Thursday, September 29, 2011

16 squares

This throw-in-the-making has been put aside while I am knitting - well, I also have run out of yarn again.

Making these squares is addictive. I usually crochet each in one go, because I can't stop. I am already planning future colour combinations. Incidentally, I posted the above photo on my website's blog and realised that I had used the same colours as in all the paintings in the header! I obviously love berry colours, but for the next painting and crafts projects I am going to use a different palette.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Skin deep

Like most people women, I must have used hundreds of different beauty products in my life so far, in the quest to find that elusive product that will solve all my problems and will mean no more frizzy hair/shiny face/spots/spending too much time in front of the mirror. I want to simplify that area of my life and have less stuff in my bathroom (though I have to say my collection of cosmetics looks spartanic compared to those of my sisters!), but at the same time I like trying out different things. The latter is largely satisfied by my use of essential oils - by mixing them you get an infinite number of scents. I like to make my own cosmetics and with those I buy I prefer when they have as few ingredients as possible and/or are all natural, though not everything I use is 100% natural.

I still haven't found the perfect product in all categories, and it probably doesn't exist - after all, the needs of our skin change with the seasons, the menstrual cycle, weather conditions, etc. Recently, though, I have come a bit closer to perfection with some of the basics.

Because of all the above, and also because I like documenting things, I have decided to occasionally share here what I use and love, so I can refer back to it, and perhaps some of it is helpful to readers, too (with apologies to my very few male readers...).

Today, five rather random things I am absolutely sure I could live without, but wouldn't want to at the moment:
(please note that I do not get paid for any of the things I recommend on my blog)

...I also like that there is a lot of pink involved

The Tisserand Refreshing Deodorant Roll-on comes in glass packaging (apart from the lid) and smells divine. It says wild rose and lemon leaf on the front, but geranium dominates (as in a lot of their products). Geranium is a very strong scent and lifts the spirits, which is always good. I once noticed it on someone, and she revealed it was a Tisserand hand cream - that's what I will get once I finish my current one.

Weleda Wild Rose moisture cream - because I have oily/combination skin, for years I would only use harsh antibacterial creams and cleansers, which is just wrong, as it exacerbates the problem. In fact, oily skin needs oil, and once this cream is finished, I will get Dr. Hauschka's facial oil (I just used up a sample I bought). I also love this cream, though - it is quite rich, but ideal for when my face feels dry.. And it smells...of roses!

Aloe Vera and Lavender - a favourite ever since a friend gave me this years ago when I spilled boiling hot tea over my hip (and my brother-in-law's feet). It is cooling, moisturising and soothing, and I use it all over my body. To make it, mix a few drops of pure lavender oil into pure aloe vera gel.

Bio-oil: another multi-purpose product. I use it on pretty much everything it says on the bottle: stretch marks, scars, uneven skin them all. I also use it in the bath. I don't like that it's mineral oil-based, though - am trying to find a natural alternative.

Benecos nail polish: I got two of those in a health food shop in Germany - they don't contain all the harmful stuff that is usually found in nail polish. You need two coats for a good result, but it stays on for several days and the colours are gorgeous (at the moment, I am wearing this mud-colour -Urban Grey, a warm grey- on my fingernails and Wild Orchid on my toenails)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Blueberry days

1. So excited about this book - I have heard so much about her. Plus: sewing on buttons - very Zen
2. Baking (see post from Friday) - blueberries are the best. And blackberries (still haven't gone to pick them)
3. Dress to go with blueberry cake (pure coincidence) - I have a newfound love of belts - belting everything
4. Late-night activity (that's 8pm in Marina-Land) - knitting, using up leftover yarn to make wrist warmers
5. My friend James made these huge mackerel for a science event this weekend

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Weekend rituals

 In Kinvara

Even though I aim to not live my life in terms of workdays/weekend blocks and try to enjoy Monday as much as Saturday (at least Monday evening), I quite like to get certain things done at the weekend so the week ahead is as easy as possible. That includes:

Around the house:
- tidying and cleaning, obviously
- getting laundry done (very important for exercise - running out of clean towels or running gear would be a nuisance)
- watering and, if needed, feeding my plants
- putting enough tea lights from the big bag that lives in a drawer in the spare room into one of the kitchen drawers for easy access (strangely satisfying)
- making soup for the week
- taking all the rubbish out, including the recycling

- going through stuff I bookmarked on the computer throughout the week
- recharging phone, iPod, camera batteries
- deleting text messages and e-mails

- steam facial and/or facial oil massage
- hair removal
- mani/pedi
-some sort of hair treatment
- a bath with Epsom salts/baking soda and essential oils (my favourites at the moment: rosemary for aching muscles, eucalyptus when I feel cold or sniffly, and always lavender)

I rarely do all of these things, and I don't have a list like the one above that I frantically go through. I don't usually do my grocery shopping at the weekend, as I prefer to go during the week, when it's less busy. One thing I would love to do, but somehow never manage, is to decide what to wear the following day before going to bed and lay the clothes out, so I don't waste time in the morning being indecisive. I suspect one reason I cannot seem to do this is that I don't know in advance what I will feel like in the morning. And I am a great believer in the power of colour and like to dress according to the chakras - red for grounding, blue for communication, etc., whatever I feel I need most that day.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Getting ready for autumn

 Indian spice box


 fan - redecorating my bedroom

This week has been about organising/planning/decluttering/cleaning. Maybe it's the transition into autumn (autumn clean?) or simply more procrastination, but I do hope this whole endeavour means I am making space for getting things done or at least for feeling better/lighter.

My books now live in colour harmony (see last post). This has made me rediscover old favourites and it's a nice change.

I am tidying up all the folders on my computer - it makes such a difference. It always bothered me that everything was so chaotic and that I had held on to so many pictures and other files that I don't need.

It seems to be contagious - Matt has been busy getting rid of things, out of his own free will. He discovered he had an Indian spice box hidden somewhere inside a cupboard and put it to use. I love the colours. I used to have all my spices on the kitchen counter (they fit under the windowsill), but found it looked too cluttered, so now they live in a drawer with labels on the lids. I need to be able to see what I have - I tend to forget about things if I can't see them. 

The days are getting shorter and it is still a bit dark when I get up. I finally joined the gym again after a one-year break and went for a lovely early-morning swim (only 15 mins) and sauna (an hour?) yesterday, which also meant I did not get stuck in traffic on my way in. I worried about spending so much money after my long unpaid summer, but it is an investment in my health, after all.

I haven't really been spending money on stuff and haven't felt the need. When I go into town I find the shops overwhelming. I did buy a book and tights and I am planning to get a hand blender (although I love being old-fashioned in the kitchen and mixing everything by hand, and I don't want to accumulate too many kitchen gadgets, but certain soups and smoothies call for a blender) and a warm dressing gown - I wore my last one to death. 

Weekend plans include:
-run, swim and sauna 
-work on some illustrations
-get ready for teaching in October
-pick blackberries and sloes (they are abundant where I live) - I find I don't tolerate alcohol very well these days -after a few sips of wine I find it impossible to drink more-, but I love a homeopathic dose of homemade sloe gin in the evening
-make this cake

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Books by colour

With way too much time on my hand (convalescing, so leaving the house or anything too exhausting, physically or mentally, wasn't an option), I decided to re-organise my bookshelf, by colour.

I spend a lot of time in my house and therefore a lot of time looking at the objects it is filled with. Since I am a neat freak -and it's getting worse-  I thought arranging my books by colour might be a good idea and look less overwhelming. Although I hasten to add that books on shelves don't really qualify as clutter in my opinion. Books are good.


And after:

I think I might still tweak it a bit here and there. My house is full of colours, but I don't like it when there is too much primary colour action going on. This "after" image is actually the toned-down version of what I attempted first, which was much bolder. 

I was a bit hesitant, because my books were organised by genre/subject before, and that does seem to make more sense. But I am a very visual person, and I actually think it will be easier to find a particular book, as I always know exactly what the cover looks like. I also like how this system juxtaposes completely unrelated material and how the colours play off each other. I do not like all the black. Nor do I like the black leads creeping from the speakers, for that matter. Also, from now on I will rotate the books whose covers I display.
I moved some art books to my art room and put some books I am unlikely to ever read again into a box for the charity shop. So it feels a bit lighter now, too.

Facts about my books:

-Most of my books (well, at least the spines) are white, black is second, blue is third. I only have one book with a purple spine -there are very few purple books, when I think of it.

-I own quite a few books I haven't read yet, though I've had them for years and look forward to reading them.

-Now it is not so embarrassingly obvious at first glance just how many self-help and esoteric books I own!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Last Days of Summer

 green tea, green grass (Note to self: do not wear tight tunics over pants with zips)

While my family are sweltering in Germany, 30 degrees is a distant memory for me. September hasn't been exactly mellow here (hurricane, torrential rain, 14 degrees). My daily "uniform" includes a vest at all times and a scarf tied around my waist for kidney protection when I'm at home. I have switched from salads to soup and sleep with a hot water bottle. But every now and again the sun comes out for half a day or so and it feels a little bit like summer still.

Yesterday was one of the rare days I could dry my clothes outside, and they were actually dry within a few hours -miracle!

I am dreading the winter already, since neither the houses here nor the cars can handle the cold and ice. I never used to mind the Irish weather and for years didn't even own an umbrella or waterproof clothes (and until 2009, Irish winters were mild), but in the past two years it has become a bit too extreme too often.

However, I agree with this recent Oliver Burkeman column (click to read the whole article; it's excellent) about contrast, in which he actually uses the Irish weather as an example: "[N]o tropical beach holiday, nor even a constantly stimulating city-break, can ever rival the contrast between a torrential cliff-top downpour and the subsequent Guinness by a roaring pub fire." Though I can count on one hand the pints of Guinness I have had by a roaring pub fire in the last three years (since moving out of the city and relying on a car), I can attest to the truth of this statement. I will always love the Irish climate. And I appreciate those rare blue-skies days so much more because they are not a daily occurrence.

On a different note, I am surprising  myself by reading a spy novel (see sidebar) and actually enjoying it. A lot. I only found out after I started to read it that there is a movie out now based on another of le Carré's books. Matt has most of his novels, so this might become my new obsession.

Monday, September 12, 2011


I am still undecided about joining the place where I can use the sauna and steamroom again. I do think it would make me a better person (feeling cleansed physically and mentally), but then I tend to get obsessed with an idea, and I just spent a whole year without sauna-visits and it wasn't that hard. But I can't help it. These days the word sauna keeps invading my brain.

In the meantime -until I can cough up the membership fee- I am going to have steam facials: putting your head under a towel for ten minutes and inhaling nice-smelling steam is time well spent, not only when you are sinusy, but as a weekly deep-clean for your skin and for relaxation. I generally keep it simple and stick to one or two essential oils. As for quantities, three drops of oils in total is plenty, in my opinion. I boil one to two litres of water and then add the oils or dried herbs. Inhale under a towel for about ten minutes, with eyes closed.

These are my go-tos:

-Dried Chamomile (preferably loose, or chamomile teabags - see photo. More than one, though. In the photo it was mixed with oils). That's what my mom used to make when we had a cold or the flu. Very soothing.

-Lavender oil, on its own, or two drops lavender with one drop ylang-ylang or geranium  - lavender and geranium are antiseptic, ylang-ylang relaxing

-Some dried herbs such as chamomile or sage and lavender oil -soothing

-Lavender, geranium and lemon essential oils, one drop each -good for oily skin, astringent

For dry skin, adding a bit of almond oil to the water will moisturise. Rose, chamomile and jasmine essential oil are also good.

-When my nose is blocked, and for colds/flu in general, I use eucalyptus and/or peppermint oil, and sometimes Vick's Vapo Rub diluted in the water or Olbas oil.

Inhalation is also a good escape from the reality of the hurricane outside...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

On my mind

Since my last post I have been wondering why I keep sabotaging myself by not doing the things that I know will make me feel better. A few posts ago I wrote about how working with coloured pencils gave me a much-needed sense of peace and tranquility, yet between then and today I hadn't put pencil to paper at all. I finally went back to it this afternoon and it was an instant boost. It's been the same with running: I let the torrential rain we have had put me off - though today was dry and I still didn't go. I have, however, been good at keeping up the meditation and yoga, and I hope I won't lapse. It grounds me, and if there is one thing I need it is grounding.

This may be the start of my long weekend, and I am hoping to do some work from home, lots of making-things, and meet up with a few friends. I am beginning to learn the importance of not making too many plans, though.

On my mind this week:

-I'm happy to be back at work. I am so grateful that I have it and that I enjoy it.

-Sort of related to all the above, the advice in this article struck a chord with me:
 "Toss Productivity Out" by Leo Babauta

-I bought Lucinda Williams's "Copenhagen" on iTunes and have been listening to it on repeat. Beautiful, haunting lyrics and music, and her voice is amazing.

-I'm looking forward to watching "Happy-go-Lucky" (I love Sally Hawkins!).
 Also the new Almodóvar, "The Skin I Live In". There are afternoon screenings at the cinema here at the  moment, so I am planning a sneaky daytime cinema trip by myself.

-I read a feature about Anjum Anand in a magazine, and she swears by Indian Masala tea as a reviving elixir-she didn't specify quantities, but you boil sliced ginger and cardamom pods in milk. Since I am a fan of chai tea and love using ginger, I want to try this.

-Working on the throw. Photos to come. I have used up all the yarn and now have 16 squares. I just spent 15 minutes deciding how to arrange them, in case I leave it at that, which means it'll be a Very Small Throw.

-I am debating whether to join the gym again- not for the gym itself (never set a foot in there), but for the pool and -actually, this is the real reason- the sauna. After using the sauna in the hotel we stayed in in Bantry, I realised how much I had missed it. My sauna buddy has left the country, so it won't be the same as in 2009/10, but still, it'll be worth every penny.

Monday, September 5, 2011


(this is what I would see if I kept my eyes open while meditating)

Serenity is one word people who know me would never associate with me. I worry a lot, about things big and small, past and future. But I am trying to become more serene, and without being aware of it at the time this summer brought me a bit closer to it. I managed to not think about work and whether my contract would be renewed, for example. That would have been impossible only a few months ago. The last two weeks I just lived day-to-day and enjoyed the rest of my holidays. Similar to my attempt to not live my life in terms of weekdays/weekend blocks I didn't think of it as The-End-Of-Summer. But of course work and the passing of time are only two of many things in life that can cause anxiety.

I had a decidedly non-serene weekend, with a lot to worry about. While trying to find an essential oil blend I hadn't used before, I came across the blend for serenity (in this book) and have been burning it for the last two days. It's cedarwood, lemon and chamomile and smells incredible. Apparently the essential oils you gravitate towards are the ones you need, and I have been using lots of chamomile (which unfortunately is one of the more expensive ones, but I still have the first bottle I bought). I also started meditating again after weeks of neglecting it.

Some irrational part of me seems to think that if I stop worrying, bad things will happen as a result and catch me unprepared. And it is to do with being afraid of change - when you have been an anxious worrier for years it is what you are used to and know and thus what you are comfortable with, although it can hardly be called a comfortable state. I need to keep reminding myself that I cannot control anything and have to learn to let go and live in the present. It's not easy, but I feel I am getting better at it the closer I get to 30, and little things like aromatherapy oil blends help along the way.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Crafts rescue

Sorry for the long silence. I am still settling back in again.
My sister stayed with me for a couple of days, which meant  a) I had a swimming buddy and b) that some of my unfinished handmade things were taken care of - she is a crafter extraordinaire. Whenever I make a cushion cover I only sew three sides and then just abandon it and hide the sloppy opening. Now these two have proper seams and ribbons:

 Thanks again, Anke!

Inspired by her, I tackled the basket of other unfinished stuff that was sitting behind my bedroom door and organised my fabrics:

 Said basket also contained examples of the purposeless rectangles and squares I used to knit when I only had one ball of yarn, usually an impulse buy because I liked the colour/feel. In the past I have made clothes from such pieces (unshapely!), but mostly they just ended up under a pile of knitting materials, never to see the light of day again. In an attempt to salvage some of these sad reminders of time and money misspent, I made some sort of cushion cover/bag, again with the fourth side unfinished...:

I also continued working on the throw I started in Germany. I had to buy more yarn and could only get three of the four colours, but it doesn't really matter. The next time I work with granny squares I will use scrap yarn, though.