Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Weekend in The Burren - The Aengus Finucane Memorial Walk

Aengus Finucane Memorial Walkers 2012 
Two weekends ago the second Aengus Finucane Memorial Walk took place in The Burren in Co. Clare, organised by a committee of former Concern Bangladesh volunteers from the heady early days of Concern, back in the 70s. Aengus was one of the founding fathers of Concern in Nigeria/Biafra in 1968 and it has grown from strength to strength since. Our lives are inextricably linked to Concern since we met as volunteers in Bangladesh in 1979, and we have a great grá (love) for the NGO that was home to us for over a decade between Tanzania, Bangladesh and Laos.

Jan and me at Ailwee caves
The famous signpost the CoCo shrank!

The Bare Burren Mountains 
Hubby Jan and me were walking for the first time as we had been unable to go the previous year when it was held in Leitrim.  This year I came home from the INMO conference in Killarney a day early and this meant we were able to head for Clare on the Saturday morning, arriving in Ballyvaughan in plenty of time to check into the hotel and have a snack before the walk. We also met some of the other walkers, friends and former colleagues in many instances. Most of the Concern family have met up over the decades at various AGMs and reunions, particularly the 40th Reunion a few years ago in 2008. It was a great weekend and it raised money for a cause close to Aengus Finucane's heart, the Jack Praeger Rescue Project in Calcutta (or Kolkata)

Tanzanian Friends Reunited in Ballyvaughan
The Poulbrone Dolmen - 5000 yrs old or so. 
Jan and me went to the pier where the meet-up was, and it was a bit drizzly at first  but this cleared up in jig time and we headed off to the walk, a gentle 5km out and 5km back the same route. We had a terrific guide who talked for Ireland and gave us a potted history of the Burren, its pots and caves and limestone history which you can read for yourself here. It's way too technical and geological for me, just know that it's the most unusual ecological and geological spot with rare unique flora that grows nowhere else in Ireland. The limestone surface is slowly being restored as trees begin to grow again, now that people are no longer collecting firewood in the hills. Seems like there's a reversal of deforestation going on in the Burren and I wonder will it change the place. The bareness is what makes it look so special, and it's very bleak in places with all the drystone walls and the dolmens or standing stones.

Windswept at the Poulnabron Dolmen
The walk was beautiful as the sun came out and we walked and talked through the path to the Ailwee Caves entrance. The caves have to wait for another day as they probably deserve a visit on their own with all the stalactites and stalagmites. We had a group photo taken at the Cave entrance. and then we walked back, with the view totally different and overlooking the sea at Ballyvaughan all the way across Galway Bay to Connemara. We chatted to various people and it was lovely to see everyone reconnecting, and meeting people we had last  met in Bangladesh over 30 years ago, or Tanzania over 25 years ago.

Limestone Burren landscape
We repaired to the pub when we got back, some of us getting ready for the night ahead first. I went for a very hot bath to prevent any possible muscle ache and it worked a treat, and then we headed out. Dinner was for 7pm in L'Arco Italian Restaurant in Ballyvaughan, across the road from the Burren Hotel where we stayed. There were some moving speeches as Jack spoke about his beloved brother Aengus, and the decision was taken to have next year's walk in Waterford - who knows, it may even be around Lismore!

We had a lovely meal and a great laugh at our table with a mix of people from Bangladesh and Tanzania days. Lots of photos were taken and promises to keep in touch, and we went back to a different pub after the meal where we continued the craic well into the night. Sign of the times and the demographic we all represented, we didn't party like back in the day when we would see in the dawn before hitting the hay, and we were all back in our hotels and hostelries between 2 and 3 am.

Hardy walkers under Bare Mountain on the Burren
One of the rare Burren flowers in bloom
The road back to Ballyvaughan
The next morning after breakfast another old Concern tradition was relived as Jack, a Holy Ghost priest like  his late brother Aengus, celebrated Mass in the conservatory of the guest house. It was a lovely personal and warm ceremony, with none of the distance and reserve that a formal church setting demands, and we all gained from it, whether religious or not. We all headed off homeward bound around lunchtime, and said our goodbyes till next year in Waterford!

Connor Pass, Dingle Peninsula, Kerry.
Jan and me took the long road home, going through the Burren and visiting the Poulnabrone Dolmen for a photo opportunity.We continued on down through Kerry after crossing the Shannon Estuary by the Killimer to Tarbert car ferry, going out to Dingle via Tralee and over the Conor Pass which has spectacular views over both sides of the Dingle Peninsula. We came  back via Killarney and Mallow, and we're still awaiting the summer that eludes us thus far.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Enter the Dragon - at the Nurses' and Midwives' Conference in Killarney

With Norah Casey, my new Twitter friend!
Last week I spent three very busy full days in Killarney at the Irish Nurses and Midwives Annual Delegate Conference (INMO). It was great to get together with friends and colleagues for a celebration of what we do best, and catch up on the news and the gossip over the past year, as well as developments in nursing and midwifery on the national and international stage. I'm not going to bore you comatose with too much detail; suffice to say that the conference is an ideal opportunity to recharge the batteries and have fun at the same time. 

We had a number of motions debates, and a wonderfully inspiring keynote speaker in Norah Casey from Ireland's Dragon's Den. She was a nurse in an earlier life, and spoke warmly and very movingly about her late husband's death from cancer last year, and the great care he got from the nurses in Blackrock Hospice. I'd heard her speak on Marian Finucane's Saturday programme on RTÉ Radio back in February, and she had the nation spellbound with her openness and honesty in talking about her late husband so soon after his death. She also shared her Top Ten Tips for Success - 9 of them at any rate - and No. 1 was Tweet Tweet! Which she does, @NorahCasey and she had already been tweeting about the conference since the previous week's Dragon's Den with me and some other Tweeting nurses. 

Some of the Waterford Branch Delegates 
Compare and contrast Norah's 42 minute address and her Top Ten Tips for Success with the 9 minute address from Minister for Health Dr. James Reilly the following day. We were all wondering what he would say to inspire and encourage us in these dark gloomy recessionary days - and we're still waiting and wondering why he bothered to come to Killarney. He spoke on nurse prescribing which has been around for enough years to not be news anymore, and about the need for flexibility in changing work practices. This is a none-too-subtle toe-dipping exercise in bringing back shorter and possibly split shifts.  The latter will go down like the proverbial lead balloon as they are the most appalling family-unfriendly soul-destroying work practice, which I did as a student but would strongly resist if they come back. What nurses don't need or want is the erosion of the profession on cost grounds or that we are seen as replacement doctors - there's a sense that role expansion could be seen as a value-for-money exercise by the bean-counters, while we want role expansion to be within the realm of nursing and not a medical model. There's a sense of a widening theory-practice gap with health economics the driving impetus rather than the patient journey. The nurses among you will know what I mean. I hope you watch the two videoclips. 

Essene, Grainne and me, PHN reps from Waterford
There's a soul-destroying recruitment embargo going on for the past four years that means posts are not being filled on retirement and staff aren't being hired. The waste in training nurses for export as they can't be hired in the public sector is a tragedy and we are all hopeful that the powers-that-be see sense and give work to the expensively trained nurses in Ireland and that we return to a time where we emigrated from choice not necessity, just like I did back in the '70s and '80s.

Waterford's Claire Mahon speaking to a motion
Handover of the Presidential Chain of Office

Ending on a lighter note, the highlight of the conference for the Waterford Branch (of which I was a delegate) was surely the election of our Chairperson Claire Mahon as President of the INMO for the next 2 years. Claire has been on the INMO Executive for the past few years and it was terrific that she was elected. We wish her every success in raising the profile of nursing and the profession at large in her term of office. We partied well into the night on each night, as is our wont at such gigs, and even though I missed the Gala Ball on the Friday night, having come home early for a weekend away (more of which anon) I enjoyed the two nights I spent in Killarney. We came second in the opening night's Table Quiz which raised 2000 Euro for the Kerry Rape Crisis Centre, and were beaten by a mere point. That event has become a conference fixture and is very enjoyable, with the inimitable Dave Hughes as Quizmaster who brooks  no challenge - the only right answer is his one! Dinner and awards the second night was followed  by dancing the night away, the only exercise we got, as the days were full on. The weather was awful, dull and wet, and only on the final day did the sun come out, making for a lovely 2 hour journey home that evening.

Next day we headed for The Burren in Co. Clare for a reunion and walk with a  number of old friends - the next blogpost will tell all!

The Gleneagle Hotel and Conference Centre, Killarney

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Snug Solution - for a Sony e-Reader Cosy

The finished Sony cosy  
I just wanted to share this latest project with you - it's been gestating for the past two months as my friend and colleague asked me if I'd make her a cosy for her new e-reader - a Sony - when she saw my iPhone cosy. Of course I agreed, and it would be in the same hot pink - but the only caveat was that there wouldn't be any time pressure. Probably a mistake as I am the queen of procrastination and unless I have a deadline I'll put everything off till tomorrow...or next week, or month, or year.

In this case, my friend was on hols so I didn't get the dimensions of the e-reader till she returned. Then she sent me the model - Sony e-Reader PRS T-1. All Greek to me, but at least I could go on Amazon and get the dimensions - 11x17.3x0.9cm. (How precise is that - 0.9? Couldn't they just round it off at 1cm? I think it must be mind games like 99c sounding better value than 1 Euro - 1cm must be soooo much fatter than 0.9cm!)

On the job, halfway there.
So I needed negative ease in this cosy (Ahem, betcha didn't think I knew anything techie about knitting!) I've learnt so much from my knitting library and friends in the knitting circle. Negative ease for those of you wondering is making something with a bit of give in it when it's being worn. Like socks. You don't want them concertina'ed around your ankles (even if they are ankle socks) so they must be smaller than your leg to snugly embrace that ankle or calf. A phone cosy likewise, and an e-reader cosy. It must hug the object of its desire so it doesn't fall out when moved. So the item must be larger than the cosy, if only by a few millimetres. This worked out fine, as the width is just 11cm which allows ease in the 1.8cm for the sides. The length is slightly longer than the reader, again allowing for its thickness.

Blocking (too red!)
  Where you don't want negative ease is in a jumper (sweater to the American readership!) - unless you're willowy svelte and slim with no excess of flab or muffin-top spare tyre you want plenty of positive ease! I'm at the stage where I'll adjust my pattern shaping accordingly, like my last teal jumper where I modified the waistline shaping - in my case to not much shaping at all, as it was a short jumper. I've just started another lacy jumper which is quite longline and more tunic-like, so I'm looking forward to seeing how this will turn out.

A word about the cable pattern on the cosy. I loved it when I saw it on Ravelry, and as it was in Jolakey's projects as a Kindle Cosy. As it was a personal  pattern not in Ravelry or available for purchase, I decided to decode it - a first for me. It was a nice challenge and very satisfying when I eventually cracked it. It was  another challenge to write it down, and I'm still working on that. I left a note on the comments box about my using the cable for this project, so I hope she likes my interpretation of her design. The only glitch is that hot pink is well-nigh impossible to photograph properly with my fairly basic cameras (my Panasonic Lumix and my iPhone.)

The Cable Design, colour good match
How I made it:

  1. I used Cotton yarn, DK/Sportsweight, and it took just over 25gm, which was pretty good going as the ball is 100gm. 
  2. I cast on 52 stitches, and put 26 on each needle of the 3.5mm circular needle, using the Magic Loop method which meant no side seams. I use this method for everything possible now, like the sleeves of my last jumper, to socks, to the body of my current jumper. 
  3. I used the 3-needle cast/bind-off for the end seam, worked on the inside, so it's very neat on the outside. That's another technique crossover from sock toes, which is very adaptable. 
  4. The Cable was worked over 18 stitches in the middle of one of the 26 stitch groups - so K4, work cable panel over 18, K4 (total 26 stitches), K all 26 stitches on 2nd needle. 
  5. As you're using Magic loop for stocking stitch, you knit each round, (excluding the cable panel of course!) and no purling. 

Cable design detail, one repeat. Colour a bit too lavender!

I'll try to do the written pattern instructions and/or a chart which would be a first for me as I am not really used to them; they seem to be a very American thing.

I do like the end result, after blocking and drying. Happy knitting!