Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Maud West, Lady Detective

We did a quick run to Donegal Town today to drop off and pick up at the library. I was overjoyed to see that the there were some clumps of fireweed along the roadside that have already gone to seed. Some leaves were changing colour, too. I remember from last year that things change a tad sooner there than here, even though it's not that far between here and there. Still, I am thrilled to see any sign that autumn is heading this way!

One of the books I returned to the library was this one:

The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective: A Remarkable True Story by Susannah Stapleton
I heard of this book while listening to an episode of the Shedunnit podcast, which I love. What a great book it is! I was pulled in from the start, as the author explains how she began this project. She writes that she takes a couple of weeks off every winter, makes a nest by the fire, and reads Golden Age mysteries—a woman after my own heart! One year, she just couldn’t get into the pile of books and after starting and stopping a few times, she finally gave up, set Mrs Bradley aside, and started wondering whether there were any actual lady detectives around over a century ago. She started clicking around and came across a newspaper blurb about a talk Dorothy L. Sayers gave at the Efficiency Club, which, on that particular night, was being chaired by Maud West, a real-life detective. The hunt was on. 

The book is really well written and intertwines different things around the story of Maud’s life and work as a 'lady detective.' She began doing such work sometime during the years of 1905 and 1909. The author tells Maud’s story, but also gives readers a sense of how she managed to track down information about Maud, which was scarce. As she gained more understanding, the author sometimes had to revise her opinion of Maud’s life, personality, and character. She provides a social history when she describes the times, places and culture in which Maud worked . Many of the things she described were familiar from some of the mysteries written in that era and I can see where some authors got their plot ideas! The chapters are named after Golden Age mystery book titles and in between each chapter is one of the stories written by Maud for various periodicals. These were probably sensationalised, but also possibly contained grains of truth about certain cases and her work.

I’m so glad I heard about this book. I loved it. If you're at all interested in the culture of London at that time, Golden Age detective fiction, or women's history, this would be an informative and entertaining book to spend some time with.
cover pictures showing Maud at her desk in the centre and in disguise in the corners

one of Maud's ads
Here's hoping your reading pile is filled with excellent reads, too!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Summer Breeze

The wind has picked up these last couple of days and I've been grateful. Even if the sun is shining and it's warmer than I'd like, a breeze or light wind makes things less uncomfortable. Bill commented that it was a bit nippy today. I couldn't go that far, but I said it felt like we were possibly nearing the verge of  nip. πŸ˜€ 

August in Ireland has always reminded me a bit of August in Fairbanks. In both places, there is fireweed to watch as the blooms move up the stem as the summer moves towards autumn. In Fairbanks, August was always the month when that first real nip would appear. I used to let the dogs out every morning and sniff the air to see if there was a hint of the crispness that the short autumn would bring. The leaves would start to turn. I am seeing the first hints of that here. Of course, the big difference is that in Fairbanks, it really was the beginning of autumn and by October, if it hadn't yet snowed, we knew it soon would. It's a teaser here and it won't last. It will get sunny and too warm again. But I'll take what I can get. No matter the weather, it is getting dark earlier at night and light later in the morning. It makes me happy to see it getting dark at 9ish now instead of 11ish. I was awake (briefly) at 5:15ish this morning and it was as light as it had been at 4 a month and a half ago. And it was breezy enough that I could close the bedroom curtain to block out the light and still breathe. Yay! As is usual for me, I feel much better in August than I did in July.

We went off to get some veg from veg man's stall this morning. The sun was sort of shining and the breeze was blowing. Good day for a sail.
But by the time we were on our way back a little while later, the sky had darkened.
the backside of Main St
After I stopped to look at the building colours popping under the dark sky, I looked over and saw these wee hydrangeas.
The hydrangeas here grow in such rich colours, like deep red, neon pink, bright blue, and purple. I love them.

When we were almost home, we felt a few raindrops, which quickly turned into a shower. The wind was at our backs, so that's what got wet. Since I couldn't sit down without soaking the chair, I changed as soon as I got home. That's OK. It was a nice refreshing brisk walk, which I enjoyed. The sun came out again as soon as we got inside. Since I don't have to go out in it, I'm OK with that!

I hope it's a pleasant day in your neck of the woods, too.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019


This weekend, Nicki, a friend in Maine, is realising a dream that she and her family have been working towards for a while. They're having the grand opening of a shop in Winthrop, called Freckle Salvage Company. They've been selling vintage items at fairs and on ebay and now they'll have their own brick and mortar space on Main St as well. They'll be offering vintage items and will be supporting other local small businesses by having their products and art/craft items available. The grand opening will be Saturday.

I'm always thrilled when people can follow their dreams and if I could be there in person on Saturday, I would be, but since that's not possible, I sent some stitching to wish them well.
I needle felted the base using off cuts of roving and did some 'quilting' to add texture. The words were cross-stitched on scraps of aida cloth and sewed on. Then I embellished with beads and bits, mostly from deconstructed necklaces I've picked up at charity shops. The hanging loop is a brass ring from a loaf of barm brack, a raisin bread that is available here during the few weeks around Halloween. The 'kid with the freckle,' after which the shop is named, was born near Halloween and it's one of Nicki's favourite times of year, so I wanted to include a small seasonal bit.

I am so happy for these wonderful people and I wish them great happiness and success as they begin this chapter of their lives.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Wee Pottery Jug

We were in Donegal Town today, so we called in at the Animals in Need charity shop. The volunteer woman was almost buried under bags of donations so we were happy enough to make some space. Bill found a pair of pants--they have lots of pockets, which he likes. I picked up a couple of books. Oddly, one of the books I picked up was one I had reserved in e-audiobook format. I try to not have too many audiobooks checked out at one time and I have one downloaded already. I have others reserved, but they are not due to be available for weeks. One came in early, though, so that gave me two, plus one that was going to be coming in tomorrow. I decided to cancel that reserve and look for it again some other time. When I saw that very book in the charity shop, I bought that. Weird timing.

Bill spotted this wee jug and I told him we'd take it. I love it.
It's a handmade piece--potter's mark is on the bottom. I find some pottery videos weirdly relaxing, so sometimes I sort of zone out and watch someone create a cool bowl, vase, cup, or whatever. As we were waiting for the bus and I was looking at this, I thought about how I have some idea about how it was made because of those videos and this makes me love it even more.

The first thing I picked up was the yarn--it was a good day for yarn. These are all wool. I've thanked a sheep, although this is probably old enough that whatever sheep created it is now no longer with us.
I never leave that charity shop without checking the necklaces to see if there are any to deconstruct for beads. I was not disappointed today.
The middle one was in the free basket--love that shell and all those tiny wooden beads. The tubular beads in the necklace on the left feel like bamboo and the round ones are wood. The necklace on the right is hard to see, but there are three large glass beads and a bunch of smaller ones.
I also like those little metal separators--they come in handy as embellishments in their own right.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I took my new upcycled bag for a test run today. As I was stuffing wool into it at the charity shop, the woman commented, 'That's a nice bag.' 'Thank you,' I replied. I told her it was a cushion cover that I'd turned into a bag. 'No way!' she said and asked me if I made the handle. I nodded and an older woman craned her neck to look. 'Sure it was a cushion cover! I have those very cushions at home!' she said. They commented on how clever it was and were still talking about it as we walked outside. Made my day.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Upcycling: Cushion Cover to Tote Bag

Last month, Bill picked up a set of 6 cushion covers from the local charity shop, because he thought I'd like the fabric. I do like it and might end up cutting one or two up. But the first thing I did was to get a couple of blanket wraps that I am not using right now--one is in Christmas colours, so I only use it for a month or so out of the year--and put one in each of two cushion covers. They fit perfectly! I like sitting in bed looking out the window at the treetops, the water and the hills beyond while I listen to stuff and stitch in the evenings/nights. I am much more comfortable with my 'pillow' behind my back.

When he first brought them home, I thought that they'd make good bags. The fabric is sturdy and the zipper is at the top. I plunked the idea into my mind and let it simmer. The main thing was deciding how I wanted the straps to be. By this afternoon, it had simmered enough and I rummaged around in my yarn scrap collection to find some black and some grey. I grabbed my 10mm crochet hook and got started. Holding two strands together, I chained a lot. I think I stopped at 270ish. I made a triple crochet (US terms) in each chain, starting in the 4th one from the hook. Then, I turned and did surface crochet slip stitches back to the other end, then turned again and did the same thing back again. I find that the surface crochet chains provide some extra sturdiness and the handle is less stretchy. Then it was just a matter of sewing the straps to the bag. To do that, I used 4 strands of size 30 crochet cotton, just to make sure it was very strong, since I was sewing by hand. I'm quite pleased with how this turned out and I think the bag will be handy. I'll do a test run with it tomorrow.
it actually does lie flat, I took the pic before I noticed the waviness--the grey stripes on the strap are the two rows of surface slip stitches
I hope it's a nice day in your neck of the woods.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Quiet Interlude

I stopped what I was doing for a few minutes this afternoon to stand in the doorway and enjoy the rain, fresh air, and the view. What a beautiful, peaceful, and refreshing interlude it was.

colours dazzle
through curtain of rain
view from the doorway

I hope you have moments of quiet beauty in your day, too.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Nonfiction and Deconstruction

In addition to the short story collections, haiku, and fiction that I read and listened to in July, I had a few excellent nonfiction titles in the mix as well. Here they are:

Walking: One Step at a Time by Erling Kagge
Reflections on walking, whether it’s to work on a weekday morning or across Antarctica. The author draws on his own experiences as a walker to consider how walking improves his life and his ability to see things in a different way. Bill and I, both walkers ourselves, could relate to a lot of what he was saying.

Constellations: Reflections from Life by Sinead Gleeson
I used to listen to Sinead Gleeson when she was host of The Book Show on RTE Radio 1. A few years ago, she edited a collection of short stories written by Irish women, many of whom had been forgotten. Bill bought me that book, called The Long Gaze Back, and it’s a great book—definitely a keeper. Shortly after that one, she edited a collection of short stories by women from the north of Ireland (if I recall correctly both Northern Ireland and the northern part of the Republic of Ireland) which was also good. When I read an excerpt of this book, I went right to the library website and added my name to the queue. I waited a while, but it was worth the wait.

The book is an essay collection that adds up to a sort of memoir. It is structured around the author’s experiences inhabiting a female body in Ireland at a particular period of time. As a child, she was diagnosed with an uncommon problem that required many operations and caused her to be in a lot of pain. She missed a lot of school and spend a good deal of time alone in bed, recovering. Books, she tells us, were her friends. As an adult, she had other health issues that have shaped her life. While she organises the book around these physical traumas, she also connects them, as stars are connected in our minds to form constellations, with books, art, religion, memory, relationships, and more. Great book!

 Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? by Bill McKibben
I first became aware of this book when Lit Hub published an excerpt. I looked at the library, but it wasn’t in the system. I kept checking back until a few weeks later, there it was. I placed my hold. The central question of the book is there in the subtitle. McKibben discusses this question in relation to the climate emergency currently underway, as well as the ongoing development of AI. He’s been sounding the alarm about climate change for 30+ years now, so that part of the book is a continuation of that work. He points out that we have a narrow window of opportunity to minimise the damage, but that time is running out. He lays out some of the structural obstacles to meaningful change put in place by various governments and he wonders whether there is really a will on the part of people, especially in wealthy nations, to make the necessary changes. He tells the reader about a collaboration between poets, one from the Marshall Islands, which is already contaminated due to US nuclear testing and one from Greenland, which is melting (with the highest level of glacial melt in one day just a few days ago). he provided excerpts from the poem they wrote together and it is powerful. We would all do well to listen to what they have to say. I went in search of the entire poem, and found this video of the poets themselves speaking it. 

When he moves into the AI segment of the book, he gives an overview of what is going on with that technology and shares the views of some of the people working in and funding this area of research and experimentation (and some of them are pretty out there). He does all of this to then ask the question, ‘Is this really a good idea?’ From there he proceeds to tell readers what some of the dangers are, including the possibility that the technology will eventually evolve into something beyond human control. This wasn’t a fun, fluffy read, but it was a very interesting and thought-provoking book, which poses questions that we should all be considering. I’m glad I read it. 

I deconstructed my newly acquired charity shop necklaces yesterday and got the beads and other pieces into containers, so now they're ready to go whenever inspiration strikes.
You can just see one tiny metal bead by itself off to the right of the chains. I had a whole pile of those, but I'd put them in a container before I took the picture. 

I thought the colourful pile of wooden beads--all from one necklace--looked pretty cool as it sat there in an abstract sort of way.
It's the summer bank holiday weekend here, so of course it rained. This made me very happy, of course, and I hope there's plenty more where that came from, but I did experience a twinge of feeling for the firefighters down the hill, who are doing a car wash fundraiser. Yesterday, when it was sunny, warm, and dry might have been a better day for them. Anyway, I enjoyed the rain shower, finished a book, and might cast on a sock shortly. I hope your day brings plenty of simple pleasures, too.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Cosy, Comic, Creative

There were times in July when I was so tired that I felt like I couldn't really focus on much of anything. At times like that, it's nice to have comfort reading. For me, that usually means Golden Age or cosy mysteries and short stories. I posted about the short story collections I read yesterday and here's the mystery portion of my July reading.

Overture to Death by Ngaio Marsh
As part of my July ‘comfort reading’ I turned once again to Golden Age detective fiction, continuing on with Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn series. In this novel, a community theatrical performance does not go as planned when, as soon as the prelude beings, the piano player winds up dead. Alleyn is called in, since (of course) the local force is stretched thin and the case is complicated.

A Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh
Luke Watchman, a well-known barrister, is off on a holiday to the Devon coast. He is looking forward to the annual meet-up with his cousin and a friend. Sadly for Luke, his holiday doesn’t last long, because he is hit in the finger with a dart during a bet and succumbs to potassium cyanide poisoning. Roderick Alleyn is called in to investigate.

A Surfeit of Lampreys by Ngaio Marsh (published in the US as Death of a Peer)
The large Lamprey family, back in London from New Zealand, is short of money—a usual state of affairs for them. They’ve decided that the only way to get out of the current mess they’re in is to call on the father’s brother, who has the family money, home, and title, and ask him for help. This guy does not think well of his brother or the rest of the family and when he arrives at the Lamprey flat, things do not go well. He angrily storms into the lift to leave, but by the time he makes it to the ground floor, he has suffered a gruesome injury. He hangs on a little longer, but in the end, Roderick Alleyn is called in to investigate the murder.

I'm frequently torn between spending time stitching or reading. I know some people do both at once, but I've never been able to do that. Happily, the library has an e-audiobook section that allows me to download audiobooks at any time of the day or night. This is a good solution, as long as the reader is good. I've returned books without listening beyond the beginning when I found the reader annoying, but I've also listened to several good books, including this one:

 Amy Wingate’s Journal by Marcia Willett (audiobook read by Phyllida Nash)

I wasn’t sure about this book when I saw it. I decided to give it a try, since I could easily delete it if I didn’t like the story or the reader. Turns out, I quite enjoyed both and I was soon into the story and, on more than one occasion, unable to stop laughing. I am not familiar with this author’s work beyond this book, so I don’t know whether the humour is usual. Phyllida Nash was an excellent reader, too, and she might have had something to do with why I thought parts of the book were extremely funny. That’s not to say it was a comedy, though. I’d be laughing one minute and then feeling a bit of heartache a few minutes later. I also smiled when the main character mentioned at one point that she was listening to Allegri’s Miserere, which is one of my favourite pieces of music.

The story is written in the form of a journal, as you can tell from the title. Amy Wingate is a middle-aged former teacher who has taken early retirement. She lives in a ‘tall, thin, house by the sea’ and has bursts of rage that she finds inexplicable. She seeks advice for this and it is suggested that she keep a journal. She decides to give this a try at the same time that events in her life begin to demand more of her time and attention. The journal is a way for her to process what is happening and her thoughts and feelings about these events. This process naturally leads her to consider how events from her past have impacted her life. She attempts to keep things buried, but as she keeps writing, more comes to the surface.

I enjoyed this book a lot and I’m glad I gave it a chance.

 I'm definitely a listener and not a watcher--I don't have a TV or go to the cinema. I subscribe to a bunch of  podcasts and regularly check for new audiobooks to download so I'll always have something to listen to while I stitch. I also keep my eyes open for stitching supplies, and I had some great luck in that regard this week.

The other day, we called in at the Animals in Need charity shop in Donegal Town. I always check their 1 euro board that has necklaces pinned to it--it's where stuff goes that has not been selling. I chose a couple of necklaces for the beads.
As I was paying, I noticed a basket on the counter. It was full and had a sign on it saying 'free to good home.' 'Well,' I thought, 'I have a good home and I quite like this metal bit.'
I pulled it out and discovered this:
the beads that look like a copper colour are really more pink
I don't want the fabric flower bit, so will take that off and keep the metal piece it's glued to. As I was pulling this piece out, more beads caught my eye, so I took those as well. There was more there than I thought, having only seen the wooden beads while it was in the basket.
Yesterday, we walked down to our local charity shop. We go every couple of weeks to see if they have any plant pots that aren't too small, since the number of houseplants we have keeps growing. We were lucky and found one. I also scored a couple of necklaces there.
the necklace on the left is all metal and the blue flowers have round metal pieces and jump rings on the back
I'll deconstruct all of these, saving the findings, chains, and all other usable parts as well as the beads and other bits. I've got a couple of things in progress that I was stalled on and some of these parts will be perfect for embellishing those. I was going back and forth about how to finish them and now I know. I'm really pleased--I found some great stuff to work with, supported community projects and animals, kept stuff out of the landfill, and none of this came with any packaging, as it would have if I'd bought beads or findings online, so no packaging for the landfill, either. Wins all around!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Short Forms

I did a lot of  'comfort reading' last month, much of which was short form work--short story collections and haiku.

Turbulence by David Szalay
I came across this collection of linked short stories when scrolling through the e-book section of the library website and it sounded intriguing, so I borrowed it. I’m glad I did! All of the stories involve journeys by plane, beginning in London and moving around the world to Madrid, South America, Hong Kong, Vietnam, India, the Middle East, Budapest, and back to London, to the same flat in which the book opens.

Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang
This was a new addition to the short story offerings in the e-book section of the library website. The author was born in China and moved to the US as a small child. The stories are about the immigrant experience, how people navigate that, and the struggles to adapt. Some of the stories were a bit weird, but I really enjoyed the book.

The Matisse Stories by A.S, Byatt
I came across this book while checking the e-book section of the library website. Each story was inspired by a Matisse painting. I was particularly partial to the one involving a textile artist.

Between the Leaves: New Haiku Writing from Ireland, edited by Anatoly Kudryavitsky
I’ve always been interested, in a general sort of way, in haiku. I was looking up something related at the library, which I didn’t find, but I did come across this book and the fact of it intrigued me—a Japanese art form, written by Irish people, and edited by a guy with a name that seems like it could be Russian. It’s so cross-cultural. A few of the poems in the book took my breath away. I enjoyed it a lot.

Haiku Inspirations: Poems and Meditations on Nature and Beauty by Tom Lowenstein
Bill came across this book when he was looking for something else and bought it for me as a surprise. What a lovely book it is! It contains examples of haiku, along with lots of contextual information. The book does not get bogged down in a deep discussion of every aspect of the form, but rather gives general overviews of the historical context in which haiku developed and the cultures in which it evolved. There are brief biographies of a few well-known haiku practitioners and examples of their work. There is a section on Zen Buddhism and how that influenced the form. There is also a lot of beautiful artwork. I love this book—so glad he found it!

Happy August!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The End of July--Yay! And Books

Here we are on the last day of July. At the beginning of the month, I wrote on the calendar page for today 'another month closer to autumn.'  Ad we're closer to another season, too--saw this guy in a shop window a couple weeks ago:

As I said in a previous post, I dread July every year and it's always nice when we're past it. I have to say that this July has been better than last, possibly because we did not have a heatwave and drought, as we did last summer. Also, I have done a better job of accepting things as they are and taking steps to care for myself. One unexpected thing that happened was that I spent a lot less time online than usual. I particularly stayed away from Facebook. That page has been annoying me for months now. I know that they push people to use the site in certain ways and that everyone has their own ways of setting things up. I have a limited use for the page to begin with and have tried to streamline. I found groups to provide nothing but page clutter, so I left the ones I was in. I am not interested in the chat function, so I always turn it off and minimise the list that clutters up the side of the page. I don't use the marketplace. In short, I used it as a news aggregator, a place to see various artwork, and as a tool to follow people and blogs. I used to set things to 'most recent' and scroll through my newsfeed, sharing and responding to certain posts. Then this setting stopped working and there was no difference between having 'top stories' checked off or choosing 'most recent.' I would get posts at the top from several hours or even a day or two before. Not interested. I tried to edit my preferences, which was useless, of course, and when they asked if this was helpful, I clicked on the negative answer. This brought up a box asking me to elaborate, which I did. After that, things worked properly for a month or two, then went back. I tried this again, but when it reverted back, I just thought, 'Why am I allowing myself to be aggravated?' I know--when I set up an account, I agreed to pretty much let them do what they want and what they want is to make money in various ways off of my activity on the site. I don't get to have things set up as I want them. But I get to choose whether or not to participate on the site the way they want me to and right now, I am choosing not to. So, I allowed them to send notifications if I had one specific to me, even when I don't have the page open. I bookmarked the news sites I am most interested in and go to those pages, instead of viewing stories through Facebook. I get blog posts sent to my email wherever possible. And I don't bother with Facebook, except to answer messages when I get them. This has been great--freed up a lot of time, for one thing and I find I don't miss it at all. Bill got annoyed several months ago and stopped spending time there as well and he says he has no interest in going back. Neither of us has deleted our accounts, but I am not sure what I will do in future. For now, I'm happy enough with the way things are.

Of course, I filled up some of that free time with books and here are some thoughts about a few of them.

 Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
One day, in our local charity shop, I came across a book containing two of Margaret Atwood’s books in one volume. The first book was a short story collection and this was the second book. It’s a novel, published in 1988, in which the main character, artist Elaine Risley, returns to her home town of Toronto for a retrospective exhibition of her work. While there, she remembers back to her childhood and one friend in particular, who was a cruel bully. The first years of Elaine’s life were spent in a nomadic fashion as her father, an entomologist, would be out in the field a lot, accompanied by his family. When he got a professorship at a university, they settled in a new Toronto suburb. Elaine had only ever hung out with her brother, so had to learn how to navigate school, female friendship groups, and other social situations. She makes a couple of good friends. For the first year, things go fairly well. The following summer, the family goes back to the wild for dad’s fieldwork. When they return, a new girl, Cordelia, has arrived and Elaine’s childhood becomes much more difficult. The book moves back and forth between Elaine’s experiences being back in Toronto and flashbacks to her earlier life. Through the flashbacks, the reader learns how she got to where she is in the book’s present. I loved this book.

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood (audiobook read by Lorelei King)
This is a very early Margaret Atwood novel, which she calls ‘protofeminist.’ It was published in 1969, although she wrote it earlier than that. In it, Marian, who is torn between her own wants and needs and societal expectations of women, becomes disconnected from herself and starts to identify to some degree with various kinds of food, which she then becomes unable to eat. Marian has around her people who are comfortable within stereotypical gender roles and those who rebel against them. She has a low-level job in a market research firm, which she does not expect to be a long-term career option, but it pays the bills. When she and her boyfriend become engaged, she begins to struggle with expectations others place upon her.

 The Book of Extraordinary Deaths: True Accounts of Ill-Fated Lives by Cecilia Ruiz

I came cross this book when looking to see what was new in the e-book section of the library website. It sounded weird, so I had to check it out. It’s simply a collection of very short (a few sentences each) accounts of how various people died in strange and unlikely ways, beginning in the 6th century and going to the present. For instance, one guy beheaded his enemy in battle, tied his head to his horse as a sort of prize, and ended up dying when a wound inflicted by the teeth of the severed head rubbing against his leg became infected. A more recent example was of a guy who engaged in cock-fighting. His rooster stabbed him to death with the metal spurs attached to its leg. It’s a strange little collection that also includes artwork.

I'll continue the book thoughts tomorrow, as I welcome August. I hope July was good to you.

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! πŸ˜‰

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, AndrΓ© 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 πŸ˜‰ 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.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Beautifully Blue in Ballyshannon

Yesterday we went to Ballyshannon to do an errand. This was completed quickly, so we had time to walk around a little bit and to eat the picnic lunch we'd brought. We'd been to Ballyshannon before, but only for a short time and in a limited area, and we've ridden through it on the bus many times, so it was nice to finally be able to wander around a little bit instead of just moving through.

River Erne, as seen from the pedestrian bridge
marker alongside the road to Bundoran

the view from beside the roadside marker

i took this as we sat at the picnic table where we had our lunch--it was quite windy and cool
The area where we had lunch is called Mall Quay. There's a grassy area with one picnic table and several benches scattered around. On one side is the River Erne and the photo above shows the estuary. Some people came and sat in their car nearby for part of the time we were there, but otherwise, we had the place to ourselves, at least until a swan arrived to have his/her lunch.
There is a slipway here, built in 1775. During the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, Ballyshannon was an important port, in spite of a dangerous sandbar in the estuary. Killybegs was, at that time, a minor port, but it was able to handle large ships, so goods were often offloaded there and brought to Ballyshannon on smaller boats.

There are a few memorials here.

This bench is tucked away around the side and not visible from the main part of the quay. There's a narrow 'path' consisting of some flattened grass, which allows one to access it and the one that's tucked away out of sight.
We had a nice day. The breeze/wind was very welcome and kept things comfortable in spite of the abundant sunshine, so I could enjoy the many shades of blue offered up by the sky and the water without feeling yucky.
Happy Solstice!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019


I've been eating salads from our container garden for 5 or 6 weeks now, I suppose. One of the things I used to love about being a part of a CSA in Maine was the salad I used to make throughout the season. These salads were nothing fancy and mostly consisted of many different kinds of leaves and herbs with a simple, freshly made balsamic vinaigrette. I added other veggies, too, but I do love a bowl of freshly picked leafy things. We have different lettuces, mixed mustards, herbs, scallions, spinach, baby beet greens, radish microgreens (and radishes), and chard.

The spinach is perpetual spinach and the more I picked, the more it would grow. I couldn't keep up with it for salads alone so today, I picked most of it, blanched it, and stuck it in the freezer. Now it has plenty of room to grow.

In the garden we had a couple years ago, the spinach did not do well at all--it bolted really quickly. We didn't mind, because the chard was abundant. This year, they're both doing well so far and I expect I will eventually have some of both for the freezer. Incidentally, the small containers are perfect for freezing and refrigerating leftovers or other small bits--they stack well and I can see through them. They originally held hummus. I often make hummus, but when we're out and about for a day or a few days, hummus is a good lunch/supper food to pick up in the grocery store. I save the containers and reuse them for this purpose.

Hopefully, we'll have some beans for the freezer eventually, too, but I'll have to freeze them in something else.
one of two bean boxes
In addition to being delicious, some of the veggies are pretty, too.
a few small courgettes in there

colourful lettuces--we have another box of a different kind of lettuce further down the wall

assorted mustard greens--I have some of these inside, too
The chards and the beetroot are also lovely, with the red, yellow, and white stems and the dark green leaves.

I thought maybe the abundant rain would sog everything out, but everything seems to be pretty happy and that makes me pretty happy, too!