Stale harvest

This is the time of year when fruit is in abundance and the process of jamming, jellying, bottling and freezing begins.
It is also the time when we discover the unused bag of last years beans or blackberries lurking at the back of the freezer. Or find that some of the jars needed for this year are hidden at the back of the cupboard still filled with old jam, now shrunken, crystallized and inedible.
It is galling and difficult to acknowledge that this produce, lovingly picked, prepared and preserved last year, now has to been thrown away. We don’t want to let go of it, but we must, to allow room for the new. Difficult though it is, we have to choose. Hold on to last year’s harvest, or throw it out to make room for the new pickings. (It does go on the compost heap so not entirely wasted!)

Another life lesson here I’m sure. Some joys reach their sell by date and become stale. And we often can’t truly enjoy the joys of today until we let go of yesterday’s.

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Cherry picking

I am doing a lot of this at the moment, and as well as emerging from the fruit cage with bowls of juicy red fruit, I also seem to collect scratches down my arms, and hair full of insects and twigs. My husband’s irritation and blood pressure has been rising, as the protective fruit cage has become more like an aviary, housing a family of blackbirds who constantly find new ways to get in as fast as we close gaps in the netting. Cherry picking has become a mixture of joy and irritation.

Strangely the term “cherry picking” can mean something rather different. In some circumstances it is used to indicate a fallacy or lie that comes from selecting favourable evidence, and suppressing other evidence, sometimes known as confirmation bias. It can even be used to mean a kind of tax avoidance. In the photograph of my cherries I haven’t shown you the split or mouldy ones, the bird pecked fruits, or the hard unripe cherries. These are “cherry picked” to give you a certain impression of the harvest, an impression which is, in fact, an incomplete and misleading picture!

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This has got me thinking about the true nature of our lives. I am following Writing Our Way Home’s “Joyful July” (highly recommended). However I noticed myself feeling rather irritated by a quote yesterday from the Bible. James 1v2 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” It reminded me of the rather gloomy, depressing, “always expect the worst” kind of spirituality of my childhood which I have had to work hard to recover from.

But as I have been picking cherries and contemplating this, I have begun to see this quote in a different light. True joy really does only come from embracing the whole experience, not just cherry picking the juicy nice bits. There is an increased feeling of pleasure because of the perseverance necessary to chase off the birds, and endure the scratching and stretching for the hard to reach fruits.

There is a deep joy in embracing the whole experience of our lives, resistant though we may find ourselves. We want to avoid the “trials”, whether it is a marauding blackbird, injury or loss, an unexpected tax bill, or something which contradicts our strongly held beliefs. But avoidance and denial does not bring growth and wisdom. Instead, as James continues in the quote, we need to “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”.

True joy is cherry picking without “cherry picking”!

Creative legacies

Today we went to the allotment to catch up on what’s been happening while we were away. We returned home with a harvest of green beans from the poly tunnel, peas and pink gooseberries, plus some freshly dug new potatoes. Some for eating now, and some to be preserved or frozen for later.

It feels a bit similar returning home after our week in Ireland. I have gathered a collection of experiences, photos and lots of information to sort and process, and decide how to use. In addition when I arrived home there were two books waiting which I had previously ordered. One is a second hand book about the architecture of Belfast by Paul Larmour. It includes photographs of many of the buildings designed by my 3x great grandfather, Thomas Jackson, some of which I saw on our trip.

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The other book is a collection of letters written to Anne O’Brien (nee Greeves) my 3x great aunt, who emigrated to Philadelphia in 1818. It is called “Them Wild Woods” edited by Bill Jackson. Many of the letters are written by Anne’s father John Greeves and her mother Margaret, my 4x great grandparents, and Thomas Greeves, her brother and my 3x great grandfather.

20140629-223021.jpgBoth the books are fascinating in their different ways, and have left me reflecting on the different legacies my ancestors have left. I have seen the legacy of my great-great-great grandfather Jackson in the houses and buildings he designed, many of which are still being used in Belfast today. Some have been demolished but bricks and mortar often outlive their creators.
The other legacy might appear much more transient, hand written letters on paper, recording apparently trivial details of domestic life in the early 19th century. These bits of paper travelled across the Atlantic, and have been preserved by family members. The wealth of detail and insight into their lives, their losses and their loves, is fascinating, and has lasted as long as the city buildings.

Makes me think we should never underestimate the ongoing power of art and creativity, whether it is a grand architectural design, or simple words in a letter to a loved one. It could be what future generations remember us by!

Wicklow hills and Haughton ancestors

Writing this post to the sound of pouring rain outside our hotel window, the wonderful spell of sunny dry weather finally broke this afternoon.
This morning we drove south from Dublin towards the Wicklow mountains, stopping off at the grand Powerscourt Estate to look around the gardens. The setting is beautiful with views to Grand Sugar Loaf mountain, and the roses were stunning. A pleasant coffee on the terrace was followed by a little shopping.

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Then we drove on into the Wicklow mountains to Glendalough, a monastic settlement founded by St Kevin in the 6th century. We sat for a while absorbing the peace of the Upper lake.

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The first drops of rain were falling as we set off again. This time in search of more of my family history. My paternal grand mother was a Haughton. Her father Thomas Haughton was born in Co Kildare at Athy, where he inherited a flour mill which had been built by his Grandfather Alfred Haughton. We drove across the bridge, catching a glimpse of the river Barrow and the castle, in spite of heavy rain and traffic. This picture from Wikipedia shows it in a better light!

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On the quest for even older Haughton family members we drove to the old quaker settlement of Ballitore. A little adventure in the rain took us across a field of long grass to find the Quaker burial ground. Hidden behind old stone walls with a narrow entrance many of the graves are unmarked, or covered. It is here that my 5x great grandfather Benjamin Haughton (1707 – 1777) is buried. We spent some time in the wet searching the graves which were visible, but could only find more recent Haughtons. However the Quaker meeting house he must have attended is still in the village.

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Dublin day

For our one full day in Dublin we decided not to visit attractions with large entrance fees, or potentially long queues. So the morning began in the (free) National Museum of Archaeology. What treasure! The collection of many hoards of gold recovered from Irish bogs, much dating from up to 2000 years BC, was stunning. Equally moving but in a different way were the amazingly preserved bog bodies of men from the first millennia BC. They were probably placed there as some sort of sacrificial offering – I found the hands and hair particularly touching and so personal.

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We took the sightseeing bus through the city and by chance discovered an exhibition (free) of beautiful glass work by Dale Chihuly on the theme of James Joyce ‘s “Ulysses”, which was a bonus. Next door was the Chester Beatty Library (free) of rare, exquisitely bound and illustrated manuscripts and books.

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Then the bus ride took us to a more sobering venue, Kilmainham gaol. Here we learnt a lot about the more recent history of Ireland, in all its tragedy, and I found it very moving.

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The traffic at this point was not moving! But we spent the “rush” hour on the bus with very entertaining commentary from the tour guide as we moved slowly through a city of so many influential people – politicians, philosophers, scientists, thinkers, artists, writers, and musicians, passing the house of one such, Oscar Wilde, on our route back to the hotel.

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History and other traditions

This morning we stepped back in time 5000 years, visiting the amazing Neolithic passage tomb at Newgrange in the Boyne valley. Older than Stonehenge and the pyramids, built as a burial chamber and also to celebrate the winter solstice. To me it felt more about life than death. We experienced the magic of how sunlight shines into the inner chamber once a year, as the seasons turn and the days begin to get longer. The stones, in side and out, have amazing carved designs. They look like “Celtic” designs but were a couple of thousand years before the first Celts invaded Ireland.
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Driving the lanes of the Boyne valley we explored more history, not quite so old, stopping at Monasterboice with its 10th century high stone crosses depicting biblical scenes, and climbing the Hill of Slane where St Patrick in 433 AD lit an Easter fire and the pagan king converted to Christianity.

20140623-220023.jpgArriving in Dublin later we joined the crowds in Temple Bar, where the pubs and restaurants were filled with musicians playing traditional Irish music. There we enjoyed another Irish tradition with our meal….

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Returning south

Today we had a rest from family history. Travelling back from our overnight stay in Coleraine, we bypassed Belfast, and drove to the beautiful gardens of Mount Stewart on the Ards Peninsular. Wonderful colours in the formal gardens, and spectacular views over Strangford Lough to the Mountains of Mourne.

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We took the little ferry at the bottom of the lough and continued on a long a coastline of empty beaches, and castles which popped up at the side of the road.

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We took the high road over the back of the Mourne mountains down to Rostrevor, and then on to the south, crossing the border back into the Republic.