Sunday, December 31, 2017

Endings and Beginnings: The Cycle Continues

And so 2017 is drawing to a close. In a few hours, 2018 will begin. This is all arbitrary, of course, and simply a quirk of culture as some folks in some places at various times decided to make up calendars and choose one with which to mark time. I tend to live and think seasonally. Spring and summer are my difficult seasons and I continue to improve my coping skills. Autumn and winter are my best seasons and I continue to get better at celebrating and appreciating them--October, November, and December in particular. Things were particularly nice this year, after being ill last year from living in a moldy apartment. I was determined to do everything I could to enjoy my season this year and I did. We've stopped celebrating Christmas because it simply no longer worked. It was never a religious holiday for me and the cultural aspects of over-consumption, waste, and all that goes with it were not things we have participated in anyway (please note that I am NOT saying that everyone who participates in a Christmas celebration is engaging in these things--just that this is presented as the cultural norm and thus what is desirable). We stopped doing a big meal decades ago and the tree went almost 20 years ago now. When we moved to Ireland, I left behind all of my Christmas decorations. I've made some here, but they have been more winter/nature based than Christmasy and this year, I made more autumn bits to hang in the windows for October and November. I enjoy making them and looking at them. Basically, I thought about what it is that I like about the time of year and kept those things. I've developed little rituals that work for me. I have certain music that I listen to in October, other music in November, and still different music in December. From listening to the radio, I've become interested in choral music in a way I wasn't before, so there's a whole new area to explore. We stopped exchanging Christmas gifts--this is the second year for Bill and myself and it's great. It seemed so arbitrary to have to get something because the 25th of December was coming up. I can think of better times in the year to give people a gift-the time will be different for each person. I have some plans for the year ahead in that regard. As for Bill and me, he picks up little stuff throughout the year when he sees it or when he gets an idea about something I'd like, but the truth is, I could not think of anything I want right now that I don't already have. My wish list is devoid of things that can be purchased. That's a pretty great thing right there.

Usually at this time of year I am a bit depressed because my best time is behind me and we are heading into the difficult months and gaining daylight each day. I can't say I am looking forward to that, but I am not feeling the same sadness that I usually do. I think part of that is having had a very restful and satisfying autumn/winter season. I am also curious about what the next year will bring and excited about the possibilities, without grasping for any particular outcome.

One of the first tasks of 2018 will be to finish off this little motif and hang it somewhere.
It is 4 of these little motifs put together to form a circular shape--one for each season in the year.
For me, it symbolises what I hope for myself and everyone--inner peace, outer peace, and lovingkindness--through all 4 seasons of the year. May it be so.

Happy 2018!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Potatoes Au Gratin with Smoked Salmon

We had a package of smoked salmon in the fridge that didn't get eaten last week and I decided to use it in a pan of potatoes au gratin.
Of course I made a big pan so there would be leftovers and I'm glad I did--these are so, so good! 😋

I used the grater/slicer thing I picked up in a charity shop earlier in the year to very thinly slice the potatoes.
I put them in a pot, covered with water, and cooked them until they were almost done, but still al dente. Meanwhile, I sliced a couple of onions and cut up the contents of a 300gram package of smoked salmon. The drained potatoes, sliced onion, and salmon went into the baking dish. I made a cheese sauce with lots of black pepper and some granulated garlic and poured it on top of the potato mixture before stirring well to make sure the sauce was well incorporated and everything was coated. Into the 190-ish degree fan oven it went and stayed there for about 25 minutes.

I'm so glad I found this tool in the charity shop--it was during the first few days of January that I found it, along with my bread machine and a pile of books, and paid 7 euro for the lot. It just so happened that the woman who brought the kitchen stuff in was volunteering that day and she said she'd been doing a clear out. As I recall, the shop was jam-packed with newly donated stuff that day. I made a mental note that the first few days of the year are probably a good time to pop in and see what people have gotten rid of. I can't think of anything I need, but a year ago I would not have even thought of that tool. Once I spotted it, though, I made a beeline for it--I had a metal one years ago and used it until it broke. It's very handy.

As we speed towards the end of another year, I hope all is well in your world!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Mocha Bread

I decided to make some chocolate bread this afternoon. I've worked out an adaptation of a wheat bread recipe for a bread maker in which I use the recommended amount of strong (bread) wholemeal flour, but less regular flour than is called for (whether that's wholemeal or plain) and add porridge oats. To make it chocolate, I add a 100 gram bag of dark chocolate mini chips. As I was getting the bread pan from the bread maker, it dawned on me that I could easily make it mocha by using strong coffee instead of water, whey, or milk, as I usually do. So I did. It came out great! I will definitely make this again. 😋
After some mild weather, it's gotten cold again and some mix of rain and sleet has fallen in between sunny spells. Bill went out this afternoon, but didn't go far, since it was 'slippy' in spots. I am still nervous after my fall over the summer--I still have some scars from that, but I feel fortunate to have escaped with no broken bones. I have spikes for my shoes, but they're not much help on black ice. So I stayed in, had a couple cups of tea, read, swatched for a new Tunisian crochet project, and looked at the sunset through the window.
I hope you're having a pleasant day, too!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Munching and Stitching

It has finally cooled off some here. The other day, I was making the jalapeno cheese puffs (recipe here) that we always have on 25 December and I was roasting! We only have one of the storage heaters on in our house, even though there are many of them. We turn on the one in the living room and that's it. Each room has doors that we can close to keep the heat where we want it and we have the door between the kitchen and the living room closed. It was quite mild for a week or so and then I had the oven on. It's a small thing, but it does heat up the kitchen. It had zoomed up to 65 in there and I had to rummage around for a scrunchy to put my hair up. When I was done, I was wishing we'd turned off the heat altogether, since it wasn't very cool in the living room, either. After a while I found things more tolerable. It was worth the discomfort, though, because the puffs came out great! I used some bottled red jalapenos and chopped up a red chilli pepper from veg man.
We still have a few left and will have them with some soup for supper.

Yesterday, I finished the border on this blanket wrap and wove in the last few ends. I'd been working on it the day before, but had to set it aside because it was too hot to have on my lap.
It's made with odd balls and scraps of textured, ribbon, and eyelash yarns and a 10mm (US N) Tunisian crochet hook. I chained 80 and did an extended Tunisian knit stitch until I was pretty much out of yarn and then did a narrow border in regular crochet with some plain worsted weight. I don't like doing regular crochet with this kind of textured yarn, so at first I tried knitting with it, but I didn't like that either, so I ripped back and began again with the Tunisian, which worked beautifully. There is also the added bonus of being able to easily weave in ends. This allowed me to tie smaller bits of yarn together and keep on stitching. Had I knitted it on large needles as I originally tried, I would have had to keep all my ends at an end--these kinds of yarn can be tricky to weave in properly anyway and with a loose knit it would have been impossible to do well in the middle of a row. Not a problem with the Tunisian, though, since there are solid ridges useful for hiding ends! The Tunisian extended knit stitch was a great stitch to use, because it creates openwork 'stripes' on top of a more solid 'stripe.' With bulky yarn like this and a big hook, had I used a more solid stitch, it would have been quite bulky and heavy. This has some heft, but it's not too heavy or bulky.

Since that was my big downstairs project to pick up and put down as I felt like, I will be starting another one later today. And now it's a bit chilly, I might just stick this on the bed.

Hope you're enjoying this week, no matter what the weather is where you are!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Season's Greetings!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Lasagne with Homemade Ricotta and Other Yummy Stuff

We have just eaten our usual 24 December supper of lasagne. This is the first year I've made it with homemade ricotta. It is sooooooo good! Glad I have plenty of leftovers!
I made the ricotta for this on Friday and I left it wet. It gets less wet as it sits, so I stirred a bit more whey into it today.
I probably did not need to do this and as I was putting together the lasagne, I worried that I shouldn't have, but I use regular lasagne sheets uncooked, so a little extra moisture is desirable, since they absorb quite a bit of liquid. Cooking stuff in the fan oven dries things out, too. In the end, I was glad I made the ricotta wet. Between that, the sauce I made, and the mozzarella, there was just the right amount of moisture. The end result is delicious!

This afternoon, I made another batch of ricotta, but strained it more, so it's not as wet. I want this for spreading on crackers with smoked salmon.
And I made some hummus with red pepper, onion, oregano, and coriander in addition to the usual ingredients.
This is also for crackers and smoked salmon or for using as a dip with carrot sticks.

Tomorrow I will be making jalapeno cheese puffs and that will be it--we will have enough munchies for tomorrow and the next couple of days. Yay!

I hope you are having a lovely Sunday.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Few Small Seasonal Stitches

Had fun stitching some small seasonal projects during these past couple of months, using various techniques. I've posted some already, and here are the rest.

Needle felted background with crocheted star and trim

needle felted background with sea glass tree, french knots, and crocheted trim
needle felted background with small cross stitch tree, french knots, and crocheted trim

cross stitch attached to watercolour paper with buttons

cross stitch attached to watercolour paper with button

cross stitch attached to watercolour paper
tunisian crochet scarf using extended knit stitch
tunisian crochet extended knit stitch scarf detail

huck embroidery using perle cotton on aida cloth
Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Happy Solstice!

Happy solstice! This is always a bittersweet day for me--I love the long dark and feel sad that there will soon be a little more daylight each day. My favourite time of year always seems to be so brief. But knowing that all is impermanent is all the more reason to enjoy it while it's here. Whichever part of this day it is that brings you joy, the long dark or the return of the light, may it bring you inner peace.

photo by bill burke

photo by bill burke

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Not Forgetting the Head Gear!

Yesterday I posted about my, uh, 'attachment' to the fingerless mitt pattern that I discovered in a crochet magazine our daughter sent (Crochet World Holiday issue). I have these little attachments from time to time. Something catches my fancy and I make one and then keep making them, trying out new things and experimenting as ideas arise. For a while it'll be socks. Then it might be cowls and scarves. Years ago, it was blankets. At other times it's been bags or wall hangings or doilies. And of course, hats have been a big one for several years now. These never really go away--they just simmer until the time is right to focus on a particular type of project again. Looking through magazines is one way to fire up enthusiasm for one thing or another. So last night, I made a hat using another of the patterns from the magazine.
As I almost always must, I went up a couple of hook sizes from what it said in the pattern and I had to adjust the pattern, which was no problem. I just did an extra round of increases for the crown. I went down two sizes of crochet hook to do the last round, so it would not be too loose. The photo showed it as very close fitting and I didn't want that, but I didn't want it to be slouchy, either.

I used 2 strands of fingering/sock weight yarn left from other projects--one purple and one grey--and a 6 mm hook (5mm for the last round)

The hat begins at the crown with a circle of double crochets (US terminology--UK treble crochet) with regular increases, from the second round. The pattern called for 6 rounds--60 stitches before starting the body of the hat. I did an extra round and had 70 stitches. When I was done, I used my starting tail to sew on a cloth button I had in the button tin.

I still have enough yarn left to make a pair of matching fingerless mitts, too 😉

Partway through the crown, I started thinking about a similar construction using some different stitches, so I might just gather up some scraps soon and try it out.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Mitt Obsessed

The other day, the postman delivered a parcel from our daughter. Among other things, it contained some magazines, including special 'deluxe' holiday editions of Crochet World and Interweave Knits. I've had some lovely quiet moments sitting in bed with chocolate and beautiful music, looking through these magazines. In the process, I have acquired a head full of ideas, an eagerness to make lots of things RIGHT NOW and what seems to be a small obsession with some fingerless mitts that appear in the crochet magazine.

I wove in the ends on this pair this morning.
I made a slight change on these at the top of these, making it a straight and somewhat tighter edge than what the pattern has, as pictured below in the first pair I made.
It's not my pattern, so I can't share it here, but it's an easy construction, starting with foundation clusters at the bottom. That forms a strip, which you then crochet across before joining and working in turned rounds until the cuff is as long as you want it. Then there are a couple of increase rounds and then you skip those and work around--the skipped stitches form the thumb hole. The one change I made to the pattern in the first pair I made was to add a double crochet stitch to fill in a gap left when skipping those stitches. Otherwise, it's a great pattern--quick, easy and a good construction method that's easily adaptable. Each mitt took me about an hour to make. It'd be a great project to make with small scrap balls of various yarns joined together. They fit well and are quite comfortable. It's easy enough to change the sizes of these by changing the stitch count or it could be done the way they do it in the magazine, which is to just use thinner yarn and smaller hook for smaller sizes and increasing the yarn thickness and the hook size to make bigger ones.

I made the bottom pair first using some leftovers from a previous project--off white and dark brown laceweight wool held together and a 6 mm (US size J) hook. The second (top) pair was made using the same hook and a skein of Noro Janome (a silk/wool blend). For that pair, I added a couple of rounds and did a simple single crochet round to end, rather than having the clusters. I wasn't sure I'd have enough yarn, but I made it with a wee ball left to spare.

There are several other projects in the magazines that I am thinking about. Some will be new-to-me techniques. Some will be starting points for me to use to go off in my own direction. Some will be made larger by using different yarns than called for. Some will be made into some other thing entirely. Now I just need some more time.  😵

I hope you're having some happy quiet moments of inspiration, too!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Seasonal Snack with Snow

This morning Bill was outside clearing the back steps of snow! Winter came to Moville Thursday evening with hail, sleet, and a bit of snow and that stayed around for a while yesterday. It wasn't much, but must've accumulated on the roof. I was sitting quietly in bed last night with festive music on, preparing to pick up the yarn and hook, when the avalanche scared the crap out of me. I should have been prepared for it, since I'd heard stuff falling and pinging off the railing before that. The first time, I even opened the window and peered down with the torch in hand to see what was going on and to make sure our neighbour was not on the ground on his patio tiles, which are slick at the best of times. It was just the snow and ice, so I settled back in. Then it all came crashing down at about 1 am. Just as well we are night owls and were not startled out of a sound sleep by it. ⛄

Since it's cranberry season, I've been stocking up at veg man's stall while he has them. I've made jam, stuck bags in the freezer, and have made a couple of batches of yummy, healthy orange cranberry muffins for us to munch on with coffee.
Orange Cranberry Muffins
Place two cups of jumbo porridge oats/old fashioned rolled oats into a container and cover with 1 1/2 cups of orange juice. Place in fridge for several hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 180 C (fan oven)/400 F. Place soaked oats in a bowl and add 1 to 3 tablespoons of (granulated, brown, or demerera) sugar (according to your taste) and one egg. Mix in.

Add 1 cup of wholemeal/whole wheat flour and 1 teaspoon each bread/baking soda and salt. Stir in until incorporated.

Fold in about a cup of cranberries (fresh or frozen) and a handful of sliced almonds, if desired.

Spoon into greased or lined muffin tins and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown--timing depends a lot on the oven, so I just keep an eye on them.

These are really good as they are and we don't use butter or jam with them, but you could!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Cushy Hat

I finished this hat last week and have been wearing it out in the blustery weather. It's nice and cushy, although not quite as bright as it appears in the photo.
The main part of the hat is crocheted with two strands of chenille in different shades of green using a 6.5mm hook. The lighter green was a scrap ball in a bag of scrap balls that a friend brought back from Goodwill in Boston a couple of years ago. A few months later, she found a giant cone of the dark green chenille there and brought that back for me. I made a poncho and still have lots left on the cone.

The hat brim was made from a ball of fuzzy yarn that was in a big bag full of yarn given to me by another friend. From the moment I saw it, I was thinking 'hat brim' but it took a while to decide how to make the hat and which yarn to use with it. It might not show well in the photo, but as I was looking at the ball of yarn, I saw some faint tints of green in the lighter brown areas and I thought of the chenille.

Once I made the hat, I used 9mm 16 inch circular needles to evenly pick up stitches in the fuzzy yarn. Then I just knit around and around until the brim was as tall as I wanted it. I still have some of the brown yarn and the lighter green chenille. And there's plenty of the dark green chenille left on the cone, so when inspiration strikes again, it'll be waiting!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Cleverly Festive or Festively Clever!

We did a quick bus ride to Carndonagh this morning. There's a SuperValu there, which is a larger store than the two small shops in Moville. We go there once in a while to stock up on things that are not readily available here in town, like brown rice, dried beans, and other foodstuffs. If we get the 9:35 bus, we get there at 10ish and can get our groceries and get the 10:45 bus back, so it's a quick turnaround.  Unfortunately this means that my morning coffee is delayed. Sad! You can bet that the very first thing I do upon re-entering the house is march through the living room, through the kitchen, and into the little utility room, where I press the button and wait eagerly for the gurgling sound of coffee brewing! I was delayed by an extra few minutes this morning, because we stopped at veg man's stall when we got back to town--we walked right by it anyway. The Christmas music was playing from the tree. He said that he had his own music for when the tree music got to be a little bit too much. He had cranberries again, so I got a few more bags. I am going to have to put on my gloves and do some arranging in the freezer, but that can wait until tomorrow.

SuperValu is part of a small plaza and has other businesses on either side of it. As we were walking there this morning, we both noticed these decorations in the window of the clothes shop.
i recognize the yarn used for the scarf--I still have some

driftwood tree

tree made of sticks and a wooden snowman
After we had lunch, we decided we might as well go to the little shops here in town and get the stuff we wanted from those. They're saying that we could be in for a few days of wintry mix/sleet/snow, so best to be prepared just in case and we try to support local businesses as much as we can.

I was bummed to hear the song, Last Christmas, as we came out of one of the shops. I loathe that song and had avoided it up until today. Thanks, Centra! Fortunately, it came on just as we were finished packing the backpacks, so we walked away before it was over and I didn't have to listen to the entire song.

On the way back up the hill, we passed this window--someone musical must live here!
I love the red shoes with heels! Poor Santa looks like he's gonna have a hard landing at the bottom of that chimney!

We called in at Gillen's shop and picked up a few things and then came home. It's always so nice to get home!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Rest of the November Books

Here's the  end of my November book list. I have the second book listed below to thank for reminding me about making ricotta.

Murder in Midwinter by Lesley Cookman
Last summer, Bill called in at a po-up charity shop and picked up a pile of books he thought I’d like, including several cosy mysteries. There were two by this author--the second and third in her Libby Sarjeant series. This is the third. I read the second a few months ago, but saved this one until it was the season. It’s Christmas season and in Steeple Martin, rehearsals for the panto are ongoing and Harry and Peter are preparing for their civil partnership ceremony. One of Harry’s friends is found dead in a derelict theatre in a town nearby that was recently inherited by a woman from London. Libby and her friend, Kate become part of the investigation.

Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons: Travels in Sicily on a Vespa by Matthew Fort
The author is a British food journalist who visited Sicily in 1973 with his brother. He was in his early 20s at the time. He fell in love with Sicily and always wanted to go back. When he was 59, he finally did. He decided to make two trips, avoiding the summer heat. He planned a spring trip from one end of the island to the other through the centre of the island and an autumn trip around the coastline. He opted to use a vespa as his means of travel, because walking was impersonal and he felt he would miss too much in a car. He made food his focus, partly because that’s what he does for a living, but also because he knew it would give him a common interest with the people he would meet during his travels. The book is mostly a description of the food he ate and the interactions he had with local people. He also describes what he is feeling throughout the book, but this is fairly repetitive--he is often stuffed, blissfully eating, or sleeping off a large meal. There were a couple of particularly interesting moments in the book. One occurs when he is talking to someone about the wonderful bread he’s been eating and he asks if it was made with flour from the local wheat. He is very disappointed when the man tells him that almost all the wheat grown in that area is shipped to Northern Africa and the flour the locals use to make their bread comes from Canada. Another bit that caught my attention was his discussions of cannoli in particular and ricotta in general. I remembered having cannoli made with ricotta filling on the east coast of the US as a kid. Then I did not have cannoli for years. When I next had one, I was in Oregon and it was filled with marscapone cheese. When we lived in Niagara Falls for a few months, we used to go to a bakery and get some scrumptious cannoli that were also filled with marscapone (I think), as were the ones I had in Maine. But in Sicily, they are filled with ricotta, so that’s an actual thing and not just a figment of my imagination!!

The Nation’s Favourite Poems
In honour of National Poetry Day in 1995, the BBC programme, The Bookworm, conducted a poll to find out which poems people would choose as their favourite. The response was bigger than they thought it would be. This is a collection of the top 100.

Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life by Nina Stibbe
This is a memoir in the form of a series of letters the writer sent to her sister between 1982, when she went to London to be a nanny (for Mary Kay Wilmers, then editor of the London Review of Books) to 1987, when she was finishing up an English degree. They were chatty letters with lots of dialogue and humour and gave a good sense of what was going on. The book was not published until 2013 and most of the people she talks about agreed to let her use their real names. Those who didn’t were either given a pseudonym or simply called, ‘X.’ The neighbourhood she lived in through the course of the book was home to many people in the literary world, which was new to her.

The Buddha before Buddhism: Wisdom from the Early Teachings by Gil Fronsdal
The italics are included everywhere the title appears on and in the book, so that’s how I’ll list it. ‘This book is a translation of a collection of ancient Buddhist poems often considered to be among the Buddha’s first teachings.’ These poems are referred to as ‘The Book of Eights’ and are said to ‘offer people a provocative challenge to live a life of deep, abiding peace.’ There is also commentary by the author/translator.

The Christmas tree lighting will happen this evening in Market Square, so I will set aside the book I am currently reading to go to that. The tree has been up for a week or so and this year includes ornaments.
photo by bill burke
The photo above and the two below show the other sides of the box surrounding the trunk of the tree.

I hope it's a nice day where you are!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Part 2 of the November Book List

Knitting by Anne Bartlett
The setting for this book is Australia over the course of about a year. Sandra, an academic who specializes in historical textiles, is still grieving the loss of her husband to cancer less than a year ago. She sort of plods through her days, feeling like she needs something more, but unable to do much beyond the basics. One day she encounters Martha, who has stopped to help a man who has collapsed. Sandra also stops to help and the two women become friends. Martha is a highly skilled knitter, who developed her passion and skill for knitting as she recovered from a breakdown after some tragedies in her own life. Sandra gets the idea to stage a knitting show/conference that would combine historical knitting with text. She talks Martha into helping her. I enjoyed the book, although parts of it seemed familiar. I have either read it before or read an excerpt in a collection of knitting stories.

By Hand: The Use of Craft in Contemporary Art edited by Shu Hung and Joseph Magliaro
The title says it all, really. This is a collection of artist statements about how they use craft techniques in their artwork. Their ideas were interesting and the photos of their work enjoyable to look at.

An Irish Christmas edited by Stephen Newman
This little book contains material taken from the National Folklore Collection, which collected stories about Christmas traditions in Irish life. I think the most recent stories were taken in the mid-1950s, so the collection gives a flavour of what Christmas was like ‘in the old days.’ The traditions were somewhat varied across the country, although much was similar. In one instance, one person said people used to think that if there was a green Christmas, the graveyard would be lean, but if there was a white Christmas, the graveyard would be fat. The next person had it the opposite way. The collection is skewed towards the rural west of the country, according to the editor. This was a fun read that I found while scrolling through the library catalogue.

Cave Art by Bruno David
This is an overview of cave art. It covers everything from where the art is, what techniques researchers use to gather information, what has been found, dating techniques, what materials were used, and what researchers know (or think they know) about what it means. There are wonderful photos as well--and lots of them. It would have been worth checking out this book for the photos alone, but it was fascinating to read as well. It’s been a more than a couple of decades since I was in an archaeology class and technology has brought new capabilities and techniques to the field, allowing for more discoveries than were possible before. Fascinating stuff!

Hope you're enjoying a lovely, peaceful Saturday in your neck of the woods!

Friday, December 1, 2017

November Books

The best month of the year has arrived!! Yay! 🎄⛄☃☆

Of course, every month is reading month and here is the first part of my November book list. I've started making an effort to mix in more of our own books along with library books. We have a bunch of books we plan to keep but lots and lots of them come into the house on a temporary basis. This is a nation of readers and there are books everywhere. The wee free library is often stuffed full. The charity shops are usually drowning in books and sell them at 4 or 5 for a euro. It's really easy to come home with a pile. A few of these are keepers, but most we bring home with the intention of reading them and then re-donating them. Then we end up requesting things from the library and reading them first and the piles keep growing. So at the beginning of November I set a goal for myself. In addition to any library books that came in,  I would try to read 7 of my own books before placing them in the wee free library. I am happy to say that I actually placed 8 in there--one because I started it and didn't care for it, so off it went. There will probably be fewer leaving the house this month, because suddenly almost all the books on my library request list are in transit. Anyway, on to the books!

The Law’s Delay by Sara Woods
I picked this book up in a charity shop, having read a different book in the series last year. I looked up the author after I read this one and discovered that she wrote 49 books in the Antony Maitland series! Wow. I enjoyed the couple of books I read, but I must admit that I find them odd in a way I cannot quite put my finger on. This one went to the wee free library when I was done with it.

Gutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie
This was another lucky charity shop find. The author says in the historical note at the end that this is a 'work of fiction based on fact.’ She did extensive research into the Gutenberg bible, Mainz, the church, and the larger historical context.  She says that nearly all the people in the book were actual people, but that not much is known about them. This is not surprising--many people who worked as labourers are absent in the historical record. The book begins in 1485 with Peter Schoeffer telling his story to an interested monk (Trithemius was an actual monk who wrote two volumes chronicling Schoeffer’s story).The story then moves back and forth in time. The recollections move from 1450 to 1465, with occasional returns to the conversation between Peter and Trithemius. Peter begins his story in 1450, when he was a young talented scribe, working in Paris. He is dismayed when his foster father, Fust, recalls him to Mainz. When he gets there, he is brought to the workshop of an obsessed man named Gutenberg, who has developed a new method of printing.  Peter is to be apprenticed to this man, in part because Fust has invested heavily in the project and wants someone on the inside and partly because he sees that the days of the scribe are numbered. Peter, who is very proud of his skill, craftsmanship, and abilities, resists strongly, but eventually comes to see the craft involved in this new invention as well and he also becomes obsessed. The story goes on from there as they try to make the invention pay as a business venture while dealing with the local guilds and trying to keep things secret from the church. I had never heard of Fust or Schoeffer and had no idea that they played just as big a part as Gutenberg--in Peter’s case, possibly a bigger role--in the development of printing. A couple of other things came to mind while I was reading. One was to be reminded how books have always been considered subversive and potentially dangerous. They had to keep the whole operation as secret as they could and when people did find out, many considered it blasphemy. I was also thinking about how some things play out in similar ways in 2017 as they did in 1450. Peter is angry about and resistant to the idea that this mechanical process will put scribes out of business and render their skills obsolete. We see the same things today as people are displaced from previously well-paid professions by automation or by new and cheaper alternatives. While I was reading this book, I happened to come across an article about coal workers in a part of Pennsylvania in the US. They were eligible for retraining classes, but it was hard to get people enrolled. They are clinging to the idea that coal will come back and they will have their old jobs back again. A gas company wants to begin operating in the area and needs properly trained workers, but cannot get them. The former coal workers say it doesn’t pay enough. I am not saying the gas company (I assume they will engage in fracking) is a good idea. But I do see a parallel with what happened back in 1450 and throughout history. There used to be a lot of blacksmiths and scribes around, too, just as there used to be more coal workers. Then technology changed and some jobs were no longer needed in the same way. People are continually forced to adapt. Change is difficult and often extremely painful, but it is a part of life. In the case of the printing press, Peter Schoeffer, resistant and hostile at first, saw how his skills could be utilised to improve this new technology. He and his foster father, Fust, ended up creating the world’s first major printer, which Peter turned into a dynasty after Fust’s death. He adapted because he could see that he had to. Anyway, great read! This is another one for the wee free library.

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
Hard to describe this book. On the cover, it said it was ‘a jolly murder mystery.’ It was certainly complicated, with lots of different strands twisting together. The whole thing is not completely explained until the very last sentence of the book (and it was quite an unexpected sentence!)  It was a page-turner right up until the end and at no point was I bored or inclined to skip ahead. That’s a tribute to the the author’s skill, I think. Everything begins outside the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where a crowd of people is waiting for an event to begin. A guy walks in front of a car driven by someone we know is using an assumed name and who is in a shady line of work. The guy in the car slams on the brakes, the guy in the street makes a rude gesture, and the car behind slams into Mr Shady. The driver of that car gets out, punches Mr Shady, gets a baseball bat and is ready to bring it down, when a briefcase flies out of the crowd and hits him on the shoulder, which causes him to drop the bat.  The police have been called and sirens can be heard in the distance, so Mr Baseball Bat takes off and Mr Shady is brought to the hospital. Some of the characters are connected in that moment and other connections take a while to unfold. The book is like a collection of novels twisting in and out of each other--like the Russian nesting dolls that keep coming up--and culminating in that final sentence. One chapter brings one person’s story along and the next moves to another person. This was the first book by Kate Atkinson that I have read, although I’ve heard a lot about a couple of her more recent books on various podcasts over the past few years. She is definitely someone whose work I will read more of--great book! I’d picked it up at a charity shop and it went to the wee free library when I was done with it.

I'll post the next segment of the list tomorrow. In the meantime, happy December!