May, time of new beginnings.

Well Folks, in my previous post  17 for 2017 I announced a ‘life-changing event’ and indicated I would write more about this around the end of February. So much for good intentions. On the other hand, life-changing stuff may take a little longer to materialize!
18425317_1519628678059926_5100811551633772626_nBut finally I have all my ducks in a row, so to speak, and am happy to announce my new status of ‘Lady of Leisure’. It took quite a while: an ‘early retirement’ option from my job was offered last November and only a few applicants would get it. My fingers (and toes) have been crossed for 4 months until I found out mid-February that I was one of the Lucky Few. But still no clue as to when my new life would start, that news only came end of March. I knew then I would be a ‘free woman’ by Mayday! Good things happen in May, as you can read in previous posts.

 

I feel that I need to explain a little why I chose to take this option. In the last few years my job had become more and more a burden to me, at times making me unhappy and stressed. Looking back now I also remember that I used to love my job. When I started working with people with ‘intellectual disabilities’ it was really all about supporting them to live life to the full extend of their abilities. In theory that is still the case, but in recent years regulations and the amount of paperwork required to prove the standard of quality we deliver are getting in the way of actually providing that level of support. Frontline staff are stretched to the limit as they try to keep up with the ever increasing responsibilities of their role and demanding nature of their work. As carers it is easier to advocate for the people in our care, than to stand up for ourselves. And when ‘management’ does not seem to listen or  does not understand that they need a happy, content and supported work-force in order to give the best support and happy lives to the people using the ‘services’, it becomes even harder. At this stage of my life I feel I have made my contribution, tried to improve my work-situation and possibly contributed to some improvements. But overall I had lost the energy and optimism with which I started out so many years ago. Time for others to take over…. time for me to recharge my batteries in other fields.

So what now?   Basket making, sheep herding, turf footing, vegetable growing, giving in to creative impulses and generally enjoying life, I guess!!! And plenty time now to work on that list of intentions of 17 for 2017 ! Although….in these first two weeks of my free-from-job status, I think I have been busier than I was ever before ! I have 2 Willow Workshops coming up, we are footing turf  and I am helping to organize a tea party for charity. Oh and trying to keep up with all the sowing and planting that needs to be done NOW. Meanwhile ….. trying to stay relaxed….that’s what it was all about, right?

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17 for 2017

Inspired by Wild Daffodil and others I decided that a list of intentions for this year would help accomplish them or at least order my thoughts.I am very optimistic about the coming year on a personal level – not letting the global perspective bring me down – as there are many options on the horizon. Most of the seeds were sown in previous years and just need some further nurturing to grow and some new ideas are looking to materialize. I tried to be realistic and not aim too low either. Interesting to see at the end of the year how much has been accomplished.

17. Sow and grow 17 different vegetables.   This one should be easy. I didn’t count what we grew last year, but it seems feasible.

16.Make 16 pots of jam or chutney. Most of these will be given away as presents.

15. Give away 15 home grown plants. Most likely these will be edible and will go to our local GIY group.

14. Have a stall at 14 markets. The Cottage Market in Headford will account for the bulk of this: Paddy’s Day and every First Saturday of the month there-after. The rest will be local craft-markets and seasonal market days.

13. Complete 13 basket orders. Before the summer starts I hope to have finished all the orders I have taken on so far.

12. Write at least one blog every month. Here’s the first one!

11. Bake 11 times. Cakes, breads, brownies, I like baking and sharing them.This accidentally landed at number 11, so here goes.

10. Enjoy 10 nights-out: concerts, plays, even dinner out counts. I have already enjoyed an information evening about Headford Lace and a celebration of ‘La Fheile Bhride’coming up. Need to get out more, but this one may be the easiest to fullfil.

9. Make 9 craftworks with non-willow materials: weaving with paper, crochet, knitting, anything goes.

8. Introduce the dog to 8 new experiences. The present dog is a rescue and affraid of anything new. I am guessing she had no socialisation when young. The car is scary, cows are scary, people are until you get to know them, etc. Short car-trips and visits nearby have already helped a bit. I intend to take her on walks a little further from home and maybe play in the water somewhere. Small steps.

7. Teach 7 workshops in Dunmore. These will be in Seomra Eile, on Saturdays and the schedule can be found elsewhere on this site. Very organised in this case!

6. Complete 6 items in a new ‘fashion range’: a combination of knitting and basketry, handbags with matching purses. To be ready for the christmas markets.

5. Complete 5 planned back-yard improvement projects. Put up a railing, add raised beds, replace the willow fence, improve chickencoop fence and move chickencoop door. There are ofcourse many more improvement ideas for front and back garden, but if these get done this year, there is some hope that the others will get done eventually too.

4. Find 4 new outlets: 2 new venues for  teaching workshops, and 2 more sales-outlets for baskets. Maybe this is a modest number?

3. Learn 3 new skills. We are starting with a woodturning course….tomorrow! and maybe willow sculpture??? And what will the third one be??? Exciting!

2. Take two basketry courses. These are already booked: going to the ‘master’ Joe Hogan in March and my friend Amanda Rayner in Wales will teach how to make a coffin in November. Both are 4-day courses and feel like a treat to myself. I am tempted to extend the Wales trip by a few days…. we will see.

1. Make one big life change. Have I got your attention? This could be anything! But I am keeping this one under my hat for now. I can reveal more by the end of February, so that could be my next post!

Picking a tree in bad weather

We are just recovering from storms Barney and Desmond and Christmas is around the corner. In the midst of bad weather the tree-hunter decided it was time to find a tree for the festivities. As he searched and looked up the rain was in his eyes. He thought the top-part of this one would make a suitable specimen and quickly cut it and brought it home. Only then did he realize the deception of looking upward in the rain: it had long branches at the bottom and at the top, but only mini-ones in the middle.

His first impulse was to go out again and find another, but I did not want to waste this one. Sure, didn’t I have plenty branches to fix it! Willow or dogwood would do the trick, and a bit of weaving!

Here is the Before:   
SDC16923… and the solution…

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and the result!

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A HAPPY CHRISTMAS FROM THE WILLOW WITCH, THE SIDEKICK AND SAILI THE DOG.

Cheer up, create ….. something.

I wrote the following a few weeks ago, about mid-November, but didn’t have the photos to go with it. Perhaps it was predominantly Winter-blues that made me feel low in the first place, but even though the days are still getting shorter and the weather is ‘cat’, the Christmas-cheer is firmly taking hold now. More on that in the next blog.

When you are involved in the care of others, privately or professionally, you are considered to be doing a ‘great job’ and we do our best. But when you make a mistake, however small, un-intended, or with the best of intentions, that mistake counts far greater than all the good you have done. Because it can negatively affect a person who is dependent on your care. Not reacting fast enough, accurate enough, detailed enough, attentive enough can cause discomfort. A small mistake or short-coming can undo much of the good work you are doing, even in your own opinion. Or more precisely: especially in my own opinion!

So, pondering over my shortcomings towards my fellow humans and without much I could do about it, I was feeling pretty low for a few days. Needed to cheer up and get on with things! Help was on its way, I thought, in the form of a parcel. A few weeks ago I treated myself to an on-line order of food-stuff from Holland, my native country. The minimum postage is for 20 kg, so there’s a great incentive to use up the weight you are paying for! My order came to about 16 kg, and a massive 50 items. After a loooong wait, the big box finally arrived one day. Under the watchful eye of The Sidekick the items were unpacked. Coffee, biscuits, cheese, chocolate, pickles, peanut-butter, drop, selected herbs and sauces, anything a Dutch person-living-abroad craves from time to time. It was all well wrapped and travelled well, except for the Droste cacoa. About ¼ of the chocolate powder was spread around the box, but no matter. The only minor disappointment were the chocolate letters, a December tradition (bottom right). They arrived in Milk-chocolate, though I had ordered Dark. Hard enough to get quality dark chocolate in these parts! But The Sidekick likes it, so it’s an early Christmas for him.20151117_151248

The arrival of all these goodies only worked a small way towards cheering me up while I had a taste of this and that. After the unveiling the Sidekick decided to go to his own abode for a while and then I realised, in spite of all the goodies, I had nothing out for the dinner, no meat defrosted! Shock, horror. We decided he would return later and we’d drive to town for a take-away. Comfort Food, just what I needed!

An hour later I was ready to go, but storm Barney had gathered momentum by now and it seemed stupid to face this monster, just for a take-away. Phoned The Sidekick, who was relieved he didn’t have to drive in the storm and quickly agreed. I would Cook-From-Scratch, as they say: I had 2 eggs, potatoes and a can of tuna. Joined by our late harvest of tomatoes and our own onions and garlic I turned this into a Spanish Tortilla (omelette) accompanied by Tuna in tomato-sauce. And some of my Dutch cheese melted on top of the Tortilla at the finish.(in fact, the tuna and cheese were the only items we had not grown ourselves) As I was getting underway with my food-creation I caught myself humming! Not comfort food, but creative food was cheering me up.

After dinner I found a post on facebook on how to crochet a Christmas decoration. Link here, I hope

I haven’t crocheted in about……20 or 30 years. Have lots of wool, cotton and other leftover yarns lying around and inherited a well equipped sowing-box from my mother. It didn’t take long to gather tools and materials to get started. As it had been so long, it took all my attention and distracted me completely from my worries. Even with my lack of experience, it still came out looking ok.

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So give it a try, if you need cheering up: get creative.

For good measure I then made a few baskets and decorations with willow, dogwood and date-palm.

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New arrivals cause commotion

The arrival of my new materials recently – 12 half bundles of beautiful graded willow rods (4 and 5 foot Green Dicks, 4,5,7 and 8 foot Black Maul) – has caused quite a stir in the shed. For lack of a good spot, they ended up leaning against one of the doors, with the door locked to avoid someone  knocking the whole lot by entering. SDC16449The shed is divided in 3 parts. Behind the first door is the turf-supply, just brought in for the winter. The space behind theSDC16435 two other doors is divided in two by a low wall. I use it for basket making, my friends have used it as a smoke-room. It is supposed to be a workshop and storage for gardening + DIY-tools, but ended up cluttered by you-name-it and what-ever-u-fancy.To find a tool you had to dig your way through paint-cans, cushions, old chairs, bicycles and a lawnmower. High time for a change: I decided to end the confusion once and for all: on one side of the low wall will be all the tools, paint and other DIY stuff, available for ‘the public‘ to use. On the other side of the wall will be my willow studio, needless to say with ‘restricted access‘!!! I worked like a mad-woman and after 3 days the tools are in the right place and so is the willow. Still more clearing to do, mainly hanging more shelves on the walls. The hardest part was to figure out where everything could go, making the most of the space. Today we finally figured where the steamer for the willow can go, without losing the space needed for storing this years’ supply of home-grown willow! The willow will be raised off the floor, on a wide shelf, with a railing to keep it in place. Well, it makes sense to us! Will show ye the photos when its ready.SDC16452 SDC16448

Meanwhile I started working with the new supply of willow and its a treat! Had to use what I had soaked, before going off to Spain for a few days…….The Witch is going South and not just to escape the despicable Irish weather. Weaving by the Sea is where I will be. A basket-making course beside the beach, what could be better? Learning new techniques, getting a tan and enjoying the scenery. Magic or what?  I am on my broomstick tomorrow, expect sunny photos in my next blog! Mo.

Auction-bed, internet.

The witch is floored !

Was it a draft in the tent at Castletown Summerfestival, or just a change of temperature as the doctor suggested? Either way I am in bed with a throat infection, a cold and an aching ear. Or as someone said: you have a bad dose!  11705526_862901803795050_3297110389273009465_o

Double-back for a moment: Demonstrating the craft of basket-making in Ballyglunin was great fun! Several people came up to ask questions, took my leaflets or had stories of fathers and grandfathers who used to make baskets.The highlight of the day was weaving ‘fishes’ with the kids. The concentration while they were making a fish and the pride in the finished product was endearing.  I also ran into people I hadn’t seen for years and hearing how I inspired someone (who in turn inspired others) to take up college as a mature student was just the cherry on the cake. My basket-making may inspire others again, who knows.

Back to the present day. Being sick can be very boring, there’s only so much sleeping you can do, but with no energy what else do you do? I had previously planned to go to a local Antiques Auction, which was now out of the question.

I have always loved antiques, was surrounded by them growing up. My mother had a dinky little shop, just across from the zoo in my native city, with antiques and curiosities. Some of the stuff meant for the shop would end up in our house. She also loved going to auctions. Though I don’t remember ever joining her at an auction, I seem to have inherited the ‘gra’.

I love the atmosphere of an auction room. In spite of being potential rivals, ‘regulars’ are sociable and greet one another.Then there’s the buzz of getting what you want, for the lowest possible price. I always set myself a limit, so overspending is not very likely. If anything, I am sometimes too hesitant and miss the opportunity. In hindsight I often regret not going one more bid! But still, I have acquired some lovely items and was very pleased with the prices I paid. After all, it’s just for fun. As one other regular said: we come here to spend money on things we don’t need at all! True.

So it is mostly a social event and I was disappointed I couldn’t go. This time there were a lot of items I was interested in, including several lots of…..baskets. I decided to send my bids by e-mail, but that means your maximum bid is known from the start and you will not have the pleasure of ‘winning’ it any cheaper. Or deciding to go higher in order to get it. And then I came upon the latest advanced technology: Live Internet Bidding. This local crowd have joined a British website, where you can join the auction live from your laptop and bid from home in real time. You can make a wish-list for yourself as you browse the catalogue and even place an ‘Auto-bid’. The auctioneer does not know your maximum bid, so you go up in increments, as if you were doing the bidding yourself. While you follow the auction, with sound and pictures, you can also join the bidding with a click! 

So, yesterday I made my wishlist, chose my maximum auto-bid for the stuff I really wanted, changed the maximum for some items several times (sic) and ended up with a list that would cost me around €300 if I got it all. Whoops. Ah, not to worry. After a rather sleepless night, not from anticipation, but from ear-ache, I woke up shortly before the start of the event. I could not have picked a better way to occupy myself today. It was raining buckets outside and I had no energy for anything. My first auto-bid was very successful: an oak chair, for €6 under my maximum. And that was the only success! Everything else went for more than I was willing to pay. (Sorry my friend, you are not getting the blue wine-glasses, they were too dear 😉 ) I did a few live-bids too, but lost out to others.

All this from the comfort of my bed. The monotone voice of the auctioneer was perfect to put me to sleep whenever there were long breaks between my wish-list items. No real concentration needed, plenty of opportunities to doze off to the voice in the background. So, in spite of spending most of the day in bed I have been active and had a good day. Even my partner had something interesting to see whenever he popped in. Now all we have to do is collect the chair in the next few days. I intend to use it as my basket-making chair.

Growing, killing and making.

Growing willow seemed easy. It started with a few rods that came with the apple-trees, to support them during transport. These have now grown into proper trees, inside the hen-compound. When I learned about coppicing, to grow rods for baskets and living structures, I cut them down to shoulder height. I use the top half and the hens eat the leaves off the low branches. It seems only fair to share. The rest of my Saili-patch is outside the hen-house and gets cut down to the ground every year.SDC15987 SDC15950

Last year I saw the first signs of infestation, only in one tree, slightly isolated from the others. It was a white sticky cover, around the top of the trunk, at the start of the branches. And then I noticed that it moved!!!  Hundreds,  maybe thousands little white critters. I think they are white-fly or white aphids? I sprayed them off with water and hoped for the best.

However, they are back with a vengeance. The other trees inside the hen-compound are totally infested. Yesterday I carefully examined the Saili-patch and….. unfortunately the white monsters have spread to some of the plants there too. It seems that some types of willow are un-affected! But this time I am better prepared. I have a weapon of mass-destruction: it is called Garlic Tonic. No harm to plants, hens and environment, but many pests hate it!

Recipe: Crush about 3 cloves of garlic into 2-3 spoons of olive oil. Shake and leave to infuse overnight. After 24 hrs strain this into 1 liter water and add a teaspoon of washing-up liquid (Ecover is best for environment). Strain into a spray and spray liberally on the offending creatures! Additions of cinnamon or chilli-pepper have been advised, to make it even more potent, these need to be dissolved in hot water first. I make two liters every day and repeat spraying. The roses also thrive with this and it can be used on any plants or vegetables.

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Willow rods are soaking in the new troughs. To our delight, and admittedly a small bit of surprise, the troughs work perfectly, without any leakage to speak of! They fill up easily and it’s also easy to unscrew the cap on the drain-pipe to empty them. One of them is set up to be filled with rainwater, when the weather allows……. We took up the idea of a relative, to put a cover on top, so they can be used as seats also!

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This idea was appreciated by the house-mates!

And it proves to be a handy work-bench also, with enough room to have tools and materials right beside you, where you need them. In the right weather it is the ideal place to make baskets!!!

Fowl play

It is that time of year again: just when you think all is well and your hens are laying regularly, one of them decides to get broody. That means a cranky hen takes over the nest-box and prevents the others from laying eggs there!  This time the youngest of the hens started first.To stop her interference with the egg-production she was moved into an adapted rabbit hutch, and separated from the rest. Last year she was too restless and didn’t follow through, this time she sat patiently for 3 weeks and produced one chick, out of 3 eggs. At first we thought it was a boy: long tail-feathers being a clue. At about 8 weeks old it now looks more like a girl: wider tail feathers, comb looking small and no gills to show. It is notoriously difficult to sex newborn chicks, so we wait in anticipation: is it going to be for the pot, or increasing the flock as future egg-producer?

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Meanwhile a second hen took over the nest-box a few days ago and again brought the egg-laying to a halt. As the Maternity Ward is already occupied I had to come up with a new house for breeding. A chest of drawers was transformed into another ‘hutch’ with the bottom drawer left in for easy cleaning. Mommy is now happily sitting on her bed of straw, with 3 eggs under her. I found in the past that more eggs does not mean more chicks…..the very first time the mother was so busy fussing over the first 2 chicks, that she completely neglected the third one as it struggled its way out of the egg and then perished from the cold. The mothers can also be very clumsy and stand on their new children. Survival rate not great then. Last year saw the best egg-to-chick ratio: 3 survived out of 4 eggs. Alas, all were boys, which meant no expansion of the flock and a lot of fighting when they grew up. Noisy too, when they practiced crowing.SDC15732

But they all look cute when they are little.

Saili has arrived!

SDC16397Well, was it the new dog or the new job that got me distracted?SDC16392

I have neglected my blogging-duties and I blame the new pup! See for yourself, how can you resist that?

She came into our lives on May first and brought luck from the moment she arrived. A few days earlier I saw her picture on MADRA (Mutts Anonimus Dog Rescue and Adoption)’s facebook and fell in love! Those who know me see the resemblance with the previous dog, yes? I knew she’d be right for us, and I was right.

We weighed up the options for a name and finally settled on……Saili, pronounced as Sally. Yes, that’s also the name I use as willow witch. Crann Saili is willow tree in Irish. So there she was… and taking up all our attention.  Only a pup of about 5 months old, she started very shy and insecure. But soon got her confidence back: chewing everything in sight, running and jumping around the garden and following us everywhere! She is a real sweetheart, loves giving licks and hugs. If you go away for 5 minutes, the welcome back is as if you were gone for 5 weeks! Forget about nice cushions on the couch for a while: she already has most of them ripped. Forget about having space in the bed at night, she has discovered this is the best place to be! Forget about going to the toilet alone, this is a social event that calls for hugs as you’re sitting down! And the garden is a world full of wonderful discoveries…. what do you mean I can’t eat stones? The hens are regularly herded back into their pen, as she is a cross of Lab/Collie and knows her herding-instinct. Maybe make a great sheepdog one day…..if she gets over her fear of larger animals. One bark at the cows behind the fence and then a fast run inside!

SDC16389And the fella who said he was alright without a dog?

Judge for yourself,  inseparable now.