Saturday, December 24, 2016

A wee winter wedding

Last Saturday we said yes in front of a small group of loved ones in my hometown and will spend our first Christmas as newlyweds with my family. It will be the first time my two nephews are together at Christmas, so there is a lot of excitement in my mom's house. Amidst the wonderful chaos, I just wanted to check in to wish everyone reading this a peaceful and happy Christmas!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Beauty | Moisture for winter

Last month I spent more money and time on make-up than in the last decade or possibly my entire life. I usually keep it simple: eyeliner and/or mascara, lipstick or gloss. I would like to be able to do make-up well, but even though I am a morning person and could find the time, I just never bother.

I only wear foundation on rare occasions, but when I do, my skin often shows up flaky, as I have the type of combination skin that is still prone to breakouts in my thirties yet can also get dry. After a professional make-up artist alerted me to this, I went and bought the hydrating mask shown in the photo, which comes with a muslin cloth for taking it off. My face drinks this up, and it has one of my favourite scents, rose geranium, which makes the 15 minute treatment time even more relaxing.

My sister got me the lavender hand cream (another favourite scent), and I have been using it on my lips as well as my hands. I also smooth it over my hair to tame flyaways and sometimes on my eyebrows and lashes, and it works wonders as a healing cream on scars and cuts.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The beauty that surrounds you*

Cottage at the bottom of our road

November morning kitchen view

Early morning commute view from the car

* John likes to sing this line from "Limerick You're A Lady" when we are in the car, accompanied by dramatic arm gestures pointing at the sunrise on the beach as we drive past, which prompts me to position his hand back on the steering wheel. While driving to work isn't fun generally, we are lucky to have such a picturesque commute (and it isn't long, 25 minutes). Whoever is the passenger (in the morning it's usually me, after one too many cringe-inducing driving incidents while at the wheel) marvels at the views and the light and tells the driver what they are missing. 

November has been kind but cold, no storms so far. We had a mouse, which made its way into the cutlery drawer and gnawed on our only pair of chopsticks. We think we have found and blocked the hole it came through and hope it didn't have a family.

Christmas is approaching way too fast, and I am busy wrapping up work projects and commissions, preparing for our (very small, thankfully) wedding, which is in December as well, and trying to paint at least one more room before the holidays, among countless other things. 

I haven't picked up any yarn in months, but with the dark evenings I think I will move from the studio to the sitting room (and the fire!) after dinner and do some knitting or crochet, something big but easy like a moss stitch blanket. It will probably have to wait until January, since I won't have many evenings at home between now and then, with all the Christmas parties. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Seaweed bath time

This week has made me crave hot showers. Even better is a seaweed bath. You can go to a spa, buy dried seaweed, or, if you live near a beach, get fresh fucus serratus, which is what we do occasionally. Afterwards we put it on vegetable beds in the garden as a fertiliser. This article about using seaweed and its miraculous properties in the garden also addresses how to collect it, as there are laws and rights (of course as individuals we only ever use a tiny amount, a small bucketful). It has become big business in the food, health and beauty industries, and it is important to harvest it in an environmentally sustainable way. During the Famine its consumption saved lives, and adding seaweed to meals is a simple way of upping your nutrients.

In a bath it is moisturising, extremely relaxing and soporific, healing and detoxifying, with a cocktail of vitamins and minerals. Some people feel squeamish about getting into the tub, as the seaweed is slimy, and while I do my best to avoid it when swimming in the sea (but more because of a fear of getting my legs entangled in it), I think it feels lovely to let yourself sink into it in a bathtub.

After scalding the fresh seaweed (or rehydrating the dried version for 15-20 minutes), it is added to the bath, which is filled with warm water. It releases its oils and also keeps the water hot much longer than usual. The body absorbs it easily, and your skin is wonderfully soft afterwards, and if you submerge your hair, it is better than any conditioner. Towards the end of the bath, which should take at least 30 minutes to get the full benefit, it is a good idea to scrub your skin with a handful of the seaweed. Apparently the seaweed can be reused, which makes the price tag of the dried seaweed  you can buy a bit less shocking (seaweed products tend to be expensive).

Baths are an absolute luxury, and we don't have them that often, as we try to be mindful of how much water we use. I am also strict about showers and never stay in there longer than necessary, turning the water off while applying products or exfoliating, so my hot showers are not of the wallowing type, but rather a short cathartic boost. Another (no waste) way of temporarily relieving a feeling of heaviness is doing this Yoga Rinse.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Paying attention

"The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes. If you foolishly ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it. Your life will be impoverished. But if you invest in beauty it will stay with you all the days of your life." Frank Lloyd Wright

"Pay attention. It brings such peace."
Charlotte Mendelson in the Guardian, 15/11/16

Predictions differ as to what kind of a winter this corner of the world will see this year, and it may not end up as stormy as last winter, but in any case we are making the most of the beautiful golden days and soaking up the light that October and three out of five November days so far have brought. Gradually more of the back garden is revealed as we clear away briars and nettles and free the stone wall, and the donkeys are taking care of the overgrown field behind it.

The writer Charlotte Mendelson keeps cropping up, and her non-fiction book Rhapsody in Green, about growing an abundance of food in her tiny urban garden, is on my reading list. There was a beautiful piece about her visit to Tolstoy's country estate in the Guardian recently.

I feel the need to slow down while trying to get things done that cannot be put off any longer. Late nights at work and at events or entertaining alternate with days we go to bed at 9pm. Thanks to Yoga with Adriene, I have been maintaining an almost-daily yoga practice, and I feel so much better for it, physically in myriad ways, including a stronger back and better posture, as well as mentally and emotionally. I had a bad headcold a couple of weeks ago and started burning peppermint oil while doing yoga and in the studio, and it has improved my breathing and my concentration.

Recently I started taking this skin supplement, mainly to prevent breakouts and cold sores (I stopped taking other supplement a good while ago, in the optimistic belief that I get everything I need with a good diet, and this is hopefully just a temporary aid for a stressful few months). I started with a low dose and still haven't gone up to the maximum, but it seems to be working. Then again, when you make a few changes at the same time, you cannot say which individual thing is responsible for any improvement you see, and I tend to introduce several changes simultaneously. This coincided with the beginning of my more serious yoga routine and remembering to take apple cider vinegar regularly.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Sketchbook | Baby and cat

While I really need to dedicate time to finishing a collaborative project, I have been sketching ideas for my first solo book project (if it all goes to plan - it's very early stages). In fact, this will most likely be a book without words, so there is no writing for me to do.

It is the story of the special bond between my nephew and Branwell the cat from their initial mutual wariness to the games they play together and their shared adventures. 

My sister (a pencil version of her is in the first picture above) has started a blog, which I am very excited about. She creates the most amazing things (see also our Etsy shop) and now has a place where she can document and share them, as well as writing about her life with her little family in rural Ireland and her love of books.

I am looking forward to my first free weekend in a while, to new books (borrowed from my sister - this one, a sequel to Rebecca, since I am in a Du Maurier mood) and maybe a half-day trip. And to time in the studio - I have been getting a few commissions, and there is nothing like a deadline to focus you, so I am in the zone, and everything in the studio feels warm and active instead of stale and dead. All the tubes of paint are handled, pencils sharpened; the candle and oil burner are on rotation, and drawers get pulled out and easels adjusted. It is funny how using objects makes them come alive. I can see certain people rolling their eyes, but there is a lot of wisdom in Feng Shui.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

White walls, small lights

Wall lights and art on an as yet unpainted wall - the beautifully delicate dried flower 
hanging in the first photo was a gift from a friend; the drawing is by me. 
The wonderful painting of Roundstone in the second picture is by Jaany Ravenscroft.

My workload varies throughout the year, but at the moment I work six days a week, including two days I don't get home until 9:30 and 10pm respectively. Unsurprisingly, the week feels much calmer when I am organised and prepared. The lack of the latter has resulted in near-disasters (not in the grand scheme of thing, but in the actual hot-flush-panicky moment) recently, and I am determined to prevent anything preventable from happening again and sail through the days enveloped in serenity, that elusive quality.

I mentioned the Pomodoro technique in a couple of posts. It is great for staying focused on the task at hand. For the bigger picture, i.e. knowing what to do when and planning ahead, I have found the perfect diary system - the bullet journal. It is genius and simple. It works. And it has the added benefit that over time you get to recognise the things on your to-do list that aren't that important and you become aware of your patterns, having a visual representation of them.

So I am getting things done. And other things are left undone, like painting rooms in the house. After an initial enthusiastic DIY burst a few months ago, the energy deserted us. I just about keep on top of the general housework. The garden still brings new unexpected joys - a yellow-flowering bush, the last of the raspberries - before going into winter mode, but I stopped consulting The Gardener's Year in September. I feel like hibernating. And we quite like the first-coat white on the walls.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Two recent commissions | Buildings

In the past two weeks I did two paintings of buildings, both of the campus and both commissioned as retirement gifts for University staff. They are acrylic on canvas and measure 30 x 40cm. I often forget to document the work-in-progress, but with these I took a couple of photos along the way. 

With most of my paintings I start with a random underpainting. Before I got a wet palette to keep acrylics wet I would use up any leftover paint and smear it onto a new canvas, and now I do that when there is very little paint left in the wet palette (I also often paint over old paintings I no longer like). It makes me incorporate colours I might not consciously choose and gets rid of the fear of the blank canvas while also providing impasto. One deliberate addition tends to be some bright, almost neon pink, which will then peek through the top layers.

In the picture below the first random layer is already covered with more paint to roughly sketch in the shape of the clock tower:

Then I blocked in more colours. I almost prefer the below to the finished painting, but then I love the unfinished look:

It was a very similar process for the second painting:


I like to paint buildings in a slightly wonky and messy sketchy style, with light and colour from the underpainting coming through. There is something relaxing and mesmerising about painting architectural elements, with all the repetition and geometry. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Donkeys, apples, yoga

A couple of weeks ago four donkeys appeared at the back wall of our garden - it was the moment all my dreams came true. They returned (for apples, fresh grass and cuddles) every morning and evening for about a week and then this pattern stopped. We thought they had been moved to a different field, but yesterday they were back.

When I was younger, possibly influenced by Pippi Longstocking's co-habiting horse, I always had this mental image of a light-filled room with a donkey sticking its head in one of the windows. Donkeys like breaking out, so there is every chance they will make it over the wall and into our garden one day. I am secretly hoping they will.

The apple yield is huge this year, so apart from feeding them to the donkeys, we have turned them into every recipe imaginable, frozen tray-loads of apple pieces, and done late-night trips taking boxes of them to the next village, where they are picked up in the morning by a guy who is making cider.

We got blinds for some of the rooms, so we can now use the studio on sunny days, and I also feel more comfortable on the yoga mat, as anybody coming to the front door would have got a good look of me in twists - although it is funny how spending a year without blinds and curtains has made us care so much less about being seen, almost to the point of exhibitionism.

When the house doesn't smell of apples baking (or occasionally the septic tank - something we need to address...), a blend of lemongrass, geranium and cinnamon essential oils has been in the oil blender this week - hopefully also covering any septic tank smells. In the studio I burn a soy candle with a citrus blend, as it helps me concentrate, and in John's map room, where I do yoga, a soy lavender candle. I also put a hot wet face cloth with a couple of drops of lavender oil on my face in Savasana. I should be immune to the benefits of lavender by now, but it still is the one oil I always have in my bag.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

With greater intensity

"The other Dona was dead too, and this woman who had taken her place was someone who 
lived with greater intensity, with greater depth, bringing to every thought and every 
action a new richness of feeling, and an appreciation, half sensuous in its quality, 
of all the little things that came to make her day."
(Du Maurier, Daphne: Frenchman's Creek, Penguin, Harmondsworth1962, p.96)

The joys of reading a book that someone lent you ("I thought you should read this"), the randomness of it - and to be reading it outside, in the last squeezes of summer sunshine. It just occurred to me how fitting it is to be reading about pirates when I have gone back to the illustrations for the children's poem about pirates (and maybe not a coincidence that the author of said poem lent me this?).

I cannot believe that I haven't read of all Daphne du Maurier' books yet. Frenchman's Creek reminds me why I love her writing so much. This is a romance-adventure story with a philosophical slant, about what it feels like to escape one's 'normal' life and its accompanying duties, and it contains all the elegance and dreamlike quality I am familiar with from Rebecca. The book is beautifully evocative in its description of the sea and Cornwall, and its two central characters are unforgettable.

Maybe I have been trying to make her books 'stretch', save some of her work for an undefined later. With Jean Rhys I gorged on all her writing within a short space of time and then felt bereft when it hit me that there wouldn't be any more. But then there are so many other writers still to discover and way more books I want to read than will fit into a lifetime, so from now on I shall just read, read, read.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Print racks: for artwork - and for records

Print rack in the studio (painting w-i-p on the right by John)

 Print rack for our small but growing record collection

A friend of mine, one of the lovely women from my Saturday class core of regulars, gets all her work on paper mounted, which is a great way of keeping it safe, and has built up quite the oeuvre - I am trying to convince her to have a solo show. She told me she had bought print racks to store and display them and recommended these ones from Jackson Art (shipping to Ireland is free. They also have bigger metal ones, the types you see in galleries, but I thought I would start small).

Since the skinny drawers I have can only hold so many mounts, I ordered two print racks, and John had the idea to repurpose one of them for our records. It makes it much easier to see everything and search for a print/drawing/record, because you can 'leaf' through them, and they display the artwork and records nicely.

It may not be feasible if you have a huge record collection, as my friend does, in which case you would need several of these, and they do take up more space than a corner of a shelf. But for our humble collection it is perfect.

Our studio is coming together, and this addition has made a big difference. Even though in the studio I am a neat freak just like everywhere else (a hindrance, no doubt - no creative chaos here), I like being able to see what I have - most of my materials are on open shelving and in open containers -, and these racks fulfill both requirements, the tidiness and the visibility.

As always, this post contains no affiliate links or otherwise sponsored material.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Yellow kayak, lilac skies

More proof that the best things in life are free: Kayaking, or watching someone kayak

This summer, John brought his kayak up from Wexford, and when the conditions are right, which has been nearly every day this week as we are experiencing an Indian Summer, he goes down a grassy path to the shore (it's the lower part of our road, interrupted by the big road), and drags the kayak into the water. It's not the best place to go kayaking in terms of getting in, but it is just a two-minute walk from our house. After a wild start, I decided to go with him every single time and anxiously await his return / jump in if needed.

I stand on the rocks and watch, and it is the picture of perfect happiness, a man out on the ocean - until he returns and tells me that it's difficult to manage the kayak and very different from the calm waters down in Wexford (where I have been brave enough to go kayaking myself). We are on the Wild Atlantic Way, after all. Yet he persists, and for me, watching, it is the most relaxing time of my day, once I have reassured myself he will not drown.

On Monday night the colours in the sky were changing rapidly, and on the way back we met a lovely man and his two dogs, for whom the above spectacle is just a few metres away from their garden.This display makes up for the inevitable winter storms. And what a wonderful way to spend part of the evening after work, out there with the negative ions.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Reset - fruitfulness

A couple of months ago, when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed and flustered, a friend gently reminded me of the Pomodoro Technique, the virtues of which I had extolled in the past. It was the same friend who had given us the kitchen timer that gave this technique its name. I was still using the system on and off (setting the alarm on my phone), but her comment made me realise that I needed to make it my default way of working.

This week I am working from home mostly. It is not quite back-to-school for me yet, as I won't be starting work in the Uni again until the end of the month, and I won't be teaching before October, but there are various things I want to get done before returning to the externally scheduled part of my work, and these quiet days at home are a chance to do that and also look after the garden. So here I am with the kitchen timer instead of the phone beside me (although I am not sure whether the ticking noise will become a nuisance. It is supposed to add a sense of urgency, but I don't want to view this as a race against time), and it has been going well. 

I am finally (finally) revisiting the Pirates poem that I illustrated years ago, and hopefully it will be a physical book soon. Having given away several of the drawings and not taken good-quality photos of them, I had some sort of block about redrawing them, but it is high time, or the author's children will be adults by the time this gets published.

For my Pomodoro breaks I mainly do housework, which tends to be the biggest procrastination tool for me when working from home. I can avail of the bursts of sunshine to get clothes dry outside and race out to take them in when the next inevitable downpour starts. Today I also made use of some garden goodies during a break, making apple sauce and preparing beetroot for tonight's dinner.

For the longer breaks or the mornings and evenings, going for a walk or a run is a non-negotiable, and as of this week I have made yoga a daily habit. My sister got me started again when I was in Germany, and I was embarrassed to see how much of my flexibility has suffered. In the past year other things had taken over, between the new house and the garden, and my haphazard routine often meant I would only do ten minutes on the mat. Better than nothing, but it wasn't what I wanted. So now I put on Yoga with Adriene every day and do at least half an hour. I used to teach myself with books (I have never been to an actual class), as I thought I preferred peace and quiet and following videos would just be another version of screen time, but being guided is so helpful and ensures that I show up.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Beauty | Rituals and Rituals


Still water in a glass bottle

Sun protection on my mom's patio

I switched to aluminum-free deodorants a good while ago, but have switched back temporarily (to this one by Rituals), due to a holiday heatwave (although I need it primarily for fear sweat; the heat is secondary), while waiting for the launch of this natural deodorant cream.

I used to travel with a suitcase full of stuff when visiting home (there was a time I would bring up to ten CDs with me...), but now I have mastered the art of traveling light, hand luggage only, which isn't hard to do when you can have some clothes stored at your mother's house.

It means lightweight purchases if any, so when my sister showed me the natural cosmetics line at a German chemist's, I picked one of the smallest items, a nail and cuticle oil pen, which is lovely to brush on - a calming late-night ritual I had never really tried before. I like to keep it simple and limit the amount of products I use, and I am sure using oils and the hand cream I already have does the job adequately, but this is perfect for trips.

Something I wish we had in Ireland is still water in glass bottles. It may exist (restaurants have them), but I have never seen crates of bottles, which are ubiquitous here, and in Ireland you would pay a small fortune. Luckily, our tap water is safe to drink, but with the bottled water pictured above you know its mineral content, and it is suitable for my little nephews.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Around here, August


 Gifts ('cairdeas' = 'friendship' in Irish)

 Bathroom art

This house is turning into dog-sitting central; we could have had three dogs with us last weekend. We are still not sure when we will be able to commit to having a dog ourselves, but in the meantime we are enjoying our canine visitors.

Every morning I get up early to take the dog/dogs for a walk. I am willing myself to carry this habit into the dog-less days, especially when working from home, to simulate a 'commute' - it is one of these things I know would be good for me, yet laziness tends to win. Nothing new there.

I have been swimming in the sea, in beautifully clear turquoise water in Donegal and in the waves of Galway Bay on a grey Wednesday. Our (British) gardening books tell me that in August the garden needs watering several times a day - not here! Instead I had been waiting for a dry day to go around collecting seeds (another job for August). I am still very much a gardening amateur, putting plants into places that are completely unsuitable. The only thing I am truly good at is weeding. But I have high hopes: one corner of the shed is being turned into a potting station. And we have been eating our own courgettes, raspberries and beetroot (all very easy to grow, so hardly an achievement, but very satisfying).

Yesterday a year ago we got the keys, and I am ashamed to say I still haven't made any effort to learn Irish. It is only now that we live in the Gaeltacht that I am acutely aware of my lack of the language; people do use it. A lot. I re-read Nada and was thrilled to feel all my Spanish flooding back, and as a result I have newfound energy to tackle the language of this place.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Drawing | Joan the dog on Barna Pier

Between visitors, housework, the garden and dogsitting it has been too busy (in a good way) to make time for art, or so I thought. But then I snatched 15 minutes yesterday evening to draw a scene we witnessed a few weeks ago on Barna Pier - a man and his dog looking at the water. We spoke to the man briefly and learned that the dog's name was Joan. She must be the first canine Joan I have met.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

In mounts and frames


Even though I have most of my illustrations stored quite safely in portfolios, I am always relieved when I mount one of them and slip it into a protective plastic bag or wrap it in florist foil (after panicking about damaging the mount). It is so satisfying to see them well-presented and smoothed out. Generally I am not that precious about my work (twice now I have lost piles of drawings and paintings to leaks/burst pipes, and  the second time I just shrugged it off), but the neat freak in me loves to see everything ordered and safe.

Some of the illustrations for Amie's book are off to new homes, which prompted me to get organised and sort out mounts. I seem to be in mounting and framing and hanging mood - we have been rounding up all the artwork we want to hang and creating clusters and 'gallery walls' (a big chunk of one wall in the corridor) displaying work by friends as well as our own. 

John is obsessed with maps (who doesn't love a good map?), so we are hoping to get a few framed, for example a print of the 1651 pictorial map of Galway he was given and Tim Robinson's beautiful Burren and Arann maps (my aunt bought the Burren map for me, and I always thought it was a pity to just have it folded up in drawer).

It may seem laughable how excited I get about little things like mounting artwork (see also tidying the shed and sorting out a kitchen drawer), but as India Knight said in her column last week (about losing yourself in a hobby in times of crisis), "It is so important to remember the comfort of ordinary things" for "whenever we feel discombobulated by life."

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A tale of two homes

There is still a lot of summer to come, but I can already feel its end. It is over a year since we first came to view this house, which is hard to believe.

Our lovely neighbours dropped in with a box full of gooseberries, rhubarb, herbs, spinach and rocket from their garden, all beautifully picked and put together. The care and time spent growing these things is immediately apparent when they come like this and not wrapped in too much packaging from a supermarket shelf. We have become quite good at not letting anything go to waste - this has been a week of turning leftovers into all kinds of new dishes. Some of our apples and pears had gone so soft that touching them made the skin come off, so I simmered them in a bit of water, and we ate the result with yogurt and cinnamon - an autumn taste, which might explain my dislocated feeling of nearing the end of summer.

Our builder kindly sourced legs for the bath and threw them in for free (the legs that had arrived with the re-enamelled bath didn't fit), so we finally have a bath that doesn't wobble, and I had my first bath in it, with lavender and a cup of tea. And then of course we always have the sea. I went for a walk at the coral beach in Carraroe this week. The water was clear, but the beach was covered in jellyfish and I hadn't brought my swimming gear.

We had the first of our housewarming parties last week (hence the leftovers), with the neighbours, and now, with the building work finished, I feel more settled. But it can be bittersweet, because I miss my family in Germany more than ever. I feel at home here, but at the same time, because this is the closest to a 'permanent' home I have had here in Ireland, it brings into focus that I am separated from my orginal home.

I feel it every time a German tourist or language student comes up to us after the storytelling night to buy a book. Most of the time I am not that conscious of being a foreigner, but when I hear their accent and they spell out the name of the person they want the book dedicated to, I feel a twinge of homesickness.

As so often happens when something is at the forefront of our mind, it pops up everywhere (or we are more attuned to it). Several articles and reviews I have read in the last few weeks were about the concept of home (this book looks interesting, if controversial).

Emma Cullinan wrote a column in last week's Irish Times about moving house and starting over after over two decades of sharing a family home, and about the objects, including a lot of books, she brought to the new place: "[I]t's been a revelation as to how at one you feel with yourself when everything around you has meaning, and, as the Danes would have it, hygge (a sort of huggy cosiness)". I thought of that when we filled our new bookcase with the books that had lingered in boxes for the last ten months. On the other end of the spectrum, I also did a purge, burning diaries and getting rid of paperwork, but not before reliving the first decade of this century, with a mixture of nostalgia and relief that I am now in my "mellow thirties", as John would say. 

Then there was an interview with Jungian psychoanalyst John Hill a few weeks ago, also in the Irish Times, about his book At Home in the World: Sounds and Symmetries of Belonging.
An Irishman living in Switzerland, he talks about noticing images of the land he has left (the sea, the hawthorn bushes, the hills) coming up in the unconscious when he is away, which is when he feels home as a sense of belonging.

The gooseberries remind me of the summers of my childhood and were an immediate trigger. It must be the first time that I have had them here in Ireland (apart from jam). As Hill - who misses apple tart - says, our sense of home can have "a very sensuous basis".