Saturday, October 29, 2011

Embracing the dark

 Staying in....moss stitch wrist warmers (..and a banana)

I don't know whether RTÉ Lyric fm has upped its opera quotient or it's just a coincidence, but lately I have been listening to a lot of opera in the car - this aria from Madame Butterfly stands out in my memory. Driving in the dark still feels like a novelty after the summer, and there is nothing better than combining that with rain and opera on the radio - those voices, often in Italian, which I only understand a little, completely transcend this mundane task. It's such a visceral experience. Of course, hearing it live is amazing, but there is something about the solitary nature of listening to it in your car driving through the dark that just makes me feel so...human, and small (in a good way), and connected to something bigger. [Incidentally, I love the song Verdi Cries by 10,000 Maniacs - I always think of this when I think of opera.]

 I thought I would find it hard to adjust to the shorter days, but I am actually enjoying getting up early and watching the sun rise from my kitchen window, with a candle on the table. It now is still dark when I get to the college, and once I have parked the car, I walk along the river to the gym (the pool), and the lights on the other side of the river reflecting on the water look like Van Gogh's Starry Night over the Rhone.

Life has slowed down a bit, and I am liking it. I used to feel guilty in some strange way about spending a lot of time at home, when I should be out seeing friends or doing things, but I no longer think in terms of "shoulds". Ok, that's a lie - that word still features way too much in my head's vocabulary. Maybe what has changed is that I have become quite unapologetic about being me - I am not the person who goes out a lot and spends weekends in a bubble of sociablility. I am a homebody. I usually prefer dinner parties to eating out, cleaning the house to shopping and being a hermit in my rural-retreat-style home to rushing around town. Although I am always surprised that when I do go out and do stuff how energising it is and how good it feels. And sometimes I may have to be dragged along to something to find that I like it. I guess it's all about doing both and knowing how much of each is right. For me, I do know that I need at least one full day or two half days a week on my own in my house.

This weekend I am hoping to finish some of the things I am knitting, organise my recipe collection, and go for a run (a lot of swimming, but zero running this week so far). My younger sister and her husband are coming tomorrow, and Matt will be back from England on Monday, so I am excited about spending time with loved ones!

Monday, October 24, 2011

From last week

1. It has been wet wet wet, with flooded roads. But on Saturday we had perfect, crisp autumn weather for a while. We went out for tea and cake and then for a short walk on the prom. Scenes like this remind me why I love this place so much.

2. I made these chocolate nut balls. They contain so many of my favourite food things (cocoa, almonds, my recent discovery coconut oil, cinnamon, bee pollen...) and no sugar. I made a batch and put them in the fridge. The day I made them they tasted ok, but not great, but it seems they improve with age - a few days later they taste amazing (although the two men that tried them did not like them at all...). I think they're a bit like fancy chocolates, but without the sugar. Will definitely make them again.

3. Yes. Sublime yarn. So soft. I am falling in love with moss stitch (alternating knit and purl).

4. I am trying to get into the habit of drawing every day again and have decided to tackle animals for a while. I can draw humans without needing to look at one, but with certain animals it's a different story, as I am not used to drawing them, so I am studying the anatomy of bears, elephants, etc.

5. Another art project - I have been obsessed with taking photographs of anything with interesting line patterns. Not sure where exactly I am going with this, but I printed out all the photos I have taken so far and am playing around with some ideas (love the one of Matt in the wind - he looks like an Old Salt).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Organising craft supplies

Just as I was beginning to feel smug about my almost super-organised home and the lack of need for storage solutions, I realised that my craft supplies had become one big tangled mess, literally - I spent an hour detangling wool.

My inner minimalist has to accept that being creative means having stuff in the house that's needed for making things. I struggle with this. I guess if I had a big studio I wouldn't worry about it, but with limited space even the amount of paintings I have sitting around tends to stress me out (that's one reason I like to give them away). Now that I am also knitting and crocheting like mad, i.e. on a bigger scale, there is more stuff that needs a home.

As long as there is a place for everything, I can relax. Though I do think that I might benefit from being more the creative-chaos type - perhaps my neat-freak tendencies make me produce less. I am lucky to have one room in the house that I use as a studio, and it has helped tremendously to have my paints, etc. within reach - and sight- instead of stored away. And paints and coloured pencils actually look nice, too.

I need to be able to see things in order to use them, otherwise I kind of "forget" about them. For example, if I keep certain spices at the back of a cupboard, they will rarely make an appearance in the meals I cook. But since I don't want them to clutter up the counters and haven't got a spice rack (I love beautiful glass jars on display), the solution for now is to have them in a drawer with labelled lids. I also store my essential oils like that:

...and some silicea sneaked in there, too...(Click to enlarge images)

So when I realised that my knitting and crochet supplies situation had gone out of hand, I decided to put some of them in a drawer, too. I would love to have them on a shelf, colour-coordinated, but I need to make space first. I am looking at you, CD shelf, in case I ever digitise my music collection...

Bigger balls of yarn and the piece I am currently knitting are still in the canvas bag that was housing the whole mess, but I put smaller balls and works-in-progress, as well as yarn ball bands and notes, in the drawer. When I open it I can see everything. I guess I just have to remember to open it.

Speaking of yarn ball bands, I now also write down everything I make and how I made it in a notebook and stick the bands on the opposite page:

That way I have all the information in one place. I know this may not be the genius idea I feel it is, and most people probably do this by default, but I used to be pretty sloppy about these things and throw out the bands. Keeping the bands is important, as they contain lots of information you might need - name and colour, in case you need to buy more, care instructions, material, weight, gauge, etc.

My knitting needles and crochet hooks live in this nice box, which is displayed in an open shelf:

 All this seems to work for now. The next area I need to tackle is my paper collection. It's in a pile in a drawer. The problem with a pile is that you only see the top. I am thinking some sort of overlapping system. Or a folder. I will do a post on it once I have figured it out.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cats, running, writing... Haruki Murakami

 Haruki Murakami on the cover of The Sunday Times Culture magazine

"I like to read books. I like to listen to music. I collect records. And cats. I don't have any cats right now. But if I'm taking a walk and I see a cat, I'm happy." 
(Haruki Murakami in an interview in The Guardian Weekend magazine, 15/10/2011, p.41)

So far I have only read one of Haruki Murakami's books, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Norwegian Wood has been sitting in my bookcase for years, and I still haven't read it), which I did enjoy, but not in the way that would make me hunt for all his other books. However, I am fascinated by the man himself and read every interview with him with great interest. At the moment there is no shortage of them, as he has a new book out. I love reading an author's thoughts about a work of fiction, even when I haven't read the novel itself (yet), and getting a glimpse into their life, how art and life are interwoven.

Before I read any of his other novels, I want to get his recent-ish memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. He runs every day. And writes every day. I admire his discipline. He is Japan's most acclaimed novelist, yet he has managed to remain humble and live quite a simple life. When the memoir first came out, I put it on my reading list but didn't rush out to buy it. Now that running has become such an important part of my life, I am curious to learn what he has to say about it. And of course it is about so much more than running itself.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Greener grass?

 running, weekend papers

Going out with an astronomer means regularly being abandoned when he goes to look at stars (though he doesn't do that much these days) or on mini-holidays to attend conferences all over the world. This week, while he was away, I moved into his apartment, which is sort of in the city. It was like staying in a hotel, because he has the biggest bed I have ever seen (I have a double bed and consider that a luxury - I like sleeping diagonally -, but there are HUGE beds out there), and simply by staying somewhere else you break up your routine and see the world in a different way.

I brought my running gear and went running on the prom every morning at around 8am. It was so easy to do. When I am at home, I usually don't go running until mid-morning, if not in the afternoon, as I can't face it first thing in the morning, but staying at Matt's place I bounced out of bed wanting to go for a run. In The Art of Effortless Living, the author gives various examples of sports people and how they can maximise their potential by letting go, being less tense and relaxing into the activity, like having a wave carry you. While I was running on the prom, it occurred to me that it helped to hear actual waves crashing directly beside me. My house is really close to the sea, but the seashore is all rocks and I have to either drive to get to the nearest beach or do a very long run, so I go running on the bog roads instead. On the prom I can run at the edge of the water, with amazing views of sunlight filtering through the clouds onto the surface of the sea. I must do that more often.

It was also nice to be so close to everything for a change and get a break from the car. I even caught myself thinking that maybe being closer to the city would make my life easier. Even though I don't get annoyed when stuck in traffic (I make the most of it by listening to nice programmes, focusing on my breathing and doing, ahem, pelvic floor exercises...) and even almost enjoy my - admittedly short enough- commute (it's driving by the sea, like in car adverts!), once I have made it home I am unlikely and unwilling to go back into town later that day, so I can't be very spontaneous.

But this morning it felt good to get back to my house. We tend to want what we don't have. When I got home, I was reminded of all the reasons I chose to live here, the space and peace and quiet. I am instantly calmer when I leave the city. I love the ruralness of this place.
So now I am home and making my way through the papers from the last three weekends, cutting out interesting stuff. I baked a lemon cake (this cake I made recently minus the berries) and had a slice with my neighbour, who is 77 and doing a computer course and climbing mountains. Moving to this little house was one of the best decisions I have made, and now that cohabitation might be in the not-so-distant future, along with all the excitement that this change will bring, I am squeezing out every last drop of joy out of every minute I have left living on my own, in this corner of the world.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Big and small

I don't know whether it's because of my new energising Green Monster habit, but this week I have been able to stay up until 10.30 or even 11pm. That's huge for me (I often succumb to tiredness at 8.30/9pm). It could also be my addiction to knitting and crochet - I think they are perfect evening activities, as they don't require much thinking, but instead let your mind wander.
I tend to have several books on the go (hence the long-lasting occupancy of the sidebar by The History of Love - it's really good, it's just that I am reading other stuff, too), and my approach to knitting and crochet seems to be the same. Right now I have six unfinished projects lingering on the couch and in my crafts bag.
I am playing with extreme sizes - chunky wool with thick needles, thread-like wool with thick needles, thin bamboo needles, tiny crochet lace cuffs. I quite like alternating them; it feels weird at first picking up something delicate after knitting something gigantic with 10mm needles, but it shakes things up nicely.
Side note: I have a knack for purchasing the most expensive yarn - luxurious natural materials and beautiful colours tend to be more pricey. That is bad news if I want to sell them at some stage.

 So that's what's been keeping me awake and alert -green liquid and knitting. I've been wondering whether I simply need nine plus hours of sleep every night to function, but this week I have managed to survive on eight (it remains to be seen whether I'll have to catch up at the weekend). It's nice to gain an extra hour.

Yesterday I was in work from 7.30am until 7.30pm (ok, the first hour-and-a-half was in the pool...) and I felt fine. I usually take two hours off between my classes on a Wednesday, but yesterday I spent them running around doing work errands. Last week I made the mistake of working on the computer before teaching that evening, and that did not feel so good. So the trick is to get some fresh air and away from the computer if possible, as well as eating enough protein for lunch.

P.S.: Speaking of tiredness, this post by Zen Habits has some good advice.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Essentials...kind of

 Green Monster,  fruit basket

On Saturday I went shopping. That is not a phrase I use very often, because a) I am becoming more and more averse to the acquisition/accumulation of stuff, and b) Saturdays in town give me panic attacks, and since I only work part-time I can easily go shopping during the week, when it's quieter. But I was shopping for things I actually needed - though that's always debatable -, and I reckon the occasional Saturday trip into town is a good exercise to help me overcome my fear of the world.

I finally bought a new dressing gown. It looks like a sheep, which is good. I make a point of always getting dressed properly, even if I am going to spend the whole day at home (especially if I have work to do, I feel I am more productive that way), but in the evening I like to change into nice pyjamas and my dressing gown, so I had been feeling the absence of a gown acutely after my last one disintegrated. I have a lovely summer kimono, too, but Ireland isn't really the country that allows for lounging in a flimsy kimono.

I also bought a hand blender. Catherine commented that hers changed her life, and after only two days of being the owner of a blender I can agree. Because I made a Green Monster, something I had wanted to do for so long. And I have a feeling I will keep making these for the rest of my life. I love spinach and kale, and this means one more way of consuming them. I made mine with goat's milk, spinach, bee pollen, almond butter, sunflower seeds and half a banana, but there are countless possibilities. A friend of mine gave me a recipe for a more savoury super-healthy green smoothie that involves garlic and the like, but I haven't tried that yet.
I also made the soup that's in the photo in the last post (that was the unpuréed version from two weeks ago), and it was even nicer than the first time around, although I like chunky soups, too.

Matt found me a food flask, which I am every excited about, as in highlight-of-the-week-excited (together with the blender...I am very domestic...). I can now have warm homemade lunches at work. That's good news because I am trying to eat less bread, so sandwiches are not an option, or at least not every day, and in the winter my salads or cold leftovers aren't as enticing.

As you can see in the photo, I also bought figs, a rare treat. I love my fruit basket still life.

Apart from buying stuff, I also made a fool of myself in front of the camera for a group exhibition (I was not prepared), got soaked (it's been a bit wet), had lots of cups of tea with friends, knitted and unravelled the result and started again several times, and drove in the dark for the first time in months with my car mix-tape on (apparently I rarely drove at night in the summer).

Friday, October 7, 2011

The health list

This year I have been in better health than last year and the year before, when I was sick every few weeks. My body seemed to pick one area, and I would keep getting the same thing all the time. It used to be my throat (tonsillitis); more recently it's been my kidneys.
While I have had a few issues this year, overall it is far less frequent and less severe than before. I also used to get colds constantly, but have only had one since Christmas.
There may be a huge number of reasons why my health has improved. I certainly believe in the body-mind connection and that physical illness is often a result of psychological imbalance. There is far less drama in my life right now than even a few months ago. I keep stress levels down through meditation and yoga. I try to be kinder to myself. But I also think I have changed some more tangible things, especially diet-wise, and these are what I want to focus on here, as I usually always talk about the mental health stuff.

I am hesitant to list what seems to work for me, because the irrational part of me believes bad things will happen as a result (because clearly that's how the world works...), but here we go (please note these are just my personal observations and not definitive):

- Taking probiotics. All the antibiotics I was on played havoc with my body. I have been taking these probiotics for a few weeks now, and notice an improvement. (I used to just get acidophilus, but then I did my research and apparently you need different strains of probiotics for different problems)

- Eating more ginger. In soups, in hot water, in any dish that I think it will work in (some people would disagree...). Ginger helps with all kinds of ailments, both as a cure and preventative measure, from colds to headaches and period pains.

- taking cranberry capsules (because of all the urinary tract infections). I don't like taking supplements and try to get everything I need in my diet, but this is an exception. Cranberry does not cure an existing infection, but can prevent them. The ones I take also have lots of Vitamin C

- using coconut oil (my newest obsession) for everything. A tablespoonful in porridge or hot muesli (...I eat muesli hot), and for cooking instead of other oils (though I still use olive oil, too). It is supposed to provide an instant energy boost and to be antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal and boost the immune system.

- Sauna and steam room. The cure for everything, in my opinion. When I feel cold and miserable this is where I go. My friend's doctor advised him to be cautious in the steam room, though, as bacteria flourish in warm moist places. If somebody is in there coughing, get out.

- Running and swimming. Regular exercise makes you less susceptible to illness.

- Propolis drops and bee pollen. I take the drops when I feel I might come down with something (they are a natural antibiotic and immune system booster) and eat two teaspoons of pollen every day.

- Huge amounts of green foods, which are great in so many ways. Until this year I had never had spinach for breakfast, but now it's a weekend staple. I love spinach, so that helps. I would eat spinach as a side dish with just about everything. 

- Lots of raw food. Harder to do now that we're approaching winter. I notice I feel much more energetic and my skin is better when I have a big portion of raw vegetables every day.

- Quinoa and millet instead of pasta and rice as often as possible. They are packed with nutrients, gluten-free and actually taste great, too.

- Less sugar. I experimented with giving it up completely, and it's easier than I thought to eliminate it, but I love baking, and when I bake, I inevitably eat some of the end product, and I love chocolate, and I don't want to be a spoilsport-healthfreak in social situations, so the answer for me at the moment is that a bit of sugar is ok

- Baths with Epsom salts to detoxify (and for a magnesium boost)

Also important: not to be too fanatical about any of the above. There are still days when I don't eat anything green, but instead cake for dinner, and that doesn't mean it's all in vain.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Messy, chaotic, cute

At the weekend, I didn't do any of the things I usually do, as I shared my house with two little people. It was fun, but I am exhausted now. I really don't know how single mothers (or fathers) cope.

We painted (pictures, a canvas bag, and fingernails):

And baked: 

...and did a million other things.

They insisted on sleeping in my bed, with me in the middle, and I must have woken every minute or so.

I did get the Saturday and Sunday papers, but I only got to read two lines of one article. Which isn't so bad: I like to make the papers last the whole week, as reading material to accompany breakfast - as much as I like the concept of mindful eating, I just like reading while eating even more.

On Sunday morning we went for a walk by the sea when most people were still asleep, which made for a nice change. I tend to spend most Sunday mornings indoors reading the aforementioned paper. 

It was a weekend packed with activities, and somehow Friday feels like ages ago, considering how much we crammed into two days. So today I am taking it easy and will have an early night. It feels a bit like Sunday. And I am really enjoying my clean, quiet house right now.