March is a nervous month.

Japanese quince blossom.

‘March is a nervous month, neither winter nor spring and the winds make people nervous.’ John Steinbeck, East of Eden Diary.

I woke up with a heavy sense of foreboding but I’m hoping that it can all be put down to the weather. Radio One forecasts ‘a very windy day’ with rising gales, strong gusts and spot floods. Looking out the window here, the day is dull but perfectly calm. Too quiet, perhaps, as though that sky is storing something up for later.

Japanese quince blossom.

My teenagers are in the middle of exams. Here in Ireland we have two state examinations, the Junior Cert., taken in the third year of secondary school, and the Leaving Cert., as the name would suggest, taken at the end of the final year of secondary school. I’m lucky enough to have one of each this year.

The Leaving Cert is a brutal experience where your grades are converted into points and the points determine which, if any, university course, you are offered. The Junior Cert is mostly seen as a dry run for the Leaving Cert but the younger teenagers (certainly my one) are liable to be far more emotional. Most schools operate in-house ‘mock’ or ‘pre-leaving/junior cert’ exams with the aim of shaking out all the nerves and anxiety.

Where do we think all that nervous energy gets dumped? Yup, right on top of the beleaguered parents who mistakenly believed they would never again have to face exam stress.

Teenage Son is playing it like an old hack who has been around the exam block a few times, refusing to be harried and making his parents feel as though they are pushing a Massey Ferguson up Everest. Teenage Daughter, the one who is doing the dry run for the dry run, is steaming around in a flurry of colourful study plans and ticked time sheets, her parents merely jogging behind (near catatonic from the Everest experience) waving packets of biscuits and hoping to appear helpful.

Dear Lord, what will I be like when the real thing comes around in June?

This is a truly rubbish blog post. I’ll go edit those pantry photos.

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Off My Trolley.

Hands up, who remembers The Looting of Doon? Well, that little tea trolley that I got for a fiver at the convent auction has turned out to be a stellar investment. I wheel it around to whichever window is getting the best light, take my snaps and trundle it back again to home position. Usually, it lives here, against the kitchen window which has turned out to be the busiest part of the whole house.

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Just take this picture. You can see my sweet geranium cuttings which have taken beautifully over the winter.They must be the easiest cuttings in the world to take which is a good thing as the recent frost wiped out the few I abandoned outside. There are three in that tomato tin so I probably need to pot them on soon but I’m running short of windowsills.

Next up are some of my chitting first early seed potatoes. I think I need to plant those soon. Beyond the potatoes you can make out the Verbena and fennel seed heads which successfully lured goldfinches all winter. They’ve been stripped bare now and need tidying up. Jeanie Mac, this post is starting to make me all too aware of how much work I have to do.

Moving our gaze swiftly past the extremely dusty vase, you see the massive bunch of daffs Husband brought home on Valentine’s Day. He knows what I like. They were all closed on Tuesday too, which is the way I love to get them, and I have been taking great pleasure in watching them open into a blaze of yellow glory. They smell warm and sweet and garden-y. That urge to get out in the garden is rising.

The little jam jar holds a ‘science experiment’ that Small Girl and I are monitoring together. We filled the jar with toilet paper, dampened it, and ‘planted’ two broad beans. One is planted the right way up and the other is upside down.

broad bean geotropism experiment. science for kids.

The one that’s planted the right way up does exactly what you imagine…the root emerges and grows downwards.

broad bean geotropism, science for kidsbroad bean, geotropism, science for kids,

The upside-down root pops out its little head and then turns around and heads down. Geotropism in action, my friends. I know you know all this but it really is fun to watch!

broad bean, geotropism, science for kids.

My brain has been very busy lately and I felt the symptoms of a crash creeping upon me. There is nothing at all wrong, just too many projects on the go and a nasty virus trying its best to floor me. When I saw this tiny embroidery project on the front of a magazine I knew it was exactly the therapy I needed.

Mollie Makes embroidery hoop

I’m actually quite proud of myself for having spotted the signs rather than folding under the wave as occasionally happens. That, I think, counts as progress. Sometimes I just need a tiny boost to keep my head above water.

Mollie Makes embroidery hoop

Small Girl sat beside me with her pencils and colouring book while I did ‘colouring in with thread’ as she called it. Bliss.

Mollie Makes, #molliemakers, embroidery hoop

People always tell you to look at the big picture. I find the whole big picture overwhelming. Making plans for the future, trying to raise decent people, letting them loose, surviving school exams, Trump, Brexit, our faltering government…it’s too much. I do better when I focus in on the best bits, the small things that give me a momentary spark of joy. If I continue to train my eye on one small spark after another…before I know it, there will be a blaze. That’s the plan.img_4203-2

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Head Shot.

I thought I was safe so long as I was the person behind the camera.

Alas, no.

Late last evening, a lovely lady emailed me to request a head shot. She needed a high res, close-up photo of me and she needed it ASAP. Mild panic ensued.

Followed closely by extreme panic.

I tried sending the profile pic on my housewife page.

image

Nope. The quality is rubbish. Would I have the original?
Nope. That was taken on a tablet shortly before Small (but not small enough) Girl sat on it breaking the screen. I priced buying a new screen but discovered it would cost more than replacing the tablet so, true to form, I did neither.

Would I have any other hi res photo of myself? Without a child, spouse or mucky dog hanging off of me?

Errr… this one?IMG_1079Barefoot, food in mouth and head in book. It’s me but it’s not ideal, is it?

Maybe this one? This is actually one of my favourite photos of myself, taken very early on a summer’s morning by Husband.

IMG_0340Still, I’d rather not be the odd-looking woman in a blue paper jumpsuit.

Now, here’s a good one:

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No make-up and a silly hat… not your traditional head shot material.

Those were the only contenders.There is not a single other photo of me since I let my hair grow out grey. There was nothing for it but to get up early this morning and hope for a miracle.

All the stops were pulled out. YSL Touche Eclat, usually saved for weddings and encounters with old flames, was liberally painted on.Eyebrows were coaxed into submission (sort of). Eyeliner (Dior pencil bought for my wedding in 1997) was applied, lips were lined (LINED! Seriously, that’s dedication to the cause!) and the hair was washed, conditioned, anti-frizzed and ferociously hot-brushed. I even put on perfume in the vague hope that it could give me allure, or just fortitude.

Middle Daughter was co-opted to the cause as chief photographer. The kitchen curtains were pinned back in order to catch every photon of available light which is not a whole lot at 8.30 on a February morning in Ireland.

And then I smiled.

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Nope.
‘Mum, that’s not a proper smile.’

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Nope.
‘Mum, can’t you smile without moving your eyebrows?’

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‘…or your neck!’

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‘Muh-um!!’

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SultanaBun. Photo credit: Alice O’Gorman.

‘Gotcha.’

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A Jedi Jacket, an Atlas Apron and a Dream Coming True.

The land the sun forgot. That’s where I live these days.

Thankfully, it hasn’t been getting me down. The form has been steadily upbeat of late which I am attributing to my recent discovery of Evening Primrose Oil. That, and a long list of enjoyable indoor projects to keep my gaze averted from the sodden garden.

My only gripe is that it’s almost impossible to photograph, and therefore to show you, my projects.

I have a new niece or nephew (don’t know which yet) on the way so I indulged myself in the very best kind of knitting: garter stitch in newborn size. The pattern calls this a baby kimono but my kids have christened it the Baby Jedi jacket.

Baby Jedi Jacket.

This is a free pattern which you can find here. I’ve been researching complementary Baby Jedi hats. This Princess Leia Beanie is superb.

My favourite apron is in tatters. I’ve been loathe to part with it but the button of my jeans has worn a whole in the middle which makes it look as though I’m about to burst, incredible hulk style, out of my clothes.

I took a trip to town with the intention of buying some hard-wearing, practical, striped cotton.Alas, my inner map-junkie prevailed.

Atlas Apron.

So, now I look like a walking globe armed with spoons.

I’m not the greatest seamstress so I am quite proud of this creation, in particular my pattern-matched, equatorial pocket. Naturally, this is an Ireland-centric atlas-apron.

We demolished and rebuilt this house in 2011 but it is far from finished. Husband has a to-be-completed list which seems to grow annually. I am beside myself with excitement at the moment because we are tackling one of the biggest tasks on his list which also happens to be my heart’s greatest desire.

We drew a space on our house plans and labelled it ‘pantry’ but we never had the funds to furnish it. We bought a couple of second-hand shelf units on Donedeal.ie and stacked the weetabix willy-nilly.

Here are some unedited, untidied, not-even-wiped-clean, before photos.

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Sigh. I’m a hopeless housewife.

Anyway, moving swiftly along, here are some equally unedited work-in-progress photos:

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Husband is project manager/carpenter while I am chief painter/measuring-tape-locater. It’s working out grand. Tune in next week to discover whether the pantry is completed or the marriage wrecked. It could go either way.

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It’s a bit early to be thinking about Valentines but…

‘I loves him ‘cos he brings me chips.’

That was my line, borrowed from some forgotten joke, when he used to turn up on my doorstep on Thursday evenings after rugby training, hot and hungry, with a steaming parcel of chips in curry sauce.

Quarter of a century later, I love him because he builds me shelves.
And, because he knows exactly the spot to rub on the Voltarol.
Because he brings me coffee every morning without turning on the light.
Because he doesn’t mind digging in the rain so long as we do it together.
Because he knows my tell
and hasn’t told.
Because he believes that I am good.
and tells me that I can.
Because his hands…

I’m saying this now because, if I wait for an occasion, my hormones will have fluctuated and my mood will have nose-dived and I will have forgotten why, WHY?, I love him, though never that I do.

This grey and windy Wednesday morning, when for one precious, terrifying, moment, everyone is OK, we are all happy and healthy and muddling along just grand, planning, plotting and looking forward, I am over-whelmed with reasons why.img_3666

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Tried and Tested: Nadiya’s Bake Me a Story.

Nadiya's Bake Me a Story. Nadiya Hussein. Review

It was nearly elevenses time, and a little old lady was at home with nothing to dunk in her cup of tea. She rooted through her cupboards. There were no chocolate cookies, no figgie rolls- not even any plain old crackers. But she could see lots of flour, brown sugar, honey and jars upon jars of spices.

Nadiya Hussein was the baker who made Mary Berry cry for all the right reasons. Probably the most popular ever winner of The Great British Bake-Off, Nadiya’s daring use of spices won over the judges, while her self-effacing humour and charming smile melted viewers’ hearts.

 

Nadiya's Bake Me a Story. Nadiya Hussein. Review

A role as judge on the BBC’s Junior Bake-Off followed, where Nadiya conquered a younger audience with similar ease. Next, came a documentary about her family’s roots in Bangladesh, magazine columns, and regular TV slots. Nadiya has proven herself a natural TV personality. She is pretty and likeable, she is funny, she can tell a good story, and she comes across as just a nice, average mum.

There is nothing average, however, about Nadiya Hussein. Debrett’s listed this…(read on here).

East of Eden Project, Part 2.

John Steinbeck Quotation. And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good.'

This is Part 2 of a long post. Read Parts 1 and 2 together here.

John Steinbeck admitted in his letters to Pat Covici that there are two books within the covers of East of Eden and that they might even have been better published separately. The core of the book is a re-telling of the story of Cain and Abel. Cain ‘dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden’, was the eldest son of Adam and Eve, was the first person born and the first to kill. His younger brother Abel was the first to die. Theirs is the story of the fight between good and evil in the human soul.

Steinbeck sets the story in the Salinas Valley, California, bridging the 19th and 20th centuries and across two generations of the Trask family. We first read the story of Charles Trask and his brother Adam and then follow Adam’s sons Aron and Cal.

Parallel with this, Steinbeck tells the tale of Samuel Hamilton, a well-read and artistically inclined Irish immigrant who claims a dusty parcel of Californian land and settles down to raise a large family of Americans. Samuel’s daughter Olive marries a German called Ernest Steinbeck and they raise a son called John who is the narrator, and the author, of East of Eden. I know, it is all a bit mind-bending and I can’t remember any other author using a similar device but it works. It absolutely works.

The flesh-and-blood Hamiltons and the fictional Trasks are neighbours. Their stories lean against each other, stand apart and mingle a little. Steinbeck assures Pat Covici that ‘all the Hamilton stories are true.’ He wants to tell the story of America by creating a true picture of the Salinas Valley which he is, ‘using as a microcosm of the whole nation’ and for that reason he says, ‘I must put in all the lore and anecdote I can. And many of my family stories amount to folklore and should be used …’

So, East of Eden is a like a mixed-media image with old and very personal photographs overlaid on a painting.

The best, the most good, character in the novel is a real person. Samuel Hamilton makes people feel good, makes them feel like better people and makes them believe that the world is a better place. It was Steinbeck’s intention that Samuel be a guiding light, ‘by whom little and frightened men are guided through the darkness.’

Cathy Ames, the villain of the piece, the monster and devil incarnate, is only make-believe.

Cathy and Samuel are fire and water. They recognise each other and can’t bear to be close.

Cast and torn between these two extremes are the ordinary people. Some of them are dreamers, others are schemers. Some are blind to evil, others are drawn to badness. Some of them are Hamiltons and some of them are Trasks but they all feel like real people.

Yes, it’s all very symbolic but the weight of symbolism is balanced with good story-telling. Steinbeck knew what he was about, ‘I want to clothe my symbol people in the trappings of experience so that the symbol is discernible but not overwhelming.’

Does good triumph over evil? What do you think? Has it, in the real world? The point is not whether it did, in this story or any other. The point is not whether it will in the future. The point is that good could triumph over evil, if men so choose, it could.

‘It’s too easy to excuse yourself because of your ancestry,’ says the wisest man in the book.

‘There’s a responsibility to being a person. It’s more than just taking up space where air might be.’

This is from Steinbeck’s Nobel prize acceptance speech in 1962:

 ‘Fearful and unprepared, we have assumed lordship over the life of the whole world – of all living things. The danger and the glory and the choice rest finally in man. The test of his perfectibility is at hand. Having taken Godlike power, we must seek in ourselves for the responsibility we once prayed some deity might have.’

In chapter two, writing about the first pioneers to colonise America, Steinbeck writes:

‘They trusted themselves as individuals because they knew beyond doubt that they were valuable and potentially moral units – because of this they could give God their own courage and receive it back. Such things have disappeared perhaps because men do not trust themselves anymore, and when that happens there is nothing left except perhaps to find some strong sure man, even though he may be wrong, and to dangle from his coattails.’

There it is. There is Donald Trump, sure and strong. Did you draw breath? That’s art.

But wait. Take East of Eden down from your book shelf or go to a book shop and take the book in your hands. Somehow, I feel that a portion of the power of this lies in holding a book. Find Chapter 13, part 1, and read.

These are just excerpts:

‘When our food and clothing and housing are all born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking.’

‘and men are unhappy and confused.’

‘Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man.’

‘And now the forces marshalled around the concept of the group have declared war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by repressions, forced direction, and the stunning hammerblows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.’

‘And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual is the most valuable thing in the world.
And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected.
And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual…I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.’

Phew. Art.

Knitting your own dishcloths might just be a tiny step in the right direction. Knitting your own dishcloths and kneading your own bread might give you time to do some hard thinking. You might stretch your mind to considering rebellion. You might be too busy thinking to worry about the great mass of people who might think you are crazy. You might become the person your Husband thinks you are. You? I guess I mean me. But also, you.

Here are more words of wisdom from David Bowie:

‘Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.’

Because, you know, life takes courage. Responsibility takes courage. Creativity takes courage. Individuality takes courage. If you get hung up on being perfect, on playing safe, then you’ll just follow the crowd, the group, the mass. You’ll spot some strong sure man and, even if he’s wrong, you’ll hang on his coattails.

Be brave. Swim deeper. Make a splash.

‘And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.’ John Steinbeck.

John Steinbeck Quotation. And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good.'

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