Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Few Bits to Brighten a Sad Tree

Bill had to go to the health centre yesterday to get hooked up to a blood pressure monitor, which he wears for 24 hours. It comes on every half hour (every hour for some part of the night), and takes his blood pressure. This is the only place in either the US or Ireland where they have done this regularly, but they seem to be quite a bit more proactive than any other medical professionals he has dealt with. Because of his a-fib, they want him to do this every 6 months or so. He doesn't love it, and every time they measure his BP, they tell him it's good, but I suppose if it's ever not good, we'll be glad to know, so he does it.

Yesterday, we walked up to the health centre and Bill told me to look at the sad tree in the little window. It's one of those small tabletop trees in a burlap sack. It looks like it came with lights, but most of them are burned out and only a few were lit. There was nothing else on it. I told Bill that I'd give him a few small ornaments to bring when he goes today to have the monitor removed. Because the tree is small, I chose small ornaments. There are just a few, but they'll brighten up the tree at least a little bit and it will look a wee bit more festive.

I hope your day is in no need of brightening up!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Where's Winter?

When we got our wood delivered a few weeks ago, I 'joked' to Bill that now we've gotten all prepared for winter, it might not arrive. Honestly, it was a joke!!! But perhaps Mother Nature didn't find it funny, because she seems to be withholding any hint of winter from me.

OK, I admit that I did get spoiled in this regard when we lived in Alaska, where there was always winter, and plenty of it!
photo by bill burke
photo by bill burke
We knew we wouldn't have much in the way of winter when we moved here, and I knew I'd miss it. People often ask how we're getting on in the cold and we just tell them it feels like spring, which it does for a good part of the year. Last year, we had a few days of winter, which mostly consisted of lots of black ice, but we had a few inches of snow that made me happy to look at. I know that snow wouldn't be good here--they're not really set up for it and just a few flakes causes a lot of hassle for people. But just a wee bit of cold air would be kind of nice. Just a little. Here we are, heading for mid-December, and it's a balmy +50f/10c out there. At this rate, we really won't have to use any of the wood. On the other hand, if Mother Nature forgives my little 'joke' and does decide to send me a taste of winter, we'll have plenty of wood to keep the cottage warm. We're three weeks and counting past the time when we usually start having heat on.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Seasonal Hattitude

Last week, I posted a hat that I made for someone who requested it, along with the basic recipe for making it (like most recipes, adaptable to suit individual tastes). Making that hat put me in a hat-making mood, so I made a couple more.

When I make hats, the focus is sometimes on structure--hats have a general shape, even if it's endlessly variable, so sometimes I am playing with that shape. Other times, it's a particular stitch pattern/combination that I'm interested in experimenting with. Very often, it's yarn and colour that inspires me. Hats are great projects for using scraps, odd balls, textures, and fun colour combinations. For these two recent hats, I wasn't doing anything special as far as structure goes, and the stitch variations in one were simple and designed to just add a bit of textural interest. It was the yarn and colour that I was focusing on here.

For this first hat, made using the same needle size and numbers as the hat in the previous post (US size 6 needles and cast on 80 stitches), I wanted to use the white mohair for the brim. I had a partial skein of this and had thought about using it for another project, but knew there wouldn't be enough. There was plenty for a warm, wind-resistant hat brim, though. I had leftovers from a cone of navy blue laceweight wool that I'd found on a cone in a charity shop, so I made the brim holding that and the mohair together. Then I switched to a DK weight wool in what the label calls 'bright blue,' and a fingering weight navy blue wool held together for the rest of the hat.

I love the hat, had fun making it, and was thinking about how many different people and places were involved as I was knitting. The needles I used are vintage nylon needles that belonged to a former co-worker's grandmother from Maine. The mohair came from a Facebook friend in the far north of Ireland. The fingering weight was bought in the charity shop here in Killybegs the week we first moved here. The bright blue belonged to a friend's late wife and came from the UK. And the navy blue came from a local friend who got it at a charity shop in Donegal Town.

I finished the second hat last night. A couple of years ago, I crocheted myself a lightweight hat in a lace stitch using red, white, and green yarn with a metallic thread. I wear it during the festive season, but if it's chilly and I'm going out, I switch to another hat for warmth. As I was making some ornaments the other day, I had an idea for a warmer and slightly more subtle festive hat, so I tweaked the basic hat recipe to suit the yarn I wanted to use.
The main yarn is an aran weight white yarn that someone gave me when I was doing the knitting/crocheting group at the library in Moville. It was in a huge skein and I used most of it as part of a blanket, but still had a good-sized ball left, some of which was used here. I doubled that for the brim and when that was done, cut one strand of yarn and added in a fingering weight white with a silver metallic wrap to begin the rest of the hat. I had some mini-skeins in Christmas colours that a friend in Oregon had sent me. I've used most of it, but still had some left, so used a bit of that here. When the silver ran out, I added a strand with green metallic. When that was done, I added the white with red metallic. As I was knitting around and around, I randomly did purl stitches in sets of 1, 3, or 5, just to add a little texture. I did this hat on 72 stitches on 6mm needles.

I am thinking about another hat, constructed in a different way, that would also play with colour. I might be casting on for that soon.

I hope you're enjoying a peaceful day today!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Festive and Frosty

The local SuperValu is in full festive mode, as you'd expect. They placed Frosty at the transition spot between the produce section and the bakery. I don't think I'd ever thought about the interesting placement of those two sections of the store before. There's produce on either side and then in the middle is the stand with the produce that is on sale. Right next to that is a table of cakes, cookies, and scones. Beyond that is the table of apple and apple rhubarb tarts (pies).

Frosty keeps watch by the cakes, while sporting a nose from the nearby produce section.
Over by the off-licence section of the store (where beer, wine, and liquor is sold), they have a rack of 'Festive Fun' holiday headwear.
I've not seen a black Santa hat before. Is this what he wears when he is leaving coal for all the naughty people or is it just meant to provide a bit more sophistication in his work ensemble than the bright red hat and suit provide?

I hope there are some fun and festive sights in your neck of the woods today!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Yesterday I mentioned that we might get some winterish weather. This did not materialize and there is no snow on the hills. After doing a load of laundry, knitting while the washing machine was doing its thing and hanging the wet laundry on the clothes horse to dry, I proceeded with my plan anyway--made a cup of tea and settled in with my cosy mystery, which I started in the wee hours of this morning, before attempting to sleep. When I woke up this morning, I thought this might be a lost day, since I had a stabbing sort of headache. I went back to sleep for a while and when I next awoke, it was gone, so I get a functioning day after all. Yay!

We got a flyer in the post for this store in Donegal Town that sells various electronics and home appliances. We don't have to worry about buying appliances, for which I am grateful, but I went through the ad anyway, just to see what sort of stuff they sell. Cookers, hobs, fridges, fridge freezers are all different than the ones that are common in the US, with the exception of the 'American-style fridge freezer' which is huge compared to all the others in the ad. This time I was particularly struck by the cookers, which run from the small fan ovens like we have, to some pretty intense (and expensive) combination appliances. One has a 5 burner hob, three different ovens, and a grille oven. There's a main oven, a small fan oven, and a third oven.
If this behemoth was installed in my kitchen, I'd have no counter space left!

We don't get many ads here, but there are a few more at this time of year. It's interesting to look through them sometimes and see what sorts of things are sold. We rarely go into a store besides a grocery store or charity shop, so this gives me a window into a certain aspect of the culture I wouldn't get otherwise.

I'll be getting back into my book shortly. In the meantime, here's the final installment of my November book list.
Armistice: A Laureate’s Choice Of Poems of War and Peace edited by Carol Ann Duffy
The title says it all. Here’s an example of a short poem she included:
‘Peace upon earth!’ was said. We sing it.
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mess
We’ve got as far as poison gas.
Thomas Hardy

Beneath the Skin: Great Writers on the Body by various authors
I found this book while scrolling through the e-book section of the library website. I was intrigued, so downloaded it. What an interesting collection of essays this is! Each author chose a specific bodily organ, researched it, and wrote about it. All the essays contained both personal anecdotes and explanations about the organ and its function. Some referenced  literature and poetry as well. I found the book fascinating and I’m glad I decided to give it a try!

A Dark Time by Sophie Hannah
I was reading through the posts on a Guardian Book Club web chat about Agatha Christie (her books Endless Night and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd were the November selections) and Sophie Hannah, who was the guest and author of the Poirot continuation series. In one of her answers, she commented about a series she writes and the requests she gets for more of them. She’s written some stand-alone books since the last one in the series came out. She said that the next novel in the series is coming next year and following that will be a collection of stories. In the meantime, though, there was a link on her website to a novella featuring the two main characters that could be downloaded for free. So of course, off I clicked to get the pdf. If you’re interested, the link can be found on this page. It takes you to an ADT (home security company) page and from there you get to the pdf.

Sea Garden by HD
A collection of poetry by HD (Hilda Doolittle) that I downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

Moments: Irish Women Writers in Aid of the Tsunami Victims
edited by Ciara Considine
I picked up this short story collection in a charity shop in one town or another. It was published in April, 2005 and at the time, the entire €10 purchase price went to aid victims of the December, 2004 tsunami. The writers whose work is collected here are varied in style and subject matter, although the thread that runs through all the stories is the idea of change in some form. It’s a nice collection that I enjoyed very much.

Hope it's a quiet, cosy day in your neck of the woods!

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Unexpected Genius of Pigs and Other Books

It might get slightly winterish at some point tomorrow. We'll see. It's been pretty mild, although on rainy days, it does feel a bit cooler. Last night, we walked down to see the Christmas light switch-on and I optimistically wore my new needle felted hat, since it'd been raining earlier in the day. It was lightly misting when we went out and quite warm for the time of year. I'd optimistically worn my new needle felted hat, since it'd been raining earlier in the day and looked colder than it was. I really didn't need that particular hat on that particular night, but some day, it'll be perfect. It's clear out now and supposed to stay that way overnight, so tomorrow will start off cold and then the rain will come. Maybe snow on the hills. Sounds like a perfect day for lots of tea, some nice music, a bit of yarn, and a book (like all days!). I've got a nice Christmas cosy mystery on top of the pile ready to be started.

Here are a few more of the books I read in November. We begin with the pigs!

The Unexpected Genius of Pigs by Matt Whyman
I was scrolling through the new e-books available at the library and came to this one. It was laugh-out-loud funny. The author and his family live in a semi-rural area, but not out in the middle of nowhere. They have neighbours. They also had chickens that were attacked by foxes and wanted to know what they could do about this problem. His wife did some research and found that pigs deter foxes. Further online exploration brought her to a person selling mini-pigs. They ended up with two of them. The learning curve was steep, especially when it became obvious that there wasn’t very much that was mini about the pigs.The author later learned that mini-pigs are not really a thing, but since piglets are small and regular pigs sell for £30 or so (according to him) and something marketed as a mini pig sells for upwards of £500, there is some cash to be made by calling the pig mini, even if it is going to grow up to be anything but! By the time they discovered this and called the breeder, that person was long gone and no longer in business. Whyman set out to learn about pigs, so spoke to scientists, other pig owners, and pig rescue people. The book is a combination of personal stories about his own experience with his pigs, stories from other pig people, and what science can tell us about pig evolution, biology, and behaviour. Glad I found this book!
Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro
I found this book at a charity shop. The stories were good, if unsettling, and I found it to be an enjoyable read.

Birds Art Life Death: A Field Guide to the Small and Significant by Kyo Maclear
I came across this memoir while scrolling through the e-book section of the library website. This is the title as it appears there. When I went to the author’s website, the book was listed as Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation. The author is an artist in a creative slump who lives in Toronto. She is also a sandwich generation woman, who is trying to care for her ill, elderly father and her children while still working out ideas through her artwork. She grew up in a multicultural situation, with a British father, a Japanese mother, living in Canada. One day, she meets a musician who is an avid bird watcher and she asks if she can tag along with him for a year. She thinks that his attention to the birds and how he incorporates that into his life, might teach her some things. This book is an account of what she thought about during that year, what she learned, how she used the lessons to make sense of some of the issues from her childhood, and helped her understand herself, her artistic practice, and her family better. It's a quiet book, filled with quiet moments of reflection about creativity, love, nature, passion for something, and how we direct that passion.

Endless Night by Agatha Christie
This was one of The Guardian’s book club selections for November (the other being The Murder of Roger Ackroyd). I decided to read it again because of this. I was familiar with the story, but because I’d also heard radio dramatisations and seen a TV adaptation that had inserted Miss Marple, even though she is not in this book, I decided to read it again. The book is narrated by the main character, who is remembering what led up to the present. He was a jerk who met a rich girl and thought he had everything he wanted at last, but the menace grows as the book progresses and of course, things do not move along in the ways he thought they would. The book was published in 1967.

And so another week begins. I hope it has started off well.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Happy December Already!

Where did November go? It seems like it just started, yet here we are welcoming December.

We walked to see whether we could find some cranberries at the veg man who sets up here on Saturdays. I walked along the table and didn't see any, so I asked if he would be getting any in soon. He said he already had some and pulled a couple of small punnets from behind a box. I bought them. Last year, Andrew, the veg man in Moville, had bags and bags of cranberries for about a month and I stocked up, making cranberry jam, cranberry orange muffins, and shoving bags in every available nook and cranny I could find in the freezer. I am hopeful that the local grocery store will get some in--the SuperValu both here and in Ballinrobe had them during festive seasons past. For now, I am happy to have found a few cranberries and as soon as we got home, I got some jumbo porridge oats soaking in some orange juice so I can make cranberry orange muffins later. Yay!

It's just possible that November sped by me while I had my nose stuck in a book--it was an excellent, eclectic selection this month, mostly involving books I had no idea about until I stumbled upon them.

The Art of Kantha Embroidery by Niaz Zaman
I saw a blog post that mentioned kantha embroidery and, wanting to know more, I went to the library website, did a search, and requested this book. The original book was published decades ago and was updated and reprinted a few times. The author discusses the history of this kind of embroidery, which originated in what is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It started out being a way to use worn sari fabric and thread to make blankets. Women would use the pieces of the fabric and also unpick threads to use for the embroidery, which was done mostly with running stitches in staggered lines. This naturally caused the underlying fabric to pucker a bit and provided added strength. Other stitches might be used for embellishment. There were traditional sorts of designs used, like the lotus. Today, there are kanthas made for a modern art market, so they’re made in non-traditional ways, using a more varied repertoire of imagery, and are mostly made to hang on the wall, instead of being made to use as a blanket. Cooperatives have been formed to provide income for women who are skilled at this kind of stitching. I found this book fascinating, combining as it did the history of the art/craft, explanations of the techniques used to create kanthas, the meanings behind the images used, and lots of photos showing both traditional and modern examples.
The Word Exchange By Alena Graedon
I dedicated a blog post to this book here.

The Sourdough School by Vanessa Kimball
This book is for people who are really interested in diving into the world of sourdough. The author is the founder of The Sourdough School, thus the name of the book. She talks about her own experience in the introduction, explaining how she became passionate about sourdough. She’d spent time in France as a child and then went there to learn about baking bread. When she went back to the UK, she felt terrible when she ate commercial bread, but there was no market for artisanal breads at that time. She avoided bread. Then she went back to France and a friend handed her a fresh, warm loaf, which she devoured before she could stop herself. As soon as she was done, she worried about how sick she was going to be, but to her surprise, she was fine. She discovered that she could eat sourdough. The book was interesting to read, but a bit too in-depth for me. I found the sections on science and nutrition interesting, and I enjoyed the life stories she included, but the how-to sections were impractical for me. For example, I have a small under-counter fridge, so the parts about how to rearrange things to accommodate various kinds of sourdough starter (in the event that one does not have a dedicated fridge for that purpose) were not very helpful. That said, I borrowed this book from the library and found it to be a good read. It wasn’t what I thought it would be, but that’s my issue and does not detract from the quality of the book. If anyone really wants to learn a lot about sourdough--how to start it, feed it, use it, and bake delicious bread with it, this is a good reference book.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
I’d heard about this book before, probably when they were releasing the movie, but I’d never read it. Bill read about the book recently and requested it from the library. This volume contained the original book and the sequel. He enjoyed it and I had time to read it before we were going back to the library, so I did. It was pleasant enough, but I didn’t love it. The first book was a collection of letters between the author and a guy (and a few others, including his co-workers and family) who worked in a book shop in London (at the address of the title). She lived in NY City, but also had a thing for London, even though she'd never been.  She loved books, and had specific requests for sometimes obscure books. The people in the book shop tracked them down and mailed them, and she posted cash to them. I enjoyed that part, because, spanning 15 or 20 years, they provided a window into what life was like in London in the 1950s and 60s, with rationing and other post-war issues. In this age of online searching and shopping, it was nice to see how the act of having to personally request books via letter led to relationships forming. The second book was about a trip she finally took to London--this was a life-long dream, but money problems derailed her plans to go several times. It was in the 1970s, I believe, that she finally got to go, but sadly, her correspondent had died shortly before she made it there. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed the letters, and I felt myself growing bored fairly quickly.

I hope you're enjoying this first day of December!