St. Maewyn’s Day

You may know this fellow better by his adopted name: Patrick.

Patrick was named Maewyn Succat when he was born circa 385 CE to a wealthy Roman family in either Wales or Scotland. At age 16, he was kidnapped by raiders and sold as a slave to Ireland, living there for six years as a shepherd and learning about its people until he managed to escape back to England. It was when he became a priest that he changed his name to Patricius. Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary, preaching and converting the pagans to Christianity. In the Catholic church, his feast day is the day of his death, traditionally believed to be on March 17, 416 CE.

Legend has it that Patrick used the three-leaved shamrock (Irish seamróg = “little or young clover”) as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity. He may also have chosen this plant because the number 3 was significant for Celtic pagans; it is the “number of everything”. It wasn’t until the 18th century, though, that the shamrock began to be used as an Irish symbol. The shamrock (several species of Trifolium) has traditional medicinal value and was a common Victorian motif. In the Language of Flowers, the red clover signifies the virtue of industry, white clover means “think of me”, and the four-leaved variety says “be mine”.

Wearing green today? When the chivalric Order of St. Patrick was founded in the 1700s, blue was adopted as its official colour, which led to that colour – not green, which was considered unlucky – being associated with the saint. The use of green to represent Irish nationalism stems from 17th and 18th century political movements.

It’s understandable that legend, cultures and customs meld over time. It’s still an odd thing to me, however, that folk worldwide suddenly become Irish for a day on March 17 – and celebrate it in some pretty outrageous ways. I don’t march in parades or look for leprechauns, but I have been known to wear green on the day – although I wear it often, as it, along with blue, is one of my favourite colours. I don’t drink beer, so the green Guinness is out. (But that would be an insult to Guinness aficionados, anyway!)

I do think of my paternal grandmother, though. I know very little about her; my father never said much, for the very reason that he wasn’t given the chance to know her, either, and now there is no one left to ask. What I did discover through genealogical research, however, was that she emigrated as a young woman from Belfast to Canada in the early 1900s. Why? To seek a new life: employment, better housing, a marriage? I don’t know whether she had known my English-born grandfather, who was already living in Toronto, before she set foot on that ocean-crossing steamer. Regardless, they married soon after she arrived – and soon after that, came my dad! Sadly, that little family’s hopes and dreams died along with her a couple of years later in childbed, after my father’s little sister was born. A heart-wrenching story of hardship, struggle and lost dreams – but then, historically speaking – doesn’t that make me so quintessentially Irish?

Detail, Book of Kells scarf – a treasured gift from a friend.

Real Neat Blog Award – a first!

real-neat-blog-awardA few days ago, one of my WordPress friends (and fellow medieval hut-dweller) Samantha nominated me for the Real Neat Blog Award on her lovely site, samanthamurdochblog. If you have a moment, please visit her for funny and insightful thoughts on crystals, cats, canines and other characters. Thank you, Samantha, for maintaining such an entertaining and informative blog, and for being a steadfast supporter of my own!

Here are the rules for the Real Neat Blog Award:

  1. Post the award logo on your blog.
  2. Answer 7 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
  3. Thank the people who nominated you and link to their blog.
  4. Nominate any number of bloggers you like and link to their blog.
  5. Let them know you nominated them by leaving a comment on their blog.

So, without further ado, these are my answers to Samantha’s questions:

1. Sunshine or rain?
Rain, definitely. Let’s just say that the sun and I don’t get along; I’m very fair-skinned and will burn to a crisp in about 20 minutes. (The night and the moon are my faithful companions!) I love rain: pearl-grey mist, a gentle drizzle, the soft, all-day patter on the cottage roof, getting caught in a sudden downpour whilst looking for wildflowers in the field behind my brother’s house.

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Ophelia by John William Waterhouse, 1910 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

2. If you were a herb, what would you be?
Given the name of this blog, I suppose I ought to say the gillyflower, or carnation, because it’s a pretty, old-fashioned, clove-scented flower-herb. In the Middle Ages, it was combined with cinnamon in cooking sauces and used to flavour wine and ale. Because it could be grown year-round indoors on windowsills, it was sometimes used to pay rent! However, in the Victorian language of flowers, the gillyflower’s symbolism is rather unfortunate: a red carnation means alas for my poor heart, and striped and yellow varieties signify refusal and disdain. No, if I had to pick one over-all herb to represent me, I’d choose rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). I can’t pass a rosemary plant without brushing its fragrant sprigs with my fingers, and one of my favourite foods is warm rosemary bread fresh from the oven. I appreciate its long history, too. Used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, brought to England probably in the 12th or 13th century CE and to America by the 1600s, this versatile herb has so many culinary, medicinal and cosmetic uses as to render it indispensable to cooks, healers and homemakers everywhere, past and present. From scented monastic garden hedges to a pest-controlling strewing herb, as a flavouring for meat, eggs and baked goods, an antiseptic in balms, washes and tonics and an ingredient in potpourris and incense, rosemary has it all. Sir Thomas More wrote of it in the 16th century: As for Rosemary, I lette it run all over my garden walls, not onlie because my bees love it, but because it is the herbe sacred to remembrance and therefore to friendship. Nearly a century later, The Bard himself perpetuated the idea of memorializing the dead with a sprig of rosemary. In Hamlet, Ophelia, who is about to commit suicide, urges her loved ones not to forget her when she’s gone: There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.

3. First thing you ever cooked or baked?
Oh my, I simply don’t remember! I learned family favourites – scrumptious goodies like lemon bars, spice drops and no-bake peanut butter cookies – from my mother. I regret never having taken up offers from an aunt and my mother-in-law (now gone) to learn how to make bread and pastry by hand. Many of my attempts at fancy cooking have been epic fails (I blame it on a temperamental oven), so I stick to the simplest recipes possible! By far the most delicious, crowd-pleasing, no-fail dessert I’ve ever learned to make is a recipe from my mom, which I share here:

Helen’s Skor Bar Candy

Preheat oven to 350° F • Line cookie pan with parchment paper, including the sides • Lay an even layer of unsalted soda crackers in pan (you may have to cut some to fit) • Slowly melt together 1 cup butter and ¾ cup brown sugar and bring to a gentle boil for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly and taking care not to scorch the mixture • Pour syrup evenly over crackers • Bake for 10 minutes on middle rack • Remove from oven and push any crackers which have floated around back in place • Sprinkle a 300 g bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips into the pan; as they melt, spread evenly over the crackers • Cool pan in refrigerator • When hard, break into pieces to serve • Keep refrigerated in airtight container • Challenge yourself or your friends to eat just one • When you lose the challenge, go see your doctor about the diabetes you now have • You’re welcome.

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Faithful friends: Sherry and a 7-year-old me

4. First Pet?
Sherry, the sweet-tempered, long-haired daughter of an adopted stray, was the cat I grew up with and the only one I’ve actually owned. (My husband isn’t fond of the beasts, so for years I’ve indulged my love of cats vicariously, as an aunt to other people’s pets.) Sherry loved cantaloupe and stealing sips from unattended coffee cups, caught dragonflies from the creek behind our house, eating everything except the dry and unappetizing wings, slept at the foot of my bed (acting as an alarm clock by placing a wet nose strategically in my ear), and accompanied us each summer to the island cottage where she could roam free in her own private feline paradise.

5. What country would you like to visit and why?
England, for a second time. I did take a wonderful three-week trip to England and Wales way back in 1992 and intended to return a couple of years later, but wedding plans and a job change got in the way. Other than a weekend visit to the States, it’s the only country I’ve ever travelled to. Our focus was on castles and ancient monuments, and we were well-satisfied, but since then I’ve compiled a list of so many other sites I’d love to see, such as the snickelways of York (see my post about them here), Sherwood Forest and ancient sunken lanes and holloways.

6. What one piece of advice would you give to your 16 year old self?
Finish your math, science and physics courses, take the long, harder road, and study to become a veterinarian.

7. Favourite drink (alcoholic or otherwise)?
Tea. Supermarket-variety orange pekoe tea, in bags (I’m lazy). I couldn’t live without it. Because I generally work in the afternoons and evenings, I have the luxury of being able to down a whole pot (4 cups), leisurely, as my day-starter, and I’ll often have more tea later on. I find it relaxing, comforting and stomach-soothing, and my co-workers would tell you that a large Tim Horton’s steeped tea with two milks and fourteen grains of sugar (not 13, not 15) is my personal bliss. I’m thoroughly addicted, but I console myself with the supposed health benefits (flavonoids, polyphenols, tannins and fluoride) of black tea. As for alcoholic beverages … I’m not a drinker, but I have been known to enjoy the very occasional champagne, ice wine or mead. For medicinal purposes, natch.

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My favourite teacup and new cobalt Blue Betty – the best teapot in the world!

I hope these answers give you a little more insight into how I roll! Now it’s my turn to nominate some of the bloggers and sites I admire.

My nominations for the Real Neat Blog Award:

(I’d have nominated Gillian at PaperPuff, but Samantha got to her first!)

Here are my seven questions for the nominees:

  1. What motto or quote do you live by?
  2. Why did you decide to start a blog?
  3. Besides blogging, what are two other favourite things you like to do?
  4. What is your favourite book, TV show and movie? (All three, please!)
  5. What is your biggest pet peeve?
  6. Other than a parent or family member, which person (real or fictional) was the biggest influence on you growing up?
  7. If you were headed into the woods alone for a week, what one item (besides some sort of fire starter) would you take with you?

These nominations are a mark of appreciation and a way of getting to know each other and spreading the love. There is, of course, no pressure to accept. If you do choose to participate, please follow the rules at the beginning of this post. Thank you – and have fun!