Thursday, January 17, 2019

Woof! Woof! A Happy Surprise from Mr Postman

I was heating up some leftover soup for lunch when the postman dropped something through our mail slot. When I went out to the entryway, I saw a padded envelope upside down with 'fragile' written on the back. I thought maybe Bill had ordered a lens filter or some computer thing or something, but when I picked it up, it had my name on it. I opened it to find this wonderful brooch!
It was sent by my blogging/Facebook friend, Laurie, who blogs at Notes from the Hinterland and is the author of the YA fantasy Great Library series (Maya and the Book of Everything and Library Lost).

As you can see from the picture, the brooch was beautifully handmade by The Scrap Faerie. A few months ago, Laurie sent me a stitch marker also made by The Scrap Faerie (before the name change), which I love and use often. When I am not using it, I hang it nearby so I can look at it and smile.
I will wear the paw print brooch often as well. At the moment, I am wearing it as a shawl pin. It will also be perfect as a scarf pin. I can attach it to a hat or wear it on a shirt. Like the stitch marker, it will make me smile every time I look at it and use it! Thank you, Laurie, for the wonderful new year gift and the well-wishes that accompanied it--such a happy surprise that made my day!

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Water Just Keeps on Coming!

Every once in a while, when I turn on the faucet or take a shower, I think back to a couple of the years we lived in Alaska when we hauled our own water. We had septic tanks, so did not have to use an out house as many people did (something we especially appreciated when it was -40 or colder), but no running water. In one house, this was due to a hole in the underground water storage tank, which formed just after Christmas--when the guy built the house, he placed it on the ground in a small underground 'room' and it rusted through. We managed to pump out the 1000 or so gallons of water, but it was months before Bill could find someone to come and patch the tank. When he did, the guy came, climbed into the 1500 gallon tank and welded. The thought still makes me shudder! The cabin we had after that just never had running water installed, although again, there was a bathroom.

Luckily, many people around Fairbanks live without running water, so things were in place for us to haul our own. We got some 5-gallon and 7-gallon water jugs from the store and we were all set.

Water Wagon--they had small jug stations and stations where the water flowed faster for thise who were filling large tanks on trailers or in truck beds

Fox Spring--this place used to get so icy--it was quite something to carry the jugs of water and stay upright!
We quickly developed systems to do things without running water. Instead of showers, we would heat up water and fill pitchers, get into the tub, and throw it over ourselves, lather up, then dump more to rinse. When we were leaving Alaska, we set off in our truck with camping gear, a few belongings, two dogs and a cat. We'd gotten a late start, so planned to stop at a place in the Yukon for our first night. We'd stayed there a decade earlier when we'd been moving to Alaska and we had pets then, which was no problem. This time, with new owners, it was, so we couldn't stay there. Bill drove on until we found a rest area. There were no facilities, just a place to pull off the road, which a couple of RVs had already done. We pulled in there and slept a little bit. The surrounding scenery was breathtaking and made up for the bit of discomfort we experienced.

The next night, we stopped at a campground, set up the tent, and took turns having a shower while the other one walked around with the dogs. Bill went first and told me the water was really hot and the shower was long. I wasn't sure if it really would be long or if it just seemed that way because we hadn't taken a shower in so long. I made my way there, put in my quarter, and the hot water started flowing. I was used to being quick so I tried to slow down a little bit. I figured even if the water stopped, I could put in another quarter and have some more. But habits die hard and I was done in a fairly short period of time. The water wasn't done, though, and there was no way to shut it off. I did not want to waste it, so I tried to think of other things I could do while it was still going. Finally I just decided to stand there until it was done. It just kept on and on and on. It seemed like I might be standing there forever. Finally it stopped and I went back to our tent where we both marveled at the length of that shower. The dogs were eager to have their supper and get into the tent--they loved being in the tent--so we ate and walked and crawled into bed.

We still sometimes laugh about our response to that shower and how much we appreciated it after a couple of days on the road and a night sitting in the small truck. It's the little things.

I hope your day is filled with small moments of great joy!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

I Should've Had My Backpack!

We went to Donegal Town today so we could go to the library. As we usually do, we went to the Animals in Need charity shop and to Aldi before going to the library and then getting the bus back home. I brought a regular tote bag and not my backpack, since I planned to just pick up a pouch of coffee and a couple things of cheese in Aldi, and Bill had his backpack (full of library books) in case we found anything at the charity shop. So much for those plans!

The charity shop has an abundance of books. There were full shelves and overflowing boxes in front of the shelves. I bent down to look at what I could see on the bottom shelf with a box blocking some of the books in the corner from view. I found these.
I must admit that ancient Egypt is not a particular interest of mine, but of course, arts and crafts are, so I figured the book might as well come home with me. And I was quite pleased to find the W.B. Yeats volume--I had one that didn't make it into the bags when we moved to Ireland. As I recall, at the time, I figured that I could find a collection of his poetry once I was here and today was the day! It's a few inches thick, so of course I would find it on a day when I did not have my backpack and bags were full.

In Aldi, we ended up getting rather more than we expected. We figured we might as well pick up some jars of nut butter while we were there. Then as I went to grab a pouch of coffee, Bill pointed out the jars of chocolate and caramel flavoured instant coffee that they had. I sometimes get a hankering for flavoured coffee, but that isn't usually a thing here, so with a few exceptions, I just wait for it to pass. Given that these were located with the rest of the coffee and the brand name is the same as the Aldi coffee brand, I have some hope that this will be a regular offering in the store. They also had hazelnut, I think, but I skipped that and got a chocolate and a caramel. After we got what we wanted, we found ourselves in the centre section of the store, where the special buys are. These are things that come and go. At the moment, there are items left from Christmas, including the other two coffees--amaretto almond and Irish cream.
There was also gingerbread, which I didn't buy. These were on clearance and a different brand, so I don't expect to find them there whenever I am next in the store. Then, when we were heading for the till, I spotted the chai that I tried when I put in an order at a shop in Galway. In that shop, they had chocolate and vanilla. The first time, I tried the chocolate and liked it. When we did the next order, I decided to try the vanilla, and to my surprise, I liked that better, so I planned to get more of that whenever we put in another order. But there it was, in Aldi, and over a euro cheaper--another Christmas item on clearance, I think. I bought three of those, too.
Since we had rather more than we thought we would, Bill had to remove the library books from his backpack to fit in some of the goodies we'd gotten. Then the books had to go in another bag while I took some of the other food. To top it off, so much of what we bought is in glass, which is great, but heavy and tends to clink together in the bag! Next time we go, I'll bring the backpack even if I think I won't need it--and if I do that, I probably won't need it! But if I don't bring it, I'll wish I had it!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

This was my favourite December book. I found out about it when I read this review in The Guardian, which appeared at the beginning of December. I knew I had to read it. I sent the review to Bill, who felt the same and he requested it from the library. It arrived just before they closed for a couple of weeks over the holidays.
isn't the cover art beautiful?
Both of us loved this book. For me, it was one where I would sit down and be lost in it--I completely entered the world of the book and when I'd look up, I had to take a bit of time to adjust and get my head back into the world I inhabit.

The author and her husband, Moth, take a battering from life in a really short period of time when, in a matter of weeks, they lost their home, which wass also their business, and Moth gets diagnosed with a terminal brain disease. Since they have no income other than £48 per week in benefit payments, finding a place to rent is impossible. On the day when the people are pounding on their doors to force them out of their home, they are hiding in a cupboard under the stairs when Raynor spots a book about a guy who walked the South West Trail, and she says, 'Let's do that.' So they get some cheap camping equipment and set out, wild camping along the way.

Given the reason they set off on this experience, one could easily think this is a depressing book, but that is definitely not the case--far from it. There are some sad moments, to be sure, not least of which come from people's reactions to them when they find out they're homeless. Many people they encountered along the trail would ask them how they had time to do what they were doing. At first they would tell the truth--that they'd lost their home and business, so were walking the trail. People recoiled from them and scurried away as fast as they could go. They got into the habit of saying that they were having a 'midlife experience' and had sold their home so were free to take the time. People admired them and wished them well when they said that.

The review I linked to above does a good job of both describing the book and giving a peek into what Raynor and Moth are doing now, so I won't repeat what is said there. In short, the book addresses so many things in such a beautiful way. She describes the natural world they are moving through, their experiences of the different places and how those experiences change them. She gives insight into rural poverty and homelessness, which is often hidden. She reflects on their relationship with each other, how it is strengthened by this hardship and how her relationships with her grown children change. She is able to see the good things that arise from this experience and the ways in which she has been enriched by it. This is a really wonderful book.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Trying Tunisian Crochet in the Round

I've been wanting to try Tunisian crochet in the round for a few months now, but never got around to it until the other day. If you're me, the perfect way to try out a new technique is by making a hat and I had the perfect yarn for it. I'd found these two balls of wool in the charity shop in Moville over a year ago and always planned to do something with them that involved both colours and Tunisian crochet. I started and stopped, ripped back and started again, and set the project aside. I just wasn't feeling the love. The other night, I ripped that out and started over with the hat, which I finished last night while listening to a podcast about books. I am feeling the love now.

I can wear the hat either way--each side is different--but I will probably wear it this way almost always, because I like the green colour.
Here's the other side:
And here's the crown. I wanted a quick decrease and not a gradual one, so I did 12 decreases in each round once I started.
I really like the swirly look of that crown and now am thinking of other ways to use that kind of thing.

The brim is simply the regular Tunisian simple stitch (sometimes known as afghan stitch) but done with a double-ended crochet hook and two colours. When you work this way, you get a stretchy, rib-like fabric. When that strip was long enough to go around my head when slightly stretched, I slip- stitched the ends together and began working Tunisian in the round, using the same simple stitch. I picked up with the green until my hook was full, turned, and worked off with the rust colour, then turned and picked up more with the green, and so on. There's no joining at the end of the rounds, you just keep on picking up stitches and working them off around and around. It can be helpful to have a stitch marker to mark where you started. There are a bunch of youtube videos out there that show the basic technique quite clearly. Any Tunisian stitch or stitch combination can be used--the possibilities are endless!

So now that I've finally tried this technique, I am smitten and thinking about how else I want to use it. I am thinking about socks, fingerless gloves, baskets, and more. I'm always happiest when ideas are tumbling around in my mind, so this is good.

I hope your head is full of happy thoughts today, too!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Found in a Book

Two Doors Down by Annie McCartney
Bill came home with this book one day, having found it in the wee free library when he went to leave a few books in there. he said he thought I might like it. When I saw the title, it seemed familiar. My first thought was that I must be thinking of the band that Bill likes of the same name. Then I read the back and it dawned on me that I’d seen this listed on a BBC radio schedule once or twice. I may or may not have listened to an episode--I have a vague feeling that I might’ve, but not sure. In any case, I quite enjoyed the book. It did address some class issues, albeit in a sort of predictable way, but mostly it was just a lighthearted, fluffy read. Sally is a cleaner who works for several families on Marlborough Road in a section of Belfast. To her, they seem quite well off, although she later finds out they’re not as well off as some. She is quite a competent person who really keeps the dysfunctional families afloat--she smooths out ripples, keeps things in order, and the kids all love her. She keeps parts of her life hidden from them nonetheless, and when this causes some misunderstandings on all sides, she decides to take a different job in spite of her misgivings. Things do not go well for her or the families on Marlborough Road. Can they all resolve the issues they are facing and live happily ever after? You can probably guess the answer without me telling you!

Inside the book was this photo.
I'll donate the book to a charity shop, but I'm keeping the photo--not quite sure why, but I find it interesting.

The next book was less fluffy, even though the idea for it originated in a pub, according to the introduction:
Scribner Book of Irish Writing edited by John Somer and John J. Daly
I found this book in a charity shop a few years ago. It’s a nice collection of short stories by Irish authors. The editors wanted to have a sample of stories that illustrated the changing approaches to writing through the 20th century, beginning with Elizabeth Bowen. They included more well-known authors as well as those who are not household names--or at least weren't when the book was published. I must admit that the last story, by Neil Jordan, called 'The Dream of a Beast' was not one I enjoyed and it seemed to go on and on. When I finished it, I closed the book and said, 'What the hell was THAT all about?' I googled and discovered that I am not alone in my dislike of the story and puzzlement about just what was supposed to be going on. There were all kinds of explanations, and  while a few people loved the story, most thought it went on way too long and didn't have a whole lot to  say. I am in the latter camp and wouldn't read anything else by this guy, who is most well known for screenplays and movie stuff, I think. So the book ended on a bad note, but that was the worst story in the collection and since it's been thoughtfully placed at the end, one could just read the book and call it finished when one finished the story before it. I wished I'd done that!

I hope you're enjoying whatever you're currently reading!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Chocolate Chunk Raspberry Muffins

Yesterday, I made a batch of chocolate chunk raspberry muffins--yet another variation on the muffin recipe I have made in many different and delicious ways.
I made these the same way I made the orange cranberry version I posted about here with the following small changes:
Use milk instead of orange juice to soak the oats and add a teaspoon of vanilla (or almond) extract.

Use frozen raspberries instead of cranberries and chocolate chunks/chips (I used 100g, but add as many as you want) instead of nuts. Or use some nuts and some chocolate chips, if you prefer.

I don't think I've ever made these before, but I'll be making them again--they are yummy!

I was feeling a bit nostalgic when I looked at the post about the cranberry orange muffins, reading the bit about having snow and seeing my recently packed away snowman mug. We haven't seen any snow, but I did enjoy using my snowman mug during the festive season, sipping my tea while reading a couple of cosy Christmas mysteries that were in the mix for December.

Trouble in the Cotswolds by Rebecca Tope
I came across this book in a charity shop a few months ago and bought it, having read a few of the author’s other books, including one I found at the same charity shop that involved a Halloween storyline. This one takes place at Christmastime so I saved it for December and I’ll donate it back to the charity shop now I’ve read it. As it turned out, the days were even the same as this year, with Christmas Eve falling on a Monday, Christmas on a Tuesday. These are books that are enjoyable enough for me to pick one up when I come across it, but not something I would actively seek out. In this book, Thea, the housesitter and amateur detective, agrees to take care of a house over the holiday. things do not go smoothly, however, as Thea gets the flu, one neighbour is found dead, and another is a bit sinister. Happy holidays indeed!

The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay
I discovered a different book by this author in a local charity shop. I’d never heard of her, so looked her up. I found out that she was a Golden Age writer, but only wrote 3 mystery novels. Her passion was apparently rural handicrafts and she did a lot of research in that area and wrote several books. When I saw that one of her three mysteries was a Christmas cosy, I asked Bill to see if he could find a copy, which he did. The setting is pretty typical for such a book--big house, snow, family members and others who have uneasy relationships with one another thrown together for the holiday. The patriarch doesn’t make it through Christmas Day and based on the bits of angora fibre on his suit, it looks like Santa did it, shedding some of his fur trim in the process. I’ve packed this one away with the Christmas things and maybe I’ll revisit it in future. 

It's pizza night tonight and my crust dough is in the bread machine. I'll have some soup cooking overnight in the slow cooker and tomorrow I'll make some jalapeno cheese bread to go with it. I like having the soup done when I come downstairs in the morning because that gives me a couple of days of heat and eat suppers, which in turn means more time to read or to stitch. I can chop veg and get everything in the slow cooker while I wait for the pizza to bake and then just turn it on later. There's no meat in it, so don't have to worry about keeping it cold.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Blooms and Books

We've gone directly from autumn to spring it seems, and the flowers continue to bloom. The planters are already colourful and there are plenty more colours on the way.
keeping water handy :-)

One of the books I read last month was all about flower gardening:
A Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively
In this book, the author, a keen gardener herself, describes her own gardens and what they’ve meant to her. She reflects on how her gardening life has changed as she moved to different places and has aged. She also discusses gardens in literature, how the authors wrote about them, and how they approached their own gardens. I am not a flower gardener and no doubt someone who knows flowers and/or gardens themselves would have gotten a lot more out of it than I did, but even so, I enjoyed this book a lot. I am always interested in where people’s passions come from and how they are experienced. Bill and I have done a few different life story projects with artists and quilters in which this formed part of my interview questions. I see gardening in the same way I see other creative pursuits and I am always intrigued by what grabs poeple and why, so from that angle, this book was a fun read.

The natural world also played a large part in this poetry collection that I read a year or two ago and wanted to revisit.
Silent in Finisterre by Jane Griffiths

No gardens played any more than a peripheral role in the Agatha Christie books I decided to take another look at:
Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie
I read an article that I am pretty sure I found in a Lit Hub email about Agatha Christie--why she is so much more popular than other Golden Age authors, how her work stands the test of time, what her strengths are and where her weaknesses come to the fore. I have loved Christie since I was a teen and have memories of stocking up on her books before we’d go off on vacation, whch usually entailed a long car ride. Sometimes I was disappointed when I’d buy a book, thinking I hadn’t read it, only to discover that it was one I’d read with a different title. Back then, the books were either 79 or 99 cents--I’m not sure what accounted for the price difference. Now I have them all on my e-reader, so can carry them around without the bulk and weight. Anyway, in the article, the writer commented that many people think they know the stories as she wrote them, but what they actually remember are the TV versions. I know this is often true for me. I haven’t seen more recent dramatizations, but was quite taken with David Suchet’s portrayal of Poirot and Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple (she is Miss Marple--no one else comes close). There was a series of Miss Marples in the early 2000s, I guess, first with Geraldine McEwan and then with Julia McKenzie. In these, they changed storylines and endings, added Miss Marple to stories she did not appear in, and even combined her with Tuppence Beresford in one. These were quite different from the books, so I could see the guy’s point when I read that part of the article. In writing about the various plot twists in some of her better work, he mentioned this book. I vaguely recalled that it was one I saw in which Miss Marple had been dropped into the TV version even though she wasn’t in the book, but didn’t quite remember the book itself without the overlay of the TV version, so I decided to read it. The bare bones of the story are that on a dark and stormy night, someone appears at a big house and speaks to the family patriarch about his son, who had been convicted of the murder of his own mother and had died in prison. He had an alibi, but the person who could vouch for him never came forward, so he was convicted, became ill in prison, and died there. Enter the visitor, who has some news for the family. This news is not really welcome and he doesn’t get the response he expects. This is not a Poirot or a Marple.

Third Girl by Agatha Christie
This was another Christie mentioned in the article I read. Poirot is in this one and is called into service when a young woman comes to him, says she thinks she killed someone, then disappears.

The Hollow by Agatha Christie
It was apparently an Agatha Christie month. I think this book was also mentioned in the Lit Hub article I read and then it was also listed in someone’s blog post abot the books she’d read, so I figured I’d read it, too. This one is a Poirot. I like him, but I like Miss Marple better and through the years I have always wished there were more books with her in them and fewer with him. Oh well--apparently Christie herself loathed Poirot after a while, but her publishers wanted more of him, so she obliged.

I can't honestly say I am happy about this never-ending spring thing, but the flowers are pretty, so I'll just focus on those. I hope it's a lovely day in your part of the world!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience and the Fight for a Sustainable Future by Mary Robinson

Since we're at the beginning of a new year and can have hope for what it will bring, I decided to begin my recap of the books I read in December with this one.
I found it in the e-book section of the library website.

First off, I think she made a good choice when she decided to present personal stories to illustrate what people are already facing (and have been for years) with regard to climate change and how they are responding in positive ways. It is an effective way to show what is going on--the personal is political, but often hearing the personal stories of individuals and seeing how they're affected makes the political aspects of an issue easier for some people to swallow. She includes a wide range of people in this book from all over the world and who have different ways of life, including a guy who has always worked in the fossil fuel industry and is now actively working to support change and fellow workers at the same time.

A review in The Guardian said this:
'The global initiative took Robinson to myriad countries, where she spoke to women who share two commonalities: they predominately work in the agriculture industry and their lives have been crippled by global warming. Their message remained the same: those least responsible for climate change are suffering from its most detrimental effects – namely, droughts, flash floods, rising sea levels and changing weather patterns, which in turn lead to unpredictable harvest seasons. Robinson thus concluded that climate change, human rights, justice, equality and individual empowerment are all inextricably linked. This is the central argument that holds this concise yet insightful and optimistic tome together.'

and this
'Robinson’s lucid, direct style works because it gives a voice to those who have taken it upon themselves to tackle Earth’s most pressing problems. The book’s central message is a mantra worth repeating: individual local action can grow into a global idea, producing positive change. Put simply: it’s up to us to take immediate action if we want to prevent our planet cooking itself to death in the coming decades.'

I should point out that she does not only talk to women involved in agriculture, as mentioned in the paragraph above. She speaks to women in the US south and far north who have had their lives impacted by climate change. She speaks to the Australian founder of 1 Million Women. The fossil fuel guy I mentioned above is Canadian. By presenting the stories of this diverse group of people along with the scientific findings and predictions about what climate change will do in an accessible manner, she makes the point that we're all going to be affected by this. Right now, some people are already paying a price for the lifestyles those of us in wealthy nations enjoy, but eventually, it will catch up with us, too.

As I was reading about how wealthier nations resist large changes because they say it will hurt the economy, an argument that has always seemed nonsensical to me, I was remembering that old commercial for Midas Brake Shops, I think it was--you can pay me now, or pay me later. Some people are already paying and some will pay later if we don't wake up. But we could choose to make changes. These changes might mean living a bit differently, but won't we have to do that anyway--and if we do nothing now, those changes will be forced upon us. If we started now, we might have more leeway to direct those changes a bit.

I like her optimism in this book--she truly does have hope. I think she is more optimistic than I am about how people will respond, but I have learned how to balance hope and what I know about how human cultures work, so even as my head tells me that we've left it for too long and the changes required will be too great and have to happen too quickly for them to embraced by change-resistant people, in my heart I hold out hope that we still have time to alter the trajectory we're on. Weird stuff happens, so we still have a chance. I make choices in my own life with that hope at the forefront.

I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Blue Trees Are On, Mom!: Winter Stitching

When our daughter was very small, we lived in an apartment located at the end of a cul-de-sac of apartment buildings. Each building looked the same, with a step or two leading to a small covered porch and the front door. There was a railing around the porch roof to make it look like a balcony, I guess, even though there was no access to it from inside the building. At Christmastime, they'd put trees up there and they all had blue lights on them. She loved those trees and would sit looking out of her bedroom window as it was getting dark and eventually I'd hear her call out, 'The blue trees are on, Mom!' So I got into the habit of making her some kind of blue tree every Christmastime. This year, I had a cross stitch chart picked out, but then my plans changed. In October, she sent me a back issue of a cross stitch ornament magazine she'd found in a thrift store and there was a tree in there that I loved. I decided to stitch that for her. Unfortunately, the post was very slow this year and she didn't get the things I sent her until the day after Christmas, but I guess she can have it out for a few days anyway.
I might make one of these trees for myself in purple, but without the star.

Part of my autumn/early winter ritual involves listening to seasonal music and stitching seasonal items. Here are some more things that I made over the past few months. Some went to other people and some live with us.

crocheted fingerless gloves
rose pin
same rose as the pin above, but different yarn, button and finished as an ornament

granny trees

I loved this button on this snowflake, so I kept one for myself
I needle-tatted my way from one year to the next last night, working on a larger project that I hope to actually finish at some point. In addition to a few ongoing big projects, I have some ideas I want to try out. I am going to have to get myself into some kind of routine, now that my hibernation season has ended, so that I can get some things done--stitching and otherwise.

So here we are. 2019 is upon us. I hope the year is choc-a-block with wonderful moments, good health, and inner peace!