I've been gloating over my gifts from friends which dropped into my letterbox during the past week. Isn't it lovely when you open a package from someone far away and realise that they've thought about you and put all these wonderful things together?
I mean, look at just some of the things Lynn sent me from Texas! A whole big bag of Corn Candies, specially for Hallow-E'en. A beautiful hank of Louisa Harding Sari Ribbon - it's so beautiful I probably won't ever dare use it! And do you see those adorable little Gummi Bears sitting on a whole chunk of delectable praline while waiting for needles to protect?
This sweetie business is rather unexpected but exceptionally good fun. The redoubtable Ms Knitingale really decided I was in need of choco-therapy and came swiftly to the rescue...
These are just some of the things that arrived in her sack of goodies - if I show you all the hot chocolate, you'll be on the next plane! Suffice it to say I am well provided for a whole winter of indulgent evenings in (well, at least a week anyway - I can go into overdrive where hot chocolate is concerned...) I have had to prise DH's hands from the Ghirardelli, sternly telling him it had to be photographed first. Now to find somewhere to hide it before he gets home! Such a beautiful yarn, the colour of raspberry ripple icecream (going perfectly with the raspberry hotchoc in front) and dyed with natural berries and plants. She sent me two skeins of that, the pet, and the Knitingale Socks are going to be cast on forthwith. Bless you, Ms. K, you event sent a little row counter so I don't have to rely on an increasingly vague memory of where I left off! And I haven't shown your circulars in the picture because they're already up and running and IN USE on the epic Starmore! You'll see them in the weeks ahead, working away, and you can wave to them and they might wave back (although they won't have much time, she's a bit of a beast where slave labour is concerned, is Starmore). But they were ideal, and thank you for deciding on my behalf that incredibly thin wooden circulars weren't all that good an idea in the average accident-prone household!
And Peg, you put together such a hamper of things that I'm at a loss for words! Not only stunning Sweatermaker handdyed mohair (there at the front with beautiful wooden knitting needles stuck through it) but Sari recycled silk, some Berocco, a calendar from your so beautiful part of the world (wish I was back there right now), the most exquisite beaded cap, and some other gifts I could never have imagined! Would you believe not only chocolate for DH (in fact he's insisting that any chocolate anyone sends is clearly intended for him) but biscuits for the dogs (I cannot believe that your husband baked them! He couldn't have!) and even snazzy outdoor wear for said canines. A picture is worth a thousand words. Here are two of the mutts in their maple leaf glory.
Sophie became overcome by shyness and buried her head, refusing to look at the camera, while Muffy valiantly tried to put on her best smile. Tasha said the whole thing was ridiculous and sailed off to the orchard to have a word with a rabbit she knew. I'll get her tidied up and photographed later.
I really feel very spoiled, especially when it's clear that everyone thought of exactly what I would like and then went out and got that particular thing. I once knew a family where each enquired distantly of the others around November what they wanted for Christmas, and then wrote out a cheque for the amount required. None of the kids in that household had ever had a surprise stocking, no adult was touched by a small childish handmade present. I have never forgotten that family.
It was an absolute b--ch of a week and by the time last night came I was ready to collapse. We'd started Friday with a double dental appointment which took until 11 am; then had to rush to the newspaper office to start daily jobs. There is great trauma there because on November 10 the Irish Examiner quits the vast old building in which the paper has been produced since 1841 and moves to shiny clean modern up to date very sensible offices on the edge of town. It's going to tear the heart out of the city and the heart out of everyone who has ever worked there, but that's progress. The developer is waiting with barely concealed impatience to tear down 165 years of history and build a new complex of shops and apartments.
After spending most of the day helping to pack files, do telephone interviews, sort out stories, I went to a local hotel to wait in the foyer for DH to pick me up. I'd forgotten that this was Jazz Festival Weekend in Cork, hadn't I? The noise was through the roof and all the thousands packed in there were having a whale of a time but I would have gladly swapped it all for the peace and quiet of home. However, even when he picked me up, DH had one more job to do before we could go home, so I saw my first basketball game. It was fun, as a matter of fact, and almost revived me - all that speed and rushing around and jumping.
This morning, though, I woke to the realisation that I had the whole day to myself. Headed for Kerry (please understand that I love Cork with every fibre of my being and would hold it single handed against the forces of Hell itself any day, but there are times when one needs the vast empty grandeur of Kerry, and this was definitey one of those times.) The clouds were down low on the hills and the rain was battering at the windscreen, but that was OK. Kerry actually looks its best in wet weather (just as well, really, given our prevailing climate...)
Went first to Killarney town, to take coffee at the little thatched cottage in the Killarney National Park which will close for the season on Tuesday. The old bridge into the estate was covered with ivy, under which the river Flesk ran brown and angry, reflecting the rains we've had here the last few days.
They'd carved pumpkins to decorate the tables in the little cafe which looked lovely, but they should really have used turnips which are more traditional for this part of the world. I knitted almost an entire row of the Starmore Eriskay while there (not bad, when you consider the number of stitches we're talking about here). Then on to Kerry Woollen Mills - yes,Peg, at last I managed to make the journey. You've been waiting for that bainin for ages, I know, but other demands just didn't make the lengthy trip feasible until today.
Just as well I did go today, as the place looked almost ready to close for the season. I think they do keep the mill running most of the winter months, but the shop may not be open all the time. And I found an old friend browsing for good tweed material, suitable for a sound skirt, there.
This shy and unobtrusive little lady has single-handedly done more for Irish food and Irish cooking than anyone else has or is ever likely to do. Myrtle Allen, of Ballymaloe House, Co. Cork, first opened her home to dinner guests way back in the 1960s, as a way of supplementing their farm income. Her fame spread, customers came from all over the world, she started to teach cookery, write books on the subject. Her son married a girl called Darina who created some of the most popular television cookery programmes ever, as well as founding the Ballymaloe Cookery School. Now the third generation is busy running cafes, restaurants, writing books, creating divine dishes, and quiet charming little Myrtle still bustles about her own kitchen making soda bread and scones for anyone who drops by.
We've known Myrtle since back in those early days, when you could wander in, help yourself to a drink in their lovely welcoming old drawing room, potter through to the dining room for an unsurpassable dinner (with a dessert trolley that was the stuff of dreams, and yes, they would give you a bit of everything if you asked, and sometimes even if you didn't ask) and admire the Jack Yeats paintings on the walls (Ivan and Myrtle bought his paintings when his work was not as famous and sought after as it is today). I still cherish a handwritten recipe for cheese souffle which she scribbled out for me back then. It was nice to see her again.
On the way back I stopped to gaze at the great Gap of Dunloe looming through the mist beyond the green fields.
It's now a world-famous scenic tourist route, yet seen through the driving mist today, it reminded me of how long this natural gap in the mountain range (McGillicuddy's Reeks) must have been used by travellers, shepherds, wanderers and locals, to cross the hills from one side to another. In fact the road through the Gap itself still prefers to live in earlier times, its surface maintaining a charming blend of rough gravel, thick mud and treacherously sharp stones. No new-fangled tarmac for the Gap road!
So here are your three skeins, Peg, hanging up and ready to be packed for travel.
No post offices open until Tuesday of course (I really do not hold with celebrating the ancient festival of Samhain on a handy weekend - it should and must be observed on October 31, the official date of the Celtic New Year) but then they'll be off to British Columbia.
I listed a few non-designer yarns (stash yarns, you might call them) on eBay the other night and was unsure how to price them. I decided to put 100g of handdyed pure alpaca on at €4.99 as a starting price; then when I was looking around on eBay, saw that some people were charging $18.50 and upwards for a 100g skein! Will buyers pay that? Well I'm not turning into a profiteer. Let 'em bid against each other if they want to.
What are you doing tonight? I'm going to tidy up the house (a bit), do some ironing (a very little bit, consistent only with absolute necessity), put on a long slow beef in red wine stew, and then settle down with my tale of ancient Ireland and my knitting. I might even light the woodburning stove, although the maddening Irish weather is giving its celebrated imitation of a very warm, very wet summer evening.
Tuesday is Samhain or, if you prefer the Christianised version, Hallow-E'en. I shall tell some ghost stories on my posting. Do you likewise. We can all shiver and enjoy ourselves while glancing uneasily over our shoulders...