Sunday, July 30, 2006


We were in Fanore last Monday. There isn't much to do there, except go to the beach, but what a beach! It has the most gorgeous orange sand I've ever seen. And the hills of the Burren in the background. And big black slabs of rock along the shore.

The last time we were there, there was a dolphin swimming not far from the shore and we saw a big pod of dolphins going by, some of them doing big "Flipper" somersaults. It was a wonderful sight!

We didn't see any dolphins this time, but I'm still very fond of this little beach. The light was quite dramatic, as there was a heavy shower on the way.

According to the Irish Dolphins website, Dusty (for that is the name of the Clare dolphin) has settled near Spanish Point since March 2005. So that explains why we didn't see it this time!

I wouldn't mind spending a week down in Clare for a holiday some time. There is so much to see, plenty of good beaches, fantastic cliffs, and nice little towns. When the weather is good, Irish beaches are just glorious.

I've found on a web site from the Clare County Library that Fanore takes its name from "Fan Oir, the golden slope"

Friday, July 28, 2006

Purple Meteor Shower

Here is one of my 5x5 squares, the perfect filler when I don't have much to say!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Loop Head

Here is a picture of Loop Head from Monday. The sea was dead calm.

And here is a picture of one of the big waves that we saw last year. Much more dramatic!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


We were down in Clare the last few days, using the last American Express Hotel voucher. We stayed in the Woodstock Hotel in Ennis. We had stayed there before and we knew what to expect. It's clean and modern, and it has a leisure center. I would not rate it in my top hotels, but it's not bad. And Ennis is very handy for touring around Clare. After the long drives to Connemara, the 3.5 hours on the mostly-good roads to Ennis was a breath of fresh air. We did a lot of driving around, as we wanted to see Loop Head and Fanore Beach, which are at opposite ends of the county. We also stopped in Kilkee and Lahinch. So we packed in a lot in a day's touring!
The area around Loop Head is beautiful, and almost tourist-free. For some reason, it's not on the tourist trail. Coaches don't go there (because there is no shop/restaurant at Loop Head?), and the roads are really quiet. It was raining when we got there, but it soon dried off and we went for a walk around the area - the cliffs are very high and I'm a chicken, so I stayed well on the path. I've got really afraid of heights in the last few years. The sea was very quiet, so the waves were not as spectacular as the last time we were there, but the sky was dark in the distance and the overall view was pretty dramatic.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Le 21 juillet

Le 21 juillet, c'est la fête nationale belge! C'est facile de se souvenir de la date - c'est une semaine après le 14 juillet!
Je ne suis pas très patriote. Je ne connais même pas l'hymne national.
Pour ceux de vous que ça intéresse, voici un lien aux paroles!

Et voici le premier couplet - C'est beau, hein!!

O Belgique, ô mère chérie,
A toi nos coeurs, à toi nos bras,
A toi notre sang, ô Patrie !
Nous le jurons tous, tu vivras !
Tu vivras toujours grande et belle
Et ton invincible unité
Aura pour devise immortelle:
Le Roi, la Loi, la Liberté !

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Vanity Fair

I'm in the middle of reading Vanity Fair. As it's 672 pages long and the print is very very small, it will be a long while before I tell you all about it! Strange that I never read this classic while I was in college. Well, our English literature class wasn't a major focus. I remember we read a good bit of Joyce, which suited me fine, as I was already interested in everything Irish at that stage!

Anyways, the reason why I picked up Vanity Fair in our last Amazon order was that I had read an article about Reese Witherspoon (of Walk the Line fame - see my blog dated 12 February), and it said that she started being noticed after she starred in Vanity Fair (the movie). So I thought it would be interesting to read the book, although I haven't seen the movie yet. Now I'll have to wait until I'm finished the book before I can get the movie out in DVD. It's very enjoyable, but it's a big book, and I can only read so much at one sitting, as I have to read under my glasses to decypher the small font (old age - don't ask!)

One little line that caught my eye: "Osborne rose too, and shook him heartily by the hand, and said, "How do, my dear boy?" with a cordiality that made poor George's ambassador feel doubly guilty". An excellent example of how the English language is so versatile, using 2 words that mean the same thing in one sentence, one of Old-English origin (I think), and one of French origin - "heartily" and "cordiality" - "coeur" being the French word for "heart".

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Next project

In the last few days, I did a couple of watercolours following the free lessons on Frank Clarke's Simply Painting website. Amazing how easy it is to get a good result! The colours are not as rich as what you get from glazing pure colours, but it still looks quite good.

However, I find it more satisfying to paint something that I've actually experienced in reality, rather than an imagined landscape with blue mountains and a lake.

So, now, I'm on to my next project. This is a picture we took by the river in Ballynahinch castle. I'm going to use masking paper again, and wet-into-wet for the background, and the same vibrant green I used in the last project (with Vanadium yellow and Phthalo blue) for the leaves in the foreground. I need to do a few drawings of it first, to figure out the darks and lights.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Educating Willow

(Brendan came up with the phrase)
In the summer, Willow has a bad habit of waking up around 4 and wanting to go out to survey his territory. When he wants to get out at dawn, he runs up and down the stairs like a maniac. If that doesn't work, he comes into the bedroom and miaows. If that doesn't work, he jump across the bed or onto the bedside table. Hard to ignore if you want to get back to sleep. As we don't have a cat flap, it means that one of us has to get up and let him out.
This year, after a few bad nights' sleep, we decided we had enough! Closing the bedroom door doesn't work, as he starts to scratch at the carpet at the door in an attempt to open it.
So what we are doing now is closing the sitting room and kitchen doors when we go up to bed, leaving him in that area for the night.
The first few nights were bad - he'd miaow so loud he'd wake you, or he'd be trying to pull the door open, despite the big book we put against it (the big opera book Niall and Rita gave me for my 40th), or he'd jump at the back door, setting off the alarm!
The last 2 nights were better - not a peep out of him. And he'd be all lovey-dovey when I'd get up in the morning and open the door for him. Maybe we've cracked it! I'll keep you up to date on our progress.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Green leaves

Here is the end product of my green experiment:
What I like about it:
I love the background, particularly the pink and blue bit, but also the dashes of bright green at the bottom. These were achieved by painting wet in wet: you cover the whole area with water and you drop fairly concentrated watercolour in, and look at the colours interacting, tilting this way or that to mix the colours, or blowing on the paint as it dries, to reveal the colour underneath it. That's how I achieved the green spots at the bottom - I put in water, then yellow, then blue, then I added some more drops of yellow when the paint was starting to dry and then I blew to disperse the blue and reveal more of the yellow.
I also like the shadow effects achieved by the various glazes of Phthalo blue over Vanadium yellow.

What I don't like about it:
The veins in the leaves are too thick. That's where I'll need a ruling pen to try and apply the masking fluid with a lighter touch.
Also, I should have left the area above the leaves white. I put in some blue over yellow without thinking about it properly, and I lost the dash of bright light coming through the leaves.

Overall, I'm happy with the effect. The masking paper worked like a dream. It's a low-tack transparent plastic. I put it over the leaves at the very start, before painting anything, so I could do the background without having to be careful around the edges. I'll definitely use that technique again - it's a good way to create a loose, free-flowing background, painting wet in wet, while at the same time protecting the paper so you can do the details on the main feature afterwards.

Here is a picture of the photo and the watercolour side by side so you can compare. One thing I need to come clean about: I traced the drawing from the photograph (shock!, horror!). I had done a free-hand drawing of the picture beforehand, to analyse the lights and shadows, but when it came to the actual painting, I decided that tracing was the best way for me to get the details right!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Green Leaf

Here is another sample of my attempts at painting green. I like the contrast between the bright side and the shadow side. The only difference between the 2 sides is one glaze of Phthalo blue. The one thing I should have done was to mask the vein of the leaf so that it would not come up blue in the finished product. I should have had it yellow instead. You live and learn.

Another thing I've learned is that the "Masquepen" masking fluid, while very handy in that you don't have to mess with paintbrushes and soap to apply the masking fluid, leaves too wide a trace on the paper. I've now completed my "leaves" project. It looks good, apart from the leaf veins, which are too thick. The whole thing would have looked a lot better if I had applied finer lines of masking fluid. I think I'll pop over to Kennedy's and get a ruling pen. Apparently, it's the best thing to get a fine line of masking fluid.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Monday, July 10, 2006

Ballymoney, Co. Wexford

We went down to Ballymoney on Sunday to see Mick & Blath. We had a great time. The drive was less than an hour, and it was lovely down there. We went for a walk on the beach and got a bit of sun even. The beach down the road from their house is a quiet little cove with golden sand and stones near the water's edge. Like most Irish beaches, it's nice and quiet. Irish beaches are the best beaches in the world (after the Maldives), if it wasn't for the cold Irish sea!

We met Stan, their new dog - an adorable and friendly mongrel who jumps and grabs anything left lying around - within 5 minutes of arriving, we saw him take off with a slipper in his mouth. He also loves carrying logs around the backgarden. He obviously has strong jaws, but you get the feeling that Stan will never bite anyone - he's just too nice a dog for that!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Birthdays this month

Special birthday wishes this month go to Kelly, Ailbhe Sinead, and me! Happy birthday to the three of us! Enjoy the celebrations.

I celebrated in Ballynahinch Castle Hotel last weekend: here is a picture of me in our room in Ballynahinch, wearing my birthday dinner outfit - all purchased in Zara in Namur (btw, did you know that the Zara in Namur is located on the prior premises of the "Maison Delhaye"!)

Choice of clothes is inspired by Trinny & Susannah - long trousers with heels and a tunic. The picture makes my legs look shorter than they are, as Brendan was taking the picture from a higher point to minimise my double-chin!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Cruelty to animals?

On Friday, I read an article in one of the newspapers about some scientific experiment that had proven how ants find their way around. Apparently, they orient themselves by counting the number of steps they take between A & B. So, they don't think "it's 2 meters to that nice piece of bread in the backyard"; Instead, they think "it's 4000 steps to that nice piece of bread" (or whatever the right number of steps is - I don't know how many ant-steps to the meter!)

How did the so-called scientific experiment prove this?

By changing the length of a step and showing that the ants took the same number of steps, thereby missing their target.

"How do you change the length of an ant's step?", you might ask...

By glueing a pig's bristles to the ant's legs to make the leg longer, and by cutting their leg at the knee, to make the leg shorter...

I could not believe what I was reading. This may be a very important scientific discovery (though, I have to wonder how that will change the world's destiny), but the cruelty of it is what amazed me? I don't hesitate to kill ants if I find them in my kitchen, but I try to do it swiftly. What kind of strange mind thinks of cutting an ant's legs? or glueing a pig's bristles to them?

If you think I'm pulling your leg (bad pun, if you were an ant), have a look at this link. The article I read was in the Irish Independent, but it tells basically the same story. Except that the Irish Independent didn't have a picture!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, Recess, Connemara

We spent the weekend at the Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, in Connemara. We were in Connemara at the end of April (see my post of 30 April for the full words of the Michel Sardou song!) with Amex points, and, this time again, our weekend was courtesy of American Express.

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel was very nice - very quiet setting, lovely walks through the grounds, its own river and lake, excellent food, and very professional, friendly but discreet, service. We got a standard room. It was a little bit old-fashioned, but was very spacious and quiet, and had a perfect view of the mountains. And it even had wireless connectivity. There are lovely rooms downstairs where you can sit down and read a book by the fire in peace and quiet. Perfect if the weather is not.

My best food memories from the weekend were the seafood platter from the bar menu on Friday evening, and a special dessert plate for my birthday on Saturday night, with vanilla ice-cream, panacotta, nectarines, mocha vacherin and meringue (and a candle and Happy Birthday MHBD written in chocolate on the side of the plate!). Thank You, Brendan, for organising my special dessert! My eyes lit up when I saw the waitress walking across the room with her hand in front of the candle!

By the way, I didn't know what panacotta was before this weekend, so here is a link to a recipe. For any of you interested in food, I've also found a link to this blog which seems pretty good. (Not that I'd know - I don't cook much! I'll check with Brendan what he thinks of this blog.)

We didn't tour as much this time - we decided to stick close to the hotel. We walked around the grounds, by the river and by the lake, and we drove down to Roundstone and discovered a fabulous white-sand beach at Dogs' Bay. It was a little bit overcast, but the colour of the sea was wonderful all the same - subtle pale turquoisy-greens. I'm sure that with a bit of sunshine, we'd get the Maldivian blue! And temperatures were about 17 degrees (with a cold breeze yesterday, and perfectly calm today)