Thursday, December 12, 2019

Memory Lane

This morning I was answering an email in which someone asked me something about Christmas in Ireland. I told her about our first Christmas here when we lived in Ballinrobe and how it was one of the best Christmas Eves I have ever had. Nothing at all spectacular happened and yet it stays in my mind and brings me a sense of joy and peace when I think about it even now.

It was a dark and drizzly evening when we set out on a walk that evening after supper. Everything closes early on Christmas Eve anyway, and the streets were deserted. It was just us, the drizzle, and the Christmas lights strung all around the town. The windows of the shops and businesses had low lighting on, so the Christmas displays could be seen and enjoyed. It was so quiet and so beautiful. We walked for a while and then went home and had cocoa.

When I think of that night, I am reminded of how my approach to the festive season has changed from what it was years ago. When I was in academia, it was wonderful to be able to turn my attention to getting into Christmas baking and stitching. For the majority of my academic life, I was in institutions that were on a term system, so we were done by this time of year and I was free to enjoy the run-up to Christmas. We went bck just after the new year, which suited me just fine. When I moved to a university that ran on a semester system, I was not done until a couple of days before Christmas, which I hated. I felt like there was never enough time to really get into it and do all I wanted to do. Even though we ditched a big meal on Christmas Day over 35 years ago, in favour of munchies that could mostly be prepared ahead of time, there was a lot I was doing in the days before Christmas itself.

As I think about that lovely evening in Ballinrobe, I see how different I am now. Instead of lamenting that I do not have time to do everything, I have happily done less and less each year. I would be really annoyed and unhappy if I felt like I had to do all of the things I used to do. I loved it then and now I wouldn't. I suspect that had I been forced to do Christmas then the way I do now, I would've hated it at the time, even though I love it now.

I have often thought about how busy I used to be in general and how much I was doing. For a time in grad school, I was setting the alarm for 2 am and putting it across the room, so I would have to get up to turn it off. Then I would begin my day. I was tired all the time, but I was also energised in a weird way. I was doing a lot of stuff and it was work I am still proud of. But there is no way I would want to be that busy now. I seem to value peace, quiet, and life in the slow lane more and more as the years go by and that is especially the case during the festive season. I am grateful that I am able to have that kind of life at the moment.

I recently read a book about the Christmas experiences of British people. I was struck by how many of them hated Christmas, until they were in a situation in which they could not mark the day as they usually did. For some, they were in a place where Christmas wasn't a thing, so there were no expectations. For others, they could not spend the day with the people they usually did, so they made arrangements with others or spent the day alone. Some people found themselves unable to afford the usual Christmas 'stuff' so had to get creative. In every case presented in the book, these people discovered that, when done the way they wanted to do it instead of how they were expected to do it, Christmas could be enjoyable. That's the key, I think--doing what makes you happy, whether that's being busy or slowing down. Each has worked for me at different times in my life, but that's probably because I was doing things my way and not telling myself what I 'should' be doing.

Years ago I read an article written by a woman who struggled with this. She was overwhelmed every year--exhausted and miserable. She decided that she wanted to enjoy Christmas, too, so she read some self-help stuff and set about following the suggestions given for simplifying the holiday season. Turns out, she was still miserable, because she missed some of the stuff she used to do. She realised that the key was deciding what was important to her and what wasn't, so she could keep the former and stop doing the latter.

Some years have been tough for various reasons. One year, Bill was sick at Christmas. Before that, one of our cats died a week and a half before Christmas and our dog died exactly a week after the cat. Needless to say, none of us felt like celebrating anything that year. It has not always been fun. But by and large, I have always enjoyed this time of year. My priorities have changed, and my way of 'celebrating' looks nothing like the usual images and nothing ike they used to, but that's OK. I hope that, whatever your December looks like and whether you celebrate the season (cultural, natural, or religious) or not, you are able to be engaged in the activities that bring you joy with the people you most want to be with.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wednesday Words of Wisdom

'Home is a place in the mind.'
            --Maeve Brennan in The Visitor

Tuesday, December 10, 2019


We don't really exchange Christmas gifts anymore. We send a few cards and make a donation to Animals in Need, but other than that, the only gifts we give are a few things we send to our daughter. There are new customs regulations for things going to the US, so when I sent her a parcel a couple of months ago, it took 5 weeks to arrive. I sent the Christmas parcel a couple of weeks ago and hoped it would get there in time. This time it only took a week.

Here are  few of the festive things I made for her:
The pattern for this coaster was in a magazine she'd sent me last year. I planned to make it for her this year and when she sent me a Rudolph ornament that says, 'Mom' a couple of months ago, it seemed particularly appropriate. We have a thing about Rudolph in our family.

I always make her some kind of blue Christmas tree. When she was small, we lived in an apartment that was at the end of a cul-de-sac. There was a sort of platform on each building above the door and at Christmastime they'd place trees strung with blue lights on these. Every evening as it would start to get dark, she'd look out of her bedroom window, which gave her a view of the whole street, and would call out, 'The blue trees are on, Mom!' when the lights would be turned on.

This year, I had a metal piece from a deconstructed bracelet I picked up at a charity shop in Ballina when we were there a couple of months ago and I wanted to use that. I went back and forth about how to make the tree, but when I found a 'posh scrap' of roving, I opted to needle felt it. I'd used some of the same roving a couple of years ago to make her an ornament, so the tree will match.
I used other beads and bits from deconstructed necklaces found in charity shops to embellish. The roving has some sparkly strands in it that catch the light. I like the wonky shape that resulted when I did the embroidery.

This is the the other ornament I made for her with the same roving, which you can see a little better:
I also made her a hat, using a pattern a friend had sent me a few years ago for what she calls a pocket hat. It's made in ribbing, so is very stretchy, but when not on a head, is very compact, so it scrunches up to fit in a pocket. During the summer, I found a single skein of a very soft and fluffy bright blue yarn with a metallic thread wrap in a charity shop. I bought it knowing I'd make something for her with it and eventually I decided on the hat. I have just a small scrap ball left from the skein, so it was the perfect project for the yarn.
So I'm all done with the Christmas stitching. It's a very quiet and simple time of year, so I am very much enjoying listening to music, A Christmas Carol in various permutations, and just being during my best time of the year.

I hope you're enjoying the time of year, too.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Wednesday Words of Wisdom

This was a Pace e Bene email a few days ago:

"A blackbird found a large piece of food in the village and lit out into the sky with the food in its beak. A flock of his brothers chased after him and raucously attacked the food, pulling it from his beak. The blackbird finally let go of the last piece and the frenzied flock left him alone. The bird swooped and dived and thought, 'I have lost the food but I have regained the peaceful sky.'"

—Sufi Story

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Last of the November Books (and Plays): Irish Authors

I read the work of some Irish authors last month, all of which I enjoyed a lot.

The River Capture by Mary Costello
I’ve read this author’s previous books, which are short story collections, and enjoyed them a lot. So when this novel came up as I was scrolling through the list of new e-books at the library website, I borrowed it. It’s a beautifully written book, but not a straightforward narrative.

Luke O’Brien is 34 and in a bit of a liminal state. He is really, really into James Joyce, particularly the character of Leopold Bloom. He is on a career break from his job at a boy’s school in Dublin and living alone at the family farm, his mother and elderly aunt having died a few years before. He had thought he might write a book about Joyce while on this break, but he hasn’t even started and his two years are almost up. Soon, he will have to decide what to do.

In the first part of the book, we learn about Luke and what led up to this point in his life, while at the same time, moving through his day-to-day life with him. Then Luke hits a crisis point and he has either an epiphany or a delusional episode or perhaps a bit of both. At this point, the narrative structure changes. The account of Luke’s activities is mixed in with accounts of where his mind is going as he is engaging in these activities. It is as though someone is observing and reporting. I suspect that someone who is at least familiar with James Joyce would have gotten more out of that section of the book than I did, but even though I am without any knowledge (or particular interest) in Joyce’s work I could get the general idea. At the very end of the book, there are a couple of pages written in the first person from Luke’s point of view.

I found this to be a strange book in some ways, but a good one nonetheless.

A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume
I discovered this book in the e-book section of the library website. This is the description provided:

‘Struggling to cope with urban life – and with life in general – Frankie, a twenty-something artist, retreats to the rural bungalow on ‘turbine hill’ that has been vacant since her grandmother’s death three years earlier. It is in this space, surrounded by nature, that she hopes to regain her footing in art and life. She spends her days pretending to read, half-listening to the radio, failing to muster the energy needed to leave the safety of her haven. Her family come and go, until they don’t and she is left alone to contemplate the path that led her here, and the smell of the carpet that started it all.
Finding little comfort in human interaction, Frankie turns her camera lens on the natural world and its reassuring cycle of life and death. What emerges is a profound meditation on the interconnectedness of wilderness, art and individual experience, and a powerful exploration of human frailty.’

It is a slightly weird, but oddly compelling book. This is not a book with a neat and tidy ending, but that is as it should be. Since it’s not a neat and tidy book, such an ending would be out of place.

The writing is excellent. The book is structured in mostly short paragraphs and we move back and forth in time, which is a reflection of Frankie’s disjointed thoughts.

Big Maggie by John B Keane
I was scrolling through the e-book section of the library website and this title appeared. When we first got to Ireland, a theatre in Dublin was staging this play and had ads on the radio, so I remembered the name. It sounded intriguing, so I borrowed it. To say that I liked it wouldn’t be quite right. It’s a very powerful piece of work, but it did sometimes leave me breathless thinking about the sadness of a life spent existing instead of living and with the anger of what societal expectations and repressive religious ideologies.

When the play opens, it is the 1960s in rural Ireland. We are at the funeral of Walter Polpin, who died shortly after his 60th birthday. His widow, Maggie, is happy enough at this turn of events. He was a jerk, who treated her and their kids badly. One of the kids, the oldest daughter, Kate, was daddy’s favourite and she is sad about his death. The others, Mick, Maurice, and Gert (in order of their ages), don’t seem as pleased as Maggie, but like her feel liberated. Their feelings are short-lived, however, when Maggie makes it clear that Walter signed over the farm and their shop to her, so they won;t get anything and she is now in control. The family dysfunction continues. The play ends with a soliloquy by Maggie in which we learn how she ended up where she finds herself, and see that she is more than the unfeeling, angry, over-controlling woman portrayed throughout the play.

The themes Keane addresses in this work include family relationships, gender roles, the culture of rural Ireland in the 1960s, the harm dome by the Catholic church, freedom from societal expectation and the price one pays for going against the grain, even unwillingly.

Moll by John B Keane
After reading Big Maggie, I was interested in more of Keane’s work, so went back to the e-book section of the library to see what they have. This was available, so I borrowed it. Like Big Maggie, this play revolves around a strong woman, but this play, unlike the other one, is very funny. Two curates and a canon live together in the parish of Ballast. It is 1971 and the move to decimal money has been the cause, at least in their opinion, of their trusted housekeeper deciding to marry a guy from New Jersey, USA and move there with him. Unaccustomed to doing anything for themselves, the situation is dire and they are eager to replace her as quickly as they can. They hire Moll, who comes with at least one excellent reference. Moll has ideas about how things need to be. The canon, who is the senior of the three priests, is delighted by how things unfold. The other two, not so much. The two curates are way out of their league, of course and Moll knows what she’s doing, so she runs things her way.

I've started my December pile, which contains a few seasonal collections I definitely want to read this month, along with a couple of recent finds that I'm eager to dive into. And who knows what will strike my fancy as we move through the month. I've stopped requesting library books for the time being, so I can read some of the books I have at home.

Happy reading!

Monday, December 2, 2019

A Bit of Mystery

Yesterday I posted the first of the books I read in November. I'm continuing that today with the mysteries I read last month.
Three Bags Full by Leonie Swan translated from German by Anthea Bell
I found this book on a cart of books for sale at the Central Branch of the Donegal Library when we went to Letterkenny one dy. Actually, Bill found it and pointed it out to me.
I loved the cover and when I read what it was about, I knew it was coming home with me, even though I wasn't totally sure I would like it. It was a good decision, because I loved it. It was funny and actually quite a bit more substantive than I would have thought from reading the dust jacket. It's very philosophical and even a bit ethnographic.
One day, a flock of sheep in the fictional Irish town of Glennkill discover their shepherd dead--and foul play appears to be involved. The sheep, lead by the smartest sheep, Miss Maple, are used to books that their shepherd would read to them. They decide that they are going to find out what happened, so they begin to try to figure out the story and solve the mystery, using what they know of how stories work to assist their thinking. Along the way, they have to figure out human behaviour (and notice how often it is like that of sheep) and determine what is the nature of human reality. 

Bodies in the Library by Marty Wingate
This is the first book in a new cosy mystery series featuring Hayley Burke. I found it in the e-book section of the library website and I’m hoping they will have subsequent books as they come out. This one was published in 2019, but I’m not sure if that’s the regular book, the e-book, or both.

Hayley Burke has a new job as curator of the First Edition Society, located in Bath, where Jane Austen gets most of the literary attention. This is a library/society dedicated to first editions of Golden Age mystery books written by women, with Daphne du Maurier included, because the woman who founded the society (Lady Georgiana Fowling) liked her work, too. Lady Fowling also wrote a kind of fan fiction of her own, so those books are also included. Lady Georgiana has died and created her will so as to support the society, which doesn’t sit well with her greedy nephew, who has engaged in shady tricks to try to get the will overturned, driving off the first curator in the process. Ms Burke, already working at the Jane Austen Centre as a sort of PA gets the job with the help of a friend who is on the board. One problem for her is that she’s not familiar with Golden Age detective fiction. As she tells one of the other characters, her degree is in 19th century English literature—she read Trollope, not Tey. She does have some ideas for the society, though, most of which don’t sit well with the elderly secretary, Mrs Woolgar, who isn’t fond of new ideas. The resident cat, Bunter, is happy as long as his food is presented on time and the catnip mice keep coming. When Hayley discovers that a fan fiction writing group is in search of a meeting place, she offers them the use of the library. Mrs Woolgar is not pleased, especially when the leader of the group is found dead in the library one morning. What are the similarities between this body in the library and Christie’s? What would Miss Marple do?
This was a really fun read and I’ll be reading more as the books come out, if I have access to them. The author’s website says she also writes a cosy mystery series with a gardening theme, called The Potting Shed mysteries and a series called the Birds of a Feather mysteries.

The Lighthouse by P.D. James

Colour Scheme by Ngaio Marsh
After reading the PD James book, I felt like more detective fiction, so I turned to my e-reader and picked up where I left off In Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn series. This one was published in 1943, so it’s unsurprising that WWII features in the story. This one takes place in New Zealand at a resort spa, where the mud baths are thought to have healing properties. It is quite the opposite for one of the characters in the book as he meets his end in one of the boiling mud pits. The red flag marking the danger spot has been removed from its usual spot, so perhaps it was not a tragic accident. And who is the spy signalling from the hills?

Hope this first week of December has started off well!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

New Month, New Titles on Top of the Pile

One of the first things I did when I came downstairs this morning was to remove a few books from the top of the corner shelf where they'd been sitting for a few months. I'd found them in the local charity shop, bought them, and set them up there until December rolled around. Two are Christmas short story collections by Irish writers and one is called December. I'm not sure whether I'll like the latter or not, but I'll soon find out. I'm starting it today and if I don't like it, it'll be a good one for the wee free library. In fact, I doubt I'll keep it even if I do like it, so one way or another, it'll end up there for someone else to enjoy when I'm done with it.

I ended November with a couple of Christmas e-books borrowed from the library.

Christmas Cheer by Vicky Howard
I checked this out from the e-book section of the library. It’s a nice little book of Christmas quotes, recipes, and cute illustrations—very enjoyable to look at while listening to Christmas carols.

A Very British Christmas: Twelve Days of Discomfort and Joy by Rhodri Marsden
This book is about British Christmas traditions and how people there experience them. Once I started, it did not take long to realise that I needed a tissue handy because I could not stop laughing and I needed something to wipe the tears from my face. Some of the stories people shared were really funny and the author also had a witty way of writing. There are some serious and/or sad stories included, but mostly it was really funny. One thing that interested me in reading people’s stories was how several of them really disliked Christmas when they felt the pressure of doing things the ‘right’ way, but ended up having to do Christmas very differently for whatever reason—lack of money, being in a place where Christmas isn’t celebrated, or not being with the usual people, for instance. In each story, these people discovered that they could like Christmas if they did it their way. As someone who does not go for the ‘normal’ trappings of Christmas, I love that. I enjoyed this book a lot.

I also had an unexpected read with this one:
Kumihimo Endings: The Finishing Touch for Every Braid by Pru McRae
When I first read about kumihimo in a blog post over a year ago, I was intrigued and immediately went in search of more information. I discovered this author’s youtube channel and started watching. Then I got some disks and started playing around. Our approaches to kumihimo are different and while I love much of the work she showcases in her videos, I have never wanted to make the kind of finished pieces she demonstrates. Rather, I watch her videos because she explains things well and I’ve learned a lot about process by watching them. I find that I can relate to her experimental approach. One thing I’ve played with is endings. I quickly discovered that people usually buy or make jewellery fittings to finish their braids, whether beaded or not. These are often glued in, but sometimes wired in. With infrequent exceptions, I don’t like the way these look.  I like my braids to be about the thread or yarn I’m using to make them. I don’t bead them, although I might do some small embellishments at the ends. I just don’t like the look of a textile braid shoved into an end cap. I do like the tassels I can have at either end and I’ve usually left it at that, although I’ve experimented with some other beginnings and endings. When Pru McCrae posted a video about her new book on endings, I was curious about it. 

Every once in a while, I search the library website using certain keywords in order to see what new titles have been added to the system. Last year, when I searched for kumihimo, nothing came up. When I searched again recently, several titles came up, including this one. This is a great little book for anyone interested in kumihimo. I ended up surprising myself by reading it cover to cover. It is true that I will not use most of the information provided, but even reading those sections gave me a better understanding of the structure of kumihimo and also some possibilities on how to adapt some of these techniques to my own work. And there were a few sections that include techniques I will use. I expected to possibly find a page or two of this book interesting or useful, but I did not expect to have quite so much information contained in it, so that was a very happy surprise.

I'm not sure why I borrowed this one--I think I was intrigued by the concept:
Morning Glory on the Vine: Early Songs and Drawings by Joni Mitchell
In 1970, when she was considering what to give friends for Christmas, Joni Mitchell had some of her poems, song lyrics, and drawings made into a book.  Only a few copies were printed and it was never published widely until this year. I’ve never been a big fan of Mitchell, although I did have one of her albums in the 80s. Still, when I came cross the title in the poetry section of the library’s e-book pages, I figured I might as well have a look. 
I wasn’t that keen on it, to be honest. I liked one or two of the artworks. The poems were hard to read, because they were presented as photos of her handwritten pages, so sometimes words were hard to decipher. More than once, I misread something and it was only context that caused me to go back and re-read. There was apparently no editing because many words were spelled wrong in ways that would not be due to differences in British and US ways of spelling English words (she's Canadian, so I could see why those would happen and they wouldn't be misspellings, of course, either way). I recognised a few of her more famous songs, but I don’t know how many of the other handwritten pages consisted of song lyrics and how many were poems that didn’t become songs.

This was a wonderful book:
The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

She writes beautifully and as she describes her journey of recovery and growing self-awareness, she also takes us back to the life she is recovering from. I could relate to some of that--I also used to drink too much. I never got to the point of seizures, as she did at one point, but had I kept drinking, I would have. I drank a lot, until one day, I decided I'd had enough of feeling like crap and stopped. I know that I'm lucky, because the day I decided to stop drinking, I made myself really feel and remember what I felt like--the nausea, the headache, the shakiness, the inability to do anything other than wait to feel better. Not only did I never crave a drink after that, but I actually felt repelled by the idea. That was 24 years ago. I suppose we all have to find what works for us in these situations. To her surprise, the author found herself back where she grew up--the very place she was so eager to leave a decade before. As she begins to pay attention to that world and place her attention on the landscape and wildlife around her, she begins to grow, heal, and find new ways of being. She found interests that surprised her and followed where they led her. I fell in love with Orkney as I was reading this book. It sounds like my kind of place--northern, remote, not many people, gorgeous landscape, windy, short summers, and plenty of cold. If I was younger, I'd be looking for ways to go live there. The book is worth reading for the nature writing alone.

I'll continue the November book list tomorrow, but in the meantime, I'm off to start December.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving/Happy Thursday

To those of you in the US or elsewhere in the world celebrating today, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving. To everyone else, happy Thursday! Although it's a regular Thursday here in our adopted country, this is the one US holiday we still observe, because it's always a good day to consciously express gratitude.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Right Place, Right Time

We had a couple of errands to do this morning, one of which took us right by the charity shop, so we popped in. I made a beeline to the book room, starting on the right side as I usually do. As I was scanning the shelves, one of the volunteers came in with several books and was sticking them wherever she could find a spot. She was behind me and Bill was next to her, looking at the books on that side. I heard him say, 'There's an Agatha Christie.' As I was turning around, I was replying that I probably already had it on my e-reader. Then I saw that I was wrong. There was one of her novels that I do already have, but the book that had just been placed on the shelf was this one:
I wasted no time grabbing the book off of the shelf, where it had rested for a mere 30 seconds or so. 😀 I'd heard of this book when it was published a decade ago--somehow I was offered a free e-book that was an excerpt or a preview or something. I had it on my e-reader for a while before I read that and I knew that there was a more in-depth book out there, but never remembered to request it from the library. I'm glad to have it--I've loved Agatha Christie since I was a teenager. As Bill said, 'It's a keeper.'

We kept on browsing and the volunteer came in with more books, commenting on how many they have and how they have trouble finding space for them. I told her that we try to come in regularly to help out by making room on the shelves. She laughed, but she actually was sticking books into the space I had just created. One of the books was this one:
I think the last time I read Chekov, other than a short story or two, was in my very first year of college, when I took a World Lit class. That was over 30 years ago, but I do remember liking him, so I was happy to find this one, too.

One of the books Bill picked up was also one that she was putting on the shelf as we stood there. Clearly we were in the right place at the right time today.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Christmas and Critters

One of the charity shops we frequent helps to fund Animals in Need Donegal, an organisation which helps all kinds of animals. They have an especially big task when it comes to caring for cats. There are a lot of cats who need help. People don't spay and neuter as much as they should, so cats have kittens and the kittens are often dumped. Animals in Need rescues as many as they have room for, gets them medical care when needed, and places them in foster homes until the are ready to be adopted. We donate to them at various times of the year and always pop into the charity shop when we're in Donegal Town and have time. We like to support them, so when I was looking at a cross-stitch magazine several weeks ago, and came across some cute critter-themed charts, they popped into my head. I got stitching, turned the finished motifs into ornaments and dropped them off today. I thought they could sell them and raise a few euro for the cause.
cotton thread on aida cloth--kumihimo cord on left, crocheted cord on right, felt backing
cloth sewn onto scrap paper with watercoloured background (left) and scrap card stock made from 100% recycled paper (right), crocheted cords

felt backing, crocheted cord
Next time we go, we'll get some cat food and treats and drop that off at the shop. We want all the animals to have a happy Christmas, too 😀

Monday, November 25, 2019

Monday Monochrome: Under the 'Tree'

On our way home this afternoon, we walked by The Diamond (town square) and under the Christmas 'tree.' I looked up and liked the lines.
The Christmas light switch-on is Sunday evening. Last year the lights on land went on an hour or so before some of the big boats switched theirs on. Some sailboats at the pier had lights, too. Pretty!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Poem: November

I get a Poem-a-Day email from This is the one I got today:

November by Lucy Larcom (originally published in Wild Roses of Cape Ann and Other Poems in 1881)

Who said November’s face was grim?
    Who said her voice was harsh and sad?
I heard her sing in wood paths dim,
   I met her on the shore, so glad,
So smiling, I could kiss her feet!
There never was a month so sweet.

October’s splendid robes, that hid
   The beauty of the white-limbed trees,
Have dropped in tatters; yet amid
   Those perfect forms the gazer sees
A proud wood-monarch here and there
Garments of wine-dipped crimson wear.

In precious flakes the autumnal gold
    Is clinging to the forest’s fringe:
Yon bare twig to the sun will hold
   Each separate leaf, to show the tinge
Of glorious rose-light reddening through
Its jewels, beautiful as few.

Where short-lived wild-flowers bloomed and died
   The slanting sunbeams fall across
Vine-broideries, woven from side to side
   Above mosaics of tinted moss.
So does the Eternal Artist’s skill
Hide beauty under beauty still.

And, if no note of bee or bird
   Through the rapt stillness of the woods
Or the sea’s murmurous trance be heard,
    A Presence in these solitudes
Upon the spirit seems to press
The dew of God’s dear silences.

Who said November’s face was grim?
    Who said her voice was harsh and sad?
I heard her sing in wood paths dim,
   I met her on the shore, so glad,
So smiling, I could kiss her feet!
There never was a month so sweet.

October’s splendid robes, that hid
   The beauty of the white-limbed trees,
Have dropped in tatters; yet amid
   Those perfect forms the gazer sees
A proud wood-monarch here and there
Garments of wine-dipped crimson wear.

In precious flakes the autumnal gold
    Is clinging to the forest’s fringe:
Yon bare twig to the sun will hold
   Each separate leaf, to show the tinge
Of glorious rose-light reddening through
Its jewels, beautiful as few.

Where short-lived wild-flowers bloomed and died
   The slanting sunbeams fall across
Vine-broideries, woven from side to side
   Above mosaics of tinted moss.
So does the Eternal Artist’s skill
Hide beauty under beauty still.

And, if no note of bee or bird
   Through the rapt stillness of the woods
Or the sea’s murmurous trance be heard,
    A Presence in these solitudes
Upon the spirit seems to press
The dew of God’s dear silences.

And if, out of some inner heaven,
    With soft relenting comes a day
Whereto the heart of June is given, —
   All subtle scents and spicery
Through forest crypts and arches steal,
With power unnumbered hurts to heal.

Through yonder rended veil of green,
   That used to shut the sky from me,
New glimpses of vast blue are seen;
    I never guessed that so much sea
Bordered my little plot of ground,
And held me clasped so close around.

This is the month of sunrise skies
      Intense with molten mist and flame;
Out of the purple deeps arrive
      Colors no painter yet could name:
Gold-lilies and the cardinal-flower
Were pale against this gorgeous hour.

Still lovelier when athwart the east
      The level beam of sunset falls:
The tints of wild-flowers long deceased
       Glow then upon the horizon walls;
Shades of the rose and violet
Close to their dear world lingering yet.

What idleness, to moan and fret
       For any season fair, gone by!
Life’s secret is not guessed at yet;
       Veil under veil its wonders lie.
Through grief and loss made glorious
The soul of past joy lives in us.

More welcome than voluptous gales
       This keen, crisp air, as conscience clear:
November breathes no flattering tales;—
       The plain truth-teller of the year,
Who wins her heart, and he alone,
Knows she has sweetness all her own.

Lucy Larcom was born in 1824 and grew up in Beverly, Massachusetts. She is the author of several poetry collections, including A New England Girlhood (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1889) and An Idyl of Work (James R. Osgood and Company, 1875). She taught at Wheaton Seminary from 1854 to 1862, and died in 1893.

I hope you're having a lovely November day!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Following Up

Yesterday, I posted some thoughts about buying used books, after watching a video on the topic that got me thinking. I realised that my thinking about the ethics of buying used books fits in with my larger ethical stance on avoiding waste and trying to use fewer resources. This is not only an ethical thought pattern for me, it is how I live. At this point, it is the only way I feel comfortable living, even though it gets in the way of some other things I sometimes think about doing. In everyone's life, there are situations where our ideals are in conflict with one another and we all have to find ways of working through these issues. Each of us will prioritise different things. What is right for me is not going to be right for everyone and I am not suggesting it should be. But as we continue further down the climate crisis road, we all need to take stock of what we can do in our everyday lives to do a better job of caring for our one true home--we have no other. This is especially the case in wealthy countries, like the one I lived in for the first part of my life and my adopted country.

A short time ago, I read this article about attempts to combat waste and minimise what goes into landfill in a major US city. Here's one statistic from the article:
'The U.S. produces more than 250 million tons of waste per year—30 percent of the world’s waste, though it makes up only 4 percent of the Earth’s population. Sixty-five percent of that waste ends up in landfills or incinerators. '

I don't know what the stats are for Ireland, but I am sure there is too much waste here, too.

My attitude towards waste and avoiding it has been a foundational part of my life for many years now. I have sometimes thought about my grandmother and her impact on me in this regard as well as in many areas of my life. I can remember once in a class or something when I was a small child, being asked about someone who I admired most. My answer was that my Nana was that person. Even now, several decades on, I am reminded of how her example shaped my attitudes about many things. Avoiding waste is one of them. I saw how she did this just as a matter of course. It was how she lived. She used things up, reused things that were no longer fit for purpose, found ways of making what she needed without rushing off to a store to buy things. At an earlier time in her life, living this way was a necessity. By the time I knew her, it no longer was, but it was how she felt comfortable being in this world. It is also how I feel comfortable.

So the used book thing ties into that. It's also how I create. I am not comfortable buying a bunch of new stuff, even to create with. I am happiest when I am using someone's unwanted stuff, whether it's scraps and odd balls of yarn, broken or unwanted jewellery, old clothes, scraps of aida cloth or roving, etc. If I get new yarn or other stuff, it is almost always a gift from someone.

Which brings me to the conflict I sometimes have. I have sold my work in the past in various places--online, in a museum gift shop, in art shows--and I have done commissions. I am pretty comfortable with commissions, because someone comes to me with a request and I fill it. I feel like I am meeting a need. I am putting new stuff into the world, but it's functional and is exactly what the person wanted. When I make something to follow through on an idea or push a technique or whatever, it may serve a purpose if it's a functional item--say a hat or sweater or shawl. Or I might end up with a pretty thing. Making it served the purpose of feeding my curiosity, and I may well have learned something in the process, and it is a pretty thing, at least in my opinion (if it isn't, I take it apart and reuse the materials in another way). But somehow, I have trouble with feeling that having a pretty thing that isn't 'useful' is enough and that makes it harder to put it out there in the world for someone to buy, because no matter how much I might like the end result, in the end, it is stuff. And there is so, so much stuff already. I mean, I would rather see less stuff that is mass produced and more stuff that is carefully, skillfully, and lovingly made. To me the latter is far more valuable than the former, whether I make it or someone else does. There's value in the making and the skills, and the learning that goes into it all, whether it's a hat, a painting, a book, a sculpture, or a piece of jewellery. We are a creative species. But I guess for me, function plays a role. And so does the problem of a world full of too much stuff. This is one reason I try to only make new stuff out of old. I'm most comfortable when that new stuff will serve a useful purpose though. I am not sure why it is that something pretty that makes people smile doesn't seem to be purposeful enough, but I think this is all tied together with my aversion to too much stuff. In short, does the world really need another pretty thing? I know that I have some need to make the things, but sometimes, I feel weird about it--often uncomfortable enough to stop me from following through on the ideas that jostle around in my head.

And then there is the bombardment of advertising. Websites with videos that start playing whether you want them to or not and flashing ads along top, bottom, and both sides, blogs with ads crammed all over the place, and so many people hustling to make a living. I am more understanding of the latter and although I never click on ads and pay as little attention to them as possible, I let them play out on youtube if it's an indie person who is trying to make a few cents by providing content. I know they get a few cents if I let them run, so I do, although I sometimes go and do something else while they're playing--I've had 15-minute ads come up! I must admit though, that I do get tired of constantly seeing ads for this, that, and the other thing. Everyone wants us to buy, buy, buy and yet we are drowning in stuff. At the same time more and more people are trying to make it in a creative/gig economy that is often about buying and selling stuff, we need to be making serious moves to consume less stuff, due to the environmental damage we are doing. I don't have an answer, really. It's just something I think about and have to find a way to work with/around as a creative woman who makes stuff.

And with that, I will bring this post full of 'stuff' to a close! I hope it's a good day in your part of the world! 😀

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Ethics of Buying Used Books

I woke up yesterday morning with a headache and a slightly queasy stomach. I thought it might be a lost day, but I ate some porridge, had some coffee, and drank some water, which left me feeling better, if not 'right.' I was able to function well enough, though, so we went to do some errands, stopping in the charity shop while we were out.

The shelves in our local charity shop are groaning under the weight of the books that are stuffed in every available space. They don't have room for more, so are not accepting book donations at this time. We were able to find a few to take home, thus creating a wee bit more space for them. As we were browsing, I was thinking about a booktube video I recently watched on the Spinster's Library channel regarding the ethics of used book buying. In the video, Claudia, who has talked about buying used books before, said that some people had commented to her that perhaps buying used books is unethical. This caused her to consider whether or not she agreed with this idea. I largely agreed with her conclusions in this regard, but there were one or two things that I was thinking about while watching that she didn't talk about.

She talked about an author named Philip Pullman, who I think is fairly popular, but not someone who writes books I'm interested in, so I cannot comment on his work. In the video, she said that he has said that whenever someone buys a book in a charity shop, he is deprived of royalties. I suppose that, on a purely factual level, he is correct--he is not getting any royalties from a book sold in a charity shop. But he did get the royalties when the original owner bought the book and if that person no longer wants the book, it will have to be disposed of somehow. Is it better to put it in a charity shop, where it can find a new home, stay out of a landfill, and provide funds to help people or would he rather have someone toss it in the trash? Either way, he's not getting his royalties and it seems to me that reuse is a more ethical choice.

His argument is overly simplistic. I can only speak to how Bill and I buy books in a charity shop, but it seems to me that if anyone is going into a charity shop looking for a particular author, they will usually come out disappointed. It may be that charity shops in his part of the world (wherever that is) are different than they are here or than the ones I experienced when I was in the US, but when I browse the bookshelves in a charity/thrift shop, I am never looking for a particular thing, I am prepared to be happily surprised, but also prepared to walk out empty-handed. We get a lot of books at charity shops, none of which are books we went in to look for and most of which we had never even heard of before we picked them up. It's not a matter of deciding to buy a particular book and then opting for the charity shop instead of a bookshop, thus depriving an author of her/his royalties. That's not the choice. The choice is, 'Oh, here's this book that I never knew about until this very minute. Do I want to give it a chance or not?'

This leads to another issue. I read 150ish books every year. I would not have room to buy and keep all those books. It is true that a large proportion of that consists of books written by people who are no longer alive, but even setting those aside, I would have a large number of books to attempt to house. And I have no desire to keep every book I read. I almost never re-read fiction, so I have no interest in keeping those books. I either put myself in the queue at the library, or I come across books in wee free libraries or charity shops that I buy knowing that I will pass them on when I'm done. Sometimes I give a book a try, knowing that if I don't like it, I can pass it on and not worry about the money I've spent on it. The books we keep are, with few exceptions, nonfiction. If we know we want to keep a book, we buy it new. We avoid Amazon for ethical reasons and buy from Kenny's in Galway--an indie bookseller which offers free worldwide shipping. Sometimes I do find books in charity shops that I know I will keep, but they are never books I went in looking for and are always books I did not know about, so I would not have been able to go into a bookshop or online to buy one new anyway. And there is a cost factor. I read fairly quickly and depending on the novel, I can be done with a book in a few hours. It does not seem like a good use of resources to buy an object that I am going to use for a few hours and then have to dispose of. Those are the kinds of books that I get from the library and return or a charity shop and pass on. Here again, it's a not a simple choice between acquiring a new copy of the book or getting it elsewhere--if I could not get such books at the library or in charity shops, I wouldn't buy them new. I simply wouldn't buy them.

I am not unsympathetic to authors who feel they are getting ripped off.  Like all artists, I think that they should be paid for their work. But I do think there's a difference between someone distributing a bootleg digital copy of a book, for example, and someone buying a book and then passing it on to a charity shop. In the video, Claudia also makes the distinction, which I thought was a good one, between buying used books at a charity shop and buying them at a for-profit business. There are a lot of ethical considerations here.

In thinking about this, I was reminded of artwork we've had over the last 15 years. We were heavily involved in a local art community in one particular place we lived, both as artists and as people who were collecting life stories to do projects about artists. In appreciation, some of the artists gave us pieces of their work. I bought a painting or two as well. When we moved, I could not take the paintings I bought, so I returned them to the artist without asking for, expecting, or receiving a refund. Some of the other art was such that we could take it with us. But when we were coming to Ireland, we had to pass most of that along, too. We were thousands of miles away from the artists and we'd lost touch with some of them anyway, so returning was not an option. We sold some and donated some. Books are the same. When someone buys a book, it's theirs to do with what they will. People here buy a lot of books, new and used. I was told by a librarian a few years ago that people will do a book clear-out just before or just after Christmas to make room for the new books they're going to get or have gotten. It seems to me to be a good thing to dispose of these objects ethically. If no one takes them from wee free libraries or buys them from charity shops, they'll go into landfill, which is wasteful (thus unethical). Even if this happened, I think it's a stretch to assume that royalties for authors would suddenly increase as a result. Again, I can only go by my own experience, but buying a book in a charity shop does not mean that I would have otherwise bought it new. It just means I likely would never have even known it existed. And it's entirely possible that someone might discover an author in a charity shop, buy a book they're not sure about because it's only a euro, fall in love, and then buy more of that author's work new, thus providing royalties to the author.

Anyway, it was an interesting thought experiment, listening to the video and thinking about how the topic relates to my own life. And now, I'm off to read. 😀

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Wednesday Words of Wisdom

'Objects don't seem incongruous if they've been there forever, doings don't seem ridiculous if they've always been done that way.
  Why is it only now that I can see how many ordinary things are actually grotesque?'
--Sara Baume on page 12 of the e-book version of A Line Made by Walking

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

First Chapter, First Paragraph: The Outrun

I'm linking up with 'First Chapter, First Paragraph' hosted by Vicki at I'd Rather Be at the Beach. Each Tuesday, people post the first paragraph or two of a book they are reading or plan to read soon. Today, I present the first couple of chapters of The Outrun by Amy Liptrot. I found this book last week in a charity shop and in a weird coincidence, the author was on the BBC Radio 4 show/podcast A Good Read the same day.

  Under whirring helicopter blades, a young woman holds her newborn baby as she is pushed in a wheelchair along the runway of the island airport to meet a man in a straitjacket being pushed in a wheelchair from the other direction.
   That day, the two twenty-eight-year-olds had been treated at the small hospital nearby. The woman was helped to deliver her first child. The man, shouting and out of control, was restrained and sedated.

Note to readers with Wordpress blogs:
Thank you to everyone who has added links to their Tuesday books! I have read each post. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Wordpress will not allow me to comment on the blogs on their site. I have had this problem for a long time and have given up with them. I have tried again today, but the problem remains. So if I do not leave a comment, it's not because I haven't read the post, but simply because Wordpress doesn't let me comment!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Several Months Later...

Last autumn, a friend/neighbour returned from a trip bringing me a bunch of goodies she'd picked up at a thrift store. Included in this haul were 6 balls of yarn made of silk and cashmere. It is so soft and squishy! I had 4 balls of a grey-blue, one in cream, and a brown. Ideas went around and around in my head as I considered what to make. Did I want to use it all in one project or use the grey-blue separately? I started and ripped out a few times. Finally, in late spring, I decided to use the cream and brown together in this neutral colourblock cowl/neckwarmer.
I started with the brown and made a rectangle that was half as wide as I wanted the neckwarmer to be. I did Tunisian crochet, alternating knit and reverse stitches, until I was almost out of yarn. Then I turned that rectangle sideways, and with the cream, picked up stitches along the edge and did the same stitch until I had the width I wanted. I slip stitched the working end of the cream rectangle to the other side of the brown rectangle and then crocheted around the top and bottom edges.

I loved it from the start, but given the time of year, it was too warm to wear then, so I left it out and looked at it for a few days, before putting it away to await a better time of year. That happy time has arrived and it's cool enough for me to wear it today. Yay!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Wednesday Words of Wisdom

I got this quote in a Pace e Bene quote-of-the-day email the other day.

"When anyone steps out of the system and tells the truth, lives the truth, that person enables everyone else to peer behind the curtain too. That person has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth . . . ‘Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal.’ Anyone who steps out of line therefore ‘denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety.’"
—Vaclav Havel

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Four Out, Four In

We went to Donegal Town today to drop off and pick up books at the library. It was a relief to get off the bus and into the fresh air! The driver had the heat on full blast--he was sitting there in his short shirtsleeves. Everyone else had on hats and coats or jackets, because it was alternately lashing down rain, drizzling, or just grey with a cool breeze.

On our arrival in Donegal Town, our first stop was the Animals in Need charity shop, where we dropped off four books and a few other small things. There was a couple that arrived at the same time we did. They were carrying a large bin bag each full of clothes. They placed it in front of the counter with the many other bags. It looks like they have a whole lot of donations coming into the shop, which is great. After we handed over our donations, we went over to the bookshelves. I picked up a vegetarian cookbook, which may or may not be useful, but even if it doesn't spark any good ideas, by buying it, I cleared off a bit of space and made a donation to critter care, so what's not to love? Then I saw this book:
I love, love, love the cover! I'd seen it before, but on my computer screen. It's new to the e-audiobook section of the library website and the picture of the cover there induced me to click on it to see what it's about. It sounds quite good--a 30-year-old woman is having addiction issues and goes back to Orkney, where nature helps to heal her in various ways. It's a memoir. It also sounds vaguely familiar. I don't think I read the book, but I'm wondering if I read an excerpt of it at one time or whether it just sounds similar to something else. I did not borrow the audiobook, because I have a lot of stuff to listen to at the moment, but I thought I'd go ahead and get it a couple of months from now. When I saw the book in the charity shop, I did not hesitate. I had to pull it out from the middle of a rather precarious pile on the floor and then rearrange the pile, because it was about to fall down. This is the second time that I have been in that particular charity shop and found a book that I was planning to borrow in e-audiobook format.

Bill also found a couple of books, so in spite of the fact that we are attempting to take a library break for a while so we can make a dent in our own book piles, we ended up coming home with 4 books to replace the 4 we'd donated, so we're even. Oh well. The book piles might not be any smaller, but it's not any bigger, either. At least until we next visit a charity shop.😉😁

Friday, November 8, 2019

Goodbye Facebook! Yay!

A little while ago, I deleted my Facebook account. I know that it will take 30 days for it to be truly gone, but I'm done and I'm so, so glad.

The last straw for me came earlier this week, when I read two articles about various shenanigans undertaken by the odious Mark Zuckerberg and all of the unethical practices of the company. Nothing in it was particularly new and it's not like I didn't know it before. But something about that particular moment caused my mind to come into sharp focus and I thought, 'It's time to go.' I'd been growing increasingly uneasy about being on the site, knowing that I was monetised and that my presence was supporting the unethical business practices and greed of those at the top and causing harm in everyday people's lives all around the world. I'd considered leaving before, but for various reasons, I didn't do so. But this time, I was thinking about the fact that while it is true that we live in an imperfect world and often have to make imperfect choices, it's all the more important to make choices that align perfectly with our own ethical standards when we can. This is one such situation for me (it's also one reason why I do not even have an Amazon account). I know that google also has issues, but given that I need an email address to function in daily life, for example, I can't just dump that. Facebook was an easy one to get rid of. Once I made the decision to leave, I felt happy and relieved. I'd been finding it a hassle for a long time now and not just because of the ethical shortcomings of the company.and its founder.

It used to be OK for various things. I could keep in touch with people who were far away, if they were on the site, although still today almost all of the people I keep in contact with on more than a superficial level are not even on Facebook. I joined a few groups, liked art and cute animal pages, and used it to collect news in one place. I would click on the 'most recent' setting so I could see posts that way. It always reverted back to 'top stories' because that was better for their bottom line, but I always clicked it back. I never used the site as they hope people will. I did not click on ads, I did not send out friend requests or even accept them from most people. I did not last long in groups, because I never found anything in them worth interacting with and they were only cluttering up my page. I left all of them. I never used chat and kept it turned off. I rarely used Messenger.

Then they decided they were going to focus on groups and started trying to push me into them. Then the 'most recent' setting stopped working. It was still there, but I would click on it and see a post from 2 minutes ago next to a post from 3 days earlier. I sent a message about this a couple of times and each time, it worked for a while, but then stopped working. I'd end up seeing a lot of sponsored content or suggested pages and not see posts from pages I wanted to see. I'd see that so-and-so made a comment on some post that had nothing to do with me. And the memes and the virtue-signalling post sharing started to grate on my nerves. Some memes were funny the first time I saw them, but honestly, after the gazillionth share of the same meme, I was no longer laughing! Recently, I was scrolling through my timeline and two or three people had shared the same meme from different pages, so it was just there three times in a row.

So there I was scrolling through repetitive memes posted days before with the occasional old news story thrown in just to break things up. Not much point trying to follow news if it's days old so I stopped using the page for news and went to websites instead. I started subscribing to art blogs via email and seeing them that way instead of on my FB feed. Cute animal videos abound on youtube. In short, I simply spent less time on the site.

At the same time, I was thinking about how with Facebook, 'relationships' that would otherwise run their natural course and end, could sort of drag on long past their benefit to either person. There were some people on my page that I was either friends with at one time when I lived in the US, that I used to work with, or that I was acquainted with and maybe only saw once or twice in person. I still enjoyed seeing the pictures and other things some of these people would post, but for others, it wasn't that way. It's not that I thought these were bad people or that I actively disliked them, but rather that whatever interests we had in common when we met were no longer at the forefront of our lives. We'd grown in different directions, as people do. Not all relationships are meant to last a long time. But with Facebook, there we were. I unfollowed people. I snoozed people. But I always felt hypocritical, because if I don't want to see what someone is posting, then why continue the pretence of being 'friends.' I would not want to see them in real life or meet for coffee or anything like that, so why pretend online? By the time I saw the articles that made me decide to leave, I was thinking about how I could broach the subject of unfriending with these people. I felt awkward about it, because I know people have a tendency to take things personally, but part of me thought that maybe they would be relieved to get rid of me, too. When I removed people from my page because of their racist. misogynist, or homophobic views/posts, it was not a problem and I was perfectly comfortable telling them why we were not compatible. I didn't care what they thought about it. But this is different. These are perfectly nice people and I wish them well. I just didn't want to hang around with them anymore, even online, but I didn't want to hurt their feelings, either.

So all of that left me avoiding the page for days at a time. I would not go there and I would ignore notifications. I found that I enjoyed not being on the site. I had more free time. When I would force myself back on to respond to a message or something, I would scroll through my timeline and think, 'Well that was a waste of time.' Maybe that's why reading those articles earlier this week served as a catalyst. I was ready anyway and when I was reminded of the harm the company is doing all around the world I asked myself, 'Why are you supporting this by your presence when not only do you dislike being there, but you have been actively trying to avoid it? Delete, already!' So I did.

I told people I was going to leave and left things for a few days, because I wasn't sure whether the posts would be visible once I went through the steps to delete. I know it won't be truly deleted for 30 days, but I wasn't sure if things stayed up during that time. I wanted to say good-bye to a few people who I won't be in contact with anymore and I exchanged email addresses with some others so we could stay in touch in a different way. I was a bit surprised at the number of people who told me that they also actively dislike Facebook and are uncomfortable still using the site, but they have reasons for staying on. Some people love social media in general and Facebook in particular. That's cool and I hope they all continue to be happy. I'm not a very social person in real life and apparently that is also the case online. I don't have (or want) a smartphone, so anything I do online is on a computer. Facebook was my only social media account and now that's gone. I briefly tried Twitter years ago, but it was just a spamfest. I was on Pinterest for about 5 minutes when I realised that it would only be a waste of my time, so I got off of that as fast as I could. I don't even get on with Ravelry, which is a social media for yarn people. Nope, not for me. I have the radio, my podcasts, books and art/craft supplies. And now I have more time to enjoy them. Yay!

Thursday, November 7, 2019

That Letter Again

The postman just came, leaving our annual letter stating that there is no TV Licence on file for our premises. The fee for this is 160 euro per year and it funds the public broadcaster (TV and radio). Many people do not pay this and many people watch TV on a device other than a TV, so the public broadcaster is in financial difficulty. Most rentals here come fully furnished, right down to kitchenware and teaspoons, so we only have a TV if it's part of the furnishings. In spite of the fact that we wouldn't own the TV, it's the responsibility of the occupier to buy the licence (this is how it's spelled here). A couple of places we've lived in haven't had a TV, so we wouldn't have to pay the fee in that case. This place had one, but we asked for it to be removed before we moved in--not because of the fee, but because it's a small place and we're not TV people (we do listen to the radio a lot), so it was taking up space that we could use for something else. The thing is, whether we have a TV or not, at a certain age, people get a free licence and Bill qualifies--our licence is upstairs, so we're covered, whether we have a TV or not. The licence moves with the person and is not tied to the dwelling. They do send inspectors around sometimes to ask to see the licence and people can be fined up to 1000 euro if they have a TV but no licence. We've never had a person call to the door, but every year we get the letter. Every year, I email the address they provide to tell them we either don't have a TV, have the licence, or both. They've always been really friendly and prompt in their replies. They check, find out that I'm telling the truth and thank me for letting them know. I am not sure why it doesn't come up before they send out the letter, but it could be because they have the address formatted in a weird way on the letter, which is different than how it appears on the licence--all the parts are there, but in strange places. In any case, I've sent off the email, so that should be done for another year. 😊

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Library Story: Sheep and a Serpent

When we were in Letterkenny yesterday, we called in at the library. As soon as we walked in the door, we spotted the library cart with some books for sale. These had been pulled from the library system. I was looking at one side and Bill was looking at the other. When he got to the last book, he called it to my attention, because it had a sheep on the cover. I looked at it, laughed and said, 'I can't possibly leave this here.' Turns out it's a mystery in which the sheep are the detectives and the smartest sheep is Miss Maple. This Jane Marple fan was intrigued.
When I looked inside the book, I saw that it was translated by Anthea Bell, but it didn't say what language the book was originally written in. When I got home, I did a search and discovered it was German. I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Moving on into the library, I went to the art/craft section to look for the tapestry weaving book I'd seen on the website. I found it and a felt one that I did not know about. As I was walking by the fiction, I saw Sarah Perry and remembered her latest book. I'd started listening to the audiobook but didn't care for the reader, so decided to read the book at some point instead. I;d read her previous book and really liked it. Now, in my defence, I had to get up a few hours earlier than I usually do and that always throws me off, so my mind was not functioning as well as it should have. I grabbed the book and put it on the pile. I paid for the mystery and checked out the others. It is always roasting in the library, so when we got outside, we busied ourselves with removing jackets and stuffing things into backpacks. We walked to a bench, where we sat and had our sandwiches. As I was chewing, it dawned on me that the Sarah Perry book I picked up (The Essex Serpent) might not be the one I wanted. I pulled it out of my backpack, turned it over and immediately saw that it was one I'd already read. I could not remember name of the book I actually thought I was borrowing. Bill suggested that we go back to the library so I could return the one I had and not have to carry it home. After finishing our lunch and going to see a photography exhibit, we did that. I walked in, gave the book to the guy behind the desk and rather sheepishly said, 'I accidentally took the wrong book. I already read this one.' He laughed and said, 'No bother. I'll check it back in for you.' And so he did. Later, I remembered that the book I wanted is Melmouth. I'll get it eventually.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019


Yesterday, we went to our local grocery store. Along the way, I was admiring the bright autumn colours.
Then we stepped into the grocery store and were immediately presented with shelves of Christmas candy, including these:
They're chocolate and white chocolate 'mini-pints' with a beer-flavoured creamy centre. Um, no thanks.

Today we spent the day in Letterkenny to see a photography exhibition. Things are really autumnas-y there!
The Christmas lights are strung across Main Street.
This hotel wasn't sure what to focus on, so covered their bases by having an autumnal display in the bottom window and a Christmas tree on the two floors above that.
When we got back to the bus station to catch the bus home, we saw that they're getting ready at the shopping centre, too.
They're putting the lights up on the roof--Merry Christmas from Letterkenny Shopping Centre. And you can just see a decoration hanging off the side of the lamp post on the right.

Might as well get it all up while they have the weather for it!

I know a lot of people don't like 'Christmas creep,' but I do. We don't do Christmas in the usual way anyway, and it's always been a season for me, not a day, so I'm already listening to certain kinds of Christmas music and enjoying the last quarter of the year--my happy time.
Happy Autumnas!

Monday, November 4, 2019

October Books: Words and Weather

Words, weather, and a couple of unexpected finds close out my October book list.
The Little Book of Lost Words: Collywobbles, Snollygosters, and 86 Other Surprisingly Useful Terms Worth Resurrecting by Joe Gillard
This e-book was new to the library website. It’s a fun book, full of old words, their part of speech, where they come from, definitions, examples of sentences using the words, and artwork. Some fun words are:
ataraxia—from ancient Greek, meaning a state of peaceful serenity, calmness, and bliss

blatteroon-- 18th century English, meaning a person who talks or boasts incessantly and constantly

eyeservant—16th century English, meaning a person who works only when someone is watching

fopdoodle—18th century English, meaning an insignificant fool or buffoon

 The Rose Tree by Mary Walkin Keane
I found this book on the ‘leave a book, take a book’ shelf upstairs in the building the library is in. I’d not heard of the author, but saw she was born in Co Donegal and that the story takes place in a small Irish town, so I took it. I wasn’t sure I’d like it based on the blurb on the back, but I decided to give it a try and simply put it back unread if I didn’t. The following day, Bill had an appointment, so I stuck that book in my bag to read while I waited, since it was at the top of the pile and was smallish. I sat in a waiting room with a TV set to some UK shopping channel. We aren’t TV people, so I am not familiar with what sorts of channels people here get. There was a TV in our current home and free access via some satellite the landlord had installed, but we asked for the TV to be removed. This is a small place and we could use the space for something else, rather than a TV that would sit there unplugged and unused. In any case, the only TV I’ve seen is what I see in waiting rooms and that always seems to be crap from the UK. In this case, I was treated to exhortations about an inflatable bed (with an inflatable headboard—whatever purpose would that serve?), a music player, an apparently magnificent mattress (this was played twice), and finally, a ‘classic’ music collection. The appointment turned out longer than expected. In spite of the fact that I was tired, I was able to mostly tune out the blather from the TV and read. I read almost half the book. To be honest, had I not been in that particular situation I might not have continued. The first part was pretty painful to read.
 The main character is named Roisin McGovern, a young girl who lives with her family in Duneen. She’s the youngest of three children and has a sister and brother. She doesn’t fit in anywhere—not at school and not at home. Her mother clearly finds her more of a nuisance than anything else and she does not really have many friends at school. She struggles. Eventually, after some kids play a trick on her and she is falsely accused of something, her mother decides to send her to the boarding school where a former schoolmate had been sent. This is where I ended in the waiting room and I didn’t pick the book up again for several days. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read on. But I decided to give it another shot before deciding. I picked it up and was pretty quickly involved in the story, which from then on was not relentlessly painful, although it wasn’t all sweetness and light, either.

The book opens with the adult Roisin writing to someone, although we don’t learn who until near the end. There are a few of these asides starting off chapters, but these stop for a good chunk of the book and I’d forgotten about them until the last one appeared. The book is sort of a circle, with Roisin writing her story for this unknown person and heading back to Duneen for a funeral at the beginning of the book, although we also do not learn who has died until the end. There is no wrapping up of the story, which I would have liked, I think. We know that Roisin does come to an important decision in the last sentence or two, but what the result of that decision is, we do not know. All in all, I am glad I continued with the book.
cover art by ben warner
Danger from the Dead by Elizabeth Ferrars
I discovered this book at our local charity shop. I have found several books there by authors that are not so widely known. The name of this author seemed vaguely familiar to me, but I knew I’d not read any of her work, so I brought it home with me. In looking her up, I discovered that this is a pen name and that she was very prolific. She wrote a few series, but this is a stand alone novel.

Gavin Cleavers is a teacher in the same boarding school he and his brother, Nigel, attended as children. This is not a close family—Gavin and Nigel are not particularly close and neither cares much for their two sisters, who also don’t have much to do with each other or the guys. So it seems odd to Gavin that, when his holiday plans fall through, Nigel eagerly invites him to spend his holiday in a cottage on the property he and his wife own. In spite of his misgivings, he goes, partly because Nigel’s wife’s sister, Caroline, will be there. Gavin and Caroline once had a relationship. Caroline is a well-known actress who had been in a soap opera, but had left to come help care for her sister (Nigel’s wife), Anabel, a famous and very successful writer of romance novels, who was still recovering from a stroke. But many things just seem off. And then, within a day or two of his arrival, Gavin goes to the house and discovers both Anabel and Caroline dead. What happened? And who was the balding guy in the grey Mercedes?

This was an enjoyable read and I will be keeping my eyes open for more by this author when I’m scanning the bookshelves in various charity shops. I would happily read more of her work.

 The Weather Machine: How We See Into the Future by Andrew Blum
I came across this book when scrolling through the new titles available in the e-book section of the library website. This is the blurb about it:
When Superstorm Sandy hit North America, weather scientists had predicted its arrival a full eight days beforehand, saving countless lives and astonishing us with their capability. Their skill is unprecedented in human history and draws on nearly every major invention of the last two centuries: Newtonian physics, telecommunications, spaceflight and super-computing.

In this gripping investigation, Andrew Blum takes us on a global journey to explain this awe-inspiring feat – from satellites circling the Earth, to weather stations far out in the ocean, through some of the most ingenious minds and advanced algorithms at work today. Our destination: the simulated models they have constructed of our planet, which spin faster than time, turning chaos into prediction, offering glimpses of our future with eerie precision.

This collaborative invention spans the Earth and relies on continuous co-operation between all nations – a triumph of human ingenuity and diplomacy we too often shrug off as a tool for choosing the right footwear each morning. But in this new era of extreme weather, we may come to rely on its maintenance and survival for our own.

I found this to be a very interesting book. It’s written for a general reader, so while he speaks to many meteorologists in many parts of the world, he doesn’t get so deep into jargon that the reader gets lost. The blurb doesn’t mention this, but what the first part of the book offers is a history of meteorology, which was fascinating—and sometimes amusing. He was on a remote Norwegian island and he asked the weather guy there if he felt like he really knew the weather. The guy looked at him and said, ‘I know when it’s dry and I know when it’s wet.’ Near the end of the book, he writes briefly about weather diplomacy. This idea is illustrated throughout the book as he explains how the science has evolved, but in this end section, he is more explicit about this.  

Our current weather is mild, with sun and lots of cloud. I hope it's a nice day in your part of the world!