly bitten by midges on my scalp and neck where they got caught in my hair and munched themselves to death.  I didn’t realise I’d been bitten at all for three full days!  The midges on Arran must have special Slow Release venom.  Over the past few weeks I have suffered severe pain (neuralgia of the trigeminal nerve), and also numbness.  I wasn’t the best company on holiday insofar as several times a day, as the painkillers wore off, I could hardly move my head and practically had tears streaming down my face.  However, it is finally clearing up, to my intense relief.

This coming year the Dafter is going to be doing Higher Gaelic.  I hope that she will manage it – we’ll have to see.  She’s looking forwards to getting back to Gaelic, which she did in primary school.

The nights are beginning to draw in, meaning that some nights we need to put the lights on as early as 9 pm.  I always find that it’s in mid-August that the turn of the year begins to pick up momentum.  It’s a time of transition in many ways.  I’m looking forwards to helping the Dafter with her new course and routine, to choirs all resuming, and of course to more knitting!  I have lots to show you on that front.

I hope this all finds you well, and thank you so very much for your incredible encouragement and support over the past five years of the Dafter’s ME/CFS.  Onwards!

 

Posted by: christinelaennec | July 29, 2016

Nearing the end of July, already

How time flies!  I can’t believe it’s almost the end of July.  This summer has been fairly hard work for the Dafter, and thus for me, but it’s been a good summer.  Once she got past her exams and the prom, the Dafter (predictably) had a bit of a relapse with her ME/CFS, but to my relief she has worked steadily to find the right balance between rest and effort, and she is just about back to where she was in the spring.  Without a structure or regular way of seeing people, life has been very unpredictable, and that is an extra challenge.  But she has managed very well.

The weather has been equally unpredictable.  We had thunder and lightning a few weeks ago:

Thunderstorms, Glasgow, July 2016.

Thunderstorms, Glasgow, July 2016.

And we’ve had many heavy downpours.  The photo below looks as if it was taken through a window, but was just taken from the open doorway:

Downpours, July 2016.

Downpours, July 2016.

The garden has been going great guns:

The garden, July 2016.

The garden after the rain, July 2016.

Tilly has been spending quite a bit of time in the garden, even in the rain.  Here she is looking like the typical disgruntled wet cat – but out of choice, I should add!

Tilly after the rain - by the fire.

Tilly after the rain – drying off by the fire.

On a few occasions she’s come into the summerhouse with me, just to be outside, but under shelter.

A good vantage point for watching pigeons next door.

A good vantage point for watching pigeons next door.

She is very good company!

We have also had some sunny days, and on one of them I managed to get Michael to take some time off work and come on the bus tour of Glasgow!  It really is a beautiful city, and fun to see from the top of a bus.  We learned a lot about its history.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, bowling greens.  July 2016.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, bowling greens. July 2016.

The first big bouquet of sweet peas this summer – I just love that blue!

Sweet peas, July 2016.

Sweet peas, July 2016.

My knitting has continued.  I decided to slice the neck steek part-way up, so I could see whether the sleeves were going to be the right length:

Good thing steeks don't come undone!  Trying on the Oregon cardigan to check sleeve length.

Good thing steeks don’t come undone! Trying on the Oregon cardigan to check sleeve length.

Luckily, I think they are going to be just fine!

And here is a bouquet that the Dafter is taking to a friend:

Bouquet from the garden, July 2016.

Bouquet from the garden, July 2016.

The Dafter has been volunteering at a charity shop again, and has been going for some yoga / strength training with a very talented young woman.  The problem of building up strength without worsening the fatigue is a tricky one for sufferers of ME/CFS, but this teacher (who herself suffers from chronic illness) has been very creative in trying different ways of exercising.  The Dafter has this year been suffering badly from hay fever, and great dizziness as a result of congestion in her ears.  Her teacher has thus been devising ways for her to build strength using floor exercises.  I so much appreciate people who are positive and creative!

The Dafter has continued to paint and draw, play with her rats, see friends as much as she can.  She and I have, over the past six weeks, been doing a steady sort-through of her bedroom.  We also decided to get out her doll’s house, (click on the link to read about its history), just to make sure it wasn’t mouldering in the shed.  It’s such a big doll’s house, there isn’t room for it to be set up year-round in our house.  But it has had an airing this summer and we think the dolls have enjoyed it:

The doll's house, 2016.

The doll’s house, summer 2016.

Over the summer I’ve been going up to the church in the mornings to sort through the extensive music catalogue, and to prepare music needed for when choir rehearsals start up again next month.  I really enjoy seeing people when I’m there, and just the satisfaction of Sorting Things Out.  I’ve also been practising my singing, and I was able to go on a day course of music theory for singers.  I have been a bit baffled by the British terminology, and that is clearer to me now.  Though I nearly got the giggles when my friend texted me at break, “I think a semi-demi-hemi-quaver must be a type of cheesy snack”.  [Quavers are a UK snack, and “quaver” means “quarter note” in US musical terminology.]

I hope you’re all enjoying your summer!

Posted by: christinelaennec | July 26, 2016

A day trip to Holy Isle, off the Isle of Arran

I had another fantastic adventure last weekend!  Regular readers might recall that two years ago our family had a marvellous holiday on the Isle of Arran. This past winter a friend of mine happened to mention that it’s possible to go from Glasgow to Arran just for the day.  I was very surprised by this, and we began planning a trip.  When the day came, the weather forecast included lots of blue and purple heavy rain passing over the West coast.  I was prepared to be soaked, but very happy to be going no matter what the weather.

We drove to Ardrossan (about an hour), and took the 11:00 ferry across.  There were so many foot passengers that we had to wait a while until they were able to ensure there were enough spaces for all who wanted to go on that sailing.  We’d decided to head for the small island called Holy Isle, just off the coast of Arran.  You can see it in the photo below:

From the ferry: Holy Isle with the Isle of Arran behind. On the left you can just see Ailsa Craig. July 2016.

From the ferry: Holy Isle (middle of photo) with the Isle of Arran behind. On the left you can just see Ailsa Craig on the horizon. July 2016.

The crossing takes an hour.  We watched the other ferry coming back towards Ardrossan:

To starboard, the ferry heading back to the mainland from Arran.

To starboard, the ferry heading back to the mainland from Arran.

We arrived in Brodick about noon, and walked three miles to the village of Lamlash.  Coming down the hill into the village, Holy Isle came squarely into view:

Coming down the road into Lamlash, with Holy Isle off in the distance.

Coming down the road into Lamlash, with Holy Isle off in the distance.

We walked down to the pier, where the ferry crew told us that the next ferry was at “2-ish”.  “All the ferry times are ‘-ish'” they told us:

First ferry to Holy Isle that day was "11-ish".

The first ferry to Holy Isle that day had left at “11-ish”.

We were very amused when the ferry, the ‘Sallyforth,’ made an appearance at about 2:15.  Just as well the heavy rains hadn’t appeared!  Only the pilot gets to be under cover.

The "Sallyforth" - the ferry that runs the 10-minute journey between Lamlash and Holy Isle.

The “Sallyforth” – the ferry that runs the 10-minute journey between Lamlash and Holy Isle.

My friend took a photo of me on the 10-minute crossing:

On the ferry to Holy Isle.

On the ferry to Holy Isle.

Holy Isle is owned by a Buddhist organisation, but they welcome visitors. We were met by a guide, who told us that we weren’t allowed into the interfaith centre, as there was a retreat going on, but we were welcome to go into the organic garden.  We had an hour and a half, so not time to take the path over the top of the hill, but time enough to walk down the shore to St. Molaise’s cave.

But first – lunch!  We were very hungry.  The garden was bounded by a lovely hedge of live willow:

Live willow fence with roses at the organic garden on Holy Isle, Isle of Arran. July 2016.

Live willow fence with roses at the organic garden on Holy Isle, Isle of Arran. July 2016.  The yellow flowers in the foreground (candlestick primroses?) had a beautiful scent.

We sat on a beautiful bench to eat, and were joined by a lovely young bird:

Young bird (a wren?) who kept us company while we ate our lunch.

Young bird (a wren?) who kept us company while we ate our lunch.

We reluctantly left in order to walk to the cave.  I liked this sign:  “Go with Fair Winds & a Following Tide”.

Lovely sign as you leave the garden.

Lovely sign as you leave the garden.

We had read about the Eriskay ponies and Soay sheep that roam wild on Holy Isle, but I was surprised to find them right there on the shore as we set out:

Wild Eriskay ponies, just beyond the cafe on Holy Island.

Wild Eriskay ponies, just beyond the cafe on Holy Island.  Visitors are warned not to approach them!

A bit further along, there were the sheep:

Soay sheep, natives of St. Kilda, roam wild on Holy Isle.

Soay sheep, natives of St. Kilda, roam wild on Holy Isle.

They are very small, and awfully cute!  After about 20 minutes of walking along the foreshore, we had reached St. Molaise’s cave.  It isn’t a deep cave, but well sheltered.  You can see the wild honeysuckle clambering down from above, and the steps leading onto the floor of the cave:

St. Molaise's cave, Holy Isle, Isle of Arran. July 2016.

St. Molaise’s cave, Holy Isle, Isle of Arran. July 2016.

According to the beautiful plaques, St. Molaise was an early Christian saint who lived between 566 and about 640.  It seems that Holy Isle already, before he arrived to live in the cave for a time, was known as a holy place.

Pretty illustrated boards about St. Molaise and his life. Holy Isle, Isle of Arran.

Pretty illustrated boards about St. Molaise and his life. Holy Isle, Isle of Arran.

Had we had more time, we would have liked to have walked on to the holy well.  But the last ferry of the day left at 4, and we had to turn back.

Turning to come back.

Looking back towards St. Molaise’s cave.

On the way back, we encountered a mama sheep with her lamb.  They trotted off and went through the bracken to join the others:

Soay sheep: mama and youngster on our way back. Holy Isle, Isle of Arran.

Soay sheep: mama and youngster on our way back. Holy Isle, Isle of Arran.

The ponies were still where we had left them.  We went into the cafe and gift shop, where the guide met us again.  She had radioed our return to the ferryman, and said the “4-ish” ferry was just setting off from Lamlash, so we had plenty of time.

Heading back to the cafe, the ponies are still there. The grove of trees on the right were planted to commemorate the children killed in Dunblane in 1996.

Heading back to the cafe, the ponies were still there. The grove of trees on the right were planted to commemorate the children killed in Dunblane in 1996.  You can see the eight white Buddhist “stuppas” beyond, near where the boat comes in.

From the door, we could see that the sheep had wandered back along the shore with us:

The Soay sheep seem to have wandered back with us.

The Soay sheep seem to have come back with us.

We enjoyed our tea, and perusing the things in shop.  They had beautiful Tibetan bowl chimes for sale, amongst other interesting items.

View from the cafe / gift shop window towards Lamlash.

View from the cafe / gift shop window towards Lamlash.

We walked down to the ferry, and were soon on our way back.  The ferryman told us we’d been very lucky to see the ponies and the sheep.  Apparently they aren’t always so readily available for tourists.  He said they roam freely over the entire island, and often are on the other side, which is a wildlife reserve and off limits to visitors.  So we were really fortunate!  Starting with the little bird in the garden, the animals had all been so tame that I’d said to my friend that being there felt a bit like walking into a Disney movie.

Leaving Holy Isle. The long building is the interfaith retreat centre.

Leaving Holy Isle. The long building is the interfaith retreat centre.  The cafe and gift shop is along the shore on the right, near the clearing.

We arrived back in Lamlash about 4:30.  Earlier that day, we had passed a house with a sign in the window advertising charity teas that afternoon between 2 and 5.  We appeared at about 4:45, and were welcomed warmly – there were plenty of cakes left!  (And we immediately ran into friends from Glasgow as well.)  We were waved down to the table at the end of the garden, and had our tea looking back at Holy Isle:

We had tea and beautiful cakes in this garden in Lamlash. The owner was doing an afternoon fundraiser for a local charity - and we ran into friends from Glasgow!

We had tea and beautiful cakes in this garden in Lamlash. The owner was doing an afternoon fundraiser for a local charity – and we ran into friends from Glasgow!

Full and happy, we set off to walk the three (at least) miles back to Brodick.

Nasturtiums and different kinds of ferns growing out of a wall in Lamlash.

Nasturtiums and different kinds of ferns growing out of a wall in Lamlash.

On the way back we followed a path that took us through the aptly named “Fairy Glen”.  There was a fine rain on, which was quite refreshing to us at this point.

Walking back to Brodick through the "fairy glen".

Walking back to Brodick through the “fairy glen”.

The path brought us out along the top of the village, overlooking the bay:

Sauntering back down through Brodick, Isle of Arran.

Sauntering back down through Brodick, Isle of Arran.

We arrived at the ferry terminal thinking we had plenty of time before the ferry.  To our surprise and relief, we’d got the ferry time wrong but the last ferry to leave the island that day was due in five minutes.  Twenty minutes later and we were headed back across to Ardrossan.  We shared a plate of fish and chips.  Below is half of a full portion, so you can see Cal Mac doesn’t stint on helpings!

Fish and chips on the ferry! (Half a portion.)

Fish and chips on the ferry! (Half a portion.)

My friend very kindly took me all the way home in the car, and I was back by 9:30.  I reckoned we walked about 9 miles in all, but I wasn’t too sore.  And I never did need the change of clothes I had carefully packed in my rucksack.

It was a great day!

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!

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:

Alan Tavener leads the Scottish Plainsong Choir in one last rehearsal before the afternoon service.  College of the Holy Spirit, Isle of Cumbrae, July 2016.

Alan Tavener leads the Scottish Plainsong Choir in one last rehearsal before the afternoon service. College of the Holy Spirit, Isle of Cumbrae, July 2016.

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 I was 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.

We had a quick run-through in the Cloister:

Another photo of us rehearsing in the Cloister.  Thanks to all those in the photo for granting their permission.  (I am third from left - I seem to have gone completely grey that weekend!)

Another photo of Alan Tavener rehearsing us in the Cloister. Many thanks to those in the photo for granting permission for me to use this photo.)

And then we filed through the library and past the asterix advice, into the choir stalls.  The church seemed quite full, which was very nice as there was another concert happening on the island at the same time.

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!  (See the next post for some recommendations of plainsong music.)

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 that she and I had a wee cat-nap.  I had 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!

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