Sunday, January 31, 2010

Knitting - my guilty secret or a great pastime

I haven't posted any of the pictures of my handknits here, so now's as good a time as any, I guess, seeing as I have a few creative types following my blog whose work is seriously covetous and leaves me in the ha'penny place. Have a look at Rudee's blog and Stephanie V's blog and you'll agree.

Nonetheless, here I am writing this wearing my latest creation (see photo) - well, Lidl's actually, as I got the wool in our nearest branch of the German chain store that has revolutionised supermarket shopping in Ireland in the past decade and broken the near-monopoly of the existing multiples, Irish and British. The nice thing about Lidl is that they have the most bizarre and eclectic stuff on sale which changes each week with their offers, detailed in their weekly brochure or online.

Next week they are selling wool and knitting needles and I see they have some more of the same wool I got last time, and which I used for this deliciously furry waistcoat I'm wearing right now - it is just so cosy and was a doddle to make. I finished it last night, using 5x50gm balls of Rio wool in a burgundy random-dye shade, and it is feels as warm as it looks. Total cost - €5.98 if you want to be pedantic as a 4 ball pack is €4.99. I don't cost the labour as it is therapeutic and totally relaxing for me to spend an evening knitting as I read and/or watch TV and chat. They include a pattern for a scarf, jumper or waistcoat with the wool which is a great bonus if you are afraid to embark on any knitting project without the security blanket of a pattern to follow - as I am!

I made a nice grey, black and white random-dye scarf for Jany (son Shayne's partner) at Christmas and that wool was also from Lidl. So they have a struck a chord with me for their wool and given that it can be a very expensive product in craft shops I am always pleased to get a good deal - especially as it is excellent quality and great value.

I made a scarf for myself this month with another pack of wool from there, in an electric blue which I combined with a deep cerise I had leftover from another scarf I made last year and subsequently lost. You can see the result - it is warm and cosy and perfect for this chilly winter we're having.

I will have a look at what they've got this coming week and probably get some more bargain-basement wool for some more fun projects. I started knitting a few years ago when a craft shop opened in Lismore - sadly it closed over a year ago, victim to the recession and high rents although it has relocated to another town. I got a lot of lovely wool there and some patterns as well, and have used them a few times for boleros, a jumper and a mohair cardigan/jacket.

I got this lovely knitting book for Christmas which has great patterns for timeless as well as contemporary clothing and accessories and I even adapted the Lidl waistcoat pattern to include armhole shaping from the book.

A couple of years ago I got a knitting diary which was meant to be maintained for all my projects -needless to say it has sat gathering dust as I am not that organised; perhaps blogging about them will suffice until I get time to get organised! And of course with granny-hood imminent I should start on baby knits, as all I have done to date has been strictly for myself or Jany - teen daughter's way too cool for my knitting - until it catches on as a retro must-have!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

High Five - You've been tagged!

Ann over at the lovely transatlantic blog Inkpots n'Quills recently tagged me for this High Five 2009 meme, so I will try to trawl memory for five good things that happened in the last year. I don't really do much with memes or chain awards - either getting them or passing them on - and while I don't rule them out completely as some bloggers do, I admit I haven't been great at passing on the few I did get. Apologies to those who tagged me and found me wanting. I don't pass on chain emails but this is different. I kinda feel guilty at passing them on to others as it imposes an obligation on them to pass them on to their friends - and then there's often a tiresome task attached. Not this one - I like the idea of picking five good things from 2009.

In no particular order - my selection includes the following highlights:

1. Election Success
Hubby Jan's first election to public office! He was elected as the Labour Party Town Councillor for Lismore in June's local election and this was a cause celebré in our family - he had already been a Councillor for 3 years since he was co-opted, but this was entirely on his own merit and reflected his success during his term both as a Council member and as town Mayor in the run-up to the elections - he has lobbied for issues that are important for the town and has tried to avoid party politics above the interest of the town and people. His achievement is all the more notable as he was one of only four foreign candidates elected to Irish office and he was on national radio on Newstalk's Global Village panel about this rare species. I wrote about his election here.

2. Grandparents-in-Waiting
The imminent arrival of our first grandchild - Jany and Shayne will become proud parents in the coming weeks and we were told in a phone call from Spain in June that we would be grandparents in 2010! This has to be the best news of the past year and we wait in trepidation for the birth sometime in February. Watch this space for live updates and photos!

3. The Homecoming
Shayne and Jany moving to live in Ireland from Spain was a great event for us as we missed him over the past eight years since he went to Spain and even though it was great to have a holiday destination every year it is lovely to have them here now and to see them grow into a real family.

4. Holidays revisited
Down memory lane - a reunion with my old friend Anne for a short break in Spain. She and her two daughters were in Barcelona for a break when we were visiting Shayne and Jany in Malgrat de Mar. We spent four days together and relived the hectic pace of the holidays of our youth in India and Nepal - seeing all the sights in Barcelona and catching up on the news of the past years - spanning decades! You can read the post about that holiday over here.

5. Leaving the Nest
Seeing the progress in our children over the year gave me a lot of pleasure and are collectively worthy of inclusion! Shayne and Jany are already mentioned. William returned from his semester of college exchange in Tennessee, and ended the year doing teaching practice in Lismore's Blackwater Community School as part of his final year of PE and Geography in Limerick; Martin got accepted on a Masters' programme in Graphic Design in Dublin, and Maeve survived her first year of Secondary school and is getting on with Second Year as cool as a breeze. She is growing fast and has already passed me out! She went on her first parent-free holiday after her Spanish trip when she went to England with her good pal to aunts and cousins of said pal, showing that we are able to cope (a bit!) with cutting the apron strings. Mind you - not without some trepidation after watching the scariest (unlikeliest I hope!) film of the year in Spain - Taken with Liam Neeson. (confession - I had written Harrison Ford and Ann pointed out it was Liam - that'll teach me to blog late at night and get my action heroes mixed up!) Worst nightmare scenario for every parent - teen daughter gets kidnapped for the white slave traffic on her first holiday sans parents with wild child pal in Paris! Still, life's not all like in the movies - thankfully - and they came home safe and well from England.

So that's my high five selection for 2009. Good cause for reflection and I could probably make a high ten if I put my mind to it!

Do I have to pass this on to friends? Ok if so I will notify the following - and hope you enjoy filling out your High Five of 2009!

1. Jeannette @ Mysteries
2.Stephanie V @ Hookin', Knittin' & Livin'
3.Susan @ Stony River: a Writing Life
4. Peggy @ Organic Growing Pains
5. Rudee @ A Knitting Nurse

I look forward to reading your highlights and if you like - pass it on to your blogfriends!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Irish Blog Awards 2010 nominations!

I saw during the week that my blog visitor traffic has increased in recent weeks and I haven't really a clue why that is - except that I am listed on a few blog directories here and there that may have increased traffic. It's nice to see that a few more people are visiting the site, and even though there aren't any new followers or comments, I don't mind as I write it mostly for enjoyment, not as a major ego trip!

If anyone thinks this blog is worthy of entry to the Irish Blog Awards then please follow the nomination procedure from the link. It has a number of different categories so mine is probably the broader personal rather than the political or any specific category. Closing date is 5th February 2010.

Thanks in advance to anyone who nominates me - indeed thanks for visiting my blog over the past year and to those who left comments - I hope I responded to all of you as I think that's the least you deserve for making the time and effort to comment!

I will also nominate some of my fellow-Irish followers whose blogs I enjoy. Who? I hear you ask! That would be telling so I'll keep shtum for now - I don't do secrecy well so I'll probably divulge later. Oh, and you can nominate yourself if you fit the bill (blogging from Ireland!) so I might do that too - just to ensure a nomination of one!

Have fun selecting your nominees - I think anyone from anywhere else in the world can nominate eligible Irish Blogs in any appropriate category so it could be an eclectic selection!

Monday, January 18, 2010

My Year In Photos on Facebook | View Collage

My Year In Photos on Facebook View Collage

This was a fun app on Facebook that a friend alerted me to - one or two clicks and here it was. The application selects random photos from those filed in 2009 in my Facebook albums and made them into a collage. So I could share them with Blogger readers, I am posting them here as well. Hope you like them - I should really go into detail on each one but many of them appeared here already during 2009 in various blog posts.

There are two from circa 1984 and 1991 that really have embarassment potential - there's a beach scene taken on an island off the coast of Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania with some friends who were visiting the Concern (the NGO we worked there with) guest house in Kunduchi, beside the renowned Bahari Beach Hotel, and the other is at an early birthday party of our oldest son, who will become a dad in about two weeks!

This app is one of the more fun time-wasters on Facebook when compared to all those Farmville games - which I just don't get or those games which involve throwing pillows at people. I can confess to doing the odd quiz on Facebook which throw up something unexpected like an IQ of 140 on six or eight multiple-choice questions (which don't impress me much!), or "What type of nurse are you?" and it turns out I'm actually Cherry Ames - a Fifties American nurse whose life seemed light years away from my student nurse years! I like the geography quizzes on capital cities - as long as it's not American State capitals where I fail abysmally - or identifying/locating places on the map against the clock.

I still manage to read a lot and as it's winter I am back to knitting - those bloggers who are avid knitters - fair weather and foul - will be seriously underwhelmed by my poor output on the knitting front as I have only done a few scarves this year and am now making a waistcoat/vest in random-dyed fluffly wool from Lidl, great value and quality. Extremely cosy if not exactly haute couture and I will share it with you when finished.

On that note - I'll say goodnight and I will try to be a more diligent blogger in 2010 - so far not so good, I know, but there's a lot going on right now in the family with (grand)baby imminent in the next fortnight, sons going back to college or in college, and teen daughter being, well, a teenager. She's currently in the throes of drama rehearsals for a March production of The Wiz (of Oz) in the local dramatic society. That and the Big Freeze which I blogged about - and the aftermath is worthy of another post as we have water rationing nationwide in the midst of extensive post-thaw flooding! Only in Ireland as we are all saying, would such a paradox be accepted as the norm.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Nearly a No-Snow Show - from a Waterless West Waterford

Woke up yesterday morning to find we had no water! This is a first in this euphemistically-titled "cold snap" which has now transmogrified into the "Big Freeze" after three unrelenting weeks of sub-zero temperatures. (That's Centigrade, not Fahrenheit for anyone reading this from the USA where I believe Fahrenheit is the norm). I can't get my head around it where the weather is concerned; I believe 0C is 32F, which doesn't seem to make any sense. I learned my body temperatures in Fahrenheit as a young student nurse, and it was much later that the old 98.4F became 37C as the normal human body temperature.

In any case, the cold spell (sounds better!) will be with us for another week or 10 days according to the weather gurus (a.k.a. Evelyn Cusack or Gerry Fleming the winking weatherman) on RTÉ (the national broadcaster).These are real Met Office pros, not what's disparagingly referred to as the weather totties on other channels. That's real RTÉ snobbery, as rocket science isn't needed to read the weather, only to hold a discourse on it. Then you call in the Met Office experts, who can rabbit on for hours about high and low pressure and cold fronts from Siberia and other incomprehensible stuff. I know it's all highly meaningful to some, especially farmers, sailors and fishermen.

The latter probably rely on the Shipping Forecast - which always brings to mind BBC Radio 4 after midnight when the Litany of the Shipping Forecast is broadcast after the strains of "Sailing By " fade away. I love hearing the mysterious terminology and names which are a roll call of the coastal regions of the North Sea and the North Atlantic - from North Utsire to Rockall and all places in between - as I drift off to sleep. I can see why Annie Proulx called her wonderful Newfoundland-set book The Shipping News - it has a romantic mystique, probably because it is so removed from most people's ordinary lives.

Here are some photos of the countryside over the Christmas period right up to today. We are in the grip of winter, the harshest since 1963, and here in Lismore we felt a tad cheated as we had all the cold but none of the fun - in other words, no snow - up to today when Lismore turned white! We had flurries, but nothing that stuck. My son in Dublin was stomping around like Tom Crean of the Antarctic, taking wonderful night photos of the frozen streets landscapes, while we watch the nightly news with shots of the country under a blanket of white. All we could muster here were some tasteful shots of the frozen floodplains I videotaped last month in the wake of the November rains. These never drained away so the water froze in recent weeks, and are now thick enough for skating, which the Irish have adopted with aplomb. We are still a long way from our Dutch speed-skating extended family, but we can dream of an Elfstedentocht on the banks of the Blackwater.

Meanwhile, we suffer on, waterless for the foreseeable future, until the thaw sets in. Then we will know what damage has been done. It is the pipe that carries the water from the mains that has frozen, we presume, as the neighbour has water. They are very good, giving us gallons of their H2O for the loo and the dishes, and people-washing, while other friends are offering us showers and laundry.

It's great to see the community spirit this harsh weather generates. It is like a throwback to the old days when a sense of community pervaded society at all levels and has been lost in the boom Celtic Tiger days. Now people are looking out for older neighbours, and vice versa. Let's hope this "social capital", the term coined by Robert Putnam, persists long after the water has started flowing again.

The photos show Lismore today, yesterday and last week - sunrise over Knockmealdown mountain, the frozen river floodplain in the sun, our house and back garden, Lismore name stone, our "cool dude"snowman, Lismore Castle avenue, castle from the Inches, Dungarvan Community Hospital in early morning frost, and the top pic of my blog header view taken today of the Courthouse and Monument in Lismore.
The YouTube videoclips were taken on 10th Jan 2010 in Lismore - in our garden with Ben the dog, and down at the Castle.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Christmas gifts that keep on giving - and Happy New Year 2010!

I got some lovely presents for Christmas - silver jewellery from hubby, DVDs of the Irish TV series Pure Mule which is a parable of the Celtic Tiger and it's demise - Monty Python's live stage show and Michael (ex-Python) Palin's Pole to Pole from sons, and some nice baking and cookery things - Neven Maguire's new book Home Chef, and a nice pastry template cutter and a brownies book with storage tin and silver boxes from oldest son and girlfriend and some nice toiletries from teen daughter. I like the thought that went into the presents and that matters more than any monetary value - I will get lots of use from the cookery books and I have alread tried one of the cake recipes (Lime and Coconut Meringue Pie) and used the pie template cutter for our New Year's party.

I am wearing the jewellery over the Christmas holiday period as I am off work for a whole week and a half; I have the DVDs to look forward to - I can't see Pure Mule as something the whole family will enjoy as it has probably more girlie appeal, whereas Monty Python suits the boys' humour and Pole to Pole will be something hubby will enjoy too, as we met Michael Palin in Lismore when he was the main speaker at Immrama 2005. Also Pole to Pole has a lot of nostalgia value for us as he goes through Tanzania to Kigoma and on the Liemba ferry to Zambia - we lived near Kigoma for years in Mishamo refugee settlement and spent a lot of time in Kigoma and we too went to Ujiji - famed for the "Dr. Livingstone, I presume" encounter between Stanley and Livingstone.

So, despite the recession, we had a lovely Christmas, culminating in a nice low-key New Year's Eve party last night. We had a gathering of friends and with all the family together (except my mother who is in long-stay care for a number of years and sadly has dementia) it was a lovely evening, with nice home-cooked food and desserts, and good company. We went to a lovely wedding of the daughter of old friends the day before New Year's Eve, and enjoyed the reception in the Park Hotel in Dungarvan, where we had a delicious meal and danced off the calories to Dale Haze and the Champions - who (along with Gina) were stalwarts of the showband era and my dancehall days back in the 70s!

What more could we want? We have a lot to be thankful for in so many ways - we have good health, our first grandchild due in February and live in peace and comfort, compared to so many in the world living in conflict and poverty. We never put huge store by material wealth and try to live within our means (which might prove challenging with the imminent pay cuts in 2010!) and as we were happiest in our "good life" days in Africa and Asia when we really did have a simple life, we are liable to be philosophical about the excesses of life in Ireland in recent years. It reached the point of vulgarity and tacky conspicuous consumption at the height of the Celtic Tiger, and that unsustainable bubble had to burst at some point.

I'll stop now before descending to mawkish reminiscence and say Happy New Year to you all out there in the blogosphere and here's hoping that the downturn will be reversed before the first year of this new decade is over.

The photos show us at the New Year's Eve party, some of the Christmas presents and resulting tarts (Apple with Blueberries, apple with cloves) and the cookery books. and my starter at the wedding - chicken and mushroom vol au vents - yummy!