Saturday, January 31, 2015

Happy Night Owl

One of the many things that have made me happy about living here is the fact that I sleep really well--and I did even through the summer, which I had not done in over a decade.

I am naturally a night owl. If I am asleep before 2 a.m. it's because I don't feel well. It doesn't matter how tired I am, I get a second wind at around 11. This used to be a problem in the summer when the sun would come up early and I would be awake at 5 or 6, unable to get back to sleep. It's no surprise that one of the summer seasonal affective disorder symptoms I had was feeling tired from the time we moved the clocks forward in the spring to the time we moved them back again in the fall. I wonder whether it was the location of the windows or something, because here, even though the sun was up quite early in the summer, I did not wake up until 7:30 or 8--and that works well for me. I did not drag myself through the summer wishing for days of sleep! This winter has been even better--I don't wake up until 8 or 9. It has been very pleasant to be able to live according to my own natural body clock and not have to force myself into a different schedule! Bill has been pretty much on the same timetable.

This morning when we got up, he put the coffee on and I got breakfast ready.
I'd made some peach bread in my bread machine yesterday and we had that with clementines and coffee. The coffeemaker makes just enough to fill the regular mugs and our double-walled, insulated stainless steel mugs (you can see Bill's in the top left hand corner). They keep the coffee hot for hours, so we don't have to keep the machine on, thus saving some energy :-) We brew the coffee, turn the machine off, and pour it.

Those mugs are great--they are called Joe Mo and were one of the best investments we ever made--we take them everywhere because they keep stuff hot or cold for a long time, they don't leak so can be tossed in backpacks, and are quite useful. When we were flying here, we had empty ones in our backpacks and once we got through security, we could fill them at the water fountains around the terminal. This allowed us to avoid "disposable" plastic water bottles.

The bread was good, but could have used more peaches. I will know this next time I make it! Still it's nice to start the day with a warm slice of yummy bread and some fruit

Last night before heading off to bed, I finished a tatting project I'd been working on using thread scraps. I had two more motifs to tat and then I crocheted a border around it all, listening to some podcasts of RTE Arts Tonight from earlier in the month.
I do a lot of my stitching late at night while listening to podcasts. It's a nice way to end the day.

I feel quite lucky to be able to meander happily through my days, enjoying a peaceful life in the slow lane, being creative, living simply, learning new stuff, and being in sync with my own natural rhythm.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Small is Good!

I can remember how grocery shopping was for me over 25 years ago. We lived in Portland, Oregon and had a Costco membership, which we were very excited about getting! At the time you had to be a state employee or something to be a member--we couldn't just walk in and fill out a form without some kind of corroborating evidence that we qualified. When I started working as an assistant to my Japanese teacher at the community college I was attending at the time, I was able to bring in a paycheck stub and we signed up. The whole warehouse idea was a novelty then and I loved being able to buy in bulk and stock up on stuff. We had also discovered Fred Meyer--again, this seemed like quite a new idea when we first moved to Oregon from New Hampshire. Now it's commonplace to see stores that sell everything under one roof--automotive parts, hardware, underwear, clothes, and groceries--but back then such stores were not so widespread. These stores seemed almost as cavernous as the warehouse stores!

I got used to shopping in such large spaces and having to choose between many products. I learned pretty quickly how to find what I wanted while ignoring everything else around me. I still do this and it has worked well for these few decades--until the stores remodel! Then I have to find stuff all over again and it annoys me quite a lot!

We still had huge stores when we went to Fairbanks--there were two Fred Meyer stores there and a Sam's Club. I was used to it. When we moved to southern Oregon, it was just me and Bill and we no longer had a need for a warehouse store, so it didn't bother us that the nearest Costco was over an hour away on the other side of a mountain range. I went into that store with a friend once or twice and saw that membership there would not be worth it to us, even if it was in town--and there's no way in hell I would ever make a trip of that kind for the purposes of shopping, but many people did just that. We still had Fred Meyer and a local "chain" called Sherm's, where we did most of our shopping. Sherm's eventually remodeled and they were also huge. Huge was the word when it came to grocery stores!

Then we moved to Maine and I was taken aback at how small Hannaford, my local supermarket, seemed. It did take a little bit of time to get used to the small size, but I did and I found that I liked the smallness of it. Then I started volunteering at Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program and I got quite an education in food waste. A volunteer from MCHPP went every single day to Hannaford to pick up boxes and boxes of food that would otherwise have been thrown away. One of the things I did was to work with other people in the food bank to sort, trim, and prepare this food for distribution in the food pantry. Some of it got used in the soup kitchen, too. There was so much food from that one little grocery store and the same size store in a neighboring town. I still sometimes think about how much food must be wasted in other places I have lived, with their cavernous stores and seemingly endless stretch of aisles stuffed full of food and pseudo-food. These towns did not have the kind of organization or volunteer base to collect the food on a regular basis so it could be redistributed. I was already rather passionate about avoiding waste, but my views about this became firmly entrenched during the time I worked there. It's a moral and ethical issue for me.

So here I am in rural, small-town Ireland. I am sure that cavernous stores exist somewhere on this island, but I have not seen them. I have a Tesco on the outskirts of town, which is probably slightly bigger than Hannaford. We go there once or twice a month to pick up stuff--like extra mature cheddar--that we can't get elsewhere in town or that is significantly cheaper--like dark roast coffee. There's a Country Market on Main St--he sells produce, jam, and eggs. We buy our eggs there and pick up some other stuff from him on a regular basis. It's great to stop in, get what we want, and have a little chat with the guy. We do the bulk of our shopping at the small SuperValu store that is about a 3 minute walk from our apartment.
I have come to really love this store! It has everything we need (no extra mature cheddar, but they have other good cheese), their prices are good, and they are small--so easy to pop in, pick up what we're there for and pop out! And the people who work there are really nice. I find that I really dislike going to Tesco now--it seems so huge. This makes me laugh, because had I entered it a decade ago, it would've seemed tiny in comparison to what I was then used to. The cereal aisle in both stores is still amusing to me. I'd gotten used to scanning two walls of cereal in little Hannaford to find what I wanted. Here there are a few boxes of a few kinds of cereal and not many brands. The store brands are amazingly cheap and the boxes are big--it's just the basics--corn flakes, bran flakes, or bran flakes with some dried fruit. Hot cereal means primarily porridge oats, although there's an Irish brand that sells "jumbo oats" which is like old-fashioned oatmeal in the US. No flavored oatmeal here. No Cream of Wheat. No Maypo. Oats. I love this.

We stop in at SuperValu when we need more milk or a loaf of bread, or when we want to pick up stuff that's on sale. Every time we go in, I head for the clearance shelves to see what's there. There is no organization to collect the discarded food here--they could use an MCHPP! Everything seems to be dated--even produce, which mostly comes pre-packaged--and this means that when it gets close to the date, it gets pulled and the price gets halved. Next stop is the garbage, from what I can tell. Needless to say, I buy stuff from here when I can. I don't buy beef or other stuff we would not eat, but I cannot stand the thought that all of this perfectly good, real food will get thrown away. And the lower prices are good for the food budget, too--it's a win-win. At least a little food waste is avoided, I get more food per euro spent, and the store saves on disposal costs.

Today our bargain purchase was a bunch of cheese (the peaches in the background were just sitting on the counter waiting to be used in some bread).
I picked up 3 bags of shredded medium cheddar, 4 small wheels of hot Mexican cheese and 1 of oak smoked cheddar, and the ball of mozzarella. I buy the shredded cheese when I see it there and stick it in the freezer. I can take it out and let it thaw or use it frozen from the freezer. It's handy to have! Last weekend we decided we wanted pizza for supper at the last minute. I took out a packet of pita bread from the stash in the freezer (bought a bunch on clearance, of course!) and a bag of cheese. I had some fresh tomatoes, so I sliced those, but if I hadn't had them, I would've used tomato paste instead (called puree here). I sliced some garlic, onion, and pepper and half an hour later we were having some really good pizza for 2 for less than 2 euro. Took a lot less time than it would have to go out and get a pizza and we didn't even have to put on our shoes. :-) So the shredded cheese is in the freezer and I may shred some of the other stuff and freeze that, too--we'll see how it goes. I will make some Mexican mac and cheese for supper tomorrow and make enough for Sunday, too. I have learned here to see what turns up and I am always ready to improv with whatever I find and to change my food plans as necessary.

Speaking of improv, I have some peach bread with coconut and cinnamon in the bread machine as I type. It's for breakfasts. I am curious to see how it comes out!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Not Quite Arctic

We've been told for the past several days that yesterday and today would be the start of some "arctic" conditions--"bitterly" cold with various forms of precipitation, some frozen and some not. Now let me say that I think it is very good to warn people of potentially bad weather and the possible consequences. Here even a little bit of ice or snow can cause big problems, especially for people on the roads. The roads are narrow and many have no shoulders--there are stone walls right up against the road in many places. Add to that people who are not used to driving on icy roads and the potential for serious crashes and other incidents is greatly increased. That said, I have been amused at the coverage as I continue my adjustment to a different conception of "winter."

I saw a Facebook post yesterday that showed a road bordered by tall walls of snow on either side. The accompanying blurb informed people that "arctic" conditions were on the way. Read on and you learn that there could be as much as 3cm of snow accumulation (!) and temperatures were going to plummet to around -5 (C) at night!! That is +23F. I have been in the arctic at this time of year and I can say that that's not arctic, unless you're talking about an arctic spring. Those conditions might look like the arctic in late March or early April. Of course, as climate change continues its ugly march and changes the arctic in highly disturbing ways, maybe those will soon be arctic winter conditions.

In any case, it's chilly out and the wind is blowing, so it feels a little chillier still. We are alternating between sunshine and showers that are some mix of rain, snow, sleet, and/or hail. The road is wet and not icy--at least around here, though as the temperature drops at night, it may well become so. I hope that people are careful and it does seems as though traffic is light. There is a bit of a contrast, though, between what our winter storm looks like and what it looks like in the Maine town we lived in before we moved here! They really did have walls of snow along the roads as they got 2 feet dumped on them the other day! They are well prepared for it and probably did a good job clearing the roads and sidewalks promptly. One of the problems here is that much of the country is rural, the roads are winding and narrow, and the road clearing infrastructure is not as well organized or developed as it is in places with long, cold winters. Small issues quickly become big problems.

 As winter "rages" I will continue to enjoy looking at the patterns made by the twining tree trunks and the silhouettes of the branches against the sky. They will start to leaf out soon enough.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Healthy, Yummy Chocolate Bread for Breakfast

No, this is not one of those space photos of a distant planet that sometimes make their way around the web. It is actually a chocolate bread dough ball in motion--although the idea of planet chocolate is rather pleasant!

The other day I got out my bread machine--one of my finds in the local charity shop--and made a loaf of whole grain chocolate bread for us to have with breakfasts for a few days.

I tweaked my usual basic loaf, in which I use plain flour, wholemeal flour, and porridge oats (in US terminology, that's all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, and quick cooking oats, though the textures are slightly different). To make it chocolate, I dumped in the rest of the drinking chocolate powder I had in the can (ingredients are just sugar, cocoa, and salt) and a sample of instant coffee that I'd gotten in the mail from Tesco. If I had nuts I'd have thrown some of those in, but I didn't have any.

After the first kneading cycle was done, I tossed in some bran flake crumbs.
Bill doesn't like the end of the bag of cereal because it gets sludge-like in the milk. I crush the crumbs into smaller bits and then dump them into a container, to be used for various things, like chocolate or other sweet bread. Don't want to waste them!

It was an experiment, and I was really pleased with how it came out--we enjoyed it. I am a fan of dense, whole grain breads and this is one I will make again--or at least some variation of it. Might add some coconut next time.

At the moment, I have some pizza bread in the machine--smells quite good!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Green and Gold

I never get tired of looking at the moss around here.

It is just lovely close-up--brilliant green and gold:

And from a distance, it makes such beautiful patterns--a soft blanket on the hard stone walls.

Monday, January 26, 2015


There's no shortage of  abandoned buildings around here. Sometimes the roof caves in or plant life appears, growing out of the chimney. The buildings themselves are constructed really well and the walls stay intact, even if the roof disappears. The peeling stucco and layers of pain create interesting patterns and textures--a sort of abstract art.

The other day we passed such an empty house. What struck me about this one was the sight of the dessicated remains of a spider plant in the window.
Something about that seems particularly sad to me.

The plastic flowers in the window on the other side of the door seem quite out of place.
It would have been a nice house once.

Maybe someday someone new will live in it and love it again.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

She's Ready for Spring

The other day as we were leaving, we bumped into our neighbour. She mentioned what a beautiful day it was and said, "Got the new flowers planted. Ready for spring now!" I responded politely, but didn't really know what she meant, because I didn't see any new flowers on the deck.

When we got downstairs and outside, I saw that she'd cleaned out the stone planters that are on either side of the door and planted some new flowers. That area never gets any sun at this time of year, so the bright, beautiful flowers really stand out!

I have no idea what kind of flowers these are, but they are lovely!

On the way home, I stopped and snapped a photo of the mass of heather (I think) in someone's front garden.
I've been enjoying wandering around with my new-to-me camera and taking photos. It's funny to see how Bill and I see different things--we rarely take a photo of the same thing, or if we do, it's usually from a different perspective. Of course, he knows what he is doing and I am just clicking away, but I am pretty pleased sometimes with the results of a lucky shot! And I found myself chuckling the other day when I would stand there clicking away, taking a bunch of photos of moss on trees from several different angles while he stood there and waited for me to finish. In the past, it's always been me standing there waiting :-)

Hope your Saturday is peaceful and pleasant!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Colours and Textures of January

Winter. One of the things I love about winter is the spareness of it. Spring, summer, and fall each have their own brand of showiness--masses of colourful flowers, red and yellow leaves on the trees, brilliant blue skies--it can be sensory overload. Winter is different though. The palette is muted. We have a lot of green around here, of course, and this seems even more brilliant now than it did at other times of the year. There are many shades of grey and brown in the landscape, too.

Moss and lichen make such interesting patterns on the trees.

Someday the newer stump will end up with its own coat of moss like the old one.
Without leaves, so many patterns and shapes emerge.

Colours, too.

Still plenty of ivy around.
I love the stone walls.

The cycle continues. Go out and have a look at winter where you are, before it's all gone! :-)

Thursday, January 22, 2015


It's been a little weird to see flowers continuing to bloom right through winter here. Having lived in places with serious winters, like Alaska and Maine, I am not used to having outdoor flowers alongside the Christmas decorations. It's been 20 years since I spent a mild winter in Portland, Oregon, so I've forgotten what it was like :-)

This little yellow flower is in one of the many flower boxes and pots that out neighbor has around the shared deck. The light was hitting it as we went out yesterday and it looked so dazzling that I stopped and took a picture.

As we crossed the street, I noticed again that the rose bush on the corner was still blooming, too.

There are flowers in planters, window boxes and front gardens in spite of the nights that have been characterized as "bitterly" cold, the storm that blew through last week, and some frost. They look so delicate, but must be pretty strong and sturdy to keep on blooming anyway. Isn't Mother Earth a marvel?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Storm Has Passed

I woke up this morning with another sinus pain/ice pick (this time on the left side) feeling. I was resigned to having another day of not doing much, but by early afternoon I was feeling better. This coincided with the end of the storm, so I wonder whether it had something to do with barometric pressure. I'm still not feeling quite right, but at least I feel better than I did and I am grateful for that!

The storm came through overnight and this morning, bringing very high winds and some lashing rain. At one point, just as I was about to drift off to sleep, I heard gushing water and feared we'd sprung a leak somewhere, so I dragged myself out of bed to investigate. It was all coming from outside and we were quite snug and dry in here. A few hours later I got up to see what was going on outside and watched hail bouncing off the windows. I was prepared to lose power and although many did across the country, we did not.

We spent a cozy night inside listening to the wind play a tune on the metal railings of the deck. Bill read and I tatted and cross-stitched. This morning I read a little more of the book I am trying to read so I can return it to the library and I read a few passages aloud to Bill. He thinks he might want to read it too, so we might buy ourselves a copy and I'll just move on to something else and return this one. It probably would be a good book to have to refer back to in future.

We are staying in again today and I just made us some tea. I noticed my rosemary plant on the windowsill is still blooming.
It started about 6 weeks ago, I guess. I had thought about putting some very small ornaments on it for Christmas, but Mother Nature had better decorations, so I left it alone and just enjoyed the flowers!

I am surprised to see the plants doing so well. I thought my parsley would kick the bucket in the chilly bedroom, but it's going great. I trimmed back my mint and dried it so the new shoots could have space to grow. In the kitchen, I planted some new garlic cloves the other day and have some sprouts. I used most of my celery last week and new stalks are growing taller. Even my avocado plant has grown 4 new leaves in the past few weeks!
Looks like more are on the way!

Things are quiet now, both inside and outside. In a couple of hours, I will make some macaroni and cheese for supper. It seems like a good day for it. After that, I'll see what I get up to.

I hope that wherever you are, you are having a peaceful and satisfying day!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Feelin' Groovy

For some reason that song has been running through my head today. I suppose it's because after three days of brain fog and a moving headache, I am feeling better and hoping that I might be able to do some stuff that I've been unable to do lately. The pain in my head would morph from a vertical, migraine like pain which felt like someone was inside my face trying to hack their way out the right side with an ice pick, to a horizontal mask of sinus pain. Add to this several nights with hardly any sleep and it all equals brain fog and an inability to concentrate on anything much. I got up this morning, ate breakfast, had a cup of coffee, took some medication, went back to bed for a while, then got up and made some fish chowder for lunch. I still have some sinus pressure, but am feeling better than I have been.

I have had this book from the library since before Christmas and had planned to be done with it by now.
I've read another book of his and it was really informative. He's a good writer, especially for an academic, and he packs a lot of information into the 700+ pages of small print. This requires attention and I have not been able to concentrate on it these last few days. I'm hoping I can get into it now. Talk of the commemoration of the 1916 Rising has begun--as have the arguments about what this should look like. In order to make sense of what I am hearing about that and to better understand stuff about Irish culture today, I need a better grasp of this period of history. When we first got here, another book by this author (Ambiguous Republic) along with some books by Fintan O'Toole (Ship of Fools, Enough is Enough, and Up the Republic) helped me put some of my own early observations into context. I expect this book will be equally enlightening and I am eager to delve into it!

Haven't done much on the stitching front, either. I have a cross-stitch project in progress that I planned to be working on, but there is a lot of counting with that one and I decided to set it aside until a day when I can better concentrate on it. I have been able to work on a tatted mat made of motifs--I have done so many of these motifs over the past few months that it's all kind of automatic now. This is my mindless project--I always try to have one of those ongoing for times such as this, when I can't really concentrate well on other stuff. Usually I have a length of thread left after weaving in the ends on each motif. I hate to waste stuff, and if the thread is long enough, I make a center ring for another motif. If it's not long enough for that, I save it for cross stitching. I grabbed one of my older charts and started stitching with these scraps, changing colour whenever I ran out.
The stitching is done with strands of embroidery floss, lengths of crochet cotton, and lengths of perle cotton. The aida cloth I'm stitching it on was in a package of small scraps that someone was selling on ebay. Bill saw the listing and got it for me, since he knows how much I like to use odds and ends and scraps. A few pieces  came with the edges like that--I'll probably crochet around it when I'm done with the cross-stitch.

There was more snow overnight, but it's all gone now. The rain and wind have arrived and from what I hear, both are going to pick up as the day goes on. Some places have been warned about high waves--some places last year had a lot of flood damage in a storm like this. Hopefully people will not suffer the same sort of damage this time.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Winter came today--sort of. We got a dusting of snow this morning, which promptly melted.
We also got some sleet and hail showers, but the roads remained wet instead of icy. This is a good thing. Traffic did seem lighter than usual.

Almost 10:30 pm now and it's been snowing at a pretty good clip for about 20 minutes.

It may well stick around until tomorrow now that it's colder out. I hope people drive carefully--they are not used to snow here. Other parts of the country got more snow today and there were a lot of accidents.

Supposed to clear out for a little while tomorrow before some heavy rain and strong winds return. This may be the only bit of winter we see this year. It's a nice little "winterlude" in the midst of all the spring-like weather we've been having :-)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Feels Like Spring

The sun is shining. It's warm outside.

 Green stuff is everywhere.

 Trees are starting to bud.
The river is running high and fast.

Seems like every day we go out, we say, "Feels like spring." It's been feeling like spring for months now.
Guess that's why stuff is so green and the flowers keep on blooming. I think it could be a marketing slogan: Ireland: Where It's Spring (Almost) Every Day!