Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

I read about this book recently in a book email I got, although I forget which one. It sounded good, so I requested it from the library and finished it last night, glad to have read it.

First off, I love the cover art.
Can't really see from the picture, but the white areas are created from dictionary pages, which is appropriate for the story. Although red is not my favourite colour, I would hang a print of this on my wall.

Here's the description of the book from the back:

The book is set in the near future--published in 2014, there is a reference to things that happened in the past, during 2016, so we know it's at least a few years beyond that. Before he vanishes, Ana's father, Doug, starts to act even more eccentric than he often normally is, exhorting her to stop using her Meme, giving her tablets and telling her that at the first sign of aphasia, fever, headache, nausea, she should take an entire dose. She dismisses his concerns at first, but after he goes missing and she starts to try to find out what happened, she slowly comes to realize that his concerns were warranted.

She uncovers the sinister business practices of Synchronic, the company that has monetized words and discovers the people who are resisting as part of the Diachronic Society. She learns that Synchronic did not want the last edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), the book she and her father were working on, to be published and the lengths they were willing to go to in order to stop it.

The book is, in some ways, just a fun read and some of it is a little simplistic and pat, but that didn't diminish my enjoyment of it. In addition to some of the predictable interpersonal relationship stuff, though, the book is a celebration of language, words, and books. At one point, Ana says, 'Words are living legends, swollen with significance. We string them together to make stories, but they themselves are stories, encapsulating rich, runny histories.' (p95) Anyone interested in etymology can relate, I'm sure.

For me, it was worth the read for the celebration of language and the written word, the reminder that things--even important things--can slip away from us without us noticing, and that words and how we use them matter. We should pay attention to how we use words, but how others can be using them to manipulate, spread chaos, and feed their greed.

This was the author's first novel. I don't know whether she's written anything else. Based on the acknowledgements, she did a fair bit of research about subjects such as philosophy (particularly Hegel), computer viruses, brain function, linguistics, and how illnesses can spread.

The book was worth the time I spent with it. 😊 I hope you're spending some quality time with a good book, too!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Needle Felted Hat

Sooner or later, no matter what kind of fibre manipulation technique I am doing, I end up seeing how it will work for hat making. I have a bit of an obsession interest in hats. And socks. I have a drawer full of each. But, you know, there's always room for one more.

I've been thinking about a needle-felted hat for some time now. When Bill took advantage of a going-out-of-business sale earlier this year and bought a bunch of roving, 'hat' was the first thing to come to mind when I saw the balls of mauve-ish and blue-grey and mauve-ish and light brown that were a mix of merino and mohair. Before that I'd gotten some scraps of roving that he'd found online, some of which were beautiful mixes of colour which would also work well as part of a hat.

One of the things I love about needle felting is the abstract felt I can create with it. I like a lot of abstract art and collage and that kind of thing and this allows me to work that way, by layering and 'mark-making' (with fiber instead of paint, graphite, crayon, etc) but with the added quality of softness. It begs to be touched. That's one reason I work with textiles. I don't think I was always so aware of the importance of touch in what I do, but last year we went to an art exhibit that had a lot of abstracts and some textile work. I liked the abstracts well enough, but when I got to the textiles, I felt connected somehow. Then I walked over and looked at a framed print of one of the textile works I'd just been admiring and it left me cold, sitting flat behind the glass. Of course, I did not touch the original work, but I could imagine what it felt like. I learned something about myself that day and came away with a new understanding of how softness and texture play a big role in my creative process. The squish factor is more important than I knew!

So the other day, I sat down with a pile of various colours of roving, my foam pad, and my felting needles and I started stabbing. I randomly built up a rectangle, adding bits of this colour here and the other colour there until it was sturdy enough to hold together and long enough to fit around my head. I felted the ends together to form a tube and felted some more all over to get rid of any thin spots. I finished that last night and then this afternoon, I did an oval for the crown, felted it and the tube together, and then used a different needle to smooth things a bit to finish.  Here it is from different angles and on my head.

I had a lot of fun making this and am thrilled with how it turned out! It's so squishy, warm, and soft and it'll be great in the rain!

When I started this post, I was thinking that while I've crocheted, knitted, needle-tatted, and now needle-felted hats, I've never cross-stitched a hat. Aida cloth wouldn't really work well for that kind of thing. Then I thought, 'Ah, but you could make a hat using Tunisian crochet simple stitch and cross stitch on that!' Hmmm.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Quiet Sunday: Reading, Stabbing, Tea, and Leftovers

It's been a quiet day here. I like to meander through Sundays with nothing particular that needs to be done. I started a book--The Word Exchange, which I'm enjoying a lot so far--and spent a couple of hours doing some needle felting. I am almost done with a smaller piece that will include some cross-stitching when it's done and then I started a larger piece. I was stabbing that roving for two hours, most of that time on the larger piece. On that one, I just got a base strip made to the length I needed. There will be a lot more stabbing to come on this one, but I was pleased to have gotten a good beginning.

We had leftovers for supper, so heat and eat was the name of the game.

Before I get too far into the November book pile, here's the rest of the October book list:
Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay
I discovered this book at the local charity shop. I’d never heard of the author, but learned by reading the back of the book that she was a Golden Age author. She only wrote three novels, all cosy mysteries, but authored or co-authored several books about rural England, with a particular focus on crafts. All three of her mysteries were published in the 1930s. This is the first one. The third is a Christmas-themed one, which I also have and will read soon. I’m curious to see if the tone is different. This one surprised me a bit, because it had a comedic element to it, starting with the name of the victim--Euphemia Pongleton. Miss Pongleton was found on the stairs of the Belsize Underground Station, having been strangled with her dog’s leash. This was not the station nearest the boarding house where she lived, but she walked there to save a penny on the fare. She is an unsympathetic character and, while people are disturbed at the fact of murder itself, no one misses Euphemia herself. Her nephew, Basil Pongleton, is the main suspect, because he is due to inherit and, of course, has money troubles. The police are confused because some things don;t add up and he makes things worse for himself by concocting stories about what he was doing, involving other people, then having difficulty remembering what he said and to whom. This was an enjoyable read.

Peace of Mind: Becoming Fully Present by Thich Nhat Hanh
In this book, Thich Nhat Hanh reminds readers that we spend a good deal of our everyday lives sleepwalking, moving through our days without being fully present. He provides various thoughts and examples of things we can do to become more present. I came across this while at the e-book section of the library website. If you've read or listened to Thich Nhat Hanh at all, you won't really find anything new here, but I find that revisiting ideas can sometimes spark a new thought or make me think of something in a new way, so I don't mind reading the work of certain people, even if I'm already familiar with it. Thich Nhat Hanh is one such person.

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen
This book takes place in the waning days of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy during the Irish War of Independence in the early 1920s. The setting is a large house called Danielstown, which is modeled on the author’s childhood home, Bowen Court. The reader sees things through the eyes of Lois, who lives at Danielstown with her uncle, Sir Richard Naylor and his wife. She is 18, so coming of age in a changing world. The old ways are making way for a new, independent nation and there are tensions. Young British military men are frequent visitors to the country homes in the area and they bring their own sense of entitlement and arrogance to an already tense situation as they develop relationships with the people in the ‘big houses.’ One, Gerald, who is smitten with Lois, says at one point, “I mean, looking back in history – not that I’m intellectual – we do seem the only people.” This seemed to me to be a quiet book, with tensions simmering throughout, but also with some comical aspects in the form of the ridiculous behaviour exhibited by some of the Brits who are moving in the same social circles as the Anglo-Irish.

Spooky Stories by various authors
This came in one of the book-related emails I get--a small e-book of stories for Halloween. One was an excerpt from a newish book, once was specially written for this collection, I think, and not sure about the others.

I hope you're having a peaceful day, too.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Vegetarian (Almost Vegan) Shepherd's Pie

I decided to try making vegetarian shepherd's pie with some of the soya mince I recently got. I viewed it as an experiment and kept my fingers crossed!

The soya mince is dehydrated, so before use, it gets rehydrated in boiling water. I placed a cup of mince in a bowl and just barely covered it with boiling water. Then I left it to sit there while I went on to the next thing, which was chopping carrots into small pieces. I put these on to cook and chopped some potatoes. When the carrots were just about done, I added some frozen peas to the pot. When it went back on the boil, I removed it from the heat. When the potatoes were almost cooked, I added some frozen cauliflower that I'd thawed and chopped and let that heat through. I drained the peas and carrots and the soya mince and mixed them in a greased baking dish.
Then I made some gravy by putting a puddle of olive oil in a pan, to which I added a couple of onions, diced, a yellow bell pepper, diced, and a few cloves of chopped garlic. I cooked these in the oil, stirring around, until the veggies were cooked. As they were cooking, I prepared the bouillon.
We love this stuff! A friend gave me some a few years ago and I've not been without it ever since. I use it in soups or on its own as broth, but it makes a nice gravy, too. I find that it's best not to add it directly to the dish, because it lumps up, so I place some in a bowl, add a bit of boiling water, and whisk it well. I then add it to whatever I am making and it blends in better.
Once that was ready and the onion/pepper/garlic mixture cooked, I added a few tablespoons to plain flour, stirred it all into a lump, and added some water, stirring until thickened. Then I added some mixed herbs (thyme, sage, oregano, basil, marjoram, and parsley) and the bouillon, stirred it in well, and let it bubble away for a few minutes, before pouring the veg gravy into the baking dish and mixing everything up.
I drained the potatoes and cauliflower and mashed them up. Here's where this becomes non-vegan. I used butter in the potato cauliflower mash, but you could use a vegan spread and that would take care of that!

This was spread over the top of the veggie/mince/gravy mixture and placed in the oven for 10 or 15 minutes. I could have left it in longer so the top browned a bit, but we were hungry and everything was already piping hot going in, so we waited no longer!
 It is soooo good! Years ago, we used to sometimes buy Amy's Kitchen vegetarian pot pies, cook them, and dump them on a baked potato. The peas, carrots, and gravy reminded me of the flavour of the pot pies, although they used cubes instead of mince. The mince has no flavour, but absorbs the flavour of whatever is in the dish. It is mainly there for nutritional purposes and for 'chew.' It does give you the texture of turkey mince (or, I suppose, beef mince, but I haven't had beef in years).

There's plenty left, so it'll be the same tomorrow, but without the work! 😋

As I was making this, it dawned on me that I could make things a lot easier by using red lentils and what they sell as broth mix here--a mix of barley and various dried lentils and peas. I could just make the soup that I usually make with these things and various veggies in the slow cooker. It thickens itself beautifully and at the end, I add the bouillon and water. That would work just as well as a base for this, topped with the potato-cauliflower mash and baked. Or it would be a way to use leftover soup, since one batch goes a long way.

In any case, I consider this experiment a success! We both had seconds. 😉

Friday, November 2, 2018

Tea and Books in the Autumn Chill

We took a brisk walk to the shop today to pick up some more tea bags before the storm arrived. OK, we also picked up a wee bit of chocolate and a package of biscuits--and bananas. There was fruit! 😏

The wind was starting to kick up on the way home and it was chilly. I was thinking that last week, I dressed for a day like today and was too warm. Today I could have used a cowl and a heavier sweater. Oh well. I'd rather be chilly than hot.

We've moved from drinking lots of coffee every day to drinking a little coffee but many cups of tea in the course of a day. Bill has even floated the idea of taking a break from coffee and having tea in the mornings. I said I'd be OK with that. I'd always keep tea bags in the house, and sometimes had a cuppa, but I never knew which ones to buy. I tried some when we got here and wasn't wild about them--then had a gazillion tea bags sitting around. In the last place we lived, I found a gigantic bag of Punjana tea bags. We'd had that kind before when we lived in Maine and I knew they were good, so I bought a bag. Not many things come in large sized packages here, but tea is one of them. Of course, because we didn't drink that much tea, the 440 tea bags lasted a good long while. While we still had that bag, we moved out of the moldy apartment and into a house down the street and around the corner, where we found that the previous occupant had left a partially full box of Lyons Tea. There seemed no reason to waste it, so I figured I'd use them. I loved it from the first sip. Bill tried it and was equally smitten. We finished that box and then went back to the Punjana, which was not as good. By then we were nearing the end of the bag, so we made ourselves finish that before making the switch to Lyons. We've been through several boxes of 240 since we made the switch. It says on the box that it's 'Ireland's Favourite Tea.' I can see why.
I put this here so anyone who is interested in that kind of thing can see the part of the nutrition labeling here

I sometimes enjoy green tea with lemon or one or two herbal 'teas,' but mostly, it's black tea with a splash of milk. When I was doing the knitting/crocheting group at the library, the librarian would always make tea and serve us tea and biscuits. When he'd ask one attendee how she liked her tea, she'd always reply, 'With a splash of milk and no sugar. I'm sweet enough already.' And so she was.

As we all know, on a damp, chilly autumn day (or any other day, really) nothing goes better with a nice hot cuppa than a book. Here are a few more from October.

Textile Folk Art by Anne Kelly
This is a new book that’s full of inspiration, beautiful photos of incredible work, and short pieces about various artists and their processes. I loved this book.

Ghost Stories by E.F. Benson
For the month that’s in it. The author is most well-known for his Mapp and Lucia books. As I recall, I tried the first of that series years ago and didn't care for it, so did not read much of the book before I set it aside. I enjoyed this collection, though. I came across it in the e-book section of the library website and decided to give it a try.

The Almost Perfect Christmas by Nina Stibbe
This is another one that I found in the e-book section of the library website. I read the author’s previous memoir earlier this year, I think. Bill found that one in a charity shop. I liked it, so when I came across this one, which is a series of life stories about the author’s funny Christmas experiences, I checked it out. It was funny and I found myself reading passages aloud to Bill. I had already learned that Fairytale of NY (by The Pogues) is a favourite Christmas song among Irish people. I’d never heard of it and had to look it up when I first heard of it the first year we were here. It is a horrible song. reading this book I discovered that it’s apparently popular in the UK as well, along with something called Merry Xmas Everybody by Slade. I looked that one up as well, listened to the first minute or so and closed the page. It is also suckage. While some of the music she talks about in the one chapter is awful, the book was a lot of fun, and I’m glad I came across it.

Murder in the Snow by Gladys Mitchell (originally published as Groaning Spinney)
When I first came across the few Gladys Mitchell titles in the e-book section of the library, this was among them. I saved it for last because part of the story takes place at Christmastime. It was available in mid-October, so I just borrowed it then rather than waiting until closer to december when it might be checked out. In this story, Mrs Bradley goes to visit her nephew and his new wife at their new home in the Cotswolds. She meets some of the local people and those who work on the estate as they come to spend Christmas and Boxing Day at the nephew’s home. Shortly thereafter, the snow starts to fall and the bodies do, too. Mrs Bradley investigates.

Whether it's chilly or warm where you are, I hope you're enjoying some peaceful moments with your beverage of choice (hot or cold) and some fun reading!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Where'd It Go?

October is over. Already! Seems like it just started. I hope everyone who celebrates had a fun Halloween. No one comes to our house, so it was simply Wednesday for us. Last year we lived in town and our front door was right on the footpath/sidewalk, so I bought candy. No one rang the bell, so it was a good thing I bought candy I like.

We went to pick up a few groceries yesterday afternoon and saw the Christmas goodies starting to appear in a more prominent place. What's with all the marshmallow? I'll be leaving all marshmallow 'treats' on the shelves for someone who will enjoy that kind of thing! My view is that the glob of marshmallow in each biscuit takes up space that could more yummily be filled with either caramel, more chocolate, or both!

As always, I spent a lot of time reading in October. Here are a few of the books I read:
Zen and the Art of Needlecraft: Exploring the Links Between Needlecraft, Spirituality, and Creativity by Sandra Detrixhe
A friend gave me this book. years ago I’d read another one in the series that was specifically about knitting. This one is primarily focused on sewing, but the author also talks about knitting, crochet, and cross-stitching, albeit briefly. She talks about the ways in which making things ties in with some ideas from Zen as she understands them, but you really don;t have to know anything about Zen or be interested in it to get a sense of the benefits making things has on mental health and well-being.

Tom Brown’s Body by Gladys Mitchell
This is another of the Mrs Bradley mysteries that I came across in the e-book section of the library website. I’d read one of the others, decided I liked them, and started from the beginning, requesting physical books. I took a break from that for now, but went ahead and read this one out of order. Overall, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the books are read in order, although occasionally there is a passing reference to an earlier book. In this one, the setting is a boy’s school. One of the teachers meets his end and Mrs Bradley is called in to help solve the case. Being a psychiatrist, which would have been a new thing in the 1930s, and having a previous acquaintance with the headmaster, as well as having the detective in charge of the case being engaged to her secretary, gave plenty of cover for her to install herself at the school and solve the mystery!

Death in the Cotswolds by Rebecca Tope
I found this book in a charity shop and picked it up because it takes place around Samhain. It was a good one to bring to Ballina with me because it’s relatively small, so easy to pack, along with my e-reader. It’s part of a series, a few of which I’ve read before. They are enjoyable mindless reads that would fall into the cosy mystery category. this one revolves around Samhain, pagan rituals and groups, Freemasons, and small village life in the Cotswolds.

I hope November has started off well for you!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Corn Muffins

I made corn muffins this afternoon. Haven't had them in ages. They're so good!
I use an altered version of a recipe I used to have in The New Laurel's Kitchen Cookbook. That recipe called for honey, but I don't like honey and it doesn't like me (upsets my stomach), so I never buy it. I just use sugar. The recipe may also call for wheat germ (I don't remember now and the book didn't make it to Ireland with us). I don't use wheat germ and have no idea whether one can even buy that here, so if that was part of the recipe, I would have just used extra cornmeal or flour.

Usually when I would make these in the past, I would end up with batter that was far too wet and runny and then I'd have to add more dry ingredients. I remembered this time, so altered things from the start, cutting down on the amount of milk by 3/4 cup and adding an extra 1/4 cup of flour. In the original recipe, there was a range given for eggs and oil/melted butter. I use the lower end of that range.

Here's my version:
Stir together the following dry ingredients:
--2 cups coarse ground maize/corn meal
--3/4 cup wholemeal/whole wheat flour (the original recipe may have called for whole wheat pastry flour, which I've never seen here, but even when I was in the US, I just used regular whole wheat flour)
--1 teaspoon each salt and baking powder
--1/2 teaspoon bread soda/baking soda
--1-3 tablespoons of sugar (I used 2)

In a separate container, mix together
--1 1/4 c buttermilk or soured milk
--1 egg
--1 tablespoon oil or melted butter

Add wet ingredients to dry and stir just until batter is moistened and still lumpy. Here is where I can evaluate--if it's too dry, I can add another egg or a splash of milk. If too wet, I throw in a tad more flour. Today it was perfect.

Spoon into lined or greased muffin tins and bake at 220C in a fan oven or 425F for 20-25 minutes.

I have always loved hot corn bread with butter--it was nice to have that again. I threw together a quick veggie chilli/chili to go with the muffins by stirring around a chopped onion, chopped yellow bell pepper, a few cloves of garlic(chopped) in some olive oil. When the onion was translucent, I tossed in some oregano, parsley, coriander leaf, ground coriander, and cumin and stirred everything around for another minute or so. Then I added a can of chopped tomatoes in juice, a can of kidney beans (drained), and the rest of a container of tomato puree (tomato paste) that I had left from making last night's pizza. I let that all simmer, then ladled it out and added some cheddar cheese and grated some hot chilli mixture on top. Yum!
 Tonight we change the clocks back, so I will have an extra hour available to me to do whatever it is I am doing at 2 a.m. Winter time, here we come!!! Yippee!