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!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Bobo Snowboy

Last year, a woman discovered Bill's blog and started commenting on it. As a result, he went to her blog (Nana Diana Takes a Break) and started leaving comments. This started their conversation. I think he mentioned my creative work at some point and she said she makes snowpeople. Then, to our surprise and delight, she said she wanted to send us one of them. We expressed our concern about shipping costs and said that we would understand completely if she wanted to change her mind because of them, but one day the postman knocked on the door and handed me a box that contained Bobo Snowboy.
Isn't he fabulous? He came with an introductory letter:
I cross-stitched a Celtic knot design and attached a piece of sea glass, then made this into a thank you card, which we sent off to her.

After that, Diana and I started reading each other's blogs and starting our own comment/email conversations. It's interesting to me how the combination of old-fashioned handwork and technology can bring us in contact with people we'd never know about otherwise!

Thank you, Diana, for making Bobo and for sending him to live with us!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's a regular Thursday in November here, and we started the day with a bit of drama. Bill placed a food order the other night at Evergreen, the shop in Galway that we tried for the first time last month. I wanted to get a few things that we'd tried and liked so we'd have them around and to replenish my supply of a couple of the things I was getting low on. They dispatched the order yesterday and today was the expected delivery date. Last time, the courier didn't arrive until just past 5. This morning, Bill was greeted with an email saying the box had been delivered at 9:30 a.m. and signed for by someone named Dorothy at a place called SMG Company. Who is Dorothy, what kind of company is SMG and where are they located? We have no idea.

Bill contacted Evergreen and got a quick reply asking him to confirm that we did not know this Dorothy person. Bill confirmed this. The customer service person was quite upset, commenting that this is a service they pay for and this situation is unacceptable. She assured him that she would take care of the matter as quickly as possible. Shortly thereafter, Bill got a call from someone who wanted to know if he was Bill and if he was expecting a parcel. Who was this person and where did he come from? Again, we have no idea, but he showed up, Bill went outside to meet him and the box was handed over. So there's that sorted.

I've been thinking today about all I am grateful for and am reminded again that the list is long and I am a lucky woman. I am spending the 39th Thanksgiving with my favourite person on earth. I live simply in a beautiful place where all of my physical needs are met and all my material wants are satisfied.  I have wonderful friends and acquaintances who enrich my life. Such abundance!

If you're celebrating Thanksgiving today, I hope it's wonderful. If it's a regular Thursday, I also hope it's wonderful! Whether it's Thanksgiving or Thursday, I wish you a lifetime of things that give rise to gratitude.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Christmas Rose Brooch

Last night I settled in, stuck my ear buds in, started playing some classical Christmas music that I did not even remember I had, and started hooking. I began a project using scraps, but it became apparent after a few rounds that I would not have enough for what I wanted to do. It was still a useful attempt, though, because I discovered that I love the combination of the two yarns. As I was frogging (rip-it, rip-it), I came up with a different idea for using the two together, along with some other odd balls. Then I turned my attention to other things for a while. But my fingers were itching to be working on something, and when I went into the other room, my eyes fell on a partial skein of yarn that I'd pulled from the box under the bed. I grabbed that, settled back in, started the Boston Pops playing, and began again on a different idea. No worries about yarn quantities this time--there was plenty.

Once I was done, it was almost 2 a.m. and I decided to figure out what I'd use for the centre embellishment later in the morning. So I did, choosing a bead from a deconstructed bracelet Bill had picked up for me in a charity shop a while back--it was a perfect fit. I sewed that on, then sewed a jewelry pin to the back and it was finished.
The sparkly bits are the gold-coloured thread wrapped around the red yarn. This one is about 3 1/2"x4" so I can use it as a scarf/shawl pin, stick it on a hat, or wear it on a sweater.

This morning I rummaged around in the scraps and odd balls again to gather bits for my latest commission and I cast on for the hat a while ago.  I love my odd balls and scraps!

I hope you come across many small things that bring you joy today, too.

Monday, November 19, 2018


We went out for a walk this morning, looping around through town to the bring bank where we recycled a few tins and jars, then up a different road, coming back into town and home. It was a lovely autumn walk.

once green, but stands out more now
fewer boats at the pier
more boats in the boat yard
preparing to bloom
tree isn't quite ready to let go
bright blue
preparing for the next season
I hope it's a beautiful day in your part of the world!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Applesauce (Mango) Oat Muffins

A while back, a friend gave me a jar of apple mango puree, made from 80% apples and 20% mangoes. I figured I'd make some muffins with it and today seemed like the day. The puree was slightly thicker than the applesauce one can buy in jars in the US. Applesauce is not really a thing here, except at certain times of the year, when I have seen quite small jars of Bramley apple sauce, which has sugar in it. Bramley apples are extremely tart.

To make the muffins, I adapted a recipe for banana oat muffins that I'd written down, although I have no idea where I found it. It's quite a good recipe, with very little sugar and even that small amount is optional. These are good for snacks or to grab for breakfast.

Preheat oven to 170C (fan oven) or 350F

In bowl, mix together:
1 1/4 cup wholemeal flour
1 cup jumbo oats (US-old-fashioned rolled oats)--not regular porridge oats/quick cooking oats
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon each baking soda and salt
1 or 2 tablespoons sugar, optional

I added cinnamon, a small amount of allspice, and a sprinkle of ginger, but you can add some or all of these or not.

In separate bowl or measuring cup, mix together:
1 cup applesauce or fruit puree
2 tablespoons oil
1/3 cup milk
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until combined, adding a bit more milk or applesauce/puree if it's too dry. I added some shredded coconut and raisins at this point, but this is optional. You could also add nuts or different dried fruit.

Spoon into greased or paper-lined muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes.

I would have used some nutmeg in these, too, but I am out. Still, these seem to go with the season. Hard to believe Thanksgiving is next week! We'll be quietly celebrating here, even though it's just a regular Thursday.

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

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

I read about this book recently in a book email I got, although I forget which one. It sounded good, so I requested it from the library and finished it last night, glad to have read it.

First off, I love the cover art.
Can't really see from the picture, but the white areas are created from dictionary pages, which is appropriate for the story. Although red is not my favourite colour, I would hang a print of this on my wall.

Here's the description of the book from the back:

The book is set in the near future--published in 2014, there is a reference to things that happened in the past, during 2016, so we know it's at least a few years beyond that. Before he vanishes, Ana's father, Doug, starts to act even more eccentric than he often normally is, exhorting her to stop using her Meme, giving her tablets and telling her that at the first sign of aphasia, fever, headache, nausea, she should take an entire dose. She dismisses his concerns at first, but after he goes missing and she starts to try to find out what happened, she slowly comes to realize that his concerns were warranted.

She uncovers the sinister business practices of Synchronic, the company that has monetized words and discovers the people who are resisting as part of the Diachronic Society. She learns that Synchronic did not want the last edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), the book she and her father were working on, to be published and the lengths they were willing to go to in order to stop it.

The book is, in some ways, just a fun read and some of it is a little simplistic and pat, but that didn't diminish my enjoyment of it. In addition to some of the predictable interpersonal relationship stuff, though, the book is a celebration of language, words, and books. At one point, Ana says, 'Words are living legends, swollen with significance. We string them together to make stories, but they themselves are stories, encapsulating rich, runny histories.' (p95) Anyone interested in etymology can relate, I'm sure.

For me, it was worth the read for the celebration of language and the written word, the reminder that things--even important things--can slip away from us without us noticing, and that words and how we use them matter. We should pay attention to how we use words, but how others can be using them to manipulate, spread chaos, and feed their greed.

This was the author's first novel. I don't know whether she's written anything else. Based on the acknowledgements, she did a fair bit of research about subjects such as philosophy (particularly Hegel), computer viruses, brain function, linguistics, and how illnesses can spread.

The book was worth the time I spent with it. 😊 I hope you're spending some quality time with a good book, too!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Needle Felted Hat

Sooner or later, no matter what kind of fibre manipulation technique I am doing, I end up seeing how it will work for hat making. I have a bit of an obsession interest in hats. And socks. I have a drawer full of each. But, you know, there's always room for one more.

I've been thinking about a needle-felted hat for some time now. When Bill took advantage of a going-out-of-business sale earlier this year and bought a bunch of roving, 'hat' was the first thing to come to mind when I saw the balls of mauve-ish and blue-grey and mauve-ish and light brown that were a mix of merino and mohair. Before that I'd gotten some scraps of roving that he'd found online, some of which were beautiful mixes of colour which would also work well as part of a hat.

One of the things I love about needle felting is the abstract felt I can create with it. I like a lot of abstract art and collage and that kind of thing and this allows me to work that way, by layering and 'mark-making' (with fiber instead of paint, graphite, crayon, etc) but with the added quality of softness. It begs to be touched. That's one reason I work with textiles. I don't think I was always so aware of the importance of touch in what I do, but last year we went to an art exhibit that had a lot of abstracts and some textile work. I liked the abstracts well enough, but when I got to the textiles, I felt connected somehow. Then I walked over and looked at a framed print of one of the textile works I'd just been admiring and it left me cold, sitting flat behind the glass. Of course, I did not touch the original work, but I could imagine what it felt like. I learned something about myself that day and came away with a new understanding of how softness and texture play a big role in my creative process. The squish factor is more important than I knew!

So the other day, I sat down with a pile of various colours of roving, my foam pad, and my felting needles and I started stabbing. I randomly built up a rectangle, adding bits of this colour here and the other colour there until it was sturdy enough to hold together and long enough to fit around my head. I felted the ends together to form a tube and felted some more all over to get rid of any thin spots. I finished that last night and then this afternoon, I did an oval for the crown, felted it and the tube together, and then used a different needle to smooth things a bit to finish.  Here it is from different angles and on my head.

I had a lot of fun making this and am thrilled with how it turned out! It's so squishy, warm, and soft and it'll be great in the rain!

When I started this post, I was thinking that while I've crocheted, knitted, needle-tatted, and now needle-felted hats, I've never cross-stitched a hat. Aida cloth wouldn't really work well for that kind of thing. Then I thought, 'Ah, but you could make a hat using Tunisian crochet simple stitch and cross stitch on that!' Hmmm.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Quiet Sunday: Reading, Stabbing, Tea, and Leftovers

It's been a quiet day here. I like to meander through Sundays with nothing particular that needs to be done. I started a book--The Word Exchange, which I'm enjoying a lot so far--and spent a couple of hours doing some needle felting. I am almost done with a smaller piece that will include some cross-stitching when it's done and then I started a larger piece. I was stabbing that roving for two hours, most of that time on the larger piece. On that one, I just got a base strip made to the length I needed. There will be a lot more stabbing to come on this one, but I was pleased to have gotten a good beginning.

We had leftovers for supper, so heat and eat was the name of the game.

Before I get too far into the November book pile, here's the rest of the October book list:
Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay
I discovered this book at the local charity shop. I’d never heard of the author, but learned by reading the back of the book that she was a Golden Age author. She only wrote three novels, all cosy mysteries, but authored or co-authored several books about rural England, with a particular focus on crafts. All three of her mysteries were published in the 1930s. This is the first one. The third is a Christmas-themed one, which I also have and will read soon. I’m curious to see if the tone is different. This one surprised me a bit, because it had a comedic element to it, starting with the name of the victim--Euphemia Pongleton. Miss Pongleton was found on the stairs of the Belsize Underground Station, having been strangled with her dog’s leash. This was not the station nearest the boarding house where she lived, but she walked there to save a penny on the fare. She is an unsympathetic character and, while people are disturbed at the fact of murder itself, no one misses Euphemia herself. Her nephew, Basil Pongleton, is the main suspect, because he is due to inherit and, of course, has money troubles. The police are confused because some things don;t add up and he makes things worse for himself by concocting stories about what he was doing, involving other people, then having difficulty remembering what he said and to whom. This was an enjoyable read.

Peace of Mind: Becoming Fully Present by Thich Nhat Hanh
In this book, Thich Nhat Hanh reminds readers that we spend a good deal of our everyday lives sleepwalking, moving through our days without being fully present. He provides various thoughts and examples of things we can do to become more present. I came across this while at the e-book section of the library website. If you've read or listened to Thich Nhat Hanh at all, you won't really find anything new here, but I find that revisiting ideas can sometimes spark a new thought or make me think of something in a new way, so I don't mind reading the work of certain people, even if I'm already familiar with it. Thich Nhat Hanh is one such person.

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen
This book takes place in the waning days of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy during the Irish War of Independence in the early 1920s. The setting is a large house called Danielstown, which is modeled on the author’s childhood home, Bowen Court. The reader sees things through the eyes of Lois, who lives at Danielstown with her uncle, Sir Richard Naylor and his wife. She is 18, so coming of age in a changing world. The old ways are making way for a new, independent nation and there are tensions. Young British military men are frequent visitors to the country homes in the area and they bring their own sense of entitlement and arrogance to an already tense situation as they develop relationships with the people in the ‘big houses.’ One, Gerald, who is smitten with Lois, says at one point, “I mean, looking back in history – not that I’m intellectual – we do seem the only people.” This seemed to me to be a quiet book, with tensions simmering throughout, but also with some comical aspects in the form of the ridiculous behaviour exhibited by some of the Brits who are moving in the same social circles as the Anglo-Irish.

Spooky Stories by various authors
This came in one of the book-related emails I get--a small e-book of stories for Halloween. One was an excerpt from a newish book, once was specially written for this collection, I think, and not sure about the others.

I hope you're having a peaceful day, too.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Vegetarian (Almost Vegan) Shepherd's Pie

I decided to try making vegetarian shepherd's pie with some of the soya mince I recently got. I viewed it as an experiment and kept my fingers crossed!

The soya mince is dehydrated, so before use, it gets rehydrated in boiling water. I placed a cup of mince in a bowl and just barely covered it with boiling water. Then I left it to sit there while I went on to the next thing, which was chopping carrots into small pieces. I put these on to cook and chopped some potatoes. When the carrots were just about done, I added some frozen peas to the pot. When it went back on the boil, I removed it from the heat. When the potatoes were almost cooked, I added some frozen cauliflower that I'd thawed and chopped and let that heat through. I drained the peas and carrots and the soya mince and mixed them in a greased baking dish.
Then I made some gravy by putting a puddle of olive oil in a pan, to which I added a couple of onions, diced, a yellow bell pepper, diced, and a few cloves of chopped garlic. I cooked these in the oil, stirring around, until the veggies were cooked. As they were cooking, I prepared the bouillon.
We love this stuff! A friend gave me some a few years ago and I've not been without it ever since. I use it in soups or on its own as broth, but it makes a nice gravy, too. I find that it's best not to add it directly to the dish, because it lumps up, so I place some in a bowl, add a bit of boiling water, and whisk it well. I then add it to whatever I am making and it blends in better.
Once that was ready and the onion/pepper/garlic mixture cooked, I added a few tablespoons to plain flour, stirred it all into a lump, and added some water, stirring until thickened. Then I added some mixed herbs (thyme, sage, oregano, basil, marjoram, and parsley) and the bouillon, stirred it in well, and let it bubble away for a few minutes, before pouring the veg gravy into the baking dish and mixing everything up.
I drained the potatoes and cauliflower and mashed them up. Here's where this becomes non-vegan. I used butter in the potato cauliflower mash, but you could use a vegan spread and that would take care of that!

This was spread over the top of the veggie/mince/gravy mixture and placed in the oven for 10 or 15 minutes. I could have left it in longer so the top browned a bit, but we were hungry and everything was already piping hot going in, so we waited no longer!
 It is soooo good! Years ago, we used to sometimes buy Amy's Kitchen vegetarian pot pies, cook them, and dump them on a baked potato. The peas, carrots, and gravy reminded me of the flavour of the pot pies, although they used cubes instead of mince. The mince has no flavour, but absorbs the flavour of whatever is in the dish. It is mainly there for nutritional purposes and for 'chew.' It does give you the texture of turkey mince (or, I suppose, beef mince, but I haven't had beef in years).

There's plenty left, so it'll be the same tomorrow, but without the work! 😋

As I was making this, it dawned on me that I could make things a lot easier by using red lentils and what they sell as broth mix here--a mix of barley and various dried lentils and peas. I could just make the soup that I usually make with these things and various veggies in the slow cooker. It thickens itself beautifully and at the end, I add the bouillon and water. That would work just as well as a base for this, topped with the potato-cauliflower mash and baked. Or it would be a way to use leftover soup, since one batch goes a long way.

In any case, I consider this experiment a success! We both had seconds. 😉

Friday, November 2, 2018

Tea and Books in the Autumn Chill

We took a brisk walk to the shop today to pick up some more tea bags before the storm arrived. OK, we also picked up a wee bit of chocolate and a package of biscuits--and bananas. There was fruit! 😏

The wind was starting to kick up on the way home and it was chilly. I was thinking that last week, I dressed for a day like today and was too warm. Today I could have used a cowl and a heavier sweater. Oh well. I'd rather be chilly than hot.

We've moved from drinking lots of coffee every day to drinking a little coffee but many cups of tea in the course of a day. Bill has even floated the idea of taking a break from coffee and having tea in the mornings. I said I'd be OK with that. I'd always keep tea bags in the house, and sometimes had a cuppa, but I never knew which ones to buy. I tried some when we got here and wasn't wild about them--then had a gazillion tea bags sitting around. In the last place we lived, I found a gigantic bag of Punjana tea bags. We'd had that kind before when we lived in Maine and I knew they were good, so I bought a bag. Not many things come in large sized packages here, but tea is one of them. Of course, because we didn't drink that much tea, the 440 tea bags lasted a good long while. While we still had that bag, we moved out of the moldy apartment and into a house down the street and around the corner, where we found that the previous occupant had left a partially full box of Lyons Tea. There seemed no reason to waste it, so I figured I'd use them. I loved it from the first sip. Bill tried it and was equally smitten. We finished that box and then went back to the Punjana, which was not as good. By then we were nearing the end of the bag, so we made ourselves finish that before making the switch to Lyons. We've been through several boxes of 240 since we made the switch. It says on the box that it's 'Ireland's Favourite Tea.' I can see why.
I put this here so anyone who is interested in that kind of thing can see the part of the nutrition labeling here

I sometimes enjoy green tea with lemon or one or two herbal 'teas,' but mostly, it's black tea with a splash of milk. When I was doing the knitting/crocheting group at the library, the librarian would always make tea and serve us tea and biscuits. When he'd ask one attendee how she liked her tea, she'd always reply, 'With a splash of milk and no sugar. I'm sweet enough already.' And so she was.

As we all know, on a damp, chilly autumn day (or any other day, really) nothing goes better with a nice hot cuppa than a book. Here are a few more from October.

Textile Folk Art by Anne Kelly
This is a new book that’s full of inspiration, beautiful photos of incredible work, and short pieces about various artists and their processes. I loved this book.

Ghost Stories by E.F. Benson
For the month that’s in it. The author is most well-known for his Mapp and Lucia books. As I recall, I tried the first of that series years ago and didn't care for it, so did not read much of the book before I set it aside. I enjoyed this collection, though. I came across it in the e-book section of the library website and decided to give it a try.

The Almost Perfect Christmas by Nina Stibbe
This is another one that I found in the e-book section of the library website. I read the author’s previous memoir earlier this year, I think. Bill found that one in a charity shop. I liked it, so when I came across this one, which is a series of life stories about the author’s funny Christmas experiences, I checked it out. It was funny and I found myself reading passages aloud to Bill. I had already learned that Fairytale of NY (by The Pogues) is a favourite Christmas song among Irish people. I’d never heard of it and had to look it up when I first heard of it the first year we were here. It is a horrible song. reading this book I discovered that it’s apparently popular in the UK as well, along with something called Merry Xmas Everybody by Slade. I looked that one up as well, listened to the first minute or so and closed the page. It is also suckage. While some of the music she talks about in the one chapter is awful, the book was a lot of fun, and I’m glad I came across it.

Murder in the Snow by Gladys Mitchell (originally published as Groaning Spinney)
When I first came across the few Gladys Mitchell titles in the e-book section of the library, this was among them. I saved it for last because part of the story takes place at Christmastime. It was available in mid-October, so I just borrowed it then rather than waiting until closer to december when it might be checked out. In this story, Mrs Bradley goes to visit her nephew and his new wife at their new home in the Cotswolds. She meets some of the local people and those who work on the estate as they come to spend Christmas and Boxing Day at the nephew’s home. Shortly thereafter, the snow starts to fall and the bodies do, too. Mrs Bradley investigates.

Whether it's chilly or warm where you are, I hope you're enjoying some peaceful moments with your beverage of choice (hot or cold) and some fun reading!