Friday, August 12, 2016

Around here, August


 Gifts ('cairdeas' = 'friendship' in Irish)

 Bathroom art

This house is turning into dog-sitting central; we could have had three dogs with us last weekend. We are still not sure when we will be able to commit to having a dog ourselves, but in the meantime we are enjoying our canine visitors.

Every morning I get up early to take the dog/dogs for a walk. I am willing myself to carry this habit into the dog-less days, especially when working from home, to simulate a 'commute' - it is one of these things I know would be good for me, yet laziness tends to win. Nothing new there.

I have been swimming in the sea, in beautifully clear turquoise water in Donegal and in the waves of Galway Bay on a grey Wednesday. Our (British) gardening books tell me that in August the garden needs watering several times a day - not here! Instead I had been waiting for a dry day to go around collecting seeds (another job for August). I am still very much a gardening amateur, putting plants into places that are completely unsuitable. The only thing I am truly good at is weeding. But I have high hopes: one corner of the shed is being turned into a potting station. And we have been eating our own courgettes, raspberries and beetroot (all very easy to grow, so hardly an achievement, but very satisfying).

Yesterday a year ago we got the keys, and I am ashamed to say I still haven't made any effort to learn Irish. It is only now that we live in the Gaeltacht that I am acutely aware of my lack of the language; people do use it. A lot. I re-read Nada and was thrilled to feel all my Spanish flooding back, and as a result I have newfound energy to tackle the language of this place.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Drawing | Joan the dog on Barna Pier

Between visitors, housework, the garden and dogsitting it has been too busy (in a good way) to make time for art, or so I thought. But then I snatched 15 minutes yesterday evening to draw a scene we witnessed a few weeks ago on Barna Pier - a man and his dog looking at the water. We spoke to the man briefly and learned that the dog's name was Joan. She must be the first canine Joan I have met.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

In mounts and frames


Even though I have most of my illustrations stored quite safely in portfolios, I am always relieved when I mount one of them and slip it into a protective plastic bag or wrap it in florist foil (after panicking about damaging the mount). It is so satisfying to see them well-presented and smoothed out. Generally I am not that precious about my work (twice now I have lost piles of drawings and paintings to leaks/burst pipes, and  the second time I just shrugged it off), but the neat freak in me loves to see everything ordered and safe.

Some of the illustrations for Amie's book are off to new homes, which prompted me to get organised and sort out mounts. I seem to be in mounting and framing and hanging mood - we have been rounding up all the artwork we want to hang and creating clusters and 'gallery walls' (a big chunk of one wall in the corridor) displaying work by friends as well as our own. 

John is obsessed with maps (who doesn't love a good map?), so we are hoping to get a few framed, for example a print of the 1651 pictorial map of Galway he was given and Tim Robinson's beautiful Burren and Arann maps (my aunt bought the Burren map for me, and I always thought it was a pity to just have it folded up in drawer).

It may seem laughable how excited I get about little things like mounting artwork (see also tidying the shed and sorting out a kitchen drawer), but as India Knight said in her column last week (about losing yourself in a hobby in times of crisis), "It is so important to remember the comfort of ordinary things" for "whenever we feel discombobulated by life."

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A tale of two homes

There is still a lot of summer to come, but I can already feel its end. It is over a year since we first came to view this house, which is hard to believe.

Our lovely neighbours dropped in with a box full of gooseberries, rhubarb, herbs, spinach and rocket from their garden, all beautifully picked and put together. The care and time spent growing these things is immediately apparent when they come like this and not wrapped in too much packaging from a supermarket shelf. We have become quite good at not letting anything go to waste - this has been a week of turning leftovers into all kinds of new dishes. Some of our apples and pears had gone so soft that touching them made the skin come off, so I simmered them in a bit of water, and we ate the result with yogurt and cinnamon - an autumn taste, which might explain my dislocated feeling of nearing the end of summer.

Our builder kindly sourced legs for the bath and threw them in for free (the legs that had arrived with the re-enamelled bath didn't fit), so we finally have a bath that doesn't wobble, and I had my first bath in it, with lavender and a cup of tea. And then of course we always have the sea. I went for a walk at the coral beach in Carraroe this week. The water was clear, but the beach was covered in jellyfish and I hadn't brought my swimming gear.

We had the first of our housewarming parties last week (hence the leftovers), with the neighbours, and now, with the building work finished, I feel more settled. But it can be bittersweet, because I miss my family in Germany more than ever. I feel at home here, but at the same time, because this is the closest to a 'permanent' home I have had here in Ireland, it brings into focus that I am separated from my orginal home.

I feel it every time a German tourist or language student comes up to us after the storytelling night to buy a book. Most of the time I am not that conscious of being a foreigner, but when I hear their accent and they spell out the name of the person they want the book dedicated to, I feel a twinge of homesickness.

As so often happens when something is at the forefront of our mind, it pops up everywhere (or we are more attuned to it). Several articles and reviews I have read in the last few weeks were about the concept of home (this book looks interesting, if controversial).

Emma Cullinan wrote a column in last week's Irish Times about moving house and starting over after over two decades of sharing a family home, and about the objects, including a lot of books, she brought to the new place: "[I]t's been a revelation as to how at one you feel with yourself when everything around you has meaning, and, as the Danes would have it, hygge (a sort of huggy cosiness)". I thought of that when we filled our new bookcase with the books that had lingered in boxes for the last ten months. On the other end of the spectrum, I also did a purge, burning diaries and getting rid of paperwork, but not before reliving the first decade of this century, with a mixture of nostalgia and relief that I am now in my "mellow thirties", as John would say. 

Then there was an interview with Jungian psychoanalyst John Hill a few weeks ago, also in the Irish Times, about his book At Home in the World: Sounds and Symmetries of Belonging.
An Irishman living in Switzerland, he talks about noticing images of the land he has left (the sea, the hawthorn bushes, the hills) coming up in the unconscious when he is away, which is when he feels home as a sense of belonging.

The gooseberries remind me of the summers of my childhood and were an immediate trigger. It must be the first time that I have had them here in Ireland (apart from jam). As Hill - who misses apple tart - says, our sense of home can have "a very sensuous basis".

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Putting a bird on it


 Matt Adrian

 Juliette Bates

At the suggestion of one of the lovely women in my class a group of us went to see the Da Vinci drawings in the National Gallery. I would have travelled to Dublin even if they only had had one of the drawings on show, or so I say now, but the reality is that I often miss out on once-in-a-lifetime opportunities like this when they involve longer distances, and it takes someone else's initiative to prompt me to make the trip. It was wonderful to see the drawings in real life and marvel at how well preserved they were.

Whenever I go to a museum, I make sure I have time to visit the museum shop afterwards. Some of the best art books I have are from museum shops; those shops are such treasure troves. This time I left empty-handed, only to find that John had bought this book on birds in art. We seem to be building a little bird-book library, and this is a delightful addition. I just realised I ended up taking photos of several crow paintings and of birds with humans, but those only form a small part of the selection in this book. It is a joy to dip into. 

Both the exhibition and this book have left me with that feeling of excitement and wonder that needs cultivating, as it can be elusive in day-to-day life. I finally have a desk (two, in fact; lucky me) in my studio and am settling in, gathering my canvases and paints and ideas and anxious to get started again.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Book launch

My lovely friends in the office organised a book launch for the three books I illustrated that were published this year. I am so grateful to them and to everyone who came and supported us - I was touched to see so many familiar (and some new) faces. Unfortunately none of the writers were there (due to geographical distance - Amie is in the US - and illness), but Amie's family plus friend came up from Co.Clare, and it was great to meet them. Another writer - the one and only June Favre - read from Ulysses to mark Bloomsday.

My little nephew was in entertaining form, and it was wonderful to have him and my sister there. People are so good. It is occasions like yesterday and the get-togethers we have had at the house over the last few weeks that I have to pinch myself - I am so lucky to have such good friends and that part of my family is over here as well. My other nephew and his parents were visiting last week, and I miss them (and my mom) more than ever now. The older I get, the more acutely I feel what family means, but that's for another post.

First photo by me, all others by Deirdre Lydon

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Food | Chutney, chocolate and washing up

John was in Cork a few weeks ago and brought back a lovely spiced apricot chutney from the English Market. When it was gone, I attempted to recreate it. The ingredients were simply apricots and coriander seeds (such a good combination), vinegar and sugar. All the recipes I looked up had quite a few additional ingredients, but I wanted to keep it simple and made it with the above (200g dried apricots, 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander, 200ml apple cider vinegar, 90g brown sugar), adding an onion and 25 grams of raisins (mainly to bulk it up, as I only had a small bag of dried apricots) and a bit of lemon juice. I followed Delia's instructions with regard to the cooking time and loosely based the ratio of the quantities on her recipe, and the result is lovely. We eat it with cheese and bread and add it to stir fries.

Overall we try to keep our sugar intake low, while not excluding it completely (see the chutney!). John is stricter, as he reckons he is an abstainer, not a moderator, whereas I am happy to make exceptions and won't refuse cake. The most important change has been to not eat processed biscuits and cakes. If it is homemade and has recognisable ingredients, it is fine - everything in moderation, of course. I use honey, maple syrup and coconut blossom sugar in my baking.

Yesterday I made these no-sugar bites, and the raspberries are actually sweetener enough. They taste best half frozen or straight from the fridge.

(Also pictured in the food photos: my friend gave me this gorgeous children's book about Frida Kahlo.)

In other sensory news, I love this washing-up liquid (another John find, when the shop didn't have Ecover, which I used for years). It smells of lemon balm and is certified by Ecocert.