How Lovely Are Thy Branches.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree…


It was a fiasco. (See instagram post here)IMG_0642

Every light that could break, broke. IMG_0646

Some lights died, were resuscitated and died again. Others came out of their brand new packages dead. IMG_0661

It took seven hours, three visits to the local hardware, and a partridge in a pear tree to get it going.IMG_0651

But, despite the chaos and frustration, the mess and expense, the torment to small children waiting with baubles at the ready, for hours, it was a memorable day for all the right reasons. We kept it together. We laughed. We ate cake. We had a couple of stiff drinks. IMG_0657

We kept in mind that, even when it all seems to be going wrong, these days are precious. So very much depends on how you look at things.

This is the view from the kitchen window, street lights versus Christmas tree with honesty (lunaria) inside and teasels outside. I considered writing a whole post based on this photograph. I might yet. IMG_0673

Then I turned on my heel and took this photograph. I love the way the street light still threw its shadows on to this one.IMG_0676

The tree is up. Let the festivities begin.

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The Story of My Shelves.

‘Where are we going on our holidays?’ asked the Small Girl, for the umpteenth time.
‘We are going to Sofa,’ replied Teenage Daughter with admirable resignation.

You see, following last year’s fiasco (matchbox chalet teetering over a cliff in driving rain), I determined that the family’s holiday budget would, instead, be spent on a blue velvet sofa. Yes, I do feel guilty. Not very, but a bit. In fairness, with some teasing, the holiday budget stretched to a sofa, a chair, two rugs and SEVENTY-SIX (!) shelves.

I put a post on Instagram back a bit. This picture:


With these words:

When Husband first came to call on me in my college bedsit my fledgling book collection was lined up on a lovely marble mantelpiece. To his dismay, my microbiology/biochemistry tomes were liable to topple over the edge at inopportune moments. ‘I should build you a book shelf,’ he said. I replied, in my head or maybe even out loud, ‘you’re the one.’

The One and I have a history with book shelves.

That first set of shelves was handsome. He built a tall space for my folders of lecture notes, a middle shelf for science books and two shelves that snugly accommodated my rapidly expanding collection of fiction…there were signs of things to come there.

He carried that bookcase on the bus to deliver it to my bedsit and I was certain then that no-one on Earth had ever loved me more.

IMG_8579 (2)

It was, let me think, nine years later that we moved into our first house, together with Toddler Boy and Baby Girl. We had just spent 12 weeks in Florida while Husband went through training for his new job. We were forced to cancel a week’s holiday in New York because of visa difficulties but we were happy enough to come home and pick up our very own house keys from the Auctioneer and use Husband’s holiday (clearly, I have form on this one) to build some bookshelves. We hadn’t a stick of furniture, you know. The in-laws donated an old garden table and two deck chairs so that we wouldn’t have to eat off the floor and still, my priority was the bookshelves.


Husband was younger then, weren’t we all, and he banged up those shelves in a couple of days. We gave them a coat of gloss and took a day off while the paint dried.


There was an abandoned summer house in Glandore, owned by Husband’s Godfather but not used, where we knew that there were trees laden with forgotten apples. We made peanut butter sandwiches for Toddler Boy (it was a phase) and filled a flask of coffee and drove our rusty banger down the road to West Cork. We were so happy, bubbling with joy. We were totally besotted with each other and with the children and so excited about decorating the house and so convinced that we could never want for more.


We picked bags of apples, cookers and eaters, and then lay back on the grass and soaked up the golden light. It was an exceptionally golden day.


The garden ran all the way down to a private beach and we were much taken by surprise when a naked man emerged from a gap in the hedge. Mind you, he was caught even more off-guard. We sheepishly explained our tenuous entitlement to have trespassed while he covered his assets and admitted he was the gardener. We parted with a mutual confidentiality agreement.


Cast out of Paradise, we took a stroll through the village of Glandore. It’s a spectacularly beautiful place, a sheltered bay dotted with picturesque islands, handsome Georgian houses standing guard around the coast and a neat row of pubs holding the centre. You couldn’t find any place prettier on a sunny September afternoon which is why we had our wedding reception there.

(This next photo, by the way, is probably the best representation of the paint colour, it looks a bit, more than a bit, lurid in most of them.)


As we passed an open pub door we overheard an odd sound, a collective gasp followed by a low groan. The sort of sound you might associate with a narrowly missed opportunity to score at football only with a sense of greater anguish. A man strode purposefully out the door as if looking for someone to tell:

‘A plane crashed into a building in New York.’

You know the rest.


We drove home with the kids asleep in the back and the radio on. We were on the Clonakilty by-pass when the second tower fell. Funny the things you remember.

When we got home we set up the telly on a box of books (the shelves still weren’t dry) and sat on our two deckchairs and thanked God for visa difficulties.


We moved into this house exactly ten years later. Through all the two-year-nightmare of purchasing, planning, demolishing, building and near bankruptcy I maintained my sanity by living mostly in my imagination.


Officially, our planning permission was for an ‘extension’ but, in reality, we knocked everything except the front facade and this room. When there was nothing else, genuinely nothing at all, I sat in here with a flask and a bag of scones and built shelves in my head.


We managed to have the floor put down before the budget ran dry. It was a basketball court in a previous life and came complete with all the lines and markings in yellow paint. Small Girl was six weeks old. I used to carry her in a sling when I came in here and mopped the floor of this otherwise empty room and I spun around and the imagined picture of those shelves got a little sharper in my head.

That painting, by the way, was a wedding gift from the godfather whose apples we stole.


It has taken six years of imagining, eight if you count the nightmare two, but it’s done.

Seventy-six shelves.



Yep, he’s the one.

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The Blue Pantry.

blue pantry doors, cookbooks.

It doesn’t look blue, even when the sun was shining I couldn’t get a photo to to it justice, but it is blue. I would call it French Navy. Colourtrend Paints call it Peacock Blue.

First things first, let’s recall the before, when the so-called pantry was just a space in the utility room defined by an old bookshelf and some second-hand dressers.


That was all dismantled, except of course for the children’s height markings in the jamb of the door which were to be retained at all costs.

For three weeks, I could find nothing. The microwave kept moving to new locations as power supplies were diverted to various tools and I followed it, jugs of frozen stock in hand, hither and thither. A fresh layer of sawdust fell daily in pine-scented flurries on every surface. The kitchen table was converted to carpenter’s workbench and food, ironically, played second fiddle to hammer and jig-saw.

The drawers and cupboard under the microwave were jammed to the gills with topless hot water bottles, bottomless lids, and a disconcertingly large collection of screws leftover from self-assembled furniture. I floundered in a sea of homeless not-quite-rubbish.

Chaos reigned but hopes were high.

Now, if I back up against the farthest wall of our L-shaped kitchen, this is the view:

blue kitchen with cockapoo

The bookshelves, one of our very first purchases as newly-weds, have been restored to their original purpose. I was thrilled to discover that they fit like a glove into what was a useless space between two irritatingly mis-matched doors. Debate has raged over whether or not to paint them white. There is always a point in these projects when I run out of energy, not so much for the work but for the decision making. The shelves can stay as they are a while longer. Any suggestions are welcome.

blue pantry doors, cookbooks.

Opening the doors and swinging to the right, we see the family height chart still operational.These penciled markings reassure me that it is they who are growing rather than me who is shrinking as it often times seems.

pantry, storage

I thought it wise to line the shelves so I cut up and hemmed an old oilcloth. I bought the plate at The Olive Stand in the English Market (Cork’s cultural peak). They sell online, here. It reminds me of my Moroccan honeymoon.

pantry, kitchen storage

The egg slide, at least that’s what the kids call it, was discovered in TK Maxx and has provided no end of entertainment with only one eggy casualty so far. My culinary secrets are laid bare here and I am forced to confess that, yes, I am a devoted fan of Bird’s instant custard (nothing else will do for trifle) and, yes, I add Bisto to my gravy. Can I salvage my reputation by mentioning that the tomato relish (henceforth known as Rickman’s Relish) and the decanter of Sloe Gin (still half full in March which proves remarkable restraint) were made by my own fair hand? The lime marmalade from Sostrene Grene, by the way, is revolting. I can’t talk anyone into eating it.


Swinging anti-clockwise, this is the view from the door which I will endeavour (feck off, spellcheck, there IS a u in it) to keep tidy. Again, household secrets laid bare: we buy tomatoes by the pallet and Weetabix by the economy-sized truckload. We have reached the conclusion that good quality pasta, from actual Italy, is worth the few extra pennies. Divella is a good brand and less expensive than some of the more familiar names. I buy their OO flour in 20Kg bags and use it for absolutely everything. When I’m here alone I shovel instant coffee into a cup but when two of us are gathered we like Lavazza, made in a stovetop moka pot. When we’re feeling flush we splash out on beans from Cork Coffee Roasters, twice the price and worth it.

DIY Pantry

The turquoise tin next to the candles is full of baking beans but used to hold loose tea leaves in my Granny’s house and still smells faintly of her scullery. The wooden chest was another treasure from the looting of Doon. It has the words ‘Palm Sunday’ written in a neat (nun’s, I presume) hand in biro on the lid. It’s full of biscuits.

The metal poster on the freezer is from the mind-boggling selection at this website. After 20 years of marriage and doing-it-ourselves, Husband still managed to impress me by bending the poster to fit perfectly around the freezer door. I will tell you only that the task required two large planks and a manoeuvre involving one of us kneeling on top of the kitchen table while the other groaned a lot.

The switch-pull for the light makes me very happy. Husband made me walk in with my eyes closed and hand aloft to figure out exactly where I should expect to find the switch. It’s in exactly the right spot for me but might give a fine wallop to any unsuspecting tall burglars.

DIY Pantry

I hadn’t anticipated quite what a snug spot the pantry would turn out to be. I may just hide in here occasionally, you know, when the in-laws drop by unexpectedly or when the kids get too fractious. It’s very peaceful. I’ll bring a corkscrew.

hiding in the pantry

These are the pages of my son’s first board book. It fell apart years ago but I couldn’t part with it. These words remain the limit of his Italian vocabulary. He is studying Latin for the Leaving Cert which tells you a lot about the Irish education system (let’s not get into that again).first book, italian first words, baby board book

And now, for those of you who have stuck with me all the way to the bottom of this post, the big reveal. Look again at this photo:

DIY Pantry

And now look what my clever man made for me:

pantry, secret door

A secret door! Can you believe it? I am beside myself with glee. Of course, I shouldn’t have just revealed the secret door to the blogosphere but it’s not as if I’m hiding my crown jewels in there. Our, now secret, laundry room is stacked high with nothing more interesting than school shirts and odd socks and, no, I am NOT about to reveal my dirty laundry to the world.The camera stops here.

Still, pretty cool, huh?

Did I mention that I love my Husband? I probably should. I believe I owe him a chocolate cake, or something like that…

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A Jedi Jacket, an Atlas Apron and a Dream Coming True.

The land the sun forgot. That’s where I live these days.

Thankfully, it hasn’t been getting me down. The form has been steadily upbeat of late which I am attributing to my recent discovery of Evening Primrose Oil. That, and a long list of enjoyable indoor projects to keep my gaze averted from the sodden garden.

My only gripe is that it’s almost impossible to photograph, and therefore to show you, my projects.

I have a new niece or nephew (don’t know which yet) on the way so I indulged myself in the very best kind of knitting: garter stitch in newborn size. The pattern calls this a baby kimono but my kids have christened it the Baby Jedi jacket.

Baby Jedi Jacket.

This is a free pattern which you can find here. I’ve been researching complementary Baby Jedi hats. This Princess Leia Beanie is superb.

My favourite apron is in tatters. I’ve been loathe to part with it but the button of my jeans has worn a whole in the middle which makes it look as though I’m about to burst, incredible hulk style, out of my clothes.

I took a trip to town with the intention of buying some hard-wearing, practical, striped cotton.Alas, my inner map-junkie prevailed.

Atlas Apron.

So, now I look like a walking globe armed with spoons.

I’m not the greatest seamstress so I am quite proud of this creation, in particular my pattern-matched, equatorial pocket. Naturally, this is an Ireland-centric atlas-apron.

We demolished and rebuilt this house in 2011 but it is far from finished. Husband has a to-be-completed list which seems to grow annually. I am beside myself with excitement at the moment because we are tackling one of the biggest tasks on his list which also happens to be my heart’s greatest desire.

We drew a space on our house plans and labelled it ‘pantry’ but we never had the funds to furnish it. We bought a couple of second-hand shelf units on and stacked the weetabix willy-nilly.

Here are some unedited, untidied, not-even-wiped-clean, before photos.


Sigh. I’m a hopeless housewife.

Anyway, moving swiftly along, here are some equally unedited work-in-progress photos:


Husband is project manager/carpenter while I am chief painter/measuring-tape-locater. It’s working out grand. Tune in next week to discover whether the pantry is completed or the marriage wrecked. It could go either way.

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A Fairy Happy Birthday.

fair garden welcome gate

The Small Girl’s birthday began with a note from her fairy friends, Buttercup and Apple Blossom. They have been visiting out house, via a special netherworld passageway, for several years now. They can be relied upon to exchange teeth for money although they have, on occasion, taken quite a few days to turn up. Once in a blue moon they leave a tiny note with a special message which, as you can well imagine, leaves us all in a state of high excitement.

fairy door

Buttercup and Apple Blossom had shocking news. Their forest home has been over run by tourists and so, much to our delight, they have taken up residence in the base of our tree house. Can you believe how lucky we are?!

fairy windows

They’ve even told the Small Girl that, while they must hide away during the day, she is welcome to visit their garden.

fair garden welcome gate

Unfortunately, their (lollipop stick) picnic table and Adirondack chair and (Lego) tyre swing are all a little too little for us to use…

fairy garden

…and they have requested that we water the flowers from time to time.

fairy garden in terracotta pot

As they just happened to have moved in on her birthday, they left a tiny surprise for the Small Girl…


…hidden from view and from the pouring rain.


Those might be the most valued enchanted story cubes on the planet.

We decided the fairy door deserved a few stickers as a Thank You to the fairies.

fairy door

Small Girl asked for, ‘chocolate cake with Smarties and marshmallows on top.’

That is precisely what she got, with a fairy of course to guard against thieves.




The Looting Of Doon.

the loot from Doon

Yesterday, I poured out the mixed emotions stoked up in my lapsed Catholic soul by the auction at the convent of Doon. You can read that here.

I promised to return with the loot of Doon and here I am. Actually, here is Husband despairingly trying to fit the loot in to the boot.

loot from Doon.

I see a tow bar and trailer in our future. Well, I hope I do.

Pause a moment.We had to pull into a farmer’s gate on the way home to admire the Rock Of Cashel.  The area around Cashel is known as The Golden Vale and it is surprisingly beautiful if you can bear to leave the main Cork-Dublin road.


Down to the business of treasure hunting.

Lot #1 Tray of cutlery. You might be surprised to hear that this is precisely what I was hoping to find at the auction. My children, following years of admonishment to clear their plates, eat their spoons. They must do, there can be no other explanation for the chronic dearth of cutlery in my drawer. So, mine was the first hand raised in the chapel of Doon and the restaurateurs and dealers, who were after the good silver, let me have it all for 5 euro. Oh, the scintillating thrill of it. I was ecstatic.



Lot #299, Fireside chair and formica tea trolley. I couldn’t believe my luck. Not a soul bid against me and I got the pair for 10 euro.

trolley to paint, up-cycle, dolly-up the trolley

I had a moment of self-doubt as I realised that I had just filled the car with one enthusiastic wave of my bidding card. Then, I wondered why no-one else wanted them. I had spotted the trolley on our tour and my eagle-eyed Husband noticed that the formica was not an original feature.


Looking better already:


I’ve given it a temporary home but there are up-cycling plans afoot…


I only wanted the trolley but I could hardly look a gift chair in the mouth. Husband took one look and disparaged it as a ‘nun’s chair‘. Ermmm, yes… exactly so.


It will need some work but has claimed its position at the fireside.


I bought two cardboard boxes labelled as assorted lots. Together, they cost 31 euros and contained (below, from back left):a black plastic urn (?!), a thermos flask, 5 cake tins, a teapot, a bucket, a plastic lunchbox, a christmas plant container, a glass vase, a stainless steel tray, a cooling rack, a kidney dish (oh, yes indeed), a nut cracker, an enamel casserole (love it!), 2 votive candle holders, a measuring jug, a sugar bowl, 2 sherry glasses, a brass teapot, a rolling pin, 4 matching (nice daisy pattern) dinner plates, 1 salad plate, 3 side plates and small serving plate, a matching (very pretty pussy willow pattern from Royal Tara) china cup, 2 saucers, plate and sugar bowl, a shamrock pattern china jug, a shamrock pattern small mug (Arklow) AND a butter dish which was the thing I was after.the loot from Doon

Husband bid on the three wooden boxes at the back and got them for 20 euros. They were all in the sacristy. The pine box was clearly used to hold blessed palm for Palm Sunday.


The middle box seems very old. It’s stamped with the words Hamilton, Long & Co. , 3 Lr Sackville st., Dublin.


Ireland-DUBLIN-Grafton-Street-1907-PPC-Medical-Hall-Hamilton-Long-Co-tram-15A google search revealed that Hamilton Long and Co. was an apothecary and purveyor of mineral water. Sackville Street became O’Connell street in 1924 but Hamilton and Co. had already moved to Grafton street by 1917, where the became a Medical Hall, a chemist, and now, a pharmacy. All much the same thing, of course. What do you think they were sending from Dublin to the convent? My guess is olive oil.

In any case, the box has woodworm and has been quarantined on the back porch until we get around to giving it a dose of something.

The third box is my favourite.The hinges and lock have been pilfered which is a great shame. I can’t even imagine how this found its way to the sacristy of Doon.


This was only my second experience of auction sales but I think I have the bug. It’s a complete roller-coaster. It’s tough if you set your heart on something and don’t get it, particularly if you miss out by only a small bid or two. There is some satisfaction when an item you spot is sold for a fortune. On the other hand, the adrenalin buzz when you succeed is worth all the waiting around.

Of course, then you have to go home and clean it all up. I’m off now to dolly up my trolley.

As for The Goblet Of Doom…any takers?


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Easter Table.

Easter. I love it.

Easter table decoration

The light is lovely. The air is fresh. The world seems clean and new.


Flowers are peeping out from under ditches, on river banks, in random corners of the garden and I am ready, waiting to pounce, with my secateurs and a large collection of empty jam jars.


Spring flowers seem to be the most emotionally and symbolically loaded. My first flat came with a garden full of bluebells. Put a bunch of bluebells in my hand and I am, as if my magic, nineteen again.


Primrose. Even the name is so pretty.


We have a weird table. It’s huge and wide in the middle. Generously proportioned, I like to think. Husband and I invested in a lovely pine table when we married. I remember the day so well. It seemed, to me, to be the most important piece of furniture and we completely blew our budget.We had very romantic notions about scrubbed pine but, happily enough, our family outgrew it. The romantic pine table is stowed in the attic and this is a recycled boardroom table that came from my parents-in-law’s attic. Such is the cycle of kitchen tables.

Easter Table Setting

IMG_9812IMG_9825Anenome coronaria

Oh, bluebells.


We are fortunate people with plenty to celebrate. So, we did.


There was  soya poached salmon with ginger avocado salsa from Rachel Allen’s Entertaining At Home. There are no photos (except the raw greens below) because my gusets arrived early and threw me into a tizzy. My in-laws have NEVER been early! I was still in the flipping shower. sigh.

It was good though, really good, and light enough to leave room for double desserts.


Jelly and custard trifle…

Jelly and custard trifle

…with sprinkles of course.


Galaxy golden eggs on top of the best, easiest chocolate mousse cake ever…

Trish Deseine Chocolate Mousse cake

…if you don’t believe me try it yourself. It’s a Trish Deseine recipe. Find it here. Seriously, make it.

Trish Deseine Chocolate Mousse Cake

Middle Girl learned to play Happy Birthday especially for her Grandad.


Too much wine and the focus softens…


…oops, definitely too much wine!

IMG_9862IMG_9867Trish Deseine chocolate mousse cakeIMG_9865

Easter. Yes, I love it.

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