Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Natural beauty: skincare and dental

The contents of our bathroom cabinet are not all 100% plastic-free, but where possible we buy and use natural products in sustainable packaging or homemade versions.

I have been using a menstrual cup for around 15 years, since my early twenties, and more recently got some period underwear as well - and a portable bidet as a gift from my mum after my sister recommended it (that's all for another post - no taboos here!).

I don't buy cotton wool or similar. For taking off make-up I use muslin cloths that I store in a glass jar beside the basin. They also work well as a hot cloth for cleansing (I love Dr Hauschka's cleansing milk. The smell reminds me of my mum - it is the only product I currently have that has that white creamy scent idiomatic of so many lotions - something redolent of baby care and sunscreen and very comforting).
Another cleanser I bought a good while ago (a little goes a long way) and use as my main face wash is a Dublin Herbalists one that comes in a 'jam' jar. The consistency is like something between honey and liquid wax, so when you massage it into your skin you can almost feel it drawing out dirt and impurities. Adding water then turns it milky, and I take it off with a muslin cloth and warm water. As the brand name suggests, this is an Irish product.

I still use the frankincense and geranium moisturiser my sister made for me, and for sun protection I either use REN's SPF 30 or, when I want something akin to foundation (I rarely use foundation; I prefer a bare face), Ginzing SPF35 Hydrating Prettifying Finisher by Origins. It has a subtle glow and shimmer. I used to have Dr Hauschka's bronzer, which was nice and light. 

I tend to sleep with nothing on my face, but I do love Dr Hauschka's Night Serum, which goes on as an imperceptible layer. My skin feels softer and plumper and overall healthier the following morning. 

The Ben & Anna toothpaste comes in a jar with a wooden spatula. The charcoal dental floss feels tougher than conventional floss, but you get used to it. I never bought the dispenser; I just get the refills - we simply use scissors to cut off the length we need (it's crazy that the floss by the main dental care brands is mostly sold in plastic dispensers). We have Mable bamboo toothbrushes, and I like that they have a 'heavy bottom' and thus stand on their own, which means they don't get gunky sitting in a glass.

My sister also made me a jar of deodorant over a year ago that is still half full (at the moment I use it every day, but for a while I alternated with a geranium one I still had - also natural - which I used for exercise and when I expected fear sweat, as the jasmine one is not heavy-duty - but it still works well. I must ask her for the recipe).

Finally, rosewater is lovely as a toner or a hydrating mist and, of course, being rose, it is linked to the heart chakra. After everything that lung cancer and treatment did to that area of my body, I take extra good care of it, so one of my rituals is to spray rosewater on my chest. I used to buy this for other people and hadn't bought a bottle for myself in a while, and then, last year, in one of those examples of synchronicity, Angela in our local healthfood shop put one into my bag as a present, and now it is part of my routine again. And it is an Irish product.

As always, none of the above are affiliate links and I do not get paid for endorsing products here; I just post things I like!

Thursday, May 21, 2020


From Lindgren, Astrid & Hartung, Louise: Ich habe auch gelebt. Briefe einer Freundschaft, Ullstein Verlag, Berlin 2016

I have been filling a sketchbook with botanical illustrations, experimenting with different styles, though most of them are quite realistic. I adore both the highly detailed botanical drawings of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and more stylised modern interpretations and am not sure where to go with mine, but enjoying the ride.

The ones in my sketchbook are all done with watersoluble coloured pencils. I only started rendering flowers in oils and acrylics as the main subject of a painting in recent years. Art history is filled with stunning examples of floral art, and they are hugely popular as a theme, yet for some reason I had only ever used them as part of a composition and rarely let them take centre stage.

I love Georgia O'Keeffe's big and bold sculptural paintings of flowers opening and blossoming. And cut-paper flowers and of course the real thing, fresh and ephemeral or preserved: For my birthday my nephew gave me a card with pressed flowers (which I will frame) and a beautiful necklace containing a daisy (and my sister's card was her own gorgeous botanical drawing). I've been revisiting The Paper Garden with Mary Delany's intricate botanical collages created with scissors and coloured paper and thinking about the lovely gesture of adding flowers to diaries and letters. Throughout their correspondence Louise Hartung would send Astrid Lindgren flowers in the form of bouquets and bulbs or pressed and attached to paper.

Since Christmas we've had two different amaryllises indoors, red and pink. Ever since my older sister pointed it out, I like to think of it as the plant of the three Wild sisters - my sisters' names are Anke and Sibylle, so bits of our three names are included in Amaryllis, in chronological order (I'm the middle child...).

The red variety, as so many red flowers, is a symbol of love, but in Victorian times, the amaryllis was associated with pride (which was seen as a good attribute, denoting beauty and strength) and in China the red amaryllis signifies luck. A pink amaryllis is a friendship symbol and I have been drawing it on cards. All varieties represent hope as well. Our two specimens brightened up our rooms in the darker months before the garden came into its own.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Birthday, houses and home

From Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold (we sometimes put on subtitles in German if available, as John is learning it, or French or Spanish, as a brush-up exercise, but I put on English subtitles when I rewatched some of this, as there were so many quotes that I wanted to see in writing in addition to hearing the voice; it can add a layer of something I can't quite put my finger on)

‘I realised [the novel Play It as It Lays] was about anticipating Quintana was growing up. I was anticipating separation. […] I was actually working through that separation ahead of time. So novels are also about things you’re afraid you can’t deal with. In that sense that a novel is a cautionary tale, if you tell the story and work it out all right, then it won’t happen to you.’
Joan Didion, in Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

What I paint and what I read and think about and feel, and things that come into my life without my prompting them, seem to constantly interweave in astonishing - or perhaps expected - synchronicity.

It was my birthday yesterday, and talking to my mentor and friend Margie, the themes of home and rebirth and becoming through coming home to ourselves came up. I am working on the painting above, which was also born (excuse the pun) out of conversations with Margie and inner child work (my younger sister had recommended the book by Stefanie Stahl, which is about accepting our ‘shadow child’ and thus freeing our ‘sunshine child’) and may call it 'Birthday' (also as a nod to one of my favourite paintings). 

Margie had asked me a while ago whether I had something symbolic that could represent the child in me, and while I searched I kept thinking of a blurry sepia photo of me on a beach that I had saved when my sister sent me a digital copy of it and that I had been meaning to use as the starting point for a painting. 

The book I mentioned in my last post, On Chapel Sands, starts with a girl – the author’s mother - disappearing from a beach, and the memoir is about where we come from, among other things. And incidentally, I just started swimming in the sea again last week.

The house my sisters and I spent the best part of our childhood in is being transformed into a home for my younger sister and her family, with an integrated apartment for our mum. I am so glad they will be under the same roof (the guilt of having left my tribe and moved to another country remains), but there must be something potent in the symbolism of the dismantling and rebuilding, as a lot of my dreams these last few weeks have been about home and a nostalgia for my childhood. Not being able to go to Germany at the moment comes into it as well, no doubt. There is a walk John and I like to go on here that, even though it is at the edge of wild dramatic windswept Connemara, has a softness that reminds me of the fields and ditches surrounding our village at home.

In a sense a lot of art is ultimately about the journey home; it is one of those archetypal themes that underpin pretty much everything. Yet I am still struck by how it is such a dominant thread in my reading and painting at the moment. 

John gave me the recently published Lives of Houses, a collection of essays about the physical homes of various artists, literary figures, composers, politicians, etc. and how they shaped their lives and work. And I bought (and have read the first few pages - then I put it away, as my currently-reading pile is about to topple) Elizabeth-Jane Burnett's The Grassling, about place and landscape, memory and grief. It also includes wild swimming.


We watched two excellent documentaries that are available on Netflix at the moment. Becoming, about Michelle Obama’s memoir of the same title, which also has some moving scenes of her revisiting her childhood home and reminiscing about her late father, and Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, a portrait of the iconic writer, created by her nephew. 

I realised recently that I had quite the collection of literary works dealing with grief and packed away some of them to donate, but I still have Didion’s exceptional memoirs about the deaths of her husband and daughter, The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, and I want to reread them after watching the documentary.

A lot of my recommendations these days are the opposite of feel-good escapism*; between my choice of books and TV and the themes of my paintings (and the sea-swimming!), salt water is featuring heavily at the moment!

* We are also watching After Life.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Routines for staying grounded

 In the studio

Some recent and current reading


There are no weeds

Routines, be they daily, weekly or monthly, are an anchor in life, especially in these extraordinary times. We need structure. As a natural introvert I haven’t had trouble adapting to the lockdown, and while I share the global anxiety and heartbreak, just as I feel it about global warming, wars, human rights issues, poverty and other crises, and am worried about other people (and in awe of the frontline workers), I am used to dealing with massive uncertainty and am embracing the gifts and lessons in this situation, something I have had plenty of practice in since being diagnosed with cancer.

I am using this period as a retreat of sorts. Luckily I am still working part-time and only losing out on some of my income, and we are financially secure. Being at home has given me the space to expand the routines that have become such vital tools in my healing. It has been an emotional few weeks for various reasons, and some days I could barely do one or two of the things on this list, but I can feel the cumulative benefits from incorporating the below into my days and weeks as much as possible:

Exercise / gardening:
Two activities not everyone is able to do, and I never take them for granted. I dusted off the dumbbells I had bought in preparation for surgery and now rotate Christine Coen’s 22-minute workouts. She focuses on the mental health aspect of weight training and the workouts are varied enough to not feel overwhelming, though I still have to pause at times. I am also running more than ever, but I try not to be too rigid about it. One of my rounds involves stopping at the beach on the way home and wading through the water - we are very lucky to have so much space around us with access to beaches within the 2km radius our movements are currently restricted to. When I don’t feel like a run, I walk instead or spend an hour gardening. It has been sunny and dry lately and I am getting a lot of fresh air into my lungs and appreciating this heightened connection to nature.

Thanks in no small part to this wonderful course, I am in a state of Flow when it comes to painting and drawing. At the moment I am drawing and painting children a lot and working on my botanical illustrations and some personal projects. Last night John and I got our hands into clay, inspired by the Great British Pottery Throw Down (Keith Brymer Jones must be one of the most soulful people on the planet; he is regularly moved to tears by a piece, and those are moments of humanity that are a balm for the spirit!). Food preparation is a creative pursuit in itself and an exercise in mindfulness, and I am trying out recipes I had saved and making large bowls of rainbow salads, healthy desserts and cakes.

Meditation / visualisation / spiritual practice:
These days my practice usually involves one long Joe Dispenza meditation and/or two shorter ones each day. I also still listen to my custom hypnotherapy audio recordings a few times a week. Marisa Peer has been uploading a lot of free resources, including hypnotherapy sessions and visualisations. I read spiritual texts every day and listen to podcasts or Youtube videos, for example talks by Michael A. Singer (I bookmarked this one as I want to listen to it again).

Yoga / breathwork:
These are essentials for getting back into my body. Yoga with Kassandra has created a 30-day morning yoga challenge, so before I sit down to work I do one of those ten-minute sessions and later in the day one of her longer Yin Yoga classes. This one focuses specifically on the immune system.
Wim Hof (aka the Iceman) regularly shares free content, and I have been doing this short sequence of Wim Hof breathing.

Reading is probably my number one activity right now; I have been reading so much, across different genres. A couple of standouts: Before lockdown I got Laura Cumming’s new book On Chapel Sands from the library and started reading it last week (as usual, I have several books on the go); I am savouring it at intervals, chapter by chapter, out in the garden. I finally bought Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Instructions on Writing and Life, which I had been wanting to read for years, and, as expected, it is excellent, a book to visit again and again. Elizabeth Hardwick's semi-autobiographical novel-letter Sleepless Nights is also remarkable and certainly in a category of its own.

Writing / correspondence / connection:
I still write my Morning Pages every day and am also working on a journal/memoir (that I might never share publicly either) about the last two years, something I have been doing on and off.
Correspondence is important, too, and I have been making and sending cards, writing letters and putting together parcels, and reaching out to people I had been meaning to contact for a while. Snail mail also offers a balance to all the additional screen time now that so many meetings and appointments have moved online. In a lot of ways this pandemic has brought people closer together. I now talk to my 86-year old friend almost every second day (she lives alone and is cocooning); there are more video calls with family and friends; my ‘Irish’ nephew has playdates with his cousin in Germany via Whatsapp; people are reviving old friendships and forging new ones.

I have regular appointments with my therapists, counsellor, healers and mentors, and these are very much part of my routine. They are expensive (with the exception of the Cancer Care West counselling service; everything they do is free - we are very lucky to have them), but so worth it, and I am thankful that I am in a position to afford them.

When I am feeling well, I want to make up for all the time I lost or wasted and go all in. Thanks to energy healing from this man the previously continuous fatigue lifted not soon after my treatment, but in my excitement over that I tend to forget that my body still lets me know very clearly when I have overdone it - which is of course true in general, but now comes with the added sensations of cancer-related fatigue. So while it is tempting to do all the things I've been meaning to do, I remind myself to slow down and take rest days as needed, with no pressure to be productive.

On the note of productivity, I hope to be back here with possibly shorter but more regular posts - I have a lot of drafts, but haven't had the mental space to edit and post lately.