Cosy tops and toes

These I didn't have to make.  Friends bought mum a pair of great cosy-toes sock slippers - she loved them!  Perfect for the lazy days post Christmas when we all just need jammy-time and big mugs of tea to wash down plates of hot, buttery toast and lemon marmalade.  

I did make these scarves however!  On demand - "Liverpool" red, with dark blue and orange stripes... for me and Pingy".  Very specific orders, easily fulfilled and clearly appreciated.  He (they) wore them all through Christmas dinner and the whole evening.  Very cute.  Granda will want one next!

treats all round...

Treats for a birthday - mine today!   The village has a long history - the harbour wall allegedly dates back to the vikings, the Duke of Schomberg landed 10 thousand troops here in 1689, Titanic sailed past in 1912... and it's one of my favourite places as the day draws to an end.  Not many little yachts in the water by late November.... and not too many visitors to the historic cottages on the left.  The children's paddling pool is empty and the visitors over the winter months are mainly dog walkers.

To Belfast next, and the ornate interior of a very nice restaurant.  With a gift still in my grasp since last November, I treated my parents to a visit to The Merchant.  It's an old bank, and a favourite haunt for people in search of a deliciously posh afternoon tea... we like to break the mould, so had lunch instead and oh, it was so good.

Not the place for a discreet outing though - we knew the family at the table right behind us and the couple at the table beside - great to catch up with old friends.  Belfast's like that - a small world where it's a rare day when you don't meet someone you know.

Birthdays demand a little pushing out of boats I think.  Tea at home with the family and a friend.... the perfect end to the start of another year.


No photos today... am tired and have had "one of those days".  Actually, it's been one of those weeks... but that's not for here, even though it's an unread, cathartic wee spot!

I worked a 16 hour stint at the weekend on a writing job and finished at breakfast time on Monday.  Today, the inner clock is still out of kilter.  Today, the computer also is out of kilter... I had an advert infestation and now the anti-virus has plonked too so I've spent hours trying to sort it out.

Tonight, a FB friend threw a bit of a huff at a comment I made ... and I kind of lost the will to live and hit the blue bit at the end of the rope.  Five indulgent minutes of a wee weep and feeling sorry for myself... then I wised up.  

Sure, there are times when I wish things were different, but generally I'm a contented kind of person.  I'm accepted by the ones who count and forgiven by the one who created me... and while I screw up too often, I'm still loved.  

As for the huffy friend, he'll get over it.  Facebook drives me nuts anyway so I've deactivated my account (again!) and the recovery in my mood was instant. 

Now to take control of other things that are getting on my wick!  

There now.  That felt better!

oops.... note to self... .read the recipe.

Tried a new loaf recipe today... spelt with mixed seeds and some dried fruit.  Enjoyed it a lot, but thought I'd like it a smidgeen sweeter... then checked the recipe and realised I'd forgotten the molasses/treacle.  Oops...   get it right next time.
Thanks Mrs C - this one's a keeper!

Blustery weather, an anniversary, cakes and God's larder....

Yeay!  Fresher weather at last wtih choppy-ish waters at the historic little harbour of
Groomport on the County Down coast, but sunny still.  Cooler nights mean better sleep.

The harvest of Bramley apples has been abundant this year - the weather has suited.  We've had good windfalls to make pots and pots of apple jelly for the winter and the first crop of full fruit has yielded half a laundry basket so far.
"God's larder" is a small country lane within a mile of home;  in season we have elderflowers for cordial, then wild garlic for the best, greenest pesto, and now we have blackberries and rosehips.  Again, the weather of a long, cold winter followed by a wet spring and hot summer has filled the brambles and we've already potted blackberry jelly galore and had our favourite pudding of all - blackberry apple crumble.  The freshest of apples from our garden (harvested by my father and nephew) dotted with "perfectly placed pockets of purple plumptiousness" (blackberries to us mere mortals!) with an oaty, sweet crumble and softly whipped cream.  Divine and clearly enjoyed by small nephew - bowl licking good.

The wedding cake season is over and all went well.  A couple of new types of decoration were required - elegant ivory piping for one bride and an alternately tiered fondant lace and fondant silk for another. Beautiful brides and delicious cake.

And a celebration of our own as my parents celebrated fifty-five years of marriage with a little tea party for family and a few friends. 

We're thankful for family, friends, the late summer sunshine and food from God's larder.  What are you thankful for today?

Wedding cake

Lovely day today - had seriously good thunder and lightening storm with lots of monsoon like rain - puts me almost into a trance.  I love how it sweetens the air afterwards.
It's always good to have a reason to bake - and today, while not being mesmerised by the weather, I've been baking and decorating. 
The bride-to-be wanted a traditional rich fruit as the bottom tier of her wedding cake, above that is a madeira, then a moist, lemon layer, a chocolate layered with ganache buttercream and raspberry jam, and finally another small madeira cake. 
The final touch on the five tiers will be a few fresh orchids placed on top and around the tiers.  It's simple, but quite elegant.  I'm a little nervous of how well it will travel out to the reception in Fermanagh - the same place the G8 met a few weeks ago.  It's a two hour drive from here.... quite a distance to nurse the fragile royal iced piping.  I hope they drive it gently!

Today, I'd orders for another two cakes - a four tier wedding cake and a single tier birthday cake.  I didn't actually mean this to happen....  it's a lot of fun...maybe more so than making radio documentaries! (Though it sure doesn't pay so well.)

cosying up....

So while channelling my inner Amish, I've been making jams (strawberry, then lemon and elderflower marmalade) and lots of cakes, elderflower cordial etc.  I joked on FB about quilting (but yes, that's in the basket being worked on) and barn raising (that WAS a joke) but there's also the crochet; a granny square rug (why do American friends call them Afghans?) and a SECRET project for my mother's birthday in a few weeks.

The happy hookers also went on tour - a friend and I were invited out to Spain to help with a musical project for a week, but the home we were staying in was owned by a couple of friends who live in Dublin.  This is relevant.  In Ireland they have a green, white and orange coloured tea cosy - the source of much amusement from friends (male especially) who lump it in with other girly things like cushions etc.  Shame on them!

To prove how useful they are (and to keep the craic going) I crocheted one in Spanish flag colours while in Spain.  Thanks to a lovely lady called Leah, I found a very useful pattern which, in normal fashion I tinkered about with on the bits I couldn't do or didn't understand!  Ta da!  Thank you Leah -  hope the earth quits rumbling for you really soon.

Misty Dunluce Castle and the Dark Hedges

So, two creepy but awesome pics taken near Ulster's north coast within the last 24 hours.  First, emerging out of fairly hefty sea mist last night was Dunluce Castle.  Within minutes, it couldn't be seen at all... but I love how the windows look like eyes. 
What I can't capture is the change in how everything sounds in the heavy mist.  Sounds close in and hang in the air which adds to the creepiness. 
There was an amazing sunset tonight, but I couldn't get round the coast fast enough from Portstewart to capture the incredible pink glow on the water just below the castle.  hard to believe that on a clear day you can see right along the coast to the great stretch of sandy beach known as White Rocks and on to the seaside town of Portrush beyond.

Just before teatime, we headed out to find the stretch of road known as the Dark Hedges - beech trees planted in the 18th century to form an impressive drive up to the home of the Stuart family - Gracehill House, near Armoy.

Locals talk of a "grey lady" that's sometimes to be seen wafting up the road around dusk... but only as far as the last tree.....  frankly, I was glad to have company today.  In any light there's a slightly unsettling atmosphere on the road - but maybe I just have an overactive imagination!

The trees have been photographed by lots of tourists, used in films and tv programmes and painted by many artists. 

Hot summer days

We've been having unusually hot weather here in Northern Ireland - perfect for spending more time outdoors with friends and family.....
mum and her cousin E took a stroll to the beach by our home... it always looks like this in my childhood memories - blue skies, clear water and warm sunshine.  (I clearly forget the other 90per cent of the "Irish" weather!)


We've eaten many meals outdoors too.... always tastes better.

Mum and E helping me gather elderflowers for this summer's batch of cordial.

Lewis and Gavin at the family picnic near Portrush - looks overcast but was still really warm.

The 11th July bonfire tradition is strong in Bangor, County Down - this one is at Kilcooley - and it's probably taller than the homes nearby.  A crowd of several hundred people gathered for the lighting of this one.

Earlier in the evening, we lit our own!  Actually a chiminea I was given as a Christmas gift getting it's first burning.


What on earth is going on?

I'm sure there's a name for it, but what?

Last Thursday, we travelled to the village of Drumbo to meet my mother's third cousin - not really a long lost one as she didn't know he existed for most of her life.  In the journey to track down his own family roots, he stumbled across another cousin who'd been working with us in digging down into our own roots.

A summer-school in Brno in the Czeck Republic beckoned and so Ray thought he'd swing by Northern Ireland on the return leg of the journey home to New Zealand.

And last Thursday, we travelled to the village of Drumbo.... etc.

Ray Craven was born in 1936 - the same year as my mum, and they share a relation four generations back.  Along with other cousins, they had a good poke about the family photos and scrutinised for family likenesses (who had the same earlobes as who etc) and mum was delighted to learn that he was a layreader in his Anglican church (she'd been in the diaconate of her denomination and another cousin was a minister... so clearly God does genes too ha!)

Here's mum, Ray and cousin Eileen.

It was a good night, and "nice", we all agreed, to have our horizons broadened a little more.

Jump from Thursday to Sunday with me.

We head off to church and are settling in doing that rubber-neckin thing of who's here and who's away... and lo and behold, two rows back, I spot a couple of familiar faces.  Eyebrows leaping there too when they spot me.  Charlie and Flo were working in Seychelles with FEBA radio when I went out to do a six month stint in 1992.  I've seen them a couple of times since then, once in Nairobi (2002 I think) and once shortly after in Ireland.

They just decided to come to the coast for the day and rocked up to HRPC not knowing they'd find me there.  (Not that it would have put them off I guess.... at least I hope...)

It was one of the best services ever.  A Chinese lady who'd moved to Northern Ireland had started attending "English Corner" and in time, had chosen to follow the Lord Jesus and was being baptised.  Her faith is stronger than her English capacity so it was necessary and absolutely brilliant to have the vows and blessings translated for her during the service! 

"Nice", we thought to have our parochial little ways stretched and our horizons broadened.....

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Charlie and Flo arrived after a picnic and walk on the beach and we were thrilled to catch up with much tea and lots of laughter.  When they'd gone, we marvelled at how "nice" it was to have our horizons broadened a little more.....  (see a theme emerge?!)

Here they are with yours truely, ma and pa.

That was yesterday.  Today, a friend called to relate "devastating news".  I know Bobby Ringland well enough not to take that tone seriously.  "After knowing you all your life, I've just found out we might be related."  He's one of the nicest souls I know, so I can cope with that....

His cousin was visiting from Australia - originally from Belfast and it turned out her husband was my father's cousin. 

So the teapot was warmed again and in no time, the doorbell went and my father, aunt and mother welcomed Tom and Flo and they went through the who's-dead/alive/married/divorced routine, then the "d'you remembers" started... and then we talked about life in Oz versus life in NI and ..... yea... you're with me... all agreed that it was really "nice" to have our horizons broadened.

So what's going on?  All of a sudden, everything feels very international and intentional.... first mum's cousin, then my missionary friends, the bi-lingual baptism and then dad's cousin..... 

Answers anyone?  Oh and here they are... Tom, ma, pa, Flo and Betty.

Sunday at the Walled Garden in Bangor

There's a lovely old walled garden near us and for the last few years, the council's gardeners have been working away, restoring it to it's former glory.  I love it so much.  This summer, it's full of flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruit all thriving on the wet and warm weather we've had. 

 At the moment, there's a sculpture exhibition on too - didn't have time to take many pics on Sunday as the rain came on and, well, we all know people melt in the rain so we didn't stay long.  Although it's not "scuplture", the girl "manning" the exhibition was putting in time when it was being gathered, and yarn-bombed a leaf in the wrought iron gate.  I love it.  

The l'il guy was fascinated by the tiny "garden" planted by the gate - especially the wee diddy ladder for the borrower-sized gardeners to use! 

And these three boyos below looked fed up with the rain!

The flowers are amazing - can anyone explain why same coloured flowers bloom at the same time?  Lots of purples and pinks around at the moment....

 And then my blooming lovely family - well, minus dad who, servant heart that he has, decided to stay at home and attend to the ministry of clearing the dishes after lunch.  (That and a snooze while Wimbledon was on......)  So there were just the five of us rain dodging.

Hope you'd a lovely Sunday afternoon wherever you are!

mellow days


It's balmy down near the beach today and the garden is lovely. Dad's been busy cutting the grass and sorting out some of the borders while I do a little bit now and again. I'm experimenting with bagged spuds this year - Maris Piper variety - and the first bag is doing well. Hopefully I've staggered the planting enough to get a longer harvest!

I hadn't noticed that the apples had swollen so much  - looks like we'll have a good crop of Bramleys this year.  The late spring means all the pollinators and blossom arrived together and with the recent heat and rainfall, it's the perfect combination!

What is it about a shed. I wish the smell could be blogged!  The spades, fork and rake are years old - some even belonged to my grandfather - but they still do the job! 

Next job is to sort out the herbs - a few chives with the lovely purple heads and some parsley and lemon balm but everything else needs replaced.  Really miss the rosemary and thyme especially.