Feb 20, 2011

Homeward Bound!

 Goggles Umbrella, 25togo

We're off to Ireland tonight! I'm so excited, and can't wait to see family, friends, and even strangers, too. It's election week while we're there, my grandmother's birthday, and there are new babies to be met, and old haunting spots to be revisited, so there'll be no shortage of excitement.

I'm struggling to be realistic in my packing ... for once. I've had a blue silk polka dot dress hanging on my closet door for a week begging to come home with me, but I keep telling it that it doesn't get any action here so why in the name of all that is sacred would I suddenly start wearing it in Ireland. Perhaps it's the (self-imposed) pressure to look halfway-decent when I run into everyone I've ever known and their mother; you want to send them home spreading the word that you're looking mighty, and that New York is treating you very well, indeed ... Ugh! the dress is back in the bag, along with control-top tights, brightening face mask, red lipstick, teeth-whitening strips, and a padded bra.

This is what we're facing weather-wise:
It's cold here now, and there's snow in the forecast, so a little Irish rain/drizzle/cloudiness will be a welcome break. Not sure if I'll be popping on here for the next week, so toodles for now. Hope you have a great week, whatever you're up to.  xojac

Feb 18, 2011

This weekend ...

You by Irish short-story writer and poet, Nuala Ní Chonchúir. 
Colm Tóibín recently described the day he arrived at Princeton to teach: he was feeling stressed and harried until he reached into his pocket and felt his pen ... and an immediate softening of the self—the way he imagines a nun feels when she fingers her rosary beads. I was feeling a bit harried and headless-chicken myself the other day until I picked up Nuala Ní Chonchúir's You (which I was originally saving for the flight home this weekend), and I felt that same, immediate softening of the self as it pulled me in. 
Exhale ...  It's okay now.
I crawled into the arms of this beautifully written first novel and into the comforting and familiar world (I was also a "Miss Prim" as a kid) of this sensitive and charming pre-teen girl, and her dysfunctional, working-class Dublin family. You is captivating and memorable, lyrical and poetic (like every Dubliner I've ever met!), and heartwarming and  heartbreaking—actually, I imagine heart-warmed and heart-broken is exactly how I'll be feeling tonight when I finish it. I want everyone to read it so I'll definitely be picking up a few copies for friends when I'm home. Note: I ran into a friend on the train the other night, and as she was getting off at her stop she commented that she  hadn't wanted to interrupt me because I was so engrossed in whatever I was reading. Apparently, I was smiling, sighing, and then stroking the cover when I stopped reading. Needless to say, she has first dibs on reading it next!


I featured knitwear designer Charlotte Hess of Isobel and Cleo here a while back and I recently got an email from Charlotte with the update that since then, she has been awarded funding from the Scottish Arts Council, moved back to Philadelphia to work as a sweater designer for an international company, and most recently was selected as a semi-finalist in the Emerging Designers Competition in Charleston Fashion Week (CFW), to be held March 22-27. Hess is using Kickstarter as a way to raise some of the funds necessary to finish her collection and get to CFW. If you'd like to support an amazing young designer, the Arts, the economy, and someone's hopes and dreams, check out her project here and chip in a few bucks before Monday so she can reach her goal of $4,500.

White Fox by Irish band, Ham Sandwich. It's fresh, upbeat, and energetic (which I'm hoping will light a fire under my arse when I'm packing),  and I'm really loving Niamh Farrell's voice.
Ham Sandwich - The Naturist by tigger_sinclair
Stalk them on Facebook

Have a great weekend! 

All Grown Up

silk satin party hat with blue ostrich pom pom by Satya Twena

It was my birthday this week. I am now closer to forty than thirty.
Pause here for emphasis.

To celebrate, I made Star Wars cupcakes ...

... for my son's birthday the next day (and also because I dedicate a lot of mental energy to wishing I could save Anakin from his dark side), and then spent the rest of the day planted in front of my computer, trying to get next week's work done so I can go on vacation. I kept my party spirits up with a box of Roses (Valentine's Day loot), and then felt so sick that I couldn't have  birthday-dinner that night. Delicate stomachs are not uncommon at my advanced age.

The highlight of my day happened at 6.30 a.m. when my fourteen-year-old brought a cup of tea—the very first cup of tea he has ever made—to my bedside. (Aside: I used to make tea for my mother—and myself—before I could make my letters turn the right way, but it seems American kids are somewhat wary of scalding water and somewhat uninterested in developing stewing and stirring skills. Hence, tea that has been brewing for fourteen years is very potent indeed.) Hot on his heels was my almost-eight-year-old with two beautiful new bird drawings to add to my collection of 8,000 bird drawings. Much as I hate to send the message that you don't have to spend money on me to make me happy, I was completely overcome.

Onward to another year!

Feb 15, 2011

Chocolate Biscuit Cake

About two months before I go home, I start to watch what I eat; I walk a little more vigorously; and I practice smiling while sucking my stomach in. A week before I go home, I cave. I know that short of a tummy tuck and butt lift, my grandmother will take one look at me when I walk into her kitchen and say "oooh 'cinta—welcome home; you gained weight!" She will then put a plate of warm scones in front of me and I will tuck into them like the happy, fat grandchild that I am. 
Instead of taking offense, I'm making sure I take/earn the compliment!

Chocolate Biscuit Cake (a.k.a. Chocolate. Biscuit. Cake.)
It's so easy to make and even easier to eat:
1. Melt 300g chocolate (dark or milk) and 100g unsalted butter over a saucepan of boiling water.
2. Remove from heat and stir in a can of condensed milk.
3. Mix in a pack of roughed-up/bashed Digestive Biscuits (you can also use Carr's Whole Wheat Crackers which sound like something completely different but taste exactly like Digestives, and are easier to find here in the States.)
4. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper and fold in your chocalately-biscuitty mix; stick it in the fridge to set.

5. Distract yourself for a few hours while it sets: lick the mixing bowl; pin your hair up in front to see if you'll look like Kate Moss (skinny) if you get bangs; talk to your cat about getting a job.
6. Slice your cake into small chunks and eat a piece every time you open the fridge.

Feb 10, 2011

Imagine Ireland: Colm Tóibín at NYPL

I was lucky enough to sit in on a lively and inspiring conversation with Colm Tóibín and Paul Holdengraber at the New York Public Library last week, as part of Imagine Ireland—Culture Ireland’s Year of Irish Arts in America.

Tóibín discussed his new collection of short stories, The Empty Family, and its themes of awayness,  exile, missing, longing, and regret. With Holdengraber's  precise nudges, Tóibín talked about his methods (living with phrases after writing a novel, writing in longhand and then typing, never taking notes, writing in rented spaces); the bud of some of his stories (a letter from Lady Gregory to John Quinn, a mention years ago of a woman who came back from the States to Ireland and by chance met the widow of her ex-lover); and his thoughts on finishing things, not winning a Booker Prize, and wanting to make a reader shiver at the pressure point of a story.

When asked by Holdegraber if—like Colum McCann—Tóibín sees himself as an "international mongrel" or a "citizen of his own imagined elsewhere," he was almost annoyed, replying "No! I'm from Enniscorthy Co. Wexford." Three of his grandparents were born in his town, and "all of us are buried there ... I have a little space for myself when the time comes." He described the tension between being from there and not living there as being nourishing in one way but in another way sort of damaging, but said that in the end "there isn't anything else ... that's where I'm from."

In the opening story “Silence,” based on an incident Henry James recorded in his journal,  Lady Gregory tells Henry James a confessional story of a long-ago love affair. In “One Minus One,” a monologue addressed to a former lover, the narrator recalls a time when he was plucked from his promising new life in Manhattan to return to his old life in Ireland, where his mother was dying. In "The New Spain" a woman returns home after a decade in exile and  shatters the peace her family have forged in the post-Franco world.

Anyone who has ever lived away from home will associate with the gap, or space, between here and there—where you live and where you're from/now and then—as explored in The Empty Family. I read the short story "Two Women" on the train last night, and felt myself shiver at the protagonist's excitement before boarding a plane to return to Ireland and her almost immediate disappointment upon landing. I  was suddenly acutely aware of how going "home" in a few weeks has me both steeling and softening myself in anticipation. I love to go home, but it is never the same. I am an outsider and an insider, a tourist and a local. No matter how hard I try to show people that I haven't changed, they love to point out how I have. As an emigrant, I am now relegated to that gap between here and there—the Atlantic Ocean.

Culture Ireland and Imagine Ireland has an amazing schedule of events happening across the United States this year to promote the best of what's happening in Irish arts now, and to celebrate the cultural connection—and ocean between—Ireland and the US.
Stay in touch/stalk them on Facebook
Buy Colm Tóibín's The Empty Family

Feb 7, 2011

Just a note ...

Sorry for the crickets chirping here for the past week but I've been busy chasing (wardrobe for a pilot about Moms who turn to crime), working (writing bits and pieces), listening (to Colm Tóibín—more on this later), thinking (thoughtful thoughts), and planning (trip home in a few weeks as well as what I want to be when I grow up). 
I'm off to pay my respects at Mr. Mike Bishop's wake today (gentleman, father to Irish comedians Des and Aidan Bishop, and uncle to my lovely friend, Siobhán) and so I'll be back tomorrow. Send a little prayer/love his way today if you can or check out his FB page, created by his sons to allow his legend to live on.
Have a good Monday.