My superpower

This morning there was a guest on the radio talking about jobs for the garden this week. The sun was shining, so when it came to go for a walk during our lunch break, I opted out and grabbed the secateurs instead. I have a difficult task planned for this spring – replacing two rotting wooden boxes at the back of the garden with a proper greenhouse – and I have already booked the greenhouse installation for February.

The biggest achievement of 2020 was creating a Hügelkultur in our urban garden, that we named Mound Juliette (Hügel means mound, and it was a word play on Mount Juliet, a beautiful place near Kilkenny we spent a weekend at a couple of years back). The mound incorporated the leftovers of an old pergola, and a lot of branches and leaves resulted from the spring clean, plus our own compost. During the first lockdown, I tried very hard to buy a shredder, but to no avail. And one day, Google brought up an add about tool hire, and we hired one for 24h from the nearby HSS branch. We arranged everything online, and the shredder got delivered to our door and collected the next day.

There’s a lot growing on our Mound Juliette this January – from purple sprouting broccoli to red kale, parsley, chives and garlic. And they all survived the frost unharmed.

So I went out and cut a bush that will need to go away to make place for the greenhouse, moved a blackcurrant into a big pot, and distributed a few buckets of compost around the garden. The sun was shining, the robins and starlings kept on popping by for food, and suddenly I felt that this was the best medication for me. Pruning is my spring superpower – it gives me a sense of atonement, helps me observe and imagine how each plant will grow and occupy space throughout the season. And it strikes me how much I resemble my father, who was an avid gardener, but always crammed too many plants in the limited space, because he liked them all so much!

And then I turned around and found this daring snowdrop. It must have been out last week, when it snowed and we had a night with -4 C. But nobody had time to see it and admire its bravery! Thank you, little snowdrop. You made my day!

January 13 2021 | Limerick | No Comments »

Moving on to 2021

2020 was a year like no other. It affected us all in ways that are maybe not yet evident. I read this morning in a mail by AFP that the Kiwis have been saying: “We’re all in the same storm, but none of us are in the same boat.”

For me, it was time to stop and think. I had been travelling too much. I had been doing too many things. I still remember the first week of the spring lockdown when I had the revelation that I managed to have lunch three days in a row. This working from home did me a lot of good. Moving my teaching online was not a problem, as I had the skills and I had the tools. Also, I knew my students quite well by then and continuing online was not a problem. A few adjustments, a few glitches – but it worked. And our 2019-2020 cohort of master students were an absolute pleasure to work with!

I spent my free time gardening – and it was rewarding and uplifting. We built a Huegelkultur in our tiny urban garden that we named Mound Juliette. We made improvements to our home – like many others who found themselves spending a lot more time at home. We went for walks in new and old places. Life went on. We even managed a one week holiday in Bantry, with long walks and sea swims.

Online conferences became the norm. In some ways, this gave me the chance to attend events I could have never dreamt of. In other ways, not getting to Siegen for ECSCW 2020 was a major disappointment, although the organising team did absolute wonders with handling the challenges.

During the summer, I joined a Facebook group organising online writing retreats for women in academia and became one of the regular hosts. In many ways, this peer support group became my saving grace, providing me with a strict temporal structure and a bit of chatter with an international group of colleagues.

A stray cat had her two kittens in our garden and we suddenly became cat people, going out of our way to accommodate the clan.

And there was a bit of canoeing on the Shannon – mostly from Worl’s End to O’Brien Bridge thanks to Munster Kayak Adventures.

The autumn brought a delayed start for the academic year. And then I was faced with the challenge of teaching one module to 285 students from first, second and third year and a handful of programmes ranging from humanities to computer science. The logistics were complicated enough, but what made it really difficult was the relentless coming and going of students until the end of week 5. But we survived, me and my two excellent teaching assistants. It wasn’t easy – everything took 3 times longer than usual, and everything required yet another Zoom or MS Teams meeting.

I was supposed to go to Scotland in April to attend Rowena Murray’s Retreat Facilitators’ training course and the course had to be cancelled. Fortunately, Rowena decided to to offer it online this autumn and I was able to attend. I am planning to organise an online writing retreat as soon as I can in 2021.

I had to have surgery to remove a parathyroid gland gone rogue at the end of November. I lived with the signs for more than 8 years, but things had gone really wrong this year. And then, just as I was recovering, a gallbladder stone decided to take a trip down my bile duct and got stuck there, sending me to A&E at 3am one Thursday night. The 6 days I spent in hospital were probably the worst part of 2020 for me.

I missed my children at Christmas – that’s the time of the year when they usually come to Ireland. And we only got glimpses of Ray’s grandchildren!

Not an easy year, by any means, but I can say we were fortunate enough to come out of 2020 the way we did.

Moving on to 2021, I am a bit slow in setting goals. My biggest wish is that we can get out of this terrible situation we are in and build a better life for us and this planet.

January 03 2021 | Limerick | No Comments »