Saturday, September 13, 2014

On the road

(The view from Nicola's front door)
Well, my plan to blog every few days hasn't exactly worked out.  We seem to have chosen places with the worst Internet service possible.  (It's almost like being at home, where our service is less than dependable.)  We've stayed in lots of inns and bed and breakfasts, who all say they have wifi, yet we have been unable to use it for more than a few minutes.  I've done a few Instagrams,  using my phone (and I'll be afraid to look at the data roaming charges when the bill comes!)

We've dubbed this trip our second honeymoon because we had talked about coming to Scotland for our first honeymoon.  We didn't get around to planning it then, so here we are celebrating our 16th anniversary (September 5th).  I say better late than never.  There have been some similarities between our original honeymoon in the Northwest because Mike is the kind of traveler who wants to cram as much as he possibly can into the available time.  On that trip we drove about 3000 miles in two weeks (and that was after we flew out there). I really like to go somewhere and just relax, rest, read and knit.  We've already driven some 1200 miles and still have several days to go.  Good thing I can knit in the car.

Our days in Ireland with Nicola Brown went by much too quickly.  We visited with Suzanna and the lovely Zwartbles,  the Cushendale Woollen Mill, in the town of Craig-na-Managh, and a beach on the Irish sea.  The weather was comfortably cool and Nicola fed us well.  She even prepared lamb for us that we really enjoyed!  (we are not lamb eaters, so this surprised both of us!)

(Nicola and me - watching for seals at Curracloe)  Photo by Mike MacDonald
 On Friday we flew from Dublin to Edinburgh and drove up to Inverness for our first night.  On Saturday we visited Culloden, the site of the battle that broke the spirit of the Rising of 1745 and many, many Scottish men died at the hands of English soldiers.  Because of reading Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, I have been particularly interested in visiting the battlefield.  I expected to feel somewhat as I did on visiting the battlefield at Gettysburg, but there were so many people around and so much activity, I didn't feel that aura that I experienced at the site of the Gettysburg battle.  It was sobering to think about the events that took place there and how it affected Highland families for years to come.  We walked around the battlefield until we found the marker stone for the Clan MacDonald.  Each clan who fought there has a stone marking the spot where their men were supposedly buried.  The day we visited there was a special homecoming celebration and there were bagpipes being played at the entrance and musicians playing Scottish music elsewhere.  Ironically, the Hellcats from West Point Military Academy played while we were there.  Not exactly sure what that was about!

(the Isle of Skye is full of dramatic scenery)  Photo by Mike MacDonald
 Next we spent two days on the Isle of Skye.  These signs are all over the place in Scotland, but on the Isle of Skye we actually did see lots of sheep right on the road.

(Photo by Mike MacDonald)
This little guy (girl?) went right on by us, as if we were invisible.  I guess they are used to having cars get in their way.

Mainly, we've been seeing Scottish Blackface sheep and those perpetually surprised looking Cheviots.  This one looks to be a crossbred.  There are sheep all over the place here - literally everywhere and they are fat and happy looking, grazing amongst the gorse and heather.

While we were on the Isle of Skye, we went to the castle of Clan Donald.  Even though the castle itself is a ruin, it is pretty impressive.  It's certainly a far cry from our own humble abode!

(Ruins of the castle of Clan Donald)
The owner of our bed and breakfast is a knitter and she recommended a local yarn shop, so we checked it out before we left the island.  The Skye Shilasdair Shop is a small, but beautiful little shop specializing in yarns from local sheep and naturally dyed (on the premises) yarn.  Needless to say, I didn't leave empty-handed.  In fact, some of my knitting in the car has been a couple of hats made from yarn purchased there.

(Skye Shilasdair Yarn Shop)  Photo by Mike MacDonald

We took the car ferry from the Isle of Skye back to the mainland and drove to Oban for the night.  The next day we drove into Edinburgh to see the Great Tapestry of Scotland, which was on display at the Scottish Parliament building.  I can't even describe how impressive it was.  It isn't a woven tapestry, but rather panels that have been embroidered by many loving hands, each depicting a scene from the history of Scotland.  Naturally, I was most drawn to the ones about the Rising of 1745 and any depicting fiber and textile activities.

(the detail is astounding-just look at her shawl!)
(Imagine how many French knots that might be)
So, that's it for this installment.  Our time here is running out, but we are on the move again.   I have more pictures to show in the next post.  Until next time .......

Thursday, September 4, 2014


(The orchard at Maidenhall Farm)
 Where to begin?  We are just barely beginning our adventure and are already so in love with this place, we don't want to leave!  We're in Ireland, spending a few days with our friend, the fabulous Nicola Brown.  It's so beautiful and green here and deliciously cooler.  Then,  there's the sheep.  The sheep are every where you look.

(Suzanna - the wall surrounds a beautiful garden)
Yesterday we visited Suzanna Crampton's Maidenhall Farm, home to the beautiful Zwartbles sheep.  Suzanna was incredibly gracious and welcoming and spent several hours with us, allowing us time to really observe her adult Zwartbles ewes and the current crop of lambs.  We spent quite a lot of time walking around her beautiful farm, visiting with her Irish draft horses, the farm dogs and while we were having a cup of tea in the kitchen, Bodacious, the famous sheep herding cat, deigned to make an appearance.  It's probably a good thing I've decide I have to reduce my flock and that it is impossible to import sheep from Ireland to the United States.  I'd have been very happy to bring home a few of these beautiful animals. Their temperament is so calm that even as strangers, we were able to walk among them and most didn't hesitate to come in close for scritches.

(Zwartbles are Dutch sheep, originally bred for milking)
Suzanna's farm has been in her family for many generations and the gardens and orchard are so beautifully maintained and yet are so appropriately informal for a country estate.  The stone walls and hedgerows define the pastures, the gardens around the house and the lanes that lead from one part of the farm to another.  I'm having to stop myself from writing beautiful, wonderful, amazing over and over again.

Suzanna's Irish Draft horses were even friendlier than the Zwartables.  They were gentle giants.  I also wanted to bring them home with us.  I tend to think I'm over my horse obsession, until I have the opportunity to be around a particularly nice one and then that pleasant horsey smell brings it all back.

I have an obscene amount of pictures taken at Suzanna's but they will need to wait for another post. It's very late right now and we have an early morning leave-taking.  Both of us are regretting not allowing ourselves more time here in Ireland, but we're already telling ourselves that we have to come back.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fly away home

It's been oh, so hot and muggy, but there's a slow shift happening already.  Fall is hovering near and I welcome it as my very favorite time of year.  I knew when I saw this, they would be leaving soon, so just before I left for Nashville last weekend, I took this picture of our Purple Martin families building up their flying muscles.  I say our Martins because they consider our homeplace as their own.  Many of the adults were born here in years past and return each spring to raise their own clutch of babies.  In their little condo homes, high above our garden, they chirp to me as I come to the barn each morning, swoop about me during the day as I am mowing or working in the garden (eating bugs that are stirred up as I pass) and sometimes at night, when I walk past for the last barn check, I can hear them shuffling about inside their compartments, settling in for sleep.  The nest box will come down now, to be cleaned out and stored until next spring.  I always have it marked on the calendar when we should start watching for the scouts they send ahead of the main flock.  Once we see the scouts, we know the rest will arrive within days.  We put up the nest box and, when they've settled in, the nest building begins.  It's the age old cycle of life, condensed into a few short months of summer.  They left on their annual journey to South America while I was away for my sewing workshop, but I know I can count on them finding their way home next spring.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Weekending with Anna Maria and Natalie

Anna Maria demonstrates twin needle sewing
If you've followed this blog for any time at all, you will have already figured out how much I love taking workshops from people I admire.  My friend, Diane (yes, we have the same name, different spelling) spent this past weekend in Nashville, Tennessee at Craft South, the brainchild of Anna Maria Horner.  "Fashion by Hand" featured Anna Maria and Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin fame and it was totally wonderful and inspiring.  Both women were so warm and down-to-earth and they made our workshops not just learning experiences, but so much fun.  We had the opportunity to sew with both of their fabrics and, for me, it was the opportunity to overcome my fear of stitching an Alabama Chanin design item of clothing.  I love the idea of making something entirely with hand stitching.  How rare is it these days that we wear anything completely handsewn?  Natalie brought "blanks" of the garments Alabama Chanin designs and we were able to try on to our heart's content.  Not only did that help with choosing a size, but gave all of us a better idea of just how flattering each item of clothing was to all types of bodies.  Natalie also brought along her sweet daughter, who appears to be headed toward becoming a clothing designer herself sometime in the future.

Natalie Chanin showing us how to trace our patterns
Speaking of flattering, if you sew and haven't considered one of Anna Maria's patterns, you should. A case in point is her pattern for the Lemon Drop Dress.  I watched as one after another of us tried on the sample dress and saw how flattering it seemed to be on everyone.  I finally screwed up my courage and slipped into the dressing room to try it on myself and was astonished to find that it flattered even me!  I think Anna Maria is a genius to be able to design a dress that flatters so many different body types. Anna Maria has a new line of knitted fabric, most of which I would have deemed too bright for me to wear, but seeing them in person and being able to touch them, made all the difference in the world.  The fabric is soft and lovely and easy to stitch.  I'll confess to bringing a bit home with me and plan to make my very own Lemon Drop soon.

Diane and Rebekah inspecting the Lemon Drop dress
Saturday evening, Anna Maria hosted all of us at her home, where we were treated to a delicious meal and an evening of music provided by various members of her family.  I believe all but the youngest two sang or played (she has seven children), along with her husband and father-in-law and they were all incredibly talented.  We got to see her home studio and where Anna Michelle and Pierrette (the sweetest and most talented young women who work for Anna Maria) take care of all the details of running the online shop.  So much beautiful fabric!  All those fabrics spread out on the table are Anna Maria's newest collection that will debut in November (and I did ask her permission to post this picture).

Anna Maria's newest fabric creations
One of the best things about going away for a workshop is that it forces enables me to meet other like-minded people.  I'm an introvert by nature and could happily spend all my time here on the farm, holed up in my little studio and only interacting with my sheep (and my husband, of course).  The group of women who attended the workshop came from as far away as California and as close as right there in Nashville.  It was a joy to get to know them and share the experience.

**Apologies for the unedited photos.  For some reason, Blogger is not allowing me to post edited versions.