Friday, July 01, 2011

Of Moon Skeins, Beautiful Stones and Glimpses of Scotland

The moon skeins first, because you'll be wondering. We had this fun idea over on the Sock Madness group in Ravelry that we'd all go on a virtual magical mystery tour together (now that this year's madness has thankfully come to an end with a spectacular supersonic-speed win by Niella). These virtual trips are lovely because everyone can leap on the bus and we can stop anywhere in the world you want. Sometimes DH does look rather oddly at me when I come down from the study raving about the fun we've been having in some remote valley of the Himalayas, or in a yarn shop on Vancouver Island, but it is one of the great developments of the worldwide web, I think.

Anyway, the moon sheep (well how else do you get a moon skein, or indeed a moon fleece?) I suggested the bus should take a side jaunt into the hidden valley where the legendary Moon Sheep were to be found. You can only see these sheep by the light of the new moon - you know, when it's only the thinnest paring in the sky. And that's the only time you can roo the fleece as well, so you have to be quick about it. You know rooing, don't you? It's when you don't cut the fleece off, you pull out soft handfuls gently. It's how they made the yarn for the softest, finest Shetland shawls.

Everybody got so involved with moon fleece and moon sheep that I thought I'd better make a Moon Shawl. This was, in part, inspired by a simply lovely book I read recently, Twist of Gold, by Michael Morpurgo, about two Irish children who flee the Famine and journey across America to the Californian gold rush. The little girl is gifted a beautiful moon shawl by an old lady who befriends them in Boston, and they use it to shelter from the blazing sun by day, and to warm them by night, until they reach California's Grass Valley. I'd been reading the book, partly because I've travelled much of their route, but mostly because I was in London last week, interviewing the said famous writer. He is a simply lovely person, not at all affected by his fame and success (War Horse has opened on Broadway now, and Spielberg's film is due to be released in January 2012). We talked for hours, but the one thing I forgot to ask him was where he got the idea for the Moon Shawl. Michael, if you're reading this, will you tell me?

I'd never heard of a moon shawl before so I looked it up on the Net and found this exquisite antique example.

Then it seemed like a good idea to create some magical moon yarn myself.

and make a Moon Shawl too.

It's not quite finished yet. I'm using the Seaspray pattern in between the bands of plain stockinet, because it looks like the woolly backs of moon sheep grazing in their magical meadow, and the plain sections are the open land you have to creep across without being seen, to reach them.

Had to make up several of these skeins for web friends too, and of course they wouldn't be complete without their own little magical silvery project bag, would they?

All this was enormous fun, and took up a great deal of time which should have been spent working on De Next Book. But that's something we've all discovered from the worldwide web, isn't it? That we now spend far too much time enjoying ourselves in the virtual world instead of the real one?

Oh that reminds me! I almost forgot! It's my blogging anniversary around now, I'm almost sure. Let me go see. Yes, it was July 9, 2006. That's five years of posting here! And I could not have believed that I would make so many friends, discover so many new fascinating avenues of exploration, enjoy myself so much, learn to knit socks in two days flat, for heaven's sake!

Oh it's been so much fun. I'll have to give out a present. Let me look.

How about this? I've been making up some new shawl kits and this is Connemara Twilight. Sorry? Oh you want to see it out of the bag? OK.

A lovely mix of yarns, totalling 500m in all. Plenty for a shawl, stole, long scarf, even a vest. And it's yours. Well one of yours. Just tell me on the Comments what blogging (or reading other people's blogs) has brought into your life, and I'll award the Connemara Twilight Shawl Kit to somebody next week, the day after the anniversary (July 10). That all right with everybody?

Now let's get back to that virtual versus real life topic. I'd been reading too much and not travelling enough so a week or so back, DH and I took a trip up North, to explore the coasts of Antrim and Donegal. The roads are much improved these days, and it's possible to leave home around 9 and be in the Glens of Antrim for afternoon tea.

Can you see that misty line of land in the background, just visible between the sea and the clouds? That's Scotland - the Mull of Kintyre to be exact. Quite something to sit in the sunshine over tea and scones, and look at the Mull of Kintyre (somebody stop those bagpipes playing, will you?) This is the shortest sea crossing between Ireland and Scotland, and in olden times there would have been a great deal of traffic back and forth.

I wasn't quite sure how the Giant's Causeway would look. It's such a huge tourist attraction that I thought it would be a bit of a let-down.

But it wasn't. It was awe-inspiring, and utterly beautiful.

What I wasn't prepared for was the sense of happiness and peace there. It seemed quite natural to sit on those wonderful hexagonal stones and get on with the current gansey in the afternoon sunshine.

The stones are simply so lovely as they lie snugly fitted together, like a Flower Garden quilt. Some of them, worn hollow by the centuries, have little pools of rainwater, others have gentle shadings of yellow or orange from lichens, once used for dyeing yarn. I wanted to take the whole lot home with me immediately and have them in my garden to love and cherish. Fortunately for posterity, there were two main drawbacks to this plan. In the first place, each one is of enormous individual weight, and in the second place, the National Trust would have you clapped in irons in an instant. So there they lie, as they always have, through storm and sun, wind and rain.

We crossed the swaying rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede, once used by fishermen to check their lines and pots off the sheer rocks. It's not the worst rope bridge I've been on, quite secure and sturdy, but the swaying can be a little off-putting. One imagines it would be quite frightening on a stormy day with the tide full in and the waves sending spray right over it.

From the cliffs above, you could see Rathlin Island in the distance. Another temptation, another destination to put off for another occasion. Trips like this are a constant discovery of other tangents and other paths, so that your original route becomes the centre of a positive spider's web of possibilities.

Just look at Dunluce Castle on its cliffs. Can you imagine living there, hurrying through the draughty passageways to the main hall and the welcome of a blazing fire? Dunluce was the home of the McDonnell clan until the early 1600s when, upon a large part of the kitchen falling into the sea one night, along with many of the servants, the wife of the chieftain refused to live there any longer. No pleasing some folk, is there?

Look, we have to leave it there for now. In the next posting, I'll take you into Donegal to see islands and cairns that hold strange secrets, ritual stone circles, and the tomb of Queen Maeve herself. Gotta go do some work!


Freyalyn said...

I'm there already.... with a couple of moon sheep following invisibly.

Angeluna said...

How absolutely lovely. Richard's photos are stunning as always. Embiggened each and every one. They just make me want to be there, in the moment. Looks like you're having some decent weather.

knitski said...

When you have a rather stressful job of teaching in the far reaches of Alaska, I find reading your blog restful. Your blog transports me to another land rich in color and stunning beauty.

Anonymous said...

A Post - at long last! Loved every word and picture of it.
The chieftain's wife was the smart one, the daft one was the person who decided to build on the edge of a cliff.

What grand, impressive stones, the Giant's Causeway! A marvel.

Congratulations on five years of blogging. Has it really only been that long? Gracious, it feels as though our friendship extends far back. You have immeasurably enriched my life. Thank you!

Windybrook Spinner said...

Blogging has opened up hundreds of worlds for me. I've met people from all over the earth. It's like reading a book about real people and getting to talk to them and know them in a way that is hard for me to do face to face. I can leave my own world of small worries and energetic young kids for a bit and expand my perspective. In the process I've learned to enjoy better what I have.

Windybrook Spinner said...

P.S. Your beautiful blog is one of my favorites. I sincerely thank you for the wonderful stories and the beautiful photos of your green country and the other places you travel. I love that I get to see it in all in a way I never could on my own, even if I visited it in person.

Anonymous said...

What have I learned from the internet? Hmmm ... about a year ago I learned that there was a wonderful blog called Celtic Memory Yarns, with glorious pictures and utterly charming narration. :-)

My Mom taught me to knit; the internet gave me new techniques that she can't recall. I've gained the Community of Knitters and the silly possibilities of tree sweaters. Patterns, yarns and inspiration abound.

I can watch cute kittens in the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee and learn about hyperkalemia treatments for my own geriatric cat.

On the other hand, the internet disproves the theory that a million monkey armed with typewriters could reproduce the works of Shakespeare, given enough time.

Gwyndolyn O'Shaughnessy (Ravelry)

Maria said...

Moon Sheep. Must get some of them for Christy in Gougane. Maria

Lilacs 4 Angels said...

You've made my day! Your writing and Richards photos take me away from my every day life. I just imagined myself sitting for a bit on the stones; walking around the castle on the edge of the sea; and listening to the bagpipes.

I love it and will be in Ireland with you the rest of the day ~ at least in thoughts and spirit.

I love to blog (although I don't do it as often as I should) and reading others as they blog about their adventures, lives, hobbies, children and food.

I think, for me, that blogging takes us away for a bit. We travel the world through the words of others. And when we think our world is just going to fall apart for one reason or another here comes a blog from someone who's world has already fallen apart.

For another day our world will stay together as we give encouragement to another to keep going.

May the dear Lord bless you and watch over you and Richard and of course Sophie

Sue J said...

Your Moon Shawl is BEAUTIFUL!!!

Jared Flood's blog is probably my favorite........I seem to knit more of his patterns then any other designer..........and then Pioneer Woman's blog is a great source for recipes.....ones that I actually try!! LOL

Cathy, apprentice alchemist said...

I just discovered your blog by way of Ravelry, which is the best web site ever. Or maybe just the one I spend too much time at. :>)
Blogging has brought many new "friends" into my life, a few whom I've actually had the pleasure of meeting.
It also gives me the pleasure of traveling and seeing the world through wonderful pictures like the ones on your blog.
I will be back to visit for sure.

Nanakat said...

Wouldn't the causeway stones make a lovely pattern for a shawl or sweater (jumper)?

I love to keep up with dear friends through their blogs, and I should let people keep up with me on mine, but I'm not very consistent as a blogger.

I check for a new post on your blog all the time, and then thrill to see that you've posted again. Your blog makes me cry because of the beautiful things you share.

My great-grandmother came from Donegal, Towney Kilcar, and I am excited to see your blog about that part of your journey.

I've been to the Isle of Man and to a few places in England, but I've only seen Ireland from the top of Snaefell on a foggy day. Your blog takes me there, and I bless you for it.

Thanks so much for being there and letting the rest of us be there, too.

gemma said...

happy anniversary. One day I'll see your homeland in person, until then the www will have to provide. best wishes always

Helen Jacobs-Grant said...

Everything looks so beautiful and your Moon Yarn is just exquisite!

"Just tell me on the Comments what blogging (or reading other people's blogs) has brought into your life"

I started my blog on livejournal on October 22nd 2003 after a friend advised me that I should start documenting things as we were going through an enormous struggle back then. That's nine years of almost daily posts sometimes several times a day when things have been hard.

I never for one moment imagined people would actually read my ramblings about daily life, being a Mum of five then six children in 2007, living as a mixed cultural heritage family but with our own collective culture being formed all the time, the struggles of living with other people's ignorance, racism and at times violent harassment, personal health issues and my journey from an enforced existence of craft-less life into a world where my creative spirit and colour are my driving forces.

Blogging has brought into my world a private and personal space platform for me to expose my heart. I find it interesting at times when on certain days things feel all uphill, I look back on what I wrote on that day say one, two or even six years ago. That way I can always see that despite the difficult times or uphill moments, I am actually travelling forwards never backwards. So blogging has also given me the opportunity to look at myself, value myself and have the courage to just be me. I've never had that before, I didnt even know who ME was.

And that is an extremely powerful piece of knowledge to have in ones make up, I'd be lost without my little piece of the world wide web now.

Helen xx

josiekitten said...

Some wonderful photos here. Blogging makes me happy - I've made lots of new friends and enjoy seeing different parts of the world and discovering new yarns and techniques. There just aren't enough hours in the day!

Anonymous said...

I am fairly new to blog reading, only a few years! Keeping track of yours, I have to say I have to see Ireland soon or die!! Would love to have the yarn bundle.


Cathryn said...

Reading blogs, yours in particular, have opened up my life quite a bit. Through your beautiful photos, I can see bits of Ireland, and dream of visiting it one day with my future husband. The amusing thing is, we have both longed to do this, even before we met each other :)

Maureen said...

Congratulations on your blogversary!! Your blog was one of the first blogs I found. I have found tremendous inspiration from reading blogs and have been able to travel all over the world via my computer meeting so many wonderful and generous people.

marit said...

The photos are just amazing! I had to look up Giant's Causeway, had never heard of it before- but I hve to say I prefer the old saying about it to the geological explanation!

Moon sheep-lovely!

Lynn said...

I can't decide whether I love your blog most for the knitting lovelies, or the glorious views of Ireland. I live in the desert southwest of America, so am very far removed from the green-ness all around you. I was able to visit a few years ago, and could hardly force myself to leave. I have never been to the
Giant's Causway, but the picture of you knitting there, shows where all I should be plying my needles. I definitely have to get acquainted with the moon sheep. Thanks for sharing the magic of your world with all of us. Would absolutely love to win the moon yarn shawl to bring some of the magic home.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... Blogs have held my hand, consoled me, entertained me, and caused me to slam my laptop shut in a huff. When my son was tiny, and we weren't sure if he was autistic or something else -- the wonderful parents of autistic kids on the St. John's College listserv embraced me, gave me advice, and (when I needed it) told me to cut the crap and get my darling son in for the right evaluations. When we wanted to rent a house in the Caribbean, several kind bloggers pointed me towards another St. John, which provided all the rejuvenation we could ever need. And when I think I can just putter around in the garden and ignore DC's crazy political soup, one of the kooky tea party blogs that my son (yes, the one we were so worried about) left up on his computer so he could lampoon it on facebook is sure to boost my blood pressure. Argh.

And then, when I think maybe I should skip that next trip to Ireland, your blog reminds me what a truly bad idea that is.

Jean said...

I've just recently finished my first shawl and now understand the attraction to them....

I love blogging, sharing my little and my knitting. I've learned so much from others' blogs, especially those of fellow knitters. They inspire me to try new patterns, new yarns, new techniques. Your blog I especially love for your writing style, the knitting you share, and your breathtaking photography of Ireland and the various destinations of your travels. I'd love to visit above the Arctic Circle and Eastern Europr to see the knitting and yarns you've seen! Thank you.

Stacey said...

Yeah! Another post from Celtic memory! I always enjoy your posts, it makes we want to return to Ireland, I missed seeing so much the last time I was there. You give me more ideas to bring my children to see.
I have been gifted with so many ideas, like trying sock knitting and spinning from all the lovely blogs I read.

Joan said...

Your blog has inpsired me - again - to work on some of my knitting and to dream and plan my next trip to Ireland! Reading your blog, and many others like Yarn Harlot, Pioneer Woman, Green Apples, etc. has opened my world to many beautiful, creative women who have have in turn enriched my life! Keep up the beautiful blog - I look forward to sharing a little of your world!

T.M. said...

I love your's like traveling with a very observant friend. I really enjoy reading knitting blogs and vegan cooking blogs because mostly I get alot of inspiration and incentive to try new (and sometimes scary things!) And the photos are just fabulous;I feel as if I am right there.

Kathleen C. said...

Wow... that's actually kind of hard to answer.
I have met people both virtually and in real life that I never would have connected with if not for their blogs.
I have had glimpses in other people's homes, lives and countries and it has broadened my view of the world.
I have been inspired to create and make and learn new techniques and skills... sometimes even if I wish I wasn't (I do NOT need to learn another hobby skill, I do NOT. But it looks like I'm going to start quilting).
And that's just the expressable. The inexpressable, the sense of connection and friendship... it makes no logical sense as I certainly don't know them. I don't even comment sometimes. But these bloggers still feel like friends.

Natalie Servant said...

I laughed at your fear that the Giant's Causeway wouldn't match expectations. I think my dad said something similar when we went a few years back. He'd vacationed in the area as a kid a fair bit but had never been.

ccr in MA said...

Blogging has brought me new friends, knitting support, yarn enabling, and a window onto the world beyond where my body has been. I love reading them and I love writing mine.

Happy blog anniversary!

Karen said...

I have knit for many years, but it was always a solitary hobby. Three years ago I stumbled onto the a book by the Yarn Harlot. Suddenly my knitting world expanded before my eyes. I met friends, became a better knitter and found my own local knitting community. Through one blog I found others - yours being another of my favourites. I love to travel and reading about your special part of the world brings me great joy.

Saren Johnson said...

Love the trip you take me on. Sure beats working!

sprite said...

I wrote in the Rav forum that although I didn't participate in the first Sock Madness, I did lurk in the shadows, reading up on participants' progress, and yours is the one blog from that group I still read. Whenever I see one of your posts pop up in my RSS reader, I know I'm in for a treat. It's time to close the door on whatever else is infringing on my attention, curl up with a cuppa, and find myself magically transported to Ireland (or Norway or the Southwest of the U.S. or wherever else you've written from). With your husband's lovely photography to accompany your excellent storytelling, it's much like a real-life version of the Pensieve in the Harry Potter novels, where I feel as if I'm really there right along with you.

Thank you for that, and happy blogiversary!

Kathy at Knitting Off The Grid said...

What a wonderful visit I had to your blog this afternoon.

I think that's what's so fun for me is to escape my own little world for awhile and visit with others from all around the world.

Have you been cranking any socks lately?

Anonymous said...

The Giants Causeway is my favorite place in the world. It was there that I knew for sure there is a God. I cried as I looked around. I have now been there twice and look forward to coming back to Ireland again. The bridge was fun, my husband refused to go across and Dunluce is awe inspiring. Thank you, Jo Lou Ann in Canton, Ohio

Audrey said...

Wow! At last a post AND a chance to win some lovely yarn (and all the lovely pics on that post - gorgeous!)

Lyn (Melbourne) said...

Dear Jo,
Once again a beautiful blog from you. I've been reading your writings from the start and am always taken to places that I'll very likely never get to in reality. But that's fine.

I don't have a blog, but do spend much time in this virtual world, made up of truly real people, like you, who are happy to share your thoughts, travels, photographs (thank you Richard!) and imagination.
I keep up my crafts and reading and I feel I'm a lucky lady, surrounded by inspiration.

Linda B said...

What has blogging done for me? Well, my blog has been a great discipline for me as I have committed to writing something every day for almost six years now. I have a wonderful record of those years and a host of new friends I would otherwise never have met. What has your blog done for me? Well, it's made me want to spend at least a few years of my life in Ireland. It's made me green with envy over your way with words. It's made me appreciate history even more than I did before. And, it caused me to request your book as a birthday gift from my daughter. It arrived a few days ago and I am savoring it a few pages at a time. My husband should be glad that I keep forgetting to renew my passport, because if I had a current passport I think I'd already be in West Cork . . .

danielle said...

oh my oh my.....blogging has brought me travel - chances to see places I havebeen before - want to go to someday or know I will never get to visit and so can visit vicariously - I learn a lot oabout people/recipes/knitting etc - get lots of inspiration - and also waste a lot of time!

Anonymous said...

Just reread this post after I had an aha moment. Here's a bit of coincidence for you:

My husband's grandmother's maiden name was Marpurgo. She came from a Italian Jewish family from Trieste, but had relocated to Vienna where she studied psychology (of course) and married. During the war, she escaped with her son back to Italy, where they were hidden. Eventually, they made there way to Canada, which was trying to people Manitoba with farmers. Our Viennese pair attested to their farming prowess, and that is how my husband's family came to be on this side of the world.

As far as I know, "Marpugo" was actually a derivative of Marburg, the German city from which the family originally hailed. Of all of my husband's family, strung across Europe, it was this branch that survived the most.

That my husband married this Irish American wife, who drags him across Ireland whenever she has the chance, adds more to the kismet, don't you think?

Roggey said...

I've read about the Giant's Causeway in many books, thanks for the wonderful photos of it!