Thursday, April 30, 2020


I won't name the worst place I ever lived (it's in the US), but I will say that I spent 5 years and two weeks there and by the time I left, I was a changed person. I reached the lowest point of my life so far during that time, but I cannot say I am sorry I lived there. I learned valuable lessons that I carry with me to this day. I am scarred, but wiser. You know in that old Helen Reddy song, I Am Woman, when she sings, 'Yes, I am wise, but it's wisdom born of pain. Yes, I'll pay the price but look how much I've gained.' I feel like that about the place. Did my time, learned a lot, was grateful to escape, not going back.

There was much I did not like about the place--almost everything, in fact. It was not a landscape I found appealing (classified as high desert, there was a lot of dead looking stuff all the time, which was apt, I suppose). It was not a culture I found appealing, either. I was not the only one. Many people who came from elsewhere disliked it and left, as we did. That may be one reason why the place stayed stagnant. The local people were resentful of outsiders and, in fact, wanted to secede from the state and form a new one. Sometimes it was all quite funny, but mostly, it wasn't. People wanted to either keep things as they'd always been, whatever that means, or go back to the 'good old days.' Sound familiar? One guy who had lived in the area his whole life once told me he was proud to be ignorant and that they didn't 'need no people from the east coast coming here and telling us what to think.' I'd gone there from Alaska, but figured that, given his celebration of his own ignorance, it probably wouldn't be useful to tell him that I came there from the north. I also declined to say out loud what I was really thinking, which was that I never tell people WHAT to think, but I would suggest that he give thinking a try. He might discover that it's an activity he enjoys. Hope springs eternal.

There were gripes among the locals, though. There were stores everywhere, but there were not enough places to shop. This was a common whine which was related to another complaint--that people did not go there because the town isn't located on the main highway corridor. Once, I did lose the run of myself and, after the gazillionth time hearing this, I responded without thinking, 'That's not why people don't come here.'

Anyway, that's the background for this poem that I wrote when I was in this ugly place.
The color
of a landscape
too long

Dried up.
for vision
new ideas
and people
who do not
look over 
their shoulders
at yesterday
but ahead
to tomorrow
and what is

Those with 
deep roots
endlessly repeat
their exclamations
of beauty and
their fierce attachment
to what has always been
and still is
only in their imaginations.

Those who 
have transplanted themselves
are not content
to be dried up

They search 
for water,
new ideas,

Who do they 
think they are?
There’ll be none
of that here.

Things must
the same
as always.
But maybe with
more shopping.

this picture was taken today in our current home--half a world away from the ugly town in more ways than one!
It's Poetry Day here today, and I think, the last day of Poetry Month in the US, so enjoy a poem or two for the day that's in it! 😊

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Wonderful World Wednesday

dungloe river

dungloe river

river trail with dungloe lake on the left
bursting open
dungloe river in the sun

very pink
Enjoy this day, wash your hands, and stay safe! Thank you for doing your part to keep others safe.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020


This is another poem I wrote back in the day.


Invisible kitchen spirit
stands stirring oatmeal
at 6 a.m.

No one sees her there
stirring, poaching, brewing,

No one says
thank you.

No one notices
the food does not appear
on the table before them
promptly at 6, 12, 5.

Invisible kitchen spirit
visible only
in your absence.

I wrote it in honour of my Nana, who was not appreciated by my grandfather. He was very patriarchal and at times, childish. He expected his breakfast to be ready when he got up, so Nana would get up very early to make his oatmeal, poached egg, and coffee--he had the same thing every morning. Then lunch had to be on the table at noon on the dot. Once, when I was staying with them, Nana was not home at noon. When we got home about an hour later, grandpa was having a snit. He yelled at Nana for not having been home to put his lunch on the table. She said she'd get it right then, but he said it was too late; he would skip lunch and it was her fault. The rest of us enjoyed our lunch without him.

Supper had to be on the table at 5 o'clock. Wednesday was pasta. So was Sunday, but the big meal was at noon on that day. Friday was fish. No deviations were acceptable.

He never appreciated all of the ways she took care of him. This always made me sad, partly because I always knew she deserved better and partly because I appreciated her. I am not sure I would be here now if not for her. As a small child, I was once asked to name the person I most admired. I named Nana. She had a huge influence on the person I became and I as I go through my day-to-day life, I am frequently reminded of the many ways her way of life rubbed off on me.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Venturing Forth

We went out for our walk this morning, staying well within the 2 kilometre limit. There have been more problems over the weekend, particularly in one of the towns where we used to live, because it's right near the border with Northern Ireland and day-trippers from there will not abide by the regulations here. They're not supposed to be here at all. There is apparently a loophole in the legislation which allows the gardaí to enforce the 2 kilometre rules (as they do when it is someone from elsewhere in the republic trying to have a day in the country) that prevents them from enforcing the rules if the people are from Northern Ireland. I suspect this loophole will be closed relatively soon, because there is genuine and understandable anger, as well as concern regarding the upcoming bank holiday weekend. These are small communities and people are sacrificing a lot in order to protect themselves and one another. As just one example, today  when we went out, we wondered why there were so many people lined up along Main Street while keeping their distance from one another. Then we realised that someone had probably died. Because only a few close family are now able to attend funerals, which goes against the usual way of doing things, Irish people have adapted. In the past, we have seen processions moving through the town, consisting of people on foot, some of them carrying the coffin, bringing the deceased through town from the wake location to the church or graveyard. The hearse would drive along, but it was empty. Now that this is no longer possible, people come out to line the sidewalks to pay their respects, because they can do this is a safe way and it must still bring comfort to those who are grieving. This is just one way in which people are making sacrifices in service to the public good. So when people decide they are going to flaunt these rules so they can have a day of fun away from their homes, possibly endangering local residents, it's easy to see why the locals would be upset. The situation is made worse because the UK (of which Northern Ireland is a part) was very slow to act and they are still more lax than we are in the republic.

In any case, we decided to walk the river trail, including a loop which we had not previously explored. When we've been on the trail in the past, we were on our way somewhere, so just stayed on the main trail, which made a nice change from walking on the footpath (sidewalk) along the road. This time, we were just out for a walk, so when we got to a fork in the trail, we took a left and discovered what is my favourite walking route here so far.

Before our walk and even before breakfast, I  had a surprise, though. We heard a knock on the door downstairs, so Bill went down and found the postman, who delivered a parcel. He was not expecting it to arrive so soon. Unbeknownst to me, when my camera conked out last week, Bill went clicking around and found one to buy. Knowing that I prefer not to buy new, he found a refurbished one and bought that. Yay! I'm thrilled to be able to snap pics again and to know that this gadget was fixed up and stayed out of a landfill. He plugged it in so it would be ready for me to test out on our walk. Here are the results.
from the bridge as we approached the trailhead

gorse is in full bloom and is all over the place

 When we went left at the fork, we discovered a whole new loop that brought us to the lake. We'd walked to the lake just before the lockdown started, but we went a different way and were on the other side.

the bee flew into the flower just as I was pressing the button to take the pic

trees against the sky 
I'm happy that I can snap my pics again. Bill, who is the real photographer in this family, will sometimes ask me what I have something set at. I always say, 'I don't know--whatever it was when it came out of the box or, if you played with it, whatever you left it set at.' I don't want to mess around with the gadget, I just want to, well, point and shoot. 😄

I'm also happy that we walked the new-to-us loop. It's a beautiful walk, and just one of our options for taking exercise, being outside, enjoying our lovely surroundings, and still abiding by the 2 kilometre rule. As I was walking with my favourite person, soaking in the scenery and feeling joy, I was reminded of how much I have to be grateful for.

Stay safe and well!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Who Do You Think You Are?

Hello from lockdown. We're doing well here in our wee apartment in our wee town. Things are improving across the country, although for the people who have lost loved ones, the pain will not ever go away. The reproduction rate has gone down to less than one now, so the measures people are taking have been working. The current measures are in place until 5 May and we await news about what will happen after that. We don't get out much, and when we do, I can no longer take pictures, because my camera died last week while we were having a short walk. Given the repetitive nature of my days (which I don't really mind, but makes for pretty boring reading) and the lack of scenic photos, I have not felt like I have anything to post.

However, this morning I got curious about what was on an old thumb drive, so I plugged it in and discovered a bunch of writing I did in the aughts. I read some of it, beginning with the folder of poems. I will share some of this older writing here, starting with this poem. I hope you're safe and well!

(for every woman who has ever been told to “shut up”)

I think I am
 a wise woman,
learning to see
the depths
of her own greatness
and yours, too.

I think I am
a Buddha in disguise
beginning to wake up.

I think I am
more than
this body,
this mind,
this experience.

I think I am
unlimited potential,
a repository for
boundless joy,
inner wisdom,
inner peace.

I think I am
than I can imagine.

I think I am

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Banana Pancakes

A couple of years ago, we got some vouchers from a local grocery store in the post. Also in the envelope were a few recipes, one of which was for banana pancakes. This recipe does not seem to be on the store website, so I can't link to it, but it was quite simple and required just a few ingredients. The directions were to mash up a couple of bananas and mix in three beaten eggs, a pinch of baking powder (optional), and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Then coat a pan with a but of oil and cook the pancakes in that. It sounded good, so I made them and they were fine. We liked them well enough, but I didn't make them again until last week, and when I did, I decided to make them better. Now I love them and I've made them three times in the past 10 days.

Here's how I make them:
Mash two or three bananas in a bowl (if they're smaller, mash three, if large, two). Stir in a bit of vanilla or almond extract and/or cinnamon, if desired.

Beat three eggs, add to bananas and stir together. This mixture will be very loose and runny. You can cook them at this point if you wish and they will come out thin and pliable--almost crepe-like.

I wanted them to be more substantial and I wanted to cook them on my indoor grill rather than a pan, so I wanted a stiffer batter. I mixed in a pinch of baking powder, some coconut, oats, and a bit of wholemeal flour. You could stir in berries, nuts, dried fruit, or chocolate chips, if you wish.

When I cook these on my indoor grill, I spoon batter onto the bottom plate and leave the top up. When the bottom is firm enough to get the spatula under, I flip them and then close the lid. They cook in a couple of minutes and it's easier, faster, and less messy than cooking in a pan on the stove, but a griddle or pan would work fine.

I didn't measure, partly because I almost never do and partly because the amounts depend on how runny the batter is before you add the dry ingredients and how stiff you want the batter to be. I added just enough to make it 'spoonable' and so it would not run off the side of the grill when I put the batter on. This recipe seems to be very forgiving in any case. Today I added extra banana and an extra egg so I could make a bigger batch and it worked just fine.

These are not traditional white airy pancakes. I don't do well with those--I get an upset stomach when I eat them, so I don't bother making them. These do not upset my stomach and they are packed with nutrition. They're substantial enough for a meal and with the whole grains, they stick with me. Best of all, they taste really great. The first time I made my version of these, we had them for supper topped with mascarpone cheese and thawed frozen berries (blackberries, raspberries, blueberries).
We liked it so well  that night that we had it again a few days later. I've also had them topped with jam. I plan to have these again tonight, but topped with pure maple syrup and berries.

Although I haven't tried this, it also seems like these would be good spread with nut butter, instead of using bread or crackers.
These have become something that I will keep on hand in the fridge. They are delicious, quick to make, healthy, convenient, easily adapted and versatile. I'm glad I came across the recipe again and decided to adapt it to better suit our tastes!

I hope you're well, safe, and finding moments of contentment during these strange days.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Haiku-ish Spine Poems

I've loved the idea of spine poems ever since I first heard of/saw them, but was always too lazy to go through my shelves and piles of books to make my own. I could have done it when we were packing and unpacking and putting the books away, but I wasn't in the mood at those times. A few weeks ago, Vicki, from I'd Rather Be at the Beach posted her spine poem, which I thought was very cool. Then last night, a friend emailed me a photo of one that she'd found somewhere. At that point, one of my books stuck in my head as a beginning of a spine poem and would not leave, so this afternoon, I pulled a few books and created a few haiku-ish spine poems of my own.

1916 What the people saw/in her kitchen/things in jars

The pure gold baby/learning to talk/ the adventure of English

A thousand years over a hot stove/the woman in the body/in her kitchen
Things in jars is a library book that I cannot return until the glorious day when libraries re-open. I started it and didn't care for it, so didn't red beyond the first couple of chapters. The rest are my books.

I had fun with this and some titles are still tumbling round in my head, so there may be more. 😃

I did notice that I'm a bit short on verbs.

I hope you're well and safe!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Scraps to Socks

A few weeks ago, I finished knitting a pair of socks for Bill out of some self-patterning sock yarn. I had leftovers. There wasn't enough left for an entire pair of socks, but I was pretty sure I had enough for two feet. I rummaged around among my scrap yarn ball collection and came up with some rust-coloured lace weight boucle-ish yarn with bits of light brown. This was part of what remains from a giant cone of yarn brought back for me by a friend from a thrift shop in Boston. I made a sweater and a pair of fingerless gloves and still have more. The sock yarn had a rusty brown stripe, so that would work well. I decided to use crocheted ribbing for the cuffs, so I chained the number of stitches I wanted and then worked 3rd loop half double crochets back and forth in rows. When this was long enough to reach around my ankle comfortably when slightly stretched, I slip stitched the last row to the beginning chain to form a tube. Then I got out my (US) size 0 double points, picked up 68 stitched around one end of the tube, knit a couple of rounds, and proceeded with the heel flap, making the foot as usual. Then I repeated for sock 2, which I finished Tuesday, with less than a foot of yarn to spare. I've been wearing them for the past couple of days and love them!
The ribbing curled on the edges (which became the top and bottom of the cuff when joined into a tube), but the rest of the sock eliminated that on the foot side. I had planned to do some rounds of crochet on the top to tame the curl there, but I found I quite liked it, so I left it alone.

I also have a large thread crochet project that I work on at night when listening to podcasts and audiobooks. I like to have projects using different techniques on the go at the same time so I can avoid making the same hand/arm movements all the time.

I'm on something of a sock kick at the moment, though, so this afternoon, I listened to a couple more chapters in an audiobook and cast on for another pair of socks. I always make them cuff-down and here's the start of the first sock, knit in a cable rib.
This is fingering weight superwash wool leftover from previous projects. It turns out that I added this cone of yarn to my collection 5 years ago today. I remember because I found it at a charity shop when we were in a town waiting to hear from a letting agent about whether we'd be able to rent the place we'd looked at the day before. It seemed like a really good sign when we walked into the charity shop and I spotted three big cones of yarn for a few euro. Two cones were wool and one was mohair. As I was paying for them, Bill asked how I was going to carry them home, since the backpacks we'd brought with us were full. I said I didn't know, but one way or another, they were coming to live with me! It was meant to be, because there was no issue. We got the call that we could rent the place and I asked the lovely woman at the B&B if I could leave the yarn there and pick it up when we came back. 'Of course you can!' she said. So I did.

When we went to pick it up a few weeks later, there was a German woman in the lounge. She was staying at the B&B. She knew about the yarn and, being a knitter herself, was pretty pleased to know where I got it. She made plans to go down to the charity shop to see what she could find. I don't know whether she got lucky that day or not, but in the time that we lived there, I found lots of great yarn at that shop, some of which I still have.

I've never found any sock yarn at a charity shop, but I can make the sock yarn I get elsewhere go farther by using different yarn for the cuffs, as long as it won't shrink in the wash. The nylon in sock yarn adds strength and helps the socks to not wear out quickly, so using that for the feet is important, but not so much for the cuffs. For the new socks on my needles, the cuffs will be in this light grey and the feet will be in sock yarn that knits up into forest green and grey stripes.

I hope the day brings you some moments of peace and contentment even in the midst of the crisis that is unfolding around us.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The New Routine

We've gotten into the habit of doing our weekly shop on Wednesdays, because it seems like the best time to avoid crowds. After breakfast, off we went, neither of us really feeling like we wanted to go, but looking forward to having it done.

As we approached Aldi we could see that there were more cars than in the car park, at least for a Wednesday, which I suppose has something to do with the upcoming Easter/bank holiday weekend. We kept walking and went to Lidl instead, which had fewer people there. It's just a little further down the road than Aldi.

I was thinking that I'm glad we moved when we did, because it would be harder to do this in the place we just left. First of all, the grocery store there was good, but sometimes not well-stocked. And while I had a good-sized freezer, the fridge was a small under-counter appliance. That would be fine, if it worked properly which it didn't. It was old. It never shut off. Stuff on the top shelf would freeze, even though I had it set to the lowest setting. It was small enough as it was, but even smaller because I couldn't use the top shelf. And if I put leftovers in before they were room temperature, the milk would often go off. None of this is good from a food safety standpoint. It was always wet inside, so if I stored carrots in there, for example, they would quickly start to rot, so I had to find another place to keep them. Getting things fixed was difficult, because the letting agent who managed the place was not easy to get in touch with and whether or not he passed things on to the landlord, we do not know. I did get the fridge looked at once, because it was hot inside. When I called the office, I was lucky enough to get the letting agent's mother, who did start to tell me that she would have to tell her son who would have to call the landlord who would then have to give permission for them to call someone to look at it. I interrupted her and said, 'I cannot use my refrigerator. It is hot inside.' That changed things. She raised 5 kids, so recognised the importance of the refrigerator! She said she'd have someone out that afternoon and she did. Who knows how long it would have taken if I had not been lucky enough to call when the son was out and she was in the office!
However, when he showed up and looked at it, the guy said the fridge was too old to fix, so he took care of the problem with the switch that turns off the light bulb by removing the bulb. because the switch was broken, the light stayed on all the time and since the fridge was so small, it quickly heated up inside. His solution for the freezer compartment door that would not stay closed was to take a sea shell that we had on the nearby windowsill and wedge it in. He kept repeating that I was not to worry because the fridge would come back on (we'd turned off the plug and removed the food, using a neighbour's fridge), but would then go off again. I told him that I know that they go on and off, but this one just stays on. He kept repeating that when it shut off I shouldn't worry and I kept repeating that it didn't shut off. Finally he left and we could at least use the fridge again. It did not shut off.

Now, if we were using that fridge, we'd have a hard time keeping much food in it, which would mean more trips to the grocery store, which we want to avoid. I am happy that I have a decent fridge now. It's bigger (not as big as US fridges, but plenty big enough) and it works properly, as does the freezer on the bottom. It is not wet all the time. My carrots don't start to get mouldy within a couple of days. We can buy what we need at one time and avoid extra trips to the shop. It's funny how little things can make such a difference.

We moved the clocks forward a week and a half ago, so it is still not dark at 9 o'clock. In addition, the weather is becoming spring/summer-like with more sunshine. People are starting to show up in various small coastal towns and villages to spend the Easter/holiday weekend at their holiday homes, much to the chagrin of local people and health officials. People are supposed to stay home. So now the gardaí have the power to stop people and fine/arrest them if they do not comply with the rules. The commissioner reminds people that they are still a community policing force and they will first 'remind' people of what the rules are. He does not expect to have to detain or fine many people, but as a last resort, he says, they will. He also said that if people were thinking about going to their holiday home, to think again and stay where they are, but if they have already gone, they need to stay there indefinitely and not go back to their main home. Simon Harris, the Minister for Health said,“If someone is showing disrespect to your health, to my health and risking your family’s health, and my family’s health, and refusing to comply, gardaí can ensure they do comply.”

I'm not sure how many of the people showing up are from Northern Ireland. In Donegal, many holiday homes are owned by people from Northern Ireland. The UK was slow to implement stay-at-home measures and there was an uproar here in the republic a few weeks ago when people from Northern Ireland came and packed beaches. I'm not sure whether there will be checkpoints at various points along the border or not, but that carries with it a whole other set of political tensions.

One of the characters in a book I recently read would repeatedly say, 'It's a funny old world.' Indeed.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Monday Miscellany

A few random thoughts on this Monday:
Last week brought the 6th anniversary of our arrival in Ireland. Since our arrival, not a day has gone by when I have not felt gratitude for the fact that we get to live here.

An Taoiseach (our PM), who was a physician before entering politics, has put his name back on the medical register so he can help with the response to the Covid-19 crisis. I think that's pretty cool.

The other night, I was reading an email with podcast recommendations and found out about Phoebe Reads a Mystery. At the time, Phoebe (who also has a couple of other podcasts, which I had never heard of) was reading one chapter per day of Agatha Christie's first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which features Hercule Poirot. There does not seem to be a separate website for the podcast but a search in a podcast app should get you there easily enough, if you're interested. I subscribed, then started back at episode/chapter one the other night and have listened to a few more since. It looks like she's finished that book now and has moved on to The Hound of the Baskervilles. She's a good reader and enjoyable to listen to.

We went for a walk around the block after supper a little while ago. It was brief, but nice.

I hope you're well and having a pleasant day.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Wise Women

Several months ago, Bill saw a post about this book on JFM's blog (her current blog can be found here),  When he saw it, he knew I'd love it, so he found a copy, bought it, and surprised me with it when it arrived.
Wise Women: A Celebration of Their Insights, Courage, and Beauty
Bill was right--I do love this book. When he first gave it to me, I spent a long time with it, turning the pages, reading the thoughts of these women and looking at the portraits, which are beautifully done. Now, I pick it up from time to time and open it at random to enjoy another serving of wisdom. It's that kind of book--no matter how many times I pick it up and open it, there is a gift waiting inside. How glad I am about the string of events that resulted in a copy of this book ending up in my hands!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Mysteries, Short Stories, Work in Translation, and Poems: The Last of the March Books

I've mentioned before how much I love mysteries--from the Golden Age Queens of Crime to various cosy mysteries. I read across a fairly wide range of book types. I read both fiction and nonfiction. But there are times when I want a cosy or a Golden Age mystery to read. It's a kind of comfort reading, I suppose. So you can imagine my joy when Bill was listening to the radio one evening and I heard a woman being interviewed about her new podcast, Shedunnit. I immediately searched for it, found it, and started listening. I love it! I've mentioned it here before, but thought now might be a good tim to link to it again, given the current situation. You can subscribe in the podcast apps or listen from the web page.

Another one I love and have also mentioned before is A Good Read on BBC Radio 4. This one is about all kinds of books. Each episode has two guests with host Harriet Gilbert and the three of them choose a book they consider a good read and they discuss each book in turn. I quite enjoy listening to this, because the discussions are interesting and the books are quite varied. It is on hiatus for a couple of months at the moment (it runs 8 weeks on and 8 weeks off) but from the page at the link, you can click on the podcast link and see a list of episodes that can be downloaded. You should also be able to listen from the page if you don't want to download. Note that the list also contains episodes from Open Book--they are listed together as the Books and Authors podcast in the apps. Open Book is also a good one, with different kinds of interviews and discussions..

And now, here are the rest of the books I read last month.

Night at the Vulcan by Ngaio Marsh
I felt like some more mystery, so I turned to my e-reader and tapped on book 16 of the Roderick Alleyn series. It was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. It’s opening night at the Vulcan Theatre. In spite of all the drama that goes on between the actors backstage, the show must go on. However, not all involved will be around for the next performance. Alleyn and his team are called in to get to the bottom of things.

Wing by Matthew Francis
poetry collection with a nature theme

Professor Su Jing’an in His Later Years by Dong Jun translated from Chinese by Sid Gulinck
This e-book was new to the library and it sounded good, so I borrowed it. It was a bit weird, but I liked it! This is the blurb from the library site:
‘Professor Su Jing’an is a respected academic and a man of habit. He follows his routine to the tick of the clocks in his study and nothing can stop him from having his afternoon coffee. Nothing that is, but old age. When a young academic caretaker is sent to look after Su Jing’an, he is barely the man everyone remembers. Questioning his identity, Professor Su questions all of us – who are we, and where do we belong?’

Spinsters in Jeopardy By Ngaio Marsh
This is the 17th book in the Inspector Alleyn series. I thought it was one of the better ones I’ve read so far. Alleyn is asked to go to France to assist the French police bust a strange crime gang. He is to infiltrate their compound and get information, as many of the people involved are British. This compound happens to be near where a distant relative of his wife lives. This relative was unknown to Troy (Alleyn’s wife) until letters started arriving. These were pretty boring letters, containing lots of information about bus routes and schedules. Puzzling as this was, when Alleyn suggests that Troy and their 6-year-old son accompany him to France, where he will work and they will have a holiday and also meet this relative, she agrees. They meet with a bizarre situation on the train, which alters the plans a bit, so they improvise. What is going on at the compound? Who is this relative? What did both Alleyn and Troy really see from the train window? And will Miss Truebody survive?

Cat Poems by The World’s Best Poets
Several months ago, I found a collection of dog poems available in the e-book section of the library website. I borrowed it and enjoyed it a lot. So when I saw that now they also have a cat poem collection, I quickly borrowed it. It was equally enjoyable—some funny, some sad.

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde audiobook read by Derek Jacobi
I mostly enjoyed this collection of 8 stories. I’m glad I borrowed the audiobook, because I think I liked listening to it more than I would’ve liked reading it. There were a couple of stories that seemed to drag on and on, but the rest were witty and I found myself laughing at his observations and portrayals of society. The reader was good and added a lot to the experience.

I Want! I Want! by Vicki Feaver
The library has gotten some new poetry e-books added to the collection lately and this is one of them. The poems are autobiographical and taken together, gave the impression of memoir. The poet was born during WWII in the UK and describes various scenes from her childhood, young adulthood, middle age and elderhood. In one short poem, for example, she talks about a photograph taken on V-E day and how she was wearing her nice blue dress, but was the only one not smiling. I liked this collection a lot.

Stay safe!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Perfect Dictionary and Other March Books

I read several good books in March, but this one was my favourite:

The Great Passage by Shion Miura translated from Japanese by Judith Winters Carpenter
I am pretty sure I learned of this book via booktube video. It sounded like something I would love, so I clicked over to the library website, discovered that there is one copy that usually lives in Sligo, but was checked out, and placed my request. It came in just before everything closed down. I’m glad, because I did love it.

The Great Passage is the name of a dictionary that is being compiled by people who are passionate about language, dictionaries, and creating the perfect Japanese dictionary. The person who began this project is aging and about to retire. He wants to bring someone else on board to assist the person he mentored and who will take over the project. They find Majime, whose very name illustrates the importance of words and writing. It’s an unusual name and because Japanese has many words that sound the same but mean something completely different, the characters used to write a given word are very important. Majime often has to explain his name by telling people what characters are used to write it.

The book spans 15 years or so and along the way we are introduced to other people who have passions of their own for things like cooking, making the perfect paper, and more. There are also people who are puzzled when they end up working on this project, because they don’t understand why anyone would care, but they soon come around.

I could relate to the difficulties some of the characters faced in terms of fitting in. They didn’t, of course. Some never cared and some had to stop trying and be who they were—and were better off because of it. Years ago, after I’d left academia, I was able to really spend time learning about various kinds of needlework. I’d been interested all along and by that time had been doing various things when I had the time, but there was never enough time. So I took advantage of my newfound freedom and started reading everything I could get my hands on about the history of various kinds of stitching, social histories that involved stitching practices, more stuff about women’s domestic labour (which I had researched in my academic work as well), and more. I taught myself new techniques (from books since it was before youtube). Finally, I joined the local needlework guild, which I was excited to do, thinking I’d be around other people who were as jazzed about this stuff as I was (and still am). I was soon disappointed. There were parts of the guild experience that were fun and I was able to learn a few new things. But one night, as I was sitting there fidgeting, it dawned on me. I was interested in learning everything I could about this stuff, but no one else there cared about any of that. They just wanted to hang out and stitch a little bit. It was a pleasant hobby. So I saw out the year and then decided not to be involved with the guild any more. I’m glad to have learned the lesson, though, and I kept thinking of that as I was reading this book. 

The subject of why people are drawn to certain things in such a passionate way fascinates me. I might not be interested in whatever it is that they spend their lives doing, but I can still get great enjoyment listening to them talk about it. Years ago, back in the days when we still had a little TV, I was watching a show on PBS about this guy who solved Fermat's last theorem. I am not a maths sort of person at all and it's not a subject I would normally spend any time on, but this show stuck with me because the guy was like the people in this book--his life revolved around solving this theorem. Then he did--or so he thought. There was a mistake, though. And he went back to the puzzle and eventually changed a 3 to a 5 or something like that (I'm sure it was more complicated than that, but I'm equally sure I didn;t quite get how he fixed the problem) and then it really was solved. What I remember so clearly is him crying because he had done this thing that he had been so focused on for so long. Then my next thought was, 'What will he do now? He's had this project at the centre of his life for a very long time and now it's done.' I hope he found something else to get stuck into.

British Manor Murder by Leslie Meier
I was in the mood for a cosy mystery, so I went to the e-book section of the library website and found this available, so I borrowed it. I am pretty sure I read a previous book in this Lucy Stone series years ago—Christmas Carol Murder. She is from Maine and I was living there at the time, plus I love A Christmas Carol and cosy Christmas mysteries. Because I had red that one and liked it well enough, I figured this one would be fine, and it was. In this story, Lucy accompanies a friend to England where they stay at a manor house. The friend is going to participate in a hat show, but things don’t go as planned when first one body then another is found on the grounds and in the house.

Garments Against Women by Anne Boyer
a collection of prose poems

A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde
audio version of Wilde’s play set in around 1893, poking fun at English (and US) society

 Wing by Matthew Francis
poetry collection with a nature theme

I hope you're keeping well and finding moments of quiet joy in these strange days!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Food, Books, and Bird Seeking Shelter

We went to do our weekly shop this morning. I happened to look up just as a bird was flying into a space in a building. It soon came out again. You can just barely see it:
We had to wait outside for a few minutes when we got to the store. There is someone in the entrance making sure that there are not too many people inside at one time. The limit is 50, including employees, so we waited until two people came out, then we were allowed in. After sanitising trolley handle and our own hands, we dashed around the store. The fresh produce was where there were gaps, but the rest of the store was well-stocked and I got everything on my list. Rather than pack our groceries on the shelf for that purpose, we went outside to do it so two more people could go inside.

As we begin a new month, it's sort of weird to remember how different everything was just a few short weeks ago. I still have a pile of library books that I checked out before everything closed down. I'd been planning to return them and pick up the ones that were coming in, but then everything closed down. Thankfully, I will not run out of books anytime soon--between charity shop and other finds, and my e-reader, I have plenty of reading material. I still can't keep myself away from the e-book and e-audiobook sections of the library website, though. They're still operating and I'm still a regular visitor. 😊

Anyway, here is the first part of my March reading list:

Fox, Swallow, Scarecrow by Éilis Ní Dhuibhne
I found this book on a shelf of Irish books in my local library. I’ve read another novel by this author and two short story collections, so I checked it out. The book was inspired by Anna Karenina, but is a satire on the Dublin literary scene as it was in around 2005. One (academic) reviewer talked about the book being set in the mid-1990s, but one has to wonder whether she even read the book, since the post- September 11 Iraq War has a rather important role to play in one storyline. I think I read Anna Karenina a few decades ago, but am not really sure, as if I did, nothing from it sticks with me. As a result, I cannot say how closely the book follows that one, although there are some obvious parallels, like the main character’s name and the name of another character, who is called Leo. Based on something else I read, when this book came out in 2007, there was a bit of a game going on to see whether people could identify some of the real-life authors who made an appearance (under different names) as characters in the book (some actual names were used as well).
There are two storylines in the book. One revolves around Anna, a writer of children’s historical fiction, who is married to Alex. She drifts through her days, not really able to focus on much else except herself—she seems quite disconnected from everything, including her own life. Alex is a real estate guy and it’s at the tail end of the Celtic Tiger years, so he works a lot and makes a lot of money. Anna is numb to everything, although she tells herself she should be happy that she is so well off because of Alex’s job. Later in the book, we find out that she might not be as disconnected from this aspect of her life as she once thought. She meets a journalist named Vincy and they begin an affair, which is more important to her than to him. She met him at a literary function he attended with Kate, who is the sister of Anna’s sister-in-law. Kate has a thing for Vincy. Meanwhile, Leo, an activist who lives in rural County Kerry, and runs a publishing house for Irish language poets is also at the event and nurtures a love for Kate. Aside from the nod to Anna Karenina and the satirical aspect of the book, there were other issues addressed that I enjoyed reading about, many of which are still an issue today. The discussion about the Irish language and its place and importance in Irish culture continues. Road traffic deaths claim lives. People are still angry about drink driving laws and the impact on pubs and rural community life. I have no way to judge the latter, because I was not here before these laws were enacted, but it seems to me that rural Irish pub life is doing just fine—each place I have lived has had numerous pubs, many of them within a few steps of one another. Housing prices in Dublin continue to make it difficult for people to live there. I am sure that the discussion of what it means to create art will never end, in Ireland or elsewhere.

I really loved the book, right up until the last 10 or 15 pages. I was reading along and realising that there were not enough pages left for a satisfactory ending. As I turned each page, I was willing the author to hurry up and wrap everything up, which happened in one storyline, but not really in the other. Didn’t like the ending at all, but perhaps I just need to think about it some more.

 Growing Up With Ireland: A Century of Memories From Our Oldest and Wisest Citizens by Valerie Cox
I heard about this book last year and stuck a picture of it on my desktop so I would remember to request it from the library at some point. Then I stopped noticing it. Then we started the process of moving. Then we were moved, but trying to get everything sorted. Finally, we were settled and I remembered to request the book. I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed the book a lot. The author talked to people who were born in the 1920s, the decade in which most of Ireland was freed from the colonising presence of the Brits, a civil war was fought, and the republic was born. Ireland as an independent nation is not yet 100 years old, and many would say that until the six counties of Northern Ireland are no longer part of the UK, the job is not done. In any case, this is a young country, but the people who were born at around the same time are elders. They’ve seen a lot of changes and experienced so much. Their lives have changed and Ireland has changed. It was fascinating to read about their lives and what they think of how things have evolved. A few years ago, we saw a film called Older Than Ireland, which consisted of interviews with centenarians. That was an excellent film—and I am not a movie person. Bill and I used to do life story work with groups and individuals, many of them elders. I have always been someone who relates better to older people than to those younger than myself, so maybe I just have an old soul or something. This book fits right in with my interest in the life stories and experiences of older people and provides a window into Irish history and culture.

 The Lola Quartet by Emily St John Mandel
This was another one that I kept in the back of my mind so I could request it from the library, along with the author’s latest book, called The Glass Hotel. Recently, in the space of a few days, I read an interview with Mandel about the latter in a book related email and saw a recommendation for this one in a different email. I requested both. This one, being older and having no queue, came quickly. I loved her Book Station Eleven, which was my introduction to her work, so I was looking forward to this one. Now, having read it, I am looking forward even more to her latest. I loved this book. I brought it to read on the day we said good-bye to our daughter after her short visit and then went on to the dentist, where Bill had n appointment. I began reading and was immediately sucked into the story. It was a great distraction. I read some more on the bus home—apparently I missed an impressive and beautiful rainbow, because I had my nose stuck in the book.

The title refers to a jazz quartet that came together in a high school in Florida. Anna is a year or two younger and is not in the quartet, but she has connections of one kind or another to all of them and serves as the eye of the storm that ends up engulfing them all. The members of the quartet are in their final years of high school and they soon go their separate ways. The book follows the characters, moving back and forth in time, as they drift apart and then come back together in unexpected ways. There is a bit of a mystery element in the book regarding a dangerous mistake Anna made on the spur of the moment at one point. This mistake leads to serious repercussions for the others.

I hope you're well and managing to cope with this strange new world!