Monday, December 31, 2018

Fading Away

As 2018 fades away, I've been taking some time to hibernate and reflect. I've thought about some things I want to do in the new year, looked back on things that happened this year, and considered what I've learned. We have learned that it's good to make plans and goals, because they help us begin on a path, but we also know that we have to be prepared to let go of the plan and take a different path as we proceed. Weird stuff happens and by holding things lightly, we allow ourselves to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. So, while I know there are some things I want to try in the coming year, I have no expectations about how they will turn out.

One thing we were thinking about involved deciding what places we want to explore this year, whether on days trips or those that are a bit longer. We made one decision--to walk The Great Western Greenway, starting in Westport and ending up in Achill. This is a 42 km, traffic-free cycling/walking path created on the route of a disused railway line along the coast of Clew Bay in Co Mayo. It falls naturally into three segments of 11km, 18 km, and 13 km, between towns and villages and that's how we'll proceed. Bill randomly picked a date to book in Westport and then went from there to see if he could get rooms for the proper nights in the villages along the way and he did. He chose a date 5 months from now, so with it being so far in advance, he had no problem with availability and got really good prices, too. I'm quite looking forward to this! The surroundings will be gorgeous and we'll have enough time, once we leave the trail for the day, to do a bit of wandering around in each village we'll stay in. The one thing that I was sad about was that I think we will miss the opening of the Old Irish Goat Centre in Mulranny by just a day or two. However, if we like a place well enough, we can always go back and spend more time there, so perhaps a longer visit to Mulranny will happen sometime. If it does, I will make sure to go when the centre is open!

So as 2018 fades into the mist, I hope you have some happy memories from the year that was and make many more of the same in the year to come.
photo by bill burke

Monday, December 24, 2018

Season's Greetings!

Whether you're celebrating Christmas or not, I hope your week is wonderful.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Pretty Healthy Mocha Muffins

This morning, I made some mocha muffins to have for breakfasts/snacks/desserts over the next few days. I haven't made these in a while for some reason, but I used to make them fairly often and always at this time of year. The other day, I thought of them and decided to make them again. I love them just heated up a bit so the chocolate gets slightly melted. In the past, I've had these heated up with ice cream on top. I gave some to someone years ago who loved them cold.
These are yet another variation of the soaked oat muffins, the original of which is from The New Laurel's Kitchen Cookbook and is called Lynne's Muffins. It's a convenient method, adaptable in so many ways. Here's this version:
Mocha Muffins
Place 2 cups of jumbo oats (old-fashioned rolled oats in the US) in a container and cover with 1 1/2 cups of strong coffee (if you don't like/want coffee, you can just make these plain chocolate--in that case, replace the coffee with milk, soy milk, buttermilk or soured milk, or even chai). Cover the container and leave it for several hours or overnight (if using milk, refrigerate).

When ready to make the muffins, place the soaked oats and any liquid still in the container into a mixing bowl, then add:
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or almond, if you prefer)
1 egg
1-2 tablespoons drinking chocolate (this is a mix of sugar and cocoa--I use this because I have it in the cupboard--you could use sugar and baking cocoa instead)

Stir into the oats, then blend in:
1 cup wholemeal (whole wheat) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Finally, stir in some chocolate chips and nuts. I used 100 grams of small chocolate chunks, because that's what I found in the store. They're extra dark, but you could use whatever kind you want. I crushed up 100grams of walnuts (minus the few I threw into my porridge this morning) and added those. You could use other nuts, if you prefer.

Spoon batter into greased or lined muffin tins.

Bake at 180C in a fan oven/400F for about 20 minutes. I ended up with 14 muffins.


Thursday, December 20, 2018

Never Mind

This morning, we were trying to order a Barnes and Noble gift card online to be sent directly to someone in the US. I'd looked up the details, saw that it could be used in-store and in the café, so I suggested this as a gift. Bill thought it was a good idea, so he proceeded to the order page and began going through the steps. Then he had to slam on the brakes at obstacle #1. There had to be a sender's address and that address had to include a state. Of course, we do not have a state. It might have been possible to pick one at random, but then the address wouldn't have matched the payment details. After some attempts to find a solution, he opted to start over and try again with an e-gift card that the recipient could print out. Once again, all seemed to be going smoothly, at least for a while. He chose Paypal as the payment method and there ran into the next issue. They wanted an address again, which was fine, except that in the drop-down menu where he had to pick a country, Ireland was absent. Again, there seemed to be no way around this. Never mind. You'd think that, in this day and age, it would be a fairly common practice for international purchases of this type and a large business like that would be set up to handle such transactions smoothly. I could see it if it was a small business, but not a large corporation like that. In any case, we abandoned the idea and took a walk down to an Post, where we did a Western Union transfer. It was easy and quick--less time was spent on that than trying to do the Barnes and Noble thing.

And, as a bonus, we got to enjoy this festive decoration instead of being aggravated.
I hope there are no annoying issues cropping up as you go about your day!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Vintage Vintage, New Vintage, and How Mature Is It?

One of my staple foods is cheddar cheese. I use a couple of kinds, depending on what I'm doing with it. For eating with crackers, we like a sharp cheddar. When we lived in Oregon and Alaska, we loved Tillamook extra sharp in the black wrapper (I don't know if it's still in the same packaging at this point) and would buy the 2 pound block to keep in the fridge. Here, it's mature, not sharp, and it varies wildly. Extra mature is not sold in that many places. In Ballinrobe, we had a local Tesco where we could get it, but I've not seen it in a SuperValu, which is our local shop now. The shops in Moville didn't have it, but they sold a different brand of mature cheddar that was almost as good. When we had access to Aldi, we discovered that they had it, so we'd stock up whenever we were near an Aldi. At one point, a friend mentioned the vintage cheddar at Aldi, so we bought one of those to compare with the extra mature. Yum! We started buying the vintage cheddar.
Then we came back here, went to Aldi after not being in one for a while, and discovered that the vintage we were used to was no more, but they had another, larger package of vintage cheddar and no extra mature.

We bought that and were quite disappointed. The new vintage was nothing like the vintage vintage. It still had 5 for the strength level, but it wasn't even close--it wasn't crumbly or sharp. I still bought it, because I didn't dislike it, there wasn't anything better in the local shop, and it was useful to cook with. I wondered whether this new vintage was replacing the vintage vintage and the extra mature.

Then the Aldi in Donegal Town remodeled, started stocking some new products and changing others. When we went the first time after the remodel, they had both the vintage vintage and the new vintage, so I bought both. When we went the other day, they also had extra mature.
You can see from the picture that it's crumbly, and even though it gives a strength level of 4, it is stronger than the new vintage at 5. Both say they've been aged for 12 months. I skipped the new vintage and just bought extra mature and vintage vintage. I have no idea if all of these cheeses will remain in store in future. I guess I'll find out.

Another thing I hope they bring back is the bag of jumbo porridge oats. This was another item that I could only get at Aldi at times. Porridge is popular here and porridge oats are never in short supply, and they're great for, well, uh, porridge. I also use them in bread and pizza crust. But they're like quick-cooking oats in the US, so not good for toasting to make muesli or in the oat muffins I make. For those things, I need jumbo oats (like old-fashioned rolled oats in the US) and Aldi was where I got them. I always stocked up and when a friend would come to visit, he'd swing by and get some to bring me, so even when I wasn't near an Aldi, I had a supply. I was down to one bag, so put that on my list the other day. When I found the new oat location, I noticed that the price had come down by a fair bit. The bag looked the same, but I was suspicious, so read carefully. Sure enough, the small print that had said, 'jumbo oats' on the side was gone, and when I looked at the ingredients, it said 'oat flakes' instead of  'jumbo oats,' so I left them there. Fortunately, I was able to find some jumbo oats in our local SuperValu. I didn't really need them immediately, but there were only a few bags left, so I figured I'd better grab one. As we were paying, I noticed that the woman at the next till had a couple bags of her own. Hopefully, since they seem to be popular, they'll keep stocking them!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Bargains for the Critters

We did what was probably the last Donegal Dash of 2018 today. Bill had some stuff to pick up at the library (one book will be read by both of us). The library will be closed after Thursday until after the new year and we certainly did not want to be messing around there on the Thursday before Christmas!

Another reason we went was to pick up some food and treats to donate as a solstice gift, on behalf of a friend, to Animals in Need. They have a charity shop near the Aldi, so we picked up some stuff in Aldi and walked over to drop it off. We discovered that all clothes and shoes were €1. First stop was the bookshelves (and boxes). I found a small vegetarian cookbook. Then I wandered over to look at the necklaces. I've gotten a few nice ones there in the past to deconstruct so I can use the beads and pendants for other projects. Today, I saw this one hanging there and snapped it up for the large circular bead. The other beads are nice, too, and will come in handy, although I'm not a huge fan of that colour.
Then on to the clothes. Bill spotted a cap with a fabric piece hanging down the back. I said I'd take it. It'll be perfect in spring and summer when I'm walking in the sun, since it's so lightweight. I found a jacket that's a little big, but I got it anyway, because it'll work perfectly over a bulky sweater. My only coat was a trench coat that's long--it came with me from Maine, where I found it in a charity shop. It's great--has a wool lining, which I have not put in since Ive been here. I don't need a winter coat, but sometimes can use a lightweight jacket in wind and rain. So now I have one. My last happy find was a man's suit jacket. I checked to see what it's made of and it's all wool, so for €1, I couldn't leave it there. I'll cut it up and use the fabric.

We handed over €4 for the lot and she put everything in a sturdy coated paper bag, complete with ribbon, that came from one of the shops on the Diamond. Wool stuff is a specialty of the shop and they sell wool suits. The suit jacket was on top and Bill commented that people will think I'm a tourist who went to Magees to buy some Christmas stuff and how wrong they would be. Indeed! I wouldn't shop at Magees, but getting some bargains and helping the critters? Yup, I'll do that!

When we were done there, we had time to pop into a shop and get a couple of scones (blueberry for Bill and raspberry chocolate chip for me) before Bill went to the library, got his stuff, and we got the bus for home. It's been a mix of 'good sunny spells' and clouds today. On the way home, I saw someone was taking advantage of a good sunny spell--their laundry was flapping in the breeze.

The birds are out today, too, and catching the wind.
I hope it's a pleasant day in your neck of the woods!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Unexpected Gift While Grocery Shopping

Today we rode to Donegal Town with a friend and did one of our periodic 'big shops' where we stock up on various basic foodstuffs, especially heavier items. As we were at the till in Lidl, and the guy was about to start scanning, he waved his arm towards a spot behind me and said something that I could not quite catch. I was standing there, prepared to start hurling items into the trolley as soon as he'd scanned them--there is a tiny area where scanned items sit and we never bag things right there, but rather use the bagging shelf to do so after we've paid. It's easy to fall behind when moving things to the trolley once they've started scanning, so after the usual pleasantries--'I'm grand, and yourself?'--I focus on that. So when he said something that seemed to be about getting something for free because we'd be spending more than €30, I looked behind me and just saw what looked like an empty cardboard stand. The guy started scanning and I started throwing stuff into the trolley. When he was done, he repeated himself, more slowly this time, telling me to go to the stand and get a box of chocolates, which were free because we'd spent over €30. Somehow, the first time he said it, I heard everything except the part about chocolate. I am not sure how the heck that happened! Chocolate is usually not something that goes over my head!

I chose a box, the guy scanned it, and off we went.
The dark chocolate penguins are hard to see, but they're there. The square ones with the white reindeer are filled with marzipan, pear, and cinnamon, which I think sounds weird, but Bill says are really good, as are the dark chocolate raspberry creme ones with the pink sprinkles. I tried a white chocolate and hazelnut Rudy the Reindeer and a marzipan hazelnut filled milk chocolate Sam the Snowman. We each tried two and neither of us has tried the dark chocolate Paul Penguin with his hazelnut filling. Tomorrow is another day.

This was a nice little surprise, even if I did feel like a dork when I didn't understand the guy at first.

Hope there are some sweet surprises in your day, too!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Superb Saturday Surprise!

The postman usually doesn't deliver mail on Saturday, but I think maybe during the festive season they add a Saturday parcel delivery. Today he came with a surprise.

I'd read about this book in a couple of different places and considered requesting it from the library, but decided it was one I'd like to own and keep. Unbeknownst to me, Bill looked it up at Kenny's Bookshop and ordered it.

I am so excited about this book! I expect I will enjoy reading it and learn a lot. Woo hoo!

I hope this day brings some happy surprises your way, too!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Finding and Seeking

We went out to do a couple of errands this morning and decided to call into the charity shop while we were out. We walked in and I saw something that warranted further attention.

I counted skeins (14) and looked at the label for fibre content (100% wool). I'll take it! We had a look around in the book room and Bill found one to bring home. We went up to the counter to pay and the woman said she wasn't going to charge me €12 euro, because 'some balls are missing.' She asked if €10 euro would be OK. Since I was prepared to happily give her €12, I said that would be grand and put away one of the two euro coins I had in my hand.

Off we went into the mizzle. As we passed the small shop on Main St, I suggested we pop in for some eggs. We went in and stood there looking at the space where the eggs used to be. There was plenty of milk and butter, but no eggs. This is not a big shop--it's about the size of a postage stamp, but is a deli, off-licence (liquor store), and mini-grocery store all rolled into one. There were not that many places eggs could be. I wondered whether they'd decided to stop selling them, but we picked up a bunch of fruit that's on sale and went to the till, where I asked the guy if he had eggs. He said yes and showed me where they are now. They'd been removed from the refrigerator case and placed on a rack right behind where we'd just been standing! Duh! If we'd turned around, we would've seen them. Just goes to show how we get used to certain things. I'm used to walking in there and going straight for what I'm in there for.

It was always a bit weird that the eggs were in the refrigerator case, because they rarely are here. They're just on a shelf, which was another different thing to get used to at first. We were just so used to having them refrigerated. Egg production is different here, so egg washing of hen eggs for the retail market is prohibited. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland website says:
 '...washing may aid the transfer of harmful bacteria like Salmonella from the outside to the inside of the egg. The priority in egg production is to produce clean eggs at the point of collection, rather than trying to clean them afterwards. The cleanliness of the egg should be assured by good management and hygiene of the poultry house, and by minimising the delay between egg laying and egg collection.'
In the US, conditions are such that eggs need to be washed and chemically sanitized before being put up for sale, which strips a protective outer coating from the shell. Once the egg is washed, and the coating is gone, salmonella can enter through the shell, so after washing in the US, they sanitize and then refrigerate.

I hope you find what you're looking for today and have a happy surprise or two besides!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Few Bits to Brighten a Sad Tree

Bill had to go to the health centre yesterday to get hooked up to a blood pressure monitor, which he wears for 24 hours. It comes on every half hour (every hour for some part of the night), and takes his blood pressure. This is the only place in either the US or Ireland where they have done this regularly, but they seem to be quite a bit more proactive than any other medical professionals he has dealt with. Because of his a-fib, they want him to do this every 6 months or so. He doesn't love it, and every time they measure his BP, they tell him it's good, but I suppose if it's ever not good, we'll be glad to know, so he does it.

Yesterday, we walked up to the health centre and Bill told me to look at the sad tree in the little window. It's one of those small tabletop trees in a burlap sack. It looks like it came with lights, but most of them are burned out and only a few were lit. There was nothing else on it. I told Bill that I'd give him a few small ornaments to bring when he goes today to have the monitor removed. Because the tree is small, I chose small ornaments. There are just a few, but they'll brighten up the tree at least a little bit and it will look a wee bit more festive.

I hope your day is in no need of brightening up!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Where's Winter?

When we got our wood delivered a few weeks ago, I 'joked' to Bill that now we've gotten all prepared for winter, it might not arrive. Honestly, it was a joke!!! But perhaps Mother Nature didn't find it funny, because she seems to be withholding any hint of winter from me.

OK, I admit that I did get spoiled in this regard when we lived in Alaska, where there was always winter, and plenty of it!
photo by bill burke
photo by bill burke
We knew we wouldn't have much in the way of winter when we moved here, and I knew I'd miss it. People often ask how we're getting on in the cold and we just tell them it feels like spring, which it does for a good part of the year. Last year, we had a few days of winter, which mostly consisted of lots of black ice, but we had a few inches of snow that made me happy to look at. I know that snow wouldn't be good here--they're not really set up for it and just a few flakes causes a lot of hassle for people. But just a wee bit of cold air would be kind of nice. Just a little. Here we are, heading for mid-December, and it's a balmy +50f/10c out there. At this rate, we really won't have to use any of the wood. On the other hand, if Mother Nature forgives my little 'joke' and does decide to send me a taste of winter, we'll have plenty of wood to keep the cottage warm. We're three weeks and counting past the time when we usually start having heat on.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Seasonal Hattitude

Last week, I posted a hat that I made for someone who requested it, along with the basic recipe for making it (like most recipes, adaptable to suit individual tastes). Making that hat put me in a hat-making mood, so I made a couple more.

When I make hats, the focus is sometimes on structure--hats have a general shape, even if it's endlessly variable, so sometimes I am playing with that shape. Other times, it's a particular stitch pattern/combination that I'm interested in experimenting with. Very often, it's yarn and colour that inspires me. Hats are great projects for using scraps, odd balls, textures, and fun colour combinations. For these two recent hats, I wasn't doing anything special as far as structure goes, and the stitch variations in one were simple and designed to just add a bit of textural interest. It was the yarn and colour that I was focusing on here.

For this first hat, made using the same needle size and numbers as the hat in the previous post (US size 6 needles and cast on 80 stitches), I wanted to use the white mohair for the brim. I had a partial skein of this and had thought about using it for another project, but knew there wouldn't be enough. There was plenty for a warm, wind-resistant hat brim, though. I had leftovers from a cone of navy blue laceweight wool that I'd found on a cone in a charity shop, so I made the brim holding that and the mohair together. Then I switched to a DK weight wool in what the label calls 'bright blue,' and a fingering weight navy blue wool held together for the rest of the hat.

I love the hat, had fun making it, and was thinking about how many different people and places were involved as I was knitting. The needles I used are vintage nylon needles that belonged to a former co-worker's grandmother from Maine. The mohair came from a Facebook friend in the far north of Ireland. The fingering weight was bought in the charity shop here in Killybegs the week we first moved here. The bright blue belonged to a friend's late wife and came from the UK. And the navy blue came from a local friend who got it at a charity shop in Donegal Town.

I finished the second hat last night. A couple of years ago, I crocheted myself a lightweight hat in a lace stitch using red, white, and green yarn with a metallic thread. I wear it during the festive season, but if it's chilly and I'm going out, I switch to another hat for warmth. As I was making some ornaments the other day, I had an idea for a warmer and slightly more subtle festive hat, so I tweaked the basic hat recipe to suit the yarn I wanted to use.
The main yarn is an aran weight white yarn that someone gave me when I was doing the knitting/crocheting group at the library in Moville. It was in a huge skein and I used most of it as part of a blanket, but still had a good-sized ball left, some of which was used here. I doubled that for the brim and when that was done, cut one strand of yarn and added in a fingering weight white with a silver metallic wrap to begin the rest of the hat. I had some mini-skeins in Christmas colours that a friend in Oregon had sent me. I've used most of it, but still had some left, so used a bit of that here. When the silver ran out, I added a strand with green metallic. When that was done, I added the white with red metallic. As I was knitting around and around, I randomly did purl stitches in sets of 1, 3, or 5, just to add a little texture. I did this hat on 72 stitches on 6mm needles.

I am thinking about another hat, constructed in a different way, that would also play with colour. I might be casting on for that soon.

I hope you're enjoying a peaceful day today!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Festive and Frosty

The local SuperValu is in full festive mode, as you'd expect. They placed Frosty at the transition spot between the produce section and the bakery. I don't think I'd ever thought about the interesting placement of those two sections of the store before. There's produce on either side and then in the middle is the stand with the produce that is on sale. Right next to that is a table of cakes, cookies, and scones. Beyond that is the table of apple and apple rhubarb tarts (pies).

Frosty keeps watch by the cakes, while sporting a nose from the nearby produce section.
Over by the off-licence section of the store (where beer, wine, and liquor is sold), they have a rack of 'Festive Fun' holiday headwear.
I've not seen a black Santa hat before. Is this what he wears when he is leaving coal for all the naughty people or is it just meant to provide a bit more sophistication in his work ensemble than the bright red hat and suit provide?

I hope there are some fun and festive sights in your neck of the woods today!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Yesterday I mentioned that we might get some winterish weather. This did not materialize and there is no snow on the hills. After doing a load of laundry, knitting while the washing machine was doing its thing and hanging the wet laundry on the clothes horse to dry, I proceeded with my plan anyway--made a cup of tea and settled in with my cosy mystery, which I started in the wee hours of this morning, before attempting to sleep. When I woke up this morning, I thought this might be a lost day, since I had a stabbing sort of headache. I went back to sleep for a while and when I next awoke, it was gone, so I get a functioning day after all. Yay!

We got a flyer in the post for this store in Donegal Town that sells various electronics and home appliances. We don't have to worry about buying appliances, for which I am grateful, but I went through the ad anyway, just to see what sort of stuff they sell. Cookers, hobs, fridges, fridge freezers are all different than the ones that are common in the US, with the exception of the 'American-style fridge freezer' which is huge compared to all the others in the ad. This time I was particularly struck by the cookers, which run from the small fan ovens like we have, to some pretty intense (and expensive) combination appliances. One has a 5 burner hob, three different ovens, and a grille oven. There's a main oven, a small fan oven, and a third oven.
If this behemoth was installed in my kitchen, I'd have no counter space left!

We don't get many ads here, but there are a few more at this time of year. It's interesting to look through them sometimes and see what sorts of things are sold. We rarely go into a store besides a grocery store or charity shop, so this gives me a window into a certain aspect of the culture I wouldn't get otherwise.

I'll be getting back into my book shortly. In the meantime, here's the final installment of my November book list.
Armistice: A Laureate’s Choice Of Poems of War and Peace edited by Carol Ann Duffy
The title says it all. Here’s an example of a short poem she included:
‘Peace upon earth!’ was said. We sing it.
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mess
We’ve got as far as poison gas.
Thomas Hardy

Beneath the Skin: Great Writers on the Body by various authors
I found this book while scrolling through the e-book section of the library website. I was intrigued, so downloaded it. What an interesting collection of essays this is! Each author chose a specific bodily organ, researched it, and wrote about it. All the essays contained both personal anecdotes and explanations about the organ and its function. Some referenced  literature and poetry as well. I found the book fascinating and I’m glad I decided to give it a try!

A Dark Time by Sophie Hannah
I was reading through the posts on a Guardian Book Club web chat about Agatha Christie (her books Endless Night and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd were the November selections) and Sophie Hannah, who was the guest and author of the Poirot continuation series. In one of her answers, she commented about a series she writes and the requests she gets for more of them. She’s written some stand-alone books since the last one in the series came out. She said that the next novel in the series is coming next year and following that will be a collection of stories. In the meantime, though, there was a link on her website to a novella featuring the two main characters that could be downloaded for free. So of course, off I clicked to get the pdf. If you’re interested, the link can be found on this page. It takes you to an ADT (home security company) page and from there you get to the pdf.

Sea Garden by HD
A collection of poetry by HD (Hilda Doolittle) that I downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

Moments: Irish Women Writers in Aid of the Tsunami Victims
edited by Ciara Considine
I picked up this short story collection in a charity shop in one town or another. It was published in April, 2005 and at the time, the entire €10 purchase price went to aid victims of the December, 2004 tsunami. The writers whose work is collected here are varied in style and subject matter, although the thread that runs through all the stories is the idea of change in some form. It’s a nice collection that I enjoyed very much.

Hope it's a quiet, cosy day in your neck of the woods!

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Unexpected Genius of Pigs and Other Books

It might get slightly winterish at some point tomorrow. We'll see. It's been pretty mild, although on rainy days, it does feel a bit cooler. Last night, we walked down to see the Christmas light switch-on and I optimistically wore my new needle felted hat, since it'd been raining earlier in the day. It was lightly misting when we went out and quite warm for the time of year. I'd optimistically worn my new needle felted hat, since it'd been raining earlier in the day and looked colder than it was. I really didn't need that particular hat on that particular night, but some day, it'll be perfect. It's clear out now and supposed to stay that way overnight, so tomorrow will start off cold and then the rain will come. Maybe snow on the hills. Sounds like a perfect day for lots of tea, some nice music, a bit of yarn, and a book (like all days!). I've got a nice Christmas cosy mystery on top of the pile ready to be started.

Here are a few more of the books I read in November. We begin with the pigs!

The Unexpected Genius of Pigs by Matt Whyman
I was scrolling through the new e-books available at the library and came to this one. It was laugh-out-loud funny. The author and his family live in a semi-rural area, but not out in the middle of nowhere. They have neighbours. They also had chickens that were attacked by foxes and wanted to know what they could do about this problem. His wife did some research and found that pigs deter foxes. Further online exploration brought her to a person selling mini-pigs. They ended up with two of them. The learning curve was steep, especially when it became obvious that there wasn’t very much that was mini about the pigs.The author later learned that mini-pigs are not really a thing, but since piglets are small and regular pigs sell for £30 or so (according to him) and something marketed as a mini pig sells for upwards of £500, there is some cash to be made by calling the pig mini, even if it is going to grow up to be anything but! By the time they discovered this and called the breeder, that person was long gone and no longer in business. Whyman set out to learn about pigs, so spoke to scientists, other pig owners, and pig rescue people. The book is a combination of personal stories about his own experience with his pigs, stories from other pig people, and what science can tell us about pig evolution, biology, and behaviour. Glad I found this book!
Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro
I found this book at a charity shop. The stories were good, if unsettling, and I found it to be an enjoyable read.

Birds Art Life Death: A Field Guide to the Small and Significant by Kyo Maclear
I came across this memoir while scrolling through the e-book section of the library website. This is the title as it appears there. When I went to the author’s website, the book was listed as Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation. The author is an artist in a creative slump who lives in Toronto. She is also a sandwich generation woman, who is trying to care for her ill, elderly father and her children while still working out ideas through her artwork. She grew up in a multicultural situation, with a British father, a Japanese mother, living in Canada. One day, she meets a musician who is an avid bird watcher and she asks if she can tag along with him for a year. She thinks that his attention to the birds and how he incorporates that into his life, might teach her some things. This book is an account of what she thought about during that year, what she learned, how she used the lessons to make sense of some of the issues from her childhood, and helped her understand herself, her artistic practice, and her family better. It's a quiet book, filled with quiet moments of reflection about creativity, love, nature, passion for something, and how we direct that passion.

Endless Night by Agatha Christie
This was one of The Guardian’s book club selections for November (the other being The Murder of Roger Ackroyd). I decided to read it again because of this. I was familiar with the story, but because I’d also heard radio dramatisations and seen a TV adaptation that had inserted Miss Marple, even though she is not in this book, I decided to read it again. The book is narrated by the main character, who is remembering what led up to the present. He was a jerk who met a rich girl and thought he had everything he wanted at last, but the menace grows as the book progresses and of course, things do not move along in the ways he thought they would. The book was published in 1967.

And so another week begins. I hope it has started off well.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Happy December Already!

Where did November go? It seems like it just started, yet here we are welcoming December.

We walked to see whether we could find some cranberries at the veg man who sets up here on Saturdays. I walked along the table and didn't see any, so I asked if he would be getting any in soon. He said he already had some and pulled a couple of small punnets from behind a box. I bought them. Last year, Andrew, the veg man in Moville, had bags and bags of cranberries for about a month and I stocked up, making cranberry jam, cranberry orange muffins, and shoving bags in every available nook and cranny I could find in the freezer. I am hopeful that the local grocery store will get some in--the SuperValu both here and in Ballinrobe had them during festive seasons past. For now, I am happy to have found a few cranberries and as soon as we got home, I got some jumbo porridge oats soaking in some orange juice so I can make cranberry orange muffins later. Yay!

It's just possible that November sped by me while I had my nose stuck in a book--it was an excellent, eclectic selection this month, mostly involving books I had no idea about until I stumbled upon them.

The Art of Kantha Embroidery by Niaz Zaman
I saw a blog post that mentioned kantha embroidery and, wanting to know more, I went to the library website, did a search, and requested this book. The original book was published decades ago and was updated and reprinted a few times. The author discusses the history of this kind of embroidery, which originated in what is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It started out being a way to use worn sari fabric and thread to make blankets. Women would use the pieces of the fabric and also unpick threads to use for the embroidery, which was done mostly with running stitches in staggered lines. This naturally caused the underlying fabric to pucker a bit and provided added strength. Other stitches might be used for embellishment. There were traditional sorts of designs used, like the lotus. Today, there are kanthas made for a modern art market, so they’re made in non-traditional ways, using a more varied repertoire of imagery, and are mostly made to hang on the wall, instead of being made to use as a blanket. Cooperatives have been formed to provide income for women who are skilled at this kind of stitching. I found this book fascinating, combining as it did the history of the art/craft, explanations of the techniques used to create kanthas, the meanings behind the images used, and lots of photos showing both traditional and modern examples.
The Word Exchange By Alena Graedon
I dedicated a blog post to this book here.

The Sourdough School by Vanessa Kimball
This book is for people who are really interested in diving into the world of sourdough. The author is the founder of The Sourdough School, thus the name of the book. She talks about her own experience in the introduction, explaining how she became passionate about sourdough. She’d spent time in France as a child and then went there to learn about baking bread. When she went back to the UK, she felt terrible when she ate commercial bread, but there was no market for artisanal breads at that time. She avoided bread. Then she went back to France and a friend handed her a fresh, warm loaf, which she devoured before she could stop herself. As soon as she was done, she worried about how sick she was going to be, but to her surprise, she was fine. She discovered that she could eat sourdough. The book was interesting to read, but a bit too in-depth for me. I found the sections on science and nutrition interesting, and I enjoyed the life stories she included, but the how-to sections were impractical for me. For example, I have a small under-counter fridge, so the parts about how to rearrange things to accommodate various kinds of sourdough starter (in the event that one does not have a dedicated fridge for that purpose) were not very helpful. That said, I borrowed this book from the library and found it to be a good read. It wasn’t what I thought it would be, but that’s my issue and does not detract from the quality of the book. If anyone really wants to learn a lot about sourdough--how to start it, feed it, use it, and bake delicious bread with it, this is a good reference book.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
I’d heard about this book before, probably when they were releasing the movie, but I’d never read it. Bill read about the book recently and requested it from the library. This volume contained the original book and the sequel. He enjoyed it and I had time to read it before we were going back to the library, so I did. It was pleasant enough, but I didn’t love it. The first book was a collection of letters between the author and a guy (and a few others, including his co-workers and family) who worked in a book shop in London (at the address of the title). She lived in NY City, but also had a thing for London, even though she'd never been.  She loved books, and had specific requests for sometimes obscure books. The people in the book shop tracked them down and mailed them, and she posted cash to them. I enjoyed that part, because, spanning 15 or 20 years, they provided a window into what life was like in London in the 1950s and 60s, with rationing and other post-war issues. In this age of online searching and shopping, it was nice to see how the act of having to personally request books via letter led to relationships forming. The second book was about a trip she finally took to London--this was a life-long dream, but money problems derailed her plans to go several times. It was in the 1970s, I believe, that she finally got to go, but sadly, her correspondent had died shortly before she made it there. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed the letters, and I felt myself growing bored fairly quickly.

I hope you're enjoying this first day of December!

Friday, November 30, 2018


A couple of weeks ago, someone contacted me about buying a hat. I'd made him one earlier in the year and he told me he wears it all the time and was afraid he'd lost it a few weeks ago, so he wanted a spare just in case. He said he'd leave it up to me to decide on colour, so I rummaged around and pulled a bunch of leftovers to consider. In the end, I went with some Noro. I figured he'd like the colours and the gradual transitions between colours. I spent some time happily knitting and was quite pleased with the result.
With Noro yarns, it's all about the colour, which was perfect for the kind of hat he wanted. I sent it off and hoped he'd like it. I just spoke to him--he got it today and is thrilled. He loves the colour and it fits perfectly. I'm happy that he's happy!

This is just a really simple knit and looks nice in any yarn. It's great for variegated yarns with short or long colour changes. It can be made in a solid colour for a more understated look. I've held two strands of thin yarn together in different shades of the same colour to make a hat like this and it looks really nice. The hat can be made longer and the brim folded up or it can be worn as shown. An easy way to add a bit of texture is to do rounds of purl stitches every now and again. To make a very warm double-layered hat, make one and then pick up stitches along the bottom of the brim and work from there to make another hat, either in a different colour, a different pattern, or both.

The bottom photo shows the layer made in the same way the Noro hat. The photo above it has rounds of knit stitch alternating with rounds of purl stitches to make the ridges. I made this hat 5 or 6 years ago as an experiment. Turns out to be a great in the wind! Two, two, two hats in one!

Basic Beanie
Here's the basic beanie recipe I use for yarn of this worsted weight. I'm a loose knitter and use size 6 (US) 16" circulars. If I was a tight knitter, I'd use larger needles.

Cast on 80 stitches, join, being careful not to twist.

Knit one round. Place marker.

Knit2, purl2 around to marker. Slip marker and continue in k2,p2 rib until the brim is as tall as you want it.

Once your brim is the right size, knit every round until the hat is long enough from bottom of brim to the beginning of the crown. If you want a slouchy hat, make it longer.

You can just keep knitting until the hat reaches the top of your head, bind off, thread a long tail through a tapestry needle, weave it through the bound off edges and pull to cinch closed. I do a spiral decrease for the crown, because I like the way it looks.

Because I made this hat on 80 stitches, it's divisible by 10, so I will be doing 8 decreases on each decrease round (switching to double pointed needles when titches no longer reach around the circulars), as follows:
place marker at beginning of round
knit 8, knit 2 together around to marker
knit around to marker
knit 7, knit 2 together to marker
knit around to marker
knit 6, knit 2 together to marker
knit around to marker
knit 5, knit 2 together to marker
knit around to marker
knit 4, knit 2 together to marker
knit around to marker
knit 3, knit 2 together to marker
knit around to marker
knit 2, knit 2 together to marker
knit around to marker
knit 1, knit 2 together to marker
knit around to marker
knit 2 together to marker

Cut yarn, leaving a long tail. Thread the tail through a tapestry needle and run through the live stitches left on your double pointed needles, pulling tight to close. Weave in ends. Enjoy your hat.

I hope it's a pleasant day in your neck of the woods!


Thursday, November 29, 2018

I Survived a Midday Aldi Experience on a Post-Remodel Thursday During the Festive Season

We did the Donegal dash today, so Bill could return a book and pick up a book and I could drop something off at the library. We didn't feel like hanging around there, so we took the bus that leaves here midday and gets there just as the librarian is closing for lunch. We usually pop into the Animals in Need charity shop and Aldi and have enough time to walk over to the library, getting there just as he reopens, and then having enough time to get a bus back home. And we usually go on a Tuesday.

We were a bit late getting into town today, but we still had enough time to meander over to Aldi, stopping to look in the shop windows along the way. One of the things I like about this time of year is looking at all the window displays. Some stuff is pretty yucky, but there are always cute things, too. Some of the photos have reflections due to the way the light was on that side of the street.

Santa on the tractor made me chuckle--that is very appropriate for here!

I love the little doors. I'm afraid that the geese make me think of the scene in A Christmas Carol, where one of the smaller Cratchits exclaims, 'There's a goose, Martha!' when the older sister comes home from the shop where she works

adorable and makes me think of one special Little Man
who needs reindeer when you have a dog?

comestibles--dandelion and burdock soda(?)--maybe these are having a moment--I think I saw some dandelion and burdock tea somewhere recently

always time for tea!
 We checked the books at the charity shop, but didn't see anything we wanted. They were busy sorting lots of toys and books, so it was a bit crowded and we didn't hang around.

Then we went on to Aldi and as we approached, I saw this sign, remembered that the remodel had happened, and inwardly groaned.
I can assure you that I was not amazed. I HATE it when grocery stores remodel and reconfigure everything. I know where things are and I make my list in order. I rarely even notice the other stuff around what is on my list, zeroing in as I do on what I want and moving on. Yes, I know this is why they change things every so often, thus forcing people to pay attention to stuff and spend more time in the store. And yes, some of the new layout makes sense. I still didn't like it, even as I had to admit that some of the chaos was my own fault. A new sale starts on Thursdays and they get new temporary stock in on Thursdays, so it's always crowded anyway. Add to that the fact that it is the 'festive season' and things were even more crazy than usual. I wandered around as quickly as I could while dodging other shoppers and the pallets of stock and the people shelving it and looking for the areas I wanted. Nothing is in the same place that it was just a few days ago (the remodel was Saturday). Nevertheless, we found the things we wanted, paid, packed up our stuff, and headed to the library with time to spare before it opened after lunch.

When Colin, the librarian, arrived and we went in, I saw the table of Christmas books for children, which are apparently not like they were when I, or even our daughter, was small.
I didn't have time to read through this one, but if it's there next time, I might. I never thought about Santa's dark side and I am not sure I want to know what his issues are, but hopefully there's a happy ending.

We did our library stuff, chatted for a few minutes, and had 7 minutes to get to the bus stop to take the bus home, although had we missed it there was a Local Link bus 15 minutes later. And, come to think of it, we could have just flagged him down had we needed to.
part of Donegal Town as seen from the doorway of the library
We got there with a few minutes to spare, and just as we got there, we saw the little bus coming around the Diamond, where there was a guy putting the lights on the town Christmas tree. I expect that the next time we do a Donegal dash, there will be Christmas music playing in the town to go along with the tree, lights, and the cute window displays.

I like Donegal Town, but as we came around a curve in the road on the way home and I looked at the rocky hills and the clouds hanging around them, then looked the other way at the water moving in the wind, I smiled and thought, for the umpteenth time, 'I can't believe I get to live here.'

It's a nice day here today, and I hope the same is true for you in your part of the world.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Small Spaces

We live in a small place now. We've never lived in large homes--I think the biggest place was 1200ish square feet and that was our round house with totem pole in Alaska. From there we moved to a small cabin with no running water (but a septic tank) and from there to a 700 square-foot house. Our apartments, both here and in the US have been various sizes and configurations, but never big. The last place we lived was a large terraced house. In truth, it was too large for us and I felt a bit guilty about renting it. I try to be very conscious of the resources I am using and don't like to be wasteful. It was a great house, but bigger than we needed. I frequently reminded myself that we were not using any more electricity or water than we would've in a smaller place and that we had to leave a very moldy apartment which was causing health issues, and that was the only place available.

So now here we are, back in a cosy little place, which makes me very happy. It did take a short time to get used to being in such a space, after being somewhere with what seemed to us like lots of empty space. Today I was reminded of yet another benefit of living small as Bill and I did the sweeping. We are happy to not have carpets, except for on the stairs and in the small back bedroom, so sweeping up is quick. Since there's not much floor space, it's much easier and faster than it was in the last place. I put on A Putumayo World Christmas and started sweeping the downstairs. I was done well before the 'album.' Bill did the upstairs and the stairs. The stairs are a pain in the butt, because they are covered with dark blue carpet. You look at it and piles of dust magically appear. There is a vacuum cleaner, but it's a piece of crap and we can stand there forever trying to get the stuff up with that to no avail. We find it easier to sweep the steps with a dustpan and whisk broom, so that's what we do.

The back bedroom has the same carpet. It's a small and oddly shaped room, with a very narrow end that widens out a bit at the other end, which also has a strange angle where the chimney runs up behind the wall. There's a rug over the carpet at the wide end, so that's helpful. At the narrow end though, there's a double bed shoved into one corner and a very small space between it and the wall on the other side. I can sit in the middle of the bed, stretch out my arms, and touch both walls. That long, narrow space between the bed and the wall was annoying, because of the way the carpet showed every speck of dust all the time. I'd clean it, leave the room, go back upstairs a while later and find that the dust and fluff fairies had been there. I decided I needed a rug that I could just pick up and shake out, so I gathered up small scrap balls of yarn (is anyone surprised that yarn would be my solution?) and began crocheting Romanian cords and sewing them together. When I'd done as much of that as I wanted, the rug was looking pretty cool and colourful, but it was too narrow, even for the very narrow space, so I rummaged around and found some balls of yarn that I'd gotten at a charity shop. It was probably meant for rugs or something like that because it's rough and feels a bit weird. It has a nubbly texture and I'd used some of it to make a seat cushion a couple of years ago. I wasn't sure what I would use the rest for, but figured something would come up and so it did. I used it to widen the rug by crocheting along one side of what I'd already done and doing hdc back and forth until I was out of yarn. Or so I thought. It was wide enough to use, although I noted I could use another few inches. I put the rug down anyway, figuring I could come back to it at a later date.
Last week, I was rummaging around in a bag to get yarn for another project, when I found a couple more balls of the nubbly yarn, so I can go ahead and add some width sometimes soon. Yay!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Winter Warmth: Wool Before Wood

This is our new motto for the coming winter--wool before wood. It's always wool before any sort of heat, but unlike most of the places we've lived in Ireland, which have had electric storage heat, we will have to burn something here. We have portable electric space heaters, but the main heat source is either kerosene, which gets burned in a boiler in an out-building and then heats the water and radiators, or the open fire, which does the same, since there's a back boiler installed.

We really like electric storage heat, but we are definitely in a minority in that regard. When we went to inquire about the last place we lived, the young woman at the letting agent's office told us it was still available, but added, 'You should know that it has electric storage heat.' I said we knew that and we like storage heat. I asked her about whether that was a problem for people and she said it was--some people will not even look at or consider a place with storage heat. Several people had gone to look at the house, which is really nice, but were no longer interested when they found out it had storage heat.

One thing people don't like is that you can't just turn up the heat if you get cold. The heaters are wired to come on when the electric rates switch to off-peak and to turn off when they go back to peak, so you set the level during the day and it comes on at night. It stores the heat and then slowly lets it dissipate into the room during the day while it's off. Some have a separately wired heater on the bottom that can be manually turned off and on, but the last house we lived in didn't have those. It was also weird in that it had storage heaters even in the bedrooms, which seems inefficient. Most of the time, the bedrooms will be empty while the heat is slowly released during the day, so what's the point? In other places we lived, there were wall-mounted heaters in the bedrooms that could be put on a timer or used manually.

In any case, it's been our experience that Irish homes are well equipped with doors, so even in places where the living room and kitchen are one larger room, there's a door from that room, so it can be closed off. This means that we have avoided the other problem people have with storage heat--the expense. Electricity is expensive here. It is generated partly by wind, partly by peat and partly by imported natural gas, I think. Over and over again, people have told us how expensive storage heat is, but we have not found this to be the case. It would be expensive if we turned on all of them, but we've always used just one and kept the rest of the house/apartment unheated. Because we could close doors, we could have the one in the living room on and the heat would stay there.Cooking would also generate heat in the kitchen or kitchen/living room. We do not require or desire much heat. I have a very high tolerance for cold and a very low tolerance for warmth. We find most indoor spaces far too warm in winter and don't like the stuffiness and discomfort that results. I still chuckle when I remember Thanksgiving last year. I was finishing up the dinner in the kitchen, with the doors to both the living room and utility room closed. The kitchen was the coolest room in the house because it was in the back and downstairs, so only got a bit of sun in the mornings (on days when there was sun). It mostly stayed in the mid-high 50s in there, but on that evening, I was roasting and getting cranky. I looked at the thermometer and discovered it had zoomed right up to 65. I was happy to get out of the heat. A year and a half before that, we were out of town and staying in a place with a communal kitchen. It was March and we were the only ones there that night. We were sitting in the kitchen eating our supper, when one of the owners came in and said, 'Let me light a fire for you!' 'No, thank you! That's OK! We're fine!' we exclaimed. 'Are you sure?' he asked, frowning, 'It's no bother at all.' I felt kind of bad, because he was so nice and trying to be helpful, but we definitely did not need more heat.

Because I have Raynauds, my hands and feet do get cold, but fortunately, I have wool and I know what to do with it, so we dress in layers, and wear our woolly hats, shawls, fingerless gloves, and socks. I have lapghans and blankets. We breathe better when it's cooler and with our woolly bits, we can breathe and be warm at the same time.

Since we don't have storage heat here, we had to decide what to burn. Coal is a popular choice here--some of it from Poland and some from Colombia! I do not understand all the differences between different kinds of coal and in a year or two it will be illegal to sell anything other than smokeless coal anywhere in the country. This is already the law in Donegal, but I don't know how compliant people are or whether this is enforced. Either way, the coal use was surprising to us. We had no idea people burned that in fireplaces (open fires, as they're called here). Of course, at that point we were still unaware of the deep affection in which the open fire is held here. Open fires happen all year. The first summer we were here I smelled some weird smell and got an upset stomach. I wondered if it was peat and thought, 'No, it's July. Who would be burning peat now?' Ha! What a stupid assumption. It was peat and I eventually got used to it so it doesn't bother me, but I will still not be lighting a fire in July! This past summer was roasting for weeks on end and still the shop in the town had their display of peat briquettes and coal on the footpath (sidewalk).

As winter approached, we briefly considered filling the tank out back with kerosene, but there are minimum orders and we weren't sure we would be able to use that much, given how we use heat. We were also trying to avoid fossil fuel use, which eliminated coal as an option as well. We could buy bags of logs and packs of sawdust briquettes, but we'd have to haul them around in our shopping cart and be always going to get more. The briquettes are not sold locally, but in Donegal Town at Aldi and aren't easily carried on the bus. Bags of logs may or may not be available in the local shop at any given time. We hoped to find someone who could deliver wood in bulk, but not so much that storage would be a problem. Bill clicked around and found a guy, inquired about the delivery charge, and then when all seemed acceptable, asked about setting up a delivery time and date. After several days with no reply, he looked some more and found a different guy who charged €10 less for the same amount of wood and €25 less for delivery, so Bill set things up with him. He came last night, dumped a load and Bill gave him €130.
We chatted with him and he might have even gotten a new customer in our neighbours who use their cottage as a holiday home (and who we met for the first time last night). He seemed quite nice. He told us that the wood is all hardwood and mostly ash. This means nothing to me, because I am quite an ignoramus when it comes to burning stuff and what works best and all of that. Looking at the wood in the truck, we were surprised at how much was there--it was hard for us to visualize the amount from the picture in the ad.

It was dark when he delivered last night, so we left it there and planned to stack it this morning. When we got outside, most of the work was already done because one of our fabulous neighbours had already started dumping wheelbarrow loads in the doorway of a shed he'd cleaned out earlier in the week and started stacking the wood in there, all of which is very much appreciated. Bill took over the stacking in the shed, our kind neighbour kept hauling the wood from the pile to where it would be stacked, and I filled some boxes and brought them inside to toss into the small understairs cupboard we have.
It held far more than I thought it would, even though I just tossed it in there. No doubt I could have gotten more in if I'd stacked it neatly, but my old creaky, damaged knees would not be happy about having to kneel on the floor, so I just tossed it in and it's fine.

So there's that sorted. As it was being moved and stacked, it seemed like even more wood than it had looked like last night. We have no idea how much wood we will use on any day or how long it will last. It will depend on how cold and long the winter is and when we have to start lighting fires. If the weather forecasts are right, it's going to get even milder by mid-week than it is now and continue for a week or so like that and if that happens, it'll be December before we light our first fire of the season. It usually happens that we start using heat around Thanksgiving, but not so this year. Anyway, it'll be a learning experience and now we know that this guy is reasonable and reliable, so if we need more wood, we know who to call. We will miss having storage heat, but we are glad we can avoid burning fossil fuels and that we have a supply of fuel here and already paid for. Because we don't need much heat, we're hopeful that this will last through the season, perhaps supplemented with the sawdust briquettes, if we can get those again. One way or another, we'll eventually find out, but as always, we'll reach for the wool before going for the wood!

Hope you're cosy and warm enough or cool enough today in your part of the world!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

One Thing Leads to Another: Dishcloth/Square/Ornament

Last night I grabbed some scraps of worsted weight cotton yarn in candy cane colours (aka red and white) and a crochet hook. I'd decided to make a dishcloth. I began with Tunisian crochet and then frogged. I began again in a different Tunisian stitch pattern. I frogged again. I decided to do a different shape, which only led to more frogging. Rip-it, rip-it, rip-it! I wasn't feeling the love, so I set my Tunisian hook aside and grabbed the pouch of regular crochet hooks, rummaged around and found a size H (5mm). I began crocheting and this time the frogs were quiet. I happily crocheted away whilst listening to Christmas music--Mannheim Steamroller.

front of the dishcloth/washcloth
back of the cloth--a bit different than the front side--I like this side, too
As I was crocheting, I was thinking that this would make a nice square that could be used for blankets, sweaters, or shawls and the stitch pattern itself could be done in the round to make a hat. If done in the round, it would look like the back side above.

Then I was playing around with the completed square and turned it sideways so that it was a diamond shape. Then I folded the two side corners in towards each other to get a cornucopia shape, which I liked a lot. This afternoon, I made a smaller square using some scraps and did the same thing, leaving a long tail which I used to sew the two sides together from the bottom point.

The result is this cute little cornucopia.
I like the way the stripes on either side are going in different directions. This would be more pronounced on a bigger square. Here's what the back looks like:
I left a long enough ending tail to create the hanging loop, but I could've just woven the tail in and stuck an ornament hanger in the top. Or I could have sewn a small button to the front and made a small loop to go around it at the top, which would have allowed me to fold the top down and close it.

This could be done with any square, of course, and in any size. Larger ones could hold twigs, pine cones, dried flowers, a small bundle of cinnamon sticks, or a bunch of holly. Smaller ones made out of thread could hold single sprigs. Medium sized ones could be filled with chocolate (also a great use for a gigantic one!) or a small trinket of some sort.

We stopped using wrapping paper years ago, in favour of reusable gift bags. Two of the squares above, or any other square, rectangle, triangular, circular, semi-circular, etc, design, whether knitted, crocheted, sewn, woven, etc, could be sewn or crocheted together, leaving an opening, to make a festive gift bag. If you're a loom knitter, making a hat, turning it upside down, and threading a drawstring through what would be the brim would create a nice bag. This is a great use for scraps and means there is nothing to be thrown away once the gift-giving has been done.

The same holds true for the dishcloths. They can be laundered and reused over and over again, unlike sponges, and because they can be any shape you like, they're great projects for beginners or the more experienced. They're great for experimentation, practice, to play with stitch patterns or colour combinations, to learn a new technique, and are excellent for using up scraps, odd balls, and leftovers. They just go on and on, too. I still use some dishcloths I made 5 or 6 years ago and while they've faded a bit, they're still intact and they get the job done. I use cotton scraps for dishcloths (and my napkins, which I keep rolled up in a crocheted basket on the kitchen table) and I make sure to weave in the ends extra securely, since they will get a lot of use and be washed a lot.

The square above is very easy to adapt to any yarn, hook size, or project. Simply start with an even number of stitches for your chain and keep going until you have the size you want. It's nice as a square, but would also be a great scarf, stole, blanket, etc. You can do stripes or make it all one colour. You could hold two strands of thinner yarn together. You could use scraps by either making every stripe a different colour or just joining a bunch of scrap balls together and crocheting away. You could make a bunch of strips and then join them--so many possibilities and each one would give you a different look. I did three rounds of single crochet (dc in UK terms) as a border, but this is easily adaptable, too, so it can be whatever kind of border you want. I wanted a solid one for the dishcloth, but would do something else for a scarf , stole, placemat, or blanket.

For the dishcloth/washcloth, I used worsted weight cotton yarn in two colours (in my case, red was colour A and white was colour B) and a 5mm (H) hook

I began with A and made a chain of 24, but any even number will do.

Crocheted Square (US terms)
--With colour A, chain an even number of stitches.

Row 1: Sc in 2nd ch from hook, *ch 1, sk next ch, sc in next ch, rep from * to end. Change to colour B, if making stripes. Ch 1, turn

Row 2 and all subsequent rows: Sc in first st, *ch1, sk next ch, sc in next sc, rep from * to end, ch 1, turn. If making stripes, change colour after every odd numbered row. I carried the yarn up the side, since it was a short distance and it would be covered by the border. This eliminated many ends!

When the piece is as long as you want it, add the border of your choice.

I'm not sure what I will be working on later, but I have some commission work to do, so I will be spending some time on that shortly.

I hope today is a good day in your part of the world!