View From an Irish Back Yard


Bookends

“Old friends, old friends, sat on their park bench like bookends.”

When I was in college, my summer job was working as an interpreter at a living history farm in Bozeman, Montana.  Looking back, I could not imagine myself landing a better job than this – dressing up as a circa 1900 woman, cooking on a wood stove, talking to visitors, learning how to crochet and embroider and sew on a treadle machine, getting to try a huge array of interesting vegetables from an ever-expanding heritage garden, and, best of all, learning from the bottomless well of knowledge that was our volunteer base.  We had everything from blacksmiths to gardeners, spinners and weavers and musicians, all historians of sorts, all (or mostly) lovely, wise, fascinating people.

Karen at the Tinsley House with our first attempt at cheese making, summer 2001

Karen at the Tinsley House with our attempt at cheese making, Summer 2001

My favourite days on the farm were usually Saturdays, particularly early in the season when it was still a bit chilly.  If it was raining out, the house would be dark (no electricity!) and visitors rarely came down the wooden sidewalk.  Those were the days when I would build up the fire in the wood stove, make a big pot of cowboy coffee, and sit around the table with my boss, Dave Kinsey, and one of my very favourite ladies, Karen James.  I was only a teenager, but they never, ever made me feel small.  We would talk about the farm, Western history, our town, our lives, local politics, and so on.  And, usually, Karen would bring a truly magnificent coffee cake.  We’d sit there, cozy and pleasant, eating piece after piece of this sinfully buttery cake covered in sugary walnuts and cinnamon.  We’d drink gallons of coffee, ignoring the grounds sinking to the bottom of our cups as we topped up and poked the fire.  I know it sounds funny and a little naughty that I loved those peaceful mornings when nobody would come around the house looking for a tour!  But it was those sweet friendships we were forging that I found myself looking forward to all week, and missing when the job was over for another summer.

A few years later, when I was working for Heartland Truly Moving Pictures in downtown Indianapolis, I formed similar bonds with many of the staff.  I still remember when Kevin Swiontek would poke his head in my office nearly every morning with the same single worded question: “Coffee?” He’d usually accompany the query with a gesture of drinking a cup.  I would smile, grab my purse, and join the group that   also usually included my friends Claire Brosman and Kristi Gross as we walked across the street to Nordstrom’s coffee shop.  Somehow, we all needed those few moments of camaraderie at the start of our long days, just a short break to get a breath of fresh air and ask how everyone’s weekends went.  It brought us closer as friends and co-workers.  And if it was a good day, or perhaps a particularly bad day, I would treat myself to Nordstrom’s “old-fashioned” coffee cake, which was the closest confection I’ve ever had, before or since, to Karen’s wonderful cake.  This one was probably factory made, but still buttery, rich, and sweet with nuts and cinnamon.  So the same comfortable association lived on, even in another time and another city. Continue reading



A crazy year gone

As ever, Christmas has gone by in a flash.  Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and before you know it we’ll all be back at work.  For us, we’re enjoying the last few evenings spent by the fire with the tree still decorated, finishing off those last buttery cookies and smidge of Alaskan smoked salmon while starting to make our plans for 2013.

To be totally honest, I’m sort of glad the holidays are coming to a close.  This year has been tough for us, and the last month even moreso.  It will be nice to start with a clean slate.  The baby kicking in my belly is a constant reminder that things are again about to change, and the 3 year-old running around my house half-naked (we’re potty training :)) is evidence that nothing has stayed the same for long, anyway.

In honour of the changing times, here’s a little recap some of my favourite moments and successes of the last 12 months.

Raggedy Ann & Andy print quilt

Raggedy Ann & Andy print quilt and pillow

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Thoughts, Projects and Plans
October 10, 2012, 11:52 am
Filed under: America, Arts and Crafts, Food and Drink, Holidays, Writing

 It’s been a while since I’ve blogged –  you may have noticed? – but to be perfectly honest, things have been fairly boring in our neck of the woods. :)  I haven’t been feeling 100% for several weeks now, and we’ve just sort of been getting on with the business of living day to day life.  No day trips, no special meals, no pictures even! 

Frank’s “Jack” O. Lantern from a few years back.

But now it is October.  The days have cooled significantly and the nights are darkening earlier.  All my friends in the US seem to be going pumpkin crazy on Pinterest and Facebook while I’m checking the stores daily for the big crates of fresh pumpkins they only bring in right before Halloween.  I didn’t have a garden this year, and I don’t know if pumpkins would have fared well anyway – the ones I grew last year rotted on the vine from all the rain.  So I’m dreaming of all the pumpkiny things I might try in the upcoming weeks.  I saw a recipe last night for pumpkin frozen yogurt made with Greek yogurt – maybe try?

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Old Stuff
June 15, 2012, 12:20 pm
Filed under: Arts and Crafts, Ireland in General, Irish Outdoors

Since I don’t have many interesting words to share, I’ll just share some recent pictures of what we’ve been up to.  Sorry for the low quality – they were taken on my phone.

First are some photos taken from the St. Mary’s Church of Ireland graveyard – the church is vacant for many years now but it seems the churchyard is still well kept and there are recent burials there in addition to very old ones.  The site itself is extremely historic in that it’s where Cromwell landed and first began his terrible trail of carnage in Drogheda back in 1649. It’s within eyeshot of Millmount Tower, which is rumored to have been built on ancient burial grounds.  As I said to Frank, if ever you were going to see a ghost in Drogheda, this would be the part of town to haunt!!!

A pool of water and forest of weeds on a neglected headstone in St. Mary’s Church of Ireland graveyard.

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Rites of passage
March 11, 2012, 6:54 pm
Filed under: Arts and Crafts, Family, Fashion, Food and Drink, Parenting

Saturday: Cream crackers, jelly and 7-up.

I’ve always dreaded the day when I’d have to be the parent of a child with a tummy bug, but I’m happy to report I think we’ve survived the worst and are still smiling. Whew.

Poor little Evelyn has been getting sick – from both ends – since last night.  She is actually taking it quite well, aside from disliking the actual act of getting sick, and has been in great form all day. She’s chatting away at the moment, looking out the window in her bedroom and playing with her stuffed animals .

I know we have been really lucky in this regard, as Evelyn is over two years old and has never really been ill like this before.  But we’ve been doing fine, Frank included!  Lots of laundry, ugh.  But maybe I mind less because my primary concern is to make Evelyn feel better and let her know it’s OK that she’s not feeling well.  She definitely seems a bit embarrassed and grossed out herself.  “Reeeeally yucky!” she keeps saying. Nevertheless, this too is part of life, and we’ve now jumped a small hurdle in a lifetime of many more to come.

 In the meantime…

Sunday:  Frank’s Birthday.

Oops, didn’t really get to finish yesterday. I think I was going to say that in the meantime, Frank and I had to cancel our dinner plans so we could stay home with aforementioned sick child, which was actually OK because we were pretty beat.

Frank’s favourite dessert is Creme Brulee, so I decided to try to make a batch instead of birthday cake.  I was a little worried about it turning out (and I didn’t even get started on it until 7 pm), but I think in general it was a good first attempt. Funny, would you believe this is the first time I’ve ever used a real vanilla pod?  It was actually trickier than I figured – or maybe I just need to get better knives.  And I could only find 2 odd sized ramekins, so we had to make do with tea cups for the other servings.  I also do not own a blowtorch at the moment, so I had to grill the brulee part. Not perfect, actually a little burnt around the edges, but yum. Reminiscent of toasted marshmallows.

Happy Birthday, Frank!

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‘Best View’ Awards
January 1, 2012, 9:04 pm
Filed under: Arts and Crafts, Fashion, Food and Drink, Ireland in General | Tags: , ,

Well, it’s year- end now and I’ve officially gone over 50,000 hits with this little blog of mine (17,000 of which come from the last year)! Woohoo! I know that’s not saying much – a lot of folks get that many hits in a day! But for me, who began this blog in 2008 as a way to keep in touch with family and friends, I’m blown away by that kind of readership. So, thank you!

As an additional thanks to the town in which I live, the lovely, quirky, medieval Drogheda, I’m going to share a list of my favourite shops, restaurants etc. from the village that gave me Frank and brought me here to begin with. So here they are, in no particular order – the “Best View Awards 2011″  from View From an Irish Back Yard. :)

Best Shopping
* These shops got the nod because they’re all doing something a little different than everywhere else in town, and they stand out for the quality, service and tenacity to keep going in a tough economy! I hope you’ll patronize them whenever you can.

1. Rouge Boutique - I’ve mentioned them before, but Rouge still remains my favourite dress shop in town. In the last year they’ve been open, they’ve really fine-tuned the designers and products they sell, making sure their items are well-made, unique and reasonably priced. They have also just remodeled the premises, with a beautiful spa downstairs and a bigger clothing shop on the second floor.

Rouge Boutique, Laurence Street

2. The Crafty FoxI did a whole post devoted to this shop last year, but this does not disqualify it from inclusion on my list! I’m still a huge fan of The Crafty Fox.

3. Highlanes Gallery Gift Shop (Louth Craftmark)Things in this shop are a bit more pricey, but it’s because they’re bespoke creations from local artists. I am in love with the pottery here, as well as the fine knitted shawls and scarfs, felted hats and purses and, my favourite, some gorgeous embroidered silk mixed media paintings. Love.

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Is paper out of fashion?
November 17, 2011, 12:30 pm
Filed under: Arts and Crafts, Ireland in General, Parenting

Do you send Christmas cards?

I do. I love Christmas cards. I love looking through all the boxes in the stores, trying to pick out which ones are my favourite, which ones I’ll choose to share our sentiments for the upcoming holidays. I love receiving Christmas cards from friends and family, even if they don’t have time for a note but just sign their names. Particularly since living in Ireland, receiving Christmas cards from friends at home means that much more because I know it requires exta effort during a busy time.

Lovely card from the Brighton Toy Museum

I love the pictures on Christmas cards – snowy scenes, bright red berries, jolly Santas, peaceful Nativities, smiling children. I especially like vintage or vintage-looking Christmas cards – the Victorian and 1940s era ones are particularly sweet. I think I still have enough childhood imagination left in me to picture myself in the world of that card, even for a  magical fleeting moment. It’s a welcome diversion in the midst of daily life. As the tagline for An Post, the Irish Postal Service, says, “The moment you send a card, it’s Christmas.” People definitely still send cards around here, and I love it.  It’s also another great way to give to charity, as most cards you’ll find in Ireland or the UK donate the proceeds to various charitable organisations.

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