Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Maeve Brennan and Other Book Stuff

A couple of weeks ago I clicked on a piece about Irish writers. Or maybe I heard a podcast. I read and listen to so many book-related stories that I sometimes forget where I heard what. In any case, I was introduced to Maeve Brennan. I googled her to find out more--here is a brief synopsis.

Maeve was born in Ireland (1917) but lived most of her life in NY City. Her father was a participant in the 1916 Easter Rising and was going to be executed until his sentence was commuted. In the early 1930s he ended up being named the first US ambassador from the new free state of Ireland so off the family went. Maeve wrote for various publications and was eventually head hunted by The New Yorker Magazine. Things went well for a time,but she married one of the editors and that did not go well. They divorced. She struggled with alcoholism and mental illness. She lived for a time in a room at the New Yorker offices. Her work was largely forgotten and she went from one transient hotel to another until she was admitted to a care home, where she died in 1993.

In the piece I read or heard, she was discussed as a forgotten Irish writer and that it was a shame more people did not know about her work. My next stop was the library website, where I found two of her works. I requested them both and they arrived last Friday.

The Springs of Affection is a short story collection that has groups of related stories.
The first group is autobiographical. The second group is about one couple and the third group is about a different couple and their children. The final story is longer and goes along with the third group--it is told from the point of view of the husband's twin sister after the death of both husband and wife.

All of the stories deal with domestic life and all take place primarily in Dublin,though the last story brings us to Wexford. It was interesting that the houses themselves became almost characters in the stories--her descriptions of them and what was in them seemed especially poignant when you know that she ended up without a home. You could sense the importance of class, appearances, and possessions to people--some of it seemed quite contemporary.

In the second and third groups of stories we see episodes in the lives of families in which the members are distant from one another and often puzzled about how this came to be. She would tell one story from the point of view of the wife and in the next we see things from the husband's viewpoint. This was usually painful because it so clearly highlighted the ways in which these people completely misunderstood the other person. Both were acting--or not--on assumptions they were making about what the other was feeling and thinking. These assumptions were always wrong and often led to lifetimes of dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

In an introduction, her editor called Brennan a "traveler in residence," a phrase I quite liked.

In The Visitor, a novella that was undiscovered until after her death, Brennan writes that "home is a state of mind," a sentiment I could certainly relate to. The Visitor was apparently the first thing she ever wrote and it was never submitted for publication--a fact which mystified her editor. The story is again domestic and revolves around a young woman who returns to Dublin after the death of her mother in Paris. She arrives at her paternal grandmother's home. Grandma is holding a grudge and things do not go well. This book highlighted some features of Irish family life that brought to mind anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes's book, Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics. This is an old book by now and I last read it over 20 years ago, I suppose, but I think of it every so often when I observe something here. This time when it came to mind I went back to the library website, where I learned there are two copies in the system, both checked in, so I placed my request. I am looking forward to re-reading it now that I have been here for a couple of years. My search also led to the discovery of a new study called--appropriately enough--Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics Revisited. That should be on the way as well. I can remember when I worked in a public library almost 9 years ago and people could get pretty hostile about the fact that there was no physical card catalogue anymore and that everything was done online. I must say that I never could understand that hostility. I LOVE being able to go to the website, search for a book, and request it whenever a bookish thought pops into my head!

I am also a happy woman when unexpected book finds are a feature of my day. Today was such a day! We were going to the shop to pick up some butter and onions and we had to walk past one of the three charity shops on Main Street. The door was open so we walked through it. I headed directly to the book corner where I saw the sign that read 4 books for 1 euro. When I picked up the first book to look at it, I heard Bill's voice coming from somewhere behind me. He was engaging in crazy talk, "Shari. Shari, what are you doing? Shari, we don't need any more books." "Are you saying something?" I asked. By then he had stopped talking and was looking through the books himself, commenting on how good this one and that one sounded. I pointed out that they were 4 for a euro and that there was no point in stopping before we had a multiple of 4. So, yeah, we do not NEED more books. But we got some anyway.

Happy reading!

Monday, May 30, 2016

2 1/2 Socks and Pattern

Last night I completed sock number two of this pair.
 Just before midnight I threaded a tapestry needle and wove in the ends. It felt like I had been working on these almost forever! That may be because I actually made 2 1/2 socks instead of just two. I was halfway through sock number one--just completing the heel turn--when I paid enough attention to realize that I was a stitch short. Upon closer examination I found a dropped stitch back on the heel flap. After bungling the attempt at fixing this, I reluctantly decided that I needed to rip the whole thing out, so frogging followed! Too bad I did not notice it earlier, but as I worked on these mostly late at night in a dark room with just a headlamp on, I suppose it is not a surprise that it went unnoticed. Ah well, it was enjoyable knitting and I just got to do more of it :-)

The design is my own--I went through my stitch dictionary and came across Irish Net stitch. It was for a different stitch count that the 34 I needed and it was written to be worked flat, so I adapted it to be worked over 34 stitches in the round. I used the star toe because I like that best, but you could also do a "regular" toe and kitchener at the end. Here is the detail.

The sock yarn is a blend of cotton,wool, and nylon. It worked up well in this stitch pattern and I am done just in time, since summer has come back.

Here is how I made them.

Irish Net Knit Sock
This is the stitch pattern I used for the instep:
Rnd 1: k2, *yo, sl1, k2, psso both k sts* rep from * to * until you have 2 sts left, then k2
Rnd 2: knit
Rnd 3: k2, * sl1, k2, psso, yo* rep between * until you have 2 sts left on needle, then k2
Rnd 4: knit
rep these 4 for pattern

Here is the sock pattern as I made it. I always use 4 dpns because that is the method I like best, but use magic loop or 2 circs if you prefer. I used size 1 needles and less than a 427 yard skein of sock yarn. If you wear out heels and/or toes quickly, you can change to size 0 dpns after the cuff.

CO 68 stitches and divide onto 3 needles (I did 24, 24, and 20). Join, being careful not to twist stitches.

Knit one round.

Work in k2, p2 rib until cuff is as long as you want it.

Divide for heel:
--k 34 sts onto one needle.
--k 17 on next needle
-- k17 onto next needle (these two last needles are your instep stitches)

Heel flap:
Working back and forth on needle with 34 sts, (sl 1, k1) across, turn
--sl1, then purl remaining sts across, turn
-- (sl 1, k1) across, turn
--sl 1, purl remaining sts across, turn
Repeat previous 2 rows until you have completed 34 rows, ending with a purl row. Turn.

Turn the heel:
--sl 1, k18, ssk, k1, turn
--sl 1, p 5, p2tog, p1, turn
--sl1, k to within one st of gap, ssk over gap, k1, turn
--sl 1, p to within one st of gap, p2tog over gap, p1, turn
Repeat previous 2 rows until you have 20 sts remaining on needle.

Combine instep stitches onto one needle.

--K 10 stitches from heel flap onto one needle.
--K remaining 10 heel flap stitches onto another needle and then on same needle, pick up 17 stitches along side of heel flap.
--On instep sts, begin working lace pattern above
--With empty needle, pick up 17 sts along other side of heel flap, then on same needle, k the 10 stitches off the last needle.

Now you will decrease only on the two needles with the picked up stitches and work even on the instep.
First round:
First needle: k all sts
Second needle: lace pattern above
Third needle: k all sts
Second round:
First needle: k all sts to within 3 of end, k2tog, k last st
Second needle: lace pattern above
Third needle: k1, ssk, k remaining sts

Repeat these two rounds until you are back to the original 68 sts, with 17 sts on needles 1 and 3 and 34 instep sts on needle 2. It can require a bit of attention to remember where you are on both the gusset stitches and the lace pattern at the same time. I found it helpful to remember that when I was doing a knit even round on the gussets, I was also doing a plain knit on the instep needle. In other words, rnds 1 and 3 of the lace pattern always corresponded to a decrease rnd on the gussets.

Now work even until the foot is 2 inches shorter than the desired length:
Star Toe:
Knit a round and decrease two stitches in the middle of needle two and at the end of needle 3. This leaves you with 66 stitches, which is divisible by 6, so you can proceed with the star toe, in which you will be making 6 decreases every other round, as follows:
Round 1: (k9, k2tog) around
Round 2 and all even numbered rounds: k each stitch around
Round 3: (k8, k2tog) around
Round 5: (k7, k2tog) around
Round 7: (k6, k2tog) around
Round 9: (k5, k2tog) around
Round 11: (k4, k2tog) around
Round 13: (k3, k2tog) around
Round 15: (k2, k2tog) around
Round 17: (k1, k2tog) around
Round 19: (k2tog) around
 Leaving a long tail, cut yarn and thread tapestry needle. Run tail through the stitches that remain on your needle and pull closed. Weave in ends.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Herbs on the Landing

We went off to the Moville Garden Centre this afternoon. We had seen the sign in a previous walk, so we knew it was down a lane off the next street over. We did not know how far down the lane it was, but we decided to find out. I wanted to get a bag of compost (dirt) and some herbs.

We walked down the lane and around the curve and were greeted by some sheep--Karen O, they send greetings to you and Ramses :-)

We went through the gates and into one of the two hoop houses looking for herbs. We didn't find any, but there were some beautiful flowers.

We walked through the next hoop house and there were still no herbs to be seen, but once we were heading out of hoop house number two, I saw a rolling shelf and there were the herbs I was looking for--yay! I picked up 5 plants--fennel, dill, coriander (cilantro), parsley, and chocolate mint. I was quite pleased to see the dill since I had a tough time finding it anywhere last year. I could not find any dried or fresh until the fruit and veg guy had a bag one week. I bought it, dried it, and still have a little bit left. Hopefully this plant will do well enough for me to dry some more. I might go back next week and get an oregano plant. We'll see.

We put the dirt in our backpacks and the guy put our herbs in a tray to which he added a handle and off we went home.

We dropped off our stuff and then went out for a walk. It was warm and close today, but there is always a good breeze coming off the sea on the shore walk--at least when we are heading away from town! On the way back the breeze is at our backs and it feels significantly warmer!

The water was blue and green today.

A quick glance might lead you to think that this little tree is dead, but it ain't dead yet!

Remember to look up once in a while :-)
After we got home, I repotted the herbs--they really needed it! I trimmed the cilantro because I used some for supper,and I will trim the others tomorrow. Planted some garlic for chives, too. I also planted some mizuna seeds that a friend ordered for me a while back, after I told her how I loved them when we were doing the CSA in Maine. Now that it is "hotting up" as they say, I will be eating more salads and the mizuna, garlic and herbs will be nice for that.

The best place for these plants seems like it is the window in the landing, so I have put them out there for now even though that is the farthest point from the kitchen. We have a window over the sink that would be great, except that it does not get sun. I kept a container of garlic in the sitting room with the few houseplants we have there and I stuck the chocolate mint in a bedroom--both rooms are on the sunny side of the building. I will just keep an eye on everything and see how it goes, moving stuff around as necessary.

I brought my lemon balm plant from Killybegs and that is doing well on the landing. I have been using it for iced lemon water, which is nice. Now I can add chocolate mint water to the summer repertoire--and look forward to the day when I can enjoy it hot instead of cold!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Wandering and Windfarm

We took a wee wander this morning after breakfast. Bill had a book he wanted to get at the library so that was the first stop. We ended up in a whole previously undiscovered (by us anyway) corner which extended the Donegal and Ireland sections quite a bit. Bill got his book, Gerry (librarian) recommended a couple more, and I found a few on my own. I could have picked up more but I forced myself to turn away. I have a few books in transit and today is Friday when such books usually find their way to Moville, so I might be dashing back later. Oh the joy of having even a wee library just around the corner!

We wandered down to the pier after that. It is a part of the shorefront I do not go to as often as I head for the shore walk. It is quite different from the piers at Killybegs, which had a mix of boat/ship sizes, but was dominated by the large fishing vessels. There are just a few small boats here. At the moment there is some major renovation going on there as a building that used to be an art center is being turned into another B&B. Tourism is the thing that keeps this town afloat and I am curious to see what that looks like over the summer months. There are several lodging options here, from small B&Bs to a fairly large hotel for a small village, many of which have been in business for a while, so there must be enough tourists to keep them going.

As we were walking back up towards town, we happened to be standing on the corner when we noticed the blue lights of a Garda car flashing up the street. Then another one drove by. I looked the other way and saw why--three big trucks were heading through town, each carrying a part of a wind turbine. A wind farm is being built in the hills nearby. The blades came through a couple of weeks ago. It was quite a job making the corner with the blades, but these parts were not as long and they seemed to have no trouble.

As they drove by I tried to snap a pic that would give a sense of how big these things are, but I couldn't get it in one go.

Planters in town are being filled with beautiful flowers. I have noticed the profusion of public flower baskets, boxes, tubs, and planters throughout the areas we have lived in and traveled through--it seems that every little town and village has beautiful flowers along the main streets, hanging on posts along streets and bridges, in green spaces, and anywhere they can stick a tub of dirt! The colours are so vibrant and they really do beautify the surroundings. Along with the pansies, I saw a couple varieties of flower that I have not seen before--the pale peach one and the bright pink. I also do not recall seeing the purple and orange combo before. And the deep purple bloom takes my breath away--looks like velvet!

Hope your day is beautiful, wherever you may be and whatever you are doing!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Going to the Other Side

We took our jaunt across the incredibly beautiful Inishowen Peninsula to Buncrana today. First we went walking on the segment of the heritage trail that meanders along the River Crana, starting where it spills into Lough Swilly, and ending up in Swan Park. The park is a small, narrow grassy area with some benches and a table or two--the land was donated by businessman Harry Swan and his wife, Sarah, to Buncrana for public use. It is a lovely spot.

As we headed for the wooded trail, we came across some memorial markers.

 Across the lane was a view across the river.

Above is Castle Bridge. At least part of the land that this trail runs through used to be the grounds of an O'Doherty chieftain.

From Castle Bridge there was a good view of the river.
Once you cross the bridge you enter a wooded area.

The sound of the river is a lovely accompaniment to the birdsong.

These small plaques were scattered throughout. The flowers were embedded on the armrest of various benches that were nestled into the hill alongside the path.

The tree plaques are embedded in the path.

Swan Park--I was standing on the path and I looked left at the Free Wee Library we had just passed (no, I did not take a book) and then I looked right at the Free Wee Library yet to come (where I still did not take a book, but Bill did). Here we also saw animal plaques--these were embedded in the walls.

We walked to the end of the path,which took us back to a main road. We decided to go back the way we had come because it was far nicer and much more peaceful on the path than it would have been on a sidewalk with traffic whizzing by!

After bidding the fairies farewell, we made our way back into town, picked up some stuff at Aldi, and waited for the bus home. It was a pleasant afternoon, but I am always so, so glad when we are home.