Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Letter 2012 - The Round Robin comes Bob-bob-bobbing along again!

It's that time of year once again - Keeping up with the Rotte-Murray Family - though we are nowhere near as rich or (in)famous as the TV family half the youth of the world are keen on keeping up with, the Kardashians. It's a special day today, being the 12-12-12, a type of date that won't roll around again this century.

I hope you're all well and looking forward to the festive season albeit in a time of austerity and post-budget blues, when we are all counting the cost of the pain, and are unhappy with some of the cuts that are having an impact on young families and older people. Banks and big business seems immune from the worst excesses of austerity and people are getting increasingly angry and aggrieved, all understandably. I am not complaining personally as I am one of the cushioned public servants as a HSE nurse, but I do resent all the assumptions that I'm on a gravy train and get my gold-plated pension for free! I'll be lucky to retire in the next decade with less than 20 years of service - equal to about a quarter salary including the state pension. Meanwhile I'll grit my teeth and smile whenever I'm told I'm lucky to have a job!

What a year it's been in our family - one of flux and massive changes, mostly good, although not without some measure of poignancy, as our children move on and make their path in life. It reminds me of us a generation ago and I guess we gave little thought to the impact our choices made on our families. Now I can see that my mother had great fortitude to let me go off on my travels without guilt tripping me, and also that it can't have been easy for her to see us heading to Africa when she only saw her grandchildren when we came on holidays every year.

The year started with Martin heading off to Australia on a year's work-holiday visa. He went with his friend Bobby and they were based in Brisbane where they had friends. They tried their hand at farming in N. Queensland but it spiralled into a cascade of unfortunate events culminating in their somewhat premature return to the comforts of city living and settled down to working in Brisbane, where Martin is still enjoying working in a graphic design company and he spent some months in a nice upmarket restaurant as well. He'll be back in Ireland in a couple of months, and see where his next adventures will bring him.

Maeve has just turned 17 which is hard to believe and I wonder where all the years have gone since she was a baby - then I realise we are living in Ireland for almost 16 years or most of her life! She has really grown up and is taller than me, peroxide blonde for the past few months after working her way through the spectrum of home hair colours from brown to purple through red. She is in Fifth year in the local Blackwater Community School, and has a far livelier social life than I remember at that age. Learning to drive is top of her to-do list right now so she'll have to knuckle down and get her theory test before she can even take a lesson.

William has just finished his Masters in UCC in e-business (no, I haven't a clue either!) and is now in Dublin looking for work and enjoying a break after all the study. He seemed to enjoy the course and worked in Cork in an outdoor adventure shop for a few months. He would like to travel but will need to get some funds together after being a student for five of the past six years! He doesn't come back to Lismore much although he will be home for Christmas, which will be great, as it'll be a quiet one compared to the last few years.

And the reason for this - as many of you already know - is that Shayne and Jany and Sofia and Livia moved back to Spain in late July, a few weeks after their wedding on July 5th! This was the big family event of the year, which we knew would take place in the summer. We were all looking forward to it, and then at the end of May they announced their plans to move back to Spain where they had lived up to three years ago, before they came to Ireland. So that news took us all a bit by surprise, although we knew they'd ultimately planned to return, mainly as we hadn't realised it would happen so soon after the wedding. They had steady jobs in Ireland and in the midst of so much unemployment it seemed Spain would be the last place to find work. Yet within days of checking online jobs in Spain Jany was offered a job in IT in Barcelona. Then Shayne was offered an interview for a customer services job in Citibank in Barcelona. All this fast forwarded their plans for moving so within weeks of the wedding they had moved.

The wedding itself was a wonderful day, the ceremony in Cork Registry Office followed by a reception in the Montenotte Hotel. I made the wedding cake which was a new and fun challenge for me! We had a small group of about 45 sitting down to dinner and then another 30 or so for the afters, that peculiarly Irish institution of extending the party to everyone who doesn't come for the whole day. Anne came over from New Jersey for her Godson's wedding, which was great, and we enjoyed meeting all of Jany's family who came from Holland and who we met for the first time. Sofia and Livia looked sweet in their little flower girl frocks and loved the excitement of the day, and Jany made a beautiful bride, with her lacy dress and homemade crochet bouquet which was so creative, and a lovely touch. I had the heebie-jeebies about being mother of the groom as I am so not into fancy frocks and any I tried on seemed to add about 20 years to me - at least that's how it seemed to me! Finally I saw a lovely lavender ensemble in Shaw’s that felt right and I made a little crochet handbag and was sorted for the day. Maeve wore a beautiful blue dress from TKMaxx and she and her three friends looked great.

As the move to Spain was so soon after the wedding there was plenty to plan - Jan and William drove down to Malgrat, where Shayne and Jany had lived before, with all their worldly goods in the back of the Trajet, which held a lot once the seats were removed. Shayne flew over earlier, and found an apartment before the stuff arrived, and I flew over with Jany and the girls once everything was in place. I stayed for a week's holidays and enjoyed spending that time with the girls as Jany started work a few days after we arrived. Shayne got the job in Citibank and they are well settled in by now, with the girls in the local crèche and a childminder to help out. I went over for a long weekend in October and look forward to going over again in the New Year. We miss them a lot but Skype is terrific and with almost daily chat on Facebook it is easy to keep in touch thanks to social media. Cork is definitely not the same without them and I'll always have great memories of the Hen Night in June when we took over Cork by stretch limo and had a great night out clubbing and in the Old Oak.

Jan had a busy year with Immrama going from strength to strength and this year's festival had a great lineup of speakers yet again. Despite the Arts funding cuts the festival was a big success, and hopefully this will continue to the second decade. They published a book of essays from previous speakers - The Blue Sky Bends Over All (The words of Thackeray on Lismore) - to mark the first decade of the festival. He was busy with the town council and got elected to be a delegate to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where he went for a conference in October. There are a lot of changes afoot in the whole local government area and it looks like the town councils will be abolished and replaced with district municipal councils, covering a wider area. Time will tell how it'll all work out, as there's a lot of scepticism around the future of local democracy if there's no representation at town level. So it looks like Jan will go down in history as the last Mayor of Lismore, a somewhat dubious honour if it’s the swan song for the town council as we know it.

As for me, I've been enjoying getting embedded in Lismore as the local public health nurse, and as I drive around the area I sometimes have to remind myself that this is actually work, so much do I enjoy it! I'll take some photos of the mountains or the sky or the views if it takes my fancy and share them on Facebook or Twitter, so that others can enjoy the beauties of Lismore and its environs. I went to the INMO conference in Killarney, and I go to Dublin for meetings of Labour Women. It's the centenary year of the Party and there have been some nice celebrations, although not on the ostentatious lines of the infamous Galway tent of Celtic Tiger days! I'm still enjoying knitting and crochet and made some great jumpers, socks and scarves, and the knitting circle and Bookclub are my downtime activities and I get a lot of pleasure from my hobbies! This year the knitting circle got involved in Yarn Bombing or Guerilla Knitting, blitzing public space with knitted art. We did a bicycle for the Immrama 10th anniversary which you can see below, and both Jan and I did the Sean Kelly cycle again this year, me the 50km and Jan the 100km. So we really are as fit as fiddles! We even took part in the second Aengus Finucane Memorial Walk in The Burren in May, which was a great weekend of old friends reunited from our Bangladesh days with Concern onwards through Tanzania and Laos. We are delighted that the Waterford contingent will be hosting the walk in 2013 and have a delightful route planned in West Waterford – and all in a good cause for a charity after Aengus’s heart. This year it went to Jack Praeger’s Foundation in Calcutta.

On that upbeat note I’ll wind up the newsletter for this year. We loved meeting friends old and new, from near and far, and while we’ll miss having the family all together over Christmas we’ll be Skypeing across the airmiles and looking forward to our next reunion. As ever we wish you and yours a wonderful Christmas and every good wish for a great 2013, in the hopes that the recession will recede as it should, and as the cliché goes - things can only get better.

Love and good wishes from Jan and Catherine and all the family near and far – Shayne, Jany, Sofia and Livia, Martin, William, Maeve and of course our old faithful Ben!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Knitmas time again - happy days for Twitter Knitters!

My Knitmas gifts!
Yes, it's Knitmas again and for those of you wondering if I've lost my festive seasonal marbles, rest assured, it's just that it's the time of the year for a dedicated group of Irish-based knitters to do an online Secret Santa via Twitter! It's my second year and it's been fun both times. Last week my "victim" Jenny (@jenbear) posted on her blog about the goodies I sent her; now I'm doing likewise with the lovely parcel I got on Friday from Isobel (@teaandcakes).

Driving to Dublin on Dec. 8th
I was thrilled with the lovely gifts I got last year from Caroline, (@scattyhats) who sent me a lovely alpaca silk cowl and two skeins of yarn, which gave me a lot of pleasure as I knitted a shawl and a scarf with those during the year. I drew Cathy (@cathyqtpi)This year I was paired with Jenny and as it's a three-way swop you don't get something back from the person you draw. Via the website Elfster I could post anonymous questions to Jenny to see what colours she liked and what her shoe size was! All a bit smoke and daggers, as Bertie "Malaprop" Ahern might say! But she had indicated on her wish list on Elfster that she'd love a pair of handknit socks - so that was a challenge I loved! I made her a nice pair of purple self-striping socks and even though she wasn't too keen on variegated yarns she was delighted with those. I made mitts to match, and a phone cosy as well as sending a few balls of nice yarn - some Cushendale bouclé and merino with a tea cosy pattern.

Lovely Lace Merino - perfect for a shawl.
So I was chuffed with the parcel on Friday which had this delightful pair of fingerless mitts in a terrific navy, cerise and teal intarsia design - a bit like stained glass - and some fab sock yarn, as well as a 1400m skein of lace merino in a gorgeous lavender colour! I can't even begin to think how I'm gonna wind it into a ball - I'm sure I need a ball wonder thingy but haven't investigated it yet, they always wind the skeins in This is Knit in Dublin which is the only shop where I've bought unwound wool! I wore the mitts going to Dublin yesterday for the Labour Women executive meeting and they are perfect driving gloves, keeping me cosy when it was 1°C outside and ice on the roads!

Isobel also sent me some funky stitch markers, beads and slices of cake (!) as well as a notebook and soap and some cookies and chocolate to keep me happy! Altogether a very thoughtful and generous pressie and I am always touched by the kindness of strangers who've become virtual friends via Twitter - there's a lot of good things about social media despite all the bad press it gets!
Enjoy the photos!

This is what I sent to Jenny!

Sock yarn - can't wait to get going!