Thursday, August 31, 2006

Irish Names

In case you're interested in how to pronounce Irish names, here is a website that not only gives you the origin of the names, but it also has a "Listen" button for each name:
And in case you're wondering - no, I'm not broody. It's a simple case that Véronique asked me how to pronounce the name Aine!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Yummy hummus

I made hummus from the recipe in Aine McAteer's book yesterday, and it was yummy. There is no garlic in it, but it's got umeboshi vinegar in it, and it's really tasty. I love to have 2 rice cakes as a snack in the late afternoon, to keep me going until dinner time. I normally put on a slice of cheese on these, but I tried my home-made hummus yesterday, and I thought it was delicious.

PS: nothing much to report in terms of watercolours these days. I've been trying a few techniques from a book by a painter called Roland Roycraft, but I just don't get what he is trying to explain. He's got some very nice paintings in the book, but, while I undertand the theory of his techniques, they just don't seem to work for me. I think I'm going to give up on his book for a while and go back to something else.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Wildlife of South Dublin - Continued

We have a BIG spider in our garden. She's been weaving her web between a few of our pots over the summer. Right now, she's settled in the leaf of a poppy, and is going back and forth between it and a number of other pots, re-weaving her web as it gets destroyed by rain every few days.

I sowed poppy seeds we collected from Airfield in a pot a few weeks ago, way too late in the season for poppies, but they grew well and we had our first flower yesterday morning, a beautiful crisp autumn morning.

We had spotted the spider on her web in that area on and off over the last couple of months. A few days ago, we watched her as she cut a faded petunia flower from her web. She was amazingly fast.

We got a good look at her yesteday morning and managed to take a few pictures while she was wrapping a fly to take it off the centre of her web and - I assume - into her larder. Her body is about 2 cm long.

According to this website I have found, she is a garden spider. I have found on another website that they have a lifespan of 1 to 2 years. So, we'll keep you updated on her progress.

By the way, I'm calling it "her" as I have found on a website that the female is bigger than the male, which is only 4 to 8 mm in size. So this one is definitely a "she"!

By the way, don't forget to click on the pictures to see them in full screen size. She is a beauty!

According to wikipedia, it takes a lot to provoke them to bite, and the bite is just "slightly unpleasant"!

And here is for the sad bit (well, they both die in the end!), which I've found on this website from the BBC:
" The much-smaller male waits near the web of the female until she is mature. He then cautiously approaches her while plucking the strands of the web to let her know that he is not food. If the male survives after mating, he may go on to mate again. Occasionally though, the male is mistaken for a meal and is eaten by the female.

After the female has mated, her body will become swollen with eggs. The female then builds a silken egg sac and lays her eggs in it. Her life is now dedicated to protecting these eggs and she will sit with them, unable to hunt, until she dies in late autumn. The spiderlings will hatch out in May of the following year."

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Undomestic Goddess

Mary gave me a loan of a book last week - the perfect book to read on the train up to Sligo. It's the Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella. The perfect summer read in the chick lit style. It's light, but the characters are so likeable that you want to know what will happen next, and how their lives will turn out. Basically, it's the story of Samantha, a stressed-out 29-year-old lawyer, who has to escape her old life, and finds herself a housekeeper for a rich couple somewhere down the country. It's very funny, as she struggles to make sandwiches in the kitchen, turns clothes pink in the washing machine, and learns how to iron a shirt. And of course, there is love around the corner. And a plot full of twists and turns. There is one sex scene which is completely delirious (in a raspberry cage - don't ask - I have no idea what a raspberry cage looks like - where I come from, raspberry bushes grow beside a wire support.). I would recommend the book just for that scene. Overall it's a great love story, with good guys and bad guys and poor Samantha who is trying to sort out her life. It would make the perfect movie.

By the way, I've found this real cool website where you can discover other writers you might like. You just enter the name of a writer you like, and names of other writers appear in a cloud around it. The closer the name, the more likely you are to also like that writer. It sounds like great fun. I think you can do the same with music. Mind you, I found that my Firefox was hanging when I was on that site, and the CPU on my Mac was maxing out. I thought I was going to have to rewrite this post, so I went downstairs for my dinner, in the hope that it would sort itself out, and it did.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Umeboshi vinegar

Since we got the Aine McAteer book, Recipes to Nurture, we've been looking for one elusive ingredient - umeboshi vinegar. It's made from the umeboshi plums (don't ask! I have no idea what they are!). Véronique kept telling me to have a look in health-food shops, but I never got around to it, until today. So I'm delighted we got this now. It's got a nice salty taste, and it's pink. There is a gorgeous plum smell when you open the bottle. Now all I have to do is find the recipe that required it!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Lissadell House

On Sunday, Maire, Jimmy, Oisin, Fiacra and myself went to Lissadell House outside Sligo.
It's a big block of a house, grey and imposing. The grounds around it are beautiful, with views of Ben Bulben and the other mountains around Sligo. It's close to the sea and there is even a little beach on the way in to the house.

We took the tour, which brought us around the ground floor and basement. It was very interesting - the guide had a nice touch, giving a good mix of historical data and more personal anecdotes. Here are the bits that I liked best:

  • In the billiard room, there are pictures of arctic explorations, and a nice little collection of fossils. Henry Gore-Booth, who owned the house, was big into artic exploration, and travelled the world. There is also a stuffed bear in one of the rooms, which he killed on one of his many travels.
  • The big reception room has very high ceilings, with glass windows at the top to bring in light to this imposing room. It has two big gas chandelliers, and an organ, which apparently was powered from the basement by one of the servants. The room is huge - more the kind of room you'd expect to see in an embassy than in a private house. The architect who was commissioned to build the house was more experienced in designing public buildings than private homes. Actually, Lissadell was the first private house he built. That probably explains the formal character of the house.
  • There is an unusual graffiti in one of the rooms. It was engraved in a glass panel by Constance & Eva Gore-Booth, using a diamond ring!
The rooms around the ground floor look cosy, for such a big house, and you can imagine the house full of children running around the place. There were many children in the Gore-Booth family, who were the owners of the house for a number of generations, until it was bought by Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy. It was said when they bought the house a few years ago that they were going to live there, and the website implies that it is their family home, but the tour guide said that they didn't live there, that they had bought the house as an investment. Not sure what to believe! Maybe they will move there when the house and grounds are fully restored...

They bought it for a very good price, as the State didn't want to buy it, which is a real shame, considering that this house is closely linked to important times in Irish history.

It is associated with Yeats, as he was a frequent visitor to the house.

More importantly, it was the home of Countess Constance Markievicz (née Gore-Booth), who was a member of Sinn Fein and fought during the 1916 rising. I took this bit from the Lissadell House website: "Constance was sentenced to death for her part in the 1916 Easter Rising, but the sentence was commuted to imprisonment (in England). She was released in a general amnesty in 1917 and the following year was elected a Sinn Féin member of the English House of Commons, the first woman ever elected to Westminster. "

The house has gorgeous views over the sea and over Ben Bulben. But I have to say that I would not like to live there. Too big and square for me!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Knocknarea, Sligo

I went up to Sligo to see Máire last Sunday. One sight that caught my eye when I was there was Knocknarea, which you can see as you approach her house. I never knew that Sligo was so rich in ancient tombs. Carrowmore, at the foot of Knocknarea, is the site of many megalithic tombs, which, according to Wikipedia, are estimated to date back to between 5,400 BC and 3,500 BC.

There is a cairn at the top of Knocknarea, which is said to be the tomb of Queen Maeve. I found more interesting bits about Knocknarea on another website. Here is a bit I copied from it: "Of course we have no idea whatsoever why the Neolithic Irish around 3000 BC decided to lug 40,000 tons of stone to the hilltop, but whatever their motivation was it must have been something really important.

According to the Celts, who saw themselves confronted with the same question, the cairn was the tomb of Queen Madb. The legendary Queen Madb was once the Queen of Connacht and a fierce warrior. She invaded Ulster and challenged Cú Chulainn, also known as the Hound of Ulster. It is said that Queen Madb is buried facing north in full armour, prepared to defend Connacht against dangers from the North.

Because Queen Madb's Tomb precedes the arrival of the Celts by several millennia it is unlikely that Queen Madb is really buried in this cairn. Nevertheless the idea of a dreaded warrior Queen defending Connacht had a certain appeal for the Irish and Queen Madb kept her prominent position in the Celtic pantheon into more recent times."

If anything, it's a good story. I can't take credit for the lovely pictures above. I found the top picture on the site of Ronnie Gillanders & Co, Auctioneers. And the 2nd picture was copied from the NUI Galway website. Next time, I must bring a good camera and go explore the area a little bit more. Máire, be warned, I'll be back!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Star Trek - The Next Generation

It's all coming out now. Not only am I a Neil Diamond fan, I'm also a Star Trek fan! Let me qualify this statement. I'm not much into the original series, nor Deep Space Nine, nor Voyager for that matter.
I'm strictly a Next Generation fan. (Not quite true - I was also very fond of the Enterprise series, and I was very disappointed when they decided to can it - it wasn't that good, but I had got very much into the love story between T'Pol and Commander Tucker. I'm a big romantic, if you hadn't noticed yet).

Brendan got me the 7th (and last) DVD set of The Next Generation for my birthday, and I've been catching up over the last few weeks. And I've come across a few interesting bits:

  • Interesting trivia 1: Kirsten Dunst appears as a child, called Hedril, in an episode called "Dark Page", where she reminds Lwaxana Troy (Diana's mother) of a painful loss. The ears/brain bit is pretty gross, isn't it!

  • Interesting trivia 2: Terry O'Quinn, the actor who plays John Locke in Lost, appears as Admiral Erik Pressman in the episode called "The Pegasus".

Now, aren't you glad I've shared this with you!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

September Morn

... well, August morn, actually. But this morning had a real feel of autumn about it. In the South of Europe, and in the North of Europe too, August is a real hot summer month. But in Ireland, it brings the first taste of autumn. There is a crispness to the air, the mornings are cooler, and the leaves are starting to turn on some trees (or maybe that's just because July has been so dry?).

It's lovely and sunny now. And we're sitting outside in the back garden, for our post-lunch break. But the heat has gone out of the sun. I'm not complaining. After a few days of grey skies and rain, I'm glad to be sitting out. Willow is doing floppies in the lawn. He's obviously still finding it warm, with his big furry coat. He's just jumped from the table, where he was sitting just behind my laptop, trying to get my attention. I'm surprised he hasn't tried to sit on the keyboard. Like all cats, Willow can't bear for something else to be the centre of attention - he loves sitting on newspapers that we're trying to read, or sitting in my lap while I'm typing at the computer, rubbing his face against my hands. Not easy when you're touch-typing!

Anyways, did you know that September Morn was a collaboration between Neil Diamond and Gilbert Bécaud? There is a French version of the song, to the same tune, called "C'est en Septembre". You learn something new every day!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Green over water

This watercolour project has taken forever. I was going to paint rushes in front of the river at Ballynahinch castle. You will find the full picture in my post of 18 July. I have to admit I found the whole thing too daunting. I spent a lot of time staring at the picture, wondering how I would go about it. There was too much details for me to handle. So, I decided to just paint a part of it. I cut the picture in Adobe Photoshop Elements and printed it.

What I liked about this particular section of the picture was the contrast between the bright yellow on the right and the darker green elements in the middle. And I loved the colour of the water. And the straight leaf veins going up. Here is a detail of the end result. I think the detail looks better than the overall effect

My greens are a bit too blue, and I should have kept the yellow on the right pure yellow rather than glazing it with blue. But I was happy with how I managed to do the leaf veins. I put a book on each side of the painting, and, after adding a blue glaze, when the paper was still wet, I used a ruler and a wooden cuticle stick to draw a groove into the paper. The paint tends to accumulate in the groove, making it darker than the areas around it. Unfortunately, I put too much water on the masking paper when I stretched the watercolour paper, with a result that the masking paper lifted, and the watercolour paper buckled a bit when I applied the first wash.

I think I need another go at it to get it just right!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon

I was tired after a hard day's work (ha!), and sat down in my futon and looked for something nice to relax me. I looked in my iTunes library, and found Neil Diamond's Greatest Hits, and just listened to this lovely song "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon". I've always been a big Neil Diamond fan. I'm also a big Joe Jackson fan. Which is a bit of a contradiction in terms, but that's me!
Anyways, I always liked the early Neil Diamond stuff - "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon", "Kentucky Woman", "Soolaimon". These songs always make me feel good. You'll find samples of the songs on the amazon website.
You'll find in the wikipedia article a listing of the chart position of his singles and plenty of interesting trivia (like how much was the divorce settlement he gave his ex-wife)
And another thing - the song "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" was featured in Pulp Fiction. It's the music that Mia (Uma Thurman) puts on when she & Vincent Vega (John Travolta) get back to her house. But in the movie, it's the "Urge Overkill" version of the song (which sounds just as good as the Neil Diamond version as far as I'm concerned!)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Laptop bag

In my work in PC Medic, I tend to jump from machine to machine, but I have 2 favourites - my Mac mini & my Lenovo x60. Two very different little machines. We got the Mac mini last year, as a way to learn more about Macs. Not too many of our customers use Macs, but there are a few. I hadn't used a Mac since I left ITP about 11 years ago, so it was high time to catch up!

A quick aside - I still remember the first time I used a Mac! I was working in Softrans (that places this event between 1987 and 1988), and I had to work overtime at a weekend to make some last-minute changes to a translation. As the manual we were working on was already typeset, I had to make the changes using whatever DTP application we were using at the time (this was before FrameMaker was available I think). Anyways, I had to make these changes on a Mac. I had never used a mouse before and you can imagine the fun I had navigating around the document with this new tool! But I survived! And I got to enjoy working with Macs. They were such a breath of fresh air compared to DOS! I still remember the key combinations to load and save documents in Word for DOS (Word 3, if I remember correctly): Escape, Transfer, Load and Escape, Transfer, Save. A blast from the past!

So, I love my Mac Mini. It's such a neat little box, that fits perfectly on my tiny desk. It's not the fastest. iPhoto in particular seems to tax it a bit. But it's a great little machine. I love the genie effect when you minimise windows, and I love it when you move the cursor to the top left corner that you can see all the open windows at once and you can jump from application to application.

Recently, we got a Lenovo x60 laptop. As I'm giving more and more one-to-one training, it's handy to have a laptop with me. I wanted something highly portable - small and light - but also powerful, and the x60 fits the bill perfectly. It got great reviews, and I love the finger-print log-on. So I don't need to worry about my password! I just swipe my finger over the reader and it recognises me instantly!

But there isn't much point in having a tiny laptop if your laptop bag is big and clunky. So we got an ACME MADE bag from the laptop shop. Absolutely gorgeous - black with pink circles and I love it to bits!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Killiney beach - low tide

The good weather finally broke on Sunday. This has been the best summer I've ever seen in Ireland. I can't remember any other year when I could wear a sleeveless top and not be frozen. Maybe it's something to do with the fact that I'm not submitted to the cold blast of the air-conditioning in a big office...That used to be a pet-hate of mine in my previous job. I used to sit at my desk with a scarf over my head or a hoody. I was called a variety of names - "little red riding hood", "boxer", "Isadora Duncan". But the air-conditioning never improved...
... Anyway, now I can open or close windows as I please ...
So, on Sunday, it finally started to rain around 8 or 9 am. It was very heavy around 1, but it abated after 2, and we went for a walk on Killiney beach. The tide was well out and the sea was like glass. It was lovely. There were a few children splashing in the water, but it was very quiet. The tide was so low you could actually walk over to the little beach down from the Vico road. It's not very often that the tide is that low. Unfortunately, we didn't bring the camera, so I can't give you any picture of the day.
We were very lucky, as the rain started again later on that afternoon. Since then, it's been fresher, but we still got plenty of sunshine yesterday afternoon and this morning. Unbelievable weather!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Divine Tuna with Wasabi Mash

Brendan tried another recipe from Aine McAteer's book last night. It was delicious - the marinade for the tuna made it really succulent. And the wasabi in the potato mash gave strong bursts of flavour in what is normally a bland dish. All without butter or milk. Maybe we'll need to mix it in better the next time to blend the wasabi flavour through. Are we being converted to macrobiotic cooking? Well, maybe not, but we'll always enjoy tasty food. And the recipes we have tried so far are both simple enough for me to try and tasty enough for both of us to enjoy. We both like Asian flavours - Thai, Japanese and Indian. Most of the recipes in the book are inspired by Asian influences and contain Asian ingredients, which are now easy enough to find in Dublin.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Birthdays this month

Many birthdays in August!
On the 2nd of August, it was Marraine Flore's birthday (she's dead now - she died when she was 89).
On 6 August, it's David's birthday.
On 13 August, it's Máire's.
On 15 August, it's Véronique's.
And on 28th, it's Amy's.

I will be busy making cards for all these birthdays

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Recipes to Nurture

I'm not a kitchen goddess. Actually, my signature dish is baked potato with cheese and coleslaw, all mashed together.

I can also make a lovely recipe from Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer - "Prawn and Black Rice Salad with Vietnamese Dressing". But it's so easy, I really can't take any credit for that.

But Véronique told me about this book, called Recipes to Nurture, by an Irish author, Aine McAteer. Her feedback was so positive that I had to try it. It's macrobiotic food. I don't really know what macrobiotic means, I just see the recipes in the book as simple vegetarian (+ fish) food, with no butter, no milk, and plenty of exotic Japanese ingredients.

It took a little while to get it from Amazon, as it's not available new on the site.

Brendan and I had a look at it, and we prepared a list of what ingredients we needed to get from the Asia Market - a variety of seaweeds and Japanese condiments. We found most of them in the Asia Market on Drury Street. The main thing we didn't get is umeboshi vinegar (a vinegar from the umeboshi plums), but I'm sure we'll find it the next time we go. It's a matter of reading all the labels on the shelves! Easy when you know what you're looking for!

So, yesterday, I tried my first recipe and it was a success. I made pumpkin and coconut milk bisque. The only "exotic" ingredient was garam masala, a mix of Indian spices. It was very easy to make and very tasty. Big success. The only downside is that I'll be expected to cook more often in future!