Saturday, December 30, 2006

Bon anniversaire, Erika

Je te souhaite un très très bon anniversaire! Voici une reproduction de la carte que je t'ai envoyée. J'espère qu'elle te plaît. Je l'ai crée avec des aquarelles - un tracé blanc avec une gomme spéciale, un fond bleu et une note rose qui s'est mélangée avec le bleu. Je te montrerai comment faire la prochaine fois que tu viendras me voir en Irlande. Le bleu est un "bleu de Delft" et le rose est un "rouge rubis".

Gros bisous!

Friday, December 29, 2006

China Sichuan - we have more information

We were down in the China Sichuan restaurant before Christmas - we had a gorgeous meal there again, with my parents this time.

In the time-honoured Chinese restaurant tradition, we were given a calendar at the end of our meal. [Well, I'm not sure how much of a tradition it is, really, but our Chinese Take-away delivery man always gives us one! (our Chinese take-away is Yumi, on Bird Avenue in Clonskeagh, the most consistent take-away I've ever seen. I eat the same thing every Friday evening, and it's always just perfect - King Prawn Sweet and Sour, not very original, but why change if I'm happy with it?)]

And on this calendar, we found all the information we had been looking for:
  1. Where is China Sichuan moving to? The Forum, Ballymoss Road, Sandyford, across from the Stillorgan Luas Stop in Sandyford. (There is even a little map on the calendar.)
  2. When was the China Sichuan restaurant established? In 1986.
  3. What is my Chinese horoscope sign? Dragon.
  4. Well, there is one question still unanswered - When are they moving? Brendan asked Kevin and his answer was "it was supposed to be 4 months ago". So we'll have to wait a while longer to have this final question answered.
By the way, for the few of you who are stumbling upon this page when looking for the China Sichuan restaurant's & Yumi TakeAway phone numbers, here they are:

China Sichuan: 288 4817 or 288 0882
Yumi, Clonskeagh: 269 3488 or 269 2151

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Met Broadcast - Rigoletto

When you're writing every day, there always seems to be something to talk about. But if you stop writing for a few days, it seems much harder to start again. I'm not sure if that's true for everybody, but it's certainly true for me. We've been busy over the last while, and I just haven't had a chance to attend to my blog. And now that I've managed to grab a few minutes for myself, I'm not sure what I want to write about.

Maybe I'll tell you about the Met Broadcasts. The Metropolitan Opera in New York have a special program through which they broadcast live performances to the world. They have this program called Sirius satellite radio. But I've found out that Lyric FM play the Met Saturday Matinée broadcasts on Saturday evenings (GMT).

I caught it for the first time last Saturday evening, as Brendan was out. I listened to Verdi's Rigoletto, and it was a real joy. This Saturday is Verdi's Don Carlo. I might not get a chance to listen to it, as it's a busy time of the year, but I'll try to catch other performances in future.

Rigoletto is one of my favourite operas. I saw it for the first time in the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, a good few years ago. It was a glorious production - very simple, but very effective. I remember the scene where Rigoletto arrives home. He is on the street, then a white curtain is pulled, and he is inside his house. It was so simple, but it worked really well. And I remember the flames coming out of the stage when the lightning was striking in the big thunderstorm scene at the end of the opera, when Gilda sacrifices herself to save the Duke's life.
The music is big and gorgeous, and the story is tragic. All perfect ingredients for a good opera.

I've been to a good few operas over the years, and I've been to some really boring productions, so it's a joy when all the ingredients come together well. I've often found that for every good one I've seen at the Gaiety, there has been one bad one. On the other hand, the operas at the festival in Wexford have always been great productions.

That's all I've got time for, folks. More about my favourite operas some other time!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Lahinch

We were in Lahinch at the end of July this year. Brendan took plenty of great photos during that trip to Clare. He's got a few of these shared on Flickr.

A lot of the pictures we take - either on our travels or closer to home - are an inspiration for my watercolours. I've recently gathered some of the photos that I would like to interpret as watercolours into a folder on my Mac Mini - Right now, I have 398 photographs to work from! It's great to have those for the days where I'd like to paint something but I don't know what! If worst comes to the worst, I'll start with the first picture in that folder and work my way through. I really have no excuse!

Here is a watercolour I did from one of these pictures. I'm including the original photograph and 2 versions of the watercolour. One is a scan of the watercolour, the other is a photo of the watercolour (which gives more detail than the scan). Sometimes a scan works better than a photo. I think that photographs are more dependent on the ambient light and they can be dull or brash, whereas a scan is more reliable. But the camera gives more detail than the scanner we have, which is quite old. As I couldn't decide which one I preferred, I decided to include both



Saturday, December 16, 2006

Pictures

After my blog yesterday, I did go and look for pictures. I've found plenty of old pictures, so be warned!! I promise I won't post any pictures of anybody in compromising situations! But be prepared for a stark reminder of our dreadful dress sense! The eighties wasn't a tasteful decade!

This picture here was taken in the Mourne mountains. Ann was into hill walking and we went along with a few of her friends. Máire and myself were not into keeping fit at the time and we gave up half way up and went shopping instead!

From left to right: me (with back turned to the camera), Ann, Máire, Christine and Kay. I think this is a lovely picture of the girls. I'm the only one still living in Dublin, and we haven't kept in touch that much. We all live busy lives!

And now, to start the "dreadful dress sense" series, here is one of me at the Trinity Ball in 1987! I really thought that outfit was the bee's knees (is that how it's spelt? I must check what that expression actually means!). And you can't even see that the satin blue dress has a bow on the side of the hip! And did you notice the lacey navy tights!? Not the best for someone who has fat calves like me!! And let's not mention the "overcoat" - it was actually a button-through dress.

I had been dancing the night away and I needed to rest my feet! I'm one of the few people who actually enjoyed the Trinity Ball, as I had no romantic interest in my date for the ball, Anthony. We just had a great time going from concert to concert and dancing.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Happy Birthday, Christine!

Today is Christine's birthday. And did you know that her son, Daragh, was born on 20 December 1996, the same day that Brendan and I got married! And her daughter, Sinéad, is 5.

I still remember Christine from the days I lived in a flat in Lower Leeson Street with Kelly, Lorna and Orla (It was either Number 75 or 73). She was living in a flat upstairs from us, and it was through her I got to share the flat with Maire, on Adelaide Road. It's all a very long time ago! I must go and see if I can find some pictures from those days, when we were all young and beautiful (actually, I think I look better now than I did then, but I'll let you decide!)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Squid and the Whale

On Saturday, Brendan and I had an early night out in Indian Summer, the Indian in Stillorgan. I had booked it for the boys' night out, and since they couldn't make it, I thought we might as well go! We had a lovely meal there. We went in around 6:30, and were home before 8! It was very quiet - only another table of 2, and a party of 4 had just arrived as we were leaving. I would have thought that at this time of the year, it would be busier, but I guess Indian is not to everybody's taste, and therefore is an unlikely choice for Christmas parties. They don't know what they're missing. I had a lovely dish of fish and prawns, after a shared starter that included prawns, lamb, chicken, chickpeas, pakoras and a spicy salad.

We then rented a DVD, something we don't do very often. There wasn't much there - the choices were Syriana, In Her Shoes, and The Squid and the Whale. I had seen In Her Shoes before, and I felt that Syriana might be too heavy, so we opted for The Squid and the Whale. I had read something about it a while back. It's the story of a family in Brooklyn going through a divorce, and it tells us how it affects the 2 sons (one is 16, the other 12). It's not a Hollywood movie, so there is no big drama - just a simple story nicely told, taking us through the messy stages of separation and how the divorce is affecting the children (and the cat!).

Jeff Daniels is very good as the pedantic writer and college professor, who lives in his own world and doesn't seem to understand why his wife cheated on him (I wonder why she stayed with him for as long as she did!), and how his actions upset his two sons.

And I like Laura Linney too. I remember her in The Life of David Gale, which I really thought was an excellent movie. The other actors in it are Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet. I don't think it did very well in the box office, but I thought it was a very powerful movie, dealing in an interesting way with the subject of the death penalty.

PS: You will find the Squid and the Whale in the Museum of National History in New York

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Rodrigo y Gabriela

Last Thursday night we went to the Rodrigo y Gabriela show in Vicar Street, with Niall and Rita. It was Niall who had introduced us to their music a good few months ago. I had watched a few minutes of their DVD, which Niall had kindly loaned to us, but I hadn't really paid much attention to it, I have to admit.

So, it was a good surprise when the concert turned out to be excellent. Basically, Rodrigo y Gabriela are 2 Mexicans who live in Ireland, and the music is just their 2 guitars, which they play like maniacs. They used to play in heavy metal bands, and you certainly get a sense of that influence in their music, but the fact that it's just 2 guitars gives it a very flamenco sound. Rodrigo does the more delicate work, while Gabriela's fingerwork on her guitar resembles more that of a bodhran player. Her knuckles must be in bits!

Anyway, what a show - the skill and the passion! You can check them out on My Space, where you can listen to some of their music.

And I was glad for the projections on the back of the stage in the second half of the concert - otherwise, all I would have seen would have been 2 bobbing heads. I would have missed out on the visual effect of how they play the guitar! When I went to the Bob Dylan concert with Brendan a few months ago, all I saw was Bob's hat!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Constant Princess

A few months back, I told you all about "The Other Boleyn Girl", a book by Philippa Gregory, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Well, I've just finished "The Constant Princess", which tells the story of Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife. I enjoyed it too, and probably will read on a few more Philippa Gregory books (she has a new one out - more Henry VIII stories!). I found the end of the book a bit disappointing - it kind of fizzles out. I suppose I already knew the end of the story, having read the other book, but I feel the author rushed through the end of the story a bit too much for my taste.

On the other hand, the early chapters are lovely - if you've been to Granada and the Alhambra, you'll enjoy her description of Katherine's early life there, and the sense of how special the Alhambra is.

(Note: when you click on the link for "The Constant Princess" book on Philippa Gregory's website, you may find that it brings you to another book, "The Virgin's Lover". Hopefully her website designers will soon fix this bad link!)

(Another note: I was finally able to upload a picture onto Blogger from my Mac, so the engineers at Google must have fixed that bug! Good on them!)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Au grand Saint Nicolas, patron des écoliers..

Aujourd'hui, c'est la Saint Nicolas, un jour important pour tous les enfants belges et hollandais, car en effet, c'est le jour des cadeaux!! C'est Saint Nicolas qui nous apporte les jouets, tandis que le Père Noël apporte en général des vêtements ou autres choses utiles.

Et Saint Nicolas apporte aussi des bonbons. Il suffit de laisser ses chaussures près de la cheminée

"... Je serai toujours sage, comme un petit mouton
Je dirai mes prières pour avoir des bonbons.
Venez venez, Saint Nicolas, Venez venez, Saint Nicolas
Venez, venez Saint Nicolas, oh tra la la"

Je ne sais pas si c'est la version officielle, mais ce sont les paroles dont je me souviens.

Je revois les photos d'une Saint Nicolas, à l'école d'Heuvy, où nous avons chanté cette chanson. Si je me souviens bien, on avait des grands chapeaux pointus sur la tête, et je revois Marie-Alixe, mon amie d'école primaire, chanter, avec un air très sérieux. Je devrai vérifier les albums photos la prochaine fois que j'irai en Belgique!

(PS: still some issues with Blogger - I can make text italic, but I get an error when I try to upload a picture)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Beta Blogger

I moved to the beta of the new Blogger application a few weeks ago. I had no immediate plan to play around with the design of my blog, but I just liked the idea of moving to the latest version.

Initially, my experience was good, but in the last 2 days, I haven't been able to add pictures, links or any character formatting in my posts. I normally do my blog from my Mac Mini, using Firefox. I just checked on a PC, and the features are working perfectly well in Internet Explorer.

I know it's only a beta, and cross-platform functionality is often lower in the priorities at this stage of software development, but I find it really annoying. I hate to have to move from computer to computer when I have my mind set on a task. I just get frustrated with having to accommodate the technology. As far as I'm concerned, the technology should be there to accommodate ME! That's the whole point of having a computer - to make my life easier. Not the other way round. And that's precisely why I just love Blogger. When I started my first blog, I was up and running in less than 10 minutes and everything WORKED. It was just like they said on the website - 3 easy steps and you're done. I'm sure this is only a temporary glitch!

Anyways, I'll now go in and add the pictures to my previous posts. Not much else to do on this wet and windy Sunday afternoon.

We went for a walk in Bray just after lunch, and I think we managed to catch the last bit of dry weather for today. There are storm force winds forecast - up to 140 or 150 KM/H! and the showers look like they're going to merge into rain. So I'm glad we got our bit of fresh air. We got battered by the wind, but we enjoyed our walk by the seafront - and Brendan took plenty of pictures of the waves!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Can't add any pictures

I normally add a 5x5 watercolour to my birthday posts, but for some strange reason, Blogger seems to be in "bare minimum" mode today - so I don't see any button to add pictures.
Hopefully it will be back to normal tomorrow, and I certainly hope I will have a little bit of time to write a few lines. I was working for most of today, but I'm planning to take a break tomorrow.

(Picture added on Sunday, using Internet Explorer on Windows, instead of Firefox on a Mac)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Birthdays this month - Oh my god, it's December!

I don't know where November went - I didn't get a chance to post anything to my blog this week! Good for PC Medic!

Birthdays this month are:

Mary on the 12th

Christine on the 15th

and Erika on the 30th


Wishing all 3 of you a happy birthday!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

China Sichuan

We went out for a meal with Padraig and Mary last night. We went to the China Sichuan restaurant in Stillorgan, one of our favourite places to eat out. There is always a great buzz there, the food is delicious, service is good, and it's close to home. Last night, I had a tofu and sweetcorn soup (just like chicken and sweetcorn, with tofu instead), squid shreds (cooked to perfection - soft and chewy, not rubbery), and salt-and-pepper prawns - a very simple dish, with no sauce, but the taste of it is just right for me. And then, I had to have my banana fritter with ice-cream. I had been looking forward to it even before looking at the menu, and it didn't disappoint.

I had to rush eating my dessert a bit, as we felt we had to free the table (though there was nobody that seemed to be waiting for it at that point, and there was no pressure from the staff). We had been a bit slow at the start of the meal - we were chatting away, with our menus open. It wasn't until we all closed our menus that the waiter came to our table to take our orders. This is one to remember - if you want to get quick service, close your menus over as soon as you've decided what you're going to order!

There is a rumour that they will be relocating to new premises. A website says this will happen in late autumn 2006 - well, that's come and gone and they are still in Stillorgan. Mary had heard that they were moving to Sandyford. She asked the son of the owners, who replied that she knew more than he did, to which he added "Let me put it this way: by this time next year, we won't be here anymore" (or something to that effect - I would make a terrible witness in court - I can never remember what people said).

By the way, we were not sure when the China Sichuan first opened. Brendan, Mary and Padraig thought it was between 1982 and 1985 that they first ate there. The website I looked at says 1986, but it's the same website that got the date of their move wrong, so we're none the wiser.

We had a drink in the Mill House before and after the meal. It's amazing how quiet it was, for a Saturday night. We got seats no problem, there were several tables to choose from. Quite a different scene from pubs in Ireland 10 years ago, or even just 5 years ago!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Happy Birthday, Mark



.... a few days late! We were working non-stop this week, so I forgot to publish a post on your birthday. I know that's no excuse!

At least, I did make sure that your godfather rang you on the day to wish you a happy birthday!

I hope you have a great party today with all your friends!

Happy Birthday, Mark!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Prestige

I've been to the pictures a lot lately! The simple reason is that there are a lot of good movies out at the moment. Mind you, I don't seem to have time for much else these days. I'm working on my Christmas cards, but progress has been very slow. I'll have to start moving faster if I want to send my cards in time!

On Sunday night, we went to Dundrum Movies to see "The Prestige", a movie about the obsessive rivalry between 2 magicians at the turn of the century in Victorian England. I have to say it's nice to see how well that cinema is doing. It's great for us to be able to walk down, though the weather was so bad on Sunday evening that we decided to drive instead.

I really enjoyed the movie, despite a gang of 14-year-old boys who were chatting the whole time. It's the kind of movie where you need to pay attention or you feel you'll miss something essential. Mind you, I had guessed "the trick" before it was all revealed, so it wasn't so hard really (I'm one of these people who is generally the last to figure out the twist in movies !) . From the reviews I had read, I was expecting something much more complex and subtle.

A bit of trivia: David Bowie makes an appearance in the movie, as Nikola Tesla, an inventor who was competing with Edison in his research on electric current.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Little Children

If you're looking for a movie to cheer you up, Little Children is not the one to go to. But if you want a movie that will keep playing in your head for days, then this is a good one to try.

I found it really bleak and chilling and disturbing, and I have very mixed emotions about the various characters. I had read in a review that it was a comedy - it isn't! There are some funny bits in it and there is a satirical voice-over commentary, but it's a story about a small American town, one hot summer (and you can almost feel the oppressive dead heat), where a bored housewife and a bored househusband are having an affair, while the town goes into panic mode when a convicted paedophile comes home after 2 years in jail for indecent exposure. Definitely not a comedy! There is a reference to Madame Bovary in the movie, and it's a very good parallel - the feeling of boredom and oppression with their lives, and the desperate, futile, attempt to break away from it, did remind me of Madame Bovary.

Kate Winslet is one of the main characters in it and she is wonderful in her role, so absorbed in herself and how miserable she is with her life that she doesn't see her daughter, who is longing for her love and affection. Very different from the Kate Winslet in Titanic! I love it that she does such offbeat movies. I loved her in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

I'm finding it hard to describe this movie, but I would highly recommend it. Just don't go on a day you're feeling in any way low or emotionally vulnerable.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Shalimar the Clown

If you want a good read, that's going to take you to Kashmir, Strasbourg and California, from the war years to the present day, a story of passion, daring adventures, deceit, love, hate, I recommend you read Shalimar the Clown, by Salman Rushdie. I've read a few of his books (I haven't read "The Satanic Verses", though), and I think he's a very good story-teller. This book is definitely the best of his books that I've read.

Before I picked up the first Salman Rushdie book I read (The Midnight Children), I thought it was going to be heavy-going, heavy on religion and stuff, but I discovered to my surprise and pleasure, that it was just a good story, and I wanted to read more. I've also read "The Moor's Last Sigh" (I can't remember much about it, so I think it was a bit too convoluted a story) and "The Ground Beneath Her Feet", which I enjoyed. By the way, if you know the U2 song "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" - that's a song about the book, or rather a song around the story in the book.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

My best drawing so far

These days, the little bit of time I have for art, I tend to experiment with watercolours and acrylics. But, a few weeks ago, I decided to go back to drawing. One good reason for this is that you can do a little bit of drawing every day without any big effort- all it takes is 1 piece of paper and a pencil. And also, I felt I needed the practice - I did a few doodles when we were in New York (Bryant Park is great for that - you can be sitting at a table and draw someone who is sitting two tables down without being noticed), but they were not very good.

So I set myself the task of doing a drawing of Brendan - I find that's the most challenging task, drawing someone you know and love. Or so my left brain keeps telling me, at least. The right brain just sees interesting lines, shadows, patterns, and doesn't care what it is looking at.

If you're wondering where this Right Brain/Left Brain stuff comes from, it's from Betty Edwards's book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain". This book was recommended to me by Máire, and it was the best art-teaching book I ever got. Thank you, Máire! Like most adults, I thought I couldn't draw, until I tried this method. I might not be very talented, but I've learned a lot from this book.

Anyways, judge for yourself - here is the drawing of Brendan (without the glasses - I didn't do it as a live drawing - I'm a bit too slow to ask anybody to sit down and pose for me. I did it from a picture I took on holidays. And I decided not to draw the glasses. I'm not Louis Le Brocquy, but I can use artistic licence all the same.):

Monday, November 06, 2006

Birthdays this month

Birthdays this month are: Hilary (whom I haven't seen in years - actually we've lost touch completely, but it would be great if I could track her down. A quick google is not giving me any relevant results, unfortunately), Mark, and Kay.

Happy Birthdays!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Conor James

Congratulations to Kelly and Jim on the birth of their beautiful baby boy, Conor James. Conor James was born on 24 October at 7:56 p.m. in Lafayette, Colorado, weighing in at 7 lb, 0.5 oz, and measuring 22 inches.

Mother and Baby are doing well.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Departed

Two movies in a week! On Tuesday evening, we decided to avoid the trick-or-treaters, like we do every year, and went to Dundrum movies.

The Departed is a cops-versus-villains movie, with a good story and good actors. To quote from one of the movie websites: "The Departed tells of moles within the Boston State Police Department and the South Boston Irish-American mob". It's really the fight of good versus evil - although it's not always clear who is with the police and who is not, it's very clear who is good and who is bad. It's quite gruesome - if you don't like to see someone being shot in the head, this film is not for you (though some episodes of the Sopranos are worse in terms of gore).

It got very good reviews, and it was a good movie. There are two things that nag at me, though:
  1. The "love interest" is too nice. It seems that every shot of her is in soft focus, and she seems to float through the whole thing without understanding what's going on.
  2. There are a few loose ends, which I was expecting to see resolved by the end of the movie, but they're still hanging there.
It was good, but would I watch this movie again? Probably not. Whereas "Little Miss Sunshine" will definitely be on my shopping list when it comes out in DVD. Does that say a lot about me?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine

I went to the pictures with Mary and Aine last night. Mary's colleagues had recommended "Little Miss Sunshine", and we had a ball. I haven't laughed so much in a long time. The story is very funny, also very sad, and full of love. It's the story of a family on their way to a beauty pageant. Olive, the 7-year-old daughter, has qualified for the final of the beauty pageant (God knows how - she is cute, but she is not the type of beauty you'd normally encounter at those events), and they all head to California in their minibus. A lot goes wrong along the way for this mad family, but their love for each other keeps them going, and they make it to the pageant, for the maddest finale I've seen in the movies in a long long time!

If you need a bit of sunshine in your life, go and see this movie. You'll enjoy it. Don't bring your 13-to-16-year-old sons. They probably won't want to admit they enjoyed it.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

La Communiante

Voici un nouvel essai sur le thème de la mystérieuse communiante. Le gagnant du concours est bien sûr Yves. Il n'y a probablement pas plus de 6 ou 7 personnes qui connaissent cette photo!

Pour cet essai-ci, j'ai utilisé la même technique que la fois passée:
Couches de peinture acrylique, effacées en partie avec de l'eau, un pinceau sec et du papier cuisine. Je n'ai utilisé que deux couleurs - un jaune citron et un magenta.
Une photo scannée, sur laquelle j'ai ajouté des couches de peinture acrylique (attention! - l'encre noire imprimée se dilue facilement - donc ne pas utiliser trop d'eau).
Du "gesso" appliqué avec un petit tampon en forme d'étoiles.
Et quelques touches de marqueur doré.


Et pour cette dernière photo, j'ai manipulé le tout avec Adobe Photoshop, après avoir pris une photo de l'original. J'ai tout simplement remplacé les couleurs!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Coup de coeur - Susanna & The Magical Orchestra

One day this week, I was in the car going to a customer. I like to listen to RTE lyric FM when I'm in the car on my own. They do a lot of classical music, but they also do other eclectic styles. I heard this beautiful song, called "It's a long way to the top (if you wanna rock 'n' roll)". It was sung by a woman, with a voice not unlike Bjork's.

When I searched for the song on iTunes, all I found was Dropkick Murphys (I have no idea who they are, but they sound awful to my ears!) and AC/DC and I was horrified! This was nothing like the soulful tune I had heard on the radio. I then googled it and found a wikipedia article (good old wikipedia!) that lists the various covers of the song, which was originally an AC/DC song, although it's hard to imagine when you hear this version. In there, I found that the Norwegian duo Susanna & The Magical Orchestra (a.k.a. Susanna Wallumrød and Morten Qvenild) had done a cover version of it in 2006. I'd never heard of them before, but a few more Google searches uncovered their page on MySpace.com.

They look a bit weird, but the music is beautiful. Have a look at their page, and you can listen to the song there. I hope you like it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Mice in the Park

One morning, when we were in New York , we were walking through Madison Square Park, just besides the Flat Iron Building. We saw this young man releasing trapped mice from a couple of green boxes he had. The mice were tiny, and looked a bit bewildered. They went hopping their merry way, looking for somewhere to hide behind a tree. Actually, they may have looked merry, but I'd say they were stressed out, emerging from a warm building into an open space with squirrels, dogs, birds, cars & people.

We asked him where they had come from. They had been trapped in his office, he said, and he was the lucky employee whose job it was to trap and release them humanely. They were so cute you could understand why nobody would want to kill them. But you have to wonder about their chances of survival, in the middle of a small park in the city. The young man's theory is that the mice will have made it back to his office faster than him!

If you want to find out more about pest control, check out the New York State Integrate Pest Management Program website. There is a section about live trapping. Here is an extract: "Live trapping with box traps or glue boards may be used for monitoring and for removal. The technique raises legal, ethical, and biological concerns, especially with exotic species such as the house mouse and Norway rat; these issues are discussed in the "Beasts be gone!" brochure."

I'm happy to report we have had no mouse in our house since we got Willow. He's brought back a few mice he'd killed, and also a rat(well dead, thank god), a few years ago. He also catches the odd bird, but seems to be getting lazier year by year. Or maybe the mice and birds are avoiding our garden.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

Remember Al Gore? He was vice-president to Clinton before 2000, then he lost the presidential election to George W. Bush in 2000. Recently, you may have heard of him in the news, with the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth".

We watched it on the plane on the way back from New York last week, and it was gripping. Since losing the election to Bush, Al Gore has gone on a crusade to explain the facts of global warming, and to shake up public inertia about it, particularly in the US. In the documentary, he explains the issues in simple terms and highlights why we need to do something about it now, if we want our children (or nieces and nephews) to have a future on this planet.

He is a very good speaker and the facts and figures he presents are scary - a tale of melting ice caps ("The Arctic Ocean could be ice free in summer by 2050"), drought, heat waves, and extinction. He also exposes the political manipulations that have cast doubts over the scientific reality of global warming. When you see all these facts and figures, it's hard to keep your head buried in the sand.

But the most important thing to me was how he highlighted that we can all make changes in our lives to impact things positively. It's not just for heads of states to implement Kyoto agreements or not. It's up to each one of us to makes changes, and reduce how much CO2 we produce.

One small thing we can do, for instance, is to unplug our mobile phone chargers from the socket when we're not charging our phones. Here is a bit from his website: "Even when turned off, things like hairdryers, cell phone chargers and televisions use energy. In fact, the energy used to keep display clocks lit and memory chips working accounts for 5 percent of total domestic energy consumption and spews 18 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year!"

Or we can walk down to the corner shop rather than take the car. Or turn off the lights when we leave a room. Wear a cardigan around the house rather than just a tee-shirt, with the heat on full ...

Brendan and I felt so strongly about this after watching the movie that we have started taking some of the recommended actions. With a house full of computers and electronic devices, we've got quite a bit we can do. I calculated my "personal impact", and found to my horror that I was well above the average in terms of CO2 production - and that's the American average!

Check out www.climatecrisis.net for more information and ideas about what you can do.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bon anniversaire, Marie-Gabrielle

Le seul anniversaire ce mois-ci!

Bon anniversaire!

Je n'ai pas envoyé de carte, donc voici une aquarelle "faite maison" - juste pour toi! Je l'ai intitulée "Waves onto the red shore".

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Jean-Philippe

Have you ever heard of Jean-Philippe Smet? Have you ever heard of Johnny Hallyday?

If you've never heard of him, don't bother reading this post. It's a French Pop/Rock Culture thing! Some of you may disagree with the word "Culture" in there, but it's part of my culture, so don't knock it. I guess you have to grow up immersed in it to appreciate it. Most of the stars of French culture seem to endure well into their 60s and beyond. Think Michel Sardou (I'll refer you to my Connemara post), Gilbert Bécaud (my September Morn post), etc. This is a very cultural blog, underneath it all!!

Anyways,.... Johnny Hallyday is one of the big stars of French Rock. He's about 60 and has sold millions of records. His real name is Jean-Philippe Smet, and us Belgians like to highlight that he comes from an area near the Belgian border (actually I just read on wikipedia that he was born in Paris, but that his father was Belgian - so we can add him to the list of famous Belgians). I never particularly liked him - actually, I can only think of one song by him "Quoi ma gueule? Qu'est-ce qu'elle a ma gueule?".

On our Aer Lingus flight over to New York last week, we picked 2 movies:
The first one was "The wind that shakes the barley". It's a movie about the Irish war of independence and the civil war. To be honest, I didn't think much of it. It had got big praise in all the papers, but I felt that the core premise of the movie, i.e. that families were split apart by the civil war, wasn't developed very well. Anyway, I'm digressing again. It didn't do much for me.
The second movie was "Jean-Philippe", a French comedy in which the main character is a big Johnny Hallyday fan, gets a knock on the head, and wakes up in a parallel universe where Jean-Philippe Smet never became a big star, never became Johnny Hallyday. It's very French, but Brendan enjoyed it too, so I think it translates well. It's very funny, and Johnny Hallyday, who plays himself in the movie, is really dead-pan. It's hard to know if he is a good actor or if he really is like that. So, even if you've never heard of Johnny Hallyday, I'd say you'd enjoy it.

Et pour ceux d'entre vous qui veulent le résumé en français, le voici: Jean-Philippe. Et voici l'article wikipedia sur Johnny Haliday: article wikipedia.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Minado's is dead. Long live Todai

One of our favourite restaurants in New York was Minado's, a sushi and seafood all-you-can-eat buffet on 32nd street. It used to serve a wide range of fresh sushi and sashimi, along with cooked seafood, crab claws and prawns. The fact that it was only 2 doors down from our hotel was an extra bonus!

So it was with shock that we realised on our first day that it was no longer there, and was replaced by a restaurant called Todai! However, when we went in, we realised that little had changed inside. Actually, the only difference we could spot, apart from the name, was the fact that they now have an attendant to serve ice-cream, rather than letting customers help themselves. Apart from that, it's exactly the same - a long buffet with dozens of sushi and sashimi options, delicious crab claws, a wide choice of hot dishes, plenty of desserts presented in single-mouthful portions (so you can try a bit of everything, and go back for more). Heaven!

As you can see from the plate on the right, Brendan is an enthusiastic convert to sushi! My favourite is the big crab claws. I'm a very tactile eater (in other words, I like to play with my food).

We enjoyed it so much, we went 3 times (in the 6 nights we were there).

Saturday, October 14, 2006

New York New York

For those of you wondering where I disappeared in the last week - we were in New York for a well-deserved break. This was my fourth time in New York. I had been there with Ann for 2 days many years ago, and I've now been there with Brendan 3 times. I just love it. There is such a buzz around the place. There is so much to see. The food is great. The shopping is endless. I love the parks. I love the museums. I love the architecture. I love the Manhattan skyline.

I still remember the first time I got there - Ann and I had taken the train from Boston. It was September I think and the trees were in their full fall colour, and we had a wonderful view of the Manhattan skyline as the train pulled into the city.

One of my favourite spots to look down at the city is the rooftop terrace at the Metropolitan Museum. There is always an interesting exhibition there, and it's a great excuse to discover a few interesting paintings. But if you're not into art, head straight for the rooftop, sit on a bench and enjoy the view.

This time, the exhibition was "Cai Guo-Qiang on the Roof - Transparent Monument". There were 4 pieces exhibited:

"Clear Sky Black Cloud", which we missed as it only happens at 12 noon, and we arrived later. It's a black cloud produced by a fired shell. Mmmmm. Not sure about that one. I guess you'd have to see it.

"Transparent Monument", a big piece of plexiglass with dead birds at the bottom. The birds are not real by the way, but they look pretty convincing to me. Again, Mmmmm. It's art, Jim, but not as we know it. Although, on second thought, if you look at the whole view seen through the pane, it's stunning. So, maybe the idea is that the art is not just the plexiglass and the dead birds, but also the Manhattan skyline. If that's the idea, then it works for me.

"Nontransparent Monument" is a big wall relief. It's packed with 69 carvings of all sorts of things. They are supposed to depict aspects of our lives after the events of September 11, 2001. Go and have a look and spot the cloned dogs!

"Move along, Nothing to See Here" is two big crocodile sculptures, with all sorts of knives, forks and other sharp objects stuck on their backs (all objects confiscated at airport security checkpoints). It was big and cheeky and visually stunning. I liked it.

The picture here is one we took through the "Transparent Monument". If you click on the picture and enlarge it, you can see a little glimpse of the Chrysler building, one of my favourites in the city

More about New York in future posts!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Miso soup

I have tried another recipe from Aine McAteer's book - I think this is the first time in my life that I actually cook more than one recipe from a cookbook. It's great to have the time to try new things, and to develop new interests.

I always liked the miso soup in Wagamamas, and I'm sure I had it on the couple of occasions I was in Japan, so I was keen to try the recipe. She has a recipe for dashi broth, with a number of different variations. Apparently, dashi broth is the foundation for a lot of Japanese dishes.

What I used was water, kombu (a type of seaweed), shiitake mushrooms, miso paste, silken tofu and spring onions. Very easy and very tasty.

I could not find dried shiitake, so I used fresh ones instead. Probably more expensive, but it was tasty. The silken tofu comes in a really neat package - it's in a tetra pak, like a milk carton. You open it on one side and then slide the block of silken tofu out and cut what you need.
The miso paste was hard enough to find, as I didn't really know what I was looking for. In the end, I found it in a health-food shop. It's packed in a plastic pouch. It looks a bit like bovril and you use it in the same way - disolve it in warm water and it's ready!

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Queen

We went to the pictures yesterday - The movie we chose was "The Queen" with Helen Mirren in the role of Queen Elizabeth II. We both enjoyed the movie, which explores the Queen's reaction - or rather lack thereof - when Diana died. It shows her concern for her grand-children, but also it shows how out of touch with the feelings of the British public she was. The movie shows how Tony Blair, then just elected Prime Minister, worked to get her to realise what the country expected from her.

Helen Mirren is superb in the role. The other characters are a bit harder to take - the actor who does Tony Blair looks very young, but then again, I guess he was; the actress in the role of Cherie Blair looks far too pretty, and the actor who did Charles looks quite like him from the back, but nothing like him from the front.

It's interesting that Helen Mirren has played the role of both Queen Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II. I loved her in Elizabeth I. The movie, which was on TV a few months ago, shows her passion for her country. Visually, it's a stunning movie - the costumes alone are worth watching it for!

If you want to find out more about the British Monarchy, have a look at their website. There is even a recruitment section, where you will find that they are looking for a Director of IT and Telecommunications, at £70,000 to £ 80,000 per annum, plus benefits! - Closing date for applications: 16 October. There are plenty other opportunities, including that of Linen Keeper!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Lynne Perrella

I mentioned Lynne Perrella in my post yesterday. She is a mixed-media artist. I had first discovered her journals and sketchbooks, but she also draws.

I had a quick look at her website yesterday, and I recommend you have a look too. There are gorgeous drawings, collages, and ideas of all kinds in there.

The picture I've included here is one of her drawings, which I find absolutely gorgeous. I must find out more about how she got this effect. She mentions an "oil transfer" technique, but I have no idea what that actually means.

If you use this picture anywhere, please make sure to credit it to Lynne Perrella.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Communion Dress

I found a blog called "Try it Tuesdays" that has techniques for painting interesting backgrounds. This one I tried is in acrylics. You paint a layer and you let it dry, then you add subsequent layers in a different colour, and you spray the page with water before the acrylic paint has time to dry (it dries very quickly) and you wipe out some of the new paint with a tissue. It reveals the first layer nicely. You can then add stamped elements (dip the stamp in white gesso, and paint over this when the gesso is dry)

So, I've started experimenting with this. It wasn't entirely successful. I used an acrylic canvas textured paper, which was very good. It holds the colour nicely and doesn't buckle. But my colours were quite muddy, so I'm going to have to try again.

But, rather than throw it out, I decided to experiment further with what I had. Here is what I did:
  • I scanned a picture in black and white and glued it to the painted page.
  • When the glue was dry, I added transparent layers of colours to blend the picture in with the background.
  • I used an old stamp I had. It was originally a Bourgeois tattoo stamp (which I had never used, needless to say), representing 3 little stars. I dipped the stamp in white gesso, and applied it over the painting. I added more layers of colour to blend the whole thing in.
  • Then I used a gold paint marker to add a few accents around the photograph.
  • And, finally, I added some text with a stamp set I got recently (I need to practise more with these - the result is quite blotchy)

All these techniques were inspired by a book I got a year or so ago, called "Artists' Journals and Sketchbooks, Exploring and Creating Personal Pages" by Lynne Perrella. This book has wonderful ideas and techniques to explore your creativity through the medium of a journal. It's a great tool to use when you're stuck for ideas or if you want to experiment with different techniques

And here is the result (special prize goes to the first person who can guess whose picture this is):

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Green Over Water - II

I had promised myself I would take another stab at Green Over Water. I wasn't entirely happy with the result - the colours were too harsh, and the dark greens were not realistic at all. I haven't had much time lately, but I managed to fit in half an hour here and there, and here is the result - the colours are much more subtle, and I achieved a good dark green by adding a couple of washes of yellow ochre over the vanadium yellow and phthalo blue. It takes the blueness out of the green and looks much more natural I think.


You will notice a few splashes towards the top right - Well, that's what happens when you drop your paint cup! I managed to mop up most of the damage, but there were a couple of spots that got enough time to dry!

And here is a detail that shows the different shades you can achieve by layering 3 colours. The trick is to not mix the colours on the palette, but to apply them glaze after glaze, patiently waiting for each layer to dry.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Bread and Butter Pudding, without the butter

The new dish in my expanding range: Bread Pudding - without butter. Another Aine McAteer recipe. And YUMMY it is! It's very easy to prepare, the ingredients are not too exotic, and it is delicious. At this rate, Brendan and I will become fatties like Willow! Tonight, we're trying it with hot custard!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Ryder Cup Madness

We called around to Niall and Rita's yesterday afternoon. Brendan and Niall went off to the pub for an hour. According to Brendan, the pub was full of middle-aged men sporting their Ryder Cup jumpers, bracelets, and entry badges (around their necks still!)
Granted, tickets to the Ryder Cup were like gold dust. So, having managed to get there is not only a badge of wealth, but also of business and social status (nothing to do with an interest in golf)!
Will these men's wives ever tell them to grow up, or were they themselves busy shopping with the WAGs???

Saturday, September 23, 2006

New hair cut

I was in town on Tuesday morning to pick up a Serial-USB adaptor from Maplin. I had taken the Luas, as parking in town is fraught (it was less than 24 hours since I had been clamped, remember?). I was making good progress, walking back towards St Stephen's Green via one of the back streets parallel to Grafton Street when a young woman approached me and asked me if I wanted a free hair cut.

As it turned out, I was in bad need of a hair cut, but I was in a hurry, so I hesitated for a bit. But she twisted my arm with a story of her model not turning up, and she was nearly qualified and there would be a supervisor... so I went in.

It took a lot longer than the 45 minutes she had estimated. I was in there for 2 hours! I guess that's the price to pay for a free hair cut

As it turns out, it was a Toni & Guy salon, and there was a good supervisor who checked on her work at every stage. And I was very happy with the results - though I have to say that I'm having difficulty in achieving the same look when I blow-dry it myself. Brendan is giving me those looks that mean "I love you dearly, but your hair looks completely mad. Surely it can't be that hard to get it to sit nicely like it was when you came home from the hairdresser's!" Unfortunately for me, it is that hard! My hair needs the weight to sit properly on my head. The layered cut makes it too light and it has a tendency to stick up. I should remind him of the Iroquois look sported by Erika, Laura and Sander at about 6 months!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I got clamped!

I was in town on Monday, setting up a computer for a customer who has an office near Merrion Square. I parked on Upper Mount Street and put in money in the pay&display machine for 2 hours. But when I came out 3 hours later - the job had taken longer than planned - I found a big yellow clamp on my car, a sticker on the side window and the little blue note on the windscreen (it was in a plastic pouch - just as well, as it was pouring rain). I rang the number on the little blue note, talked to the very friendly guy at the service centre and gave my credit card details. He told me that their customer charter is to have all clamps removed within 1 hour of payment. 10 minutes later, the clampers were there to remove the clamp for me, and I was on my way again.

Very efficient service!! It cost me 80 Euro.

And that's why I don't normally take jobs in town!

(PS - the picture above is probably not the right kind of clamp - all I can say is that it was yellow. If you do a search on Google Images for car clamp, you will find that they come in many different shapes!)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Interlude

Here is a picture of a poppy that we grew from seeds we collected in Airfield earlier this year. As we sowed them quite late, we didn't expect much, but we got a good crop, just from a small pot. They brought a nice splash of colour in our garden, when my petunias and lobelias were looking quite tired. Which reminds me, I'd better go in the garden now and pull these out. Summer is over, though we are still enjoying plenty of sunshine and nice temperatures.




And here is a detail from the same picture. I might try something abstract based on this at some point.

By the way, if you are wondering what project I'm working on... I've started another version of the "Green over water" project. I'm trying to keep the colours more subtle. So far so good. And I stretched my paper properly this time, so there is no buckling. I'm currently trying to figure out how to do the darker green. If I just add more phthalo blue, it will just look too blue. I think I will need to add a very small amount of pink maybe to give it a duller colour. But I will need to experiment before I start adding colour and mess it all up!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Quick Hello from MHBD @ PC Medic

I'm taking a quick break from my busy day at PC Medic! My Mum flew back home yesterday - all went smoothly - Ryanair flights on time, and no hold-ups at Dublin airport.
It's been a busy few days, but I've enjoyed having her over. She's very easy-going - when I was busy with work, she'd just walk down to Dundrum Town Center (warning - this link to Dundrum.ie will start playing music after about 10 seconds!) and potter around the shops on her own.

On Saturday, we had lunch in Bistro One in Foxrock. I had tomato and cumin soup, fish Thai red curry, and sticky toffee pudding. I don't think I ever had sticky toffee pudding before. I always thought it would be hard caramel and messy to eat. I was wrong. It was a gorgeous pudding with a soft caramel sauce (and vanilla ice cream), and it was to die for! Brendan enjoyed his mushroom risotto, fish red curry and almond tart with custard. And Mum had a melon starter, Chinese chicken and fried rice, and the almond tart. We all enjoyed our food and the relaxed atmosphere.

I've discovered a few new things which I'll share with you in future posts
  • an online keyboard to enter accented characters without the need to remember the ASCII codes or if you have a laptop and it's just not practical to turn NumLock on and off each time you want to type in an accented character. I'm pretty quick at typing ALT-130 and ALT-138 for the accented Es in my name, but on the laptop, it's just not practical.
  • Google Talk if you want to talk to your friends for free. And you can even leave a voicemail! Véronique left me a voicemail last week and that's how I discovered it. So, she gets the credit for this discovery!
  • Live Search from Microsoft - if you search for mhbd, this blog comes up first! Needless to say, I'm thrilled. I love Google to bits, but the same search brings me 11th in Google (although you'll also find a link to this blog from Yves's blog at Number 6)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

South Wall

The few of you who read this blog may be wondering where I've been - no post in a week! Or maybe you're enjoying a few days without having to keep up with my never-ending stories.

Well, I'm Back!

We have been very busy over the last while, and my Mum has arrived for a few days with us, so I've been juggling my priorities.

This morning, we went for an invigorating walk at the South Wall. The forecast is for hazy sunshine, but so far the sun has been struggling behind the clouds. There was quite a breeze at the South Wall, but it was mild and humid and we enjoyed our walk.

When we got back home, Brendan cooked a lentil meatless loaf. It was yummy. And now, I'm off to Dundrum centre for a bit of shopping. (Update after the shopping trip: found nothing I wanted! The only thing I liked - a top from Hobbs - they didn't have my size. There are a lot of wrap dresses in the shops, but it's a shape that doesn't suit me at all.)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Star Dolls

Remember the little paper dolls we had when we were young? The ones you used to cut out of a magazine or a book, with the little paper dresses and skirts and tops with the little tabs to attach them to the doll? In some way, they were a simpler (much simpler) version of Barbies. Well, I've just discovered www.stardoll.com! Most 4-to-7-year olds already knew about it, of course, but I didn't, being a little older than that. I was asked to put it on a computer's favorites by one of my customers, and show her 4-year old how to use it. The 4-year old in question being very bright, she didn't need much tuition, but we spent a great hour or so putting on dresses on paperdolls of all types. Her personal favorite was Princess Madeleine of Sweden. And you know what - there is a good likeness between the paper doll and the real princess Madeleine!
There are so few computer games designed for girls that anybody who can come up with a good idea to get girls playing on computers should do well! Think of the Sims!

I love my job!