Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Sketchbook | Emil

Sketch of Emil, winter afternoon sunlight

Some time ago on this blog I started and then quickly abandoned a regular series called 'Daily Drawings', in which I was going to post one or several of my daily drawings (or paintings) once a week - it was never going to be an actual 'daily' thing... Then my posting became sporadic.

It is easy to make announcements of fresh starts, especially at this time of the year. I am sitting here with a new diary and a new notebook, hundreds of blank pages with the promise of plans put into being, ideas realised and wishes fulfilled. My 2015 diary and its pages of densely written appointments and events (an estimated 10%), deadlines (20%) and random notes to self (70%) are in the recycling - not the fire this time.

I am hoping to post more regularly again, and this series shall be under the plain and more open and realistic title 'Sketchbook', though I have high hopes that I will sketch and paint every day. There will be some housekeeping going on here for the next few days (or weeks).

This is a drawing of my four-month-old nephew. More and more I feel the need to draw and paint people and things from my life. And I am encouraged by the feedback from others, including strangers. In the August exhibition the painting people commented on most was of my sister and her cat, the most personal piece in a lot of ways.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Attempts at serenity - there is only love

While Christmas and being at home for long enough to be at home is always a lovely time (if tinged with absence for the past 14 years), inevitably tension and everything that is unresolved creep in, in a more condensed form than when I am geographically removed from the past and the network of family and friends here.  

So I send those whose actions, inactions or words hurt people close to me and me (and ultimately themselves, of course) love, because they may not know better. It sounds trite and too easy, but there is some truth in that paradigm that "everyone is doing the best they can".  

I used to spend so much time and energy worrying about and overanalysing situations and people, and while the worrying remains, I am able to apply the knowledge that we cannot change others; we can only change ourselves and our attitude. But our attitude and action/reaction are different, if overlapping, concepts, and at times I feel helpless; it can be hard to know what to do or not to do, whether to speak up or remain silent. Stepping away and creating space can feel like distancing myself (which may be the right route to take) or denial. 

I can see myself slipping into old patterns here in my childhood home, composing letters in my head, wanting to mediate and create harmony. And I am not saying this from some superior position of great insight and righteousness  – all of this is compounded by guilty feelings; I am hardest on myself, as usual, revisiting my early twenties and other phases or events of my life I am not particulary proud of. The situations that cause upset at the moment get tangled up with just about everything else I can fret over, from the minutiae of my own world to global issues. So I try to detangle it and help where I can help, act where it is appropriate, do my best in the present moment, and practise to let things go.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Getting back into a routine

Moving house has thrown a lot of my routines. At the beginning I didn't know where half of my things were, because I had packed haphazardly, as everything was so chaotic just before I moved out. We are still living out of boxes to some extent, and I have existed in a state of constant (excited and happy, of course) frazzledness. A large proportion of my thinking has been in the shape of to-do-lists. Between work and the house and attempting a new-to-me kind of domesticity, some things have inevitably fallen by the wayside.

Routines are extremely important to me (and the opposite is true as well - I can get stuck in a rut and need to do things differently - Gretchen Rubin talks a lot about these paradoxes) and one of the best ways to calm an anxious mind. But I easily get sidetracked and prioritise work or chores, which are ritualistic in their own right. Now I am making a conscious effort to dig out (metaphorically and literally) all the things that used to make up my daily/weekly/twice-weekly routines.

One of them is yoga. For a few weeks my yoga mat was only used by John for the exercises he has to do after hurting his back gardening (and we were extolling the health benefits!) and by our neighbours' dog, who loves wriggling on it belly up. But now I am back to doing yoga with the visual help of this luscious book, which is perfect when I just need a sequence I can follow without having to learn anything new or read up on things and when I want quiet and don't want to be guided by a video.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Four senses | December 2015

Taste  |  Aphrodite Nerve and Energy Tea by Solaris. I used to drink this all the time, then other teas took over and I kind of forgot about it, even though it was one of my favourite teas - it's strange how that can happen. This is a blend of rose, lavender, lemon balm, lime flowers and red clover and lovely in the afternoon or evening.

Smell  |  Christmas baking. Jars with almonds, vanilla sugar and other ingredients are lined up on the kitchen counter, and I got a set of star-shaped cookie cutters. This year I really wanted to mark the seasons more (the extent of my Christmas decoration used to be one bauble and three other ornaments, because I always go home for Christmas, but I'd still always have at least three weeks in December in my place), so the German tradition of baking Plätzchen (cookies) is a big part of it.

Hear  |  Podcasts. During the last class of this year yesterday we had Christmas music on in the background, but I have mostly been listening to podcasts, usually while doing housework or painting. One thing I want to do over the next few weeks is to get some new music. I haven't really listened to many new releases or discovered new-to-me older material.

See  |  Books - Reading and deciding what to read next. I loved Michael Harding's Staring at Lakes, and I finally got his new memoir, Hanging with the Elephant. I wanted to save it for my flight home, but I couldn't wait. His weekly newspaper column is such honest beautiful writing from the heart, and I would like to read his fiction, too. Too much of my reading has been online, so in 2016 I am hoping to read at least two books a week again.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

New home | kitchen work-in-progress

 old chairs, painted

a still quite bare kitchen work-in-progress

 hot press corner, very much a work-in-progress

Work on the house (or Operation 'Add Charm to a Bungalow') is progressing very slowly. Winter doesn't seem to be the best time to get things done. Apart from painting furniture and moving things around from one temporary location to another we haven't done much. I did one paint job late at night and was rewarded with a streaky-looking lacquer coat the following day (see third photo above).

Because chalk paint has a very low VOC content and doesn't require much preparation work, I have been painting almost everything that needed painting with chalk paint. We are doing a lot of make-do-and-mend, and painting things can make such a big difference. We are keeping the kitchen that came with the house for now (but will take off all the hanging cupboards and put up a shelf or two instead) and painted it with Annie Sloan chalk paint, mixing 'Old Ochre' and 'Original' 50/50. The handles I painted a colour we got as a test pot in a DIY store, a pale lilac. There were also a couple of old chairs in the house, and a friend gave us another two. I painted them grey and pink, this time with chalk paint from Woodie's DIY, which was cheaper than the Annie Sloan and almost as good. Their range of colours is completely different, so I will probably buy from both brands again. Having said that, a small amount of chalk paint goes a long way, so I might not have to buy any more anytime soon.

For the black mosaic tile backsplash I got magenta tile paint, though we are also thinking of collecting larger ornamental tiles and creating a new backsplash at some stage.

The hot press is built into the kitchen wall and had the finish that is still visible around the doors in the last photo above. I painted the doors a light grey and took off the handles to make it look more like panelling and less like an inbuilt cupboard. For the frame we want a contrasting colour, but since we haven't decided what colour the wall will be eventually, we are going to wait.

Meanwhile this corner has become our favourite place to read and talk and drink wine. When we have visitors we pull up a small table and more chairs. We really depend on the stoves now that it has got colder. The sitting room (where the other stove is) heats up much faster, but a lot of life happens in the kitchen, which doubles as our office/studio at the moment. This is one reason we are going to knock down part of the wall between the two rooms. Large open-plan style wouldn't necessarily be my favourite (I quite like the cosiness of individual rooms, and open plan often feels cold, especially in Ireland!), but some sort of in-between makes sense.

*As always when I mention brands here, I do not receive anything in exchange for recommending or linking to things.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

On the easel, outside the window


The storm slashed open our poly tunnel, and our shed has a hole in the roof. The flooding on the roads got so bad the cars in front of me hesitated that little bit longer in front of the lake that had formed. But just as we regretted not having moved to the Sunny South-East, the West got a day of picture perfect sunshine. Then, one morning, we awoke to two new neighbours - horses just a few metres away from our window (I took the second photo through the window). Every morning I sit and watch the birds at the bird feeder and the horses and the sea - the view just keeps getting better.

Maybe I am running out of ideas, because these days I seem to keep copying myself - this is the third time (in five years, though, and in different colours!) I have painted this figure-in-bird. A more likely explanation is that the books I am illustrating still take up most of my free time and headspace, but apart from some computer-related frustrations this is a wonderful place to be in. And at least I am painting again. Like half the internet I am reading Big Magic, with its delightful mixture of encouragement and reality check. The important thing is to keep doing the work, regardless of the outcome, and it is of course true that most of the enjoyment is in the process, not the afterwards. Big Magic's "central paradox" of "art is absolutely meaningless. It is, however, also deeply meaningful" and the reason why it is vital to live both parts is a good reminder.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Apple bread

Usually I wouldn't go near anything Christmassy until December 1st, but this week is the last week of the current term of my classes, so I wanted to bake something to go with our early Christmas coffee. One thing I made was Apfelbrot, a staple in our family in the lead-up to Christmas. It is a rustic cake/bread, moister than stollen, lighter than fruit cake and beautifully fragrant.

There are a lot of variations of this, and I have experimented with different nuts - chopped roasted hazelnuts instead of whole ones; almonds; mixed nuts minus the peanuts, as I felt they wouldn't work that well - but here is my aunt's recipe (which I just realised happens to be dairy- and eggfree):


  • 750g apples (peeled and grated)
  • 250g sugar [I use less, around 200g]
  • 250g raisins
  • 250g whole hazelnuts
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 heaped teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1 dessert spoon dark rum
  • 500g flour
  • 5 teaspoons baking powder

  1. Mix the grated apples and the sugar and let stand for at least six hours or overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (160 for fan-assisted ovens).
  3. Put the raisins in a sieve or colander, rinse vigorously under a fully opened hot tap and drain. 
  4. Add the raisins, nuts, spices, cocoa and rum to the apples and sugar and mix to combine.
  5. Mix the flour and baking powder and sift onto the apple mixture. Mix to combine.
  6. Pour into two medium-sized loaf tins. Bake for 45-60 minutes.

With the oven in our new house we have noticed that everything is cooked much sooner than expected. After years of having an oven where you had to add at least 20 minutes to the given time, this still surprises me every time. So I would advise checking after 45 minutes.


Speaking of preparation, this year I even managed to buy a diary (Moleskine; the price seems to go up every year, but it is the best weekly planner I know of) before January. I am one of those sad people who get antsy and panic when they enter the new year without a diary (and yet I almost always end up leaving it until mid-January). So between the baking and planning ahead to such an extent that I have a planner for planning ahead I feel a bit more ready for the winter months.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Four senses | November 2015

Sound  |  The debut album by John's friend, "one of the best fiddle players in the circuit" (Brian Rooney). This CD had been anxiously awaited. Having missed the Galway launch, we went to the Ennis launch, where the venue was so packed, we had to come back a bit later. It is a treat to hear Claire live - her playing is pure magic, so lyrical and light. The title track, her own composition, is one of my favourites on this stunning album.

Smell  |  Clary sage essential oil. I had run out of it, and it took me a while to get another bottle (I tend to transfer a lot of items on my shopping list from week to week. It can take me a year to buy batteries), and now I cannot believe I didn't miss it more. This is the oil that 'elevates' your mood, so whenever I feel lethargic or down I use this, and it works like an 'on' switch. My current go-to blend for the oil burner is clary sage, cypress and lemongrass.

Taste  |  Dried thyme on roast potatoes and as a tea (a strong brew, left to cool down, is also great as a facial toner).

See  |  I go months without seeing a single movie, and then I watch two within two days. 'Brooklyn' at the cinema and 'Mar Adentro' as a DVD, lent to me by a friend (watching foreign language films must be one of the best ways to keep the language alive when you don't get to speak it often). The former was heartbreaking in its depiction of emigration and heightened the guilt I feel for having chosen to leave my home, the latter beautifully shot and desperately sad, though with a life-affirming and even humorous element (I wouldn't go as far as the blurb, which calls it "a truly joyous experience").

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Happy Home

 Bought pumpkin pie. Almost as good as the homemade pie my sister gave us (no photo evidence of the latter).
 The Nicholas Mosse ceramics were a housewarming gift.

Little visitor

Our favourite card, made by the most adorable (and  perceptive) girl.
 Love the details (my palette and brush, John's stubble)

After a bit of a hiatus (that began when I started teaching again and may have also been triggered by the lukewarm reception I got for one of my DIY jobs...only joking - that was pure coincidence) we are making progress with the house. I was going to post some before and after pictures, but realised that I seem to have the dubious ability to make the after pictures look worse than the before, mainly due to light: All the befores are drenched in sunlight and the afters are taken at the end of the day, in artificial light, and look gloomy as a result. But they are coming.

We are still living in two rooms, and everything takes longer than we thought, but we knew that would happen, and it makes sense to take it slowly and not end up with panic purchases and all the wrong colours. It is such an exciting project. In the meantime we are making this our home with what we have and somehow don't even see eyesores such as the gas boiler anymore. It is also very much possible to get used to a chocolate 1980s bathroom suite.

We have had a good few visitors, with a good few kiddies on what we call the kiddies' bench (that we use a lot ourselves. I never had a bench before; it is now one of my favourite things in our house). We are finishing a jigsaw that four smaller hand were working on this afternoon. In the years I lived on my own I never thought of getting a jgsaw, even though it was something I loved as a child. I am so grateful for the constant surprises and ties to the past that cohabitation brings.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Drinking the wild air

We were lucky dogsitters for the last four days, and I have come to the conclusion that the cure for everything must be salt water in combination with a furry friend. A day of the sun splitting the stones also helped. We went down to the beach this morning and sat on a wall looking out at the sea before getting into the water (the dog). I had no idea what the time was (I had left my phone at home on purpose; the photo above is from Friday), and there was a lovely sense of it not mattering. Spiddal was sun-drenched and sleepy, with a couple of other dogs trotting down the road and waiting in front of the shop and eldery people with their carers out on their walk, and I had this moment of transcendence.

As I was typing the above and thinking about all the needless worrying I did last weekend and how different this weekend was, a friend sent me this link. Perfect timing. I am sure some of these quotes will become mantras.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Abundance and self-sabotage

Fresh herbs and jam from our lovely neighbours

After a very wet summer the West of Ireland has been blessed with a beautiful autumn, and this corner of the world has been showing its most photogenic face. The raspberry bushes in the garden are still heavy with fruit. We make baked apples from the yield of our trees. The kitchen is well-stocked, and we have been building fires with wood and turf given to us as house-warming (thanks Adrian!) gifts. People have been so kind and welcoming and generous. The abundance of all these gifts and of having everything we need fills me with gratitude, and I feel settled and secure in a way I haven't felt since my childhood . It also brings into stark relief how my anxiety manages to wrestle me out of the moment and the process and plunge me into all kinds of imagined dramas and scenarios.

Life has been good, more than good, on so many levels lately. And yet I fret and worry and regularly get into a panic (though thankfully very few actual panic attacks these days). I never trust it when things go well and am an expert in self-sabotaging my own happiness. Being busy has been beneficial because I simply haven't had time to navel-gaze, but it doesn't require a lot of time to get worked up and anxious about things as they happen (or seem to be happening or about to happen). During the summer I was convinced something terrible was around the corner because the irrational part of my brain told me I didn't deserve all the good things that came my way.

I banned the word 'stress' from my vocabulary in the belief it would make me feel less stressed, but I obviously have been using synonyms instead, with the same result. It bothers me how busyness is worn as a badge of honour by so many, yet I have been going around telling everyone how incredibly busy I have been. I have created priorities when there was no need and turned enjoyable things into stressfests (the 's' word again...), all of my own making. So my prescription for myself for the remaining months of this year is less doing, more making (using my hands to 'make', be it gardening, cooking or painting, is my 'drug' of choice at the moment. I haven't been for a run in weeks, and have touched the yoga mat only once or twice), and less worrying, more letting go.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Rocking horse

When I was preparing for our exhibition in August I decided to do another version of the rocking horse I painted for a festival artwork a few years ago. I have fond memories of the rocking horse we had as children (it was a rather minimalist angular grey horse on a green bow, and we got it from friends of the family whose own children were older), and whenever I see vintage rocking horses or other vintage toys I feel this wave of nostalgia for the world of our childhood and the glimpses we got into the childhoods of our parents and grandparents via the toys we inherited. The first rocking horse painting was part of a series with a melancholy-tinged fairground theme, and I am not sure what I'll be painting after this one, but it's a motif I find myself drawn to.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Four senses - October 2015

Sound  "All We Want is Love" by Ane Brun. I wish there were a word (because I am about to use a range of clichés) for that feeling when you hear a new song and it is so beautiful your heart hurts and you are reminded of the other times this has happened in the past with a song (for me, for example, with "Rising" by Lhasa de Sela), and there is that sense of coming home and recognition and enchantment. [Photo: the Burren under its duvet]

Smell  |  Smelling roses in the Botanic Gardens. The variety and the subtle differences and the imaginative names! One reason I use a rose moisturiser is for the scent.

Sight  |  Progress in the garden. Still a lot to do before the cold weather comes, but the doors of the shed  (some of the frame hanging loose) and various other things are painted and the grass is cut, and we are getting on top of the weeds and briars.

Taste  |  This non-dairy (bó is cow in Irish) ice cream. We are not off anything at the moment, though we attempted a sugar-free house (everything in moderation these days) and I do try to limit my intake of sugar and dairy in particular. We may have eaten this sandwiched between a meringue and whipped cream on one occasion.

As always, I link to products, etc., so it is easier to find them and because I like them. No affiliate links or any such thing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Old place, new place

Tea with Kathleen, Oil on canvas

Our 'everything' room, with the beginnings of a sea of cushions

One of these days I will be back to a regular blogging schedule, but meanwhile the (rather wonderful) craziness of my life right now continues. With so much happening at the same time I have been a very bad friend to some people, but as my sister likes to remind me, the other person could get in touch, too. For some reason I tend to carry massive guilt with me all the time, about everything thinkable, but the world doesn't revolve around me, and I am aware of the danger of unintentionally making yourself far more important than you are. So less guilt, and one thing at a time.

At the weekend we had two of our first visitors. One of them was my good friend and now ex-neighbour Kathleen, the octogenarian who looks younger every time I see her, and I finally gave her her portrait, which is a lovely memento of the countless cups of tea we had together when I lived in the chalet. I had offered it to her from the start, before the exhibition, and then wondered whether she actually wanted it, as some sitters are reluctant to have a painting of themselves, so I made sure to double-check. 

Most of the painting I have done recently has been painting-decorating (photos to follow), and I am lucky to be living with a man who is not afraid of pink. He even asked for some things to be painted pink. Today one of my students was wearing a beautiful ensemble of colours and print, and when I complimented her on it she said she really needed it this morning, foregoing a muted outfit. Colours do have such a big impact on our mood. For the house we have decided to keep most of the bigger pieces of furniture neutral and put the colour in the details, the objects and the art. Now that autumn is here and it gets dark early, I look forward to some cushion-cover-sewing sessions by the fire, with quite a bit of pink.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Blue sky, blue sea, blue hours

On Friday, driving home from Clifden, where I was minding our exhibition, I caught the blue hour and saw Connemara like I had never seen it before (not pictured here; I didn't take any photos). It also happened to be very still and dry, so the lakes were perfectly smooth mirrors. Something that had become tiresome (I have been doing a lot of driving to and from Clifden) turned into a magical experience, and I didn't mind being stuck behind a very slow huge truck.

It was a reminder of how our attitude changes everything - even if the external circumstances hadn't changed, I could have accessed that mindset. I had been spending too much time worrying about things large and small, and that drive on Friday put not an end, but a pause to it. Of course Connemara is always stunning, and there is always something new to see, but even if I had been driving through drab industrial estate after industrial estate, I could have gone someplace in my head that would have brought me the same happiness.

But it helps to be surrounded by beauty. Today we came home to a summery evening and spent time in the garden and down at the beach (John went for a swim; I chickened out). Having a garden that, as my grandmother used to say, wants to see its master every day, is such a blessing. It is fast becoming a non-negotiable to be out there doing something (so far it has been mainly weeding and cutting the grass), like our daily walks, and already we feel healthier and happier for it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Irish countryside, real and painted

Cutting back the hedge

Two preparatory paintings for the new book

And another few weeks have flown by... Since June I haven't had time to pause and take stock. This has been such a life-changing year, and on so many levels.

I got back from Germany over a week ago, but am still playing catch-up with everything. I didn't get to see everyone I wanted to see when I was over there, but I shall be back soon. It was very difficult saying goodbye to my family, especially this time, with my sister a new mom and her tiny baby boy. It doesn't get easier, this living away from the tribe (though part of the tribe lives here, too, which is wonderful and even more guilt-inducing at the same time).

The new house already feels like home, and we are loving our 'island' bed in the middle of the sitting room. We build a fire every night and have had some of our meals at the low coffee table. We are busy getting quotes from builders and insulation companies, etc., visiting DIY shops and getting started on the things we can do at this point. These involve tins of Annie Sloan paint and a hand weeder. All while getting ready for another exhibition, doing some work in the Uni (at least the teaching hasn't started yet) and attempting to meet some freelance deadlines.

We cut back the hedge to reveal not only more of the sea view with the silhouette of the steps in the limestone of the Burren, but also sloping fields with stone walls. All this can be seen from the dining table, where I set up my temporary office every day. This house is everything we could have wished for.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

This is why I became an illustrator

 Finalising the endpaper for our book

Revisiting favourite children's books - this is one of Ilon Wikland's illustrations for Astrid Lindgren

Staying at my mom's is always a journey back to my childhood. Yesterday I revisited some of my favourite children's books, and I am sure that the wonderful world of children's literature I had access to when I was a child is part of the reason I became an artist and illustrator.

I cannot imagine a childhood without Astrid Lindgren's books, and yet in Ireland many people have never heard of her or only know Pippi Longstocking. All the editions of English translations I have seen have different illustrations, but for me Lindgren's work is inextricably linked with Ilon Wikland's pictures. It was one of those magical collaborations.

While I am here I am also finalising the layout (including the endpaper!) for the book I have been working on with writer Amie Ní Nuallaín. I know I said I'd post more varied content here again (and more frequently, too), and I will, but illustration is what I have been absorbed in lately.

In other news, though also illustration-related to some extent, I have finally joined Instagram; you can find me here. My username might still change. It took my sister and me a ridiculous amount of time to settle on a name for our Etsy shop (and now it is taking us forever to launch it, though it has been active for almost a year), and I have decided to be more spontaneous and get started with things and then worry about the details.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Whirlwind week


 Bed set up in the middle of the sitting room, where we will live while doing up the house

Last week was a week of excitement and high emotions and big changes, and on a practical level of learning to "get my stuff done", to not dither, to make decisions quickly, to not question myself at every step. I moved out of the chalet (saying goodbye after almost seven years of living there on my own) and into our new house, all within two days and several car loads. We assembled our bed at midnight while drinking champagne, after I hadn't eaten all day (so maybe I didn't learn that much), and spent our first night in our new home, where I slept like a baby.

Meanwhile I was preparing for our exhibition opening, which was on Friday, and then I caught a plane to Germany at 7am the following morning. Somewhere in between we had house-related meetings (with no chairs to sit on) and had the phone line connected. We were catsitting and living between three houses for a few days, and staying with Branwell was a godsend amid the chaos of moving.

I borrowed a good camera and waited for the right natural light to take photos of the illustrations I finished recently, and Dagmar and I got news that our proposal for an exhibition in a festival in September had been accepted. I didn't have a second to pause and take it all in. We were overwhelmed by how many people turned up for our opening and supported us. And in my head I still live in the chalet; it hasn't sunk in that we have our own house.

Now there are more big changes happening, with a new addition to the family coming soon (my second nephew), and my heart is full.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Making time for books

Fiction: The Girl Missing From the Window  |  short stories by Paul O'Reilly

Non-fiction:  Anxiety Free: Stop Worrying and Quieten Your Mind by Patrick McKeown

My to-do list has never been longer, but reading counts as an essential element of my day, just like food:

Fiction  |   There is something about short stories (oh, and how I love epigraphs!). These came into my hands courtesy of John. The book was featured on a culture programme on the radio, and we were both driving (separately) and listening to it, and John was hooked as soon as he heard the writer's Wexford accent (John is a proud Wexford man) and bought the book the following day. My reading prescription to myself is to include more short stories. I say this every time I finish a good collection, and then I leave too long a gap again.

Non-fiction  |  I have had this for a good few months, but only read through it the first time around, without doing the exercises. It can be so hard to commit to doing the work required, and it is yet another thing to add to my Daily List for Health and Wellbeing (after yoga, meditation, Transformational Grounding, ...) - this can get overwhelming, the opposite of what I am trying to achieve... But I was intrigued by the Buteyko Breathing Method. In a nutshell, chronic overbreathing causes increased brain cell excitability and thus anxiety and its accompanying physical symptoms, so the aim is to learn to breathe less. I always knew I needed to work on my breathing, but this book doesn't suggest the usual deep breathing techniques. I shall report back.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

This place

I am getting ready to move out, donating clothes and books, throwing out volumes of paper filed away in the belief I would need those documents, cuttings and notes (it has turned out I really don't). Most of my 'stuff' is in my studio (as much as minimalism appeals to me, for the artist part of me it is impossible) and on my bookshelves.

The objects in this house all tell a story and are a link to the people who gave them to me. When I taught a summer camp recently, I brought half my household for the still life lesson, and afterwards I noticed my beautiful wooden heart was missing. I mentioned it to the kids the following day, saying it might have got lost in the chaos of leaving the room, and it turned out one of the girls had 'given' it to one of the boys. There was sniggering, and he blushed, and I decided not to ask for it back. This was a sweet story, and I like to think of this cheeky but innocent 10-year old taking home the little wooden heart. It made me realise how much these objects mean to me, but it is the meaning, the story, that is most important.

When I moved in here, I had no idea how long I would stay, and while I made a good few changes (painting some of the furniture white, with my landlady's permission and approval), there were other things I never got around to, possibly because of that tenant mentality of only passing through. My 'gardening' efforts here never extended beyond potted plants. Years ago I shared a house with friends, and one of them designed and maintained an elaborate vegetable patch in the garden. I marvelled at her dedication. She made the most of the short time she lived in that house. I only changed one curtain here, and while I own some pieces of furniture, certain parts of the house - the shoe shelf!- remained in a 'this-will-do-for-now' state for the seven years. And seven years is a long time.

And yet I put a lot of love into this little house. This has been my sanctuary. It has felt like an all-year-round holiday house (it has also felt cold in the last two years, when the cavity insulation had sunk... I am already looking back through rose-tinted glasses). It gave me the luxury of having a dedicated studio space. I documented the changing light and colours across the bay (a long-term project that I want to make into a series of paintings) from my doorstep, and cultivated a wonderful friendship with my 81-year-old neighbour. After the various types of shared accommodation in my student years this was the first place I was able to call home apart from my childhood homes.