Anne Hailes: The magic of laughter, fresh bread and making memories
EVERY now and again a memory is made. I had one of those experiences recently when I drove with my daughter Susie towards Glenties and up into the Donegal hills to a little thatched cottage, a whiff of smoke coming out of the chimney and a welcome on the mat.
Before we could even get out of the car, Breezy Willow Kelly was there, arms wide in greeting.
Her invitation to lunch was a treat, as she surrounds you with love and interest, happiness and bread.
She is a beautiful soul who believes it is more blessed to give than to receive. She inspired the international day known as Bake Bread for Peace, but every day she encourages those who can to open their homes and invite friends into a peaceful kitchen to bake and share.
High on her agenda is peaceful protest. Two years ago she led a march in memory of Lyra McKee and more recently walked 62 miles to raise money for Children in Crossfire. She thinks nothing of walking miles and she's welcome wherever she goes and usually ends up in the kitchen - baking bread.
Through the red half-door into the tiny kitchen, the fire glowing in the range and the smell of baking fills the air.
"When I was a child I felt most secure in the kitchen when my mother was baking bread," she explains.
"It's the aroma of peace - the smell of fresh bread hugged me and I felt safe."
The engine room of this power house, where many notable people have broken bread, was colourful and somehow expectant.
Breezy's little dog Sheila was curled up in her basket, snuggled in beside the cat and her two black kittens.
And so began a time of learning, discussion, singing and reciting poetry. The chat and the laughter ricocheted round the cottage.
Breezy was a chef and her vegetable soup was like nothing I've tasted before, then little triangles of home made pizza and a choice of banana bread, maize bread and wheaten bread. Cups of tea and fresh cold water.
We Got Round To Nature
We were introduced to Mother Elder behind the cottage - a tree steeped in folklore, the 'eye of the day' like a carpet all round; daisies to you and me.
I told her of a friend who has a lawn which is kept well manicured. When it's too wet to cut her husband is infuriated but she's delighted because she loves to see the defiant buttercups jump out of the soil, the blue speedwell, white clover and the little daisies always turning their face to the sun.
And what about the dandelions - the only plant that represents three celestial bodies, yellow flower the sun, puff ball the moon, the seeds the stars?
Not so popular for some reason, yet these brilliant yellow flowers have a wonderful story which fascinates children and adults alike,
"The dandelion has been used in traditional medicine since time began," says Breezy.
"In Ireland it's always been associated with Saint Bridget, perhaps because it's the first flower to come into bloom following her festival in February, and in Scotland it's thought the nourishment provides its milky sap to the lambs in early spring."
But it's the seed head that fascinates me most. We called them clocks and believed you could tell the time just by blowing the seeds off their base - if one blow frees, then it's one o'clock; four go and it's four o'clock, and so on.
It's also known as the Shepherd's Clock as it opens its petals at sunrise and closes them at dusk so times can be worked out with this botanical sun dial.
I remember sitting in a garden with a friend who was suffering the last stages of Alzheimer's. A single seed drifted towards us like a tiny white parachute and I said, "Catch it and make a wish", which was something we did as children.
She caught it, clasped it to her breast and in a rare lucid moment, whispered, "I wish for my son to be happy." It was an emotional moment which brought tears.
What's In A Name?
Breezy also told us that here in Ireland other names for the seed heads are Jimmyjoes and Jinnyjoes, but there are more.
"Throughout Europe the dandelion has always been used in a wide variety of traditional herbal cures," she says.
"It's particularly well know for its diuretic properties, giving relief with all sorts of kidney problems. This has lead to it being called Piss-the-bed or, in society, Wet-the-bed."
If the milky sap is applied to warts it's said after nine days they will be gone. Our conversation is now on a roll and Breezy is recalling how nature cures were used in the country.
"I remember as a child when I was tortured with hives, dandelion tea was one of the remedies that I was given to purify the blood, and I do believe that it brought relief," she recalls.
"And long ago when 'consumption' - tuberculosis - was rampant, it was believed that a sandwich of bread, butter and dandelion leaves brought relief and sometimes even a cure."
However, these are old wives' tales - tonics and remedies from the countryside long before doctors sent you to a specialist for your complaint, so it is wise to check them out with a medical professional.
I've begun to drink dandelion tea and I don't know if it has purified my blood but it hasn't done me any harm. Just trim off the flowers into a teacup, pour in boiling water, leave for five minutes, strain and drink.
We sat in the sunshine beside Mother Elder, a tree with many favourable qualities, and the craic continued until well into the late afternoon.
Then it was time to take our leave of this unique woman, herself a tonic for the soul. Her parting shot: "Enjoy the day that's in it, for it will never happen again."
Breezy, I hope it will - in some shape or form.