Thursday, August 29, 2019

Growing Veg in Containers

A Facebook friend asked me about growing veggies in containers, so I said I'd write about it. Honestly, I feel like I do very little, because I am not a very hands-on person when it comes to gardening. I know that some people are as passionate about gardening, whether flowers, fruit and veg, or all of these, as I am about reading and making stuff. I love that--I am always happy when I see/read about someone doing something they love, especially something creative, which gardening is. Our friend/neighbour loves flowers and the garden here and the pots and hangers are a riot of colour--so beautiful. I could not do that and I am grateful for the work that she and another neighbour do, because I get to enjoy it every time I look out a window or walk outside. I say all that just to let readers know that I am not an expert or even someone with much (or any) technical knowledge. I'm a person who shoves stuff in dirt or water and waits to see what happens. I don't go out and buy a bunch of stuff or read about how things are supposed to happen. I wait, watch, remember and then use that experience if I am doing something similar in future. So with that long disclaimer, here are some of my container gardening experiences.

Deciding What to Plant
I've become a bit more discerning about this over the years. In the past, I've lived in places where it hasn't been much of an issue, as it was weather and not climate that was a factor in whether things would thrive. I grew some tomatoes in Fairbanks, for example, in a large pot. Thegrowing season was short, but intense, because it never got dark. Our neighbours had a large garden, but they had to try to protect it from moose who would trample and/or eat the plants. I've grown tomatoes in other places in containers and they've done quite well. I never have good luck with peppers--bell or chilli--but that's probably just me. Here the climate is such that some things grow better in a polytunnel or only grow in a polytunnel, so I did not plant anything like that (so no tomatoes). I stuck with things that I knew would do well outdoors and that do not require a lot of fussing, like greens--lettuces, chard, spinach, mustard greens. I bought a courgette plant, just to see how it would do. We've had a lot of rain this summer, so many of them have rotted, but we have had baby courgettes and will have more. Same with cucumber seeds--an experiment-- but the cukes are doing better than the courgettes. I knew beetroot would do well, because people planted it in their allotments when we were in Moville. I also knew I could use the greens as well as the beetroot itself. There are various herbs in pots and in the ground around the place. Fresh herbs are wonderful to grow, indoors and out. In the past, in a different climate, I have also grown various winter squashes in large pots. It depends on what you like, what your climate is, how much room you have, and what you'd really like to have/preserve. One reason we choose to plant chard is that we love it, it grows fast, does not require hot weather, it's perfect for freezing, and we cannot buy it here, except for baby chard in some bagged salad greens.

I have used various sorts of containers in different places. In the past, someone we knew was getting rid of several large containers that were filled with soil. She was going to bring them to the landfill if we didn't want them. We did, so she brought them to our house instead. I've also used various household receptacles--a waste paper bin, for instance, with holes poked in the bottom for drainage was great for growing spuds. I've seen that people use the large metal trash cans for growing spuds, too, although I have not tried this myself. A sort of basket that would go on a shelf or desk worked well for parsley (until a cat came and began using it for a litter box!). Rubbermaid totes with holes poked in the bottom also work. We check the charity shops for things we can use--sometimes they have ceramic planters and sometimes we re-purpose other things. Right now, I have rosemary and scallions growing (indoors) in buckets that held 1 kg of yogurt. I poked holes in the bottom and use the lid as a tray underneath. For the bulk of our stuff this year, we are using window boxes that sit on top of the stone wall in the back.
a second planting of beans with beetroot in the bit of container visible on the right

chard after regular harvesting and a couple of plantings
lettuces earlier in the season

mustard greens--I also had a pot of these inside
There are also some things in pots the neighbourhood flower gardener was not using. The boxes on the wall allow us to reach everything without bending or kneeling. As long as there is drainage, you can use a lot of different containers, depending on what you have, what is available to buy, and whether or not appearance is important to you.

Planting Medium
This is always some form of soil (called compost here) and nutrients. When we were given the containers with dirt years ago, I mixed in some compost. This was another experiment. We could not have a traditional compost heap, but we had several totes, because we had mailed stuff to ourselves when we moved there and used those to ship stuff in. So we poked holes in the bottom (I see a trend here of poking holes in things--LOL) and just started putting food scraps, leaves, coffee grounds, grass clippings, etc in the tote. This worked beautifully. Worms entered through the holes in the bottom, which also provided drainage. The worms must've helped with the decomposition and the tight-fitting lid meant that no big critters got in. There was no smell, even in very hot weather (and it did get horribly hot in summer). When we were given the containers, we had the compost ready and mixed it in. At that time, I was growing beans in regular large plant pots and they were doing quite well. Someone told me the leaves were too yellow and needed nitrogen. She then proceeded to list the various things I could go buy. I thanked her and began putting a coffee ground/used tea bag mulch on top of the soil instead. Next time she saw the beans, she asked what I'd used, because the beans were green and doing great. When we got to Maine, we learned about worm bins and had one of those. They are excellent and can be used indoors. This year, I did not fill the containers prior to planting, but I'm told they were filled with a mix of soil, compost, and time-release organic fertiliser. I mixed in coffee grounds and tea leaves before I planted. As the season has gone on, I have saved used coffee grounds and tea leaves and spread those on top of the soil and I've chopped up banana skins and buried them. These could have gone in whole at the beginning, but I hadn't saved any.

I pretty much leave things to grow once they're planted. I water when necessary, of course, but this summer I've only had to do that a couple of times, because there has been ample heavy rainfall as well as a lot of mizzle. I do the coffee grounds and tea leaves as I said above. And for some things, like radishes and chard, I plant more seeds when I have a space after harvesting. This ensures that there will be an ongoing supply. In the case of the chard, I can plant more even into September and expect to have a crop through October, barring any freak cold weather.

Indoor Growing
I also grow in pots indoors. I mentioned the rosemary and scallions above. I always keep those on the windowsill. Scallions regrow and regrow, so they're nice. When I get a bunch at the store, I put them in a glass of water. When I use one, I stick the root end back in the glass or in a pot of dirt. All of the scallions and their roots keep on growing as they sit in the water. I've just planted some of these in a pot of dirt today. I have lots of scallions growing outside, but as autumn approaches, I want to make sure I have some inside as well. I also have lemon balm in the house--it's nice for 'tea.' Rosemary also makes a nice infusion. Garlic chives are easy to grow inside. Just stick garlic cloves in some soil, pointy side up. You'll see the green shoots coming up after a while. Scallions and garlic chives are easy to grow indoors all year and in the winter, some snips of each in mashed potatoes, on sandwiches and wraps, on top of soup, or sprinkled on hummus really add a lovely bright, fresh flavour. Mustard greens grow well indoors all year, too. This winter, I think I'm going to try to grow some chard indoors. It can be used at all stages of growth, so the leaves can be used in place of lettuce, if picked when small. I'm going to bring some oregano inside and stick a pot of that on the kitchen windowsill. You can also plant various seeds in a shallow tray of dirt and when they sprout, you have microgreens that can be used in various ways--radish sprouts have a nice, peppery flavour. Oh yes, I almost forgot the celery. I don't have one going at the moment, but there have been times in the past when I always had a pot or two of regrown celery in the house. It never grew huge, but it was perfect for snipping a bit off for soup or chicken salad or whatever. When I was done with a bunch of celery, or brought one home from a shift at the food bank, I'd stick the end in a shallow container with a bit of water in it. New bright green growth would start right away and roots would form eventually, at which point, I stuck it in dirt, let it grow, and snip some when I needed it. I'll have to start one soon.

That's pretty much it--poke holes, fill with dirt and coffee 😉 stick in some plants or seeds, wait, water if necessary, pick, eat/freeze. Happy eating!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Spuds! Yum!

There was a small pot of spuds in our container garden.
We ate them tonight as part of our supper with butter and pepper. So simple and so delicious.

My inner curmudgeon had a chance to come out this afternoon as we did a couple of errands in the sun and I roasted. Bill spotted some brand new hiking sandals--the kind with closed toes--in the charity shop. I looked at them, discovered they were the right size, and took them. Bill thought I wouldn't want them because they're neon pink. I'm not a fan of neon pink, but they'll end up being less bright as I wear them. I didn't actually need new hiking sandals right now, but a new pair for two euro was worth bringing home. I can save them until my others are worn out or wear these out and set the others aside or whatever. Soon after we got home, my friends the clouds rolled in and the rain soon followed. It feels much fresher now and my inner curmudgeon is back in hibernation.

I hope your inner curmudgeon has no need to come out today 😉

Monday, August 26, 2019

Winding Down

The container veggies are starting to look bedraggled now, as we move ever closer to autumn. I pulled a couple of radishes and had to discard others because it appears that they are being eaten by earwigs in the soil. I have more seeds, so might go ahead and plant some more--I've been succession planting throughout the last several months. Most of the lettuce is done now. The beans are growing well and have flowered, but I think maybe birds are eating the baby beans off the vines, because one day there's a wee bean and the next day there isn't. I have more beans growing in a different spot. I planted those seeds later, so it remains to be seen whether or not they will have time to grow. They're looking quite good so far. We have plenty of scallions. There are courgettes--small, but tasty. I picked one the other day. The cucumbers are doing surprisingly well and we have many of those on the vines. The chard grows like crazy and I went out and pulled a bunch of that after we got home from picking up some groceries this morning. There is still more growing and as that's a cool weather crop, I might as well go ahead and plant more in the newly available space. Unless we get some kind of freak cold snap, that should grow well for another couple of months at least.

I spent a bit of time in the kitchen this afternoon getting veg ready for the freezer.
Bill has to be careful about Vitamin K, so when I freeze K-rich foods, I do it in small quantities so I can take out as much as I need. If he can't have any and I want some in soup or something, I can take out one container for myself. I also like that I can see through them. My big freezer is pretty full, so I'll put these in the tiny freezer compartment of our under-counter fridge. I put containers of water in there to freeze, just to fill up the space because it seems like it'd be more efficient to have something in it, so I have plenty of room in there.

The chard cooks way down, so I got the two front containers from a pot full of raw chard. The other two containers have thicker chard stems, chopped broccoli stalk, and onion that I cooked in some olive oil. Bill can have a bit of K at the moment, so we bought a head of broccoli the other day. I used a bit on our Friday night pizza (along with onion, bell pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, and jalapenos). I cut up the rest this afternoon and got the two containers ready for the freezer. I cooked the rest of the florets, some smaller chard stems, and onion in a bit of olive oil and set it aside to use for supper. I'll mix that in with some smashed potatoes and we'll have it with omelettes.

And now, time for a cuppa, I think! Hope your day is going well.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Halloween Braid

The other day when we were in Donegal Town, we had time to kill before the library re-opened after lunch, so we went into the Animals in Need charity shop. I often find great necklaces there to deconstruct for parts and this was no exception. I found one that was a string of large turquoise beads and one that consisted of a chain with 5 black metal flowers joined together. As I was taking them apart, I glanced at the table with the 5 flowers sitting there and thought of Halloween. After I put away the various beads, chains, and clasps that remained from necklace deconstruction, I went to my embroidery floss and kumihimo disk, choosing orange and black thread and setting up the disk. I spent a very enjoyable evening braiding with the Halloween colours and listening to podcasts as I thought about whether I wanted to add anything else at the end. I decided to keep it simple and just attach one of the metal flowers to the braid, which I made long enough to slip over the head without a clasp. I was working on other things for a couple of days, but I finished the braid this morning and sewed the flower on.   I love the simplicity of it.

The weekend before Halloween is a holiday weekend here and the time when we move the clocks back. There was some discussion of scrapping the time changes in the EU, but that might not happen here due to Brexit. People wouldn't want to be in a different time zone than Northern Ireland. I love winter time and hope it stays, but I suspect that, for many people here, there will be bigger things to worry about than the clocks as Brexit occurs on 31 October!

Friday, August 23, 2019

Chilling on the 39th

Today is our 39th anniversary and it's time to chill, according to Bill and the sloth he spotted in a shop window and brought home for me.
This peaceful gal came with an acknowledgement that I have already used up my annual quota of warm/hot days, limited to 31, and I will soon be able to chill and be chilled at the same time. Yay! And if I needed further reminders that my happy time is on the way, the trees were happy to provide them.
Happy Friday!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Maud West, Lady Detective

We did a quick run to Donegal Town today to drop off and pick up at the library. I was overjoyed to see that the there were some clumps of fireweed along the roadside that have already gone to seed. Some leaves were changing colour, too. I remember from last year that things change a tad sooner there than here, even though it's not that far between here and there. Still, I am thrilled to see any sign that autumn is heading this way!

One of the books I returned to the library was this one:

The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective: A Remarkable True Story by Susannah Stapleton
I heard of this book while listening to an episode of the Shedunnit podcast, which I love. What a great book it is! I was pulled in from the start, as the author explains how she began this project. She writes that she takes a couple of weeks off every winter, makes a nest by the fire, and reads Golden Age mysteries—a woman after my own heart! One year, she just couldn’t get into the pile of books and after starting and stopping a few times, she finally gave up, set Mrs Bradley aside, and started wondering whether there were any actual lady detectives around over a century ago. She started clicking around and came across a newspaper blurb about a talk Dorothy L. Sayers gave at the Efficiency Club, which, on that particular night, was being chaired by Maud West, a real-life detective. The hunt was on. 

The book is really well written and intertwines different things around the story of Maud’s life and work as a 'lady detective.' She began doing such work sometime during the years of 1905 and 1909. The author tells Maud’s story, but also gives readers a sense of how she managed to track down information about Maud, which was scarce. As she gained more understanding, the author sometimes had to revise her opinion of Maud’s life, personality, and character. She provides a social history when she describes the times, places and culture in which Maud worked . Many of the things she described were familiar from some of the mysteries written in that era and I can see where some authors got their plot ideas! The chapters are named after Golden Age mystery book titles and in between each chapter is one of the stories written by Maud for various periodicals. These were probably sensationalised, but also possibly contained grains of truth about certain cases and her work.

I’m so glad I heard about this book. I loved it. If you're at all interested in the culture of London at that time, Golden Age detective fiction, or women's history, this would be an informative and entertaining book to spend some time with.
cover pictures showing Maud at her desk in the centre and in disguise in the corners

one of Maud's ads
Here's hoping your reading pile is filled with excellent reads, too!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Summer Breeze

The wind has picked up these last couple of days and I've been grateful. Even if the sun is shining and it's warmer than I'd like, a breeze or light wind makes things less uncomfortable. Bill commented that it was a bit nippy today. I couldn't go that far, but I said it felt like we were possibly nearing the verge of  nip. 😀 

August in Ireland has always reminded me a bit of August in Fairbanks. In both places, there is fireweed to watch as the blooms move up the stem as the summer moves towards autumn. In Fairbanks, August was always the month when that first real nip would appear. I used to let the dogs out every morning and sniff the air to see if there was a hint of the crispness that the short autumn would bring. The leaves would start to turn. I am seeing the first hints of that here. Of course, the big difference is that in Fairbanks, it really was the beginning of autumn and by October, if it hadn't yet snowed, we knew it soon would. It's a teaser here and it won't last. It will get sunny and too warm again. But I'll take what I can get. No matter the weather, it is getting dark earlier at night and light later in the morning. It makes me happy to see it getting dark at 9ish now instead of 11ish. I was awake (briefly) at 5:15ish this morning and it was as light as it had been at 4 a month and a half ago. And it was breezy enough that I could close the bedroom curtain to block out the light and still breathe. Yay! As is usual for me, I feel much better in August than I did in July.

We went off to get some veg from veg man's stall this morning. The sun was sort of shining and the breeze was blowing. Good day for a sail.
But by the time we were on our way back a little while later, the sky had darkened.
the backside of Main St
After I stopped to look at the building colours popping under the dark sky, I looked over and saw these wee hydrangeas.
The hydrangeas here grow in such rich colours, like deep red, neon pink, bright blue, and purple. I love them.

When we were almost home, we felt a few raindrops, which quickly turned into a shower. The wind was at our backs, so that's what got wet. Since I couldn't sit down without soaking the chair, I changed as soon as I got home. That's OK. It was a nice refreshing brisk walk, which I enjoyed. The sun came out again as soon as we got inside. Since I don't have to go out in it, I'm OK with that!

I hope it's a pleasant day in your neck of the woods, too.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019


This weekend, Nicki, a friend in Maine, is realising a dream that she and her family have been working towards for a while. They're having the grand opening of a shop in Winthrop, called Freckle Salvage Company. They've been selling vintage items at fairs and on ebay and now they'll have their own brick and mortar space on Main St as well. They'll be offering vintage items and will be supporting other local small businesses by having their products and art/craft items available. The grand opening will be Saturday.

I'm always thrilled when people can follow their dreams and if I could be there in person on Saturday, I would be, but since that's not possible, I sent some stitching to wish them well.
I needle felted the base using off cuts of roving and did some 'quilting' to add texture. The words were cross-stitched on scraps of aida cloth and sewed on. Then I embellished with beads and bits, mostly from deconstructed necklaces I've picked up at charity shops. The hanging loop is a brass ring from a loaf of barm brack, a raisin bread that is available here during the few weeks around Halloween. The 'kid with the freckle,' after which the shop is named, was born near Halloween and it's one of Nicki's favourite times of year, so I wanted to include a small seasonal bit.

I am so happy for these wonderful people and I wish them great happiness and success as they begin this chapter of their lives.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Wee Pottery Jug

We were in Donegal Town today, so we called in at the Animals in Need charity shop. The volunteer woman was almost buried under bags of donations so we were happy enough to make some space. Bill found a pair of pants--they have lots of pockets, which he likes. I picked up a couple of books. Oddly, one of the books I picked up was one I had reserved in e-audiobook format. I try to not have too many audiobooks checked out at one time and I have one downloaded already. I have others reserved, but they are not due to be available for weeks. One came in early, though, so that gave me two, plus one that was going to be coming in tomorrow. I decided to cancel that reserve and look for it again some other time. When I saw that very book in the charity shop, I bought that. Weird timing.

Bill spotted this wee jug and I told him we'd take it. I love it.
It's a handmade piece--potter's mark is on the bottom. I find some pottery videos weirdly relaxing, so sometimes I sort of zone out and watch someone create a cool bowl, vase, cup, or whatever. As we were waiting for the bus and I was looking at this, I thought about how I have some idea about how it was made because of those videos and this makes me love it even more.

The first thing I picked up was the yarn--it was a good day for yarn. These are all wool. I've thanked a sheep, although this is probably old enough that whatever sheep created it is now no longer with us.
I never leave that charity shop without checking the necklaces to see if there are any to deconstruct for beads. I was not disappointed today.
The middle one was in the free basket--love that shell and all those tiny wooden beads. The tubular beads in the necklace on the left feel like bamboo and the round ones are wood. The necklace on the right is hard to see, but there are three large glass beads and a bunch of smaller ones.
I also like those little metal separators--they come in handy as embellishments in their own right.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I took my new upcycled bag for a test run today. As I was stuffing wool into it at the charity shop, the woman commented, 'That's a nice bag.' 'Thank you,' I replied. I told her it was a cushion cover that I'd turned into a bag. 'No way!' she said and asked me if I made the handle. I nodded and an older woman craned her neck to look. 'Sure it was a cushion cover! I have those very cushions at home!' she said. They commented on how clever it was and were still talking about it as we walked outside. Made my day.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Upcycling: Cushion Cover to Tote Bag

Last month, Bill picked up a set of 6 cushion covers from the local charity shop, because he thought I'd like the fabric. I do like it and might end up cutting one or two up. But the first thing I did was to get a couple of blanket wraps that I am not using right now--one is in Christmas colours, so I only use it for a month or so out of the year--and put one in each of two cushion covers. They fit perfectly! I like sitting in bed looking out the window at the treetops, the water and the hills beyond while I listen to stuff and stitch in the evenings/nights. I am much more comfortable with my 'pillow' behind my back.

When he first brought them home, I thought that they'd make good bags. The fabric is sturdy and the zipper is at the top. I plunked the idea into my mind and let it simmer. The main thing was deciding how I wanted the straps to be. By this afternoon, it had simmered enough and I rummaged around in my yarn scrap collection to find some black and some grey. I grabbed my 10mm crochet hook and got started. Holding two strands together, I chained a lot. I think I stopped at 270ish. I made a triple crochet (US terms) in each chain, starting in the 4th one from the hook. Then, I turned and did surface crochet slip stitches back to the other end, then turned again and did the same thing back again. I find that the surface crochet chains provide some extra sturdiness and the handle is less stretchy. Then it was just a matter of sewing the straps to the bag. To do that, I used 4 strands of size 30 crochet cotton, just to make sure it was very strong, since I was sewing by hand. I'm quite pleased with how this turned out and I think the bag will be handy. I'll do a test run with it tomorrow.
it actually does lie flat, I took the pic before I noticed the waviness--the grey stripes on the strap are the two rows of surface slip stitches
I hope it's a nice day in your neck of the woods.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Quiet Interlude

I stopped what I was doing for a few minutes this afternoon to stand in the doorway and enjoy the rain, fresh air, and the view. What a beautiful, peaceful, and refreshing interlude it was.

colours dazzle
through curtain of rain
view from the doorway

I hope you have moments of quiet beauty in your day, too.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Nonfiction and Deconstruction

In addition to the short story collections, haiku, and fiction that I read and listened to in July, I had a few excellent nonfiction titles in the mix as well. Here they are:

Walking: One Step at a Time by Erling Kagge
Reflections on walking, whether it’s to work on a weekday morning or across Antarctica. The author draws on his own experiences as a walker to consider how walking improves his life and his ability to see things in a different way. Bill and I, both walkers ourselves, could relate to a lot of what he was saying.

Constellations: Reflections from Life by Sinead Gleeson
I used to listen to Sinead Gleeson when she was host of The Book Show on RTE Radio 1. A few years ago, she edited a collection of short stories written by Irish women, many of whom had been forgotten. Bill bought me that book, called The Long Gaze Back, and it’s a great book—definitely a keeper. Shortly after that one, she edited a collection of short stories by women from the north of Ireland (if I recall correctly both Northern Ireland and the northern part of the Republic of Ireland) which was also good. When I read an excerpt of this book, I went right to the library website and added my name to the queue. I waited a while, but it was worth the wait.

The book is an essay collection that adds up to a sort of memoir. It is structured around the author’s experiences inhabiting a female body in Ireland at a particular period of time. As a child, she was diagnosed with an uncommon problem that required many operations and caused her to be in a lot of pain. She missed a lot of school and spend a good deal of time alone in bed, recovering. Books, she tells us, were her friends. As an adult, she had other health issues that have shaped her life. While she organises the book around these physical traumas, she also connects them, as stars are connected in our minds to form constellations, with books, art, religion, memory, relationships, and more. Great book!

 Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? by Bill McKibben
I first became aware of this book when Lit Hub published an excerpt. I looked at the library, but it wasn’t in the system. I kept checking back until a few weeks later, there it was. I placed my hold. The central question of the book is there in the subtitle. McKibben discusses this question in relation to the climate emergency currently underway, as well as the ongoing development of AI. He’s been sounding the alarm about climate change for 30+ years now, so that part of the book is a continuation of that work. He points out that we have a narrow window of opportunity to minimise the damage, but that time is running out. He lays out some of the structural obstacles to meaningful change put in place by various governments and he wonders whether there is really a will on the part of people, especially in wealthy nations, to make the necessary changes. He tells the reader about a collaboration between poets, one from the Marshall Islands, which is already contaminated due to US nuclear testing and one from Greenland, which is melting (with the highest level of glacial melt in one day just a few days ago). he provided excerpts from the poem they wrote together and it is powerful. We would all do well to listen to what they have to say. I went in search of the entire poem, and found this video of the poets themselves speaking it. 

When he moves into the AI segment of the book, he gives an overview of what is going on with that technology and shares the views of some of the people working in and funding this area of research and experimentation (and some of them are pretty out there). He does all of this to then ask the question, ‘Is this really a good idea?’ From there he proceeds to tell readers what some of the dangers are, including the possibility that the technology will eventually evolve into something beyond human control. This wasn’t a fun, fluffy read, but it was a very interesting and thought-provoking book, which poses questions that we should all be considering. I’m glad I read it. 

I deconstructed my newly acquired charity shop necklaces yesterday and got the beads and other pieces into containers, so now they're ready to go whenever inspiration strikes.
You can just see one tiny metal bead by itself off to the right of the chains. I had a whole pile of those, but I'd put them in a container before I took the picture. 

I thought the colourful pile of wooden beads--all from one necklace--looked pretty cool as it sat there in an abstract sort of way.
It's the summer bank holiday weekend here, so of course it rained. This made me very happy, of course, and I hope there's plenty more where that came from, but I did experience a twinge of feeling for the firefighters down the hill, who are doing a car wash fundraiser. Yesterday, when it was sunny, warm, and dry might have been a better day for them. Anyway, I enjoyed the rain shower, finished a book, and might cast on a sock shortly. I hope your day brings plenty of simple pleasures, too.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Cosy, Comic, Creative

There were times in July when I was so tired that I felt like I couldn't really focus on much of anything. At times like that, it's nice to have comfort reading. For me, that usually means Golden Age or cosy mysteries and short stories. I posted about the short story collections I read yesterday and here's the mystery portion of my July reading.

Overture to Death by Ngaio Marsh
As part of my July ‘comfort reading’ I turned once again to Golden Age detective fiction, continuing on with Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn series. In this novel, a community theatrical performance does not go as planned when, as soon as the prelude beings, the piano player winds up dead. Alleyn is called in, since (of course) the local force is stretched thin and the case is complicated.

A Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh
Luke Watchman, a well-known barrister, is off on a holiday to the Devon coast. He is looking forward to the annual meet-up with his cousin and a friend. Sadly for Luke, his holiday doesn’t last long, because he is hit in the finger with a dart during a bet and succumbs to potassium cyanide poisoning. Roderick Alleyn is called in to investigate.

A Surfeit of Lampreys by Ngaio Marsh (published in the US as Death of a Peer)
The large Lamprey family, back in London from New Zealand, is short of money—a usual state of affairs for them. They’ve decided that the only way to get out of the current mess they’re in is to call on the father’s brother, who has the family money, home, and title, and ask him for help. This guy does not think well of his brother or the rest of the family and when he arrives at the Lamprey flat, things do not go well. He angrily storms into the lift to leave, but by the time he makes it to the ground floor, he has suffered a gruesome injury. He hangs on a little longer, but in the end, Roderick Alleyn is called in to investigate the murder.

I'm frequently torn between spending time stitching or reading. I know some people do both at once, but I've never been able to do that. Happily, the library has an e-audiobook section that allows me to download audiobooks at any time of the day or night. This is a good solution, as long as the reader is good. I've returned books without listening beyond the beginning when I found the reader annoying, but I've also listened to several good books, including this one:

 Amy Wingate’s Journal by Marcia Willett (audiobook read by Phyllida Nash)

I wasn’t sure about this book when I saw it. I decided to give it a try, since I could easily delete it if I didn’t like the story or the reader. Turns out, I quite enjoyed both and I was soon into the story and, on more than one occasion, unable to stop laughing. I am not familiar with this author’s work beyond this book, so I don’t know whether the humour is usual. Phyllida Nash was an excellent reader, too, and she might have had something to do with why I thought parts of the book were extremely funny. That’s not to say it was a comedy, though. I’d be laughing one minute and then feeling a bit of heartache a few minutes later. I also smiled when the main character mentioned at one point that she was listening to Allegri’s Miserere, which is one of my favourite pieces of music.

The story is written in the form of a journal, as you can tell from the title. Amy Wingate is a middle-aged former teacher who has taken early retirement. She lives in a ‘tall, thin, house by the sea’ and has bursts of rage that she finds inexplicable. She seeks advice for this and it is suggested that she keep a journal. She decides to give this a try at the same time that events in her life begin to demand more of her time and attention. The journal is a way for her to process what is happening and her thoughts and feelings about these events. This process naturally leads her to consider how events from her past have impacted her life. She attempts to keep things buried, but as she keeps writing, more comes to the surface.

I enjoyed this book a lot and I’m glad I gave it a chance.

 I'm definitely a listener and not a watcher--I don't have a TV or go to the cinema. I subscribe to a bunch of  podcasts and regularly check for new audiobooks to download so I'll always have something to listen to while I stitch. I also keep my eyes open for stitching supplies, and I had some great luck in that regard this week.

The other day, we called in at the Animals in Need charity shop in Donegal Town. I always check their 1 euro board that has necklaces pinned to it--it's where stuff goes that has not been selling. I chose a couple of necklaces for the beads.
As I was paying, I noticed a basket on the counter. It was full and had a sign on it saying 'free to good home.' 'Well,' I thought, 'I have a good home and I quite like this metal bit.'
I pulled it out and discovered this:
the beads that look like a copper colour are really more pink
I don't want the fabric flower bit, so will take that off and keep the metal piece it's glued to. As I was pulling this piece out, more beads caught my eye, so I took those as well. There was more there than I thought, having only seen the wooden beads while it was in the basket.
Yesterday, we walked down to our local charity shop. We go every couple of weeks to see if they have any plant pots that aren't too small, since the number of houseplants we have keeps growing. We were lucky and found one. I also scored a couple of necklaces there.
the necklace on the left is all metal and the blue flowers have round metal pieces and jump rings on the back
I'll deconstruct all of these, saving the findings, chains, and all other usable parts as well as the beads and other bits. I've got a couple of things in progress that I was stalled on and some of these parts will be perfect for embellishing those. I was going back and forth about how to finish them and now I know. I'm really pleased--I found some great stuff to work with, supported community projects and animals, kept stuff out of the landfill, and none of this came with any packaging, as it would have if I'd bought beads or findings online, so no packaging for the landfill, either. Wins all around!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Short Forms

I did a lot of  'comfort reading' last month, much of which was short form work--short story collections and haiku.

Turbulence by David Szalay
I came across this collection of linked short stories when scrolling through the e-book section of the library website and it sounded intriguing, so I borrowed it. I’m glad I did! All of the stories involve journeys by plane, beginning in London and moving around the world to Madrid, South America, Hong Kong, Vietnam, India, the Middle East, Budapest, and back to London, to the same flat in which the book opens.

Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang
This was a new addition to the short story offerings in the e-book section of the library website. The author was born in China and moved to the US as a small child. The stories are about the immigrant experience, how people navigate that, and the struggles to adapt. Some of the stories were a bit weird, but I really enjoyed the book.

The Matisse Stories by A.S, Byatt
I came across this book while checking the e-book section of the library website. Each story was inspired by a Matisse painting. I was particularly partial to the one involving a textile artist.

Between the Leaves: New Haiku Writing from Ireland, edited by Anatoly Kudryavitsky
I’ve always been interested, in a general sort of way, in haiku. I was looking up something related at the library, which I didn’t find, but I did come across this book and the fact of it intrigued me—a Japanese art form, written by Irish people, and edited by a guy with a name that seems like it could be Russian. It’s so cross-cultural. A few of the poems in the book took my breath away. I enjoyed it a lot.

Haiku Inspirations: Poems and Meditations on Nature and Beauty by Tom Lowenstein
Bill came across this book when he was looking for something else and bought it for me as a surprise. What a lovely book it is! It contains examples of haiku, along with lots of contextual information. The book does not get bogged down in a deep discussion of every aspect of the form, but rather gives general overviews of the historical context in which haiku developed and the cultures in which it evolved. There are brief biographies of a few well-known haiku practitioners and examples of their work. There is a section on Zen Buddhism and how that influenced the form. There is also a lot of beautiful artwork. I love this book—so glad he found it!

Happy August!