Thursday, August 31, 2017

Glad to Have the Books!

I am always really tired by the time August rolls around. Summer and I do not get along and every year, I slowly find myself wearing down as the summer inches along. It seems to take forever and once we hit this time of year, I am in great need of rest. I knew it would be even worse this year, since I did not get the usual winter respite that I rely on. This year it was all compounded by the fall I took at the beginning of the month, so all the annoyances combined to make a month filled with discomfort, pain, and an inability to do much beyond the basics. I was happy, therefore, to have plenty of books around to distract me from August. I read a lot of fluffy stuff, along with a few that were not quite so mindless. And last night, I thought I might settle in with some more fluff, but instead, I crawled into bed at 9:30 and slept and slept and slept. I finished the e-book this afternoon.

So, starting at the beginning, here are some of the books I read in August and a bit about them. I'll post the rest tomorrow.

Maiden Speech by Alice Renton
Susanna and Peter live in Kent with their three young adult children. He is a solitictor and she breeds ponies. Her mother lives in her own dwelling on their property. Peter decides he’d like to try to stand for Parliament. Susanna is not overly excited about the idea, but supports him because it’s important to him. Neither of them think he has much of a chance, but through an unlikely series of events, he wins a seat. Things do not go as planned. The family is put under a good deal of strain and in the end, a desperate plan is hatched to save the day. I picked up this book at a pop-up charity shop and brought it to read on an overnight trip to Sligo. It was perfect for that. It was quite funny at times and I found myself laughing more than once. I was particularly amused by a short comment about Susanna’s mother and her elderly friend becoming interested in foraging for mushrooms. Their interest was piqued by a community ed class they were taking called ‘Death or Dinner?’ Bill did not, for some reason, find this as funny as I did.

After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry
I’d read the author’s second book, The Essex Serpent, and loved it, so I requested this one. I didn’t like it quite as much, but it was a good read. It was weird and I felt like I was not quite sure what was going on in the strange house with the odd cast of characters. Not to give away plot twists, but the story begins with John Cole, a book shop owner, leaving London in the middle of a very oppressive heat wave. He plans to make his was to the home of his brother and his family, but his car breaks down before he gets there. He goes to the nearest house, which is not in the best shape and gives off an odd vibe. Even more odd is the fact that the strange people there seem to be expecting him and they call him by name. The story unfolds from there.

The Windermere Witness by Rebecca Tope
A couple of months ago, Bill picked up some cosy mysteries for me in a pop-up charity shop. One of them was the second book in a series, so I decided to read the first one first, reserving the e-book version. It was an enjoyable read, and perfect timing, since I was in pain from a fall I’d taken. Small town, society wedding, unfortunate and untimely death--whodunit?

The Pale Gold of Alaska and Other Stories by Eilis ni Dhuibhne
Spotted this while in our wee local library branch and being a fan of short stories, picked it up. This is an author I’d not read before. The stories all involved Ireland in some way.

Chef Interrupted: Discovering Life’s Second Course in Ireland with Multiple Sclerosis by Trevis Gleason
This is a book Bill saw and requested from the library. When it arrived, he chose a different book to read first, so I read this one. It is basically the story of and the author’s reflections on 89 days he spent in County Kerry in a cottage he rented after he was diagnosed with MS. He has since come back to Ireland. In his old life as a USian, he was a chef, but his illness caused him to change course. The book is pretty lighthearted, mostly, and it was interesting to read his first impressions. There were sections where he talked about MS and the ways in which he had to cope with the effects of the disease on his body. He includes various recipes in the book. These range from scones and soda bread, to a main course, to a dessert.

Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li
I found this collection of short stories when browsing the library e-book offerings. The title is taken from a piece of writing by Katherine Mansfield, who was an important influence on the author. The stories in this collection are autobiographical and deal heavily with mental illness and suicide, as well as writing, choosing to be a writer (as opposed to a scientist, in the author’s case), the influences of other writers, her childhood in China, writing in English, and her relationship with her mother. From start to finish, it felt like an odd book to me. As I understand it, this author is primarily a novelist who does not write autobiographically in her fiction, so this book may be a sort of outlier for her.

I hope you are enjoying the end of summer and have some entertaining reading in your pile, too!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Bill's Bounty

Bill went to the garden this afternoon and brought back more goodies! We've been eating good stuff for a while now and it keeps right on coming.

I used a  bunch for supper tonight.
I used some sliced pork and leek sausage from the butcher in Buncrana, some onion, and half of a large green bell pepper, stirring it around in olive oil until the onion was starting to brown (I'd cooked the sausage first in the oven, then sliced it and added to the pan). Then I added the tomato chunks and snipped in a bunch of parsley and fennel, stirring everything just until the tomatoes were heated and the herbs were a little bit wilted. Then I topped some wholemeal pasta with the veggie/herb mixture and snipped on the fresh basil.
It was so yummy and fresh!

We still have plenty of tomatoes and herbs here.
I've been getting stuff in the freezer, too. I've put some green beans in there and some chard--more chard went in today. And still things keep on growing. Yay! Bill's thumb is getting greener!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Scrap Happy Tunisian Crochet

After finishing the bag yesterday, I was in the mood for some Tunisian crochet and I had scrap balls of kitchen cotton out, so I grabbed a hook and started crocheting.
I put a border on the small pink/orange/yellow (knitted) rectangle I had so now it's in the basket of napkins, along with the plain green one sitting on its right. I decided to make a couple of larger cloths, too. When our friend arrived, she gave me a cloth she'd crocheted. It turns out to be a perfect towel to use in meal preparation. I use it all the time, but when it gets laundered and is not yet dry, it's unavailable and I wish I had it, so I made a couple more. The tea towels we have are good for certain things, but they are thin and get quite wet quite quickly. They're not very useful then. But these kitchen cotton towels are just the right size and thickness to be very useful, so glad I have a couple more now.

I just used a modified Tunisian simple stitch that I came up with one day. I am sure it's not new, but it was new to me and I find it quite useful. Regular simple stitch curls and can be thick. Using a larger hook can help, but then it is more open than is sometimes desirable. With the modification, it's not open or lacy, it's not as thick as the regular stitch, and it doesn't curl. You can see the detail in the first photo above. To work the stitch, you insert the hook sideways in the front vertical bar as you do to make a simple stitch (the hook stays in front of the work). Being right handed, I put the hook in from right to left. I pull up a loop as usual, but then I do a chain 1, leaving the loop on the hook. I do this all the way across and then work off as normal. I make a chain at the beginning of each row to account for the extra height of the stitches.

I might do some textured Tunisian now that I've got my cloths done. Have some ideas, but need to decide which one to try.

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Twists and Turns

This morning I crocheted pieces together and finished a bag for a friend. I'd been working on it for a couple of weeks.
It was the perfect project for the time--not too complicated, but requiring just enough attention to distract me from the pain and discomfort I was experiencing after my fall. And as a bonus, now Karen has a handy bag to carry her stuff in when she goes walking or to sit on her bench on the edge of the green.

I had an idea of how I wanted to construct it, so I grabbed my Aran stitch dictionary and picked a cable for the front and back of the bag. Then I found a narrow one in a coordinating shape for the sides/strap. When all the pieces were done, I crocheted them together and did a border, keeping the curvy shape at the top. She wanted a drawstring, so I made a chain and wove it through the spaces.

I used worsted weight kitchen cotton and 4.5mm knitting needles for the main parts and a 5mm (H) crochet hook for the borders and to crochet pieces together.

Now to consider what I might begin next!

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Since we got back from Sligo, I have not been out much--trying to let the left side of my body recover from the tumble I took in Tesco there. The bruises seemed to have been delayed somehow. Once we were home, I became rather colourful on the left as my wrist, upper arm, and leg turned various shades of purple. Each day the colours are a little bit different, but I am keeping an eye on things and can see improvement. I make sure I move around every so often so I don't stiffen up, but am also mindful of my tendency to overdo things and am trying to avoid that. I went to call on veg man on Tuesday and to the library yesterday, but other than that, have stayed at home, grateful for books and a yarn project that requires just the right amount of focus to distract me.

Bill has been tending the garden and bringing home tomatoes, among other things. Today while he was there, I was in the kitchen using some of our tomatoes to make salsa. They're so pretty.
We have a grand total of one jalapeno growing on a plant in the polytunnel, so perhaps I will be able to use that in the next batch.

He came home with more colourful goodies today, including our first broccoli, our first couple of wee courgettes, and some more spuds.

 I might make some potato broccoli cheese soup next week. 😋

Saturday, August 5, 2017

July Books, Part 3

With our jaunt to Sligo and all the excitement there, I never posted the third and final installment of my July books. Here it is, before we get too far into August.

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor
One morning while the author was at an academic conference using the treadmill in a hotel gym, she suddenly found herself on the floor, head cradled in a colleague’s lap, vomiting and with a terrible, intense headache. An aneurysm had burst. This book is an account of what she remembers from that morning and what followed as she underwent surgeries, rehab, recovery, and lessons learned. At the time of her brain injury, she was a PhD student in Jewish literature who was also a foodie. She enjoyed eating and preparing food with which to share with others. This interest in food and cooking helped with her healing and recovery and is a sort of organising theme of the book. Recipes are included.
It was a good book and I was reminded again of how much people can go through and somehow heal. I must admit though, that I had a constant background thought as I was reading and that was what a privileged position this young woman was in. I did not resent her for this, but as always happens in situations like this, I start to think about people who might have health issues of the same seriousness, but without the strong family/friendship support system, without the kind of excellent health insurance the author apparently enjoyed, and who did not live in the kinds of circumstances that would allow them to eat artisan bread and cheese whenever the mood struck or to snack on dried cherries as a means of comfort. I think the attitude towards food was the thing I liked least about the book. I found the general premise interesting, but the food snob aspects of the whole thing made the book less enjoyable for me than it otherwise would have been. As for the rest of it, I was glad that she had a support network and good health insurance--everyone should have those things. Reading the book as I did, though, during the days when the US Senate was trying to devise new and creative ways to deny millions of USians health coverage while so many people were terrified that they or their sick loved ones could die as a result of such political games did provide quite a contrast between those who are more vulnerable and those who are a bit more secure.

All the Beloved Ghosts by Allison MacLeod
This was an interesting mix of short stories that touched on a variety of themes, such as Sylvia Plath, Tony Blair, terrorism, life in the UK, among others. My favourite story in the book was one that took place inside the underground from the perspectives of various riders in a single area. The title escapes me at the moment. I found the book while scrolling through the e-book collection at the library--a happy discovery!

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman
I began the month with a novel by the same author called The Idiot. When I posted about that book, I mentioned that I was sorry to part company with the main character because I wanted to see what happens to her. Turns out that this book (the author’s first) pretty much tells me. It’s non-fiction--a mix of memoir and thoughts on Russian literature--but in the introduction, she gives some background about what came before this time in her life. It was the storyline of The Idiot, so I read this as something of a continuation of that book, even though this one was written first. I enjoyed it, but liked The Idiot better.
This book begins as the author is deciding whether to do a PhD or go to writer’s workshops. She takes a dim view of the workshop system so opts for grad school. She writes about her experiences in academia, her ideas about certain authors and their novels, and especially a trip she took to Uzbekhistan. There are three chapters devoted to her stay in Samarkand, but they do not all come back to back. Rather, they are separated by chapters about other topics. Near the end of the book, when she was recounting an argument involving two men, one of whom was a tour guide, she reports that one man finally had enough and hurled an insult at the other guy, telling him, ‘What does a donkey know about fruit compote, anyway!?’ I found that quite amusing.

Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood
I listened to this audiobook after coming across it in the e-book/audiobook section of the library website. I enjoyed it a lot and found myself looking forward to getting back to it at night with some yarn in hand. It is a collection of short stories, but all involve the central character, Nell. The first story takes place in Nell’s older years, but then we go back to her childhood and the stories move chronologically from there.

Happy August reading!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Taking a Tumble in Tesco

For about a month, I have been having some muscle and nerve issues in my left backside and leg. When standing and walking the pain was manageable. When sitting for a while, it went away, but the actual process of sitting down or standing up involved some pretty intense pain. I was grateful that this was getting better and was at the point where I would feel twinges and a sort of tiredness in my leg at times instead of this intense pain, especially when we got the letter notifying Bill that he had an appointment at the eye clinic in Sligo to do his 6-month post-cataract-surgery exam. We set off on Wednesday morning on the earlier bus so we'd have time to find the new-to-us B&B where we'd be staying and Bill would have time to walk around and take some photos. We had a pleasant journey, and eventually found the B&B after asking a couple of different people. Google maps was not as accurate as it might have been and even the traffic warden's directions of, 'Go over there, turn right, and keep going' did not get us there. It was the helpful lady in the pharmacy that pointed us in the right direction. We did see this cute little front garden along the way.

Once we knew where we were going, we decided to meander back into town, stop at Tesco to get some stuff for supper, and then head to the hospital. My leg was getting tired and I was looking forward to sitting down. By now we know where stuff is in this Tesco--it is laid out in a strange way, with the produce and bread off in this weird little area in the back of the store. We headed that way first, picked up some rolls and some fruit and were heading back to the main part of the store. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself stumbling forward, trying to keep my legs under myself. I failed at this and have a dim recollection of heading towards some poor woman looking at rolls. Next thing I knew, I was on the floor, stunned, and starting to register the pain. Somewhere in my mind, I was aware that the woman was not on the floor, too, so I must've missed her, and wondering whether something was broken. Then I saw Bill's feet and heard him saying my name. Some other guy was there telling me not to move too quickly and asking me if anything was broken. He said he was some sort of medic--I didn't catch the whole thing. I slowly sat up and got my backpack off. I moved my wrist and it hurt a little but wasn't broken. My leg was on fire. The medic told me to sit there for a minute, asked if I needed an ambulance, and when I said I didn't, asked if we were on holiday. Bill said we were actually on our way to the hospital for an eye exam and the medic said, 'Oh no! I hope not for this, too!' He and Bill helped me get up. I was lightheaded for a minute, but I thanked the medic profusely for his help and he went off. Bill and I proceeded to get our food and then walk to the hospital, about a mile up the road. I could see my leg swelling and figured it's be all sorts of colours.  On the way, he told me he felt something bounce off his head--it was the rolls I'd been carrying. That's when he turned around and saw me on the ground. For some reason, this seemed so funny to me and I started laughing. I must've looked like a maniac, laughing and limping along. I told Bill it was a good thing I wasn't carrying any eggs.
His appointment went well. His eye looks good and he has no need for further exams with that one. The other one is apparently just starting to form a new cataract, so the local optician will keep an eye on that.😉 It'll probably be a couple of years before that one is ready for surgery, they said.

It took a couple of hours for him to be done, and by that time, the little coffee shop was closed. This was a disappointment. When I got up and we were heading out, I was stiff, had a buzzing feeling in my head, and felt like I might pass out, but Bill got me some water and that did the trick. Off we went for the 1 1/2 mile-ish walk to the B&B. I was so, so happy to get into our room, flop onto the bed and get my leg elevated. I was even happier to get downstairs the next morning and get some coffee into myself. They had these little china cups--very lovely and all, but please just save time and give me a vat. Bill took care of me, though, saying a few times, 'You finished that already? Do you want more?' and getting up to refill my little cup.

Back to Tesco after that for some rolls and yoghurt for lunch. I looked at the rug where my mishap occurred and was surprised to see that there was no incline. I'd remembered myself going downhill somehow. Later on, I could see what had probably happened. There was a non-slip rug. I think my tired leg dragged and caught on it. It wasn't quick enough to get back underneath me as I stumbled and I fell. My knee seems to have been the first place to hit. My wrist and arm have some bruising, a couple of scrapes, and a bit of pain, but my leg is quite a sight. Later on, in Letterkenny, I caught myself twice more as my foot sort of caught on the floor and I stumbled again. Happily both times I was able to catch myself, but I was really careful after that to pay attention to lifting my foot up when I walked.

I was overjoyed to get home. Our friend had prepared supper, which was so wonderful (thank you, Karen) and it was a happy moment indeed when I crawled into my own bed, where I slept very well. Now I will just wait for the swelling to go down and the bruises to fade. I am grateful that I didn't break anything and that I was able to get around in Sligo and get home with a minimum of pain and discomfort. I can get around--not quickly or nimbly, but slow is OK. I'd brought some tatting with me and I was able to do that without my wrist hurting, so that turned out to be good--kept the wrist from stiffening up. I did some more tatting last night and will try some knitting today--after all, it's therapy now!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

July Books, Part 2

Part 1 of my July book list is here.

Simple Recipes by Madeleine Thien
This is a short book of short stories, which I sat down and read in a couple of hours. I enjoyed it in a weird sort of way. The first story raised goosebumps and none of them were what I would call ‘happy,’ but they were good stories. One story felt somewhat strange to read as it was written in the second person. I found myself trying to determine who the ‘you’ was that she was talking about. Common themes running through the stories are migration, family relationships (parents and children and spouses), mental health issues, growing up, being a cultural outsider, and work.

The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair
This was a fun book! The author has sections on the different colour families and within those discusses various shades of that colour. She provides a history of the colour, how it affected the culture, how artists used it, and more. each page was edged with a stripe of the colour under discussion and at times I found myself arranging the pages to see several of them side by side, making it easier to compare them.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
I don’t remember exactly where I heard of this book, but I suspect it was in an Off the Shelf email. It’s a cleverly constructed book and good story by the creator of Midsomer Murders (Bill is a big fan of the show). The book begins in Crouch End, London where a book editor tells us about a manuscript she read that changed her life in ways good and bad. She begins the story at the point where she is home from a business trip and abot to settle in to read the latest maunscript by the publishing company’s star author. It’s the final case of his series detective. The first section of the book is short and sets things up. Then we begin the novel within a novel. There is a twist at the end of the manuscript which alerts the editor to a real-life mystery involving the author, who, the editor learns, has died, apparently due to illness. We then pick up the story with which the book began. I loved the book--definitely a page turner--and with the added bonus of it being two books in one. I was also amused to see a reference to the Essex Serpent hysteria which figured prominantly in the novel of the same name that I read a few books before this one.

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Schaefer
I heard the authors of this book on a podcast last year and searched for the book at the library. I was not surprised when I didn’t find it. Recently though, a friend sent me a story about poverty in the US and this book was mentioned. I checked the library again and found a copy, so I requested it. I’m glad I found it. The book is a combination of personal stories, qualitative data, and discussions of policy and the history of welfare reform. It reminded me once again about how much hard work is involved in surviving as a poor person. It is not easy to continue to get back up time after time after time when life and the system keep knocking you down. As the personal stories in the book illustrate, the simplistic ideas people have about poor people and what they should do are uninformed and unhelpful. For example, it is common to hear people going on about people going out and getting a job as though it’s a simple matter. Even if a job opening appears, there are other layers of things to consider. One woman in the book applied for a job in Chicago in the summer. Her interview was scheduled on a sweltering day. The only decent clothing she could wear to a job interview was made of black polyester--not exactly the most cooling attire. She could not afford public transport, so she had to walk--and walk, and walk, and walk. Then she got lost so she walked some more. She eventually found where she needed to be, but she was hot, sweaty, and an hour late. You will not be surprised to learn that she did not get the job. The stories in the book are a good reminder that we really need to have a deeper understanding of both personal circumstances and societal problems before we start judging people and coming up with simplistic and unhelpful ideas that punish them and make the underlying problems worse.

Happy August!