Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Interview with Kris Kringle

Interview with Kris Kringle
By Kemberlee Shortland, copyright December 2009

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me, Kris. We understand how busy you must be this time of year. {Santa laughs}

What can you tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and your job?

{thinking, eyes rolling toward ceiling briefly} I was born in Patara of Lycia, now Turkey, sometime in the middle of the 3rd century {winks}. When you're my age, the exact date doesn't seem to matter. Ho, ho, ho! {belly jiggles like a bowl of jelly} I was raised in a monastery in Myra when my folks passed away. When I was 30 I became the Bishop of Lycia. Of course, back then I was called Nicholas.

I'm married to Mrs. Claus. In all our years of wedded bliss, she still won't tell me what her first name is {lifting brow and muttering something about complicated women}. We weren't blessed with our own children, but we have hundreds of elves living with us now. And well, we've kind of adopted the children of the world as our own, haven't we? {smiles with cheeks like roses}

I think I've got the best job in the world. I work one twenty-four hour shift then I'm off for the rest of the year. Ho, ho, ho! If you believe that, maybe you should get coal in your stocking this year {winks}. Seriously, being Santa Claus is no laughing matter. Certainly the 24th is the busiest night of the year for Claus and Company, but the rest of the year we put in long days and sometimes the evenings too. We now have billions of names to check, crosscheck and re-check again to be sure they're on the right list. Then there are the letters we get from those little tykes asking for special presents. We have a special department for that. Then there's production, quality control, engineering…we've quite a large manufacturing facility at the North Pole. Sure, I could just wiggle my nose and make presents appear, but that wouldn't be any fun now, would it? {winks, touches the side of his nose in "that way"}

What do you enjoy the most about being Mr. Christmas?

Ho, ho, ho! Oh, there's just so much about being me I enjoy. I get to meet people from all over the world. I know all the languages. Even that silly hand thing they do on the lower east side {shakes head, incredulous}.

I love to give gifts too, but only to the good boys and girls. For the bad girls and boys I have a coal shed out back {winks}. Hey, where do you think we get the coal for the stockings?

How did you get started and interested in gift giving? When did Christmas begin?

Back in the old days, and I'm going back to the 3rd century, I used to be creative with my hands. I'd carve and shape things all year, and save them up for the big day. I had this cute little donkey, Ho, ho, ho…that was his name, Ho, ho, ho…and we'd ride out across the countryside once a year and deliver the toys to poor children. Word got around and the wealthy parents were commissioning things for their kids. Then neighboring communities found out and they wanted things for their kids and well, it just snowballed…pardon the pun.

It was after they made me a saint that I moved to the North Pole. I was hoping for a little peace and quiet up there. Then I met the Elvises. Nice little family with pointy ears and funny shoes. Requests for gifts kept pouring in so the Elvises helped me set up shop, and well…you know the rest.

Do you have any favorite toys?

{looks around quickly, narrows his gaze then whispers} I promised Mrs. Claus I wouldn't talk about those {winks}.

{interviewer clears throat} Moving right along... What has been your best memory of Christmas so far?

Ho, ho,ho! By far the feeling I get when I see the joy on the little one's faces when they receive their special Santa gifts {sighs}.

Do you have a routine you follow during the year to help get in shape for the big night?

{groaning} You know, I tried that low carb diet and the South Beach Diet. Poor Mrs. Claus suffered through the week I was on the cabbage soup diet. Who am I kidding? The poor Elvis's threatened to quit if I didn't have more windows installed in the factory, or more gas masks. In the end, I just stopped dieting. My good friend and mentor Father Time reminded me that I'm immortal and that a skinny Santa just wasn't right. Ho, ho, ho! I do have to pace myself though. At every stop is a plate of cookies or Christmas cake waiting and a glass of milk {rubs belly}.

What do you find the hardest about preparing for Christmas?

You know, if I had a few more hours in the day I'd like to relax a little, maybe sit by the hot tub a little more, get one of those little Jamaican gals to come up and braid my beard {glancing around quickly for Mrs. Claus then grins}.

Seriously, a few more hours in the day wouldn't go amiss, especially on the 23rd. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to pack a few billion toys onto that little sleigh? {shakes head, disbelieving}

What is your biggest pet peeve about the holidays? Is there anything that turns you off about Christmas?

Heck yeah! I think the whole thing has gotten too commercial. Back in the old days, it was about love and family and community. Today it's all about "keeping up with the Jones's." Kids want toys better than the kid next door, Mom's trying to bake herself into exhaustion, Dad's obsessive about the turkey. I tell you, Spot and Whiskers have it right. Just camp out by the fire all day with your legs in the air. Ho, ho, ho!

{wipes tears of laughter from eyes} I think we should get back to homemade gifts, things we create especially for someone that come from the heart, that's what Christmas is all about. Tell someone you love them. That's the best gift anyone could get {points finger}.

{interviewer runs a nervous finger under collar to loosen, clears throat} Do you have much time to read?

I love to read. It's a great way to escape for a few hours. I especially love them romance ones. Gives a man ideas! {glances side to side checking for eavesdroppers}

Unfortunately, the only time I get any peace is in the "necessary" so I read in there quiet often.

What books are you anxious to grab when they come available?

Oh, just about anything really. I love to read. Over the centuries I've learned to read quickly so I can go through a couple books a day. I especially love exotic locations. You know, living in the snow all the time really makes me appreciate sunnier climates.

Like Jamaica?

Ho, ho, ho!

Do you have any aspirations to write a book of your own someday?

Ho, ho, ho! Maybe one day I'll write my memoir, but for now I'll just stick to Naught or Nice Lists. {scratches chin through his thick beard} You know, if I was anyone else, I'd publish those Naught Lists {winks}.

You haven't mentioned the reindeer yet. How's the gang doing?

Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudy are all doing well. Dash and Vixen hooked up. Dancer and Prancer are an item now too. Comet, Donner and Blitzen are sharing quarters now, but we don't talk about that. To each their own {rolling eyes}.

What about Rudolf and Cupid?

Rudy's a playboy. The girls love his red nose. He's ever the gentleman, but to Mrs. Claus's disappointment, we don't think he'll ever settle down. But you never know, do you?

Cupid {sighs}…Cupid's a lover. Loves everyone, everyone loves Cupid. We're afraid that he spends too much time playing matchmaker that he'll never find his own match. {taps the side of his nose} The Elvis's are onto something though. Can't say yet, but {makes imaginary quote marks in the air} watch this space. Ho, ho, ho!

{interviewer grins} Tell us something we'd be shocked to discover about you. Kris?

I have an all over body tan. There's this great little nude beach in Jamaica....{attention wanders reflectively}

{clearing throat to get things back on track} Is there anything you'd like to add to this interview, Kris?

Ho, ho, ho! I'd like to wish all the boys and girls a Meeeerrrrrry Christmas {he sings}. There's still some redemption time left before the big night. You know who you are out there {lifts a single fluffy brow}. Do some good deeds between now and the 24th and that lump of coal will become a special gift in your stocking.

Thank you very much Kris for the time spent doing this interview. It's always great, getting to know our Saints better.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ireland's Heritage Week: Macroom

I know it's been a long time since I've posted here, but my excuse is that my mother's been visiting over the summer and I've spent all my free time with her rather than sitting in front of the computer. I'll catch up soon, but I wanted to post a few pictures from Heritage Week here in Macroom.

Heritage Week is a national Irish event. Here in Macroom, our knitting group got together and collected some traditional Irish knitting and put them on display. One display cabinet is full of tea cozies and another is a series of socks in various stages of construction. There are also a few samples of traditional Aran patterns that go onto jumpers (pullovers) and cardigans (sweaters).

Hanging up in another part of the library are some FOs (finished objects) from some of the knitters. One woman brought in a couple crocheted tops she made a couple years ago.

Other ladies brought in some cardigans, one of which is a masterpiece of traditional Aran stitchwork.

The shawl in the photo is mine. It's the red garment hanging on the right. It's made with a stitch pattern called Feather and Fan. It's actually a stitch that originated on the Shetland Islands of Scotland, but it's made its way to Ireland many years ago and is a much beloved pattern. I've made several scarves with this patter in recent months, but I love the shawl. I used a baby alpaca wool so it's ultra soft and warm too!

I'll probably get slaughtered for this, but here's a picture of my friend Ruth who brought her spinning wheel into the library for demos. It was really great to see her working the wool into something worth knitting. She had a collection of Jacob's wool, which is that crazy looking four horned sheep, and a selection of predyed wool from Kerry Woollen Mills. I know she's been spinning some of this wool for a blanket she's making. I can't wait to see it when it's done. I know how much work she's putting into it. It should be stunning!

Finally, here's another picture I'll probably get slapped for. This is Ilene who's standing beside her great grandmother's cloak. She said the cloak dates back to pre-Famine times...the Famine being 1840-1845. The cloak is in remarkable condition, considering its age. There were two cloaks on display. The other was a younger cloak but in terrible condition, as it was moth-eaten and torn. Ilene's cloak is a real gem. It really should be in a museum.

These cloaks, also known as hooded cloaks, were the traditional garment worn in many parts of Ireland. The way the cloak is displayed, it looks a bit like a Middle Eastern burqa. But when worn properly, the ruffles surround the face of the wearer with the hood hanging down the back to catch the woman's hair. The big ruffle is meant to direct rain away from the face, and the length of the cloak would protect the woman's dress and protect her from the cold.

There were other traditional garments around Ireland. In places like Galway, women wore shawls like those seen in the movie The Quiet Man. In fact, all of the shawls worn in the movie were bought from the "Shawlies," as the women were called then, for use in the movie. As cheesy as this movie was, there was quiet a bit of authenticity about it.

And of course, there is the traditional Aran jumper, which has all the different stitches.

Also on display in the Macroom Library is a photographic display of the railway history of Macroom. Maybe locals still remember when the train came through town, as it made it's way between Cork City and Killarney in County Kerry. But with the increase in wealth and more people being able to afford cars, train use fell in popularity and eventually most rail lines around Ireland were pulled up and sold to India. Of course, with the increase in tourism into Ireland, those rail lines could really come in handy with travelers who don't want coach tours or to hire a car of their own. Who knows? Maybe one day Macroom will have a light rail of some kind to move people into the city as part of a commuter transport program. Might be a cheaper option to that bypass they keep promising us!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the photos.

Friday, June 05, 2009

My first harvest and more signs of summer

I'm so excited, I had to share. I've harvested my first homegrown artichokes. They weren't very big, but they were yummy and a great taste of home. There are several chokes still growing along the main stem that I hope will be ready by the time we return from Wales at the end of the month. We have a wonderful neighbor who will come up every few days to make sure all my pots are watered, so there's hope!
Our neighrbor is terrific. Our house sits in the center of a field, essentially, and we've gone through two lawn mowers trying to keep the grass under control. He comes up with a 1964 David Brown tractor with grass blades on it and in 15 minutes the grass has been subdued!
Anyway, summer seems to have arrived in Ireland at last. There were reports during the week of temperatures reaching as much as 35C in the midlands. 35C is 95F to us Westerners! Pretty dang hot for Ireland. Down at our place, temps reached 76-78F on Wednesday. Just right for me!!
Last Sunday we had an interesting experience. It was a scorcher of a day and were at home...doing the last minute tidy before mom's arrival next week! One of the dogs started barking, which drew our attention to the front of the property. In the front of our gate at the street was a man who looked like he was on safari...dressed in khaki, wellies and a pith helmet, and carrying binoculars, which were trained on our trees! My DH went out to see what the story was, and it turns out that Mr Safari was a member of a conservation group of birdwatchers, and he was going around the area making notes of which birds were around, including the migratory birds. He was watching our trees because he'd just spotted a bird that's rarely seen in this area!
My DH invited Mr Safari to come off the road and take a walk onto our back property. It's located well off the road and is really wild. Mr Safari jumped at the chance. He finished his walking route to he river at the end of our road, then came back. He was only up there about ten minutes then came back to ask if he could come back with a friend and take some pictures. He said he wasn't back there five minutes and spotted TWO species of birds that have never been recorded in this area. He didn't say what they were, but he's coming back in July with a friend to spend a few hours on the back property to see whatelse they can find. This will be a really important find for local history, as it turns out. Our local bypass road was halted because of rare slugs in a woods they wanted to take down. If other rare and unusual species of wildlife are discovered, the whole bypass could be either completely rerouted or halted entirely.
With the change in the seasons, we're still seeing a change in the flora. Our back yard has seen spreads of plantego change to spreads of shamrock to spreads of dandelions. Now we have spreads of meadow buttercups and germander speedwell. Speedwell is a very tiny blue flower so you don't normally see it unless you're on top of it, so yard was looking very yellow again. But the speedwell is really coming on this year and there are patches of blue everywhere.

Another plant that's common to damp areas, such as around our stream, is something called cow parsley. It's also known as Queen Anne's Lace and is a member of the carrot family. They're fairly prolific. Every summer we have to go into the stream and pull them out by hand. Some of them have stems on them as big as a mans wrist! But they're beautiful when they bloom.

We've also been seeing a large number of buff tailed bumblebees. I have a potted thyme that's kind of taken over the pot now and has really beautiful little blue flowers on it. The bumblebees seem to love it. By the looks of this one, the buttercups are a popular flower to feast on, too!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

50 Greatest TV Shows

Empire Magazine has revealed its list of the 50 Greatest TV Shows ever.

1. Bold the shows you watch/used to watch.
2. Italicize the shows you’ve seen at least one episode of.
3. Underline the shows you own on DVD (at least one season).
4. Post your answers.

50. Quantum Leap
49. Prison Break
48. Veronica Mars
47. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
46. Sex & The City
45. Farscape
44. Cracker
43. Star Trek
42. Only Fools and Horses
41. Band of Brothers
40. Life on Mars (UK version only)
39. Monty Python
38. Curb Your Enthusiasm
37. Star Trek: The Next Generation
36. Father Ted
35. Alias
34. Frasier
33. CSI Las Vegas
32. Babylon 5
31. Deadwood
30. Dexter
29. ER
28. Fawlty Towers
27. Six Feet Under
26. Red Dwarf
25. Futurama
24. Twin Peaks
23. The Office
22. The Shield
21. Angel
20. Blackadder
19. Scrubs
18. Arrested Development
17. South Park
16. Dr Who
15. Heroes
14. Firefly
13. Battlestar Galactica
12. Family Guy
11. Seinfeld
10. Spaced
09. The X-Files
08. The Wire
07. Friends
06. 24
05. Lost
04. The West Wing
03. The Sopranos
02. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
01. The Simpsons

I think I watch too much TV!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Baby's got a new pair of shoes

OK, don't get all excited. They're not Manola Blahnik's, but I like them.
Purple Crocs!!
What's not to like?
They're PURPLE!!
We were in Killarney on Saturday, doing our duty by donating a bunch of stuff to St Vincent de Paul's, and we stopped in at the outlet center for coffee...well, coffee for Peter. In the outlet center is a Low Alpine store. These stores sell a lot of hiking, biking and camping gear. And they just got in a new shipment of Crocs. I saw the purple ones from outside the shop, halfway across the center! They've always sold lavender, but this is the first time I've ever seen the dark purple ones. I already have a pair of orange Crocs, and dad sent a pair of chefs Crocs in black a while back. So, now I have THREE pairs of Crocs. One day I'll have a rainbow collection of the bloody things! ;-)
I'm feeling very girly at the moment. This time last year, I had three pairs of shoes...Reeboks, dress shoes and mountain boots. Now, I practically need a separate room for my shoes!
Speaking of husband travels a few times of year for work. He's recently traveled into Germany, France and England, but most recently he went to Amsterdam. Unfortunately, I never get to go with him, but he's a real sweetheart and always brings me something to make up for me having to stay home alone.
I made a joke when he was leaving this time that I wanted a pair of clogs, since he was going to Holland...technically North Holland. And when he came back he brought me a clog alright!
In Holland, souvenir shops sell ceramic clog planting pots that are filled with seasonal bulbs. They're health

certified for taking back to the United States and Canada, too. Obviously, there's no way all of the ten bulbs will fit in this planter, but the overall item is a great way to remember your trip to Holland!
In my case, tulips are out of season now, but my clog was full of Gladiolus's. I wish our shed was in now so I could plant the glad's around it. They grow up to about four feet in height and would make a great statement against the side of the shed. What I'll end up doing it putting them into a big pot, then next season I'll transfer the bulbs into the ground.

And since I'm talking about plants...again...I have to share this picture.
This time last year dad and his lady friend visited us again. When they went home, I sent them with a couple clippings from our blackcurrant bushes.
When we bought our house in 2001 we took a walk around our property. I found a great tree with these amazing leaves on it. I thought they'd look very pretty in a vase of water in the house so I snipped a few. About a week later, the cuttings had sprouted roots. I eventually planted them in pots, the into the ground. Then they started to bloom and fruit. I took a clipping to our favorite garden center, Griffin's Garden Centre, and was told it was indeed a blackcurrant and not a tree. Cool!
Getting back to "the folks," last year they took a couple clippings home. They were literally just a couple sticks wrapped in damp papertowels and protected in a ZipLock bag. Once home, they put the clippings into a vase of water and waited for them to sprout. Tah-dah! They now have a plant that's about four feet tall, as you can see here.
And I'm embarrassed to admit that their plant looks healthier than ours do! But we have more fruit :-) BUT, their bush is only a year old, so it has time to mature and really get its fruit on!
"The folks" love the stories they bring back with them from Ireland. After their first trip, when they brought back a few rocks and some daffodil bulbs, and now this trip with their blackcurrants, they have loads to talk about with their friends. Each rock and the daffodils have their own stories, and now the blackcurrants with theirs.
In the case with the blackcurrants, the original bush at the back of our property was actually part of an old garden! Our property from was originally part of a much larger piece of land owned by a local family and dates back many, many decades. The blackcurrant was the last of the plants in the original garden. Between the blackcurrants in the garden and the wild blackberries, the family had gallons of berries for preserves. We collected twelve pounds of blackberries two years ago and made jam and we're STILL going through it.
Watch for a post on making blackberry jam at the end of September!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Sweater Saga and a Choke Update

A couple years ago I participated in a Secret Santa gift giving program through the Irish Knitters Group on Ravelry. It was my first time doing something like this and really enjoyed it.

My secret pal, Aileen, sent me a lovely package that included fabulous pair of huge Fair Trade buttons. They're white ceramic that have been hand-painted with cobalt blue. Where the layers overlap it looks vaguly purply-teal. Really pretty, as you can see. But two buttons didn't seem like enough, so I bought a few more. Love em! I also bought some heart shaped ones in the same color and style, but that's another topic!
Since receiving the package I've been looking for just the right yarn to make a cardigan where I could use the buttons. At the time, I had just been turned onto a yarn called Noro Silk Garden so I knew I'd use that, but what colorway? I found the "blue" (colorway 264B) looked the best with these buttons. I love Silk Garden, but it's a striping yarn. I didn't want to be covered in blue strips, so I decided I wanted to do a new stitch I'd learned called entrelac. Entrelac is a French term meaning interlacing or woven. The effect makes the resulting fabric look woven. It's done in short rows that come out looking like diamonds, and with this type of yarn, the diamonds look like they meld between color changes. And while I love the effect, I didn't want to be covered in what's essentially basket weave! So I decided that the entrelac would be along the hem and cuffs, which meant I needed a color for the body work.
I'd originally chosen a wool, Debbie Bliss Luxury Donegal Tweed in a blue denim sort of color. I wasn't thrilled, but it was the best of my choices at the time. It worked up quickly and I had the back and both front panels done and started on one sleeve. Then I stopped. I didn't like how it was coming out. The wool was too stiff and I didn't like the texture. Silk Garden is 40% silk, 40% mohair and 20% lambs wool. It's relatively soft when worked up, and the 100% pure wool of the tweed just wasn't working for me.
What else I didn't like about it was that I'd started with the entrelac hem and joined the tweed when I was ready to work the rest of the panels. but in doing so, it left big holes between the yarns where the joined. I thought I could live with it, but with the holes and the stiff wool, and the ugly side seams on the entrelac, I decided it wasn't working for me.
So I ripped the whole thing out.
Since then I've been looking for just the right yarn for the body and sleeves. The search went on for about 9 months. But as soon as I saw the yarn I wanted, I knew it was "the one" and couldn't not get it.
The yarn is Manos del Uruguay Silk Blend in what I call Peacock Blue, but the company calls Orinoco Blue (colorway 2444). You can see here how well the colors go together. You can probably also see how they compliment each other in the first picture.
I'm designing this cardigan myself so it's not just a labor of love, it's also a learning experience. I've written out the base of the pattern and am tweaking as I'm knitting. I'm using one of my favorite sweaters as a guideline for measurements, which helps.
So now, after a month of mainly knitting at night over episodes of CSI, Fringe, and the rest, I've finally managed to get to a stopping point on the back panel. I'm knitting the cardigan from the top down this time, as the entrelac will join with the plain knitting better. And I've now started the first of the two front panels. When the time comes, I'll join the side seams and do the entrelac in one piece along the bottom.
My current problem is making button holes big enough for these massive buttons!
So...on which side do buttons go on a woman's cardigan!! ;-)
A little catch-up on the artichoke saga...

Choke 1 is the first one and is now about the size of a man's fist. The side leaves are starting to produce secondary blooms. I'm not sure when the top globe should be harvested, but I'm sure once it has been that the smaller ones will come on quickly.
Choke 2 is about half the size of #1 and the leaves are starting to produce secondary blooms too.
It's choke 3 that I'm worried about. Looks a bit like it's been watered with run off from Monty Burns's nuclear factory! At least it's blooming something.
Now I just need to learn how to make my own mayo so that I can say I grew my own chokes and will eat them with my own mayo. But...does that mean I have to raise my own chickens so I can say I used my own eggs? I. Don't. Think. So! Gotta draw the line somewhere.
Next project, hopefully this weekend, will be to plant the seed potatoes that are sprouted in the bag we carried them home in! I've got some purples in there. Should be interesting!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Perfect Summers Day

It was the perfect summers day in Ireland today. The weather couldn't have been any better. I thought I'd share a few photos.

Here's Daisie playing in the stream. The sun caught this one section under our crabapple trees and she took the opportunity to go snorkling. This is where she puts her whole head under water and looks for rocks to bring me so I can throw them back in the water so she can go snorkling again. The funny thing is that she doesn't quite get them back to me. She ends up taking them to the edge of the stream and expects me to climb down and get them. Not bloody likely! I was wet enough just throwing the ball into the water for Poppy who DID have sense enough to bring it back so I could throw it again. The problem with Poppy is that she can go for hours where Daisie usually gets bored with a game and then she's away with the fairies. The exception is when she's in the water, where she kept snorkling for rocks and still kept taking them to the edge of the water but not up to me. Goofy dog!

Once both dogs were sufficiently wet, I brought them out of the water one at a time for a bath. Poppy first, since she was already at my side with a ball hanging out of one side of her mouth and her tongue from the other side!
Then it was Daisie's turn and once she saw the soap bottle in my hand she headed back into the stream and refused to come out. I don't understand it, and I probably don't need to, but she LOVES water. Doesn't matter where she is, if she spots a big puddle, pond or the sea, she's in it. But the hose with water coming out? No way! Well, eventually she came out and begrudgingly let me wash her.
Then I ran them to get as much of the water off them as possible before the sun went in and they had to come in the house. Anyone who's been to our house or knows us knows that we use a tennis racket to whack a ball up the backyard, which is about a half acre. They see me pick up the racket and ball and they're instantly up the back and waiting for me to hit the ball to them. It's a great way to exercise collies, let me tell you. After about 15 minutes, Daisie is usually ready to play another game, but Poppy is all about running, and if it means hitting the ball for another 15 minutes to wear her out, who am I to deny her? So here they are, above, laying on the back steps in the sun, catching their breath and the last of the afternoon sun. Ah! It's a dog's life!!

Here are a couple more shots of what's growing around our property. Left is a very old white hawthorn tree that has buds coming in all over. Unlike the crabapple tree which is next to it, the buds are coming in green rather than pink. The flowers will be striking white when they've bloomed, so stay tuned for that picture. They're absolutely stunning.
Lastly, we have a Carnival Tulip. I've tried growing tulips in the ground around where the daffodils are in front of the little stone structure in our front yard, but they never do well for some reason. So I put a bunch of bulbs in various containers to see if they'd come up. The Carnival Tulips are really stunning, looking like starlight mints from Xmas time.
Well, let's not talk about Xmas time when we've had such wonderful weather today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? The weather "experts" have been calling for rain this weekend and today we had sun. It's anyones guess what tomorrow will bring until we open the curtains in the morning and look out.

Friday, May 01, 2009


In my last post I said we were hoping for three out of three with our three artichoke plants. We've been really happy to see two of them sending up chokes. It's official now though. The third plant is sending up a choke, too! And the bonus, the first plant now also has two chokes coming up from the sides.

The first photo is the first chokes that came up. The first set of leaves below the globe have secondary chokes coming in now. Whoo hoo!!

The second picture is the second choke to procude.

And the third picture is, obviously, the third plant sending up a choke.

Result! Now we're back to suffering the anticipation until they're ready to harvest and EAT!

While I was out taking pictures I was also looking at the crabapple blossom. The buds are starting to open, but I'll hold off posting a photo until the tree is really impressive.

However, while I was looking at the flowers, I happened to notice some fluttering in the trees. There were about a dozen young goldfinches hoping from branch to branch.

They're SO cute. And the tiniest birds I've ever seen in the garden. When these birds are mature, their breast will be totally gold. At the moment, they just have a little gold patch, as you can see. And the red over the beak will eventually turn bright tomato read and completely encircle the beak.

The weather is not looking good for the next week. A storm is brewing in the North Atlantic and it's supposed to hit the hardest on Wednesday this next week. But we'll see how the weather really is. It's not like the weather service hasn't been wrong before.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Anticipation Pt 2, aka No Place Like Home

Yesterday I talked about the wildflowers coming up around our property, but I love gardening too. We're still sorting out our landscaping so nothing is in the ground yet, so there are pots all around the house. Mostly roses, lavender, a couple fig trees, a few saplings (sycamore, beech, oak, maple), hibiscus, and the ones I'm most proud of...artichokes.

I come from a part of Northern California where 99% of America's globe artichokes are grown in a small rural town called Castroville. I was raised about 15 minutes south of Castroville, but the artichoke fields spread for miles and miles. Castroville is home to the famous Artichoke Festival. And a little known fact outside of the community is that Marilyn Monroe was crowned the festivals first Artichoke Queen in 1948, back when she was known as Norma Jeane Mortenson!

Castroville is also famed for having the world's largest artichoke. OK, so it's made from concrete, rebar and a little paint, but it's damn big! And it marks where the door is into the Giant Artichoke Restaurant where they sell the world's best deep fried artichoke hearts...and just about everything else made with artichokes. When I was living back home, it was not uncommon for me to drive to Castroville on my lunch hour to get some artichoke hearts then drive back to work. 15 minutes there, 15 minutes back and still have 30 minutes to spare!

I love artichokes. It's not uncommon for me to steam up as many will fit into a giant pot and live off them for a few days. I love, love, love 'em!

Needless to say, moving to Ireland was a huge shock to my culinary system. Artichokes, while a common find in French supermarkets, are virtually unheard of in Ireland. They're a rare find. I've found them occasionally at farmer's markets where the vendor imports their organic vegetables from France, but in the supermarkets? Not a hope. And again, needless to say, I buy as many as I can afford! At an average of €5 each, it's hard to justify paying €20 for four chokes. They're a treat though, and people pay up to €10 for a dessert in an average restaurant here. So... (mangia, the Italians, eat!) You only live once, right? And it's only money!

Last year when my father and his lady friend of 20+ years visited us again, we took them to a great farmer's market in Bantry, Co Cork. It's the biggest farmer's market in Ireland that I've been to. They have stalls for just about everything. One day I'll blog about it, but on this particular visit, one of the stall owners had starter plants for globe artichokes! I bought three and immediately brought them home and babied the hell out of them until I could get them into some big pots. I was really worried that the winter was going to kill them off. It's much colder and icy and occasionally snowy here than in Castroville. But they survived! And now they want to spread out in the worst way. I know they need to go into the ground so I need to get my act together and get the ground prepared.

But lo and behold. One of the three little beauties sent up a bud. Really, artichokes are just prickly flowers, but it's hard to call them a flower when we eat them before they have a change to blossom. I don't care though. They're wonderful to eat. Steamed. With a little Gilroy garlic. And masses of home made mayo!

This one here has grown to the size of a small peach, but it's still very young.

And then...then...a second plant is sending up a bud! I'm so excited. And this newfound anticipation is about to kill me.

From what I understand, these first chokes, which grow up right from the top center, are the globes. These are the biggest on the plant. Once these are harvested, the plant continues to grow and sends out several smaller chokes from around the edges. I never realized before, but artichokes have two harvests...the globe and then the rest.

So now, as we watch and baby these two little wonders, we're keeping our eyes on the third plant and hoping for three out of three.

And they'll be all mine when they're harvested, as my husband doesn't care for them! ;-)

There may be no place like home, but it's quite possible to get a taste of home occasionally.

PS...Last weekend at a local garden center I found French artichoke starter plants and picked up three of those too. This variety sends up purple chokes. Not as big, but hey, they're PURPLE!

Friday, April 24, 2009


This is the time of year when Ireland is waking from her winter slumber. She's stretching under cool foggy sheets and groping for warm spots in the folds.

Once barren trees are starting to leaf, wild fuchsia is bushing out, bramble vines are getting into everything, and the grass is growing out of control. It's also that time, given a bit more warmth and sun, just before everything explodes with blooms. The anticipation is palpable! Sure, we've had the usual early season daffodils and masses of dandelions. But the end of April generally heralds the coming of the flower boom known as May. Remember the old saying, April showers bring May flowers? How true!

I should back up to mention that our house sits on the property of an old farmstead dating back to the Great Famine. Most of the old stone buildings are gone now, but two walls remain from what was probably a buttery or the like. Beside this building are the foundation stones of what was probably a barn. Today they stones are tangled with ancient...OK very old...beech trees. And surrounding the immediate property is a stream. This would have been a really traditional farm. Thatched roofs and all.

As with any farm, the housewife would have maintained gardens. And one of those gardens included blackberries, black currents and crabapple trees.

When we first saw the new house, we were taken by the masses of blackberry vines all over the property (can we say gallons of home made preserves?), the massive black current bush we thought was a tree and the crabapples on the trees. And it's this time of year that they begin to bloom.

It seems like it's been ages in coming, but the lime colored leaves have come on really well, and the pink blossom buds make the trees look like they're strung with exotic pearls. Providing the wind behaves itself over the coming weeks, we should have hundreds of tiny green apples. We really must harvest them and try making crabapple jelly.

We've owned our property for almost eight years now. There are about seven and a half acres in all, but the house itself sits in the middle of about one acre, and the backyard is the better part of half an acre.

Over the years, it's been very interesting watching the seasons change. And noticing how no two seasons are the same. For example, last year our backyard was covered in clover. This year it first looked like it was going to be all about the danelions. Then I took a stroll around with the dogs and it's covered with about a million plantains. English Plantain to be specific, also called Ribwort Plantain and Plantago.

Apparently as far back as Neolithic times, land that could grow plantain was supposed to be an indication of fertile grazing land for cattle. And through the ages, both in Ireland and Great Britain, plantain has been used in the making of teas (tisanes) and herbal remedies to treat various ailments such as treating bowel disorders, lowering cholesterol and controlling diabetes. The plantago is one of the nine plants invoked in the Nine Herbs Charm that was recorded in the 10th century by pagan Anglo-Saxons. Knowing all this, I feel like I'm sitting in the middle of a bit of history! So much history for such a little plant.

Or if you grew up in Ireland, as my husband did, plaintains were used in the playing of a game known as soldiers. Once the flowers head had grown, kids would pull them and use them in a game where the stalks were hit against the opponant's stalks like swords. The first one to lop the head off his/her opponent's flower won. Beginning about this time of year in fields all over Ireland, kids had hours of endless entertainment. Well, as long as the plantains held out!

With so much property that changes every season I had to go out and buy a book on Irish wildflowers. It's the Collins Gem series for wild flowers around Britain and Ireland. It's pocketsize, which is ideal for wandering around the property. It's fun to identify what's growing on our property, and collecting samples to press at home.

We have a lot of trees on the property too. The house is surrounded mainly with native ash and some beech, but we also have traditional white blooming hawthorne and sycamore. Some of the trees are very old. But this will have to wait for another time.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Spring in Ireland

It's been a long time since I've posted anything here, but it's been a busy few months.

But spring is in the air in Ireland. Lambs and calves are common sightings in the fields, wildflowers are blooming all around, and the days are growing longer. And the weather has been a lot better, though it wouldn't be Ireland without a little rain now and again, and again, and again...

Our neighbor came over with his old tractor with a grass cutter on it to cut both the front and back, and since then the dandelions have taken off. They're everywhere! With the gorse blooming, too, the property is awash in yellow and green.

And the dogs are in heaven. They get to go outside more, and when it's nice and warm they get to paddle around in our stream.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm well-ready for summer to come around. And I hope it's a good one.