Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January Books Part 1

Well, January seemed to fly right by. I was pleased to have some actual winter during the month and am enjoying it while I can. Gives me a chance to practice being in the moment and not anticipating what is ahead. I am not very good at that, but getting better!

As always, whatever I feel like, books are there to enrich my life. Here is part one of January's pile.

Watermelon by Marian Keyes
I ended last month (and year!) trying out a Marian Keyes book after overlooking them for a few years. Hearing feminist Irish writers talk about her in glowing terms and pointing out that she is an author who tackles serious issues while at the same time telling a good story encouraged me to give them a chance. She also includes humour in her books, even as they involve difficult situations.  I decided to try a book at the end of December and liked it. I began this month (and year) with this book. It is the first book that revolves around a member of the Walsh family--this time, Claire. I am not sure the books are a series, exactly, and each one seems to be primarily about a different family member, but I decided to read them in order, even though I have no idea whether it makes a difference. In this book, Claire is living in London and has just given birth to her daughter. Her husband, who is the girl’s father, comes to the hospital and announces that he has been having an affair for the past 6 months and is leaving Claire and the baby to set up house with the other woman, who is a downstairs neighbour. Claire has 5 or 6 months of maternity leave, so she brings the baby back to her own childhood home in Dublin, where her parents and sisters help her through early stages of this crisis. She begins to get back on her feet and move on with her life. It’s a very different Claire who meets the husband when he arrives in Dublin wanting to discuss things.
I liked this book, although I didn’t find it as funny as Last Chance Saloon, the book I read before this one. I still laughed out loud in places, though. I had planned to move right into the next Walsh book, but at 600+ pages apiece, it seems like a lot of time to spend all in one go, so I decided to take a wee break from them and read some other stuff first. I’ll get back to the Walsh family later.

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme
This book has been on our bookshelf for a couple of years and I decided it was time to read it and pass it on. I was not sure I would even like it, since fussy cooking of any sort is not really my thing--I prefer to keep things simple. Turns out I did like it. What I enjoyed about the book was her descriptions of how she adapted to living in a culture different from her own and how she discovered her passion in life when she was nearing 40. I am always interested in stories about how people discover their creativity and how it manifests in their life. Creative evolution is so personal and so different for each person. I had fun reading about how it played out for her with food. The book was based on letters she had sent to people from France. She’d always talked about writing such a book ‘one day’ and her nephew offered to help several times, but she always turned him down. When she ws in her 90s, though, she agreed, and this is the result.

The Mill on the Shore by Ann Cleeves
The other day, I remembered that I had two books left in this author’s series of books about the older married couple who had set up a private enquiry agency. He is a retired Home Office chap and avid bird watcher and she is a retired social worker. I’ve enjoyed the other books in the series. They are all out of print, but available as e-books, so I went to the e-book section of the library website and found the last two, borrowed the, downloaded them, and read this one. It had less bird watching in it than previous books in the series, but there was a conservation storyline. George is contacted by the widow of an old friend who recently died by suicide. But was it suicide? George and Molly go to find out.

High Island Blues by Ann Cleeves
This is the final book in the Palmer-Jones series as described above. I wondered whether there would be some sort of conclusion to the series included in the plotline, but there wasn’t. There were a few allusions to age and how George and Molly are not as young as they used to be, but nothing more than that. I’d started to wonder if they would decide to end their private enquiry business or something. This book was a bit different from the others in that most of the story takes place in Texas. Three British men were friends in their youth and had taken a bird watching trip there when they were in their late teens or eary 20s. They’d agreed to do a reuinion trip 20 years hence, so that is why they were in Texas again. One of them meets his end and another is a suspect. The latter calls George Palmer-Jones for help. George goes to Texas and Molly does some investigating closer to home. After I read this book, I came across a comment by the author about the series in which she talked about how, looking back at the books now, she sees their shortcomings, the good points, and how her writing has improved.

I hope you've had many good reads during January, too!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Purple Iris

Sometime last summer, I was scrolling through a cross stitch e-magazine that I'd downloaded from the library website, and I came across an iris chart. I love purple irises, so I stitched it on a scrap of aida cloth. I loved it, but wasn't yet sure what I wanted to do with it, so I set it aside. Lately I've been thinking about making it into a pin and today was the day.

I have a pile of clothing that I picked up at the charity shop, a piece or two at a time. I would not want to wear most of this stuff, even if it was my size, because it's mostly made of fabrics that are cool to look at but would be yucky to wear. Still, I know that tastes differ and that any particular item could be exactly what someone else is looking for. For that reason, I try to buy stuff that is unlikely to sell. One of the local charity shops has a rail at the front of the store and they sell stuff for 50 cents or a euro. These are things that are damaged in some way (buttons or embellishments missing, stained, ripped, etc) or that have been in the store for a long time and are not selling. I buy things from there for the fabric, the buttons, and/or the embellishments. In this way, I get some really fun and interesting materials to work with and keep a few things out of the landfill. Yay!

Sometimes I get some happy surprises, too. Last week I was cutting up part of a small beaded satin jacket for a project when I discovered a great lining inside. I love it when things have linings because these are usually a different fabric and colour from the outside.

The fabric I used for the base of the brooch comes from a 'dress.' It was a very short dress and was strapless, so there was not a whole lot of fabric involved. I loved the colours though, and it had a lining, so it ends up being a decent amount and I usually use little bits at a time anyway. I made a sort of mini quilt for the base, using the outer dress fabric. For the inside, to give it stability, I used part of the padded bust piece that was in between layers of the dress. Then I sewed on a piece of a lace waistband from a sundress I'd picked up before attaching the cross-stitched iris. I sewed the pin to the back and I was done.
I'm wearing it now.

I guess it won't be long before the irises and daffodils start blooming, but before that, it looks like we have another blast of winter coming for a few days. We've just returned from the shop so if it gets icy, we won't have to venture out.

Hope the week is a good one in your part of the world!

Sunday, January 28, 2018


Last weekend, I finished a project I'd been working on, off and on, for 6 or 8 weeks. It was often what I worked on upstairs while listening to music or podcasts. It's an oversized sort of tunic-y poncho-ish sort of thing. 😜 I might have gotten a little bit carried away, even though I did end up ripping back quite a lot on the first piece, which was waaaay too long. I'd obviously gotten into a rhythm and just kept on happily crocheting. When I did finally hold it up to see what I had, I saw that I had to rip out about 20 rows. That's OK.
I adapted a chart in a magazine my daughter had sent me early last year to make the fabric more open--this way it's not too heavy or too warm. I wanted it to be very loose, but didn't want to have each side go all the way down to my wrists as some rectangular ponchos do, because it would be impractical to wear such a garment while cooking (too easy to get caught on a pot handle) or while trying to wear a coat and/or backpack. So I made it loose and then added some sleeve 'extensions.' It's quite a comfortable garment to wear!

I did nothing fussy here. I made 4 rectangles using the lacy stitch and a solid half double crochet (US term) for 3 rounds.
Then I slip stitched them together, two for the back and two for the front before adding the sleeve extensions.
I left space open at the top of the front, folded back the inner corners of each rectangle, and attached dark purple cloth buttons that I had in my button tin.

The yarn is Wool-Ease--a friend found 5 giant 'bonus bundle' skeins (something like 450 yards each) in a thrift store in Boston and brought them back for me--it's a bit darker than it appears in a pics. I still have some scrap balls left, so might do a hat or some arm warmers. I used a 6mm (US size J) hook.

I think that every time I wear this, I will, at least for a minute, recollect the peaceful happy time I spent crocheting it during several weeks in winter, while listening to quiet Christmas music.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Bag It

Our daughter sent me a crochet calendar last month--it's always fun to see what the next pattern is as the days go by.  Last weekend, there was a pattern for a string market bag that can be stuffed into a little built in pouch when not in use. We have Chico bags, which are made of different material but are a similar idea, and we use them all the time. They are great for when we go to veg man or to the shop because when they are stuffed into the pouch, they take up very little room and can easily be put in a coat pocket or backpack until needed. The handles, though, are not big enough to comfortably carry the bag on a shoulder, so we carry stuff home in them with the bag hanging at our side, which is fine for the short walk home, but not comfortable for longer walks. With that in mind, I decided to crochet the bag shown in the calendar. The pattern showed two straps long enough to put over a shoulder, but not long enough to put on one shoulder, go across the body and have the bag hang on the opposite hip, which is how I prefer to carry bags, so I knew I would be adapting the pattern at that point to make it how I wanted it. I also ended up adapting the top of the bag, but other than those last few rounds and the strap, I followed the pattern and finished this afternoon. I like it, but now that I've done it, I can see how I would do things differently in future.
The pouch part, which is also the bottom of the bag, could have been slightly bigger. There is also no reason why it has to be circular and if I make another one, I might do a square bottom. This is easily adaptable--you just make two pieces the same for the bottom of the bag, then join them using single crochet, almost all the way round, but leaving a space (about 1/4 of the outside edge) open (just sc in one piece instead of through both pieces). Then you build up the bag from there. When the bag isn't in use, you can turn the bottom inside out, stuffing the bag inside.

The chain arches that form the main part get larger as you work towards the top, but I wouldn't do that again, since I ended up decreasing at the top to cinch it in a little. That's partly because of how I wanted the strap, but next time I'd make the bag part the same height, but more narrow. The mesh stitch used works well because it's stretchy and not bulky, so I'd probably keep that but just use smaller meshes.

I used mercerized cotton yarn that is fingering weight and a 3 1/2mm (US size E) crochet hook. The pattern called for postal twine and a US size F hook. It really doesn't matter what's used to make this--any yarn and an appropriate hook will work.

I'm quite pleased with my new bag--I think I'll use it a lot.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Lost and Found at the Library

Wednesday was full of cold, rain, sleet, hail, snow--and even thunder and lightning. Our librarian, Gerard, was stuck at home and unable to get to work, due to the ice, so someone else came in to sub for him. During the afternoon, I saw that I had a CD in, but since neither Bill nor I wanted to ramble around on icy footpaths, we opted to stay in and leave our stuff there until today.

This morning it was still cold but the footpaths were wet, not icy. Off we went to the library and then to the shop to get some groceries before the next bit of snow/ice showed up. Gerard was in today and when he went to check out the CD for me, he opened the case and discovered that it was empty! He was surprised, because he said things are usually checked before they are sent out. He apologised. I told him it was no big deal. We chatted about music with another library user, who was asking me about Karl Jenkins--he'd been in the library one day when I was there picking up a couple of his CDs and remembered. I told him I highly recommended The Armed Man and Peacemakers. Requiem is quite good, too.

Later on, we saw that we had more stuff in, so Bill went to pick it up. When he returned, he handed me the CD. Turns out that the woman who took over for Gerard on Wednesday stuck it into the boombox to listen to it and then forgot to take it out, so it was there all along. 😉
I haven't listened to it yet, so have no idea what it's like. Now I know what I'll be listening to later while I'm crocheting.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wintry Winter

This has been the most wintry winter we've experienced in Ireland. We had quite an array of weather through yesterday and overnight--temperatures a few degrees above zero at most and a few under at night, howling wind, rain, sleet, hail, snow, thunder, and lightning. It was approximately 12:30 a.m. when the snow came crashing down from the front side of the roof and shortly afterwards that it came down in the back.

Yesterday was a good day for soup, so I made some cream of vegetable soup for supper, which we had with grilled cheese sandwiches. It was a simple soup--I sweated chopped onion, bell pepper, carrot, and garlic in some olive oil, added cubed potatoes and boiling water and let it cook until the veggies were done. I added some milk and black pepper and let it heat through, before using my stick blender to whiz it up. There was some left and today is another good day for soup, with rain sleet, and more snow expected any minute now, so I dumped the leftovers into a pot, added a can of sweetcorn and heated it through. After ladling it into bowls, I added scallion and a sliced red chilli pepper. I love soup.

This morning, I put the ingredients for some oaty wholemeal banana nut yeast bread into the bread machine. We had some of that toasted and topped with homemade ricotta alongside the soup, and I think it'll make great cinnamon toast, too! When I make bread, I can never resist hacking off an end while it's still warm and eating it with butter. Today I had a nice hot cuppa with it. It was a good day for warm fresh bread, a couple of vats of hot tea, yarn, and reading!
Met Eireann has issued an orange warning for us, so more snow, ice, sleet, hail could be on the way. Looks like we'll have a few more wintry winter days and then it'll go back to feeling like spring again. As long as I can comfortably wear my woolly bits, I'm happy enough!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Ricotta Pesto Pizza with Chicken, Veg, and Sliced Leftover Sausage

I had a container of ricotta left from the batch I made the other day. I had a couple of leftover leek sausages. I had the idea to make a pizza using ricotta mixed with red pesto in place of the sauce, and topping it with some other stuff. Today, I gave it a try. Success! We both loved it!
I mixed the ricotta with some red pesto
and spread it on my usual pizza crust, made in the bread maker using oats and strong wholemeal flour
I sauteed 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts in some olive oil with a chopped onion and a chopped yellow bell pepper, sprinkling some Italian season in when it was just about cooked through. I spread this on the crust and sliced the 2 sausages, putting them evenly over the top.
I put cheese over the top and stuck it in the oven, where I already had some carrot, potato, onion, and garlic, tossed with olive oil and sprinkled with Italian seasoning cooking away.
 As I always try to do, I made enough so that we had enough for supper tonight with enough left for supper tomorrow night.

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

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Busy in the Kitchen

In addition to the 3-ingredient (4 in my case, actually, when I added the almonds) cookies I made yesterday, I was busy with some other yummy stuff.

A few days ago, jalapeno cheese bread popped into my head. We always loved it toasted and spread with cream cheese, but now we could use homemade ricotta, which I thought would be even better. It is!
I made the batch of ricotta and saved most of the whey. I will use it for pizza crust and other dough. Turns out it's also useful to add back into the ricotta, a little at a time, as needed. I noticed as I was making supper last night that it was a bit crumbly. Today when I took it out to use for lunch, it was even more so. I added a fair bit of whey back in and stirred it well until it was incorporated and the ricotta was much creamier and more spreadable.

I made some smoked mackerel chowder for supper as well. It was a great combination of the toasted bread with the fresh ricotta alongside the chowder.
We had leftovers for lunch.  And I had some new ideas for this weekend's suppers! Yay! Here's hoping things turn out well.

Hope you're enjoying your day!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

3 Ingredient Banana Oat Cookies

Yum, yum, yum! These are soooo good! 😋
I happened to scroll past one of those videos that just automatically plays and I caught the caption saying the woman was making 3 ingredient banana oat cookies. It looked like she was needlessly making more work for herself by 'blitzing' oats into flour, but maybe she was trying to sell the blitzing machine. I didn't keep watching long enough to find out. I googled '3 ingredient banana cookies' and a whole bunch of blog posts with recipes showed up. There were slight variations between them, but all the same idea. Some people used raisins and some chocolate chips. The amount of oats varied from a cup to 1 3/4 cups of oats. I suspect this will vary anyway, depending on the bananas.

They sounded so good and so quick and I can see how useful they would be as dessert, portable snack or even an on-the-go meal, since they are healthy (healthier with raisins than chocolate chips, I know, but I had none of the former and enough of the latter). I whipped up my first, but definitely not my last, batch of these. I don't think they will last long.

As I mentioned, there are recipes all over the place for these, but here it is again:
3-Ingredient Banana Oat Cookies
Preheat oven to 375F/190C
Either grease or line a baking tray with parchment paper

Mash two large ripe bananas very well. Mine were not as soft as they might have been, but it didn;t matter--I just mashed quite well.
Add between 1 and 1 1/2 cups oats--I used half a cup of jumbo porridge oats (old fashioned oats in the US) and half a cup of regular porridge oats (quick cooking oats in US) and then added a bit more of the latter--and mix in well. I just kept on mashing with the fork until they were well incorporated.

Mix in chocolate chips, raisins or other dried fruits, or nuts of your choice. Coconut would probably be good, too and you could mix and match the add-ins. I think some cinnamon would be good, too.

This time I dumped in some mini-chocolate chips and flaked/sliced almonds.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Let sit for a minute and then remove from baking tray and cool on rack.

I'll try a different variation next time. Glad I came across the idea. It's clearly not a new one, but I'd not seen it before

Saturday, January 6, 2018


Last week as we were entering the local shop to pick up a few groceries, we noticed a Christmas cactus on the plant stand outside. We've enjoyed having such plants in the past and have had one in almost every place we've lived, so we considered buying this one. We hesitated, though, because we've had a few plants from that shop and while the hydrangea has seemed to thrive out back in its pot, the coleus we got was waterlogged when we got it and never did dry out. The poor thing rotted and we had to strip the leaves off until just a small bit remained. We cut that off and stuck it in water, where it has grown new roots. Another plant from there took a long time to dry out. We decided to wait on the Christmas cactus and decide another day if it was still there the next time we were at the shop.

Bill was there yesterday and immediately saw that the cactus was gone. As he walked by the plant stand, however, he spotted a couple of sections that had fallen off the plant just lying there. He picked them up, brought them home, and we stuck them in water to grow some roots. We have our fingers crossed. We grew a very nice Christmas cactus this way when we lived in Maine. He found segments on the ground at the library and brought them home. Into the water they went and soon the roots appeared. We planted it in dirt and it kept on growing. We enjoyed the flowers when they bloomed. I know nothing about plants, but I'm always game to stick pieces in water or dirt and wait to see what happens. We'll see what happens with these two wee bits!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Reading in December: Part 3

Here's the final installment of my December reading list.

Dublin 4 by Maeve Binchy
This is a collection of 4 stories, so the title refers to that, but is also something of a play on words, as it’s also the area of Dublin where the stories are set. Some sort of family crisis is at the centre of each story.

Slow Stitch: Mindful and Contemplative Textile Art by Claire Wellesley-Smith
I had seen an ad for this book on, I think, the Textile Artists website, and looked for it at the library. At the time, nothing came up. Somehow a few weeks ago, I came across it and immediately put in a request. It got here pretty quickly, but I saved it to read during the holiday week. I loved this book. I loved the beautiful pictures. I loved the author’s thoughts on slow stitching and what it means to her. I loved seeing the work of other textile artists and reading a bit about how they work. As someone who embraces slow stitching as a practice, and who uses ‘found textiles’ in my work, it was nice to see how other artists and stitchers put these ideas into practice. One thing she talks about that I really liked and plan to incorporate into my own practice is the idea of a stitch journal. She talked briefly about another artist’s journal project (and included a photo) and she did the same for a couple of hers. One of hers was to embroider circles in running stitch each day--the colour of the thread matched the colour of the sky when she got up in the morning. Another was just a large end piece of cloth, with irregular edges, on which she would stitch something each day. I love the idea, but will be doing things slightly differently. I am still thinking about exactly how I want to (loosely) structure this, but I already know that I need to do something a bit more compact than the examples she gives in the book, which are all large. I am thinking of making the stitch journal into a fabric book instead of having it be a very large piece of cloth or even smaller pieces of cloth assembled into a larger piece. I am also not going to limit myself to embroidery, but plan to do whatever strikes me on the day, whether it’s embroidery, cross stitch, crochet, knitting, tatting, needle felting, or hand sewing--or any combination of those. This seems like a great way to let the ideas flow--similar to journal writing--and to test ideas, problem solve, and just get into a creative rhythm. I’ve read about a similar idea on embroidery blogs. People will do a stitch or a few stitches each day on a piece of fabric. Sometimes people learn a new stitch every day and sometimes they might make a whole motif, but usually it’s just a few stitches here and there each day and the piece grows organically from that. Anyway, I love the idea and as I type I have a few days left to organise my stuff enough to get started on 1 January, then I’ll take it from there. One more thing about this book--it led me back to the library website, where I requested a few of the books she mentioned. Whenever one book leads me to others, I consider it a good book! Note added on 3 January--I have started the stitch journal, deciding to focus on scrappy circles. That narrows things down a bit and provides a framework. I am currently using short lengths of scrap threads and a scrap piece of aida cloth and working a circle from the center in cross stitch. Colour will be the focus of that. I am curious to see how this evolves. It will probably not be cross stitch every day for the entire year, but I think I will stick with the circles. I am finding that there is a meditative quality to this stitching and that the focus without having to think about where the next stitch goes or what it will be is quite relaxing!

Inside the Wave by Helen Dunmore
I’ve seen this author’s novels around but haven’t read any of them. I’ve heard her on a books podcast and she seemed interesting. I also remember one of the members of the book discussion group at the Ballinrobe library used to live in the same town as the author and would talk about how friendly she always was whenever she’d bump into her at the grocery store or other shop. I hadn’t realised the author started as a poet. I came across this book in the ebook section of the library and borrowed it. It is her final collection, published in April 2017. One of the poems had a few lines in it about how she would be in her hospital bed composing poems on her phone and how helpful it was to have that to work on. I started thinking about how helpful it’s been for me during difficult times in my life to have projects to stitch, books to read and think about, and often, expressing my thoughts through writing. There was a final poem added to the end of the ebook that was dated 25 May 2017. This poem was about her relationship with death as it came ever closer. Helen Dunmore died on 5 June 2017.

The Last Chance Saloon by Marian Keyes
Reading this book was an interesting experience--in a good way. I’d seen books by this author all over the place-charity shops and libraries in the various small towns we’ve been in since we got to Ireland. The covers scream ‘chick lit’ which is not a genre I normally read. I am not snobby about it, but superficial stories that revolve around shopping, fashion, cosmetics, dating, etc simply don’t interest me--I find these activities/things boring in real life and have no interest in spending time reading about them. I have read plenty of 'fluffy’ novels, but these are almost always some kind of cosy mystery that involves cooking or stitching--things I can relate to.  So, when I picked up one of the books by this author to read the back, I don’t think I got beyond the first line or two before putting it back on the shelf. Then I simply ignored them whenever I’d come across them again. I was surprised one day, when listening to a discussion about books and authors on the radio, to hear a woman who is an Irish feminist writer talk about Marian Keyes as an author who gets less credit than she deserves for ‘serious’ writing. This writer was making the case for Keyes’ work as more than chick lit--it was, in fact, full of feminist themes and serious issues. Some months later, listening to another radio programme, I heard another Irish feminist author making the same arguments. In this particular segment, guests were supposed to choose their top 5 books and one of hers was by Marian Keyes (I don’t remember which one). I decided that I would have a look in the charity shop and pick up a book next time I saw one. They had several different titles and more than one copy of most of them. I picked up a few and then kept my eyes open for a few more, because I’d learned that some of the books are about people in the same family. This was last year, so they’ve been sitting around, unread, for months. I decided I might as well see how I liked one of them. If I didn’t like it, they’d all get placed in the wee free library or go back to a charity shop. I started with Last Chance Saloon, which is not one in the series about the family. when I started it, I thought it might be a disappointment--the first few pages are set in a restaurant where the four main characters are meeting to celebrate the birthday of one of them. Three of the four (two women, Tara and Katherine and a gay man, Fintan) are from the same small village in Ireland and have been friends since childhood. The fourth is a woman from Sweden (Liv) who was a roommate for a while when they all shared a flat. It seemed so stereotypical--the birthday person was talking about getting old at 30 and her credit card was maxxed out and she couldn’t find lipstick that wouldn’t rub off. Blah. Then I came to the part where they ordered and I laughed out loud for the first time--but not the last. The back of the book has a blurb that says it’s ‘laugh -out-loud funny’ and it was. I’d be reading along and a line would have me cracking up.

The women I heard on the radio were right, too--she does tackle serious subjects, all the while telling a good story. Actually, it would probably be more accurate to say that there are a few stories here that intertwine.

Tara’s boyfriend dresses and decorates his home all in brown--there’s a comical element to him, but he has issues, as does Tara. Katherine’s mother (Delia) is a hippy type who is always ready to engage in some sort of activism. During a scene from the friends’ childhood, when Fintan arrived in the village, there was a moment when Katherine was explaining to her grandmother (Agnes) that Fintan is gay. Agnes gets upset and Delia is trying to stand up for gay people to her mother while at the same time, we are told, in her head she was already organising the ‘Cake Sale Against Homophobia.’ This turns out to be unnecessary, because Agnes is not upset that Fintan is gay or that Katherine is friends with him. She’s just mad because the word, ‘gay’ used to mean something else in her day. The cake sale against homophobia still makes me laugh, for some reason. Maybe because I have known well-meaning, good-hearted people like that.

As you can tell, I enjoyed this book a lot and I will be reading more of her work. Just goes to show that you really can’t judge a book by its cover.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Small Stitches

I've done a couple of small stitching projects over the past couple of days.

The first one was a simple embellishment of a pendant Bill picked up at a local charity shop. It was on a chain, which I removed, saving the clasp and the chain separately for use in future projects. Then I added a simple crocheted edging using size 10 crochet cotton and a size 7 steel hook.
Some of the glass pieces have open backs so the light comes through. I added a hanger and hung it on a plant in the kitchen window. Makes me smile when I look at it.

I finished this card this morning and it will be off in the post shortly.
It's a piece of cross stitch with a small bit of sea glass attached, sewn to a piece of acid-free watercolour paper. I wrote the message on the back. I was stitching away, section by section, when I happened to notice something a bit off on the chart. I looked more closely and saw that there was a mistake and one bit was out of alignment. I had to rip out a few stitches, add one, and redo the ripped-out bit, but it was an easy fix.

As usual, I have some big projects that are ongoing, but it's nice to interrupt work on those once in a while and do something different.

Hope it's a wonderful day in your part of the world!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Reading in December: Part Two

This is the middle section of my December book list. Part one is here.

Awakening Loving Kindness by Pema Chodron
This small volume is a collection of transcribed and edited talks given by Pema Chodron during a month long retreat at Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton. Pema Chodron is a USian who came to Buddhism in middle age after two failed marriages and after her children were grown. She became a nun in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. I have always found her work helpful.

Winter by Ali Smith
This is the second in the author’s seasonal quartet. I read Autumn last year and kept checking to see when this one would be available in the library. When it popped up, I added myself to the queue and it showed up pretty quickly. I quite like Ali Smith’s work, even though I always feel a little bit off balance when I am reading it. In both Autumn and Winter, she includes current events in the story. In Autumn, Brexit was a feature and in Winter the response to that and some unfortunate remarks by Teresa May make an appearance more than once, as do some of the pathetic ramblings of the current US president and even the Grenfell Tower fire. She also references Charles Dickens’ story, A Christmas Carol in various ways. The last couple of sentences made me laugh. In the story, Sophia Cleves, who lives in a big old house with 15 bedrooms, is having visions as she prepares for the arrival of her son, Arthur, and his partner Charlotte. Arthur has issues of his own. When he arrives, he finds his mother in a worrisome state and calls her estranged sister, who arrives in the middle of the night. Weird stuff follows from there.

The Other Mrs. Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis
Bill found this in the wee free library and thought I’d like it, so he brought it home. It says on the cover, ‘a detective story with no detective.’ Not sure I’d completely agree with that characterization, but it was a good book nonetheless. The book begins at Christmas 2010 in Edinburgh, where an elderly woman dies alone in her flat. It then moves to the beginning of 2011, and we meet Margaret Penny, who has returned to her mother’s flat in Edinburgh after fleeing London. Her mother is a member of many churches and is soon called by one of them because her name has come up on the rota of mourners for those who die without family or friends. Margaret accompanies her mother, Barbara, to the funeral, where she meets Mrs Maclure, who slips a piece of paper into her coat pocket. It has a phone number written on it, which Margaret calls. She soon finds herself working for the Office of Lost People and is given the task of finding out who the woman in the flat is. The story shifts around in a spiral, going from 2011 and back to past years as Margaret’s story intertwines with that of Barbara and the woman in the flat. The 2011 sections are fairly linear, but the sections about past years are not, as they don’t go in any kind of order. One ‘flashback’ will be in the 1930s, the next in the 40s, and then back to the 30s again. Or we learn about something that happened in 1980, then back to 2011, then to 1977, and after another 2011 interlude, all the way back to 1944. It’s an interesting structure and it works. The story doesn’t get muddled or anything--it still flows along. I had not heard of this book, which was published last year. It appears to be the author’s debut novel. I’d read more of her work.

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin
Nora Webster is newly widowed and must figure out how to deal with her grief while helping her children cope. Her two daughters are essentially grown, but her two sons are not. She has help from her late husband’s brother and sister, along with her own aunt Josie, as she gets on with her life in 1960s Co Wexford. The book is told entirely from her point of view and the reader is inside her head the whole time. We see her thinking about things in terms of ‘this is what Maurice would have thought about this thing’ to her having her own opinions and voicing them. I recall hearing about this book a few years ago and checking it out from the library. At the time, it didn’t do anything for me and I never got very far into it before putting it in the return pile. I found it one day a few months ago at a charity shop and decided to give it another go. Glad I did. I quite enjoyed it this time!

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Peace and Joy

Got out my posh roving scraps and felting needles late this afternoon and played around. All of these scraps are either multi-coloured in some way or have iridescent threads throughout. The ones I used today were all multi-coloured with 'stripes' running lengthwise.
This is a brooch--I love the marbled effect with the different shades of purple. Reminds me a bit of a stormy sky or pictures I've seen of Jupiter.

I started out doing smiley faces. Our daughter sent me a crochet calendar recently and yesterday was the day to open it. The first pattern is of a yellow smiley face cushion with hearts for eyes. It's cute and I thought about making something much smaller and with different eyes, since I don't want a full size cushion. I brought some yellow thread and my crochet hook pouch downstairs this morning, planning to stitch one. Then I started thinking about needle felting a double-sided one to hang in the window. I took down the December decorations today and have some space in the front door window. I might still make a very small crocheted smiley face for a different purpose, but today I opted to needle felt.

Both felted backgrounds are made from roving with different colours running lengthwise and the faces and hair are yarn snips left from weaving in ends of other projects. I laid them out and felted them on. I made each face separately and then felted them together. I'll add a hanger and stick it in the window.

Hope your day is full of peace and joy, too!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Reading in December: Part One

Another year of reading commences! Yay! I look around me at the shelves and piles of books and smile at the happy hours that I will spend with them. I had many happy hours with books in December and here are some thoughts about a few of them.

Affluence without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen by James Suzman
This book is based on 25 years of experience working with various San people in the Kalahari region of Africa. These people were called ‘the original affluent society’ by anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, who built on earlier work by Richard Lee. The point was that people who lived in an economic system he called ‘primitive affluence,’ were satisfied with what they had and were not constantly grasping for more, more, more. This idea was picked up and popularized by some in the counter culture movements of the 1960s and some questionable work came out of that. The author states that, ‘What was special about the Bushman data was that it showed that they coped easily with relative scarcity and that they had mastered the art of not obsessing about whether the grass was greener on the other side, which--given that they lived in one of the world’s oldest deserts--almost certainly was the case.’ (pg 16) It’s no accident that when Sahlins was introducing his ideas, he ‘characterized hunter-gatherers as the gurus of a “Zen road to affluence” because the idea of not clinging and grasping is very Buddhist and quite sensible, in my opinion.
The author talks about the lifeways of the San, trying to understand the way things used to be by asking about stories and folklore. He has been going back to the region for a quarter of a century and has seen many changes in that time. Life is very different for these people now that colonizers came in and introduced cattle and farming. Racism, exploitation, rape and other forms of violence have impacted the San greatly. The gathering of wild food is now not always possible. The book talks about how things were, how they’ve changed, and makes the point that the way the San used to live was the way all human species lived for most of our evolutionary history. As agriculture developed, human societies did too--and not always for the better. One thing that struck me was the fact that for many San today, tea with 7 or 8 tablespoons of sugar is a common beverage and it’s what provides most of their caloric energy. The story is the same all over--once indigenous people become forced to give up their traditional foods and eat what the colonizers bring, their health deteriorates significantly. Anyway, I was curious to read this book. There’s no new argument, really, for anyone who has studied anthropology--even if someone has just taken an introductory course, there’s a good possibility that they’d have been familiar with the basic affluent foragers discussion. But it’s an enjoyable read nonetheless, as we meet the people he worked with and peek into their lives. It’s also sobering and very useful now, as we watch the climate changing. This drive towards constant growth and rampant consumerism are destroying the planet we live on. Constantly grasping for more stuff is harming individual people, families, and the planet.

The Spirit of the Buddha by Martine Batchelor
I enjoy listening to the author’s dharma talks and have read a couple of her other books, so I looked her up in the library catalogue one day and came across this one. In it, the author is interested in exploring Buddhist ethics as understood from the earliest written records currently available. She does not focus on the religious stories that were added to the basic canon as these ideas spread to other cultures and through time, although she does devote the last two chapters to the ways in which the ideas spread and how they are still useful to people today, both in monastic communities and among lay people. She begins with a chapter placing the person know as Buddha in the context and culture of his time. The author and her husband, Stephen Batchelor work in the realm of secular Buddhism. I like that. It’s very practical. She will often say that it’s all well and good to have some great insight while sitting on your cushion at a meditation retreat, but the real test is when you go home and are interacting with family, friends, co-workers, and neighbours in real life. The basics of Buddhist ethics can help us do that. I find these ideas very helpful in my own everyday life and they have been a great comfort to me during some extremely difficult times. The Four Noble Truths tell us that every life involves suffering at times. Most of the suffering comes about because we cling to certain outcomes or grasp at things we think we want/need rather than accepting what is in any given moment. There is a way to lessen our suffering. That way is the Noble Eightfold Path--right view, right thought, right livelihood, right speech, right action, right effort, right concentration, and right mindfulness. Different people will translate these 8 in slightly different ways. I am not a Buddhist. I don’t have a regular meditation practice in the traditional sense, although there are things I do that serve the same purpose for me. But I do try to live with an ongoing and evolving understanding of these ideas. This is a good book for someone who is interested in an ethical system that does not have religious overtones or who is simply curious about the foundations of Buddhism.

The Well of Ice by Andrea Carter
This is the third book in a series of cosy mysteries set in Inishowen. Glendara is the fictional village where much of the action takes place. I always picture Carndonagh--in spite of the few things that don’t fit, most of the descriptions sound like Carn. The book came out in October and I put myself on the list. It arrived at our wee local library the other day. Good timing. It is Christmastime in Glendara, but the festive season is shattered when the pub burns to the ground one night and an employee’s body is found in a remote location on Christmas Day by none other than Benedicta 'Ben’ O’Keeffe, a local solicitor and main character. Secrets are revealed, relationships tested, and lives are altered.

I hope 2018 has started off well for you and that there are many happy moments ahead!