Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Finding Flowers

I was thrilled this afternoon when we walked towards the local grocery store and saw some hydrangeas outside. I'd decided I'd look for one and a big pot to plant it in so I could stick it out back. I was hoping for a purple one, of course. They seem to grow so well here and in some many gorgeaous colours! We used to have a cat who we ended up calling Queen Hydrangea, so this one's for her!
As we were on our way home, we stopped to chat with a woman who was tending her window box flowers. I'd seen her in the shop before I grabbed the plant and the pot. She said, 'Oh good, you got one! Isn't it a beautiful day?' Weather commentary is always the conversation starter here. It's warm and sunny, so that means there are a lot of giddy people. I untruthfully agreed with her about the extent of the day's beauty and then I asked her about the hydrangea's sunlight needs and she said they're hardy and as long as I water it, it'll be fine. She commented that we'll want a bigger pot for it, then saw that we had one. Then she laughed and said, 'This is Ireland. You won't need to water it much!' Then she told a story about one of her plants that she took a cutting of when she moved. She was getting frustrated because it wasn't growing and she was fussing over it. Then she saw a tiny bud. She said it probably wanted her to just leave it alone so it could do its thing. 😎

We've repotted the poor thing now--it was hard to get it out of the tiny pot because the roots were so tight and coming out the drainage holes. I hope it likes it out there.

Last week, when we walked up to veg man's stall, I spotted these and fell in love with them.
I asked what they are, and if they needed a lot of sun. He told me the name, but I didn't catch it, so I googled 'fuzzy purple flower' when I got home and the image came right up. They are apparently called 'floss flower.'  Veg man said they can tolerate sun and shade, so I got one (good thing, too--he had none today) and then later thought I should've gotten two, so I went back and got another one and a geranium.

I do not think the colour in the geranium photos is quite accurate--the flowers are brighter in person. I love looking out at them while I'm working in the kitchen. They are in a location that gets a few hours of sun on sunny days, some filtered sunshine, and plenty of shade. The colours really pop no matter the light, but by evening, when I am cooking supper, they are in shade. They almost seem to glow.

I think that there will not be much sun for the next couple of days at least, but I'll keep an eye on the hydrangea to see whether it needs to be nudged over a bit to get more sunshine. The floss flowers and geranium have been where they are for a week and seem to be happy, so that's good.

I hope you find some beautiful things as you go through your day, too!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Who Knows What Else Is In There!

You know how sometimes a song you haven't heard in a really long time comes on and you find yourself singing along--or at least knowing what lyrics come next? You might not have even thought of the song in ages, but when prompted, out it pours. I had a similar experience recently when Duolingo launched their Japanese lessons.

I've been playing with Duolingo for a while now, mostly in German, which I had not studied since high school decades ago. It's an interesting approach to language learning in that it's treated like a game and it's fun--at least to a word geek like me. There are grammar lessons on the website for most of the languages, but I use the app on my tablet, which is slightly different. It's the first time I've studied a language outside of an academic setting and as someone who has studied language acquisition and language preservation in the past, I find that aspect of it and my own interaction with the app fascinating as well. It is not the kind of thing that will, on its own, lead to deep fluency, but I've learned a fair bit and I've picked up a few books to use as additional resources--I've even been lucky enough to find some dictionaries at charity shops.

Several months ago, Duolingo announced that they were developing a Japanese course. I signed up to be notified when it launched. Several weeks ago, the announcement came and I added it to my Duolingo profile. Why Japanese?  I started the academic period of my life 30 years ago attending community college to study Japanese. We'd just moved to Oregon and got a course schedule in the mail from Clackamas Community College. Japanese was listed and I commented to Bill that it'd be cool to study that language. He encouraged me to sign up. I had some seriously low self-esteem at the time and was quite sure I could not do it. He was quite sure I could and gently pushed back. He had a lot more belief in me and my abilities than I had in myself, but finally I ended up enrolled. I was terrified. I signed up for other classes too, which met on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so they were the first ones I attended when the term began. They went well and I relaxed a little bit. Japanese was on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was excited when I got to the classroom with my beautiful new textbooks, but my heart sank when the teacher told us we would all, one by one, go to the front of the class to introduce ourselves and say why we'd enrolled in the class. I felt panic rising and thought, 'I have to leave. I can't do that.' I was sitting at a table in the front and next to the wall, so fleeing would have caused a lot of commotion and drawn much attention to myself. I mentally talked myself down while the first person was speaking and then I volunteered to go next to have it over. I lived through it and went on to love the class. I gained an awful lot of confidence in that class, partly because of my own work and partly because the teacher took me under her wing. At one point during the last term of that first year, she rushed into the classroom one day, walked up to me, and said, 'I have a doctor's appointment. Can you teach the class while I'm gone?' 'Uh, but I'm IN this class,' I said. She insisted she'd only be gone a short time and by then I knew that arguing with your sensei is not done, so I said OK, took a deep breath, walked up to the front of the class, and proceeded to give a Japanese language lesson on the fly, with no preparation or advance warning. The class was 2 hours long. She returned after 1 hour 45 minutes. If someone had told me that first day, that I'd be doing something like that in a few months, I might have fled! After that year, she got me hired as her assistant, and for two years I helped her in the classroom, tutored students, graded homework, and substitute taught. It was a great experience for me. When I transferred to university, I discovered anthropology and turned my focus in that direction, but I always had a soft spot in my heart for Japanese, even though I never got back to it--until Duolingo added it to their offerings.

It was funny to see how much I remembered. One thing that I found particularly amusing was when the word enpitsu (in hiragana) came up and I did not even have to think about it before I typed in 'pencil.' You might expect words and phrases like, 'hello, 'thank you,' 'how are you' to be retained, but 'pencil'? Who knows what other obscure bits of information are hidden in my brain (and yours!) just waiting for a chance to come out!

I don't remember nearly all the kanji (the ideograms like the ones in the first and last photo) that I knew years ago. I was surprised at how much hiragana and katakana I did remember--all of the former and most of the latter. These are syllabaries that are used for different things--katakana is used primarily for loan words, names, etc. Hiragana is what you see to the right of the large kanji in the last photo above--it was the first bit of stuff I learned all those years ago. I remember feeling like a kid as I practiced my symbols over and over again the same way I used to practice cursive writing when I was learning that.

So I am playing with words and writing systems and language. It's fun. I like Duolingo a lot and one of these days, will use my library card to sign up for another program called Mango, which also has good reviews. There is a subscription fee for that one, but apparently it is free for people who belong to participating library systems. Donegal is one of them and from what I've read, there are many in the US, too, so if you're into this kind of thing, it might be worth checking into!

I hope that some fun and interesting things come your way today, too! Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

More Hours in a Day

I've been spending less time with my computer on these last several days and it's been amazing how that simple thing has given me a few more hours in each day. I'd started noticing how a couple of hours would go by unnoticed while I was scrolling down my Facebook page. One day, I just decided I didn't feel like it, so I didn't bother going to the page. That gave me more time to lose myself in the excellent books I've been reading and the knitting project that is my current yarny focus.

I went with Bill to the garden yesterday and cut some chard and watered the outdoor bed while Bill watered the indoor ones. Looks like we might be picking a courgette or two next week. I've not been up there much, but a week or two ago, I saw someone's cute scarecrows.

Someone else has a nice crop of artichokes coming right along. I don't care for them as food, but they are pretty!
Now, back to the knitting! I hope you've had a good week so far.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Idiot by Elif Batuman

 I was really looking forward to reading this book, so I started it with some trepidation. There have been books that I have looked forward to and started with excitement, only to be very disappointed when I did not enjoy reading them. I need not have worried with this book. I loved it. From the opening page, when the main character, Selin, is getting her new email account at Harvard in anticipation of her first term, I was hooked. She is unsure why she even needs email or how it works--it’s a new thing. I was chuckling to myself as I remembered being forced to get an email account by my grad school advisor. I hardly used it then, because the only other people I knew who had email were people I saw on a regular basis. I used to laugh when I would overhear people’s conversations in which they told each other that they’d emailed/replied to the other. I used to wonder if it wouldn’t simply be quicker to say what they wanted to say in that moment. Then I moved to Alaska and email became more useful and convenient, even when we had to sit at a desk to send messages. In the book, Selin also finds uses for email, even though it is before the days of portable email access, smartphones, and even mp3 players/ipods and the like. She listens to her Walkman a lot and one character has the newfangled Discman.
   Selin is really into books and language, so takes Russian along with some linguistics classes. In her Russian class, she is often paired with Ivan to do some exercises involving a story about a woman named Nina, her work, and a missing boyfriend. The story is all the more strange because it is written with beginning language students in mind, so the dialogue is sometimes weird. Nonetheless, this strange language learning tool allows them to interact on a fairly regular basis in this artificial way. One night, Selin sends an email to Ivan and they begin a correspondence and a friendship of sorts. This relationship becomes central to Selin’s life in some ways, even though the two really do not spend all that much time together in person throughout the course of the book. Ivan is Hungarian and Selin, though born in New Jersey, has Turkish relatives and knows the language--the similarities between the two languages play a role in the story, as do linguistic theory, cultural difference, and the role of place in our lives. How does/do the language/languages we speak colour our view of the world and who we are? How much can we learn from literature? There is also an interesting thread in the book that made me think about about how communication changes as technology does and what that means. It used to be that when we used reading and writing for communication, it was often in the form of a handwritten letter, which for many people would have been a more thoughtful process than dashing off a note, for instance. Now people tweet and dash off nonsense that often (usually?) does not have much thought associated with it. When Selin and Ivan begin their email correspondence, it is more like writing a letter used to be--there is a great deal of thought behind their emails. They also bring up the question about who we are and what personae we try on when engaging in this kind of communication. At one point, Ivan says, in a face-to-face conversation between himself and Selin, that he loves the person who wrote the emails. She ends up thinking a great deal about this.

Roughly the first half of the book takes the reader through Selin’s academic year. The rest takes place through the following summer, as Selin travels to a few other countries for work, sightseeing with friends, and to visit relatives.

I was both eager and sorry to finish the book. Sorry because I wanted to travel further with Selin on her journey. I could relate to many of the things she was puzzling about and working through. I liked the questions she asked and the ways in which she processed information. I would love to revisit her in a future book and see how she got on. I was also eager to get to the end because I was looking forward to a neat ending. In this I was disappointed. It was the one thing about the book I did not care for--the abrupt ending. On the other hand, it does make sense, given where Selin is in her life. It is a time of transition and exploration for her and given where she is in her life, so much is still in flux. So the ending is appropriate, I just wish the story did not end right there. Maybe there will be a sequel some day!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Eating Well: 'Mexican' Pizza and Today's Harvest

In an effort to streamline meal planning, Bill suggested that we make Friday pizza night and Saturday 'Mexican' night. Sunday continue to be leftover night. Other days during the week are also sometimes leftover night in one form or another, but the 'leftovers on Sunday' plan is ongoing.

Last Friday, I made the usual pizza crust in the bread maker. I always make a large batch, use half for the pizza and refrigerate the rest of the dough, which I use one way or another, on the weekend. This past weekend, because I finally found bags of dried kidney and white beans, I was able to make a big batch of refried beans.

I soaked both in boiling water for several hours, changing the water a few times. Before going to bed, I dumped the soaked beans into the slow cooker and covered with more boiling water, turned the dial to the high setting and went to bed. In the morning, they were ready to be drained and mashed.

I decided to use the rest of the pizza crst dough to make a 'Mexican' pizza. I chopped up a large onion and a yellow bell pepper, sauteed both in some olive oil, then dumped in some chili powder, cumin, oregano, and garlic, before adding most of the mashed beans. I mixed everything together well, adding a bit of water to make the beans nice and creamy.

I rolled out the crust, topped it with the beans, and sprinkled some grated mature cheddar on top. I baked it at about 200C in a fan oven, for 10 or 15 minutes--until the edge of the crust was brown and the cheese was nicely melted.
I'd made some fresh salsa, which went on top
along with some mashed avocado, a big pile of torn lettuce, and snipped scallions.
It was so good! We had the same thing on Sunday, except without the avocado. I still have some beans left that I can have for breakfast or lunch for a couple of days with some rice.

This morning we went to the garden. I watched a video last week about how to tell if your cabbage is ready to harvest. It said when they feel heavy, it's time. It also said not to pull up the plants, but to cut the cabbage head off the stalk and leave the plant in the ground. After a few days, some new baby heads are supposed to sprout from the stalk. I love re-growing things, so I am curious to see whether or not that happens. Two of the cabbages seemed heavy, so I cut them.
Picked some more chard, too.
The courgettes (zucchini) have wee babies. If my past courgette experience is anything to go by, they will be baseball bat size in a few days--LOL

Now I am off to hang up the laundered sheets and consider the cabbages. What will I do with them?

I hope that you are well and deliciously fed, too! Happy Monday!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Third (and Final) June Reading Post

Here are the last four books I read in June. I am so grateful to have access to such book abundance--something for whatever the day brings! 😊

The Stories: Jane Gardam
   This is an author I’d not heard of until a few years ago--I think it was on an Open Book podcast. As I recall, I could not find books by her in the library system where I was living at the time. When we got our Donegal library cards a couple of years ago in Donegal Town, I was browsing and came across one of her novels, which I checked out and liked a lot. I recently did a search and came across this collection of her short stories, so I requested it. I’m glad I did. I’m a big short story fan and I loved this book.

Stitches in Time: The Story of the Clothes We Wear by Lucy Adlington
  This is a fun and informative book. I discovered it when I was reading an article about knitting during wartime in which this book was cited. I clicked over to the library website, found it, and requested it. Having studied and taught women’s studies, I was familiar with some of the issues regarding the history of women’s fashion and the ways in which they often damaged (and continue to damage) women’s bodies and health. There was some stuff that I was not aware of, though. Some of the anecdotes highlighted the fact that the particulars may change, but some of the overarching ideals and attempts to appear to live up to them, do not change. It used to be that men used less physically harmful strategies than women did to make their bodies appear more suited to whatever the current fashion of the day happened to be. For example, when large calves were the thing, they would wear stuffed hose. When large bellies were desirable they would strap bran-filled bags to their waists. One poor fellow had a puncture and did not realise it. His bran was leaking all over the place, much to the amusement of the ladies around him--I can only assume they were not impressed. There were many amusing parts of the book even while her discussions of various types of clothing highlighted cultural issues, like class and the varying gender ideologies. She states in the introduction that she wrote about English clothing history, because that is what she is familiar with. The book is separated into chapters about different articles of clothing. I was particularly partial to the chapters on socks, hats, jumpers, and the shawl section of the coat chapter, but I enjoyed the entire book quite a lot. Glad I found it!

Murder at the Laurels by Lesley Cookman
 The last few days of June found me going from somewhat functional to not functional at all, as the fungal spore population thrived and my body reacted. For the times when I was not sitting shivering on the couch, wrapped in a shawl and lapghan, eyes closed and sort of partway between sleep and consciousness, I wanted something light and fluffy to read. For me, light and fluffy means cosy mystery, and happily, Bill had recently found a few of those in a local pop-up charity shop. This one is by an author I’d not heard of and is the second in a series involving a group of arty people in small town England. He also picked up the third in the series, which is Murder in Midwinter. I will be saving that to read later in the year. This one has a fairly familiar overarching plot--elderly aunt is done away with in a care home, family secrets come to light, and the murderer is found out in the end. There were some interesting and quirky aspects to it that made it different and fun to read. After I read book three later in the year, I will look for more in the series at the library.

A Cotswolds Casebook by Rebecca Tope
Needing more cosy mystery, I looked at another book by this author that Bill had found for me at the charity shop. That one was also the second in a series. I remembered the author’s name from times spent in the e-book section of the library website. I clicked over to see if they have the first book in the series. They do, but it was unavailable, so I reserved it and looked at her other books. Some months ago, I’d actually borrowed a 3-in-1 e-book volume that was the first three novels in her Costwold series. Just after I checked it out, a bunch of physical books arrived for me and I never did get to read it. This book is a collection of short stories involving the same characters as that series. The description said that readers do not need to be familiar with the novels to enjoy the short stories, and it was available, so I borrowed it. It was a fun read! I will definitely read more of her books.

And now I shall get back to my current book. I hope the weekend is relaxing and peaceful in your part of the world.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

June Reading, Part 2

Following on from yesterday, here is the middle section of my June book list:

Reading Allowed: True Stories and Curious Incidents from a Provincial Library by Chris Paling
  I had not heard of this book until Gerard, our local librarian, pulled it out of his bag one day and showed it to me one Wednesday afternoon. He was going to take it home with him, but insisted I take it first. I started it that day and finished it the next so I could get it back on Friday. I loved this book. It was a mix of amusing and alarming anecdotes about working in a library in the UK and interacting with some of the people that come in, the ways in which libraries are important to communities, and the threats libraries face in times of austerity. I did a brief stint as a worker bee in a library in rural Oregon and I was just a few pages in when I was reminded of that time and some of what I experienced. There were also differences between what the author describes and the way my job was defined. I worked in the circulation department and the scope of things I was allowed to do in terms of helping people was very limited. At times, I ignored those rules--if I was shelving and an elder came up to me asking for help to search for something in the computer catalogue, I helped them even though I was supposed to send them to the queue at the information desk, for example. But there were situations when it was very handy to be able to say to someone, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not allowed to do that. You have to ask that person over there.’ There were some times when the author would have liked to have had the same excuse, I suspect, and in one particularly unpleasant bathroom incident, he was relieved to be able to call Facilities to sort it out. There were several times while I was reading the book that I read long passages aloud to Bill, so that’s one indication of my affection for it! My one quibble is with the title--it says he's in a 'provincial' library, which makes it seem like a small library in a small town or village. It's clear from his stories, though, that he is in an urban area and working mostly in the central library in that municipality, only occasionally doing a shift in one of the branch libraries.

Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire
  I came across this book title in an Atlantic article on creativity and the brain in which it was referenced. I was going to request it from the library in book form, then had a vague memory of seeing it in the e-book collection. Sure enough, it was there and available, so I downloaded it. The book is something of an overview of research into the subject area and covers many different topics related to creativity as studied by brain scientists and psychologists. The studies seem to indicate that the ideas people have about creativity being a ‘right brain’ activity are too simplistic, as many parts of our brains impact creativity. They talk about ‘messy mind’ and the ways in which highly creative people can seem to have contradictory things going on at the same time. Other issues discussed are introversion/extraversion, the role of trauma in creativity, conformity/non-conformity, the help and harm of ‘mindfulness’ in creativity, and to a lesser degree, cultural and societal institutions and the role they can play in stifling creativity. Since creativity and the creative process is a topic that interests me greatly, I have read some of this before and it was not new. But some sections of the book offered food for thought and made me think about my own life. I was also thinking back to some life story projects Bill and I did years ago with artists and members of a quilt guild and how the findings the authors were writing about did and did not apply to the lives of the people we interviewed. I have another e-book about creativity on reserve, though I think that one may come from a different perspective than this one. Guess I’ll find out when it becomes available!

A History of Ireland in 100 Objects by Fintan O’Toole
   The author chose 100 objects that represented important aspects of Irish history. The book is organised with a photo of an object on one page and then a description of its provenance and what it illustrates about the culture and society of the time. I found this book because I’d read a few books by the same author when we first arrived in Ireland and found them very helpful in terms of giving me some context for things I was observing. One day recently, I got to wondering whether he’d written anything since, so I clicked to the library website and searched. This one came up. Having listened to and very much enjoyed a podcast several years ago on BBC Radio 4 called A History of the World in 100 Objects, I was pleased to see the same idea applied to a book specifically about Ireland. I enjoyed this book a lot. Some objects were more interesting than others, of course, but overall, it was fascinating.

Hope you've got lots of good reading for this July weekend!