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    Fermenting Magic

    Anyone who has ever cultured vegetables knows that moment of uncontainable excitement when the first bubbles appear. After three months, one week, and five days of experimenting, at last, I think I’ve done it! It may be premature boasting but … Continue reading

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    It’s a Good Day to Have a Good Day

    If there’s something seemingly big keeping you from your joy, focus your attention on something small. There are little miracles everywhere in nature just waiting to distract us from our thoughts of ourselves and our worries. Every day may not be good but there is something good to be found in every day if only we decide to see it… Continue reading

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    Family Day at The Black Fort

    Less promoted than the islands main attraction Dun Aengus Fort, the Black Fort offers as much and more.  It’s less visited and one can easily wander off in any direction that catches their whimsy rather than having to stay on … Continue reading

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    Spring Willow Project

                                                                        Have you ever entered an Irish home and wondered what the handmade cross hanging above the door represents?  Or perhaps you’ve seen a charm or pendant bearing the symbol that shares pride of place right aside shamrocks, … Continue reading

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    Pride of Place

    A wonderful place for children It is often said how fortunate an upbringing the children of the island have and I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment.  I grew up in a small community, but there is something about island living that makes … Continue reading

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    Sandy Toes and Salty Kisses

    It’s the first week of July and despite having mild temperatures and sporadic sunshine here on Inis Mor, many visitors are filling the roads and exploring the island on foot, bicycle, pony & trap, or in guided bus tours. Summer homes are … Continue reading

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    How We Use Seaweed In The Garden

    Five years ago I went to a week-long Irish language course in Connemara.  One of the words we learned really stuck with me.  Well, actually the idea of the word stuck with me.  The word is ‘stócáil’ and it translates as ‘to ready … Continue reading

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    Garden To Table: How To Make Orzo Salad With Aran Island’s Goat Cheese & Ground Dillisk Seaweed

      Quick and easy, filling and nutritious.  Loved by both children and grown-ups.  Such a great recipe I couldn’t help but share it, after all, this recipe is asked for everywhere I bring it. It is made extra special with … Continue reading

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    How Well Do You Know Your Sewing Machine?–Beginner Sewing Worksheet 1

    As I prepare to post Beginner Sewing Project 3, I realize there is something else that I incorporate with my classes–info worksheets.  Understanding sewing machines, tools, and terminology is important to become an independent sewist.  This first worksheet explains the very … Continue reading

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    I live in Aran

    When I was age twenty-five, someone very dear to me died tragically in a motorcycle accident. In nearly identical circumstances my father was also taken twelve years prior. I never truly mourned the first loss, therefore I spent most of … Continue reading

Taming our wild side

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I’ve never understood (or admittedly bothered to research) how other gardeners manage to have their ducks live in harmony with the precious fruits and veg of their labour. When we first introduced our five eager quackers to our gardens, we were pleased with the efficiency with which they hoovered up slugs and bugs. Oh, how quickly these feelings changed though. The sight of our steamrolled lettuces and carrots soon saw them evicted from the gardens, separated by a chicken wire covered wooden post fence.

A stone wall that parallels the fence is lined with wild blackberry and fuchsia bushes and their wee pond sits at the entrance. It’s a long, rectangular space near double the size of what’s pictured above. When not exploring the areas surrounding the house, the ducks relish the security and privacy of the tall, wild, grassy weeds that we let overgrow between the wall, the fence and the pond.

I always envisioned transforming this area into something more colourful with a look that’s still carefree without the current look of neglect. With this idea, I did some research and over the years have purchased packets and boxes of seeds to plant here. However, when faced with the task of preparing the soil, armed with the knowledge of how much heartier weeds are compared to wildflower seeds, I turn my back to it and instead toil on the tame side of the fence.

I don’t want to spend an enormous (meaning ‘any’) amount of time weeding this field; my gut feeling is that it would be a constant and futile effort. So each spring I do nothing but watch the grassy weeds regrow and put it off yet again.

My dear friend Sandra, aka Wild Daffodil, recently quoted Bill Mollison’s permaculture principle, “The problem is the solution” and this week I put this thought into practice. Perhaps it was more a challenge than a problem, but either way, it became the solution I was looking for.

Last year I successfully grew a half dozen verbena plants and, to quote my ten year old son Adrien, “Who knew seeds so tiny could turn into things so big”. He was talking about tomato plants, not verbena, and I would have known their ultimate size had I read the package more carefully, but anyway, they grew to be three feet tall and unsuitable for the forever home I chose to plant them in as young seedlings. Teasel is another, grown from seed and now five feet tall and no longer fit for their placement in the garden. And there you have it– the problem plants became the wild field solution. Some of the plants are lining the fence in the photo above and this week I transplanted them into the duck field.

Lesson learned. I’ll gradually add more plants but will grow them separately first, then transplant to the field rather than spread seed. That way I’m optimistic they’ll live in synthesis with the existing grasses and create something that we and the ducks will all be content to live with.

Life is Lovely

It won’t be long and the evening ferry will be arriving back to the island in daylight; for now, the artificial lights guide us into port. It’s hardly what I would describe as a romantic site. Picturesque, definitely. I’ve even thought it idyllic, but, other than the first time I visited fifteen years ago, not romantic. Johnny waiting for me on the pier is a scene we’ve shared a hundred or more times, but tonight I felt a little starry-eyed. It had me thinking later how I’ve probably been taking this gesture for granted. He’s always there, always. It felt so good, I’ll never again view my arrival back home as unromantic or fail to see the gesture of love he’s showing me.

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While I’m gushing on (it is the celebratory day of love ❤ ) I want to share a comment received last week that made me feel especially warm and fuzzy about writing and blogging, and towards everyone here who does the same- writes from the heart for the love of writing, appreciating connections made with their readers.

“Just to say I read you off and on, not a real follower though I “follow” you, and that I really enjoy the way you write about your life and the things you do, the everyday things that are so different from what I do and yet I connect with the art of doing life. You live in a beautiful part of the world. Be blessed always.”

My family & I appreciate with all our hearts each and every remark, opinion, and reflection that is shared here on our blog. Some of us share similar lives and many live very differently than we do. Either way, what we all have in common is the doing of life, and while it’s not always romantic, it’s certainly worth appreciating and occasionally even celebrating.

Joining in the one a week photo challenge, my interpretation of this week’s word ‘artificial.’ Thanks Sandra and Cathy!

With love, Melissa Xx

Hello, Monday Morning

 

We kicked off spring with a marathon weekend in the garden. Weeded, tidied, ground cover on, stones moved, some seeds planted.

Johnny and the boys finished removing the creig from one of the new tunnel beds; loads of work but we get needed depth and stones to use elsewhere in the garden.

My hands are sore from wild blackberry thorns, fingernails look unrecognizable, whole body is aching, and pulled a muscle in my bum from a running slip while racing the rain to get laundry off the line, but feeling accomplished and happy, happy! 

Have a wonderful Monday everyone, Melissa Xx

p.s. Daisy duck was no help at all, only poking her head up to see was I bringing her food or something like that, but we love her no matter.

 

Happy St. Brigid’s Day 2017

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It’s a beautiful first day of spring here on the island and we put the St. Brigid’s cross up on the house first thing this morning. The children are more wrapped up than usual as they head off for school because we had just returned from a wee trek to collect the bundle of reeds that Nuala is holding; they’ll be used at school to make crosses of their own.

The first day of spring here in Ireland falls about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  One of the traditional ways of celebrating is by making a St. Brigid’s cross which is ‘placed on doorways to ward off evil, fire, and hunger from homes’. It’s also called the Feast of Imbolc, an ancient Irish celebration of the change of seasons from the short, dark winter days to the longer and brighter days of spring.

Here’s a link to a post I did a year ago that shows step by step how to make your own St. Brigid’s cross. It also has links to more information about St. Brigid’s Day, the meaning of the cross, and the Feast of Imbolc. https://thearanartisan.com/2016/03/15/spring-willow-project/

Joining in with the ‘One a Week Photo Challenge‘, word ‘happy’ and with Ronovan Writes haiku challenge, words ‘please & blow’.

please wrap yourself up

on this first day of springtime

the wind is blowing

Getting up early and taking a walk with the children was an amazing way to start the day and has me thinking we ought to do it more often. I’m wondering though if the adventurous feeling to it would soon wear off? Perhaps it was just the novelty that made everyone so happy and they would be less excited to do it regularly. I suppose there’s only one way to find out.

On the Cusp of Spring

 

 

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Through the open gate and into the garden.

If there’s one thing that makes it evident there’s a seasonal transition going on, it’s got to be the recent mud. A couple wet days and the heavy soil makes for clumpy boots, sticky shovels, soupy paths and a pigsty chicken run. It definitely reminds me of the spring thaw back in Maine.

Hearing one’s wellies squish squash while walking, brings awareness to the quiet cusp of winter-spring. No whirring lawn trimmers and zooming tour buses polluting the air with their constant background noise.

Quiet, but not silence for the birdsong in the background is pleasant and welcome and so uplifting that I felt a literal spring in my step, quite the opposite from that of having the bottom of my feet suctioned into the earthy mud. Continue reading

What Winter?

Instead of the cold blustery gales of wind and rain that makes one not want to get out of pyjamas all day, it’s been more like spring than winter and we’ve been both working and growing in the garden the entire season.

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Garden photographs are quickly outdated by growing plants and newly built beds.

There’s a lot going on in the picture above: raised beds have been added in between the corn and pumpkin plots–rocket, beetroot, lettuce and winter garlic are growing in four of the beds. Stone paths are made after all soil is removed and sifted; soil in beds, stones back into the path. Long, narrow grow boxes are being placed along both sides of the pallet fences to help stabilize them and add grow space. A half pallet retaining wall is being fitted against the corn field. A lot of labour and nearly all Johnny’s doing.

While he takes care of the corn field, etcetera, I’ve been tending to the pumpkin patch. On this day I added twenty-eight extra tires that will be painted when the weather is warm enough. Herbs and edible flowers will grow in some of the tires to allow more space between each pumpkin plant, one solution to last year’s powdery mildew problem. Powdery mildew is common in cucurbits (cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, courgettes, melons) when they grow close together in damp conditions.

Rain showers in the afternoon had us in the tunnel sowing early tomatoes, courgettes, celery, basil, and coriander, all to go into the newly borrowed grow tent. Lettuces germinated in only two days under its warm light so if all goes well, we should have some to sell this April when the island restaurants open.

Potatoes went into the tunnel the last week of December and, though still tender, we’ve begun eating rhubarb and chives. Some flowering bulbs are up with blossoms just forming and some other flowering plants never even went out of bloom.

Although it’s still January, Irish spring begins in just two days on February 1. So while I’d like to say that winter flew by, the truth is, it doesn’t feel like it ever arrived and I’m left wondering what will February, March, and April have to offer. Will it be another out of the ordinary season or will the current conditions continue? Only time will tell and we’re in no hurry to find out.

Make Do & Mend

Our couch cushions were feeling a bit deflated. A sad case really because our couch and matching love seat are otherwise in exceptionally fine fettle. Purchased when Margaret Maeve was first born, the set has withstood the better part of the last thirteen years under the same roof with five children and there’s not even a hint of rickety in their joints.

Johnny had the great idea to wedge several throw pillows in a single layer between the couch frame and the seat cushions, and it gave a perfect lift to the seats and a uniform look across the front. The wedged pillows go unnoticed because we tuck quilts over the couches.

With five throw pillows used to renew the two couches, they were quickly missed when we lounged around, so this week I made seven new ones. They photographed best outside in the natural light.

A great way to spruce up a room, the new pillows have definitely added a lift for very little dosh. I priced custom cushion replacements and a few hundred euro would make the couches new again. For 1/10 the cost, I already owned the fabric and pillow inserts. While this might be more of an inexpensive alternative than an actual make do and mend job, it’s making due for less, no less.

H5N8, Because Numbers Are Great In A Title But Bird Flu Virus Is Not

Day twelve and last night’s rain has made the chicken run very muddy. We locked both the chickens and ducks in on January 13 after Ireland’s second case of bird flu was confirmed in Galway.

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“H5N8 is the cause of recent outbreaks of bird flu in the UK and across continental Europe and is highly contagious among birds although it poses a low risk to humans” from an online RTE news report.

The law regarding free range backyard poultry keeping is that all birds in premises located within 3km of an infected bird would be required, by law, to be kept indoors. So we don’t have to keep them contained, we just aren’t sure that they’re not at risk if we don’t. Continual reassessment and watching how the flu progresses is what we’re doing. If you’d like to have ‘All your questions answered on ‘Bird Flu’‘ then here’s somewhere to start.

I’ll update on the state of the flu, as well as the state of the poultry run.

Melissa Xx

 

An Awkward Rescue

When asked what type of goats we keep we answer as best we know by saying ‘island goats’. They’re wild and hardy and prefer to roam the day in whichever large field they’re currently stone wall fenced into. Whatever the weather, they sleep outside under the evening sky with their herd of a half dozen or so. While they’re far from constrained, there’s a tendency for them to go through periods of rebellion where day after day for a week or so Johnny spends hours searching for which direction they’ve headed off to explore. It’s often not as easy to find them as one might think, especially if they decide to lie down and take a nap under a high wall. The children and I have helped their dad look plenty of times and there’s no doubt we’ve walked right past them on more than one occasion.

On this day, a month old kid had gone missing. After a second search within the same day, Johnny found him at last. Having fallen four feet down between a narrow crack in the stones, the goat was a huge challenge to rescue. What else would Johnny do but try and try again until at last successfully looping a noose around his neck and lifting him to safety? As if he would have been able to focus on anything other than helping save Hop’s life. Wild they may be, but they’re each named and cared for as best as possible.

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A very scared baby Hop and an awkward rescue for Johnny.

No doubt, Hop learned a valuable lesson about keeping an eye on where he’s bouncing about in his playfulness. Considering that these cracks are a common part of their terrain, it’s a wonder that this doesn’t happen more often. Gratefully, it’s a rare occurrence though.

Taking part in in the One A Week Photo Challenge with my ‘awkward’photograph. Next week’s word is ‘gate’. Have an idea? Join in!

Cheers, Melissa Xx

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