Reading My Way Around the World

Monday 20 February 2017

European Tree of the Year competition

Dear Friends,
There is still time to help us out and vote for our Holm Oak which won the NI tree of the year and is now in the competition for European Tree of the year.   You have to give 2 votes when you register and even if you give us your second vote it will help us tremendously. Voting closes on 28th February.  

The Holm Oak in Kilbroney Park in Rostrevor won NI Tree of the Year.
It is now one of the contenders for European Tree of the Year,
 the winner of which will receive money to help protect the old tree and shore it up.  
We are all very proud of our corner of the world and there's an amazing energy in the village to promote tourism.   For many years the North of Ireland was starved of tourists due to our troubled past.   Now gradually the number of visitors is increasing and here it seems that everyone is involved in one way or another in doing things to help out.  Promoted by Light 2000, this tree initiative, in an area of outstanding beauty, is yet one more way to put us on the map.   Please help out.  

I wrote about the Holm Oak, from Old Homer's own perspective here.  

You can vote HERE or at the link at the bottom of the page.  

This is a piece from the Newry and Mourne Tourist Board. 
Did you know in ancient Greece the leaves of the holm oak were used to tell the future and they were also used to make crowns to honour people...?  
If trees could talk we know he'd say, please vote for the #holmoak in Rostrevor! He can't vote himself though - he needs us all to take a moment and vote for him. We could have the best tree in Europe here in Rostrevor, Northern Ireland.  
Please share this plea for votes and ask your friends throughout the world to support our campaign. Thanks ðŸ˜ƒ 
Voting closes 28 Feb! #Europeantreeoftheyear

Many thanks for your support.

Sunday 19 February 2017

Five Windows

I jinxed myself putting up my last post about colds - I'd been feeling poorly for a few days and couldn't get my head into thinking of anything to write and that was the only post I'd ready to go.   Well.  I've been in bed since ... the same thing as before Christmas - it looks like a lung infection which hasn't cleared - so back on yet another course of antibiotics and I must confess I am starting to feel marginally brighter this evening but still not enough energy to talk much.

With no real concentration for reading I'd been looking through some photos to see what we were at in February for the past few years (for 3 consecutive years I've been away and sick - really will have to look at this)  - but I found these that will give me a Five for Friday.  I'm joining in today with Amy's weekly blogshop - at Love Made My Home.

I've always loved windows.  Here are some from our travels.

1. Oradour sur Glane
I wrote about this martyr village in France a few years ago - the link will take you there if you're interested.   De Gaulle insisted it was left exactly as it was to remember the atrocities of World War 2.  The most moving place I've ever been or seen.
Rusted and left to remember

2. Castle Caldwell in Co. Fermanagh.
This old castle is near to where I grew up, on the shores of Lough Erne.  The owners were the founders of Belleek Pottery.  Today it is lovely park to walk around, full of bluebells in spring.  These windows make me think of Maid Marian and Robin Hood, although it's not nearly as old as that (late 1700s I think)

Abandoned from another era

3.  Now where would you think I was here?  :)  Two Februarys ago wandering around Scotland, I took this first picture purely because I love that shade of blue - if memory serves me correctly it's in Stranraer.  But when I was looking back on photos it made me think of how much a name can suggest a place.
Shades of blue

I couldn't choose between these two .... The tourist shop below leaves no doubt as to place.  I couldn't resist it - the colours were magic in it - even though I can't stand tourist shops.
Buy a memory

4. Autumn in rural Germany
At our friends house in Neuwartensleben.
5. The cool of the shade
In Dubai museum - a traditional Arab home

Thankfully I have a few more days before I need to be fully on again - and another 10 days before the next gig - so I'm going to lie low to see if I can crack this thing - actually there's no choice in the matter - energy is still appallingly low.   They're sending me for a CT scan because the last two X-rays have shown something up on my lungs - but that'll take a couple of months at least, so it can't be too urgent and hopefully this second antibiotic will do the trick.

Have a lovely week ...

Monday 13 February 2017

Dealing with a cold on the road

This is the season for colds and flus - and there's a really nasty virus doing the rounds as well, giving people sore throats and awful coughs - and it just won't go away (this from personal experience).

Getting a bad cold at any time is horrible - we've all been there.

But what do you do if you need to sing (or talk) when you have a cold?

Well for me, warm ups are the thing - and rest - and fluids.

To warm up, I start early in the day just humming - and gradually expanding through my range - doing 5 minutes every hour or so - very gently so that someone 3 or 4 feet away from me could barely hear me.    I then progress to Lip Trills - the traditional singer Tommy Makem who found fame with the Clancy Brothers, always swore by these - he would do 15 minutes of lip trills before every gig .... There are lots of examples of how to do a lip trill on You Tube - This is one of the better ones I've found.  From Cari Cole who is a Nashville vocal coach - I probably should prepare one of these videos some time myself, but .I wouldn't look nearly as pretty as her lol

Coping with colds and jet lag when you're performing is not easy.   It's not always possible to get the rest and quiet time that's needed to recover.  Most singers carry a virtual pharmacopeia with them but in recent years I have stopped doing this as I've found it made me feel even worse, anticipating feeling bad.   However some sage sweets or honey and lemon to make a soothing drink can be picked up most places.  Throat sweets are usually very sickly and sticky so they can make matters worse, unless your throat is very sore and raspy in which case that sweet stickiness can be very soothing.

If the cold is a bad chesty one then you will probably need to change the key of songs to sing a bit lower but if there are other members of the band get them to shoulder a bit more of the singing.   Tom has been great on tours where I've had a problem, doing a few extra songs to let me rest.

I hope that helps.   Just keep warm and watch your voice - it's a great indicator of how your whole body is doing.

Do you have any great cold cures?  I'd love to hear about them.   Stay well this Winter.

Friday 10 February 2017

Five bits of Music Trivia

I'm joining in today with Five on Friday run by Amy at Love Made My Home.

I love useless information :)

I came across some lists a while back in a second hand book shop somewhere and I thought I'd share some of them here ...  So for today's Five on Friday, here's 5 unusual inspirations for well known songs.

This first one made me groan a bit - cover your eyes if you're a vegan

Mother and Child Reunion, Paul Simon
Inspiration:  A chicken and egg dish on a Chinese restaurant menu!!
How ridiculous but brilliant.

Who'll Buy my Memories - Willie Nelson
Inspiration:  The loss of $16 million back taxes to the IRS
That'd make your eyes water - I don't think I'd have any inspiration for a year after that.

All Shook Up - Otis Blackwell
Inspiration:  A bottle of Pepsi
The best known version of this is by Elvis but here's the original

Mony Mony - Tommy Jones and the Shondells,
Inspiration:  The neon sign of the Mutual Of New York insurance building
Love it

Running on Empty:  Jackson Browne
Inspiration: An empty petrol tank
That just makes my heart race but Jackson is one of my all time favourite song writers.

I had to add just one more ....

To Know Him is to Love Him : Phil Spector
Inspiration:  Words on his fathers gravestone.
My favourite version of this song is by Dolly, Linda and Emmylou - heavenly harmonies - But this is the original by the Teddy Bears which was Phil Spector's band - the song went to Number 1 in 1958.

Have a lovely week - I'm taking some time now to look at what everyone else has put up for this week.  If you have time, check out some of the other people participating in Five on Friday or better still, join in.  Thank you Amy for putting this together.

Monday 6 February 2017

Do you use Spotify?

Recently we took out our record player again and dusted off some old LPs ... the sound is definitely much richer than CD.  Although in the past few years I find I'm not even listening to CDs much - just loading them in to my computer, transferring them to iTunes and have them on my phone to listen to in the car - and everything goes onto shuffle.   Same with my podcasts and radio programmes.  

The music business is certainly changing.   

We spend so much of our time looking after our digital profiles.  In the past week we have done updates to our website,  to our You Tube channel, created a You Tube channel to specifically focus on the Songbirds TV work we did  in another lifetime (it was too confusing keeping it all together).  I've been on here on Blogger, added stuff to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and next I need to check out our Soundcloud account.    At what point do you get time to practice or write says you?   

And finally, there is Spotify.   Do you use it?   If you do and you have an account, you could help us out.  We need to have 250 followers in order to be recognised as artists on Spotify.   Here's the link to our music page - you'd be doing us a huge favour if you went there and then clicked the follow button.   Many thanks.  Ok, one more job done lol

A new artist

I feel sorry for young performers trying to make a living - where do they even start?   A lot of the time they even have to pay for a chance to play a gig.   But there's one lovely young girl here in the village that was too shy to get out and perform, even in front of her parents.   So she decided to film herself singing songs by her favourite artists and put them on to You Tube.  Fast forward a year and she got approached by a company in London to see if she'd like to enter a competition for You Tube performers and another year on she is now working in London in a music business office, has been writing with some of the best writers in Nashville and has already had 2 singles released.   Her name is Catherine McGrath and you can watch her videos  here - maybe buy her single or like her on Facebook to help her out?   Or let your teenage daughters check her out.  

So how do you listen to your music nowadays?   Have you any favourite LPs?  Or like me, do you still have some cassettes lying around the place?  I'd love to hear... 

Saturday 4 February 2017

Moving into Spring

I'm joining in today with Five on Friday run by Amy at Love Made My Home

We celebrated another anniversary last weekend - 29 years on the 29th - it amazes me sometimes that we're still here and that more than half of my life has now been in this marriage - and we haven't killed each other yet lol

But our plans to go away were thrown out a bit when my mum had a turn and had to be taken to hospital... She lives just over 100 miles from me.  The stress of that phone call is unbelievable - I had to get out of the car for a while to settle myself.   Happily it was nothing too serious and after two days of observation she was out again.  

I started a photography class last week so I thought I'd share some pics from it for my Five this week (had to sneak in a couple extras).  I'm really enjoying being a student for a few weeks (it's a short course) and finally figuring out how to use my camera.  In the office, we're mid way through an update of all our online stuff - web, social media, You Tube etc - as well as booking next year's tours, so it's lovely to have something to take my mind away into another realm for a while.

After leaving Mum at the hospital on Saturday to head back to her house, we drove along the shores of Lough Erne down in Co. Fermanagh.  The water was flat calm although it was freezing cold walking along the shore.   As children, we were always told that there were 365 islands on Lough Erne - there are two of them at the top of this picture. (I've since discovered that most children are told that about their local lake!)  The most famous are of course Kathleen's Island (Inis Ceathlain) on which the town of Enniskillen stands (Enniskillen means Kathleen's Island) and then there is Devenish Island which has lots of old standing stones and relics of pre Christian times.   I've never been out there - perhaps this summer.

Lough Erne in Co. Fermanagh

The colours of the sky were so beautifully reflected in the water.
The reflection on the water had me in thrall
Belleek where I grew up is at the mouth of the lake, where Lough Erne turns in to the River Erne - Beal Leice, the Irish name of the village, means mouth of the lake.
Again the reflection was stunning.  Just past the eel weir along the line of those trees in the background, the river flows to the right and down into Ballyshannon and the Atlantic Ocean.  As with here in Rostrevor, the border is smack in the middle of that piece of water - the left bank is in the Republic (or in the South as we say) and the right bank in the North.
The eel weir at Belleek, Co. Fermanagh
The hotel Carlton which is sadly closed now with the eel weir on the left.  

The birds
This is not a great photo but I had to laugh - this fellow was shouting his head off the other day - we've been keeping watch on the birds more in recent weeks as the RSPB have been doing a Birdwatch plus the Winterwatch has been on the Beeb, so nature is very much to the forefront.  He stayed there for a good 5 minutes - he'd shout, I'd answer and away he'd go again - brilliant.
Blackbird singing in the dead of .... murky morning

The garden
I love garden statues and would love to own some really nice ones.   This wee lady has been with us for a long time and keeps guard at our front door.  She's only about 18 inches tall.
Several years ago while touring in the north of England we spent a Sunday morning at a big car boot sale a few miles south of Newcastle - there was a guy selling imperfect garden ornaments - in spite of glares from Tom I managed to come home with a small Buddha, but if he had only looked the other way for half an hour I think I would have managed to squeeze another one in.   One of these days I'll afford a bigger one - or some contemporary garden art - to hide somewhere in the garden
Not feeling the cold at all
Up until Tuesday last we had a great run of cold crisp weather.   This shot is on Carlingford Lough.  I was about 5 minutes late for catching the most beautiful blue under that orangey pink part of the sky, but still I thought it was worth capturing.
Low tide

I hope you've had some break from routine this week too.
If you have time, check out some of the other people participating in Five on Friday and as always thanks to  Amy for putting this together.

Wednesday 1 February 2017

Brigid's Day

Happy Brigid's Day everyone.

This is the Celtic holiday of Imbolc, St Brigid's Day and the first day of the Celtic Spring.

Last night I got a lovely text from my friend Joanna about a tradition around St Brigid that I'd never heard of before....  She wrote:
On St Brigid's Eve, don't forget to put out the Bratóg Bríde (Brigid's little cloak) (Bríde pronounced breed) overnight.  It's a piece of cloth, scarf or ribbon which St Bridget would bless in passing.  The bratóg would help wearers with headaches and sore throats throughout the year to come.

I didn't manage to get out yesterday to gather rushes to make a Brigid's Cross for today - perhaps I'll still do it later in the day.   It was a very strong tradition when I was growing up and many in this area are keeping the tradition alive.   I loved the symbol of that cross, the symbol of the cycle of the year, continuing regardless.

Brigid was the goddess of the hearth, fertility and creativity among many other things.   Her presence and power was so strong that she was adopted as a Saint by the Catholic Church as Christianity spread through Ireland in the 5th and 6th centuries.  Now there are many festivals around the country that celebrate all aspects of the woman, the goddess and the saint.

I was looking for a piece of music I'd once heard to share with you but came across this lovely video instead .... posted by a blog which no longer seems to be active -
The music is beautiful - a mix from Loreena McKennitt and some other voices - but there is lots of information about Brigid the Goddess and her place in Celtic Mythology, about Brigid the Saint and her place in the Christian church and lastly about Imbolc.   If you're interested in folklore you might find this an entertaining read.  At the end it also gives a list of sources for the information.

Have a great month of February.