Apr 29, 2011

Tea (Party) and a Thought

I went to a royal tea party this morning at my British friend Sarah's house to watch William and Catherine say their I Do's. Oh, who am I kidding? I went to ooh and aah over Catherine's dress, William's grownupness, and to drink pots and pots of tea and eat plates and plates of scones with friends. Weddings generally make me feel good will to all people, but this one made me feel a bit jealous—both of Catherine's beautiful dress and Sarah's decidedly untacky collection of patriotic paraphernalia.

Sarah has a collection of Emma Bridgewater tea cups and plates all handmade in Staffordshire's Stoke-on-Trent. She mixed her Union Jack pieces with Bridgewater's Starry Skies tea pot and creamer for a fun but stylish effect. I don't necessarily need to display my patriotism on a tea-pot, but I'd like to have the option to do so—and stylishly please. Seriously, I can't think of anything with the Irish flag on it that looks quite as smart and classic as Bridgewater's collection. I'm not a hater (despite my comments about the Easter Bunny and—after a few drinks—about my cat) so I'm not going to show you examples of garishly "Irish" pottery to illustrate my point here.
But, don't you think someone (shushing the voice in my head that says I should take some pottery classes) could make a tea set like Bridgewater's Hearts collection using shamrocks in nice shades of green and/or mustardy-gold? And maybe (to mix and match), there could be a selection of white pottery plates with muted green, white, and gold stripes or bunting around the edge? All so I can be prepared for when Prince Harry marries a nice Irish girl? I know, I should get a grip.

Before I run off to do just that, I have to share my new scone discovery. Sarah had some instant scones from Immaculate Baking Co. (sshh! don't tell her mother!), and they were so quick and easy and tasty that I'm thinking to have a few rolls in the fridge for when I need instant, no-mess gratification. Delish.

Apr 28, 2011


Toronto-based Irish writer Jane Flanagan of Ill Seen, Ill Said (one of my very favorite blogs) just opened Coterie, a lovely online store. I'm constantly inspired by Jane's writing, her individual and honest voice, and by her finds and dreams for her home and life, so I'm excited and delighted to be able to shop her curated picks(/buy her taste!)

Coterie offers a selection of quality, handmade goods created by artisans and companies from Canada, the US, Ireland, Wales, and elsewhere. The aesthetic is "natural and bookish, with goods made of simple, honest materials." Jane's approach to slow, meaningful decor is evident in Coterie's collection of lovely, understated products that she hopes will become permanent and treasured pieces in a homeowner's collection.

A few things I'd love to add to my permanent collection:

The handbound notebooks, made in Co. Cork, were Jane's inspiration for Coterie—apparently she's been stockpiling and using them for years, and at some point realized she might not be the only one in need of a perfect notebook. Can't wait to see what other tried-and-tested goodies she adds to the store as it grows.

IllSeenIllSaid blog

Apr 27, 2011

The Kanyu Tree

My favorite thing about Salthill in Co. Galway used to be Leisureland—a MEGA entertainment park right by the seaside with BRILLIANT bumper cars and a GINORMOUS water slide. My mother's company used to pile the kids of its employees into a LUXURY bus at the start of every summer and deliver us to Leisureland for a day of free rides and ice cream. I can still remember the new bathing suits, the free snacks, and the ALL-CAPS-excited-chatter on the bus on the way up, and then the sunburn, smell of chlorine, and exhausted quiet on the way home. Of course, I haven't been to Leisureland since I was a ten or eleven, and I'd be afraid to go back now in case—like most things when you grow up—it's not quite so mega, brilliant, or ginormous anymore. I'm pretty sure the bus was a bit of a bone-rattler.

Anyway, wishing all things mega, brilliant, ginormous, and luxurious for newly signed band/other favorite thing from Salthill, The Kanyu Tree. This song is a great start-of-summer song; I can imagine it blaring while I sit in the back of a banger bus on my way to Leisureland—sunblock on my nose, new sandals pinching my feet, and a summer-breeze in my heart. (I bet it's still MEGA!)

Stalk them on Facebook

Apr 26, 2011

Cheesy Bunnies and Cheesecake

I took to Thanksgiving almost straight away when I arrived in the States sixteen years ago—all that stuffing and potatoes and being grateful and stuffing. The Easter Bunny came less immediately (and without stuffing). I always loved Easter as a kid; I'd starve myself (okay, of sweets—but that's a substantial part of an Irish kid's diet) for forty days and forty nights and then wake to a feast of Cadbury's eggs. I didn't hunt for eggs (I did that every day but Easter Sunday at my grandmother's farm) and I didn't get any non-chocolate gifts, I just shoveled sweets into my face all day and loved it. I don't get the whole bunny connection. It's silly. There's no weight, story, or history to it. I'm holding back here: I kind of hate the Easter Bunny. I know, I'm a monster—who can hate bunnies?

Despite my anti-Easter-Bunny feelings, my young man has decided to believe wholeheartedly in the Easter Bunny. He's eight and doesn't seem to care/notice that the Easter Bunny has passed over our house every other year; he heard tell of gifts and glory and bought into the holiday hook, line, and fluffy tail. I think he assumes that a la The Polar Express, if he believes, he will receive. I giggled nervously at his mounting excitement, bunny drawings, and bunny-gift speculations like my grandmother giggles when someone tries to hug her. I didn't want to piss on his Easter Parade but I felt pissed that his friends' parents had dictated that I buy my kid gifts as well as chocolate to support their buck-toothed idol; everyone hates the cynical kid/mom who bursts the bubble/cracks the shell for everyone else. I wanted to shake sense into him, but worried I might shake loose more than I could handle—Santa Claus? The Tooth Fairy? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph? 
He's making his Communion in two weeks so I put on my fake bunny ears.
The Easter Bunny brought him a waffle maker. Yes, my Easter Bunny has a sense of humor (and was a little desperate) and knows that my young man's favorite word is "waffles." It is a great word. Not such a great Easter Bunny gift though, judging by the WTF? faces/reactions of his friends. Sigh.

I redeemed myself with a delicious Easter Cheesecake. Easter and cheesecake are like Thanksgiving and turkey for me (that would be Easter and lamb for most people, but I'm a dessert person).

 (okay, so there was lamb on the table, too, and it was delicious thanks to Mark Bittman's recipe)

I love Irish cheesecake—a light, no-bake cheesecake with a base of crushed, buttery Digestive biscuits. It's so easy to whip up and a beautiful blank palette to decorate or flavor. I kept mine really simple this year with just a hint of lemon and some chocolate shavings for flavor, and sliced lemons for decoration. I was going to type out the recipe, but seems as I don't do anything special to make it my own, I'm recommending this one from BBC Good Food.

Now to find some good waffle recipes ...

Apr 18, 2011

Tell You Why I Do Like Mondays

The weekend came and went and here we are at Monday. I used to be with Bob and the Rats on wanting to "shoo-oo-woo-woo-woo-oot the whole day down" but my weekends have been a bit manic of late—all good stuff, but manic—so that Monday is my day to catch my breath. 
Here are a few things catching my breath and attention today:

Ghosts of the Sahara
Irish photographer Andrew McConnell wanted to photograph more than daily life in Western Sahara, so he captured 50 portraits by the light of the moon. His exhibition "Ghosts of the Sahara," showing at the Half King Gallery until June 7, is the result of four months photographing and interviewing the Sahrawis in refugee camps and in the Polisario-controlled Western Sahara. I was first pulled to the image of Djimi Elghalia above, purely because it suggested romantic images of me and my teapot in a desert under the light of the silvery moon. Then I read the testimony that goes with the image and it suggested I need to go see the rest of the exhibit:
"I was born in Agadir, Morocco in 1961. My family were among many who fled the climate and social conditions in Western Sahara to look for work in Morocco. A lot of Saharawis used to stay at our home and because of this my grandmother was arrested in 1984. She was sixty. We never saw her again. In 1986 I moved to El Aaiun for work after I graduated in agriculture. The next year I was arrested along with five hundred others for trying to organise a demonstration on independence before a big United Nations visit. They held eighty including nineteen women. They interrogated me and used physical and psychological torture. They would put chemicals in my hair which made me faint. I was electrocuted on the arms and back and was bitten by dogs. Later they would laugh and say that there are no dogs and I must be imagining things. It was the same thing you see in Iraq but here we have no media attention to show it.
I was released in 1991 along with three hundred and twenty four people, some of whom had been held since the invasion, seventy eight were women. It was because of pressure from international organisations like Amnesty International. From 1994-98 we, the victims, tried to engage in the field of human rights but we faced a lot of harassment. In 2005 we established the Saharawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations Committed by the Moroccan State (ASVDH). The Moroccan authorities prevent the association from working despite the court allowing us to work. We work from our homes using the internet and we host international visitors but still Morocco harass us and now foreigners are not allowed to visit us.

We have a conviction that we will achieve independence but it depends on international pressure, our case it very just and fair. It [pressure] will come from the allies of Morocco, like France, the US and Spain. We have no direct contact with Polisario but we share the same goals. As a defender of human rights we are all about a peaceful solution. Whether the Polisario want to go back to war is up to them but as a civil society we are calling for a peaceful solution and this will come from international pressure. "
via The New York Times

Seamus Begley

I never thought I'd admit to a crush on a Kerry man, but I've developed a bit of a soft spot for Kerry singer and button accordionist Seamus Begley after seeing him perform with Joanie Madden of Cherish the Ladies on Friday night at the Irish Arts Center. Madden and Begley had spent a week together as part of the Irish Arts Center's “Masters in Collaboration,” and they made quite the pair—as quick with their wit as with their whistles and boxes—at the cozy Donaghy Theatre. Begley broke his tailbone before coming to New York (he said he'd "rather be in New York with a broken arse than in Kerry with a broken heart") and Madden's father passed away in the week leading up to their concert series (Begley played on her father's box), but there was no shortage of joy as their polkas and airs and mutual appreciation moved the feet and hearts of the audience.


If you were wondering what the inside of my head looks like on a Monday afternoon—it looks like white petaled peonies on a gold background. Seriously, I'm thisclose to taking my balls out of my handbag and wallpapering my living room in this burst of color and pattern.

Kate and Ava

I have a fiftieth birthday party, two First Holy Communions, a Gaelic Football dinner dance, and myriad other nights out coming up in the next few weeks and—say it with me—nothing to wear! I've been muttering that exact sentiment to myself for the past few days, and it seems I might have muttered it out loud, too, as Irish design label Kate and Ava (Kate Reilly and Ava Cassidy) popped into my inbox the other morning threatening to save at least one or two of my days with their new online store. Now if only they'd pop a few dresses in my mailbox!

Onward to Tuesday!

Apr 12, 2011

Frida Kahlo Visits Ballinasloe

"They thought I was a Surrealist but I wasn't. 
I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality."
Frida Kahlo

I went to MoMA last weekend and stood for a long time before Frida Kahlo's Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair and Fulang-Chang and I. I'm always pulled to Kahlo—to her self-portraits, her story, her style, her battle, her will, and her passion. She was such a remarkable, colorful person, and I sometimes imagine what it would have been like to be her friend or enemy, or even better—both. Irish poet and writer Nuala Ní Chonchúir imagined what it would be like if Frida Kahlo visited Ballinasloe in her poem "Frida Kahlo visits Ballinasloe" from her upcoming poetry collection, The Juno Charm. Love the idea and especially love the image of Frida Kahlo seeing the scarlet Massey Ferguson. I know I'll be going about my day now looking for spots of color to feed to Kahlo, and (not to be pushy or anything) I think you should do the same.
Reprinted here courtesy of Nuala Ní Chonchúir and as a nod to National Poetry month.

Frida Kahlo Visits Ballinasloe

Frida Kahlo likes to walk in colour,
but she is hard-pushed on Society Street.

We wander together up Sarsfield Road;
‘Where is all the yellow,’ she asks, ‘the red?’

Frida, in a floral dress and Mexican silver,
draws a tidings of magpies from the sky.

‘No parrots,’ she says, ‘no hibiscus?’
Clouds part, a triangle of blue pleases her.

Then she sees a scarlet Massey Ferguson,
yew berries spilled like beads on the footpath,

A woman in a crimson coat and man’s shoes,
a King Charles with a postcard colleen’s curls,

Tail-lights like alien eyes spinning to Ahascragh;
‘Viva la vida,’ says unflinching Frida, painter of pain.

She sings the reds of Sarsfield Road and they bleed
into the veins of the town, pulsing its grey.
~Nuala Ní Chonchúir


Apr 11, 2011

Borrow a Luxe Irish Home

I sometimes entertain notions about owning a little house in Ireland (actually, I prefer to refer to it as my "comfortable chic coastal cottage"); I'll spend every summer there, celebrate every important birthday there, and host wild and wonderful New Year's Eve parties there, too. My brother will tend to it for me when I'm on this side of the Atlantic, and my grandmother will deliver fresh eggs, milk, and scones to my doorstep when I'm home. When I was decorating my imaginary comfortable chic coastal cottage at mass this weekend, it occurred that an added benefit to owning a chic little cottage on the coast would be the ability to house swap. In my younger son's circle alone, there are four parents with houses abroad (Greece, Croatia, Italy, and Canada) who would surely want to swap for a chance to stay in Ireland—guided by my brother, fed by my grandmother, and entertained by my red-headed Irish-dancing nieces! 
This got me to wondering what (competition) houses are available for swaps in Ireland, and if I should skip the ageda of owning a house there at all and just borrow somebody else's ...

Sorry, this is all a long roundabout way of saying "aren't these Irish houses on Luxe Home Swap lovely?"

4-Bed House, Kilalloe, Clare
5-Bed House, Killarney, Kerry

4-Bed House, Connemara, Galway

Luxe Home Swap allows users to browse thousands of homes from around the world to find a vacation retreat specific to their holiday desires. The membership-based model ($159/year) ensures quality and style, and (unlike other home exchanges) you're not limited to direct swaps—you can visit any home that's available.
I wonder if my grandmother would deliver fresh eggs to Connemara ...

Apr 6, 2011

Tea and a Thought: Whensday

I am snuggling into a cup of hot tea and struggling with a mid-week crisis. I have work to do but I can't get it done because suddenly it feels unbearable—nay, irresponsible— to ignore my bigger mission which might just be to invent a device that automatically tops up my tea when it drops below a certain volume or temperature. Yes internal smartarse, I know what a teapot is, but I also know it's not cutting it midweek. My cat has a contraption that automatically tops up her food and water when we abandon her for a weekend, and my plants, fish, and garden weeds have similar, handy "on-tap" arrangements that do not require them getting off their backsides/roots to put a kettle on ... so, why not my tea-cup?

Or maybe I need to be building a workbench? See, I've been taking a silvermithing class that I am very excited about in theory but I'm kind of sucking at in reality. I say "kind of" sucking because—according to the back cover copy of a self-help book I walked past the other day—I might be holding myself back due to a fear of success. To realize my full potential, I need to show myself that I take myself seriously by building a silversmithing studio in my dining room. I'll need rawhide mallets, saws, a supply of liver of sulfur, and some precious metals and gems. First, I might have to take a carpentry class to learn how to build a bench ...

Also, I just got a new camera (because my old camera dropped dead the day I arrived in Ireland last month). My new camera is a very nice camera but I have to read a two-hundred page manual—in both Spanish and English—before I can use it. I tried to wing it to get a head start on my new career capturing never-before-seen wildlife behavior for the Discovery Channel, but the resulting photos suggest prolonged study of the manual + a three-month class + access to wilder life might be in order.

Foxy squinting
stuffed animal feeling stuffed
there was a squirrel here ten minutes ago

Wednesday is my "Big Idea Day." It didn't have that official title until just now. It's the day I free my work and life schedule to do BIG things—like tend to those short stories I keep putting on the long finger, and paint that painting I dreamed I had painted. I think it needs a new title because "big" feels a little too BIG for a small day squished between bigger-achieving days of the week. I've long sought that mythical "Eighth Day" in my week to get around to all the things I love that I can't seem to get around to in the other seven; this year, instead of searching for that day I decided to make it happen right in the middle of my week. I created a day to create ... and at the same time created a monster. I'm completely overwhelmed by all the things I want to do—write something worth reading, draw something worth hanging on my wall, paint my dressers and replace the drawer-pulls, knit a blanket, reupholster a chair, and wallpaper my living room—and some things I probably should do—make Communion cards, learn to drive, eat lunch, stop dilly-dallying, and rename Big Idea Day.

Okay, enough dilly-dallying. Today shall forever more/until this day next week be known as Whensday—the day when I get my act together.
Starting now. 
Happy Whensday to you.