SEPTEMBER… THE MOST DELICIOUS MONTH

It happens usually in mid August.  There will be an evening when the air carries a little extra chill and suddenly you become aware that autumn is waiting in the wings of the day, just beyond your perception.  It is the gentlest of whispers, carried on the breeze that signals summer is in decline and we are actually slipping slowly and quietly into autumn.  My cats usually pick up on this subtle change in the air too and they have already staked out their favourite places to sleep in various parts of the house, their summer wanderlust exhausted.
Perhaps it’s our Celtic DNA but I have no doubt that the old Irish calendar is right and we are now in Mean Fomhair – the middle of autumn.  The leaves have yet to turn and the weather is still mild but summer is over.  We have arrived at the evening of the year.
September is a particularly delicious month.  After the slack routines and exertions of summer, order is restored as the children return to their studies.  The new academic year offers us all a chance for a new beginning.  Another chance to make the changes to our lives or lifestyles we may have pondered as we lay soaking up the rays of summer sunshine.  September is a hopeful month and yet a month that makes no demands of us with no festivals or bank holidays.  It is not surprising that in a recent survey in the UK less than one percent of those surveyed nominated September as the most stressful month of the year.  The most stressful honour went, unsurprisingly to January, followed closely by December.
But what makes September particularly worth savouring is that it is a month which signals a slowing down.  Autumn is when Mother Nature draws her energy inward, as the leaves fall and the earth prepares for the long winter sleep.  Me, I make preparations for the long winter nights.  September makes me look again at my living space to see how I might make it cosy and warm.  All it might take is a new throw for the sofa and a load of wood logs in the basket ready for the first fire.  By the end of the month I will have made the excursion under my bed to retrieve the storage boxes that hold my winter hoodies and fleeces, clothes that only require any old body as opposed to a supposedly ‘beach ready body’ we need for summer wear. Which is just as well as September is all about my kind of food.
In preparation for the frugal winter, nature is giving up her harvest.  Orchards are full of fallen apples and anyone can savour the rich bounty of the hedgerows which are now bursting with berries.  It is the month for apple and blackberry crumble and time to replace cream with warm custard.  It is the month when menus change – domestic ones anyway, with the welcome reintroduction of warming food like shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash and big pots of spicy vegetable soup.  Slowing down and comfort food, what more could you want?
But there is more.  September is also the most sensual of months.  The air smells different carrying perhaps a hint of wood smoke or bonfire.  The light softens, lending a warm glow to the landscape as the sun moves away from us.  The countryside and parks are a riot of autumnal colour in hues of russet and gold and red and orange.  It is a month to get out and walk, savouring the smells, the colours and the sound of leaves crunching underfoot.  And a chance to visit your inner child by reliving the thrill of finding and collecting pocketfuls of wine-red shiny chestnuts. 
September is like climbing into your own freshly made bed after a wonderful, busy, fun holiday.  It is like coming home after a hard day’s work to a warm welcoming house, closing your front door and knowing you won’t have to venture out into the world again till tomorrow.  It’s like putting on your comfiest slippers after a day in fabulous but rather painful shoes.  It’s the feeling that all is well with the world that sometimes comes with the first sip of red wine.  September is all about just being rather than doing. 

Maybe in a former life I was a bear.  Perhaps that is why I love this month so much.  But I am ready to waddle, book in one hand, hot chocolate in the other, into my fireside where I will park myself on a comfy chair, put a soft blanket over my legs and a cat on my lap and I will while away many happy evenings.  And best of all about September?  It precedes October.  Oh how I love October.  

ARE THERE ADVANTAGES TO A SOGGY SUMMER?

SUMMER THAT NEVER ARRIVED!

So here were are – into August and still not a sight, not a smell of summer.  We have been deluged every month and have only had the odd day here and there when we experienced blue sky, sunshine and heat, all at the same time!

Yes it has been depressing.  Yes it has made me realise that we really do reside on a damp, island in the North Atlantic when, in our hearts, many of us Irish are Mediterranean by nature.  Personally I think the Spanish Armada may have a lot to answer for.  We are temperamentally far more suited to the long languid balmy days of our Southern European cousins but instead we seem to be marooned on the wrong latitude complete with our wooden decks (a huge health and safety hazard when wet) and garden furniture.  We are possibly the only country in the world where Indian Sandstone patios are washed of all colour within 12 months of their being laid in our gardens. (If you ever think of laying an Indian Sandstone patio please don’t waste your money.  It will look like concrete within a year).

Oh yes, it has been a washout of a summer and I think finally the realisation is dawning on many of us that it’s over!  There will be no summer.  Kids will be going back to school in three weeks.  A sunny September would be nice BUT NO BLOODY USE (sorry I know I am shouting).

So have there been any advantages of our soggy summer?  I have been wracking my brain on this one for the last few days as I battle a slide into depression as the realisation dawns that summer didn’t.  Here is what I have come up with so far…..

I have saved a fortune on what I normally spend in Garden Centres.  Over the years once neighbours gardens burst forth in glorious splashes of summer colour in wonderfully tended borders I get madly jealous.  Off I go and spenD money on stuff I know nothing about.  I plant things in the wrong place and they either die or go mad so that the following years I do it all over again and never have the garden I imagine in my head.  This year it’s been a case of “garden, what garden?”

On the same theme I have developed a love of natural wildflowers otherwise known as weeds.  As the rain on the windows blurs my vision the yellow splashes of dandelion down the garden can look quite pretty.  Equally I am not so afraid of huge, fat, ugly slugs anymore… they are everywhere.

We have done less entertaining.  We are hardly ‘Party Kind and Queen’ in this house but there is something about long warm summer days and evenings that makes you want to get the neighbours around for chilled proscecco… hang on, this is meant to be advantages… Scrap that!  I love those evenings, even if it means I have to cut the grass and do the edges.

Although that does bring me nicely onto cutting the grass.  There have been lots of Sundays – and this is one of them – that I meant to cut the grass only to be rained off.  So instead I took to the sofa with a book… or wrote a blog post!!

Those cheap rain-jackets we normally trail around with us during the summer months we now know without a doubt are not waterproof.  So we will be well prepared for winter this year.

Skies – there have been some amazing skies.. with sinister gun metal grey clouds banked up against each other.  In turn this leads to weird light.

So what else?

As I ran out of inspiration as to the positives of THIS LOUSY SUMMER I asked the Twitter Machine for some suggestions.  Have I ever mentioned how much I love Twitter?  With thanks to everyone – here are just a few of the suggestions I received.

@mrshmc said “no hanging out washing” which may be a plus for some but me… well I love nothing more than seeing a line full of washing blowing in the breeze, drying in the sun.

@landsleaving offered “no need to get in shape for the beach”.  Indeed… although those that know me know that is not an issue for me!  But I accept it as a valid advantage!

@miriamahern said she looks forward to autumn “as it is a more normal season”.  Yes I can’t wait for autumn now.. since we have been on the brink of it for months now!!  @snastablasta echoes this sentiment by her tweet “good preparation for winter”.  Too right.

@ornagh doesn’t mind working bank holidays this summer and @JSmediabox appreciates her summer holiday more than ever this year.

So there you are.  I did my best.  I have plumbed the depths of Twitter and my own psyche to come up with some good things about our rainy summer.  It’s been difficult.  In all seriousness the lack of sunlight can have a very depressing effect.  But really there is nothing much we can do.. we are at the mercy of the vagaries of Mother Nature who this year definitely seems to be menopausal.  And remember bad weather can only improve – next summer will be better – if only because it really can’t get any worse!

In conclusion the best I can offer is to grab a book, light the fire, read a book, enjoy comfort food and settle in – it’s almost autumn!

SLOW DOWN… Take Time For Yourself, Mammy

It is really only in autumn and spring time that I can almost physically feel the Earth turning and the seasons changing. Having spent some more time in deepest Kilkenny last weekend, the countryside looked quite different than when we were there in July. We passed so many fields of hay bales, rolled and looking like giant breakfast cereals. On the farm the orchard was heavy with ripe red apples and the air smelt different. Fingers of damp touched my skin in the evening and early morning. Heavy dew fell at night, making for soggy pre breakfast walks.

I love autumn. It is probably my favourite season. I love summer too with all its outdoor activity and loose routines. But once we arrive in September, I can feel the change of tempo in my bones. As the earth draws energy inwards to itself, preparing Mother Nature for her long winter sleep, I too change my focus back onto myself. With the children gone back to school, routines have become re-established. The house is once more quiet in the mornings and has been returned to me. I love the peace and stillness and the opportunity to do what I love – to write. Over the last 9 years I have used this free time in the morning to investigate and experiment with all kinds of things that interest me. It has also taken me most of those years to get over the slight guilt I sometimes feel, by devoting some hours every morning to my own stuff!

As women who are ‘housewives’ or ‘stay at home moms’, it can sometimes be very difficult to protect time for ourselves. Due to lack of job description or contract for the post of Mammy, you can easily become the target of various others, from family members to your own kids who think you are just sitting at home, drinking coffee and waiting for something to do. Therefore you get can too easily get sucked into all kinds of errands for others. It is vital to establish boundaries and a healthy self respect for yourself and your job of running a home and children.

The time in the morning is often the only opportunity in the day for some ‘me’ time. Once the kids arrive home, there is homework and dinner and housework. In my experience most mothers will ‘work’ till at least 9pm on week nights. So take that time in the morning. It is yours, grab it with both hands, hold onto it tight as others may gently try to wrestle it away. You do not need to justify to anyone the fact that you are choosing to go to the gym, read a book, write a book, bake cakes or learn a new skill in the morning. Remember that your job, albeit looking after your family, is a job and the old adage is true – all work and no play makes Jackie a dull girl!

Photo from by Noukorama on Flickr.

LAZY DAYS OF SUMMER

Well Hello… it sure feels like ages since I have spent any time at my own Kitchen Table.

Summer time and all routine has more or less vanished out the window. The days seem to take on a shape of their own each morning. Each one different. My youngest two are getting older and so whereas my summer days used to be filled with making picnics to take the local park or to Glenroe Farm in Wicklow, this summer it seems they have often made their own plans with friends and I am required to drop and collect with great regularity.

Added to that, the normal chaos of life in this house, including another mouse incident, just like the one I reported here. Although this time there were four of us surrounding this mouse for an hour last night. I sometimes wish we weren’t all so fond of animals. Because trying to catch a terrified baby mouse who is hiding under a very heavy chest of drawers is exhausting. Anyway – mouse was finally caught and ejected gently from the house. It is the cat who is in mortal danger now! My oven also blew up – nothing to do with the mouse I might add – but I won’t bore you with the details.

We spent a lovely week in Kilkenny at Croan Cottages (would highly recommend them for a break in the countryside) where we shared our days with cows, pigs, sheep, goats, millions of rabbits, peacocks and hens (don’t think I have left anyone out).

As I write this, the sky is grey and the temperature has dropped. I am really hoping the fine weather will return in August so that we can again eat dinner in the garden and spend some time worshipping Father Sun! Although yesterday on the top deck of the bus into the city with Mia we passed a Chestnut Tree heavy with green spiky baby chestnuts and I am sure that last evening I could smell just a hint of autumn. It’s just around the corner – but I, for one, am not done with summer yet!

I am off now to whizz around my favourite blogs! I have missed visiting and have been spending too long twittering away!

"And I would like to thank….."

“I am so overcome, I can’t believe it! Oh my God, I am so thrilled.”

OK, so that’s actually from my Oscar acceptance speech but I am very honoured to have been given my first blogging award from my friend Suzannah at Joy Frequencies. Being appreciated by fellow bloggers is a great pleasure especially when that blogger is someone who writes as well as Suzannah! So thank you S.

Now I have the pleasure of passing the award on – and it must go forward and not backwards ( Joy Frequencies is one of my favourite reads – along Suzannah’s other great blogs Journeys Close to Home and My Name Is Zing).

So, first off I would like to give this award to Niamh Griffin over at Writer On The Way Home. Although Niamh’s blog is really aimed at returning emigrants and new arrivals to Ireland, her view of this country with fresh eyes (having spent many years abroad) often gives native readers such as I, a quirky and wry look at Ireland and her writing is insightful and always entertaining. So congratulations Niamh – here is your award!

I would also like to present this award to Alison Wells at Head Above Water. Alison is a gifted writer and her blog is full of wisdom and beautifully put together words. She is a great encourager of anyone attempting to write and an inspiration. So here you go Alison!

Finally, (and I know this could be seen as nepotism), I am going to hand this award on to one of the best photographers I know – Paul over there (a few feet away) at Sherwood Photography, not for his words but for his sublime images! Here you go Sherwood – catch!

Now, part of the deal, apparently is that on receiving this award I now have to list 7 things I like (excluding people). So here goes….

Books / Bookshops / Libraries…. in other words I love spending time with books, whether reading them or just being surrounded by them.

Animals – regular readers of this blog will know that I love my cats and (as they say at all the best gigs) it’s time to introduce the band. Tiger (tortieshell) is the Matriarch and beginning to show her age now, Simba (very large tabby – used to be male) is the constant in the house or garden and the most vocal, Pasqua (ginger used to be male) is a shy boy who had a very difficult youth but just wants a quiet life now and finally Kitty – or girl cat as she is known. Kitty hangs with my youngest whom she loves very much. She used to love the eldest until eldest (who is 22) got a boyfriend. And my boy Dylan (da dog) needs no introduction!

Good Coffee – must be proper coffee, especially in the morning. My favourite is Illy – and thanks to Nor who keeps me supplied.

Churches – especially when abroad I love to visit churches. Churches especially when devoid of priests and dogma are truly beautiful and sacred spaces.

Autumn – my favourite season. See my post A Heartfelt Welcome for Autumn

America – great service, good positive attitude and some of the friendliest people on earth. And we will be there in less than two weeks. Whoop de doo

Laughing – I have a sign in the kitchen that says “a good laugh is sunshine in the house”. And so it is!

So there you are – over to you Niamh, Alison and Paul should you wish to play!

Now excuse me while I go and move some things around to make space on the mantlepiece!

A Heartfelt Welcome for Autumn

It is now mid September and although we have been experiencing a mini Indian Summer of late, there is a bite in the air, particularly after sunset that reminds me that we have now truly arrived in Autumn. And this is my very favourite season of the year.

Somewhere, deep in my bones, resonates the feeling of harvest bounty. My grocery shopping now includes lots of root vegetables with which to make big pots of soup, full of the energy of summer sunshine and earthy goodness. Soon we will take another trip out to blackberry country, armed with bags in which to collect the little, juicy, ruby red nuggets of sweetness which will be borne home and made into old fashioned desserts and autumnal crumbles.

The swallows who nest in our eaves every summer have left home again, following the sun south. This signals it is time for me to prepare the garden for the dark and stormy days of winter ahead. Pots will be emptied and stored in the corner, garden furniture covered and moved into a sheltered spot and wind chimes and mobiles will be hung in the safety of the boiler house.

Indoors I will root out throws and extra winter cushions for the lounge. Shortly we will begin to draw the curtains at sunset. Light summer nightwear will be replaced by winter pj’s, slippers and big cosy dressing gowns. And best of all, soon we will light the first fire of the season. A magical occasion, which reminds me of the bonfires of our pagan antecedents and connects me with the ancient Celtic meaning of Halloween.

This is the season of hibernation and introspection. Just like the hedgehogs preparing for a big sleep under the bushes at the bottom of the garden, my inner self knows that now is time for energy to be drawn inwards. My vision of autumn is of nights by the fire, kids tucked up cosily in bed, animals stretched by the hearth. Piles of books waiting to be read, and time to think and to be still.

Autumn is where I am most at home. It is where I find myself and where I am most comfortable. Autumn brings me a time to rest after the exertions of summer. A time to give thanks for all the joys of summer holidays. I welcome its arrival with open arms and heart.

How do you feel about Autumn? What is your favourite season?

Photo of an autumn walk in Devil’s Glen, Wicklow

ALL IS WELL

Welcome to Autumn! Yep, old lore has it that 1st of August is actually the first of autumn. And the 1st of August is also the pagan festival of Lughnasa which is the first harvest festival, celebrating the end of the growing season.

But we are clearly not ready for autumn yet. The kids still have another month off school and we still have hope in our hearts that the sun will return during this month to allow us some more time to dine in the garden and bathe our bones in the heat.

However, as we turn into the month of August, we are aware of the shortening of the days. Evening comes just a little earlier each day and we are reminded that, like it or not, we are sliding into autumn.

But there is something immensely comforting in the relentless turning of the Wheel of the Year. No matter what is going on in your life, the Earth continues her journey through the seasons, just as she has done forever. And that is reassuring. Earth’s whisper is always the same. – “all is well”.

So take that thought with you – all is well. And allow the heart beat of Mother Nature calm and soothe you.

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Pic : Simba is watching out for autumn!
His rather worried expression is because he has actually managed to get himself locked out in the front garden again. Due to his rather wide girth, Simba is no sprinter and has given up climbing trees. So if a local dog should come along he might be in some trouble. So he gets on the bench and (wearing this worried expression) stares into the hall until someone sees him and opens the door!