The Aran Islands

The Sweetness of Unexpected Pleasures

Photo lens filters, packages in the post, fortuitous flowers, spectacular sunsets and helping hands all have in common that they’ve recently come to bring me unexpected joy.

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First, a recent photo of our smallholding. I took the photo standing upon the wall at the top of the road using my Samsung phone and a €1.50 fisheye lens. I never dreamt the filter would work so great. It came in a €3 package, marked down from €8, along with a macro lens.

Here are a few photos of elderflowers, soon to be elderflower cordial, that I gathered and photographed with and without the macro lens attached. I have to play around with this lens to figure out how to use it better but it definitely has potential.

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The next unexpected pleasure arrived at my doorstep as a result of Nuala landing herself in a lower leg and ankle cast for three weeks. It wasn’t broken thankfully and the cast was just removed. When Sandra heard of her accident she said she was going to mail Nuala a card. Super surprise and big excitement when the postman dropped off a package of homemade goodies and fun and love addressed to Nuala and the entire family! I was surprised by how great it felt seeing her handwriting on a card as all our correspondences have been over the computer. A million thanks to her for such thoughtfulness.

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Three flowers have grown in our garden this summer that we didn’t plant. The orange and pink poppies I’m certain of, but the purple one I can’t identify. My guess is that they’re all gifts left behind by birds. No matter how they arrived, these fantastic florae are welcome to stay and put down forever roots on our smallholding. Their blooms are lovely and I admire their independence and determination.

A generous and loving family who are holidaying on Aran for the week stopped by to buy fresh vegetables. After talking a bit about the this and that of our garden, they agreed to a barter of time for food and returned the next day to help lighten our load. 245 garlic bulbs were dug up then laid to dry and a bed of rocket was cut down in order to regrow a second time. These overdue garden jobs were completed in not much more than an hour– so quickly that there was time to spare for playing, relaxing and sharing a meal together. It’s a day we won’t soon forget.

Whether intended or unintended, I’ve no doubt that the surprise element of these lovely gifts- quality, friendship, generosity, beauty, selflessness and time- made receiving them even nicer. It’s said that little things mean a lot. I think they mean even more and are even sweeter when they’re unexpected.

p.s. The (unfiltered) sunset photos are from 4th of July. Turning around and seeing our blue shadows cast on the side of the house was another beautiful moment of surprise which I was fortunate enough to share with a good friend.

Music To Our Ears

For the first time in months, there’s finally been enough rainfall to generate more than a wee trickle from the natural well that feeds our duck pond. Now that there’s a bit of water to spare, we can refill bins for watering the rest of the garden also. Yesterday’s rain was perfect. It started out light enough that the crumbly topsoil could well absorb it. This allowed the following hours of downpouring rain to infiltrate the soil deeply rather than just running off the earth’s surface, down to the sea.

Parts of Ireland have been experiencing a drought for the past few months. Here on the Aran Islands, we rely on rainfall to fill the tanks which provide household water. Since it hasn’t been raining and the supplies are so low, the water has been shut off in the evenings for a few weeks now. The thinking behind this decision is to ration water and also to stop any water waste that may be occurring from possible leaks in the lines.

When I walked out my front door last evening, it was both gratifying and magical to hear the rushing water added to the symphony of birdsong and rustling leaves played by nature.

Cheers, Melissa Xx

 

 “Nature’s music is never over; her silences are pauses, not conclusions.”     Mary Webb

On Getting Your Hands Dirty: Keeping a Record

Swiss chard 2Time to hug last year’s Swiss chard goodbye and say slán to our edible rainbow. Their replacements won’t be ready to eat for another month but these guys bolted over a month ago and have also outgrown their beds here in the garden. First I picked another couple meals for us and what remains is being enjoyed by the chickens.

Next, we’ll feed the soil they’ve been occupying and plant something new. Perhaps courgette or celery or edible flowers, and we’ll rotate Swiss chard to new locations in the garden.

Crop rotation is important to prevent problems occurring with pests and diseases. Either a commitment to record-keeping or a very good memory is valuable here. I suggest writing it down. Write most garden information down. Isn’t there enough stuff and things taking up space in that head of yours already?!

Thoughts Planted by a Sycamore Seedling

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I’ve been absent for a couple weeks, enjoying the children’s school break for Easter and generally just avoiding the computer. A burst of inspiration from the garden today brought me back — whispers from a sycamore seedling that got me contemplating…

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March of The Weeds

DSC_0288~2It’s March and the noticeably longer days tease my gardening impulsiveness. I want to get on with the business of growing outside. The erratic weather can’t be ignored, though, and rather than transplant out I’ll have to pot up- that is, move plants to larger containers- and keep them under cover a bit longer. Rather than sow root vegetable seeds, I’ll lay more ground warming cover after spreading compost or leaf mulch.

And I’ll weed.

There’s always weeding to be done, though more so this time of year because it’s spring and that’s when weeds spring up and multiply with great abandon on every patch of bare soil.

I rarely go out with the purpose of just weeding. Instead, it gets done regularly but a bit at a time. I’m usually grabbing weeds from here and there at my discretion as I’m tending to other garden needs in the same area. Spring weeding is a bit more intentional than that- it’s part of the plan for the day, on a mental list of things to be done deliberately, sooner than later.

Fortunately, weeding the garden is a favourite task of mine. I find that the point of view from crouched down on all fours is a great way to get the lay of the land and to gain a true perspective of a garden’s whereabouts.

While growing up in Maine, I was the primary weeder in the family plot and I remember enjoying it lots. Our vegetable garden was behind my Memere’s house. It was a nice open space with tall lilac bushes lining one side and there was a pretty spectacular weeping willow in the front yard. Summers were very hot and I have the most vivid memories of taking off my shirt and pulling weeds wearing only my shorts. At age nine or so, and with no explanation that made sense at the time, my mother told me to put my shirt back on and I shouldn’t be taking it off anymore. I remember feeling like something had gone astray. Now I suppose she was trying to teach me modesty.

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On our smallholding, I’ve taken responsibility for the weeding– Johnny never has to worry about it, just like I never have to worry about the chicken coop being cleaned out and their bedding relined and their feed buckets refilled.

So long as we’re all happy, nothing’s being neglected and everyone’s keeping their shirt on, it’s all good.

A Story of Rain

Anywhere there’s a dip in the land of our homefarm, there’s a puddle temptingly waiting to be waded through by duck or welly boot.dsc_0020-2

The earth around us has reached its maximum water holding capacity and is now overflowing in many areas.

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This happens quickly on the island in relentless rainfall because the soil is shallow and just a few feet below, if not a few inches, are masses of solid limestone. Continue reading

Making a comfortable living from a small piece of land

As the word smallholding implies, we do what we do to support our family through a combination of cash crops and subsistence farming. We do all the work ourselves between the jigs and reels of raising a family and various other obligations and distractions. There’s no design laid out before us. Instead, season to season over the past several years we figure bits out and do it, always incorporating two essential qualities. The first and most important for us is to provide food for our family. The second is to do so while designing a modest, simple and functional area where others can discover that it’s possible to create their own supermarket on just one acre. We may not be making our entire income from it yet, but day by day and year to year we get that much closer.

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Three new outside beds were added to the garden in the last week. All three are at the north end of the polytunnel, one is actually an addition to the artichoke bed. We also divided the artichoke plants to double the amount we now have and there’s still room for plenty more.

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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

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.

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