Left over Christmas cake etc

Am I the only person who still has a chunk of Christmas cake left by the third week of March?  It's moist and delicious and I don't want it to end so I refuse to serve it to visitors (I'm sure they're delighted!) I allow myself a wee nibble now and again.  I don't want it to finish this year.  Ridiculous I know, but dad enjoyed a small slice a few days before he died in January and somehow, when the cake is gone.... another link to him is too.

We've had seven weeks without him and slowly, steadily, his mark on our home is fading.  There will be a day when there is no more Christmas cake... no last jar of his delicious windfall apple jelly...  or pots of his favourite peppermint tea - we drink it, but not often, so I can't imagine any more will be bought when this packet is finished.

I've found myself burying my face in his jumpers in the hope of a remembered smell.

All the efficient practicality of the hours and days after he died have passed now too.  I fooled myself into thinking I was ok.  I was for a while. A funeral attended by around 450 people went like clockwork; warm, affectionate and tearful but with laughter and his favourite hymns - two of which he and I sang the day before he left us - he croaking from his pillow and me doing my best with a lump the size of everest in my throat.

The paperwork... policies.... banks.... legal matters - some relating to his older, bewildered sister who
is now my responsibility... And some for my mother all processed, organised and in order.  Now I've lifted my head I wonder where everyone has gone?  We'd several hundred people in our home over the five days between his passing and his funeral... and I breezed through - 'coping', dealing with, arranging.. Now?  Now I cry at the sight of a slice of Christmas cake and a pot of apple jelly.

I need to knit I think.  Socks.  New challenges.

A welcome to the new year.

The first week of January is now over and I'm breathing again and happy - relieved - to see a few brave daffodils bloom in the border by the front door.  The (ridiculously early) wild garlic flowering in one of the hedges nearby also fools me into thinking spring is close, so now, my shoulders are relaxing.

This has been a strange, stressful season and I'm all over the show.  New diaries have been sprung into action with no pleasure at all - no frisson of the possibilities of fresh pages in a lovely new journal.  Needs must and I've been in organisational overdrive in an effort to keep things on track.  

A pile of unopened Christmas presents still waits on the floor where the tree was until yesterday.  Barely touched Christmas cake waits and the fridge is full of unexpected food gifts - hearty soups and delicious pies - delivered by church friends showing love in the most practical of ways.

Christmas Eve started well, but by lunchtime, we'd a paramedic first responder hooking dad up to an ECG machine, confirming a heart attack and in minutes, we were in an ambulance en route to the hospital.  The days since have been spent juggling home stuff, a slightly bewildered and very anxious mum who lives with me, twice daily hospital calls, visits to an in-law, seriously ill in a different hospital and work - where half the team left unexpectedly at the end of the year.  I think the word for my life at the moment is 'intense'.

But, having had several weeks of 'up close and personal' access to Britain's National Health Service, I'm reminded again of how downright amazing it is when it works.  I'm grateful and humbled by the sheer dedication and kindness of the paramedics, nurses, doctors, porters, cooks, cleaners and others who make this lumbering, clunky, vastly under-resourced machine so magnificent in an emergency.  

So now we're about to enter the world of daily carers, and all the accompanying accoutrements - an air bed, walking aid, commode chair... and soon, MacMillan nurses - dad's cancer was already progressing rapidly. 

But next week, his pile of Christmas gifts will be opened - though the best gift will be him, back home with us.  Then, with time to gather ourselves and talk, we'll plot a way along the road to a new kind of 'normality'.

A few favourite places...

White Rocks near Portrush - you can see the stretch of sand in the distance.  It's a snap from the Magheracross picnic area near Dunluce Castle on Northern Ireland's Causeway coast - and a favourite place to gather my thoughts when I'm 'up north'.  I love the colours of the sea and sky.

A few miles along the coast is this other gem - Ballintoy Harbour - the view behind is in the shot below.  The winding road down to the harbour makes it unsuitable for coaches thankfully, though it's still full most days with tourists in search of sites where "Game of Thrones" has been filmed.  Another favourite spot!

And the current hot spot - literally - a log or two on the chiminea, my feet up, a rug or fleece, cup of tea and a good kindle read.  At the moment, that's "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr.  I'm loving it - and enjoying the not too busy summer months.

It's chilly and sunny today in my nest by the beach - a very welcome change from the almost daily rain and grey skies. I normally love winter but after a damp, dreary 'summer' and Autumn, I'm ready for any wholehearted weather - snow, frost, Sun - just something that looks definite. The daily dismal has worn thin.

I've been busy though. On the hook, a shell pink silky, lace weight, free hand jumper. Lace weight! At my size it'll take a decade to crochet. What was I thinking?

The chunky rug has been warming it's owner since Christmas but I forgot to take a photo of it when finished - the quickly hooked pastel rug was carried to Australia by one cousin for another cousin.

And so to my quilt top. Double Irish chain in crisp white and smoky blues. I'm in love. Just some tidying to do on the reverse and then the curvy pins then it's time to start on the slow - but satisfying task - of tiny stitches. I'd love to get into the way of using a thimble but previous attempts were abandoned- it felt as clumsy as sewing with a shoe on my finger.

Any experienced quilters like to share their wisdom on thimbles?

And a final bit of faffing - this time in the kitchen - a puff pastry and apple rose.  Like there weren't a pile of more important things to do.. but sometimes, I just need to faff a bit.  You too?

The Season of New Beginnings

It's happening - the seasonal fizz that September brings.  I wander past shop displays of pens and notebooks and long to be back teaching - the season of new beginnings.  Although, a confession.  I did give in and bought a packet of sharpies - I tried to resist for months, literally.  But when they were reduced... I've had to colour code my notes this week just to sort of try them all out.  (What is the point of a yellow pen?)

A family highlight was mum's birthday - the annual end-of-summer-birthday bash at our home.  All the cousins, aunts and uncles gather and as we've several August birthdays - so a cake to suit everyone was required.  It was fun to do.

Outdoors, it's been a long, damp, too-cool August and despite the craving for a little more heat and even some sunshine, I'm glad to see Autumn approach so things can get back to 'normal'.

The tomato plants aren't exactly heavy with fruit, and most of it will never ripen now.  The apple trees did their best and we have a reasonable amount of fruit, but not enough.  Even the "Lord's Larder" - my normal foraging lanes - have a few scant blackberries and lots of wee green, runty berries which would need a heatwave and a miracle if they're to feed the birds never mind my empty jam jars.

My pioneering inner self is nervous about a lack of home made produce in the store cupboard - I may just have to buy jam this winter.  Ye gads, a shocking state of affairs - especially when the met men are warning of a cold winter in the pattern of recent el nino years.  How will we survive without jam?I also have such an urge to chop wood - pointless when we've a gas Aga and central heating... but it's taking real restraint.  Almost certainly the outcome of a Laura Ingalls Wilder addiction as a child.

Happenstance? Coincidence?

I love when paths 'accidentally' collide.  It's happened twice in the last few days...

Late home, I wanted to watch this week's BBC "Who do you think you are"programme about Derek Jacobi.  A cousin had recommend it as his family background (and mine) traces back to the French Huguenots who sought refuge in the British Isles.

I watched the first few minutes - up until he arrived at a pie and mash shop in London his family had frequented when he was a child - M Manze.  Tiredness kicked in so I paused the programme at this point and headed to bed and a few pages of a new book ("Jam and Roses").  I turned the page and started to read... the main characters were heading to their favourite pie and mash shop - M Manze.

It might be well known in that part of London - I'd never heard of it before but what are the odds of it being mentioned twice in about 10 minutes?

This afternoon, I was listening to the news coverage of one of Van Morrison's 70th birthday concerts in Belfast today.  The interviewee was hoping the song about Van's old home "On Hyndford Street" would feature in the second concert.  They started to play the song and the phone rang....

You can see it coming can't you...  I took the call - a change of address someone wanted to pass on to my father.  And the new address was..... yes, you got it - Hyndford Street.  Seriously, what are the odds!

Does this ever happen to you?

Colour coordinated weekend

Things have been blue and white here over the last few days - the bride wanted the colour and pattern of the blue invites and her ivory lace dress to be reflected in the cake.  I really enjoyed making and decorating her cake and my lovely mum enjoyed helping to deliver it.

A friend's new son arrived a few days early and a blanket was called for - finished just in time and spot on for a wee boy - with Northern Ireland having had the coldest July weather in 20 years, the cosy warmth was needed!

I thoroughly enjoyed all the baking, decorating and crochet.  It was an intensely creative end to the working week and it all left me feeling relaxed- just as well as I'd an early start back to work for a Radio 4 broadcast on Sunday morning.  The service was from the Corrymeela community on Northern Ireland's beautifully, misty coastline... more grey and white than blue and white though - a very misty, damp morning.

A wee bit of hooky, new baby cuddles and being part of someone's special day - and a programme that went smoothly. Perfect.  What makes you happy?

Choc mint aero scored....

... 2 out of 10 - and my heart sank.  The lil' guy making the ice cream was quite clear, however that scoring 1 would have been 'excellent'.  We missed the mark this time 'because it just wasn't green enough'.  We were experimenting with the number of drops required of green colouring and the peppermint extract - the chopped mint aero bar was preferred over the choc chips as being much nicer.

No images of the final result once it was scooped into bowls - it disappeared too quickly and was totally yummy.

Choc mint aero ice - cream - just what Sunday evenings are made for.

Dress rehearsal for spring

It was as excited as a child on Christmas eve; spring was coming, how could it stay in the bed?!  Yes, it was still dark but in the first few days of January, up it shot to bring beauty to the tiny patch of border.  It's the same every year; the first of a small clump of daffodils showing up in the dead of winter, without fail.  There is hope... just wait... brighter days are coming.

An icy wind from the sea was a deterrent - I couldn't match the daffodil's enthusiasm by nipping into a warm house for a proper camera - so this was snapped quickly by phone - on the 6th of January.

Today, other spring bulbs have caught up.  Snowdrops and crocuses don't do well here for some reason, but the dwarf irises peep up for a few inches in a raised stone trough near the later-to-appear daffs.  Tiny bursts of blueness that make me happy!

No Man's Land (The Green Fields of France)

... and in this case, the green fields of Ulster's County Armagh, which is where I was yesterday.

I was deep in the heart of the Armagh countryside because I had arranged to meet a gentleman who's uncle may - or may not - have been the 'young Willie McBride' of Eric Bogle's very moving song.  I wanted a clearer copy of his photograph to use on the screen during the performance.

I got to thinking about this lad and his friends.  Just teenagers when they left home and hearth, and went to fight - and die - for king and country in the misery of the trenches.

Many of the Ulstermen died in the Battle of the Somme - over 60,000 British Casualties on July 1, 1916 - the first day of the battle.

I can't comprehend that number.  It's at least 10 thousand more than a full stadium at an international rugby match in Dublin for sure.

By November, the British, German and French casualties numbered over a million.  Horrific.  And that was just one battle.

If you don't know the song - there's a nice version by Liam Clancy here.  There's also a good one here in English and German - but I prefer Clancy's version.

Delayed start to the year...

So it's been a delayed start to 2015 in blogland - though the malaise seems to have been fairly common.  January just seemed to be so busy - and the end of last year was much too busy.

I've been happily hooking - the multi stripe blanket that Jules featured here - I love the randomness of the stitches (it's a kind of 'do-your-own-thing' pattern.  Colourwise, I basically picked a mishmash of Drops Paris Cotton and got stuck in.  At first, I was sorry I'd gone with cotton - it didn't seem to have the warm draped thing I'd hoped for, but now things are steaming on and it's growing, the drape actually pleases me.  Hope to have it finished for autumn.

I snapped the yarns on my phone to help me remember the colours I wanted to pick up at the shop, but noticed they're very similar to the colours used in the dome mosaic of Clonard Monastery in Belfast!  I was there a few weeks ago with the choir and orchestra doing a performance of our World War 1 commemorative event as part of the Four Corners Festival.

Despite having grown up in Belfast just a few miles from the monastery, I'd never been in it.  The building is quite fascinating and historically of interest too as the place where the IRA were first coaxed into peace talks - the beginning of the end of what we call "the troubles".

The light was beautiful this evening when I nipped round to the harbour chippy.  A  sunny September day was giving way to a misty evening, the tide was out and there wasn't a breeze - does the Beaufort scale have minus numbers for super-still weather? 

It's a feast for the senses tonight too - the air tastes and smells tangy.  Salty.  The streetlights near the path to the beach are hazy through the mist and the sound of a fog horn hangs in the air.

This is 'my' little stretch of coastline at its autumnal best. 

Tonight, with windows wide open, I will snuggle under a quilt, ever thankful for family, food, clean water, health, a roof over our head and a safe, secure place to sleep.  

I'll fall asleep surrounded by the scents and sounds and sensations of a cool, misty, night by the sea. 

Enough is all that's needed, yet I have so much more.  I'm grateful.

Ah autumn...

There's a very definite change in the atmosphere.  Farmers busy themselves with essential work while the weather holds and just beyond the fields, the waters of the Irish Sea are a little rougher than of late.

Lamps are switched on earlier in the evenings, the spiders are weaving cobwebs overnight on an industrial scale in my home- they abseil from the ceiling, dangling right in front of my eyes.  I've hand-transported a few bold beasties from the house to outdoors, fully aware that I'm just slowing down their progress as they find their way back in for the night shift. It's still too warm to keep the windows closed.

I spotted this fabulous village sign on a work visit this week.  For years a friend thought it was pronounced Tamla O'Frilly.

Today, the sultry, heavy weather sent me to the hedgerows with my parents for blackberries.  Smaller fruits and less juicy this year I think, but enough.  Maybe we're following on from other pickers or maybe July just wasn't wet enough.  Lots are still red and runty and probably won't get enough rain now to swell then sun to ripen.

Drippy jelly action in the kitchen tonight after book club and in the morning, sweetness added and a few pots of brambly goodness to put away for the dark months.