Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

(This is clematis and it is going to look beautiful soon… possibly)

New experiences continue here and we’re like children (nice children, not cranky children…) as we discover different ways to be in the world together. Denis has returned to the fold and we welcomed him with open mouths as he is cooking again. I can hear him chopping while I type – there isn’t a nicer sound.

(You think you’re missing your hairdresser? Sadie is so concerned she needs Denis to reassure her that Eilish isn’t going to stab her)

Our latest endeavor has kind of snuck up on us. Like everyone else I’ve been doing a bit of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle for years but now I realise I was only playing at it! HaHa, Ha, I laugh in the face of my previous efforts. Here’s what’s happening…

(You can’t eat yarn…)

Yesterday Eilish came in to measure my head. Oh yes, I’ve forgotten to tell you why but first… she arrives over with her knitting, her needles and yarn in a bag. I thought I recognised the bag… And then I thought I’d wet myself with the laughing. You’ll never guess what the bag was? No don’t try, you won’t guess. It was a Tesco Finest Oatmeal and Linseed Loaf bag… (our favourite bread, that we can’t get any more by the way…) Inside you could see the yarn peeping through. Now this is more like it, now we can honestly say we are, REUSING our plastic. Also, every time I look at the bag I remember with affection the bread, oh how we loved you, Tesco Finest Oatmeal and Linseed Loaf, sniff.

(Here are our potatoes, can you see anything? No, me neither but soon…)

So back to the knitting and my head measurements… We are getting all our groceries from click and collect so someone else does our shopping (thank you ❤) and I collect it in the car park of the supermarket. It works well for groceries. Not so well for hairbands. My hair is growing and it’s getting in my face and I find myself swearing and flailing my arms all around the place when I realise I’m about to touch my face to get the stray hairs back. So I thought, wouldn’t a hairband be very useful? And there was a hairband on the supermarket website shop, perfect, right? Alas, no. When the delivery came the hairband was in the Not Available list. 😟 Eilish could see more swearing and flailing in her future so she offered to rip some of my crochet squares ( I have sensed for a long time that she didn’t like my crochet…?) and use the yarn to make a hairband. RECYCLING!

(Hairband doing its job, send Eilish your head measurements if you want one we have 6 stamps left and loads of crochet squares… we’ll happily send you one (free, we’re just having fun here) and then you’ll be recycling too…😁)

We were talking about opening up a website shop because she’s already on the second hairband and I only have one head. But then we realised if the shop was successful we’d never have time to go out in the garden… I can probably wear more than one hairband at a time.

(My favourite gardening tool at the moment, fantastic for management of strong emotions… I hear)

I wish I had a story about how we are REDUCE -ing but with all the baking we’ve been doing nothing’s getting reduced except the contents of the bag of flour. That reminds me… Eilish was telling me that during the war years people used to sew flour bags together to make bed sheets. Yes, I did wonder how comfortable paper sheets could be… turns out the flour bags were made of cotton… oh right.

May you be well, Mairead.

The Journey

(Practicing Garden Therapy)

Today is the day we were booked to travel on the ferry from Rosslare to France ❤️ then onto Spain ❤️ on our journey to Portugal ❤️. Right about now I would be writing my first post from the car park of the services area near Gorey. But everything changed and here we all are on a different kind of journey. Together.

(Watching Eilish playing in the shed)

I’m sitting in my garden and I can tell you one thing I didn’t know before, I am very lucky to have a garden. I have been neglecting her but she waited, hibernated even, let herself go a bit with the grief of missing my care. I’m sorry, garden. I’ll do better. I think that’s one of the things this journey is going to be about – gratitude for the things I didn’t know I had.

(We are collecting sticks… I’ll explain another day)

Another thing about this journey is that there’s three of us. Denis, whom I’m usually living with in close confines, has been self-isolating for the past ten days, we talk on the phone now. I suppose I should add him to the list of things I’m grateful for. I didn’t realise how much I have got used to his presence. I am finding it surprisingly easy to be annoyed by his absence which I find surprisingly easy to turn into annoyance with him but he’s taking it well. I’m obviously not trying hard enough.

(Aren’t they lovely?)

Eilish is here too, Denis’ Mom (Denis and his five brothers all call their Mam, Mom – might be a Cork thing.) Eleven days ago we gave her an ultimatum and bundled her into the car to come live with us. Right about now I sense she’s ready to bolt. I’m really grateful she’s here though because she’s a huge distraction. You know, like Netflix?

(The description said they were ground cover and seemingly that means less weeds?)

When I’m not watching her we’ve been navigating a way to be two strong women sharing one house… politely. (Politely because Eilish doesn’t use swear words, I love them! I have found a way to make her laugh when I’m swearing though, I love to make her laugh.) She has a very different way of looking at things and she definitely thinks there’s one right way to do stuff. I don’t think there’s one right way… and I know I’m right…

(That’s wild garlic. Liam, one of Eilish’s sons, gave it to me last year and it survived!)

We are very alike in many ways, we like crafting and more recently gardening and Denis, we like Denis, mostly. We are also very different. She likes crafts to be exactly like the pattern intended, I don’t like following the pattern. I think weeds are just flowers planted in the wrong place and she thinks that’s crazy talk. I bet when she reads this she’ll say, Now, don’t mind me, Mairead but maybe just take a few more pictures of the garden and say less?

(Look! Ivy grows in our shed!)

It was my Dad’s birthday yesterday, he’d have been 99. I was thinking of him and the time of the petrol crisis (that was when we thought not having petrol was the worst thing that could happen to us.) He had a petrol station during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and the petrol crisis was a highpoint for him. He realised that how he behaved then would underscore the rest of his business life. So he was kind. He rationed the petrol so there would be enough for everyone. Even if you weren’t a customer, even if he didn’t know you or would never see you again. Thirty years later people from different parts of Ireland were dropping in to thank him and remind him of how he helped them when they most needed it.

He reminds me that my behaviour now will underscore the rest of my life. I’m negotiating my way through this and it’s not in every moment but most of the time, I try to be kind.

May you be well, Mairead.

Is this morning sickness?

2018 4

(I like this house in the middle of the city. It’s behind a big gate, I peeped in…)

I think I might be pregnant or I’m a gardener… it’s one or the other, I’m not sure.

2018 1

(Who lives at 55?)

When I write a blog post I just sit down and start dumping all the things that are in my head into the computer. Then I delete some things, add some things, change some things, mix up some things, until I’m happy enough with what I see and then I post it. I never expect the first dump of words that come out of my head to be the finished post. I have to let them come out, not criticise them, not mistrust them, not judge them, not shout at them, just allow them. Allow them to sit in the computer for a while before it’s time for the pruning. Only then will they get a chance to thrive. This week at the workshop I realised I am a gardener for my blog.

2018 2 1

(There’s a garden behind this door…)

Last night I couldn’t sleep (me either, Julie!) because I have a great idea and I don’t know what to do. If you know me or get me or even just read me you will know that I say the sentence I have this great idea, regularly. It’s one of my favourite sentences in the whole, entire world. It’s always closely followed by a bunch of my least favourite sentences in the whole entire world, That’s a terrible ideaBut how will I do it? I can’t do it! Someone else has already done it! People will think I’m ____. What if I can’t do it? I hate this idea!

2018 3 1

(This is a wise owl’s house)

This morning (3am ish) I started to think that maybe I need to be a gardener for my ideas? The gestation period for the blog posts lasts a few hours and then it’s born, but the gestation period for an idea lasts much longer. I’ve heard, a good gardener honours the gestation period of his seeds. He does not prod at the seed. He does not start pruning as soon as the first teeny tiny leaf pops out of the seed. He does not expect every seed will survive. He does not warn each seeds that his entire reputation and the reputation of his family depends on them and they better perform well.

2018 1 1

(Lines, angles and branches)

I am gestating a seed of an idea. It might take a while. It might take months. But nothing is gong to happen unless I put the seed in fertile soil, on a sunny window and water it. Even then nothing might happen. But I love this idea so much I will trust it to do its best to grow. This reminds me of a quote the I love from the Talmud, Every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow! Grow!” I will be the angel for my idea.

Turns out I’m not pregnant, I’m an angel, Mairead.

Free Food! Free Food! Free Food!


(The sky last night and that’s a small plane up there)

I want to walk every day after breakfast while I’m here, just for twenty minutes, a budding exercise routine. So this morning I got up a bit earlier than usual (to let the girls out) and went out the back gate and down another lane. It’s a farm lane I’m guessing, because it’s not paved but perfect for walking. Unusual for my experience of France the lane is bounded by ditches and sometimes hedges of trees. They are old trees, like oak and horse-chestnut. Beyond these are crops still growing, like sunflower or wheat. There are also newly cut fields and there’s one ploughed field.


(Droopy headed sunflowers as far as the eye can see)

On my way back I decided to pick up some cooking apples. Now, I’m talking literally “pick up” – from the ground. Before Mara left she showed me an apple tree in the next field, it didn’t seem to belong to anyone, she said, no one was picking up the windfalls. So we did and this morning I did. I felt very oddly excited by the fact that I would not have to exchange some coins for this bounty. And I wasn’t just taking them because they were lying around I have a plan.


(Little blue butterfly)

Each day I’ve been making little treats for the hens with the bits and pieces of leftover food from our table. This always includes some bread because the bread seems to go stale very quickly. But hard stale bread seemed a poor gift so I was softening it with some warm milk. It gets lovely and mushy… and that’s when I remembered Bread and Butter Pudding. I used to love that as a child and I often have fond memories of it, I even asked my mother for the recipe once but never made it – there’s milk in it, I don’t like milk! Despite that I still like the idea of it and I love the memory of it, warm and comforting, mmmmm.


(The apple shop)

So, I’m going to make a different version of Bread and Butter Pudding. I’m usually not good at making up recipes – I worry that it’ll be awful and after all the hard work I’ll have to throw it out. No problem here – the hens eat everything, even stuff that seems really yuck. And I’d be throwing out the bread anyway (to the hens!) and the apples were free and… and it might be a good time to let go of worrying about getting something wrong! So my version will have stale bread, cooking apples, rice milk and cinnamon. Oh and eggs, of course eggs, the other thing we can just “pick up” here. Oh and blackberries, yum.


(Soon to be Bread and Apple Pudding)

There’s one small problem, I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to start, we’ve eaten all the bread. Hang on, there’s another problem… I don’t know if it’s ethically sound to offer cooked eggs to hens?


(Oh and free drying too)

From a cloudy with sunny spells back garden in France, Mairead.

It’s Saturday in the countryside and I’m feeling lucky.

We finally arrived. The boat stopped and we were amazingly lucky to be in the line that moved out first. Not that it really matters who gets off first but it feels like being allowed out to play from school, so we were very excited. This is the time when it’s easy to forget that you have to drive on the other side of the road… And I forgot! Luckily I wasn’t driving 🙂 It was 11.15am by then and we decided it might be nice to travel on the small roads and give the motorways a miss until later. Within an hour we were sitting at a picnic spot beside a stream eating egg salad and apples and feeling very, very lucky.


(The bridge over the Loire)

We did get back on the big roads just before Nantes in order to cross the river Loire and we arrived at out destination in the Vendee at 6.30pm. Just ten minutes away from our home for a month a black cat ran across the road in front of the car. We didn’t hit it. Lucky for us and the cat.


(The door into the garden)

We found our accommodation on Airbnb again and it’s very pretty with a flower garden mixed in with a vegetable garden, some fruit trees and hens! You may remember my love affair with Liam and Kate’s hens in Ireland. I’m trying to find a way to tell our host about my previous experience in this area… maybe I’ll ask Kate for a written reference? Although, there seem  to be even bigger predicators here – wild boar – I’m not sure if they eat hens or if I’d be willing to get in their way…..


(A busy bee)

We went to the supermarket (Super U) earlier and now I’m sitting typing in the garden surrounded by rose bushes, hydrangeas and lettuces. I’m under the shade of a big tree and I can hear a bird chirping and some bees buzzing. Tomorrow morning I’ll sit here with coffee and a croissant. I am completely lucky.


(The French girls)

Thing is…. as we’re out in the country there’s no boulangaire (I think that’s the spelling for a bakery) so I bought the croissants in the Super U and tomorrow I’ll reheat them in the little oven. That means… It’s possible to be this lucky anywhere. So if you are reading this on Sunday morning you can join me for coffee and croissants or tea and toast or whatever you have in the cupboard.


(The neighbours – a field of sunflowers ready for harvest)

Together we can notice how lucky we are, Mairead.

The Botanic Gardens in the rain.

27 9a

(The Botanic Gardens in Dublin)

I went to visit the Botanic Gardens in Dublin last Monday. Although it’s less than an hour away I’d never been before. Not for the first time I’ve contemplated going on holidays to my own house and discovering what the area holds…. but that’s for another time. Monday’s visit was in connection with a course I’m attending.

27 9f

(Beautiful shapes in the glasshouses)

It was a cold, wet day but because of the huge glasshouses there’s plenty of inside space. Also, I had my umbrella for the sprints between glasshouses. Unlike my usual tours this one wasn’t about the place. I don’t know who created this beautiful place. I don’t know how old it is. I don’t know how many acres it spans. This tour was about noticing what’s here…. now.

27 9g

(More beautiful shapes)

There was an art exhibition in a big room over the restaurant (there was lovely sweet potato soup in the restaurant). There were huge plants in the Palm house. There were fly-catching plants in another glasshouse… and there was lots of soft rain.

27 9c

(Unusual plant attached to tree bark hanging from a post)

My assignment for my coursework was to take pictures of, and to sketch…. the things that attracted me. Taking pictures was easy, sketching not so… but half the work is taking out the pen and paper and starting…. and quarter of the work is getting over the shame when your sketch looks nothing like the object you’re sketching……

Start… now, Mairead.

Japanese Gardens Co. Kildare

23 8a

(The Bridge of Life)

Yesterday we went to the Japanese Gardens. Our admission included a tour of the National Stud (horses) but we just went for the garden and the food. We arrived around midday and it was busy, tour buses and families. Ok everyone with the tour stand by the wall. As luck would have it there was a torrential rain shower as we got our tickets so we had an early lunch. Back in the garden it as a bit too busy for photographs, each time I lifted the camera to point at something picturesque a little one ran up to it. Look Gran-Mam, look at the stone!  But I got a few.

23 8c

(Couple of swans preening at the lakeside)

The garden symbolises the Life of Man. At the entrance you have the choice between the Easy Path and the Rugged Path. Of course we took the rugged path and before long were slipping and sliding on slick wet stones. Maybe the easy path would have been just fine….. We struggled on through the Cave of Birth – tight fit, the Tunnel of Ignorance – dark and wet, the Hill of Learning – more slipping and arrived at the Engagement Bridge. There’s a gap in the bridge and you have to leap (very small leap) across. On the Honeymoon Path there’s a Difference of Opinion and the path separates…  We bravely climbed the Hill of Ambition and arrived at the Chair of Old age.

23 8b

(Entrance to Fiachra’s Garden)

As the sun was still shining we decide to have a look at the Stud or at least the paddocks with the mares and foals, but it was not to be… another shower had us sheltering in the Beehive Monastic Cells. These are modelled on a monastic site found at Skellig Mhichil, off the west coast. A bit dark but very dry we sheltered with a few of the families. This was Fiachra’s Garden. Fiachra was a 6th century Irish monk who left Ireland and founded a hermitage in France. He encouraged manual labour, gardening and giving to the poor  and is the French patron saint of gardeners. His garden here was designed to make us think of this man (and many more like him) who followed a path of adventure inspired by their passion.

Paths can be slippery – be aware! Mairead.

Visiting Lord and Lady Londonderry…. well… their house.

14 8bb

(Mount Stewart house and a little of the Italian garden)

Mount Stewart was the home of Lord and Lady Londonderry. It is beside Strangford Lough on the peninsula side and like the fishing village it is also owned by the National Trust. We walked around the gardens – very beautiful – and then went into the house for a tour.

14 8dd

(The lake – not the lough)

As we waiting until the appointed time we had an opportunity to speak with the steward of the house, a very young woman who explained the power of light. I had my camera and she very gently told me I could not use the flash and explained that of all the difficulties of stewarding an old house light damage was probably the most challenging. Fading caused by the sun (or continuous flash photography) can not be un-faded. For this reason, the blinds are mostly closed around the house and artificial light guides our way.

14 8ee

(The former main entrance, now the music room – dark to protect from the light)

The official tour began at noon and we heard lots of interesting information (most of which I’ve forgotten, I’ll be taking notes next time…) Here’s what I do remember…. Women were very important in the fortunes of Mount Stewart. A family called the Stewarts (possibly describing an ancestral occupation of house stewards) moved from Scotland to lands on Lough Swilly near Londonderry (Derry). Later one of the sons moved to this location on Strangford Lough and built the first house here – called Mount Pleasant. He had two sons Alexander and Robert. Alexander was a bit of a ladies man and also a soldier. Anyway, he found a rich wife and then had the money to build on and make his home even more impressive.

14 8cc

(Steps up to the family burial grounds – called Tir na nOg. In Irish myth residents of Tir na nOg, never age)

Alexander’s brother Robert was a politician and was a good friend of the Duke of Wellington but although he seemed to have had great success in his political career (he was once rewarded with a painting from the pope….) he was not a happy man. Years later another of the Stewarts married a rich wife and the fortunes of the family were secured again. For a time the house was left empty as the sons and grandsons married and moved elsewhere (including one of my favourite coffee places, Powerscourt House, in Co.Wicklow.)

14 8aa

(Tourist map of Mount Stewart)

Eventually, sometime in the 1900’s another descendant moved to Mount Stewart to take up a job as a politician in Northern Ireland. His wife re-decorated the house and created the beautiful gardens. Her daughter, Mairi, lived in the house until her death in 2009. The house is still occupied by a descendant of Mairi’s.

Mount Stewart, testament to the power of women, Mairead.

Princess Affreca and my new hens.

7 8j

(We travelled the peninsula and the lough)

We went to Northern Ireland for the weekend to visit friends (Hi Naomi and Liam!) They were excellent travel guides and packed a lot in – including a picnic. I’ve grabbed a map from Wikipedia to show you where we went. Even though it’s only three hours away from our house I had never been to this part of Ireland and it is truly beautiful. Our friends live less than thirty minutes from Belfast but we didn’t visit the city… this time.

07 08a

We began Saturday morning in a pottery for a breakfast of scones and coffee! Yes, I know how great! There were plain scones and fruit scones and rhubarb scones and another type of scones, possibly almond, all yummy. It was here I spotted my new hens. Yes I have hens. It was a difficult decision but… I bought a cereal bowl with hens on it and a plate with a cockerel.

7 8i

Then we set off to visit Grey Abbey a Cistercian abbey in the town of Greyabbey. The abbey was founded in 1193 by a princess called Affreca, her father was King of the Isle of Man. She was married to John de Courcy who ruled most of this area at the time. Anyway, she had a rough sea crossing from the Isle of Man and set up the abbey in thanks for a safe landing. On the way in we met Stephen, the guide to the Physic Garden, so he gave us a quick tour. I thought this might be something to do with mind reading but no… it’s to do with healing.

7 8b

There were lots of gardens at the abbey which were mainly tended to by the lay monks. As well as orchards and kitchen gardens there would have been the physic or medicinal garden. Stephen was very informative and funny and I now recognise some herbs from my own garden that I thought were weeds! By the way, if your roses are bothered by green-fly, then Calendula (also good for liver problems, insect and snake bites) attracts hoverfly who in turn eat green-fly. If you become overrun with hoverfly then let me know and I can give you Stephens’s number. After the garden we had a look at the abbey and the interpretative center.

7 8k

(Calendula, English Marigold, loved by hoverflies)

More from Grey Abbey tomorrow, Mairead.