Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Frozen Berries

Today we went to Donegal Town to pick up stuff at the library. They had more books for sale, so we came home with more than we thought we would! We had to dodge numerous ice cream and slushy puddles, as well as tourists. While we waited for the library to re-open after lunch, we went to Aldi to get some groceries. I was pleased to see the frozen fruit section well-stocked. I bought several bags, packing them at the bottom of my backpack. They provided some nice cooling for me as I walked between the store and the library and as the pack sat on my lap on the bus ride home.
When I got home, I put the groceries away and made a simple smoothie with some raspberries, a banana, and a splash of milk. I added extra berries and it was like soft serve ice cream--I ate it with a spoon. It was exactly what I needed on this hot day.
We have reached the point in the summer where I am not alone in my dislike of the heat. Locals are starting to comment on it, too. Whenever the sun comes out after a grey/rainy period, people are almost giddy. When we're out and about, people grin and exclaim about what a beautiful day it is. I muster up enough energy to smile and agree with them. We walk on and Bill laughs and calls me a liar. But it only takes a few sunny days for them to get to where I am. As we were making our way to the bus stop this morning, we passed a guy, who smiled, said hello, and commented, 'It's a hot one today.' 'Yes, it is!' I replied, with complete honesty. According to the Met Eireann website, it's about 19c (66f). I am not sure whether it just feels a lot warmer than that because I have no tolerance for this kind of thing anymore or whether it actually is warmer than that, but either way, it's what counts as a hot day here. Don't take my word for it, just ask a local person! 😉

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Usual, But Different

As many of you know, summer and I have a hate-hate relationship. I dread its arrival each yer, and struggle with depression, exhaustion, agitation, nausea, and other unpleasantries. What many people experience in winter with seasonal affective disorder, I experience in the summer. This year, we had a summery April, which has been pretty typical in the years we've been here. I was preparing for what was coming. But then it cooled off again and was rainy for a month or two. I had a reprieve and was grateful. A couple of weeks ago, summer made its return. I was trying to prepare myself as I always do, but within a few days, I knew I was going to have to change my approach.

We were in Donegal Town, doing a library run. The tourists are back, so there were more people than usual. I could feel myself getting agitated and it was such a relief to get home. A couple of days later, we walked through town to call on veg man. There was an event happening, so again lots of people had congregated. It was hot (to me--other people had things like leather pants on and some had jackets) and sunny. I made it home, plopped myself into a chair and had a cry. I knew that I had to respond to this entirely predictable annual situation in a way that was different from what I've done in the past.

Every year, I spend a lot of time having mental conversations with myself in which I am basically taking myself to task for feeling the way I do. I remind myself over and over again that I am lucky to live in a beautiful place, in a cosy home. I do not have to walk miles to haul water or hope I have enough food. I am safe. There is no war here. I have no right to be depressed because of some seasonal discomfort when other people live in such horrific conditions and I should just suck it up and knock it off. Needless to say, true as it all is, it did not help.

As I considered some of the Buddhist teaching I have heard and read, I saw that I was going about all of this in exactly the wrong way, and actually making things worse as a result. This is what it is. It's July and current conditions are normal for July. My physical response to these conditions are also normal for me. I cannot change them. What I can do is accept and acknowledge that this is what happens at this time of year. It will be sunny and warm/hot. It will not cool down much at night, because there are not enough hours of darkness. I will feel like crap. That is July. Instead of trying to force my experiences into a different place, I am stopping and paying attention to them. Instead of trying to push them away, I am making friends with them and trying to express compassion to myself. And you know what? It's helping. It's not that the exhaustion, nausea, depression, and discomfort have gone away, but I am not fighting against them anymore and that removes the added layer of suffering I placed on myself. I still wake up in the morning feeling exhausted, no matter how much sleep I've gotten and I go to bed exhausted every night, wondering whether I'll be able to fall asleep. I still feel depressed. I still feel like it has been July for a couple of years instead of a couple of weeks. But I am not wishing it was otherwise anymore. I have stopped fighting. Instead of trying to force myself to carry on, I am adapting. When I felt so depressed and lethargic last week that I felt I could not do anything, I didn't try to push through that. I just sat and experienced it, doing the tasks that were necessary and leaving it at that. After a couple of days, I noticed that I was getting frustrated at not stitching, but I was unable to focus on a specific project or even have an idea. I brought an embroidery book upstairs, sat in bed and looked at it, occasionally looking through the window at the harbour, and I felt soothed. Soon, I picked up some scrap cloth and thread and worked on an abstract piece. It was calming and peaceful. I am doing a lot of comfort reading--short stories and Golden Age mysteries. Wherever possible, I am avoiding situations that are particularly annoying, thus conserving energy for the times when avoidance isn't possible. In short, I am giving myself the space to accept the way things are and doing what I can to take care of myself.

Am I enjoying July? No. Am I still eagerly anticipating autumn, crisp air, fewer hours of daylight, and refreshing sleep? Absolutely. When we went to get some groceries the other day, I noticed the fireweed and was bummed at how the blooms were still so low on the stalk. Then I reminded myself that this is how it is and the blooms will work their way towards the top of the stalk as the summer drags on, eventually reaching the top and then turning to white fluff. This too shall pass. In the meantime, I am going to continue this attempt to compassionately sit with what comes up, doing what I can to respond in ways that are helpful, instead of trying to force myself to change what isn't going to change.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Reading to the End

Here are the last few books on my June book list. It was a good reading month! Parts one and two can be found here and here.

How to Love a Country by Richard Blanco (audiobook read by the poet)
I downloaded this from the e-audiobook section of the library website. These are powerful poems, addressing important issues about life in the US today. As I listened, I had goosebumps at times. I think the poems had even more impact because I was listening to the poet read them, with the cadences he intended as he wrote them.

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken
I requested this book when I saw it in a Lit Hub email. I’d recently read a collection of the author’s short stories and this book sounded quirky, revolving as it does around candlepin bowling (it’s a New England thing), so I requested it. When I started it, I had the uneasy feeling that it might be too quirky and I considered setting it aside, but I read on and soon, I was immersed in the story. The book opens in a cemetery in Salford, Massachusetts around 1900, where there is a body. This body stands out because it’s alive. Turns out it’s Bertha Truitt, who has mysteriously ended up there in her bicycle skirt and a bag containing a candlepin, a ball, and some gold bars. She opens a candlepin bowling alley, which is at the centre of the story and is really a main character in the novel as it moves through the century. McCracken’s writing style is interesting--the story moves in paragraphs that don’t really jump around in time too much, although at times we are brought into the past and briefly tossed into the future. But the story moves along in bits, in a way--a short scene here and another one to follow. Everything and everyone spins out from Bertha and the bowling alley. There is some historical fact woven into the story, most notably the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. I’m glad I decided to read a little more and didn’t set the book aside--it’s a really good read.

Cities: The First 6,000 Years by Monica L. Smith
This book, written by an archaeologist who does her fieldwork in India, does not attempt to provide a linear history of the rise and continuation of cities. Rather, she discusses the ways in which the existence of urban areas came about, what this entailed, and what it meant to human societies. She talks about social interactions, language, infrastructure, consumption, the rise of the middle class, slums, and cultural aspects of urban living, including the relationship between rural and urban communities. It was quite an interesting book, although there were a few times where I felt she was glossing over some serious issues and making comparisons that were superficially valid, but in other ways missed the mark. For example, one of the main arguments of her book is that many of the things that people are concerned about today are not new at all, but have been experienced for thousands of years. In general, I agree with this and have made much the same argument myself. With the exception of the climate emergency, much of what we see now is the same old stuff that has been going on for a long time. Once human groups settled, certain things started to happen and while we are experiencing these things in specific ways through the lens of consumer capitalism, the overaching phenomena have played out in various ways throughout this time. However, some of her specific examples seemed to be missing crucial points. For instance, when she is discussing consumption, she spends some time describing disposable items from various sites around the world. Cheaply made clay vessels, she tells us, were imported to urban areas, purchased and used with the intent to throw them away. She then compares this to today, when people are concerned about the amount of garbage generated in wealthier nations, seeming to imply that this concern is overblown. Of course, she is an archaeologist and rubbish is a very important tool in that field--much of what we know about groups of people from the past is due to the rubbish they left behind. But cheaply made, low quality, disposable clay pots is a very different set of objects than toxic plastic tossed everywhere to poison the ground, water, and animals. The environment is not threatened by buried clay potsherds, but plastics, microplastics, and other toxins are a grave threat to many species. There is also a matter of scale. There are so many more people on the planet today than there were and a lot more waste is being generated. In addition to this issue, I found some of her other arguments unconvincing, but I have always had a difficult relationship with archaeology and used to have robust discussions in my anthropology departments with the archaeologists. On the one hand, there is much we can learn, especially as technology makes dating and other measurements more precise or even possible. On the other hand, any attempt to reconstruct cultural thinking that is beyond the measurable, is always a best guess and seen through the lens of the archaeologists own worldview, which includes their own cultural biases as well as a desire for professional prestige (it's more impressive, for instance, to have excavated a shrine that one can make a lot of assumptions about than to talk about a pile of rocks as the result of children playing, but that pile of rocks could be either one or an infinite number of other things besides).

There were other parts of the book that I quite liked. At one point, she mentioned that ‘the archaeology of disenfranchised’ has not been done to the extent that it should be (again, the prestige issue). I wholeheartedly agree with this.

I found out about this book through a book related email, although I get so many and I don’t remember which one specifically. In spite of some of the misgivings I had about certain aspects of her arguments, it was still worth reading.

Wilderness Tips by Margaret Atwood
One day several months ago, while looking at the books in the local charity shop, I came across an omnibus volume containing this book and Cat’s Eye. I brought it home, stuck it on the shelf, and picked it up the other day when I was finished with my stack of library books. This book is a collection of short stories. Since I’m a big fan of short story collections, I was happy to find it and read it.

I hope your book pile is full of interesting and entertaining content!

Monday, July 1, 2019

One Book Leads to Another

I know that some people were not happy when the physical card catalogues were eliminated in libraries and everything went digital. I liked card catalogues well enough, but I was thrilled when things went digital and I could click around in the middle of the night to look for and request books. This is still a habit. There have been many times when I've been sitting in bed, post-midnight, listening to a books podcast and doing a library search for the book being discussed at the same time. Weirdly, using the author's name in the search box gets better results than typing in the title, so I do that. This has the benefit of bringing up other books and I sometimes find other good stuff in the process. So it was with the next book in my June reading list.

Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske by Julia Blackburn
John Craske (born in 1881) was a fisherman who, because of a set of mysterious ailments which surfaced in 1917, was unable to continue fishing. The sea was his home in many ways and he stayed connected to it by painting. Then he became so ill that he could no longer stand to paint and was bedridden. He turned to embroidery as a way to create his art while in his bed.

I’d first read about this man in a book I recently read about a history of sewing. Then I heard a discussion with this author about Doggerland, the subject of her most recent book. While I was at the library searching for the Doggerland book, I saw this one listed. At the time, my hold list was full, so I waited until I had some space and requested it then.

I had the impression that it was going to be a fairly straightforward biography, but it was not that at all. It was sort of a mix of biography, memoir, history, nature writing, and more. Blackburn tells the reader early on that absence was a big theme in the writing of this book.

She was fascinated by Craske, but had a hard time tracking down information about him. In the book, she writes about his life and that of his wife, as far as she can discover, but she also tells the story of her quest to find out. There are side stories about places and people associated with Craske. Threaded throughout is the story of what was happening in her own life during the time she was researching and writing the book. It sounds a bit chaotic, but she is such a good writer and ties everything together so well, as she did in her book about Doggerland, that I was hooked. Somewhere in the middle of the book, I realized that I liked it much better than I would have if it was a straight biography.

I quite like the fact that, as a result of this project, the work of John Craske is now at least a wee bit less unknown. Blackburn helped to put together an exhibition of some of the works that had been languishing in attics, dusty back rooms of museums, and other storage places.

I devoted a blog post to the two Doggerland books I read (Doggerland by Ben Smith and Time Song: Searching for Doggerland by Julia Blackburn). That can be found here.

I'd read about the following book in a book related email and put myself on the list at the library. It was well worth the wait. I've read Macfarlane's work before and I highly recommend it--this book included!

Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane
this artwork was done by a friend of the author and depicts the second after a nuclear blast

Macfarlane was the opening interview of a recent NY Times Book Review podcast, which you can find out about here.

I never know what I will find when I click around at the library website and the experience is even better now than it used to be. A couple of years ago, they went to a nationwide system, so now I can request books from anywhere in the country. I can use my library card to check out books anywhere in the country and we can return to any library in the country. Fun!

Happy July! 

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Bookin' Through Another Month

And so we come to the end of June. We have not been experiencing the hellish temperatures that some places in continental Europe are coping with, but summer did arrive earlier this week, with temperatures in the low 20s and sun. That's enough to cause problems for me and I muddled through the other day in spite of the headache, brain fog, and nausea. It was better yesterday and today and I can function through the usual summer tiredness. I know I had a reprieve throughout May and most of June, when I slept well and even comfortably wore a jacket a few times! Now it's just time to grit my teeth and move through July, which I always dread more than any other month. Last year, it seemed endless. But it wasn't and I must admit that autumn, deep sleep, deep breaths of crisp air, rain, and comfort always seem so much sweeter after the discomforts of summer. It's like Thich Nhat Hanh once wrote--we don't appreciate not having a toothache until we've had a toothache and it goes away.

Speaking of Thich Nhat Hanh, he led off my June reading list, which was, as usual, eclectic. Here's the first part:

Love Letter to the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh
This book is a reminder, from the perspecive of a Buddhist monk that we are inextricably connected to the natural world, but that we forget this connection, take a great deal for granted, and harm ourselves in the process.

Death in a White Tie by Ngaio Marsh
I’d finished the physical book I’d brought when we went away for a few days, so turned to my e-reader, picking up where I’d left off in Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn series. I finished one of those books and started this one, finishing it after we got home. In this book, women are being blackmailed and Alleyn enlists the help of a friend of himself and many of the other people involved to help catch the culprit. At a dinner dance at one of the society houses, the friend does this, but does not make it home. This one is personal for Alleyn and most of the other people involved.

Promised Land: Poems from Itinerant Life by Andre Naffis-Sahely
I check the poetry collection in the e-book section of the library periodically to see if there is anything new. Upon reading this description, I decided to borrow the book:
‘Flitting from the mud-soaked floors of Venice to the glittering, towering constructions of the Abu Dhabi of his childhood and early adulthood, from present-day London to North America, André Naffis-Sahely's bracingly plain-spoken first collection gathers portraits of promised lands and those who go in search of them: labourers, travellers, dreamers; the hopeful and the dispossessed.’

True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart by Tara Brach, PhD
I used to listen to this woman’s podcasts years ago, but then stopped. I recently came across the podcasts and started listening to her again as I work on some creative blockages in my life. When I was looking her up, I saw a blurb about this book, so did a library search, found it, requested it, and waited for it to arrive at my local branch. What I liked best about the book was the personal stories that she used to illustrate her points. Bill and I used to teach life story classes and help people preserve their stories, so I recognize the power they have to teach the teller and the listener/reader the power of the possible.

Silence in the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge
I learned of this book when a friend sent me an article in The Guardian about the author’s latest book, which is about walking. In that article, they mentioned this book and I requested both. This one came in first.

By silence, Kagge does not mean only the absence of noise, although that’s part of what he writes about. He also writes about art, science, class, nature, wonder, curiosity, distraction, being overly busy, boredom, and the inability of many people to sit quietly with themselves. He discusses one experiment in which people were given an electric shock so they would understand how painful it was. everyone agreed it was very painful and something they would want to avoid. Then they were placed alone in a room with nothing to do. The only way they could stop being alone was to press the button and give themselves the electric shock they said they would try to avoid. Most people gave themselves the shock, deciding that was preferable to any more time alone with themselves.

This is a slim volume and he does not go into great depth about any of his thoughts. Rather, he muses about one thing and then moves on to the next. He draws on some of his own experiences, exploring the Arctic and Antarctica, doing some urban exploring with a friend in the New York City sewer system and under bridges, and other such journeys. He does provide a lot to think about and I am so glad I found out about this book. It’s worth the read.

blooming in spite of the obstacles

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Things That Made Me Smile Today

On our way out this morning, I stopped to admire the tiny flowers peeking out of the green.
We called into the charity shop and it was Bill who alerted me to the small basket of yarn--I hadn't even noticed it. I blame this slippage on the sun, which obviously affected me on the walk there 😉 It's not like me to walk right by yarn without noticing, especially an excellent find like this. Good thing Bill was with me for yarn-spotting back-up!
I knew the cone and the ball are wool and I was pretty sure the hank is, too. I did the burn test when we got home and it is. There was no price on any of them, so I took them and waited to see what she would charge me. We looked around the shop and Bill found a pair of pants and a book. We walked up to the counter to pay and were both shocked when she charged us only €5 for everything.

A closer look shows the subtleties of the colours and textures.

This afternoon, I dumped some frozen strawberries, a couple of bananas, and a splash of milk into the blender and we had smoothies--yum! Very refreshing, especially because we were still uncomfortably warm from our walk in the summer sunshine.

I'm trying to focus on positive things instead of my summer discomfort and the little things above did make me smile. I also remind myself that we are lucky to not be experiencing the extreme and potentially deadly deadly heat that is affecting parts of continental Europe. I don't even like 20 (68F) degrees, never mind 45 (113F)! Here's hoping they get through this heatwave with no serious injury, illness or any loss of life.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Outdoor Laundry Facilities

Over the past few years, these have been popping up outside of petrol stations.

They may have laundromats in some parts of the country, but we haven't seen any in the places we've lived. They have launderettes, which seem to be places where people drop off laundry to have someone else take care of it, but I've not been inside one, so I'm not sure exactly how they work.

We've spent a lot of time over the years looking at rental properties on various websites and one thing we noticed pretty quickly was that they (almost) all have washing machines in them. These are small, under-counter machines, usually in the kitchen, but sometimes tucked away in a bathroom or other spot. There may or may not be a dryer. Again, this may be different in more densely populated areas, but I only have experience with small rural towns, both in terms of where we've lived and where we've looked.

We've lived in four different dwellings here. All have had washing machines and two have had dryers. We never used the dryers. All have had laundry racks--sometimes called a clothes horse or air dryer here. We were happy to discover that these air dryers were part of the furniture, small appliances, kitchenware, etc that comes with rental properties. We'd planned to buy one, so were glad when we didn't have to. We stopped using a dryer over 35 years ago, except for the times we were camping across the US and didn't have a place to hang clothes to dry. From looking at the suggested drying times on the front of these dryers, I'm glad I never felt the need to use them--they both suggested 3 hours of drying time for a load of cottons! This may be one reason why clotheslines are so popular here. Only one of the places we've lived has had no clothesline available, and I could have rigged one up if I'd wanted one. I didn't, because the rack was easier, especially when I consider the fact that me hanging out laundry seems to be a signal that it should rain. I love rain, but not on my drying laundry. As soon as I dash out to bring it in, the sun comes back out. I hang the stuff on the rack and walk away.

As we've ridden around on buses, I've seen a lot of clotheslines with metal roofs over them. Electricity is expensive here, so that may be one reason why clotheslines are so popular. And really, three hours of drying time for one small load would be another incentive to hang the clothes and leave them.

So people have washing machines in their homes, but they're small, so big bulky items won't fit. I guess that's where these machines come in handy. They may also be useful for tourists. They seemed to start popping up a couple of years ago. This one is in Ballyshannon and someone was using it when we were there. There's one at the petrol station on the outskirts of town here and also at a station on the edge of Donegal Town--the latter has two such set-ups. I don't recall ever seeing those in use, but maybe I've simply not been going by at the right time. It seems like a good thing to have available in the event that a large item needs to be laundered.