solstice memories

Katherine still loves her penguins

Trying to get used to this new editing page with its blocks and new steps I am having a difficult time… 🙁 But I must adapt to changes no matter how challenging this one is for me. It took me hours to create my last post but I will give it another go.

Today was a very emotional day for me. I took all the decorations off of the solstice tree, the best tree we’ve ever had. It was a Fraser fir. It smelled amazing! Its branches were strong enough to hold the glass bead garland my sister made for me years ago. I had such a good time decorating it with Tim, using all my white, silver and clear glass ornaments. A white skirt resembling snow. A white owl on top and a white fox curled up in the snow underneath it.

Katherine with the snow orb tree behind her

And while I was at it, I sorted through all the decorations I’ve been hoarding over the years and donated at least half of them. It’s funny when I think I’ve made so much progress simplifying my life and I still find object collections that have yet to be minimized. Now I have kept only the ones that truly “spark joy,” as Japanese decluttering author Marie Kondo teaches.

This holiday season was extra special for us. Nate & Shea haven’t been home to celebrate since they moved to Georgia in 2011, and Larisa & Dima were last here for the holidays in 2014. It was interesting how it worked out because we usually have our niece and her teenagers and my sister and her husband here for Christmas day but this year all of them couldn’t make it for one reason or another. We missed them!

It was wonderful having a house full of children again. I will especially remember the brisk winter walks we took. Also the first time Finn smiled at me, his whole face lighting up when he heard my voice, and holding my sleeping snuggle bug for hours… Getting two temporary PJ Masks tatoos from Katherine ~ Owlette is her favorite character from that show. She also introduced me to Puffin Rock, which has to be the most adorable children’s show ever. (It’s Irish but it can be seen on Netflix.) Katherine and I had some special moments together as she talks well enough to tell me about her life. I love listening to her observations. One time she darted down the stairs and exclaimed, “Grammy’s the best!” Talk about melting my heart…

Nate & Shea brought their nephews Julius and Dominic and they were sometimes here, too, when they weren’t visiting other Connecticut relatives, of which they have many! Julius, in his teens now, loved my meatloaf, which forever endeared me to him, and Dominic is so curious and active, he’s 10 after all, and interested in how families are related, cousins and all that. His main objective for this trip was to see snow for the first time. His chance came at 3 o’clock in the morning one day, and he was awakened to see flurries, but not the blizzard we were hoping for.

Dominic and Finn ~ Shea is Dominic’s aunt and Nate is Finn’s uncle. That makes them cousins, sort of, right?

Dominic and Katherine hit it off ~ it was fun to watch them interact and listen to their conversations. Nate, Shea and I took them to a holiday light fantasia which they both enjoyed very much.

One night Shea cooked us a lovely pork dinner, and another night Larisa cooked a chicken pie. Dima saved the day on Christmas when I suddenly realized I hadn’t even thought about dessert! All the stores were closed. He scrounged around in my pantry and was able to make some gluten-free chocolate-chip cookies, using a chocolate bar for the chips. It was great having Dima’s parents join us for that day, too. We all enjoyed the crazy gift basket tradition we have. Instead of exchanging presents we fill baskets with little items and take turns pawing through them to fish out whatever we’d like to take home with us. Some gag gifts, some treasures ~ it’s always fun.

And Nate helped Tim with his honey-do list. My pantry door stays closed now, the bathroom door no longer squeaks, the hole in the kitchen ceiling is patched and the dartboard is hung securely.

It was a wonderful two weeks!

a new (to me) bird and my snuggle bug

Carolina wren ~ Image source: AnimalSpot.net

11.30.18 ~ Finn, my snuggle bug, four weeks old, last day of visit ~ photo by Larisa

Home again… After almost two months in North Carolina helping out with the arrival of Finn we are finally back in Connecticut, savoring memories and looking forward to the holidays. I already miss playing with Katherine and snuggling with Finn every day.

One of the many delightful things that happened during my visit was discovering Carolina wrens. I’m pretty sure it was one in particular that kept singing outside my window. And another male answering from a bit farther away. Identifying their territories presumably. Then one day while I was sitting on the couch and cuddling Finn I saw the little bird out on the porch singing the familiar tune. Now I could identify him! I’ve never seen one in Connecticut. The afternoon before leaving I was washing dishes under the open kitchen window when the wren landed on a bush right in front of me and sang once again. A lovely good-bye gift.

Finn

Finn

Little grandson Finn has been home for a few days now and we are all very busy! His name is Irish, given to him as a nod to his family’s year in Ireland, where he was conceived.

Finn McCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill) was a legendary Irish giant who fought the Scottish giant Benandonner, who was threatening Ireland. Larisa, Dima and Katherine visited the Giant’s Causeway while they were in Ireland.

A blessing for a brother written by John O’Donohue:

The knowing that binds us
Is older than the apostrophe of cell
We formed from within the one womb.

All that flowed into us there
From the red village of ancestry
Sowed spores of continuity
That would one day flower
Into flickers of resemblance:

An unconscious gesture
Could echo an ancestor,
And the look of us stir
Recognition of belonging
That is ours alone;

And our difference finding
Its own rhythm of strangeness,
Leading us deeper into a self
That would always know its own
Regardless of difficulty and distance;
And through hurt no other could inflict;

Still somehow beside each other
Though the night is dark
With wind that loves
To clean the bones of ruins,
Making further room for light.

~ John O’Donohue
(To Bless the Space Between Us)

green space

“The Younger Brother” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin flowers. And the frisky ones — inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones — rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.
~ Mary Oliver
(Upstream: Selected Essays)

baby boy!

Our new little grandson arrived yesterday afternoon! After an evening of trick-or-treating Larisa went into labor, only a few hours past her due date. She wound up having a Cesarean, but she and baby are all right. 8 lbs, 4 oz, 20.25 inches! When I was allowed into the recovery room he was already nursing contentedly. He has beautiful gray eyes, which I enjoyed gazing into as I rocked him. I’m in love.

And Tim got the best birthday present ever! A grandson born on his birthday!

due date

Larisa ~ 10.31.18 ~ Chapel Hill, North Carolina

The due date has arrived! It seems this baby plans on being late, too. Larisa is very uncomfortable and trying her best to be patient.

Tim has returned from Connecticut and has resumed taking Katherine to and from daycare. I’m doing laundry and cooking and we’ve both been helping out where needed.

Katherine is excited about Halloween and her best friend is coming over soon to go trick-or-treating with her. We have birthday celebrations scheduled for the next two days and another one next week. (Tim, Dominic and Dima) Lots of activity and a bit too much stimulation for me, but I’m pacing myself with periodic escapes to my room.

Dima got an early birthday present from his family, a combination smoker and grill. We’ve been having some fantastic dinners while we continue to wait for baby. 🙂

rainy night and toad

10.16.18 ~ Katherine with toad ~ photo by Dima

So, I’ve been in North Carolina for almost two weeks now, spending lots of time with Katherine and helping out her parents as best I can. Tim, too, but he left very early this morning and made it all the way home to Connecticut this evening! He’ll be back, though, after taking care of a few obligations.

Larisa has been pretty miserable but now that the shingles is improving she’s feeling a little better. This morning she remembered that my friend, an interpreter, told us that in Spanish pregnancy is called “la dulce espera,” the sweet wait. I hope these last couple of weeks will be sweeter now.

On the day tropical storm Michael arrived here, Katherine observed her Grandpa frequently tracking the storm on his weather app. She happened to be outside when the first raindrops fell so she rushed inside, so excited, and exclaimed, “Tell Grandpa the storm is here!” And so it was. We listened to the torrential rain and from her bedroom window watched the ferocious wind pelt the lower roof with twigs and branches.

We lost power late in the afternoon, 45 minutes before the pot roast was done. We ate it anyway, and it was delicious. We each had a flashlight to navigate in the dark. When it stopped raining we took our flashlights and went out for a walk in the dark. Katherine had colorful flashing lights on her rain boots which made it easy to keep track of her. Dima’s flight was diverted to Atlanta so he didn’t make it home until the next day. Our power came back around noon the next day, too.

Our niece and her husband learned that their house, of newer and more hurricane-resistant construction, was spared. They returned to help their neighbors and search for missing persons. They even had a story written about their efforts in The New York Times!

Katherine still loves to take her nature walks, even in the dark. One night her father spotted a toad and took the picture above. So much wonder in the world!

And the sweet wait continues…

Hurricane Michael

NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite provided this visible image of Hurricane Michael after it made landfall in the Florida panhandle on Oct. 10. Credit: NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS)/ NOAA

If we were still in Connecticut this major hurricane would not be affecting us. But since we are in North Carolina we have what is now Tropical Storm Michael raging outside today.

The storm first became very interesting to us because our niece, who just got married last month, lives in Panama City Beach, Florida, with her new husband. They evacuated, of course, with their three kitties, and fled to North Carolina to stay with her parents (Tim’s brother and sister-in-law). So the four of them came up here to Larisa’s for dinner last night, and we sat around the table for hours looking at the pictures people had shared online of the devastation in their area. Presumably taken after the tempest had passed. Several buildings near their home were severely damaged and a brick and mortar middle school was a pile of rubble. No pictures of what might be left of their home as of last night. They are very close to where the eye made landfall.

We’re waiting for more news…

Tim & I are down here helping Larisa while Dima is on a business trip. Larisa is in a lot of pain but is putting on a brave front. We all hope this baby decides to come sooner than later! Since Katherine wanted me to play with her this morning it fell on Tim to follow my recipe and start a pot roast in the slow cooker. Hope we don’t lose power! Dima should be home tonight unless the storm interferes with his flight…

Rock Close ~ Druid’s Cave ~ Wishing Steps ~ Witch’s Kitchen ~ Witch Stone ~ Fairy Glade ~ Where Two Rivers Cross

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland

If you look closely you will see me peeking from through the doorway. Another enchanted forest lies beyond this wall. This post is going to be terribly long but it was impossible to edit it down any more than I have. 🙂

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland

There were paths and stone steps leading every which way between boulders and gnarly trees. Following the map provided was more than a little confusing.

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland

But an occasional sign would sometimes give us a clue as to our whereabouts.

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland

Druid’s Cave
Said to once be the home of a religious hermit who was fed and cared for by the Jefferyes family… it may well have sheltered many others through the centuries.

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ entrance to Druid’s Cave

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ inside of Druid’s Cave

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ window at the back of Druid’s Cave

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ looking at the window (looks like a black hole near the bottom of the picture) from the outside of Druid’s Cave

The roots of the trees, I think most of them were Yews, were growing around the stones, and their branches made huge canopies over the rock formations.

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland

Wishing Steps

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ looking down the Wishing Steps

For hundreds of years, the Blarney Witch has taken
firewood from our Estate for her kitchen.
In return, she must grant our visitors wishes.

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ at the bottom of the Wishing Steps

If you can walk down and back up these steps with your eyes closed — some suggest walking backwards — and without for one moment thinking of anything other than a wish, then that wish will come true within a year.

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ looking left from the exit of the Wishing Steps

We say only that the steps can be slippery and that we take no responsibility…

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ cannot remember what this was…

Witch’s Kitchen

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ Witch’s Kitchen

Historians will tell you that this was home to the very first Irish cave dwellers.

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ Witch’s Kitchen

But if you arrive early enough in the morning,
you may still see the dying embers of a fire.

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ Witch’s Kitchen

Firewood, paid for by your wishes on the Wishing Steps,
is lit every night by the Witch of Blarney,
as she fights to stop shivering on her
nocturnal escape from the Witch Stone.

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ Witch’s Kitchen

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ another leprechaun bridge!

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ another friendly robin

Witch Stone
It takes little imagination to see who is imprisoned here.
The Witch of Blarney has been with us since the dawn of time.
Some say it was she who first told the MacCarthy of the power of the Blarney Stone.
Fortunately for visitors,
she only escapes the witch stone after nightfall — and we close at dusk.

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ Witch Stone

Fairy Glade

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland

The faerie folk of Ireland are famed the world over for their mischief and charm.

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland

They have of course been here longer than any of us and it is
our duty to keep them safe in this special glade.

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland

They do, however, have a native cunning.

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ we just missed seeing the fairy who darted inside and firmly closed the door

So if you spot one, don’t let it be fooling you.

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ more tempting paths to follow

There is so much to see at Blarney Castle & Gardens! Of the 14 things we could have seen here at Rock Close we saw only 5 of them. Elsewhere on the castle grounds there are more gardens, arboretums, woodland and riverside walks, the Blarney House… I could go on. There’s no way to see all this in a single day. I do hope I get to return here some day.

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ so many majestic trees…

On our way out something else caught our interest:

Where Two Rivers Cross

Prior to 1870, the River Blarney joined the River Martin near the Rock Close,
but the course of the river was altered and the gradient was changed
to increase the outflow of water when Inchancumain Bog was drained.
The River Blarney was re-directed under the River Martin,
which was channelled overhead via a short aqueduct.

2.5.18 ~ Rock Close, Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ where two rivers cross

At the point where the River Blarney emerges can be seen
the remains of an old flax mill.
It is a rare occurrence really in that one does not often find
a place where one river passes under another.
As a matter of interest,
the River Martin was known as the River Aumartin in the 1600’s
while the River Blarney was known as the River Whey.

Larisa picked us up and we headed back to her home. My cold by now had reached the runny nose phase and I went to bed early. Later that night Tim’s brother Josh arrived from England to visit with us for a few days. But this is the end of my photos.

The next day we went into Cork’s city center and spent the day shopping and visiting different pubs. It’s all a blur to me now because I left my camera at home and spent the day blowing my nose and feeling miserable. But I did manage to find some connemara marble for my sister!

And the day after that I stayed in bed while the others went to the Titanic Experience Cobh and saw Josh off at the airport later that day. That night Tim & I spent our last delightful evening with Katherine and her wonderful au pair, Anna, while Dima & Larisa went out on a date.

We arrived home on a Thursday and flew down to Georgia on Friday. Not pleasant flying so much with a clogged head! As it turned out Shannon had a sinus infection so we sat around talking ~ misery loves company. Tim and Nate were puttering around tending to techie projects and bringing us food. One afternoon we got ourselves out to a flea market and then a nice dinner out. And it was good seeing Julius and Dominic again ~ I cannot believe how much they have grown!

We flew home on Tuesday and I had my final radiation treatment on Wednesday. Phew! That was quite a vacation!

Today old man winter came back for a morning visit and left us 4 more inches of snow. A perfect day to snuggle in and finally finish these posts about our trips to Ireland and Georgia.