Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Pancakes and Blooms

We made a quick jaunt to Donegal Town yesterday to drop off stuff at the library. As we usually do when we take the midday bus, we went to Aldi for a few things first, since the library is just about to close for lunch when we arrive in town. I've been amused at the way pancakes are sold here as a mass-produced, overly packaged item. There are different forms of pancake, but this is a new one on me:
photo by bill burke
I wonder how people eat these. Larger pancakes are often spread with Nutella or sprinkled with lemon juice and sugar. I suppose people could do the same with the tiny ones. We rarely eat pancakes and when we do, I make them myself, so haven't tried any of the pre-made ones.

When the library re-opens at 1:30, we try to be in and out, because the bus we prefer to take home leaves at 1:45 and it takes a few minutes to walk back to the stop. A couple of weeks ago, we were waiting, along with several others, and Colin (the librarian), wasn't appearing. On that day, I only had one book to drop off and several to pick up, so I wasn't concerned about leaving. Before we left, a woman asked if I wanted to leave my book with her and she'd drop in off for me. I did and she did. When we went back the following week, Colin apologised for being late. I told him it was no big deal and since I'd had more books come in since, it was just as easy to pick them all up together. Yesterday, he came rushing in and said, 'I had a feeling you might be here!' He handed Bill the items he had in and I dumped all the returns on his desk. He explained that he'd only just gotten off on his lunch break because it was so busy in the morning. He was dashing off again to get something to eat, but he knew we were in a hurry to catch the bus, so he came back so we could return and pick up stuff. I thought that was nice of him and I was happy not to have to lug home the bag full of books. It seems like a book drop would be a good thing. There was one in the Ballinrobe library, but I haven't seen one since. I don't recall seeing one even at the Central Library in Letterkenny.

Errands done, we caught the bus for home. I love the hydrangeas growing by the bus stop here.
I hope it's a pleasant day in your neck of the woods!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Randomly on a Sunday

I've not posted in a while, simply because there hasn't seemed like anything much to post about. I'm quietly and contentedly going about my days, enjoying the anticipation of autumn, stitching, reading, and listening to podcasts.  Today I'm drinking tea and reading a fun cosy mystery that takes place on a Christmas tree farm in a fictional Maine town. It's full of rescue animals and I keep bursting out laughing at the descriptions of the cat. Brings back memories.

Our third bout of summer is due to arrive this week and although there was the threat of this possibly lasting for weeks, now the forecast is for more autumnal weather to return after the week is up. This can easily change, of course, but for now I hold out hope. This is what I've come to expect. Every year we've been in Ireland, it gets hot and sunny in April and we have the first summer of the year. Then, if we're lucky, it goes away for a while as it did this year, when it didn't return until June for summer number two. Then we get a hint of autumn until summer three arrives in September, sometimes lasting into October. At some point after that, we get to close the windows and enjoy the true autumn. It's also the case that it tends to be slightly cooler here, because of our position on the island--I greatly appreciate those few degrees!

In any case, there are more hours of darkness now, so it cools off nicely at night, especially if the sky is clear.
Most of the hydrangeas have faded, but some are still in beautiful bloom. I saw these yesterday as we were on our way to call on veg man. I do love them so. The wide range of colours here is breathtaking, from white to pale pinks, blues, and purples, to vibrant pinks and purples, to deep red.
In spite of the warm weather to come, it was clear that the container veggie garden was ready to be put to bed, so I picked and pulled the last of the cukes, rainbow beetroot, and chard and pulled up all of the plants and vines.
I put the chard in the freezer and cooked the beetroot, so that concludes the veggie-growing season here. I still have garlic chives, scallions, and herbs growing inside on the windowsill.

I hope things are going well in your part of the world and that you're enjoying a peaceful and pleasant day!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

If, Then, Joy, Misty Mirror, and a Poet

Not all of my reading in August consisted of mysteries. Here's the rest of the books I read (and one I listened to):

Joy and 52 Other Very Short Stories by Erin McGraw
This was recently added to the short story category at the e-book section of the library website, so I borrowed it. I wasn’t sure about it at first and considered returning it without finishing it, but I decided to read on for a while longer and I’m glad I did. The stories got stronger as I passed the early part of the book. Some were linked stories, in which we read about an episode or relationship from various points of view.

If, Then by Kate Hope Day
I came across this book in the e-book section of the library website and it sounded intriguing. The title comes from a philosophical formula—if x, then y. One of the characters is a philosophy grad student. The setting is a small community at the base of a dormant volcano in Oregon. All of these people begin to question their choices as the story unfolds. The foundation of the book is the idea of the multiverse and the story moves back and forth between characters and different versions of each character’s life. In the multiverse, the same people are making different choices which lead to different outcomes. This was a great book. I’m glad I found it.

Object Lessons: The Work of the Woman and the Poet by Eavan Boland
A friend gave me this book and I am thrilled to have it. As I recall, I was looking for this book and some of Boland’s poetry collections 6 or 7 years ago when we lived in Maine, but the library didn’t have any of her work. I was glad to start reading it when we got to Ireland, but I’d not read this book until now. It was published in 1996, so Ireland has changed a lot since she wrote this. The book is a memoir, but also places the author in the context of larger poetic and place-specific historic traditions. She write about her struggles to come to terms with herself as an Irish poet and as a woman in Ireland. The two were mutually exclusive when she was coming of age. The Irish poets of earlier times were mostly men, many of whom wrote about nationhood in the context of fighting for independence. Ireland was portrayed as a woman in these poems, so as the object. Boland could not find herself in that tradition, especially when she married, moved to the suburbs, and had children. Her everyday suburban life did not seem to be the kind of subject for ‘serious’ poetry. She was able to overcome this and it may be that this is one reason why I like her poetry It is precisely because she deals with everyday life as a woman that I can relate to it and find meaning in it.

She recounts an experience she had when she was at university in Dublin and had borrowed a friend’s cabin on Achill, in County Mayo. She wanted a quiet place to study and think. There was a local woman who came and did things for her, including bringing water, since there was no running water in the cabin. One day, the woman started telling the poet about the experiences of local people during the famine. She talked for some time and it got dark. When the woman left, Boland went back to her studies, realising that she was working to memorise forms and structures that described the very system that created the situation of suffering those people had experienced. It made her very uncomfortable and she began to consider traditional forms and what counts as valid poetry and subject matter.

Boland’s attempts to situate herself as an Irish poet and an Irish woman were complicated by the fact that she had left Ireland when she was quite young. Her father was a diplomat and the family moved to London, a place she didn’t like all that much. When she was a teenager, the family spent time in New York City. At some point, she went back to Dublin, attended boarding school, and then at 17 began studying at Trinity College. Even though she was born in Ireland, she’d spent most of her early life elsewhere, so she did not have the same reference points that other people had.

I enjoyed this book a lot. I was interested in all of it—her thoughts on poetry, her life experiences, her discussions of the culture and how it impacted her, and her overcoming the obstacles, both systemic and in her own mind, that led her to a space in which she could express herself and create her art.

 The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill (audiobook read by Matt Addis)
James Monmouth returns to London after a life abroad. He’d spent his childhood with a guardian in Kenya, not knowing anything about where he came from. During his childhood, he developed a fascination with a traveller/adventurer named Conrad Vane. Upon the death of his guardian, he set off to follow in Vane’s footsteps. After a couple of decades of this, he decided to go back to London, both to learn more about the country of his birth and about Conrad Vane. He had an idea of writing a book about Vane and was surprised when people began to warn him against going any further, but without being specific. He dismissed these warnings and proceeded. But who is the distraught boy who seems to follow him and why is he the only one who sees him?

It rained a lot yesterday and when I popped out to snip some scallions, I noticed the rain droplets hanging from the montbretia--so lovely (more so in person than in the picture).
Today is a mix of showers, cloud, and sun and there's a fresh gusty wind. I hope it's as pleasant where you are. My heart goes out to people in the Bahamas. What a terrifying experience for people to have such wind and rain going on and on and on. Now their suffering continues as they grieve for lost loved ones and try to come to terms with losing homes. Heartbreaking.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Mystery Month 2

Here's the rest of the mystery month selection (I posted the first bunch yesterday):
The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective: A Remarkable True Story by Susannah Stapleton
I wrote about this book here.

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths (audiobook read by Jane McDowell)
This is the first book in a series featuring archaeologist Ruth Galloway, who lives in the edge of marshland in the area that used to be Doggerland. It was these two things that led me to give the book a try. Dr Galloway, a professor at a university, is called in when someone finds a body in the marsh. It is thought that it could be the remains of a child who has been missing for a decade, but it is actually bog body from thousands of years ago. The detective who consulted her asks for her help in solving the case.

The reader was good and the story pulled me in, even so some of it seemed a little it predictable and I could see it coming. Still, it was good enough for me to reserve the next book in the series. I particularly love the setting and the descriptions of the landscape. One thing I love about the e-audiobooks from the library is that I can try them out without going to pick anything up or buying anything and if I don’t care for the reader or the book, I simply return the title and delete from my mp3 player. Edit: I found the second book in a charity shop the day before I was due to get the audiobook, so bought it and cancelled the reserve.

 Bodies from the Library by various authors, selected and introduced by Tony Medawar
I came cross volume 2 when scrolling through the e-book section of the library website. I’d not heard of this, so I went in search of more info. Then I went back to the library website and searched for volume 1, found it, and placed my request. This is a collection of short stories written by Golden Age authors, all of which have only ever been published in obscure magazines or not at all, until this volume. What a treat!

 Bodies from the Library Volume 2 by various authors, selected and introduced by Tony Medawar
This follows on from the book above. I liked it, but the first couple of stories seemed a bit outside what I’m used to with writing from that era. I found the first story particularly disturbing and I almost stopped reading. I googled to find some reviews and after reading those, decided to continue. I’m glad I did!

 The Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
This is the first in the Amelia Peabody series of mysteries, which was recommended to me. I’m glad to have been told about it! In the 1800s, Amelia Peabody is a 30-something ‘spinster’ who has cared for her father and been underestimated. When the father dies and she inherits, there isn’t much distress on the part of other family members until they find out that there is more to inherit than they thought! Unsurprisingly, suitors come out of the woodwork. Fortunately Ms Peabody has a good head on her shoulders, rebuffs them all, and proceeds to travel. In Rome, she comes across a woman who has passed out in the street from hunger. She becomes Amelia’s companion and off they go to Egypt where they meet the archaeologist Emerson brothers in the course of their travels. At the dig site, shenanigans ensue. Some of the things that happen in the story are quite implausible and some are predictable, but that was fine with me. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I love Amelia Peabody and I did not expect her to be so funny. I laughed a lot at her turns of phrase.

After I finished the book, I looked at some of what was written about it and discovered that the author had originally intended it to be a one-off, which explains why everything was tied up neatly by the end of the book. Often in series, the main storyline is cleared up, but the characters are left in situations that you know will be taken up in the next book. Since this wasn’t intended to be a series, that’s not the case here. People apparently wanted more Amelia, though, so a series it became. That’s good, because I also look forward to more Amelia Peabody and I’ll be proceeding to read the rest of the books. Thanks, Mollie, for the recommendation!

Monday, September 2, 2019

Mystery Month

Here we are in the month which brings us autumn! Yay! August turned out to be a month full of mystery books, with a couple of others mixed in. Here are the first few:

St Peter’s Finger by Gladys Mitchell
Last year, I either read in an article or heard in a podcast, a mention of Gladys Mitchell. I’d known about the Mrs Bradley mysteries, but while I’d heard a couple of radios dramatisations, and watched one episode of the TV version, which I didn’t like, I’d never tried the books. I decided to give them a try. There were a couple of e-books in that collection at the library website, so I started with the one that was available. I liked it, so then looked up the entire list of titles, of which there are more than 60, and beginning with the first few, placed my requests at the library. I’ve been moving through the list sporadically ever since, getting a few, reading them, waiting a while and getting a few more. This book is part of the current batch I have checked out. In it, Mrs Bradley is asked by her son, the amusingly named Ferdinand Lestrange, to investigate the death of a schoolgirl at a convent. She agrees. As with all the books, there are quirky characters and larger issues addressed. In this case, it’s religion, class, gender roles, and, as always, psychology—adolescent psychology in this case. Mrs Bradley is a psychologist which, given that the first book was written in the 1920s, would have made her unusual. It seems that Mrs Bradley’s ideas about her profession evolve as the books proceed, which is one thing that is interesting about them. Another thing that I enjoy about the books is that they are all so different. To be sure, there are characteristics about Mrs Bradley that remain the same, although she does not yet seem to age (just as well, since she is aged from the start). But the settings and the themes addressed in the books are quite varied from one to the next. I mentioned above what some themes of this book are. In previous books, Mitchell focused on folklore, anthropology, and myth. In others, art and drama are involved. I have to say that the first book was not what I expected a mystery of that time period to be and it took me a bit of time to get into it. But I am so glad that I started reading these—I enjoy them a lot.

 Printer’s Error by Gladys Mitchell

This book was published in 1939, so in the early days of WWII. At the behest of her nephew, Carey, and a friend he makes on holiday, Mrs Bradley gets involved in a case involving Nazi spies, refugees, and anti-Semitism.

 Brazen Tongue by Gladys Mitchell
Gladys Mitchell called this book ‘horrid’ in an interview. I wouldn’t far, but it did seem different than the other Mrs Bradley books I’ve read, although I can’t put my finger on exactly in what ways this is so. It takes place during WWII, so petrol rationing, domestic war work, and other such issues are featured in the story. That alone makes it different, I suppose. It did seem to get a bit convoluted at times, but so did some of the early books. In this story, three bodies are found in one town. The local police inspector thinks they’re linked, but are they? Because Mrs Bradley arrives to investigate, since her niece was at the scene where one of the victims met their end.

 Shroud for a Nightingale by PD James
I found this omnibus edition containing three Adam Dalgliesh novels, none of which I’d previously read, in the local charity shop, so I picked it up.

The Black Tower by PD James

Death of an Expert Witness by PD James

Happy September!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Growing Veg in Containers

A Facebook friend asked me about growing veggies in containers, so I said I'd write about it. Honestly, I feel like I do very little, because I am not a very hands-on person when it comes to gardening. I know that some people are as passionate about gardening, whether flowers, fruit and veg, or all of these, as I am about reading and making stuff. I love that--I am always happy when I see/read about someone doing something they love, especially something creative, which gardening is. Our friend/neighbour loves flowers and the garden here and the pots and hangers are a riot of colour--so beautiful. I could not do that and I am grateful for the work that she and another neighbour do, because I get to enjoy it every time I look out a window or walk outside. I say all that just to let readers know that I am not an expert or even someone with much (or any) technical knowledge. I'm a person who shoves stuff in dirt or water and waits to see what happens. I don't go out and buy a bunch of stuff or read about how things are supposed to happen. I wait, watch, remember and then use that experience if I am doing something similar in future. So with that long disclaimer, here are some of my container gardening experiences.

Deciding What to Plant
I've become a bit more discerning about this over the years. In the past, I've lived in places where it hasn't been much of an issue, as it was weather and not climate that was a factor in whether things would thrive. I grew some tomatoes in Fairbanks, for example, in a large pot. Thegrowing season was short, but intense, because it never got dark. Our neighbours had a large garden, but they had to try to protect it from moose who would trample and/or eat the plants. I've grown tomatoes in other places in containers and they've done quite well. I never have good luck with peppers--bell or chilli--but that's probably just me. Here the climate is such that some things grow better in a polytunnel or only grow in a polytunnel, so I did not plant anything like that (so no tomatoes). I stuck with things that I knew would do well outdoors and that do not require a lot of fussing, like greens--lettuces, chard, spinach, mustard greens. I bought a courgette plant, just to see how it would do. We've had a lot of rain this summer, so many of them have rotted, but we have had baby courgettes and will have more. Same with cucumber seeds--an experiment-- but the cukes are doing better than the courgettes. I knew beetroot would do well, because people planted it in their allotments when we were in Moville. I also knew I could use the greens as well as the beetroot itself. There are various herbs in pots and in the ground around the place. Fresh herbs are wonderful to grow, indoors and out. In the past, in a different climate, I have also grown various winter squashes in large pots. It depends on what you like, what your climate is, how much room you have, and what you'd really like to have/preserve. One reason we choose to plant chard is that we love it, it grows fast, does not require hot weather, it's perfect for freezing, and we cannot buy it here, except for baby chard in some bagged salad greens.

I have used various sorts of containers in different places. In the past, someone we knew was getting rid of several large containers that were filled with soil. She was going to bring them to the landfill if we didn't want them. We did, so she brought them to our house instead. I've also used various household receptacles--a waste paper bin, for instance, with holes poked in the bottom for drainage was great for growing spuds. I've seen that people use the large metal trash cans for growing spuds, too, although I have not tried this myself. A sort of basket that would go on a shelf or desk worked well for parsley (until a cat came and began using it for a litter box!). Rubbermaid totes with holes poked in the bottom also work. We check the charity shops for things we can use--sometimes they have ceramic planters and sometimes we re-purpose other things. Right now, I have rosemary and scallions growing (indoors) in buckets that held 1 kg of yogurt. I poked holes in the bottom and use the lid as a tray underneath. For the bulk of our stuff this year, we are using window boxes that sit on top of the stone wall in the back.
a second planting of beans with beetroot in the bit of container visible on the right

chard after regular harvesting and a couple of plantings
lettuces earlier in the season

mustard greens--I also had a pot of these inside
There are also some things in pots the neighbourhood flower gardener was not using. The boxes on the wall allow us to reach everything without bending or kneeling. As long as there is drainage, you can use a lot of different containers, depending on what you have, what is available to buy, and whether or not appearance is important to you.

Planting Medium
This is always some form of soil (called compost here) and nutrients. When we were given the containers with dirt years ago, I mixed in some compost. This was another experiment. We could not have a traditional compost heap, but we had several totes, because we had mailed stuff to ourselves when we moved there and used those to ship stuff in. So we poked holes in the bottom (I see a trend here of poking holes in things--LOL) and just started putting food scraps, leaves, coffee grounds, grass clippings, etc in the tote. This worked beautifully. Worms entered through the holes in the bottom, which also provided drainage. The worms must've helped with the decomposition and the tight-fitting lid meant that no big critters got in. There was no smell, even in very hot weather (and it did get horribly hot in summer). When we were given the containers, we had the compost ready and mixed it in. At that time, I was growing beans in regular large plant pots and they were doing quite well. Someone told me the leaves were too yellow and needed nitrogen. She then proceeded to list the various things I could go buy. I thanked her and began putting a coffee ground/used tea bag mulch on top of the soil instead. Next time she saw the beans, she asked what I'd used, because the beans were green and doing great. When we got to Maine, we learned about worm bins and had one of those. They are excellent and can be used indoors. This year, I did not fill the containers prior to planting, but I'm told they were filled with a mix of soil, compost, and time-release organic fertiliser. I mixed in coffee grounds and tea leaves before I planted. As the season has gone on, I have saved used coffee grounds and tea leaves and spread those on top of the soil and I've chopped up banana skins and buried them. These could have gone in whole at the beginning, but I hadn't saved any.

I pretty much leave things to grow once they're planted. I water when necessary, of course, but this summer I've only had to do that a couple of times, because there has been ample heavy rainfall as well as a lot of mizzle. I do the coffee grounds and tea leaves as I said above. And for some things, like radishes and chard, I plant more seeds when I have a space after harvesting. This ensures that there will be an ongoing supply. In the case of the chard, I can plant more even into September and expect to have a crop through October, barring any freak cold weather.

Indoor Growing
I also grow in pots indoors. I mentioned the rosemary and scallions above. I always keep those on the windowsill. Scallions regrow and regrow, so they're nice. When I get a bunch at the store, I put them in a glass of water. When I use one, I stick the root end back in the glass or in a pot of dirt. All of the scallions and their roots keep on growing as they sit in the water. I've just planted some of these in a pot of dirt today. I have lots of scallions growing outside, but as autumn approaches, I want to make sure I have some inside as well. I also have lemon balm in the house--it's nice for 'tea.' Rosemary also makes a nice infusion. Garlic chives are easy to grow inside. Just stick garlic cloves in some soil, pointy side up. You'll see the green shoots coming up after a while. Scallions and garlic chives are easy to grow indoors all year and in the winter, some snips of each in mashed potatoes, on sandwiches and wraps, on top of soup, or sprinkled on hummus really add a lovely bright, fresh flavour. Mustard greens grow well indoors all year, too. This winter, I think I'm going to try to grow some chard indoors. It can be used at all stages of growth, so the leaves can be used in place of lettuce, if picked when small. I'm going to bring some oregano inside and stick a pot of that on the kitchen windowsill. You can also plant various seeds in a shallow tray of dirt and when they sprout, you have microgreens that can be used in various ways--radish sprouts have a nice, peppery flavour. Oh yes, I almost forgot the celery. I don't have one going at the moment, but there have been times in the past when I always had a pot or two of regrown celery in the house. It never grew huge, but it was perfect for snipping a bit off for soup or chicken salad or whatever. When I was done with a bunch of celery, or brought one home from a shift at the food bank, I'd stick the end in a shallow container with a bit of water in it. New bright green growth would start right away and roots would form eventually, at which point, I stuck it in dirt, let it grow, and snip some when I needed it. I'll have to start one soon.

That's pretty much it--poke holes, fill with dirt and coffee 😉 stick in some plants or seeds, wait, water if necessary, pick, eat/freeze. Happy eating!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Spuds! Yum!

There was a small pot of spuds in our container garden.
We ate them tonight as part of our supper with butter and pepper. So simple and so delicious.

My inner curmudgeon had a chance to come out this afternoon as we did a couple of errands in the sun and I roasted. Bill spotted some brand new hiking sandals--the kind with closed toes--in the charity shop. I looked at them, discovered they were the right size, and took them. Bill thought I wouldn't want them because they're neon pink. I'm not a fan of neon pink, but they'll end up being less bright as I wear them. I didn't actually need new hiking sandals right now, but a new pair for two euro was worth bringing home. I can save them until my others are worn out or wear these out and set the others aside or whatever. Soon after we got home, my friends the clouds rolled in and the rain soon followed. It feels much fresher now and my inner curmudgeon is back in hibernation.

I hope your inner curmudgeon has no need to come out today 😉