Saturday, October 28, 2006

Let's Tell Ghost Stories By The Chimney Corner!

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...


Peg-woolinmysoup said...

Jo - I can hardly wait now for the Bainin - perhaps it can tell me of the day it had travelling with you through your beautiful part of Ireland. I read the article about the Bainin and then I thought it said , "then we'll be off to BC", but no, it was they'll be off to BC. I was all excited about seeing you - will try to drum up as much enthusiasm for the Bainin! I looked over the pattern again for the vest I am making with the Bainin - still love it!
I asked my Irish hairdresser, who grew up near Dublin, about Samhain and she did not know about it, just knew about All Saints Day. She said something about that happening in the South of Ireland! Is that so?
You deserve all those goodies, and yes some of my gift of chocolate was for Richard. I will specifically send some just to him next time, as he does take beautiful photos!!
We are having Digby (NS) Scallops, New Zealand and Jacques Pepin's Creme Patissiere (?French) with California Strawberries. John will bring home some nice wine to go with all and we will talk about our dear friends in Ireland and elsewhere. We are looking at coming to your part of the world in late June 2007!
I loved the photo of the dear lady in the shop - I could see her in a good sturdy tweed skirt with a pan of hot scones in her hands!

Anonymous said...

A rainy evening reading history and knitting...sounds like heaven to me. If I can't think of a good ghost story then at least I post one of my spookier images for the day.

Connie said...

Its sunny and crisp today in Washington, and we went to pick apples which are so good right from the tree. I'm trying to decide what classes to take at the Madrona Fiber retreat in Seattle. Its no Rhinebeck, but its a good time. What is scary is how much I spent on yarn last year! Must use stash!

Anonymous said...

Jo, that *is* beautiful!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jo! Is there any chance you might share the recipe for Myrtle's cheese souffle with the rest of us? :-)

Martina said...

I like the idea of Samhain more than halloween but halloween it is over here in Canada. Kiddies get dressed up and go door to door calling "Trick or Treat" . Of course they always get treats and then buzz for months on the ensuing suger high! I enjoyed your pictures of the countryside!

rho said...

Yikes blogger is acting up isn't it -- I can read your original post but your second doesn't come up on the blog but it comes up on my update page without pictures LOL

Oh the pups with their cute garb - the shyness and the smile and the cheekiness of one running off to look for a rabit ... Hehehe

I have some of the hot chocolate in my pantry -- if you are running low let me know and I can send some - either plain or I think hazelnut...

Love the pics. Hate the idea of the building being torn down - nut the new digs will be grand won't they.

Do you have any pictures of carved turnips you have me very curious now.

and once again I am messing up the word verification - I hate those things....

Erica said...

I'm sorry to hear about your building being torn down. Stuff like that really just chaffes my hide. It is as though people have no respect for the history or the energy of a particular place anymore. They closed one of our main libraries in town over this past summer and moved it into a "new and modernized building" which looks as ugly as sin and I refuse to go into it because the parking is atrocious. Not to mention that it is just sterile. Don't get me wrong, I respect the clean lines and lack of clutter in the modern designs, but I think that I am more comfortable with a more cozy and cluttered feel... I also find that I seem to have more trouble being creative in a modern environment - there's nothing to pull from. Maybe it's just me. I am loving your Samhain yarn by the way. Hopefully I will be able to post pics soon :)

Charity said...

Ooooh, I would love to spend Samhain with you, it sounds thrilling! I'm sorry to hear of your nasty week.

Your tale of the cheque-writing family made me sad, but what a good reminder to stay thoughtful and mindful of those we love.

gwtreece said...

Jo, what wonderful gifts. Thanks as always for the beautiful pictures of the Emerald Isle.

Abby said...

Jo, I know you're always on the lookout for good yarn in Ireland. I saw this on ebay. The location is CORK!!! Check it out. (Potential yarn source?)

Anonymous said...

Love your photos. Every time you leave your doorway, it's a beautiful adventure! And those precious little dogs, Muffy's smile (and it is definitely a smile!) and Sophie's shyness.

What are we doing for Halloween? Had several occasions to visit villages in Mexico for Day of the Dead (what a photo op!) and we like the sentiments, so have brought back all sorts of accoutrements to decorate here. For years, our neighborhood was very quiet and not one single little goblin came knocking. But lately, literally truckloads of cute little illegal immigrants have been coming, uncostumed and unable to say "trick or treat", but we stock up on the goodies and meet the challenge.

Day of the Dead was originally a pagan celebration happening late July/August, but with Christianization, it shifted to November 1 & 2, and is still very actively celebrated in the remote villages of Mexico. The first day is for children and the second for adults. It is considered the time of year when the veil between the world of the living and dead is thinnest and they can commune with those loved ones who have passed through. The comparably prosperous to the very poor go to the cemetaries the week before to freshen the covering dirt and decorate the graves with altars and flowers. The altars are laden with the favorite foods, cigarettes, tequila, photographs, etc. of the departed. Whole families move into the cemetaries to live, eat, sleep for the duration. It is quiet, with little fires and candles burning, marigolds and cockscomb everywhere. Sugar skulls and lambs with the living and dead's names upon them, some quite extraordinary. A few families recreate the departed's bedroom or living room in tents. I can remember driving at night in mountains to one remote village, and coming around a curve into the valley, the sky was glowing with the light of only tallow candles, which produced a canopy of thick smoke over everything, reflecting the light. Unreal! The markets at this time of year are the biggest, most extraordinary, wonderful occasions, packed with treasures from the far corners of the area. Now I'm waiting for your ghost stories.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jo - I just found your blog last week. I was doing research on a class for this year's Madrona Fiber Arts Knitting Retreat and my google search for 'Rovaniemi' mittens led me to Lene's blog (dances with wool). From there I followed a link to your site.
I'm so enjoying reading your posts!
Quite coincidentally, my husband and I are planning a trip to Cork County this coming Spring in celebration of his 50th birthday. Reading of your adventures is only adding to the pre-trip excitement!
Denise (currently blogless in Olympia, WA)

Anonymous said...

Isn't it amazing how beliefs from all over the world, and dating from before a lot of travel, are so similar? I mean like Samhain and Day of the Dead both with the vail between worlds being thinest at this time. Sort of like how spinning appeared all over at about the same time and spindles looking so similar.

We don't have trick-or-treaters here. The houses are too far apart, too far off the road and no street lights or sidewalks, so Halloween night is quiet for us. I decorate the house on Oct. 1 and leave it up all month, just for me. I prefer the cuter style rather than the gross, gory stuff. Tomorrow I'll switch to Thanksgiving decorations.

One of my personal Samhain/Halloween traditions is that at midnight I will light a candle for anyone I've lost during the year, and yes that includes animals when I lose one, and, while the vail is thin, give them one last message and a final good-bye before letting them go.

Being a member of the House of Ireland here, I've carved a turnip. Pumpkins are definatly easier!

Ms. Knitingale said...

I'd love to sit by the fire and tell ghost stories with you, Jo. And knit, of course. And I'm just dying to give that darling Muffy a hug and scritch behind the ears. She is seriously too cute for words. I'll be thinking of you today when I tip my hot chocolate!

Anonymous said...

O.K., I just thought of a couple of 'ghost' stories that have happened to me. Pull your chairs up to the fire.

We relocated to a new area when my children were young. While they were at school and DH was at work, I was painting the bedrooms to suit our taste. I kept feeling like someone was in the room with me and a couple of times it felt like someone put their hand on my shoulder but no one was there. Although this was quite startling, it never felt threatening and,in time, I became used to sharing the house with this 'presence', even started talking out loud as if someone were there. Some time later, a neighbor told me that a previous owner, a nice older woman, had died in the house. I, of course, never told my family of this because I didn't want to scare my kids or have my husband laugh at me. Years later, my daughter told me that she used to wake up in the night because it felt like someone had sat down on her bed, but no one was there. And once, when our dog passed away, she felt someone patting her shoulder as she lay in bed crying. She didn't tell me at the time because she didn't want to worry me.

When our daughter was 2, I was pregnant with our son and my husband was overseas on a tour in the Navy. My daughter and I were alone in Hawaii with no family or friends and she developed an imaginary friend. Her friend was named Russell although she had never known anyone with that name. I didn't even think that she had ever heard the name. Russell went everywhere with us, she talked to him and when walking it was obvious, from the position that her hand was in, that she was holding someone's hand. As my delivery date approached, I was reading one of those baby name books that told the meaning of names and for fun I looked up the name Russell. Russell means red headed. I'm a blond and so is my daughter. My husband has light brown hair. But when our son was born, he had bright red hair. When he came home from the hospital, Russell dissappeared and our daughter never mentioned him again.

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