Monday, May 28, 2012

Life's a beach

"The cure for everything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea." 
~ Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)

For a glorious weekend my life was very much a beach. Or several beaches.

I went for a quiet early-morning swim on Saturday (a serious contender for best swim of my 29 years, but that award still goes to the naked swim on Inishbofin). I could have stayed in the water all day, but after half an hour I started feeling the cold, and when I got home I realised I was frozen to the bones and shaking and ended up blow-drying my knees. It was worth it. That swim restored all the energy that had been draining out of me.

Later there was an afternoon swim and a rather crowded beach (by Irish standards). My usual panic reflex at the sight of crowds was miraculously turned off and I enjoyed it and even braved town afterwards.

Sunday morning started with a run on the prom, and I would have jumped straight into the water, but I didn't have the car with me and didn't want to run with a bag attached to my body, so it was 9.30am by the time we made it to the beach. We moved to the pebbled area, as the sandy part was filling up with people, and I swam and we had a plein air breakfast.

By last night I was feeling drunk on sun and salt water (ok, and wine).

My usual neat freak tendencies surrender easily when it comes to sand in the house and in my car - it makes me very happy. A rotation of bikinis and towels on the clothes line and salt in my tangled hair - these are the times when my house feels even more like a holiday cottage and I am constantly reminded that I live where I would go for a vacation.


The perfect sea scents for at home are two drops each of rosemary, lavender and cypress essential oils in the oil burner (a blend from this book, which I cannot recommend enough, and I know I keep mentioning it - it has opened up the world of scents for me and the endless possibilities for mixing them). These days I have the windows open all day, and then at night I burn oils, and the scents from outside and inside all mingle, and it is such a nice ritual before bed, accompanying the transition to sleep.

Friday, May 25, 2012

My go-to green smoothie mix

For Owyanna: my go-to green smoothie recipe. It is my go-to recipe because I usually have all the ingredients, and it is also one of the less experimental smoothies and therefore a good one to start with. Apparently a lot of people are put off by the green colour, which is a mystery to me, as nobody seems to have a problem with eating green vegetables, but when it comes to beverages, green is vilified.

I have to say that I haven't managed to entice anybody to drink green smoothies, though I occasionally force-feed them to those close to me. Matt might have a quarter of a glass, but reckons that is enough "fun". It baffles me. I don't think it's an acquired taste at all - this version simply tastes really good. I took the basic green smoothie recipe (milk, banana, spinach) and added things I like that add more nutritional benefits. Sometimes I use kale as well as spinach. And sometimes I add a few frozen blueberries. And chlorella powder (to make it super-super-green). I never bother with ice, as I never have any and don't want it too cold, anyway - I reckon cold water/milk is enough.

I cannot give exact quantities, as I never measure anything, so the following is approximate.

I fill the beaker in this order:

-1/2 cup of water or cold green tea
-1/2 cup of soya milk (or almond or rice milk)  - OR no water and 1 cup of soya milk
-two handfuls of fresh baby spinach (I tried frozen - it didn't work)
-1 tsp almond butter 
-1 tsp bee pollen
-1 tbsp hemp seeds
-some chopped ginger
-juice of 1/4 lemon
-half a banana (or more, but I think half is enough)

Blend until no big pieces of anything are left.

This makes about two glasses of smoothie.

You can leave out the bee pollen, ginger, lemon juice, almond butter and hemp seed and adapt as you like.

Check your teeth after drinking this!

P.S.: This is the book I mentioned in the last post. It includes an interview with Victoria Boutenko, who discovered green smoothies. According to the authors, drinking green smoothies daily will make you crave more greens and healthier foods, something I can confirm. I am not sure whether I will ever make it a habit to drink one litre per day (I usually have less than half a litre), but every little helps. The main reason the green smoothie has revolutionised healthy eating is that its liquid form means nutrients are absorbed quicker and better (it is easy on the stomach, too). It is also a convenient way of consuming lots of healthy things, and unlike fruit smoothies, it isn't full of sugar.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Posting about work in time for the weekend is a sign that my weekdays and weekends have become indistinguishable, but I am still enjoying it for the most part. And I am trying to look after myself, following some extreme tiredness and high anxiety.

I am learning a lot more about and am experimenting with green smoothies, thanks to a great book I was given for my birthday. Apparently, there are no limits; anything green goes, leaves from certain trees, herbs I have never heard of, the possibilities are endless. I still can't say for certain why I haven't been getting sick as much this year, and it is probably due to a variety of reasons, but I believe drinking green smoothies is definitely one factor.

The right side of my body is a mess from too much work on the computer with nothing at the height it should be - I keep feeling stabbing pains in my fingers and shoulder. I have also had general aches and pains for the last two weeks. So yesterday I went for a long run and I have been doing sit-ups to replace the pains (or overlay them?) with the preferable variety of post-exercise soreness. And some yoga to sort out the computer-induced tangle I'd got my body in. It may not always be a good idea to exercise when you feel achy, but I felt it was what I needed. And so far it seems to work.

Now I am listening to "Un bel dì vedremo" from Madame Butterfly (thanks to another present), with cypress, lemongrass and clary sage in my oil burner, and a long light evening ahead of me. I have been sleeping ten to eleven hours a night for a few nights in a row and waking feeling either heavy and disoriented, in a nice way, or sore and weak, so now I am trying to stretch the evenings out a bit, which is easy when it is still bright at ten o'clock. It is noticeably warmer outside, and I am looking forward to sleeping with my window open.

Today I went at a slower pace but still got to tick off a few things on my to do list, which currently resembles a book. I went to see a lunchtime film, Venus, which was very good (if you are in Galway, this film festival celebrating ageing is on all week, and all the films are free) - I love watching films during the day; it feels so decadent.

still collecting views

birthday flowers (I always keep flowers until the very end; their fading is such a beautiful process)

 working on a poster

Friday, May 18, 2012

Working from home and what works for me

Children's novelist Katherine Rundell said that she ties herself to her chair with shoelaces and forces herself to meet deadlines by writing 1,000 pound cheques to the BNP, which she gives to a friend with the instruction to mail the cheque if she hasn't written her book by a certain date.

I wouldn't go to such extreme lengths when it comes to self-discipline, but sometimes I think I might have to.

At the moment I have various projects to work on outside my paid work in a real workplace (and even when I don't have any specific projects, collaborations and deadlines, there is my own art practice). I can decide the hours and where I work - the 'where' tends to be my house. The times are never fixed, but I have found that setting aside an afternoon or even an entire day and keeping it free for working from home is important; otherwise I might easily fill it with other things. Both the location and the flexible hours are a luxury for which I am very grateful, but you do need a lot of discipline to make it a satisfying and productive endeavour.

I cannot rely on those instances where I end up at my desk or easel as if guided by an external force. I have wasted too much time waiting for the right frame of mind - it is discipline, rather than muse, that will yield more results. So here is a list of all the things that I find helpful, and I need to remind myself to try them all before giving up the next time I just can't seem to get going.

- Exercise outside first thing in the morning. Somebody told me a faux commute helps to make us go into working day mode. And it gives you energy. If you don't go outside before you start work - especially if the weather is nice - for the rest of the day you will feel you are missing out by staying indoors. Knowing I have already got my dose of Vitamin D and fresh air makes it easier for me to concentrate.

- Dress properly, but comfortably. Actually, the perfect work outfit varies quite a lot for me. Occasionally I feel I need something tight and constricting (a corset!) because it means I sit upright and makes me feel more alert, confident and inspired. Sometimes it has to be soft yoga pants and no bra. If I am up very early, I might stay in my pyjamas or put on a bathrobe and exploit that working-from-a-dream-state transition from sleep to being fully conscious. Most of the time, however, an outfit that I could get away with in the world outside (and facing unexpected visitors) but that doesn't make me feel uncomfortable is the best solution. Hair/face/body care is also important. There are days when I don't brush my hair until 4pm and wonder where that underlying sense of unease is coming from.

- Have enough food in the house and know what you are going to eat. If I don't know what to have for lunch, chances are my thoughts will be spinning around the theme of food instead of focusing on the task in front of me. I also make sure there is a lot of healthy food around. If I have haphazard "meals" of muesli, bread and chocolate, everything deteriorates - I feel bad, unhealthy, guilty, and these feelings make their way into my work, and thus the spiral of self-loathing begins (worst-case scenario).

- Tea, tea, tea. In a teapot and/or thermos jug, not individual cups of tea, the repeated preparation of which would be an interruption and distraction (I drink a lot of tea, so this is a big deal). Edited to add: Green tea, jasmine green tea or white tea for the first half of the day, herbal tea for the afternoon and evening - too much caffeine would make me hyper.

- Often I prefer to work in silence, but depending on what the work is, music, a radio show or a podcast can be stimulating as background noise as well as a source of information.

- A tidy, clean environment. I am very domestic, so working from home is dangerous in that I easily get distracted by things that need to be done around the house. I often succumb and then justify it by saying I need order around me so I can focus. So it is best if housework is done beforehand, ideally the previous evening.

- Allow disturbances and interruptions (especially if it is a welcome interruption. And you never know where it might lead; spontaneity can be a good force), but don't let the phone, e-mail and doorbell control you. I do not have to be available 24/7. If somebody sends me a text message, they cannot expect me to reply straight away. I still get stressed out by text messages that seem to demand an instant response, but I now often just ignore my phone for hours (the message tone is always on silent, anyway) - it is very liberating. For a long time, I felt I had to be available and flexible because most of my work is flexible, but then I realised the amount of time that allowed said flexibility in my work was getting less and less because I was so flexible.

- Make a list and tick things off. I write down the smallest, most trivial tasks, as well as things I have done already, as I get such a buzz from being able to tick something off. Identify at the beginning of the day what will be most important (but still feasible) and make sure it goes on that list.

- Schedule short breaks. Knowing I am only going to spend x amount of time on something makes it less daunting. And the breaks are little rewards. I might set my alarm to ring in an hour's time, and within that hour I really have to work hard, but afterwards I am allowed to indulge in 15 minutes of reading/eating/whatever I fee like doing.

- Meditate at some stage during the day. Or do yoga/Alexander Technique/progressive muscle relaxation/...  This is when I notice how tense the muscles in my face have become and that I wasn't breathing right. I always feel calmer, more relaxed, refreshed, happier and overall better afterwards.

- There are lots of pockets of time scattered throughout the day that can be made better use of. I used to think 15 minutes was too little to get anything done and wouldn't want to start something and then have to abandon it. I still struggle with the latter, although it's astonishing how much can be achieved in a week by doing a little every day. It might just be prepping a canvas one day, but that small thing means when you come back to it all the preparation is done already. 15 minutes are also plenty of time to do one short admin-type task, such as writing an e-mail. Sending an e-mail I've been meaning to send or writing and posting a letter makes me feel so much more productive and on top of everything, and it sets the tone for the remainder of the day.

- Don't worry if nothing outwardly productive happens. Staring into space does serve a purpose, too. Daydreaming is important. If I am too rigid I only get stressed and can't think of anything. Some of my best ideas just seem to emerge from my subconscious after periods of inactivity. Trust that things will happen in their own time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Random London moments

Very random. Most of these were taken by Matt - I am not good at taking pictures when out and about. I did take a disproportionate amount of pictures of flowers, which Matt informed me was a misplaced focus when in a big city (I may have stood with my back to St.Paul's for a bit too long photographing tulips). We took quite a few pictures of our feet.

|  In and on London (basement floor in Stanford's travel bookshop). My clothes were impractical on many levels (I was not prepared for single digit temperatures), but I managed to walk comfortably in heels for an entire day.

|  We were too early for the Ballgowns exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the fashion room was closed for preparations for said exhibition, but we got to see this (as well as the tiny waistcoat of a dwarf performer from the 19th century that made me cry a bit).

|  I was in art materials heaven in the biggest art supplies shop I have ever visited, but because I had travelled only with hand luggage, I limited myself to a few coloured pencils to add to my Faber-Castell Polychromos collection (they had all the colours). I buy them individually - I know a whole set might work out cheaper, but it is more fun to grow it slowly, and I remember which ones I bought where. I took a long time to decide which colours to choose this time.

 |  Bell print in the Old Bell pub in Fleet Street, which housed Christopher Wren's stonemasons.

|  I think this photo Matt took of the Great Court in the British Museum looks a bit like a Lowry painting (the feet!). My favourite part is the kid on the floor at the bottom of the stairs with his leg in the air.

|  In the museum: Matt loves models of forts and other structures. I particularly loved the tiny animals and people in this one. But I spent more time with the mummies and skeletons, morbid person that I am.

|  Speaking of skeletons, I was endlessly fascinated by Jeremy Bentham's Auto-icon in UCL (the real, badly mummified head has been replaced by a wax version, but the skeleton is still in these clothes).

|  Pigeons in line in a small park in Bloomsbury. 

|  Feet again. There were also lots of bluebells in that park. I learnt about British, Spanish and hybrid bluebells. Britain's plant enthusiasts are worried about its native bluebell, as it cross-breeds with the Spanish and the resulting hybrid bluebell.

 |  Behind Westminster Abbey.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

For tiny feet

Another baby bamboo project, this time for an actual baby:


I am a bit obsessed with grey and other neutrals - on walls, in clothes, paintings, yarn... - they bring out other colours so well. With these booties the splash of colour comes in the form of cherry buttons my sister gave me. I followed a pattern, so I won't include the instructions here, but I am working on figuring out my own designs, which I will share if successful. I love that aha moment when you suddenly understand how a pattern works, how all these confusing instructions lead to a funny flat shape, and then you fold it over and tweak it a bit and it's a shoe, and it all makes sense.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

London, Lucian, Light

Reading Man with a Blue Scarf in the evening light

Last night I got back from a packed weekend in London (a very generous early birthday present). This time it only took me a few hours to adapt to big city life, and while I am exhausted from the trip, I feel energised at the same time, and the tiredness is of the good kind that makes you feel nice and heavy in the morning when you wake up. In a recent article about anxiety the do-more approach was suggested as an antidote, which made me think I might be doing the right thing - I am certainly experiencing the benefits of doing a lot at the moment.

The trip was perfect timing because we got to see the Lucian Freud Portraits exhibition (and didn't have to queue at all; while I try my best to make the most of queueing -mindfulness, reframing it, etc.-, it still triggers panic attacks sometimes). It was mind-blowing. I got Man with a Blue Scarf - On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud a few weeks ago and wanted to read it in preparation, but now I am glad I didn't get around to it - instead I can read it now with the memory of the exhibition. I was familiar with Freud's work, but had never read anything more substantial than the occasional newspaper article about him. Obviously with artists I know quite a lot about all that information is at the back of my mind when I see their work live and affects how I perceive it, but there is something refreshing about the directness and impact of seeing an artist's work in those cases where I don't have a lot of background knowledge.

As always, being away has given me a new perspective on things, and it helped so much with compartmentalising (something I struggle with) - I mostly managed to leave my worries, awareness of deadlines and the sense of structured weeks behind. I hope some of that carries over into the next few weeks.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

In the studio

I love when paint just does its thing.

I don't really display many photographs and only have a couple of framed ones, but I like to print out a photo on ordinary paper and leave it somewhere for a while (or longer - my sisters are on the dashboard of my car, and we make eye contact when I'm stuck in traffic).

Memento mori (sort of): Just like the shock of best-before dates on items in my kitchen cupboard that I could have sworn I only bought yesterday, when it was in fact two years ago, things like this remind me how time flies by.

My kitchen window view project is lying semi-dormant while I am focusing on work that involves deadlines and other people. (This is just for myself. More here)