Oct 25, 2010

A Moment of Madness

I'm going to be walking and wandering, perusing and pondering a small section of Manhattan this week to update a chapter of a New York City travel guide. The weather is going to be perfect for pounding the pavement and I'm really looking forward to relaxing the I'm-not-a-tourist act I've been perfecting for the past fifteen years. I can finally look up! I can take pictures! I can walk slowly! For the most part, I'll be soaking in the sights and sounds of Manhattan, but I'm going to add some new tunes to my iPod for those times in my week where I'll need a little shake, i.e., my commute in and out of they city, the seventh floor of Macy's, and that stretch of time/city between The Museum of Sex and The Morgan Library.

I just read a few pieces in the Irish Times (here and here) about Dublin fiddler, composer, and multimedia artist Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and his new album—Le Gealaigh/A Moment Of Madness, a collaboration with West Kerry box player Breanndán Begley, and I'm thinking this album will be the perfect soundtrack to propel me forward this week.
"West Kerry box player Begley has discovered a new zest in his playing since making the acquaintance of Dublin fiddler Ó Raghallaigh (a recent west Kerry resident himself), who engages with all manner of music with unprecedented freshness and lateral thinking. The pair’s approach to this collection of polkas, slides, marches and slippery jig (a variation on a tune borrowed from the great Paddy Cronin) would put fire in the belly of a corpse. It’s a picaresque expedition into the unknown, with feet, fingers and the wily spirit of two passionate players lighting the way ahead." —Siobhan Long
Ó Raghallaigh will most certainly propel you into your week, but he'll possibly delay you too, especially if (like me) you tune into his YouTube channel first thing on a Monday morning. Still, I can think of no better way to kickstart your week. You're going to love this guy. Here are a few of my favorites:

Ó Raghallaigh playing What What What:

A little film of Ó Raghallaigh collaborating with Icelandic band Amiina at Ireland's Festival of World Cultures, July 2010:

And a video from Ó Raghallaigh's MultiMe series, featuring himself, himself, and himself playing the Glin Cottage Polka:

Buy Le Gealaigh/A Moment Of Madness on CD Baby.com ($9.99)
Woohoo! Happy Monday!

Oct 22, 2010

Tea and a Thought: Coffee

Tea cups print by Hennie Haworth

I'm a tea drinker. It's who I am. I tell people that I was bottle-fed tea as a baby and I'm only half-sure I'm making it up. In my fifteen years here in the States, I've never had coffee. (Okay, I had a sip once at a PTA meeting a few years ago, but I didn't swallow, so it doesn't count.) If you've ever seen the "America runs on Dunkin" (Donuts) campaign, you'll know that America runs on coffee. It's true. So, why have I so defiantly walked-on-tea instead of running-on-coffee all this time? I'd normally say "because I don't like coffee" but—it's Friday and I just found out I'm fat so I'm off sugar and my defenses are low—in truth, it's because I know that if I drink coffee, I'll turn into an American. 
Just like that. 
I'll wear comfortable sneakers with jeans. I won't care what people think of me. I'll return my food when my waiter gets my order wrong (instead of just eating my wrong order, thinking this is what I'm meant to eat). When I order a bagel with butter, I'll actually get a bagel with butter and not a bagel with mustard. I've grown to love my accidental bagel with mustard which, of course, I've always eaten because it's what I'm meant to eat. Americans don't get mustard when they order butter—or if they do, they return it.  Ugh! Do you see my dilemma?
My tea-only diet keeps me unintelligible ... and Americans prefer me that way.  Yes, Americans only like me because I'm not American (and I quirkily let fate decide my diet). The longer I'm here though the more I feel myself cave to the American way; I don't care as much what strangers think of me, I stop myself constantly to wonder if I say Billy Joelle or Joel when attributing Uptown Girl, and to question why I bother to dig (ahem, okay—buy), boil, peel, and mash potatoes when I could just add milk and water to the box in the press. There's no doubt in my mind that if I was to swap my Barry's tea bags for Dunkin or Starbucks coffee, I'd lose the plot/Green Card.

I'm telling you all of this because this morning, for the first time since I arrived here all those years ago, I was tempted to cheat on my tea pot. Yes, I was tempted to risk my marriage (my husband is American), my mustard, and my life in Brooklyn (I'd have to move to the suburbs to wear those jeans and sneakers) for a coffee pot ...

... a gorgeous, brown leather, tea-wrecking coffee thermos by Sol & Luna.

But it just occurred that I can have my tea and drink it, too, by simply using this luxurious coffee thermos for tea. Cue choir of heavenly angels!

Crisis averted. Identity secure. Thanks for listening.

Oct 21, 2010

Rory's Story Cubes

I've been thinking a lot about names and what they say about you—as happens, I suppose, when you have a freshly minted, and named, nephew. My brother and his wife named their little man Pádraig and I immediately sighed with relief, knowing that as a Pádraig, he'll be solid of stature, character, and reputation. This got me to thinking about other name assumptions or associations, like ... I've never met an unattractive Sarah, Jack, or Kate, or an attractive Eileen, Maureen, or Kathleen—actually, all the "een"names (except for your mother's) have a drawn out sound that suggests a rather horsey long jaw don't you think? 
Anyway, this all brings me to the profound realization that I've never met a Rory without a good story; the name is always prefaced by the salutation "What's-the-story?"—and deservedly so.

Irishman Rory O'Connor, creator of award-winning storytelling game Rory's Story Cubes, must have been saluted as what's-the-story-Rory quite a lot as a child,  because he grew up to create a game all about telling stories—an especially handy tool for us non-Rorys. 

Rory's Story Cubes is a game/exercise in imagination that can be played by kids and adults alike: you simply roll the dice (or the new iPhone App), and then roll out your best story attempt from the nine images available, opening with "Once upon a time." With 54 total images, the story possibilities are endless. It's a simple, brilliant concept—like all the best games—and an excellent tool for breaking the ice, building communication skills, freeing writer's block, solving problems, releasing imagination, diagnosing mental problems (I just made that up but I bet it's true), and stretching your mind. It's also just fun.
So ... what's the story?
Stalk Rory's Story Cubes on Facebook

Oct 19, 2010

Michael Leong

I knit my first hat this weekend. I wasn't looking to take the Irish millinery world by storm with my first endeavor, but I guess I was hoping to gain some interest. Instead, I gained inches. I tried it on and immediately imagined what my grandmother (the only woman who will honestly/brutally tell you if your butt looks big) would think. I decided she'd take a long hard look at my hat and say "It's a grand hat" ... and then she'd ask me how I gained all the weight. My husband refused to take my does-this-hat-make-my-butt-look-big bait, so I asked my son; ow.
On the bright side, it's warm, and my head and backside are finally proportionate.
I took to the blogosphere for consolation and found a little inspiration, too, in a  post about Irish milliner and hairstylist Micheal Leong, entitled "This is millinery" over on Eilis Boyle's Silent Storyteller.  I was reminded that I need to start thinking outside the  box when it comes to my creations ... and that black is very slimming on the head.

Oct 15, 2010

Weekend bits and pieces

I've had a really busy week. I'm working on a few freelance projects—or rather, thinking about working on a few freelance projects, and so I'm busy  thinking about how busy I am and quietly stressing not getting anything done. I've been cleaning drawers, knitting winter hats that simply must be knit RIGHT NOW, and delighting in God-sent distractions like my new nephew and a leak from an upstairs bathroom that is causing plaster/busy-work to fall all over my living room floor.
Whatever your week was like, you have my full permission to shake it off now and just lose yourself in the weekend ...

Here's what I'm up to:

I don't drive. I have lots of one liners to deflect from this awkward fact: "When I had to choose between drinking and driving, I chose to drink"; "I don't drive but I have a driver" (pointing to husband); "I prefer to walk—didn't you see Wall E?"; "When they let me through Customs it was on the condition that I would stay off the roads"; "I'm too busy knitting." I sometimes respond with a cloak'n'dagger "I'd rather not go into it," with a pained look that might imply "My mother reversed the car over me when I was a baby." 
The uncomfortable truth is that I don't drive because I can't drive.
This weekend I plan to practice driving, motivated by pure annoyance at having to constantly defend my superior walking skills ... and the cold weather. I've been drawing great strength, comfort, laughter, and motivation from Annie Rhiannon's posts about her experiences learning to drive this year:

"My first week without L-plates
Day One: I am terrified

I am terrified: tomorrow I will have to drive 20 kilometres all by myself in a small blue car that I feel I have no control over whatsoever. It doesn't feel like a small blue car, it feels like some kind of... some kind of killing machine! I realise the chances of me murdering somebody have just multiplied considerably. There was no way I could have killed a small child yesterday. This week, I probably will."

"Safety first

Driving to work feels like a 90's video game in which I have to get across the land without bumping into anyone and dropping all my magic coins. One day I look forward to being able to do this without hunching over the steering wheel with a gritted jaw. Although, I will never listen to music, or go over 60km an hour, or use fifth gear."

James Vincent McMorrow is on a quick tour of the US right now and I can't believe I missed his brief appearance in New York last week. He's hitting Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California in the next week if anyone feels like a road trip. Of course, I don't drive (now that I've confessed, I can't let it go), so I will be listening to his free mp3 of Blood Buzz Ohio, recorded last month for Phantom. It includes a little chit-chat with McMorrow and the link will be active for another 12 days here. Also, you can find his self-titled debut US album on iTunes now. Love this guy.

I might have gotten some work done this week if I hadn't baked Jam Drop cookies every two days. I keep wanting to photograph them, but they disappear as quickly as they appear, and so I bake them again. They take less than ten minutes to pull together and fifteen minutes to bake; if I didn't have a straining waistband right now, I'd think they were a figment of my imagination!

Recipe taken from Rachel Allen's Favorite Food at Home
1 2/3 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick butter
1 egg
Raspberry (or your favorite) jam
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine the flour, sugar, and butter in your mixer. Add egg and a drop of water if necessary to make a stiff dough. Form into walnut-size balls on a baking sheet. Flatten each ball slightly with yoru thumb and drop a half teaspoon of jam in the center. Bake until golden. Cool before you eat—trust me, hot jam BURNS!

Have a great weekend!

Oct 14, 2010

Behold: Future All-Ireland Hurling Champion!

My brother and his wife gave birth to a strapping baby boy yesterday. You see a sleeping baby; I see a focused baby. You see cute chubby cheeks and a fine head of hair; I see good shoulder mobility, incredible balance, and a conditioned core. You see a future handsome young man; I see a future handsome All-Ireland Hurling Champion.

Oct 9, 2010

This weekend ...

to Irish Indie Rock lads, Two Door Cinema Club. Good weekend stuff. So far my favorite tune is Come Back Home:


I caught Des Bishop's hilarious and moving show, "My Dad Was Nearly James Bond," the other night and I have been laughing quietly to myself since. Des proves the truth in the Irish theory that the best way to deal with anything—even his dad's cancer diagnosis—is with humor. P.S. I was lucky enough to meet his debonair dad—Bishop, Mr. Bishop—after the show and I can confirm that Bond, James Bond is not a patch on him.


Darina Allen's Irish Traditional Cooking. I just recently picked up a copy of this book after reading that Darina had journeyed around Ireland collecting and preserving recipes and regional dishes. I'm loving all the anecdotes, the color, the trivia, and the sense of history. It's fascinating!
"Beestings Pancakes: Beestings is the name of the very rich milk which the cow produces immediately after a calf is born. In some parts of the country it was never used for human consumption but in others it was highly prized and shared with the neighbors. It was made into pancakes and beestings curds. The third milking was considered to be best for these recipes."
Inspired now to get cooking. Wonder if I should go for the whole book a la Julie and Julia ... Jacinta and Darina doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it?

Happy weekend!

Oct 5, 2010

Natalie B. Coleman

I'm wearing the same outfit as yesterday. 

Pause here for emphasis. 

It's one of those day-in-day-out looks (jeans, striped bateau top, converse) that worked so well yesterday that it's now a day-in-day-out-and-day-after look. My hair is the same (frizzy), so is my make-up (lip balm), and I'm even wearing the exact same accessories (tweed cap, earrings, and printed neck scarf); If I hadn't changed my knickers and socks I'd expect to run into Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell at any minute. 
I had no problem copycatting my own look at 7 this morning when I was racing around the house, but all of a sudden, I feel like a bit of a slacker. Looking at up-and-coming Irish designer Natalie B. Coleman's  Spring/Summer 2011 collection, I feel like I've let myself go.


Her 'Damaged Goods' collection is “Inspired by the stories, the secrets, and longings for individuality in all women and with a background in strong narratives and quirky romance.” Love the feminine silk and sheer fabrics, the hand-painted illustrations, and the splashes of color.

I'm only going to the dentist but I suppose I could make more of an effort ...
Natalie on FB

Oct 1, 2010

The Big Comknitment

I just read a very upsetting statistic: every year in Ireland around 2,000 people over the age of 65 die from cold related conditions. I'm so shocked and saddened that the only thing for it is a bit of  therapeutic knitting.
Innocent Drinks, makers of all natural and all-good smoothies and juices, is staging a Big Knit, asking knitters everywhere to send them mini-hats for their smoothie bottles; for every behatted bottle sold, Innocent will donate 25 cents to Age Action, a charity dedicated to empowering and caring for Ireland's older population.
At first I thought it might be more practical to knit adult-size hats to keep the elderly warm, but of course they don't need hats, they need money to pay their heating costs and money to keep Age Action going. I love the idea of knitting a little smoothie-bottle hat that will festoon a bottle in an Irish store and sway a buyer to support this great cause. Also love that it might live a second life as an egg-warmer or a little doll's hat.
Innocent is aiming for 80,000 hats by November 10, so if you'd like to whip up a few bottle warmers, bask in the warm, woolly glow of helping out an old biddy,  and use up some scrap wool at the same time, you can find patterns, inspiration, hats of the week, and other details at innocentdrinks.ie.

The Big Comknitment on Facebook