Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Have a worm, sweetheart

Alas, we are not in Paris. But I've been going through photos and trying to reorganise albums, and this photo of the Pyramid at the Louvre pretty much sums up what it feels like here. It rained almost all day yesterday, with a brief dry period in the late afternoon. When I got into work, before I even opened my mouth Michael said to me "Don't say good, it's morning, but there's nothing good about it". As it happened, I'd started the day with a laugh, so the rain didn't bother me. C had decided to go into work a bit later than usual to help him cope with the trauma of the clock having gone forward. So when he was putting his gear on to leave, he was in a flap trying to find his trousers. Not in the bedroom, not in the porch, not in the spare room - had I done anything with them? After thinking, I burst out laughing because I knew he'd left them in the bike on Thursday, and had never got round to bringing them in - not even when I asked for his lunch bag. Plan B - he recently bought an all-in one rainproof coverall. But that meant changing his heavy jumper and jacket for a sweatshirt and a lighter jacket. And then he ended up with one leg in a leg of the coverall, and the other in an arm, so I went into work still smiling over it all. And goodness, it was wet. I went in to town after work (last tub of meal-worms in the garden shop, lucky robins), and got wetter again sitting in my damp coat on the bus.
While I was washing the floors later on in the afternoon I heard the robins chirping, so I grabbed my camera - no time to change lens - and a few worms,  and was rewarded by getting these pictures.

And in case one isn't enough...

The next picture was this morning - you can see they are ankle deep in puddles!!

It's so funny to watch, because one will cheep away and stand there with an open beak, but if nothing happens it (she?) will grab a couple from the ground, but then is ready for me as soon as (he?) arrives with his offering. I'll have to sit out in the back for a while with the camera and some worms - but not till it's a bit dryer. Today the direction of the rain/snow was into the back porch, so I couldn't keep the door open for long.

As if all the rain yesterday wasn't enough, there was so much snow this morning that I had to scrape the car off before I could go out. It snowed all day, although it never really lay on the ground. There's been so much damage in the gardens already from the cold in January - our neighbour's Lobster Claw tree looks pretty dead. I think it might revive though, when you bend a twig it's still live inside.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Time to Play

The photo challenge on SCS this week was Toys, with extra brownie points for colour.
We don't have kids, but since we also don't have TV, I think it's important to have books,toys and art/craft supplies available for when friends with kids visit. I still remember C's brother being totally amazed when his two lasted a whole afternoon without TV and without being bored.
The first picture is a Spelling House that my dad made when we were small. There were some interchangeable discs with different pictures and words on them. It was so cleverly designed, because you had to use memory to remember which knob would put which picture inside the closed door, and then you'd match the spelling to the picture by turning the knob in the centre of the flower. There was manual dexterity too, and coordination, because to get the little door open to see the mouse (he squeaks when you pull the little cord), you had to lower and raise one hand of the little boy on the side, and press the chimney down. His other hand has a bell, and when you raise that hand, a little bell rings inside the house.  This has had a lot of love over the years, and is showing it's age slightly, but is still in perfect mechanical order.

My other picture is a pre-school toy made by Bluebird toys (Big Yellow Teapot, Big Red Fun Bus, Big Jumbo Fun Plane, Polly Pocket) in the late eighties/early nineties. Despite being an award-winning toy it didn't sell as well as some of their other toys - I never could understand that. Both of us used to work for the company which had the agency for Bluebird, and when the Tool Street Gang was retired, I was lucky enough to get the sample from the showroom - along with a Big Red Fun Bus too. Kids of all ages have had fun with this. When we visited my brother recently, my 12-year old nephew was trying to remember the names of all the tools, so I guess I should send him this photo. It required a bit of a hunt to find Mr Squirt, so now I need to go and get all the Lego and Duplo back where it belongs. We're going to need to cut the grass soon, although there is snow forecast for this week - in which case it will be all wet and soaked again.

Loving behaviour? This morning when I threw some worms out for the robins, I saw one of them fly down to the patio, pick up a worm, fly back to the wall and feed it to the other. Then I saw the same again this afternoon when I was out taking my toy pictures. This time they were both on the ground, but one of them chirped, and then the other one fed it. Now that I know to watch out for this I hope to get a photo.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Coole Revisited

I was making a little mini-album of photos today to send to someone in America who is never going to make the trip over here that she had hoped for. While going through old albums to pick out photos from as many counties as possible, I came across photos of Coole from other visits over the years, and as I had the scanner set up beside my desk, I've scanned a couple just so you can see how it really does change dramatically, and truly never is the same.
This is the photo I posted from our visit last week -

From My Miscellany

I can't quite date the next one, I'd have to get out my negative files which are better classified than my photos. It's probably about ten years ago, because there was quite a break when we didn't have a car and couldn't go. In any case it was either late spring or autumn, and you can see how full it is - we didn't get our lakeside walk that time.

This one was when we were there over New Year's 1994/95. I mentioned before that there was heavy flooding that time. Even with our wellingtons we didn't get a lakeside walk on this occasion either. You couldn't walk any of the complete trails, and where the water was shallower, it was frozen over the paths. Great fun crunching over it and seeing the patterns as the ice broke up. You can just about make out in the photo where the reflection of the signposts end and the sign sticks up over the water....it's not far from the top of the page, so you can see that the water was nearly up as far as the pointers.

And I did say that sometimes it's a luxuriant green sward filled with wildflowers, and nothing but the moss on the rocks to indicate that they are ever submerged...

 Apologies for the quality of the photos - I am not good enough at editing to try to tidy them up much.

Lough Bunny

Lough Bunny is in Galway, rather than Clare, just about five minutes from Kilmacduagh. On my 20th birthday I found some early gentians there, but March is definitely too early, even if Spring wasn't so late this year. But we had a lovely walk along the shore, which is just bare limestone. When the sun shone, the water was green - almost with a Mediterranean feel to it.

I made a sort of collage from a few pictures of two black-headed gulls we saw. We were both amazed to see how far they sank under water when they land; in that bottom left picture it wasn't actually diving, it had just landed.
"What big eyes you have, Grandma"!!
And that's it from Clare, until I get round to editing some of the lakeside photos we took.

Friday, 26 March 2010


At last - nearly at the end of holiday pictures. On Sunday we went first to this old monastic settlement, and then to a lake (pictures tomorrow, I expect). Kilmacduagh (Co. Galway)  was founded in the 7th century by St. Colman. The round tower is 30 metres high (almost 100 ft), with the only door being 7 metres up (23ft), and it leans over half a metre (1.5 ft) off the vertical.( Round towers were built in a lot of monastic settlements in Ireland, as a refuge from raiding Vikings.) On thinking about it, to say it leans off the vertical by a length is not a sensible measurement, it should be an angle to really mean anything. But while I can remember that the square on the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares on the other two sides, I can't for the life of me remember what I need to work out the two angles other than the right angle. Sine? Cosine?  I think I know where my Log Tables are, but it doesn't seem worth the trouble right now!

Most of the buildings are more recent - 12th and 13th c. I really should have written down what they were called. The tiny little arched ruin is all that's left of St. John's Church

This carved head was on the main Kilmacduagh Cathedral if I remember correctly - that's the big building near the tower.
O'Heyne's Abbey, across a field from the main settlement.
The carved stone capitals were both in O'Heyne's Abbey. 

There is also a partially restored building called The Bishop's House, but we didn't get the key to go in. C is not really into "history", and I am surprised that he agreed to visit here given that we've already been once before.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

A Miscellany

Red sky at night certainly wasn't a shepherd's delight this morning, which was grey, cold and damp. But oh my, the sky was beautiful last night. It really did look just like this - those are magpies in the tree.

This is what we had for dinner last night - C had neglected to find out what his niece and nephew-sitting duties over Friday and Saturday involve, and I wasn't prepared to do a supermarket shop when I didn't know what meals he'd be around for, so it was a store-cupboard meal apart from buying the baby corn. Really it's pasta and stir-frried vegetables in a Chinese-style sauce. An odd combination, but a good compromise for one pasta-lover and one who just about tolerates it...
Vegetable and Pasta Stir-Fry - serves 4
400g / 14 oz pasta shells or similar (I find this too much, and drop the amount a bit)
1 tblsp olive oil
2 carrots, thinly sliced
120g / 4 oz baby sweetcorn
3 tblsp oil
1" fresh root ginger, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced,
3 celery sticks, thinly sliced
1 each small green and red bell peppers, cut into thin strips
1 tsp cornflour
2 tbslp water
3 tblsp each soy sauce and sherry (I use light soy, so as not to overwhelm the taste)
1 tsp honey
optional hot pepper / chilli sauce to taste
Bring a large pot of water to the boil,  add the olive oil and cook the pasta till tender. Drain and keep warm.
Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the carrots and corn and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse well under cold water.
Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan. Stir-fry the ginger slices for a minute to flavour the oil, and then remove. Add the onion, garlic, celery and peppers and stir-fry for two minutes. Add the carrots and baby corn and stir-fry for another two minutes. Stir in the pasta.
Mix remaining ingredients for the sauce, pour over and cook over a low heat for two minutes.

A note on sloes:
My mother taught me to tell the blackthorn and whitethorn (Hawthorn, May) apart because on the blackthorn the flowers come out before the leaves, while on the whitethorn the leaves come out first. It's lovely in May when the hedgerows turn into a foam of green and white with a pink blush here and there. Personally I think you can tell them apart even when there are no leaves, flowers or fruit because the blackthorn is much spikier and thornier. Traditionally you were meant to use one of the thorns to pierce the fruit when making sloe gin! I must admit I settle for something more comfortable to hold, like a skewer, or a needle in a cork . Usually sloes are highly astringent and impossible to eat raw - I still remember the first one I tried as a child, on a dog walk at the beach in Killoughter - but the ones we picked in the Burren a couple of years back were positively sweet and juicy.

By the sea, by the sea

This is still part of our Saturday outing, I just split the photos more or less into inland and coastal. All these are on the peninsula on the way to Finvarra. There's a Martello tower at the end, but as it was pretty cloudy by then I can't convince myself the photo is worth uploading. We saw a heron, meadow pipit, oyster catchers, gulls, wigeon and swans on the lake, and a curlew and more divers on the way back. There was also a group of 5 serious birders with their tripods and scopes, but we have no idea what they were hoping to see. Last time we were here we encountered the Lesser-Spotted Fair-weather Bikers from Ennis, but the weather obviously wasn't fine enough for them this time round.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Burren Scenes

Saturday dawned bright and sunny, and we woke early and went down to take some pictures by the lake. Then we headed off cross country to the north-west coast of Clare. Most of these photos are just typical Burren scenery. The first two were when we took a high back road from Killinaboy to Carran. After the previous overcast days it was lovely to see some sunshine brightening up the landscape. The tour buses were out in force too - I suppose St. Patrick's Day probably marks the start of the season.



Corcomroe Abbey. It only occurred to me this year that that must be why the mountain behind it is called Abbey Mountain. There's a lovely walk along the side of it, and we've climbed it too. About two and a half years ago we picked so many sloes from a sheltered slope on the mountain that we have not yet finished the sloe gin. The next year we only managed to find a bare half pound in the same spot. It's funny how it goes - one year in Avoca C and a friend managed to find one single sloe after a lot of looking, and the next year we picked and picked till I had to go back and cook dinner for all the rest of the crowd who had been out hill-walking and canoeing.
This view looking over towards Galway was taken from where we park when we pick (or hope to pick) sloes. Unfortunately the best of the day was already over by now - just imagine this scene with sunshine instead of cloud.


High and Dry

 Low Tide
This photo was taken at New Quay (I always have to remember not to pronounce it the way the Cornish pronounce Newquay). The pole near the left with a yellow box on it was a defibrillator - we passed several like it. When we stopped for me to take this photo, C parked on the pier and I had to walk back a bit. I was rewarded with some Great Northern Divers as an extra bonus.

Holiday Productivity

To make up for the lack of actual flowers, I managed to finally finish off this flower embroidery. It's about 8 inches wide.

It's been my holiday embroidery for too many years. That gives me three embroideries to lace onto card over Easter, and then find a good framer.  Diana Lampe has some lovely books of garden embroideries, and over the years I've made several gardens and embroidered monograms as gifts. Given that I can do a garden in a week if I have a deadline to work to, it's embarrassing to think that this one has travelled to Corfu, Crete and Paris.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Wild Swans at Coole

Coole Park is one of my favourite places to visit when we are in Clare - although actually it's in Galway. Because of the turloughs (disappearing lakes) the shore area is always different. We've been there when the water has been too high to walk some of the trails, and we've been there in the summer when it's just a green sward full of all sorts of wildflowers, with only the black mossy growth on the big boulders to show that it was ever under water. Looking at the trees when we took a shortcut through the woods back to a trail, the water must have been very high late last year. No surprise if it was - friends we visited said that at one stage last November almost all the minor roads locally had been closed due to flooding, and it was taking people two and three hours to travel to work.
The swans at Coole aren't the Mute Swans with the orange beaks. Both Whooper and Bewick's have been recorded, and as far as I can make out these are the Whoopers, but from the distance we were at it was hard to tell.
There were also ducks and cormorants on the lake. On the shore, lots of little birds, including a chaffinch in the most beautiful spring plumage. C didn't feel that he'd ever noticed the green splash on their rump before, not even when we were watching them in Kerry the week before.

And robins...But the best treat of all was seeing some hares. I just had to snatch the best shots I could the first time we saw this one (which are not the best, at that); every time after that they were loping along. For me there's always some special about seeing hares - maybe because they're such a rare sight.

Falling water levels
You can just see the start of the new spring growth in this one...

Monday, 22 March 2010

Back from our trip west...

We packed up this morning, and left this beautiful view behind - with the daffodils just starting to come out along the drive. We were so lucky with the weather - it rained twice, both times at night. Sometimes there was sunshine, sometimes cloud, but pretty much dry. Except for this morning, just when C was starting to bring logs in from the shed out in the woods, to replenish what we had used. Then there was a most amazing sudden squall, with howling, whistling winds, which covered the lake in white - both waves, and a flock of gulls who must have landed to escape the wind.
Dromore Nature Reserve, County Clare was where we went for a walk on a somewhat overcast St. Patrick's Day. We've often been here in late spring and autumn, but apart from  a trip over New Year 2004/2005, this is the earliest we've been - it's all so bleak and bare, but still quite beautiful. The ruined castle dates from the 17th century. We saw a lot of swans and tufted ducks here, along with a heron and some fishermen.