Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 - The Year in Books

Yet again, I'm not posting a year in review, nor am I devoting any space to goals or aims or wishes for 2014. However, despite really struggling with reading this year (after a bumper year of more than 100 books in 2012!), I am going to once again post my year in books. If you're interested in previous years, here's 2012, 2011 and 2010's lists.

I don't know what it was this year, but I really had a hard time with reading for some reason. I started I don't know how many books, in some cases books I had been looking forward to reading for a long time and yet kept just, I don't know what, getting bored isn't quite right. I just didn't have the drive to read that I normally do. Even re-reading a few old favourites didn't really do much for me except make my list a bit longer than it otherwise would have been. Book club was mostly on a bit of a hiatus, too, although given my lack of enthusiasm for reading, I wasn't too cut up about that. Just to give you an idea, the list below is in chronological order and Strumpet City was our April book club book - so it took me till the end of April to read just five books! 

I'm not including the many books I started but never finished in this list, except for the two I'm reading at the moment and both of which I do expect to finish today or tomorrow. This post is also part of Clickclackgorilla's Year in Books bloghop. If you'd like to join in (doesn't have to be a list of books you read, can also be a post about your favourite book this year or any other book-related topic) click on over there and post a link to your post at the bottom of her post (and don't forget to link to her in your post either). Or if you just like reading lists of books other people have read, that's the place to find them.

I still haven't done anything much in the way of reviews or posts going into more detail of the books I've read but that's still on the agenda for some time. Maybe I'll find time and energy to do that this year. I read a few books on the topic of meat eating/factory farming this year and I'd especially like to go through them all again and do that.

(BC) = Book club books
(RR) = something I've re-read - there are some books, such as by Georgette Heyer, that I invariably read every year when the escapism of new fiction isn't enough and I want to escape into familiar stories that always make me laugh or cry.

  1. The Master and Margherita - Mikhail Bulgakov (BC)
  2. 1,227 QI Facts to Blow your Mind - compiled by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and James Harkin
  3. A Memory of Light - Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
  4. Atonement - Ian McEwan (BC)
  5. Strumpet City - James Plunkett (BC - my choice)
  6. Silver Linings Playbook - Matthew Quick
  7. Extinction Point - Paul Anthony Jones
  8. The Vegetarian Myth - Lierre Keith
  9. The Princess Bride - William Goldman
  10. A Girl of the Limberlost - Gene Stratton Porter
  11. The Convenient Marriage - Georgette Heyer (RR)
  12. Cousin Kate - Georgette Heyer (RR)
  13. Grand Sophy - Georgette Heyer (RR)
  14. To the Island - Meghan Delahunt
  15. Venetia - Georgette Heyer (RR)
  16. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins (RR)
  17. Catch Me If You Can - Frank W. Abagnale 
  18. A Civil Contract - Georgette Heyer (RR)
  19. Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins (RR)
  20. Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins (RR)
  21. Transition - Iain M. Banks (BC)
  22. The Firework-Maker's Daughter - Philip Pullmann
  23. The Reluctant Widow - Georgette Heyer (RR)
  24. Frederica - Georgette Heyer (RR)
  25. The Shelbourne Ultimatum - Ross O'Carroll Kelly as told to Paul Howard
  26. 1984 - George Orwell (RR)
  27. The Godfather - Mario Puzo
  28. The 100-year-old who climbed out of a window and disappeared - Jonas Jonasson
  29. Planet Carnivore - Alex Renton
  30. Eating Animals - Jonathan Safran Foer
  31. Fanny Hill, Memoirs of  a Woman of Pleasure - John Cleland

Monday, December 30, 2013

National Design and Craft Fair 2013 - purchases

Just a quick one as I'm away in Frankfurt for a few days, escaping the madness that is my road on Silvester (that's New Year's Eve to you and me, also the Feast of Pope Sylvester I, hence the name in several countries, including Germany). People just go mental here, setting off fireworks in the middle of the street and, living on a main road, it all gets a bit noisy. Not to mention I don't really enjoy the fireworks whizzing so close by the windows. I'm staying in a friend's apartment that's on a nice, quiet side-street so although I'll be able to hear fireworks and even see some in the distance, not many, if any at all, will be going off right outside. It's one of those quirks of the Germans that despite having rules for just about everything along with a tendency for most people to follow all those rules all the time, there are some things they just drop all semblance of sensible behaviour for and fireworks on Silvester is one of them.

Anyway, I still don't have a photo of the ceramic oil lamp I bought at the craft fair but since I did already take photos of two of my purchases, I thought I'd share. The first (which was actually my last purchase) is this felt landscape by Jane O'Farrell. Sorry about the flash but without it, the colours just weren't even approaching coming out right. It's just a small one and the picture doesn't show the textures at all but I really like it. The frame is, I think, about 30cm x 30cm.

One of my favourite purchases was this poster. You may be familiar with the 1939 "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster that became very popular a few years ago and, to be honest, has become totally overused since then. There's even a website where you can design your own "Keep Calm..." message. At some stage it started to get a bit annoying, although I did quite enjoy my niece's "Keep Calm and may the odds be ever in your favour" sweatshirt. So when I saw this Irish take on the concept, I have to admit, it gave me a chuckle and then I ended up going back to get one. I wish I'd had enough left to buy a framed one, as the company also sells frames that have been made from recovered floorboards so each one has a story behind it, which is really interesting. It was still in it's plastic cover here, hence the funny reflective bit at the top. This is hanging in my kitchen now (in a very cheap plastic frame that doesn't do it justice).
I don't have it with me now so can only paraphrase some of what was on the back of the packet. Along the lines of "since one euro from each purchase goes to the government in tax, we've printed 42,000,000 and if we sell them all, we'll have cleared half the national debt". I'll leave you to be the judge of whether they've actually printed 42,000,000 but mine's number 2937, look...
Edited to add: I found the business card of the company selling the frames made from reclaimed floorboards and it looks like they aren't the same company as the one that does the posters, they just had a stand together (or were selling for them perhaps). Anyway, check out Rocker Lane Workshop too for some lovely furniture or, as they say themselves, contemporary sustainable furniture designs.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Bedroom - before (another photo-heavy post)

And on to the bedroom. This is a long, narrowish room and I don't have enough space otherwise to not try to make the most of the space. Much as I would love to have a bedroom with nothing more in it than a bed and a wardrobe, it's just not going to work out with this space. I've had a few different set-ups with this room as well and so far this is the closest I have come to the ideal - by dividing the room more or less in half. The ideal would have the sleeping area at the other end, near the window so that coming in the door, I would have a work area and I could walk through a curtain of some sort to a small sleeping area. However, living on a main road, the noise closer to the window is much worse. And the temperature is also somewhat cooler. My first few months here I did sleep down that end, so I quickly discovered the disadvantages.

 The door to the sitting room is just beside the blanket box on the left. The mess is actually mostly gone now - I've tidied up a bit. The small bedside locker is the very first item of furniture I ever bought. Just a cheap one, and possibly the one piece of furniture I'm not actually particularly attached to. The bed is the sofa bed I bought from Ikea when I moved here. The blanket box was a supermarket save-up-tokens deal. I bought it originally as a memories box but for now it serves its traditional purpose and contains bedding.
This is the view then to the other end of the room. The green cupboard on the left is full with mostly empty jars. The green unit on the right has some of the books that don't fit in the sitting room, paper shredder, first-aid kit, underwear, records (of the vinyl variety), choir music (my personal stuff) and in the bottom cupboard, more empty jars. I may at some stage hang a curtain of some kind between the two (purchased as a set second-hand from Cash + Raus) to really properly divide the two sections.

I was quite happy when I figured out dividing the room like this would give me two distinct spaces. Unfortunately, the second end has never gotten finished and in the meantime has become something of a dumping ground. As you can see. It's the Bedroom of Doom!

The wardrobe on the left (purchased new from Ikea when I moved here) has my clothes - it's a three-door wardrobe with the hanging part on the left (so not really visible here). There are two small drawers underneath the door you can see - just have speical occasion shoes in there. Behind the door there are four shelves, the top two of which I use as extra storecupboard space for dried goods, pasta, beans and so on. Since I need to get into the wardrobe every day, this is not the worst of the dumping ground. That's on the other side. Oh, note the colourful material up on the windows, got that my first weekend here and, as in the sitting room, still haven't ever gotten round to putting up proper curtains. You can just see the curtain rails I did buy in the background here and the plastic bag on the floor has all the bits to mount them. Just need to do it!

And this is the other side
The blue trug is overflowing with clothes - since the first time I tried dealing with the moth problem. I took everything out of the wardrobe to wash properly but that fell by the wayside at some stage and stuff has just been hanging around. I've dragged things out at various times when I wanted to use them but given that I haven't used or missed most of this stuff for a good while, I will probably end up bringing a lot of it to the clothes bank. But just in case, do still need to wash it all, I think. That trug is standing on top of a couple of boxes of books, along with the cardboard box and the suitcase near the window - all of which belong to my former lodger (the friend who never turned up a couple of weeks ago). Will have to get rid of them sometime and it'll cost me since he will prevaricate till the cows come home so the only way to do it will be to hire a car and drive down to the Black Forest with the stuff. Not high on my list of costs I want to incur so for now the stuff just gets in the way. Behind them are two large plastic boxes which contain wool. Again, rescued from the big cupboard in the sitting room after the first bad moth attack. Once I get around to cleaning that cupboard out properly, and I'm thinking of varnishing it inside just to make sure there really aren't any moth eggs lurking anywhere, then they can move back into that space. The shopping bag on top holds the dark blue curtains I want to hang here.

I'm not sure why the steam juicer ended up in here - that'll go down in the cellar with the canner for the winter. It's standing on a basic table, which also has my sewing machine on it (not used once since I moved here!). That table is a second-hand purchase from SVP in Dublin many years ago. The legs detach so I may end up dismantling it for storage or else will move it to position against the back of the green unit. Then my writing desk will come in from the sitting room to replace it and I will have a small office/work area. The dark coloured set of drawers currently sticking out behind the green unit is what I used to use for my underwear and also some spare computer parts storage. I find bottom drawers great for that kind of thing that I won't be going looking for very often. They're not usable in the current position, which is why I just have my underwear in a box in the green unit now. So when I rearrange, I'm looking forward to having a proper underwear drawer again - and especially being able to have a separate drawer for my socks. Hey, it really is the simple things in life that make me happy.

There is a lot to do here but I want to concentrate on the sitting room and other areas first so don't expect to see any progress here any time soon. As for colour schemes, well, the sleeping area is where I wanted to paint a yellow/beige/champagne colour. And that, along with a deeper green are my guiding colours for here. Yellow and green again? Well, yes, but not really. Definitely deeper colours than the sitting room. And while it may be a cliche, given my Irishness, green is in fact my favourite colour - and not even just because a green background might bring out the green of my eyes nicely. LOL.

When it comes to wall art for the bedroom, I have this small picture which was my first (and until this year only) original artwork to buy. I got it maybe eight or nine years ago when I was looking for a graduation present for a friend. I just kept coming back to this one but I knew it didn't suit my friend at all so I couldn't understand why. Eventually I gave in and admitted I wanted it for myself. And out came the credit card (my friend got two hand-decorated tealight holders which she loves and still uses regularly) - it cost 75 euro and is one debt I have definitely never regretted. I still love this picture as much as I did when I bought it.
Sorry, it's my typical not great photo and the flash blends out the gold spirals a bit but without the flash the green was really off. It's green and the sun is front and centre so it shouldn't make me think of a beautiful sunset but it does. And I can gaze on those spirals for ages, losing myself completely in contemplation.
It's by an artist called Honor Hales, who had a shop in Dublin then but now seems to work from a studio and sell via website and other retailers. She's a friend of a friend and I first became aware of her when I was meeting him for breakfast and he dragged me along to buy a present for someone there. When I went back a few months later to buy a present myself I was very struck by her opening line, "If you want to touch, please do." Not something you hear often when it comes to art but music to my ears. I'm a very tactile person, something I only realised quite late as "don't touch" is so often what we hear, I thought it was the way you were always supposed to behave. 

I also have a print that I want to frame and hang here. It's a limited edition print of a painting by Derek Beggs, which I bought as part of a special fund-raising effort for a fellow ex-pat's young son (after he, that is, the father, had died unexpectedly). Derek generously auctioned a painting for that fund and since I didn't have a lot of money and hadn't thought the painting anything special anyway, I didn't bid and just made a small donation instead. When the auction was over and the winner posted a photo of the original painting hanging in her home, though, it looked completely different and I was quite taken with it. I don't know. Maybe I had just gotten so caught up in the whole thing. It's strange when someone you know quite well but exclusively online dies and you're left with just nothing to do. So when he also decided to sell a limited amount of prints (25 euro each), I went ahead and got one. Still haven't managed to get a frame for it, it's actually difficult to find large square frames. I thought I was going to have to have a custom job done but recently spotted some on the Ikea website so the next time I'm there I'll get one. In the meantime, it lives in its envelope and just comes out for a quick viewing (or photo) every once in a while.
Loch Asynt by Derek Beggs, 30cmx30cm print no. 16/48 sold in memory of Poppet
The yellow I'd like for the walls in the bedroom are a shade or two closer to beige than this yellow. This picture is actually what reminded me of it and started my thinking in the direction that has landed me here. Hoping to use the various elements I already have to pull together a more harmonious whole, making a home of what is currently mostly just a space to live in. Hope you've enjoyed the glimpses of that space, here's hoping it won't take me too long to be back posting lots and lots of 'after' photos!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Sitting-room - in progress and plans (and yet more photos!)

Cleared off table - white side-table moved over to other side of room and drawers moved from corner.
Smaller pile of stuff to still sort - working on it! Eventually I want to move the writing desk into the bedroom and then these drawers will move over to where the writing desk now is.

 Still not properly hung curtains but I took down the white ones, strung up more stable twine to replace the wool and hung these long tablecloths up. I got these on very special offer (they hadn't sold as no-one wanted the extra long size) last year sometime, thinking I might be able to turn them into curtains. So I'm just trying them out now to see if I like the colour. I do but not sure it really works with what I want to do.

 I bought this rug at the beginning of the year, using a refund from something or other. I kept waiting for a time when I had properly tidied up and decluttered to put it down and when I had my bout of clearing-up a couple of weeks ago, I decided it was time to stop putting it off. The colours aren't quite right, the orange stripe is a lot closer to red in reality - still orange but a very red tone, if you know what I mean. The yellow stripe ties in nicely with the couch and the green is my main colour inspiration for what I want in this room.
These are the curtains I bought, oh, two or three years ago probably, to hang across the bookshelves which are all along one wall at the end of the room. Again, colour is not great but you get an idea of the pale blue and green. The green in these curtains matches the lighter green in the rug quite well, it's maybe one slight shade darker. And the blue, I think, complements the turquoise of the Van Gogh print quite nicely.

The felt landscape I want to hang here is mostly yellows and greens as well, so that works, too.

Essentially, it's going to be a very pastel kind of room, really, which is surprising as I'm not a big fan of pastels. But I wanted something light and airy.

The walls on three sides were re-painted white last year and I don't plan on changing that. The fourth wall, behind the bookshelves, is a yellow paper I have come to loathe - just as well since it has started to peel off in places. I bought a nice white paper with a swirly green design on it which I will put up at some stage - but there are other priorities first. Like trying to get rid of/find a home for some of the excess stuff here.

I've toyed with the idea of fitting overhead cupboards (the type you have in a kitchen) above the bookshelves but then realised it would make more sense to hang kitchen cupboards in the kichen and move the stuff that's in the tall-boy into those. If I used vacuum bags I should be able to fit most of what's in the cloth wardrobe into the tallboy. That's my next stage of work. I do need to get all that stuff washed first though, to make sure I'm not vacuum-packing any vialbe moth eggs or larvae! Will attempt to do one extra load of washing every week in January perhaps. I'll get through it soon enough. The duvets will have to go out to be cleaned as my machine is not big enough for that so that will need to wait until the end of the month, when funds allow. I am very tempted though to unpack all of the stuff from the tallboy into a big box to shove under the kichen table, just to have made a start.

So, what do ye think? While I like the ecletic collection of furniture well enough the numerous colours of wood do get to me a bit sometimes. There are one or two pieces that are too nice to mess with but at some stage I think I'll try sanding and painting the tall-boy, the dark bookshelves and the crafting cupboard. Very taken with the idea of painting them white to lighten the place up even more. It's more likely a project I won't do until I move again though.

P.S. If anyone notices that in any of these posts it is possible to clearly see people in photographs that may be in the shot, please do let me know - it's very important to me that I don't impinge on people's privacy (my own included!) by posting photos of them on an accessible to all website. So far I don't think you can but someone with a better system or bigger monitor than me might be able to so please do let me know if so and I'll try and do that swirly faces thing you can do.

Sitting room - before (another photo heavy post)

Okay, enough dilly-dallying, on with the warts and all expose of my living space. See the following posts for other rooms: Hall, Bathroom, Kitchen.

Today, it's the turn of the sitting room. I actually took most of these photos at the start of the month, just before I went away, and then December caught up with me and it's only now, after a couple of quiet days, that I'm coming back to it. If you read my post from a couple of weeks ago, some unexpected visitors (who never did turn up in the end and still haven't contacted me to say why) led to me spending a few hours sorting out some of this mess so things are already greatly improved, at least from one angle.

Sitting room
I've changed this room around a lot, from when I had almost no furniture and then as I got bits and pieces and tried out different things. I quite like the way it is now, or at least will, once the excess stuff hanging around has been found homes. But let's start with a picture of the Table of Doom from April. This was when I thought I was nearly finished clearing it and then moved a box and remembered there was a load of stuff on the side table as well. So I cleared off the side table, like so,
which left me with a once-more crowded table...
By the start of December, it all looked a bit like this.
This was the view of the sitting room taken from the bedroom door. The boxes in front of the big cupboard (which holds wool, material and 'stuff' for all that crafting I'm going to get around to doing sometime) have reduced now as I got them filled up with presents and sent off around the world. Since this post is going to be long enough though, I'll stick to the before photos and do a second post with the partially-after later.
This is the other side of the room, taken from the hall door. Note the suitcase on the floor which was in the previous photo of the kitchen. As I was going away, I had to take all of the music out of it and that has ended up stacked on top of the side table (which was beside the table above), now moved to in front of the bookshelves. The blankets on top of/behind the couch are actually resting on a mattress - used for visitors (or for me, when visitors are using my bed more like) - it's covered in a decorative throw so not immediately obvious.
This is the other end of the room, taken from the corner where the table is. The door you can see is the door to the bedroom. This red and white cloth 'wardrobe' is one I had in my bedroom for ages but moved out here during my last round of trying to get everything sorted. It contains mostly spare duvets and bedding. To the left you can see the stacks of music from the suitcase, topped with the lilac folder. They are still there but now nicely arranged on the white side table that I moved over there.
There are shelves all along this wall and my plan is (or was anyway, I dither on this) to hang curtains all along that wall in order to hide the mess and hopefully bring a more calm vibe to the room. Anyway, behind the cloth wardrobe in this photo you can better see the tall boy, which is currently full of kitchen stuff, lesser-used baking stuff and larger serving bowls, for example. The small set of shelves on top of it are my 'unread' shelves.

 At least mostly. The bottom shelf has the complete set of Harry Potter and the complete Wheel of Time Series. The rest is all my unread stuff and since I got so many books for my birthday, these shelves are now absolutely groaning with books.
And here we have the very messy "curtains" - for the first year or so I just used the black venetian blinds that the previous tenant left. I had tried to put up curtain rails but the wall directly above the windows is thin plasterboard (I think there used to be shutters there, of the type you roll down outside the window but now there's just a big gap between the plasterboard and the outside wall) and I gave up, then got depressed and didn't get around to trying again. When I got sick of the black venetian blinds though I just got rid of them and decided I could live with nothing for a while. Then I had a visitor, who was going to be sleeping on the sofa-bed, which at the time was in the sitting room and so I had to do something at short notice. So I dragged out these white curtains I had gotten on special offer before leaving Ireland and hung them over some wool strung around the top of the window. And there they have stayed. For, oh, probably about two years now. The picture is just a cheap print my sister gave to me, along with a second similar one. I cannot find that second one though and think I may have given it to my brother or a friend moving into a new place. When I do get around to painting the hall, I'd like to move this picture out there. In it's place I'll hang the felt landscape I bought at the Craft Fair earlier this month (still need to do a post about what I bought there, too). Along with this print and the Van Gogh print you can see in the table photos above, I have one small wooden butterfly picture that I bought, I think, at a school jumble sale as a teenager. It hangs from a nail on my CD shelf.

Furniture in the sitting room (yes, there's too much of it but I don't want to get rid of any of it and hope it will all fit better in the next place I move to)
1 light-coloured CD shelf (freecycle)
1 up-lighter (is that what they're called? I mean the white lamp in the photo above - originally bought from Argos in Ireland and for my first year here the only lighting I had in the sitting room)
1 yellow couch (gifted from a friend when I moved here - I think when I'm done with it she'll take it back though - one of those things she had replaced and didn't have room for any more but which she didn't really want to get rid of)
1 armchair (from my parents' house - hate the blue covering and will get it re-covered one day, in the meantime it's covered with a white/green/yellow throw - I rescued a few things from there when my stepmother sold up after my father died. Was really pleased to get the couch and two armchairs, as well as two small chairs but then moved into a tiny house with only room for one armchair. So the other armchair and two small chairs now live with a friend in Ireland and my brother got the couch, which he then had to leave behind him when he moved and the new place was too small to get it up the stairs. It would have cost me in excess of 600 euro to get it collected and shipped to me in Germany at that time so I just had to let it go)
2 old wine cases which serve as end tables either side of the couch (free from a wine festival I went to a few years ago)
1 writing desk (second-hand from Cash + Raus, I think it cost 40 euro but it might have been 60 - it's a really solid piece)
1 tall-boy, darkish colour (from my parents' house)
1 small, mid-tone, book shelf (second-hand from Cash + Raus, part of a three-part set that cost, I think, 20 euro, again a really solid piece)
2 large dark bookshelves (from my parents' house) -  1 has just fiction, 1 has cookbooks, reference books, photo albums.
4 smaller sets of light-coloured shelves, 2 x 3-shelf, 2 x 4-shelf, currently stacked to give me 2 x 7-shelves, exactly the height of the other large bookshelves (bought these new about ten years ago)
1 light-coloured large bookshelf (second-hand from Cash + Raus) - contains files and folders and some old school/college books.
1 light-coloured wardrobe (originally Ikea but purchased second-hand from Cash + Raus) - wool, material and other crafting supplies
1 light-coloured set of five deep drawers (originally Ikea but purchased second-hand from Cash + Raus) - contains candles, hardware stuff (tools, etc.) and the 'present' drawer
1 smaller set of mid-tone drawers (second part of the three-part set mentioned above - the third part is a corner shelf unit which I have in the kitchen) - contains all my stationery stuff - card, envelopes, plastic covers, jiffy-bags to be re-used and so on.
1 table with three chairs (purchased second-hand from Cash + Raus - there are four chairs but I use one in the kitchen)
1 white side-table/telephone table (freecycle)
1 darker wood small cupboard/telephone stand with three small drawers and one cupboard (second-hand from Cash + Raus) - DVDs in the cupboard, address book, candles, battery chargers in the drawers


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Alan Turing given posthumous pardon

Well, this brought me some good cheer this morning. It seems barbaric to my 'modern' sensibilities that homosexual behaviour was condemned and punished in this way. Although given that it was still illegal in Ireland until after I started college, not to mention given how relatively devout I was as a teenager, I'm not really sure how that is. The nuns must not have had as firm a hold on me as they thought.

Alan Turing was a brilliant man, one I know very little about admittedly but what little I do know I have found fascinating and heartbreaking. This is the very least that could be done.

Irish Times article: code-breaker Alan Turing given posthumous royal pardon

Second World War code-breaker Alan Turing has been given a posthumous royal pardon for a 61-year-old conviction for homosexual activity.
Dr Turing, who was pivotal in breaking the Enigma code, arguably shortening the Second World War by at least two years, was chemically castrated following his conviction in 1952.
His conviction for “gross indecency” led to the removal of his security clearance and meant he was no longer able to work for Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) where he had continued to work following service at Bletchley Park during the war.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Xmas decorations up - photo heavy post

I kind of didn't want to but after sleeping late, a lovely walk along the river into town, a stroll through the last day of the markets, a visit to my favourite spice shop and all in all a very nice morning and early afternoon, once I got home I just took the bags and boxes of decorations down from the cupboard they live in. I suspect if I hadn't taken them down, I might not have put them up at all. I've had years where I've decided to put nothing up and not minded but I had been looking forward to it so I thought it best to just go for it. As I have done since I moved here, I am just using the small artificial tree I bought for my first flat (in 1997) - when I moved to a bigger place a couple of years later we always got a real tree but most years this small one also got set up somewhere too. It has held up well for what it was, i.e. the cheapest one I could find - I think it cost 9.99 or something like that.
Anyway, I have ornaments for a larger tree so a lot ends up going back in the cupboard but for the last ten or more years I have tried to buy one really nice thing every year and I do like to have them out and remember where and when I bought them (even if my memory is no longer as good as it used to be and I wish I had kept a written record!). So the ones that don't fit on the tree or are too heavy, just get placed here and there, hanging from doorknobs and anywhere I can spy a good place.

I got this little guy during a visit to Germany in early December in about '98 or '99 (I think it was). That cute little face makes me smile every time.
I think I bought this tea-light holder the same year and it has 1999 stamped on it, so let's just say it was '99. At any rate it was the year I came to visit a friend who lives a couple of hours north of Dusseldorf, never dreaming I'd end up living here. I visited four or five different markets that year, including Essen and Münster - I bought several decorations that year as I kept finding even better and better ones. I also have a tiny white glass snowman and two angels, a blue and a red, from that year.

This one is from Sydney last year...

...as you can see from the reverse of it.

This penguin is too heavy for the tree so for now just has to chill out while propping up a candle,

while this reindeer is just hanging out on the writing desk

and Rudolph and Santy enjoy a nice bath after all their exertions. I got this one the year before last and it makes me laugh now as much as it did when I first saw it.

And finally, here's the two that I bought this year.

This one just this morning at the market - I couldn't resist. Even though I actually did resist while waiting to pay for something else and then dug into my purse again while paying. The photo isn't the best so you can't quite see it but as well as presents in the sack the boy is holding, there's a little puppy. So cute.

And this one is what I got at the Craft Fair earlier in the month. Made by the lovely Sarah McKenna, it's impressed ceramic. She had lovely stars and hearts, too, which were glazed and I did prefer the feel of them. However, I decided that since "home" is what I'm trying to create here this was more fitting.
So that's it. They're up now and will be staying up until the end of January - light and cheer and good memories throughout the darkest time of the year.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

It all catches up

Today is my first downtime day since the start of the month. The first day I haven't had to be somewhere or doing something, just about the first day I haven't had to get up with the alarm clock. I just don't have it in me to keep going and going and going. A lot of the things I have been doing have been lots of fun, I've been out more this past few weeks than I have been most of the year and I've enjoyed it all. But I'm more than ready now for a few days of absolutely nothing.

As these things go, I've been going through another wave of finding it difficult to cope with the grief of losing my sister the last week or so and it was a bittersweet moment when I rang her oldest daughter during the week to wish her a happy birthday and she told me that her boyfriend had proposed that morning. Such wonderful news and she sounded so happy (and surprised!) but at the same time knowing my sister doesn't get to see that. But life goes on.

Yesterday evening I went to one of the "Jahreskreis" (annual cycle) rituals that I went to a few times a couple of years ago. It was, of course, a winter solstice ritual, mainly just meditating on the things that have happened in the past year and then slowly the lights were dimmed and we listened to music (Bach's Air on a G String) and finally the light was 'awakened' again by the candle in the middle of the floor being lit, then each of us taking the candle we had brought with us, the first person lighting her candle from the central one and then the person beside her lighting from her candle, the next woman from her candle and so on around the room until everyone's candle was lit. Then there was some more music, a short meditation (on having lit our inner candle), some dancing and then sharing of gifts and when it was all over a shared meal. I've really enjoyed these rituals before and while I didn't really get as much out of it as I expected/hoped for/remembered, it was nice to have gone. I felt like I needed a cut-off point between the hectic of the last few weeks and the coming quieter time that I long for and want to properly enjoy.

I have properly flopped now though and am taking the day to have a duvet day and do absolutely nothing. I stayed in bed until after four o'clock, watching DVDs and having a long chat on the phone with my sister in Australia. I've moved as far as the couch now but that's as far as I plan on going. Tomorrow is time enough to get up and start doing again. For now, I'm going to light a bunch of candles and try and remember that although it might not seem like it now, today will be a teeny tiny bit longer than yesterday and before we know it, the days of getting up in the dark and coming home in the dark will be just a memory again.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mince pies

It's all go these days. After singing on Sunday evening (concert went well, although I don't think it was one of our best ever) I rushed off to attend an English carols by candlelight service in the English church not too far away. That was nice although it was very much a religious service rather than a concert, so although I enjoyed singing along it was all a bit solemn for my tastes. Nice church though and the people were friendly. After it was over we had a quick mince pie and cup of tea (or cup of apple juice and biscuit in my case) and then myself and two other Irish women headed off to find something to eat. We ended up having a great time, and since we seemed to be totally out of luck, stopping at no less than three places that were closed or otherwise unavailable we didn't think anything was going to come of it but then stumbled on to what felt like a well-kept secret spot. Although the few people I mentioned it to the next day all knew about it, so perhaps it's just that I don't get out enough. Anyway, must try to get back to Olio sometime soon - it was nice. Even if it did look a bit like a public toilet or a shed or something from the outside.

Monday I met a couple of girls from choir for our second monthly knitting meet-up and that was also lots of fun, although thankfully it ended at a more reasonable hour than Sunday's adventures. Tuesday after work it was an Irish Business Network meet-up at a christmas market, which turned into another late night at a nearby bar. I usually get to bed by eleven, one o'clock is just hard to do on a school night! Yesterday I was planning on making pastry for the mince pies I wanted to make this evening but just after six my boss came in to tell me she was definitely going to have to work for another couple of hours and to ask if I wanted to take her tickets for the opera. I was tired and kind of wanted to just go home but I'm always game to go and listen to something new and even after five and a half years, still had never made it to the opera house here so off I went. It turned out to be an operetta, Die Csárdásfürstin by Emmerich Kálmán - not sure I'd bother going to see it again but it was quite fun and nice to get free, unexpected tickets like that.

But on top of four very, very hectic days at work, that was a lot of going out. Which is why it's now after midnight on Thursday and I've only just taken the last of the mince pies out of the oven. Since the pastry didn't get made yesterday, I had to do that first. Actually, after not getting home from work after eight the first thing I had to do was sit down and have a bowl of cornflakes for dinner. Then I put away the washing so that I'd have room to move and then I made the pastry. Just my usual shortcrust pastry - one of these days I'll get more adventurous and try a sweet one using eggs and complicated things like that.

The first lot were more traditionally shaped - made in a bun tin with a star-shape top. Not too bad (the pies I mean, not the photo), only two got stuck and only one got a bit demolished trying to get it out of the tray.

Since I only have one bun tray though, I would have been up all night trying to get any quantity done so the next two lots were my more usual method of just cutting a large piece of pastry, plonking some mincemeat into the centre and folding it over. Originally from the River Cottage book I think is where I found it.

At any rate, you can get more on a tray as you can use the big roasting try that comes with your oven, for example, and I find that this way they are also easier to transport.

Now if only they'd browned up properly. There were seventeen on this tray and the last tray had twenty on it. They didn't brown very well either so I have some fairly anaemic looking mince pies on my hands - hope they taste okay. Not actually liking them myself there's no point in tasting them myself so I'll have to wait until tomorrow and ask a friend in work to test them for me. If she approves, I'll put a plate out for my colleagues and the rest will come to that friend's house tomorrow evening for people to have with some mulled wine. I'm trying not to think about the fact that the last lot have leaked all over the place.
It's just too late to be worried about things like that. Have loads of mince meat left though so I think I'll be making quite a few more mince pies next week. I haven't even used up half of this bowl of it. (Delia's recipe by the way).

Tomorrow is my last day of work before two weeks off and I cannot wait. I especially cannot wait for Sunday - I'm not setting any alarm and I have nowhere to be. I'm strongly considering spending the entire day in bed. And will enjoy every second of it.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Peter O'Toole

Peter O'Toole has died and the tributes are pouring in. For a man who has so many amazing performances to choose from, both on-stage and on-screen it feels somehow silly to admit that just about my first memory of him and one of my favourite films is the wonderfully farcical "High Spirits". But there you have it. Haven't watched it for years but it was a firm favourite when I was a kid, I may need to find a copy to watch again soon.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Table of Doom is dead...

...long live the, er, drawers of doom?

But before all that...I had a phone call on Thursday night from an old friend. One of those people you hear from a couple of times a year and it's just easier to chat and/or put them up for a night than try and convince them you're not really interested in keeping in touch. When I first moved here he would love coming to Dusseldorf to visit and maybe go and visit his mum in Holland for a day or so while he was here. I've managed to get things to the stage where he goes to visit his mum and at some stage rings me to tell me he's on the way back home and was thinking of stopping off to see me on the way. So he told me he'd be heading back on Saturday, I told him I would be at a concert for about an hour at six o'clock so he either had to come before that or after half-seven or so. He phoned on Friday to confirm that he'd be here (with brother in tow) at eight o'clock on Saturday evening. It's now after eleven and no sign of them. Yep, these are the type of friends you can really do without.

At any rate, knowing that something like that was a possibility I did struggle with myself a bit but I still decided to try and stay positive and use the threat of people coming to stay to tidy up a bit. Something I have been spectacularly failing at recently. So after being up early for therapy, having a quick wander around the christmas market (really quick because I thought they opened at 10 but they didn't actually open until 11 and so there were only two stalls to look at) and then a stop off to buy bread, I got home, put the mincemeat that I mixed up yesterday into the oven to cook (trying out Delia Smith's recipe), put a CD of christmas songs on and got stuck in. It might have taken me four hours, but I made good progress.
Some of it was just moving stuff around, to be perfectly honest, but I had to start somewhere and at least now I have cleared a decent space, which makes tackling the rest seem just that little bit easier. Here's a photo I took last week - still want to put up a proper before of the sitting room and bedroom but for now, here's some of the worst of the sitting room. And, drum roll please, I fully cleared off the Table of Doom.

Which is to say that I cleared off and tidied away all the big stuff and after moving things around a bit used the top of a chest of drawers to stack the last of the papers that need to be sorted. It's a very doable looking pile though (at the right-hand side of this photo) and I'm going to try the whole five-a-day procedure again to get it cleared as quickly as possible. The important thing now is to not add to it. And that the table is fully clear of stuff at least once a day.

So, with a much tidier (although still a long way to go to normal) sitting room, about two tonnes less dust in the place and clean sheets on the bed, I think it's just about time for me to call it a good day and head to bed. Tomorrow I'm singing with my choir in our advent concert and given that I might end up being woken in the middle of the night, depending on whether my "guests" actually do turn up or not, I'll need my sleep.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas jumpers

When I was in Dublin one thing I noticed was the prevalence of christmas jumpers. I do love silly, colourful things but I'm not entirely sure if I like this latest fashion or not. Although I'm really not sure if I feel that way because the cheaper versions don't come in sizes big enough for me to be able to get one - so could just be sour grapes on my part. Haha.

On the other hand, I'm not sure what might happen if I were to walk down the street with Jingle my Bells emblazoned across my chest!

The other festive item of clothing that's popular is the onesie. I definitely don't get these!

Monday, December 09, 2013

Christmas cake

It took me a while to get to it but I did finally manage to bake a christmas cake. It started with making sure I had everything I needed and buying what wasn't on hand (slivered almonds, eggs and butter). And then I left the fruit to steep in brandy.

For a couple of weeks, as just when I had worked myself up to actually doing it and spent a fiddly half an hour or so lining the tin and wrapping a double layer of banking parchment around the outside of the tine, I realised that I had no lemons after all and so no lemon peel (I usually have some dried on hand just in case but even that was all gone). So after my first 'attempt', a week later I finally got too it. I had a hard time believing that the huge amount of stuff I had would all squish together into my 20cm cake tin but it actually did. To save me the hassle next year (assuming it actually tastes good, which I won't know until the friend who's getting it as a present has tried some) I'm going to make a note here that even though I use the big 7.5l Tupperware mixing bowl for steeping the fruit (it has a lid and therefore no need to use clingfilm) I should tip the fruit out into a different bowl as the fruit needs to be folded into the batter, not the other way round and by the time I was finished, that big mixing bowl was the only one big enough to hold the whole lot. I ended up folding a bit more than half the fruit into the batter in one of my 5l red mixing bowls before tipping everything from that into the Tupperware bowl for a final mix. I did make an effort to fold rather than my usual stirring at least.

And, as warned by my sister and the notes in the Good Housekeeping book, I make an indentation in the centre of the cake mix in order to have as flat a top as possible - it doesn't rise very much but does rise slightly in the centre. You can really see it that well in the photo but I promise, the dip is there.

I baked it as specified for 4 hours, checked it 15 minutes before the end and it wasn't done so left it in for, in the end, about 4 hours and 15 minutes. I had somehow missed the length of the baking time when I read the recipe so I was glad I had actually gotten it in to the oven shortly after seven!

And here it is in all it's glory. Well, maybe not quite glorious but at least it looks like a christmas cake, albeit a slightly dark on top one.
I gave it its first 'feed' of brandy the following day when it had finally cooled down and I'll feed it a second time this evening. It will get a feed of a couple of spoonfuls of brandy every week until New Year's. I'm going to take it to Frankfurt with me and marzipan and ice it while I'm there so that I can leave it out for my friend to find when she gets back from Ireland. Really hope it tastes nice.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

National Design and Craft Fair

Just a few photos from a very exhausting but very enjoyable day wandering around the stands of some extremely talented people and trying to find a 'use' for my Sealed Pot Savings. I forgot at the beginning that I even had my camera with me, to be honest I was just too taken up with looking!

This was just one of three halls - 2 x crafts, 1 x food
I loved these photos by Enda Cavanagh - at around 400 for the larger ones (if memory serves correctly) they were a bit outside my budget though. The small ones were 'only' 105 euro and there was one I did really like but I felt like the small ones would work better as a set of three or four. So I settled for buying the gorgeous book he had.
Rebeka Kahn stand - this is one I spent a lot of time looking at and very nearly bought something at. Unfortunately at 350 euro or so, the large pieces were out of my budget. At 125 euro, I could have bought a small one but it really was the large one that had caught my eye and in the end I decided that buying a smaller one that wasn't quite what I wanted, just for the sake of it, probably wasn't really a good idea. 

A closer shot of these gorgeous pieces by Rebeka Kahn

And yet another shot from a different angle. The one I wanted was another of the large red poppy pictures that you can see on the top right here. 

There was another stand I very nearly bought a painting from. It was a gorgeous brightly coloured silk and collage framed piece by Patricia Murphy (who I also had a lovely chat with) and while at 150 it was outside my budget, I had nearly convinced myself that I could at the 15 euro without too much difficulty. In the end, however, there had just been too many lovely smaller things I had seen and I decided to buy a few different things - in particular a ceramic oil lamp which was one of the first things that caught my eye. Actually, the one which caught my eye was already gone by the time I got back to the stand but I got a very similar one. Will take photos of my purchases and post soon.