Monday, December 29, 2014




Little Gurus by Olaf Hajek

This beautiful book (thank you, Sibylle and Timo!) is a feast for the eyes and a treat for lovers of yoga and art. I love the exuberance in Olaf Hajek's work. And to me these images are not only life-affirming, but also affirmation of the joy that creating such work must bring. I had been feeling a bit overwhelmed and stressed about various projects and commissions, but looking at these illustrations (as well as other artists' work, new discoveries and old favourites) has made me re-focus on the pleasure that is art-making.

After a week of knitting, reading, walking in the winter wonderland that appeared just after Christmas and letting ideas develop (or rather, resting enough for my brain to be able to come up with new ideas), I searched my mom's house for acrylic paints and spent this morning painting:

 Detail, work-in-progress


Speaking of illustrations, the second Jumbo book is out now (more information on my website. Blog post to follow!)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Making - eat, bathe, wear


|  Eat: Christmas cookies, as per German tradition: very rustic-looking Elisenlebkuchen (my sister's are perfectly round and smooth) and Engelsaugen (angel eyes), and with the leftover egg whites I made coconut macaroons (not pictured).  The Lebkuchen have all the Christmas flavours - ground cloves, cinnamon, mixed peel and rum. I also made several loaves of hazelnut-studded Apfelbrot (recipes for that and the Lebkuchen to follow in time for next year's seasonal baking - I have been meaning to add a page with recipes here, for archiving purposes - the internet is chock-a-block with food blogs, so I'm sure the world isn't waiting anxiously for my contribution, but it will be nice to collect some here, as a back-up to my notebooks and folders).

|  Bathe: These bath truffles were easy and fun to make. I used six drops each of geranium and lavender essential oils and both rose and calendula petals. Due to the coconut oil, they create quite an oily bath, which some people don't like, but it means no need for moisturising. They were sitting on the kitchen counter, which confused visitors to my house, as they look edible (white chocolate and rose truffles sounds good). I love having baths with Epsom salts - they are a good way to absorb magnesium via the skin and have numerous healing properties.

|  Wear: I knitted this simple scarf for John a while back; unlike many other projects (where did this year go??) I managed to finish it in time for the colder weather. He knew exactly what he wanted; he picked the colour and requested the white strip. Sometimes I like being given instructions.

Making things has been an antidote to the stress of the last few weeks. Using my hands is so therapeutic, a way to get out of my head - the thoughts it stimulates are of a less frantic kind. I have prescribed myself daily doses of knitting for the holidays.

Sunday, November 30, 2014


I am finally reading The Goldfinch, which is serving as a reminder to always have an absorbing novel on the go, especially in periods of high anxiety, and reassurance that it is ok to take your time with projects (Tartt famously spent about a decade on each of her novels, though I would never compare the pitiful fruits of my labour with her output). It had been on my to-read list for a while, but the physical copy of the book came into my life as part of a chain of goldfinch-related occurrences that I would like to believe are more than mere coincidence.

The goldfinch - Fabritius's - has been a steady companion to my home life for years, gracing my pinboard ever since the day a friend gave me this exhibition brochure (other items on the board come and go, but the goldfinch is a constant, along with sketches and notes by my mom and sisters). I missed the exhibition and have never seen the painting in real life, but it is one of my favourite works of art. Always in my field of vision when I am working on the easel, the outline of the goldfinch inspired a painting of my own.

A few weeks ago, I was at my desk in my studio/office room when a goldfinch hit the window (I have ornaments hanging in the window, but unfortunately they weren't enough to deter birds). I ran outside, and it was on the ground, still breathing. I brought it indoors, hoping it would recover, but the poor thing died in my hands, which was very upsetting. I kept it in my house for another day or so and took photos to maybe paint it later, wanting to preserve its beauty somehow (I briefly considered taxidermy, but though I admire it from afar, I doubt I will ever attempt it), before we buried it in a compostable coffin, along with yellow flowers. [This window death was also the fate of a finch at a local artist's apartment a couple of years ago, and it was the trigger for an entire hauntingly beautiful exhibition.]

And then yesterday in class one of my students brought in a set of photos from a bird calendar, and of course there was a goldfinch among them (I realise that in itself is not extraordinary, it being a bird calendar. But the timing of the bird pictures appearing seems to be yet another "sign"), now repurposed as a bookmark.

Maybe none of this means anything, but it is in my nature to look out for patterns and repetition. I cannot even say what that elusive meaning might be. All I know is that I am very fond of this little bird that keeps appearing everywhere. And I don't want the book to end.

Monday, November 10, 2014

From the West of Ireland to Wertheim

Work-in-progress in this case meant sitting-on-the-easel-untouched-for-months, a silent reproach every time I entered my studio/spare room, a reminder that I was most definitely not "getting my stuff done"(I just watched this again... my life in a nutshell). But now it is finished, I think. And it made me nostalgic for my hometown, especially when I put the lights into the windows of the houses.

This painting is for my older sister and my brother-in-law, and a recent development means that I may unwittingly have painted the new home of my younger sister and her husband. Not the castle... somewhere beside the church. Or maybe it is just beyond the frame; I haven't asked her yet (Sibylle?). But in any case, this is soon to be their neighbourhood. So this painting is linking the three sisters in an unexpected way.

As much as I love working on the illustration projects that are more active works-in-progress, I need to make space for my own personal art-making. The last two Sundays enabled me to do that, and it's the best start to my week. The Daily Drawings shall return (my discipline for turning up here has been woefully inadequate, but there is a lot of behind-the-scenes housekeeping going on).

November can be desperately bleak, but so far it has been kind, with blue-sky mornings when I walk down to work from the Park-and-Ride and pink clouds above my house. I have finally got into the mood of the season - until last week I was still in May in my head.

Last night I resisted the urge to go to bed early - my default in the colder months - and watched a Spanish movie (another neglected thing on my list: keeping my Spanish alive) while knitting a scarf. This made me nostalgic for Spain, where I lived in 2004-05 (where did those ten years go?). So all in all it has been a week of sentimental thoughts and the resolve to be better at keeping in touch with loved ones.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Colour and emotions

When teaching drawing and painting I am generally quite articulate (or so I hope): I am confident when I explain different  exercises or talk about elements of the painting/drawing process such as mark-making or perceiving with the right side of the brain. It can be more tricky to find adequate verbal descriptions for the non-verbal language that is artmaking, though there exists vocabulary that comes very close, and language stretches and can be wonderfully accommodating. I love reading books on art and the aha moments when a writer manages to convey in words what a certain arrangements of brushstokes or a line evokes.

There naturally has to be a limit to what can be said; visual art speaks for itself, and no amount of verbal description can conjure up what presents itself in lines, shapes, colour and composition.

I encounter that boundary regularly when it comes to colour combinations. This is when words fail me in class - a few weeks ago one of my students had chosen a palette that worked beautifully and that I had a strong emotional response to, but I couldn't say what that elusive quality was.

Of course there are the easier combinations such as 'autumn colours', 'candy colours', 'fresh/springlike', 'berry colours', 'retro', etc. that are familiar and that we immediately recognise. But others, when for example the perfect dusty blue is juxtaposed with a muted pale pink and naples yellow, and the atmosphere this combination creates is sublime, leave me wringing my brain for a verbal match that will do it justice. Colour is endlessly fascinating to me, and even though an intellectual understanding or analysis may well take away from the magic, I want to be able to talk about the ways colours relate to each other and learn more. Our emotional response hinges on our individual make-up, our history and preferences, but we share our humanity, so how we perceive colour is also universal.

Colour combinations are everywhere: In fashion, design, the natural world, the way someone has placed a few books together on a shelf. Created deliberately, intuitively and by accident, unintentionally, just by how and where things are in the world. I tear out corners of magazine pages in which the colours speak to me for whatever reason. While there are certain individual colours I always gravitate towards and I have my favourites (plural; I could not just pick one), the way these work with others and the endless number of combinations possible between all the colours that exist make this an area of interest that will never cease to fascinate, that will never be exhausted.

I read this piece by Andrew Marr on the artist Howard Hodgkin recently (the day after marvelling at my student's colour composition), and it was extremely rewarding, as he talks about the effect colour combinations have on the viewer:

"Layering a vivid orange across an arsenic green, crouched under a line of cobalt, sends messages to the brain; and those messages can be communicated, however inadequately, in language.
...dark greens, particularly dappled with apple greens, and strong verticals may produce a feeling of security in a hominid species that emerged relatively recently from the protection of forests."

He warns against using these ideas as a "handy visual grammar", but says there must be some truth in these colour-coded evolutionary messages. "Hodgkin uses colour in ways that may be at times highly personal and autobiographical but are more often in a long tradition, fully alive today."

Marr's article also captures something of the essence of Hodgkin's art. The first painting of his I saw (only in reproduction, but still powerful) was of a crowded hall (the audience at a concert or in the theatre - I can't find it online). It was almost abstract, but you could make out heads and the venue and how the figures filled the space, and you felt you were there with them. With just a few brushstrokes he had made the atmosphere of a crowded space palpable.

P.S.: The Howard Hodgkin page on is a brilliant resource.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Even though I am very much a visual person and have a good memory for faces, colours and scenes - I can recall a huge amount of detail from a room I have only been in for two minutes, though I admit it can be quite selective - scent seems to have a more visceral and immediate attachment to memories, a bit like music. A particular holiday when I was fifteen smells of the probably rather sickly kiwi fruit deodorant I was using then. On a recent road trip I ate a cookie from a petrol station, and the bakewell-like alchemy of the sugar and butter in it transported me to my late grandmother's biscuit tin and afternoon teas in her apartment.

There are scents I use so much they are a constant backdrop and therefore rarely connect to specific events in my mind; they are comforting in their familiarity - geranium, rose, jasmine, chamomile essential oils. And then of course I go through phases with particular teas and cosmetics, because I also like change and variety. Sometimes it follows the seasons, albeit not always consciously - I don't give up my spring and summer scent once autumn arrives; it's not suddenly all pumpkin spiced latte in my world, although I do like to mark the change of seasons in a lot of different ways. I just love when it's time for a new soap or when I pick up a tea I haven't had before or try a new recipe; it helps with getting out of a rut in other areas of my life. It's like that new-stationery feeling at the beginning of the academic year, a new start. And later those scents will be a big part of remembering certain occasions and events or simply that phase of my life.

The scenttrack of summer and late summer was made up of gifts mostly: the Cloon Keen Atelier lindenblossom handwash and hand lotion (and there is still enough left to last through the next six months. Also their Spiced Bark scented candle), the lime oolong tea from Le Palais des Thés and a tea tree and lemon soap from the Burren Perfumery (not pictured in the photo of the stack of soaps my sister had got). The illustrations I am working on are steeped and infused (metaphorically, though it's bound to happen that one day I will spill tea on my work) with those smells; I will remember drinking a lot of kuckicha tea in one of the driest Septembers on record, lying in the garden in my bikini (and just yesterday I had an impromptu picnic outside my house with a friend and her toddler); and of course I will remember all the time spent with the person behind some of these gifts, who has been drinking late-night cups of oolong with me and who is teaching me Irish by writing a new phrase on the blackboard in the kitchen every day (see second photo).

As always, there are no affiliate links here!

Sunday, September 28, 2014


Ever since I painted the above for our arts festival poster and programme in February, I have been meaning to paint more interiors. And, completely unrelated, botanical illustrations. After years and years where nine out of ten of my paintings would feature a face or a figure, human or feline (the tenth would most likely be a seascape), I find myself drawn to other subject matter - though I doubt the figures will disappear.

hazy light in my kitchen

I love Hammershoi's muted, restrained interiors (and of course the enigmatic people who inhabit or pass through many of them), but my own style is much looser. This reflects real life: I like the calm a minimalist aesthetic brings, but my house is more homey than bare; I am surrounded by things, though I do my best not to accumulate stuff. Of course it does not have to be a contradiction to like both. When it comes to art I happen to also adore representations of interiors bursting with life, colour and exuberance. Like Hammershoi's paintings, they too provoke a visceral reaction (often the sense of how ephemeral everything is - not as depressing an observation as it sounds -, followed by joy, or vice versa).

So many of the objects around me carry meaning beyond their form, and I like looking at the things that fill my house and enjoy the colour and cosiness of it all and want to paint it. I will always be a bit of a clean freak and would think that living on my own for the last six years surely must have made me more set in my ways. But I find myself getting more relaxed about the level of tidiness - I no longer believe I won't be able to sleep if I leave my notebook open on the kitchen table before going to bed. I can only credit mellowing with age for this change. My hope is that this will enable me to work within a so far elusive creative chaos; my need to have everything odered and tidy before starting work must have cost me months of productivity.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014



Signs of change (at Portumna Castle)


Drinking tea that tastes of grass* (in a good way) on the grass

Colours are on my mind a lot right now, mainly due to something I am working on.

Ireland has been blessed with an extended summer - two weeks ago the weather forecast had seven sun symbols in a row for the week ahead, and it came true and then continued for another week. We are doing our best to keep up the swimming. Last week at Ladies' Beach there was an older woman in the water who had her long grey hair up in an elegant braided bun. She wore a necklace and earrings with her polka dot swimsuit and a smile on her face and spent a lot of time keeping herself afloat on her back (one of my favourite ways of being in the sea, and, incidentally, a great core exercise). I want to be that lady when I am older. Like in so many seaside towns there is a community of septua-, octo- and even nonagenarians here who go swimming in the sea regularly, some daily, throughout the year. They always have a cheerful welcome for us, and last week someone said "See you tomorrow!", as if it were understood that we'd all be there again the next day.

Parts of my life feel like a neverending holiday (the current combination of the weather, the swimming, half-day trips to places I had never been before, my house, the food, the company), and juxtaposed to that I am overwhelmed by how much I have to do. Taking my cue from our neighbour at home, I am banning the word 'stressed', though I am not sure 'overwhelmed' is a good substitute. Whenever I feel that way, I remind myself how lucky I am to be doing what I am doing.

So many things are in the work-in-progress state at the moment, but I am finally getting the hang of working on various projects and not losing sight of any individual one. It has only taken me about a decade to figure this out... I know it is a recurring theme here, but this time it does feel like a mini breakthrough. A lot of it is thanks to a version of the Pomodoro Technique and breaking down that barrier in my head that always seemed to dictate that if I had to be somewhere later in the day there was no point starting anything, even if I had a window of several hours. Now I think, wow, I have an hour to do some work! And I set my alarm. I shall report back next week.

* Kukicha

Friday, August 29, 2014

A little preview: Jumbo Discovers Giraffeland

I am excited to announce that the second story in the Jumbo trilogy will be out soon!

The Jumbo stories were written by Lionel Gallagher and illustrated by me. The beautiful design and layout are by the very talented artist and graphic designer Conor Gallagher. For this book he chose burnt orange for the giraffes (each group of animals has its own colour). It is a tale of belonging and friendship and adventure. As you can see, Jumbo not only discovers Giraffeland, but also encounters some zebras along the way. I enjoyed drawing the patterns on the giraffes and the zebras' stripes - a bit like working on a mandala, trance-inducing.

Book One - Jumbo Wants to be a Hippo | Book launch for Jumbo Wants to be a Hippo

Monday, August 18, 2014

Expansiveness and reading

"The bigness of the world is redemption. Despair compresses you into a small space, and a depression is literally a hollow in the ground. To dig deeper into the self, to go underground, is sometimes necessary, but so is the other route, of getting out of yourself, into the larger world, into the openness in which you need not clutch your story and your troubles so tightly to your chest. Being able to travel both ways matters, and sometimes the way back into the heart of the question begins by going outward and beyond. This is the expansiveness that sometimes comes literally in a landscape or that tugs you out of yourself in a story." 
(Solnit, Rebecca: The Faraway Nearby, GRANTA, London 2013, pp.30f.)

As always when away from my usual surroundings, my mind was spinning with ideas, plans and general thought overload while in Germany, all of them things I couldn't wait to get stuck into, but as always this was followed by fatigue descending upon my return and the seemingly very important prerequisite to get organised before any action can be taken.

But I am also a great believer in quiet times and the need to let ideas percolate. I have been doing a lot of reading and thinking, with minimal note-taking for a change, and I am sure it will all come together at some point and in some shape. That painting for my sister and brother-in-law that was supposed to be a Christmans present...still on my easel. In my defense, I am staying at their house catsitting (hence more cat pictures!) and haven't brought many supplies with me. It's just me, the laptop, the papers, and a few books, and the expansiveness of the landscape here.

I have been following Maria Popova's wonderful brain pickings for a few years now, and I want almost every book she features. Her website is also a treasure trove for illustrators and lovers of children's literature, as both form a substantial part of her curated offerings. Thanks to her I have been introduced to the work of illustrators I hadn't been aware of before, such as Marion Fayolle.

I quit facebook a couple of years ago but rejoined it as I was required to have a personal profile in order to become the administrator of - so far - three pages (I still have a lot of reservations about facebook and  spend a minimal amount of time on it, but it is undeniably a great tool for business). When I wanted to share a brain pickings post (Einstein on fairy tales and education) on one of them, I checked whether the website was on facebook and 'liked' it, and thus have been reading and re-reading a lot of the content. Until I realised I have been consuming all this digested material online, but so far have only read a fraction of the actual books that these posts are about, and then probably in most cases because I already owned them. Whereas with reviews in newspapers I tend to buy or borrow the books that have caught my interest soon after, or at least the titles go straight onto a list in my purse. I reckon it is because online content is at one's disposal forever; newspapers get discarded (though I have a drawer full of cuttings). My online bookmarks are adding up, and I know I can always go back. But the sheer amount of all those links is overwhelming. I have been reading too much online, and it is hurting my head and eyes and making me jittery and shortening my attention span. So it is high time I got some of those books.

My new favourite writer Rebecca Solnit has been on my radar a lot, and the next book of hers I want to read is Wanderlust: A History of Walking. This will also be to mark my intention to form a habit that will be non-negotiable (as that might well be the only way to stick to it): On days I don't go for a run, I will go for a walk. And go to the beach more often, for "reinforcement", as Solnit puts it in The Faraway Nearby: "...just to know that the ocean went on for many thousands of miles was to know that there was an outer border to my own story, and even to human stories, and that something else picked up beyond. It was the familiar edge of the unknown, forever licking at the shore." (ibid., p. 31)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Cats, cake, colour


Just do it. You’re gonna feel so great all afternoon if you get your work done today. You get to not do it, but then you’re gonna feel really sad; you’re gonna really feel regretful, and that begins to speak for a whole life: if you’ve wanted to write, if you’ve wanted to dance, if you’ve wanted to join a chorus, if you want to get back to playing piano, [which] you were very good at until other people found it very inconvenient for you to get so lost in your music. And you say ‘I don’t know how long I’m gonna live, but I will be playing piano the day I die!’ And I do that with my writing. I say, ‘it’s quarter of nine’... I was getting picked up for the airport at 12; I had three hours fifteen minutes, and I’d say I spent two hours and twenty of them writing, and I got something that was a really bad first draft into better shape, better shape, and that’s all I can do on any given day. ~ Anne Lamott 

All freedom comes from discipline [...] that's what meditation is about. ~ Anne Lamott

These quotes are from this video, a conversation with writer Anne Lamott. If anyone reading this who works freelance or wants to make time for their art is in need of motivation, watch this video! 

I am one of Anne Lamott's many many fans, and I listened to this while working on illustrations the other day (the third picture above is a detail from one of them; two more are here on my website) - in a nice display of synchronicity it turned into one of the most productive days I have had recently, and I did feel great all afternoon, and all evening, and the feeling carried on into the following day... Then it stopped - or it would surely have turned into complacency and thus inactivity. Every day is a new day. Start again.

My creativity has also been fuelled by cake and the presence of two cats. And love and nice feedback and jogs with my running buddies (my younger sister and brother-in-law), who are also staying at my mom's house (hence the cats) while I am here. Tomorrow we will be joined by our older sister and her husband, so we will all be under one roof for a few days, a rare occurrence.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Dolce far niente

Not quite there yet, even though I did spend half an hour just lying on the grass in the garden of my family home looking at the clouds, like the man on the GEO cover. Doing nothing isn't easy for me. Hence my struggles with meditation, but I am getting better at it, though the phrase 'getting better at' surely must not be used in relation to meditation.

Relaxing with a book is different, second nature.

With a big part of my work being freelance, I always carry work with me and it is always on my mind, but luckily it doesn't feel like work most of the time, unless there is a deadline approaching fast or I feel stuck. I now have three weeks with no teaching, tour guiding, storytelling-assisting or arts admin, just the projects I am working on that are location-independent.

Being here makes me want to have a proper garden, something I could do where I live, to some extent, but so far it is limited to a few pots. I have been drinking lemon balm tea and water with lemon balm, and it may have shortened the lifespan of the cold sore I brought with me. All our meals feature something from my mom's garden, and we feed the outer leaves of lettuces to our neighbours' chickens.

I have done so much living the past three months, and my last few hours before catching the night bus to the airport were no different: I used to go to bed and set my alarm for midnight, but this time I was invited along to a concert, so despite my swollen painful lip I went, and I am so glad I did. It was We Banjo 3, and the gig was part of the Galway International Arts Festival. They were brilliant and so much fun. I bought their new album and drank brandy times three, perhaps my new favourite drink and cure-all. The ensuing journey was pleasantly tranquil and filled with memories and music from the night.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Drink the wild air

 Wool-dress-bikini-and-bare-legs weather (slippers made by my sister)

 A new book to look forward to

"Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air..."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I've been following Ralph's advice. Some of the best swims of my life have happened in the last month or so. A couple of times I came into the office to find a printout with the tides on my desk; we have been timing our swims perfectly. Sometimes the evening light would add a golden-pink glow, and one afternoon the sea was wild and throwing us around, shaking out all the tension and mental clutter.

And I did get back to the easel (and the kitchen table for illustrations. I rarely use my desk. For illustrations I like to have everything piled on the kitchen table. I think I like looking at the vase of flowers and working in an environment of domesticity.). How I had missed painting. Life has been so full lately, in all the best ways, but I need to remind myself to feed every area, to maintain the equilibrium.

It has been warmer outside than in the house. I move back and forth between my blanket in the garden and indoors, where I am in the process of doing a summer clean before heading off for a visit home next week. Today my house seems even more dollhouse-like as usual as I have gained height (it really does happen) from an Alexander Technique session (thank you, Shane!). AT worked wonders for George Bernard Shaw, possibly adding years to his life, or so I am told. The best thing is you don't have to actively do anything, yet you notice a difference in how your body is aligned after imagining it lengthening and expanding. Whether I'll have the discipline to practise this regularly remains to be seen, as always...


Saturday, June 28, 2014

What I need to get back to...

Completed artwork for this year's COLOURS Fringe Festival

Work-in-progress: A painting of our hometown for my sister and brother-in-law

...Making things. Last week my number one anxiety trigger was having neglected friendships and family; now it's not making enough time for art. For emergencies* a bath with Epsom salts and lemongrass oil, accompanied by a hot toddy (yes, at the end of June), will help. This was tied in with the desire to stay up late and draw, but my bed seems more appealing now after the bath, and I know I will give in. 

At the moment my brain doesn't feel very creative. My friend and partner in all kinds of creative endeavours Rab wrote a lovely piece this week on how playing with his kids gives his brain a rest, and a rested brain becomes "open to more ideas". On a related note, there was a fantastic live broadcast from the current Matisse exhibition in the Tate in the cinema recently. I loved the 'play' aspect to the creation of his exuberant  cut-outs, so poignant when considering that he made them when and because he was very ill and no longer able to paint. It makes so much sense, this final burst of colour and celebration of life and giving visual shape to memories (inventing a new medium in the process. There was also an interview with one of my heroines, Françoise Gilot... but I digress). The play-and-work and work-as-play topic keeps coming up for me, but it's time to put it into practice more often. Ideally any form of art-making feels like play. I certainly had fun creating the festival artwork!

* a slight exaggeration. I'm fine.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

That was a long break...

The weeks are whizzing past me, and I am slowly working my way through an impossibly long To Do list. I haven't shown up here because various work projects have included a lot of time spent creating and managing websites and social media and volumes of e-mail, so when I wasn't working I wanted my eyes to look at green trees and the expanse of the sea, or anything that was not a screen.

There have been so many big and small changes - both in my work and my personal life, all positive for the last two months -, and I am still adjusting to the new rhythm. It continues to elude me how people who work full-time and have families look after themselves and keep their energy levels up. I seem to need a disproportionate amount of time to myself and an early night at least three times a week in order to function, and I am responsible for myself only. I know it's a HSP/introvert trait to be so easily overwhelmed, but there have been too many mornings (especially after working late and/or socialising) spent sitting around in a daze with aching muscles trying to muster the energy to step into the shower. I know a lot of people who would see that as luxury me-time they would kill for, but I just think of all the things I could be doing and the seconds ticking away.

Last week it struck me how much of the low-level everyday anxiety I have been feeling is fuelled by neglecting friendships and not phoning home enough, even when that neglect is not one-sided. So now I am surrounded by half-written letters and cards and e-mails in my draft folder. And of course I acutely feel my sister's absence after her three-month stay here. We had a little farewell party at my house, and Galway Bay put on a spectacular evening sky with a lot of pink and a rainbow. A friend took the photo above of us three sisters in the twilight, and due to the latter and also because I enlarged it from a small photo it physically possesses that blurry nostalgic quality that I have already imbued it with in my mind.

On a less emotional note, my inner minimalist is delighted with Dr. Bronner's liquid soap and its multitude of uses (I haven't tried it as toothpaste or for washing the dishes or laundering clothes yet, though all that and much more is possible). It had always been on my radar, but since I generally prefer soap bars, I never bought it until a couple of months ago. It works really well as a facial wash, and you don't need moisturiser afterwards. I love travelling light, so this, the smallest bottle, will serve as a one-in-all on future trips, and I will get a large bottle for at home. I was going to dedicate a whole post to this soap, but then India Knight reviewed it for the Sunday Times, so I will just quote her: "Come the apocalypse, you want a bottle of this about your person.". Yes!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Breakfast table book*



"Over the years Lucian's breakfast varied from pains au raisin to porridge to scrambled egg and toast, Sally and David always wanting to make sure he ate sufficiently and healthily, as he had a very sweet tooth. Lucian would often take a bar of home-made nougat from the shop's shelves as he walked in, sometimes jokingly slipping it into his pocket like a shoplifter. With a murderously sharp black-handled kitchen knife, he would slice it bit by bit, offering up slivers." 
(Greig, Geordie: Breakfast with Lucian, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York 2013, p.4)

While Breakfast with Lucian (a birthday present and perfect companion to this) is, of course, about so much more than what Lucian Freud used to have for breakfast, I admit that I am almost obsessively interested in these glimpses into people's habits and choices and the minutiae of everyday life. The internet may be awash with look-at-what-I-had-for-lunch-type photos and blog posts and facebook updates, and a certain cynicism has evolved in response to this, but both in fiction and non-fiction I am always pleased to see references to food or other domestic routines.

P.S.: My own breakfast varies, but my breakfast table tends to include multiple beverages, blueberries and coconut oil (the latter on toast and in coffee), and occasionally there is cava and roses - keeping the tradition of the Sektfrühstück going!

*I did not actually read the book while having breakfast - mindfulness and all...

Friday, May 9, 2014



The response to what I pondered in my last post is shingles in my eye and a kidney infection. That's what I got for a lifestyle and tempo of said lifestyle this introvert was unable to maintain for long. Or maybe it had nothing to do with that, but was a delayed reaction to the upheaval of recent months. Whatever the reason, I obviously need to remind myself that one day every week must be a blank in my diary set aside for doing nothing (doing nothing may include reading, running, swimming, meditating, baking, cooking, organising and a whole lot of other doings, but I have to be on my own for most of it or in the company of someone similarly disposed).

I managed to continue with the teaching, as well as going on -relaxed, inspiring- day trips to beautiful corners of the world, so today was the first day I was able to work from home and take it easy. Stillness is in order, and it is easy to attain in a house filled with beautiful flowers, among them the sweet scent of hyacinths, and with my own little assistant-sister who just made me dinner.

As a soap bar enthusiast I always get ridiculously excited when I try out a new one, and this Brigid Soap with its intriguing ingredients is extra special because it was a gift from my older sister, who presented it to me in Brigit's Garden, with a touching explanation of why she had chosen it. My aura expertly cleared after using this in the shower, I am now sipping tea made with cayenne pepper and lemon and envisaging a wild Friday night bedtime of 8pm. This is exactly how I used to live.