Monday, April 30, 2007

Books I've been reading

OK - this is going to be brief! 2 books read in the last few weeks - one that I think I'll keep, and one that I'll be quite happy to give away at the next charity collection.

The first one is Liars and Saints, by Maile Meloy. It's the story of a family through 3 or 4 generations (depending on how you count). It took me a while to get into the story. The first few chapters were about the earlier generation, and the characters didn't appeal to me that much, but as the story unfolded and explored the paths taken by the 2nd, 3rd and 4th generations, it really grew on me. I was moved by the death of one of the characters, more than I expected. From that point onwards, I could not put the book down. This is a keeper.

The second one is Q&A by Vikas Swarup. This is probably much more of a blockbuster ("it is being translated into 25 languages, and is due to be made into both a film and a stage musical"). And it was quite enjoyable. But it was very self-conscious, I thought. I couldn't take the main character seriously and I can almost picture the author coming up with all these unlikely scenarios (scenarii?), and fitting them all together around the structure of the Q&A TV Show ("Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" to you and me). The adventures were too unlikely for me, with too many side characters, who came in and out of the story before you got to know them. It was a quick read, nice for the beach, but I'm not planning to read it again!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Tree on the green

Talking about cleaning up the green yesterday, I dug up this picture of one of the trees on our green. It must have been taken a good bit later in the year, as that tree is only just coming into leaf now. On the other hand, all the chestnuts are in full leaf and bloom already. It's a fabulous sight, and I feel very lucky we have this gorgeous view in front of our house!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Busy Busy, Run Run

It's been a hectic week, and I haven't had a minute to blog or paint. We still make time for a healthy life, though - we did go to the gym twice, I went to yoga on Tuesday, and we went for walks in the evenings.

Today, we didn't work, but we did our civic duty - taking part in the annual green cleanup. We started early (we were beaten to it by David, one of the residents who is more civic-minded than any of us), and we helped clear the path. After a slow start, quite a few people joined in and the paths have all been cleared nicely. After about an hour and a half's work, we felt we had done enough, and left to do our shopping (the fridge was quite sad this morning- I didn't even have milk for my cereal, but put together a lovely bowl of banana, organic yogurt, crushed pecans, sunflower seeds, raisins and maple syrup! - Who said I can't cook?).

After that, we decided to sit out in the back garden for a bit, although the easterly breeze was still cool. We've had a lot of sunshine this April (only about a half a day of rain in the whole month), but the cold wind on the East coast has kept our temperatures down. That said, we discovered that if we sit just by the east wall of our garden (an area which we cleared of old overgrown bushes recently), it's perfectly sheltered. So we sat out for a couple of hours, and soaked up the sun. My nose is definitely red. I put on factor 20 around 4:30, but it was too late at that stage.

I'm sore all over after the green cleanup - I haven't done any gardening this year yet - the pots at the front are absolutely awful - half dead geraniums don't look pretty. I'll have to get going next weekend and plant a few flowers. The May bank holiday weekend is generally the weekend I do all my gardening for the year. I don't feel like doing much this year, but a few fresh geraniums, fuschias and lobelias will help brighten things up.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Best Behaviour

Yesterday, we had some visitors who came to see Willow, and the pigs and hens of Airfield. To my surprise, Willow did not try to hide. He let himself be tickled on the tummy, and he even let one of our visitors pick him up and tickle him under the chin! The youngest of our visitors (2) was a bit shy and did not want to touch Willow, but was quite happy to stare at him and then imitate cat behaviour!
I was very proud of Willow, who definitely was on his best behaviour - well, apart from jumping on work surfaces in the kitchen, that is!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Happy Birthday, Shinobu

Your birthday is tomorrow, but I wanted to make sure you see this message in case you go online in the morning! I hope you have a great day with your friends!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Last King of Scotland

When Mary had told me that The Last King of Scotland was disturbing, I had taken it to mean that there was little violence on display, that it was hinted at rather than actually shown. I was wrong!

Lisa and I went to see it on Monday. It was still showing at Dundrum, which was handy for me. It was an excellent movie, but there was a few scenes that were quite violent. While it's true that the violence is implied rather than shown through most of the movie, this changes quite dramatically at the end. There are a few gruesome shots, and I had to look away a few times (I'm not good with blood and gore). I think what was hard to take was that the violence we were shown wasn't random. The few people we actually see dead, tortured or being killed are key characters in the story, and I found that their pain and death was harder for me to take because I liked them.

And Forest Whitaker is fantastic, well deserving of his Oscar for Best Actor. I knew I had seen him in a good movie before, but I couldn't remember which. Lisa reminded me that he had been in The Crying Game. It's hard to believe that that movie came out in 1992. I must watch it again. It was such a great movie.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Happy Birthday, Laura

12 today (I think!). Our best wishes - I hope you have a lovely day. I'm looking forward to seeing you on Sunday.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

There is nothing wrong with tracing!

When you're working from a photograph, I really see nothing wrong with tracing. I find it helps me understand the lines better, and what makes a particular picture interesting. Without the tracing, I find that I get distracted by all the details in a picture. Tracing a picture, whether it's with tracing paper or using the Wacom tablet, helps me see what's beautiful in it. The picture here is the tracing I took of the lilly. I just added the orange centre afterwards. I love the contrast between the pure white and the loud orange.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Next project - a white lilly

Don't think that I have been doing nothing these last few weeks. As soon as I finished the poppy, I started work on another flower - a lilly this time. No brash colours here. It's all subtle shades. And I'm struggling with it of course. It's a lot easier to go for strong colours and textures than getting just the right shade of grey to imitate indirect light hitting a beautiful white flower!

This particular lilly was at the back of Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, just overlooking the river. There was plenty of reflected light and I just love the abstract look of this picture.

I've been playing with it for the last while, but it's taking a long time for me to figure out how to turn this into a good watercolour. I've done a few drawings and tracings on the computer, using the Wacom tablet. The drawings here were all done without the assistance of a computer. For the last drawing, I actually measured, so the proportions would be right.

But I wasn't entirely happy with the overall balance of the picture. It lacked punch. Maybe when I'm more experienced I'll be able to get the light greys just right, but for now, I think I need to stick to strong colours and shapes.

So, as a starting point, I've cropped the picture, just showing the left part of it, and dropping the right-hand corner. I think the shapes are better balanced, and I won't have to worry about how I depict the hazy pink flowers there. I will have enough trouble painting the white flower itself without having to worry about other things.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Willow's hair cut

Today, Willow got his annual dematting and grooming at the vets.
As he is a long-haired cat, and we didn't get him used to brushing when he was small, his hair gets very matted every year, towards the end of winter, when he starts to shed.
He won't let us brush him properly, so we have to bring him to the vets every year, where they brush him and cut any major matting, all under anaesthetic.

We brought him in at 8 am, and he wasn't a happy cat. He knew exactly where he was going, and he didn't like it one bit. He tried to hide under the cushion in his carry-case, but to no avail!

I picked him up at 4 pm. He was hiding under the cushion again, but relaxed once we got into the car. When we got home, he was delighted, and has been sitting in my lap quite a bit since (I've got fine cat hairs all over my clothes, and a rash on my fore-arm from his drool - did I tell you I'm allergic to cat saliva?). He would love to get out now, but he's not allowed out - his legs are still a little bit wobbly and the vet has advised to keep him warm and quiet tonight.

And I found out this morning that Freddie, his brother, was getting dematted today too!

Have a look at the pictures from last year's dematting. It's not quite so dramatic this year!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Nothing is Black

I just finished reading a book called "Nothing is Black" by Deirdre Madden. I don't remember buying it, and it must have been on the shelf for a good while. I'm glad I picked it up. It's a short book, but I felt that the characters were alive. I cared what happened to them - I guess that's the sign of a good book. It's set in Donegal - one of the characters is a painter, another is a wealthy and successful Dublin woman who is having a mid-life crisis, and the third character is a Dutch woman who lives in Donegal half the year. Through the story, the 3 characters get to understand a bit more about their own lives, and how to accept it.

No picture from the book, but here is another picture from the zoo - a white rhino - Dublin Zoo got three new rhinos from Kruger park in South Africa. They already have 2 rhinos - one of them is 30 years old, so I guess they are introducing these 3 new ones to bring in some fresh blood.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter Weekend

We did plenty of walking this weekend - Zoo on Friday, town on Saturday (I know, that doesn't really count, but I couldn't leave Saturday empty!), Killiney Hill and Airfield on Sunday, and South Wall today.
We had to wrap up well today, and I was glad I had my woolly hat with me!

I'm feeling quite healthy, between the walking and the healthy eating! I made a juice I had tasted in Wagamamas a few weeks ago - apple, carrot and ginger. I used 2 apples, 2 carrots and one finger of ginger. Delicious and zinggy, if there is such a word! As usual, Brendan is feeding me well - we had lamb, roasty potatoes and carrot+parsnip puree last night, a niçoise salad at lunchtime yesterday, and a lovely lentil dish last Wednesday. And I made an apple and pear crumble on Wednesday, from the Aine McAteer book, with oats, almonds and pecans for plenty of crunch!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Happy Birthday, Ingrid

Bon anniversaire, Ingrid. Pour ton anniversaire, je t'offre une photo d'un pingouin du zoo de Dublin.
D'après le site, la traduction de "bon anniversaire" en néerlandais est "gefeliciteerd met je verjaardag". J'espère que c'est correct!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Day at the zoo

I had decided earlier this week that we should take the day off today, Good Friday. When I had started working in Lotus, it had been such a shock to my system that we actually had to work on Good Friday! Every year I worked in Lotus/IBM, I hated the fact that I had to work on Good Friday, when everybody else in Ireland was off. Well, a lot more companies are working on Good Friday nowadays - that's the mad Celtic Tiger for you.

So, it's a real treat for me to have today off, now that we're our own bosses.

As the weather was good, but not quite warm enough to sit out in the back garden, we went to the zoo today. We were there just after 10:30 and stayed until about 2:30. We had a great day. I love seeing all the animals. I have many favourites - I love the monkeys, the tigers, the lions, the sea lions, the penguins - but we even went around to see the farm animals - the pigs, the goats, the hens! Never mind being nineteen forever - I still have the heart of a four-year-old!

When we arrived, there was this huge jungle noise from across the pond - it sounded like some of the monkeys were in rut or having a major fight. As we got closer, we could see 2 or 3 monkeys in some trees, jumping from branch to branch and making this huge sound - it was so loud that at first, I thought it was amplified. It was hard to believe that ordinary monkeys could make so much noise. Well, these were no ordinary monkeys, they were siamangs, who sing a love duet every morning to mark their territory. They have a throat sac that amplifies their voice. The third guy hanging around in the tree was their young, who was obviously fascinated by mummy and daddy's singing!

We also saw the Sulawesi macaques - one of them had a tiny baby macaque in her arms, and it was the cutest thing ever, with its little bald head. One of the females has an arm missing, but seems to be well able to manage with just 3 limbs.

Here is a picture of some of the penguins. When we arrived, there was only one in the water. The rest of them were hanging out by the side, looking into the water. They looked like they were wondering if the water was cold enough! Then one of them finally jumped in (well, he waded in, really, as if dipping a toe in the water. No brave jump there). Once he was in, the rest of them all followed in, and seemed to enjoy their swim. Why they looked so hesitant to go in, I have no idea!

Have a look at the Dublin Zoo website. There is plenty of information about all the animals there. And if you're in Dublin, it's well worth a visit. Most people bring a small child or two along, but we didn't feel out of place just the two of us!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Dead magpie

When I came back from my yoga class last night, I found a dying magpie in our front drive. It was a beautiful big bird, but he looked like he had a broken back - he was lying on his back, and he could just barely move his tail. I sent Brendan out to do the decent thing and help it die quicker.
I don't think Willow had anything to do with it - there were no feathers around, or any sign of a fight.
And today, I've seen a slightly smaller magpie hanging around our garden, looking up and down the length of it and making a low sound, as if it's calling out its mate. Maybe I'm anthropomorphising the magpie. I really don't know enough about their behaviour. I'll go and research more about and will let you know what I can find out!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

New lambs - 2007

Here is a picture of some of the new lambs born in Airfield in the last couple of weeks.
We've only been to see them a couple of times, as the weather hasn't been great. It seems that the rest of the country is enjoying glorious weather, but Dublin has remained cold and windy. And today, we don't even have any sunshine to cheer us up.
To think that they had a barbecue in Brussels last Sunday, and the temperature went up to 26 degrees in the sun!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Birthdays this month

April isn't as busy as March, birthday-wise:

  • Ingrid on the 7th
  • Laura (Irish Laura) on the 17th
  • Shinobu on the 22nd

For your birthdays, here is a picture of a muscari (also known as grape hyacinth). Brendan took this picture in Airfield today. It was a bright day, but still bitterly cold, with a North-Easterly wind.