Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Haul

What did I get for Christmas this year?

From my daughter I received a pair of earrings. I actually saw these earrings at the RDS Craft and Design fair and LOVED them. They are by a designer called Eily O'Connell. I insisted my husband take her card and fortuitously discovered that her studio is in Smithfield, in the building next door to my hubby's office. How convenient! I fell in love with a lot of the things that I saw in her booth. She had some really beautiful and delicate pieces that she cast from objects found in nature- like these earrings cast from acorns. Her website seems to feature some heavier and darker pieces, but the stuff I was drawn to was light and delicate and really pretty, like little rings cast from tiny berries and these acorn earrings. I'll be keeping an eye on her!

From my husband, I got a beautiful wood plate to use with my opinel knife when we picnic:

and last but not least, a hedgehog brush (from my hedgehog-obsessed son) for my laptop:

Happy Christmas for sure!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

DIY lego tablet stand

Yep, you read that correctly. My husband and son just built a stand for our tablet out of Lego!

Seeing as we don't have a tv in our house (yet) we watch a lot of shows on a tablet. I also use the tablet when I am working on a portrait. (We have a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 edition)

 So, my industrious (and frugal) husband joined forces with my son and they built us a tablet stand out of LEGO pieces!

I LOVE this! It works perfectly and I just think it is so cool:

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Weekend trip to Newcastle

Strolling down Grey St. famous for its stunning Georgian architecture
Last month I took a solo trip to Newcastle, England. Three days, all to myself! I have not been alone since before my children were born. My oldest is now 8. That's a long time! Why Newcastle for my first solo trip? Well, I was in a particularly grumpy place about art and portraiture. I get that way sometimes, feeling completely misaligned with the world. I had missed seeing the BP portrait award exhibition while it was on display in London and it happened to be on display in Sunderland (near Newcastle). It was a show I really wanted to see. There was also a show by portrait artist Jonathan Yeo opening in Newcastle, just before the BP portrait award was about to close. So I decided I should go to this part of the world, while these two shows overlapped and hopefully bolster my mood and motivation.

I made sure there was food in the fridge, clothes were washed and left out, and everyone knew their movements for the three days that I would be away. I decided to fly into Edinburgh and take the train down to Newcastle, so that I could get a quick glimpse of another city that I would really like to visit. Once I hit Newcastle, I spent two glorious days walking around town, looking at art, people watching, enjoying the architecture and eating in cafes. At this time of year, in this particular latitude/longitude it was getting dark close to 4pm, so I would retire early to my hotel each night (a hotel room, all to myself!!!!) drink some wine and read.

The day I arrived I took the train to Sunderland, to see the BP portrait award. I was not disappointed. It was full of beautiful, skill- ful and inspiring portraits. Then I went back to Newcastle and checked out the Jonathan Yeo exhibit at the Laing Gallery. Again, I was happy, nourished and inspired. While at the Laing, I also saw a lovely and noteworthy installation called "Gone With the Wind" by Claire Morgan. Unfortunately, I was not allowed take a picture though, boo!

On day 2, I went to an amazing place called The Biscuit Factory. As the name suggests, the building is a repurposed biscuit factory. It is now an amazing venue that showcases high end craft and decorative arts. I was in heaven. So many beautiful things within reach (figuratively and literally) that I could potentially take home and decorate my days with. After the Biscuit Factory, I moved on to Seven Stories, the national center for children's books. Lots of illustration art inspiration to behold. The locale was also amazing and I took a lovely walk behind the building along a little river, where a fantastic "chitty-chitty-bang-bang" style boat was moored.

The little river behind Seven Stories, perfect for a post-lunch stroll.

The boat docked under the Seven Stories cafe window! Love.

After lunch I walked through Newcastle and along the river to the Baltic Center for Contemporary Art, again housed in a repurposed building. This time an old flour mill. I filled myself up with ideas and beauty and then headed back to my hotel.

A stroll along the river en route to the Baltic.

The Baltic Center for Contemporary Art

The view from the viewing deck at the Baltic
The view in the other direction. Newcastle is a beautiful city for sure!

 The next morning, I left Newcastle for Edinburgh. I spent the afternoon roaming the amazing streets and doing a little shopping before my flight home (and I ate haggis for lunch and dinner!) It was a glorious 3 days. I feel recharged and am so excited to hopefully start taking regular solo trips to nourish my self and sensibilities.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Basic Vegetable Soup

I love soup! I am so happy I moved to a colder climate, where soup is a standard on so many menus. When traveling around the countryside, without fail we can always pop into a pub for lunch and find vegetable soup, with a side of homemade brown soda bread on the menu. Its usually the most reasonably priced option and its also my favorite.

I have started making vegetable soup very regularly at home too. Its quick and easy. I love it and my daughter loves it. Its super easy to make, with ingredients that I pretty much always have.

Basic ingredients:

1 large potato (or 2-3 small)
1 large onion (or 2-3 small)
1 medium courgette (zucchini)
1 large carrot
1 tsp sea salt

( These proportions and ingredients can be varied somewhat. I also sometimes add other things that I need to use up, like bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, etc...)

Chop all the vegetables (no need to chop them too finely.) Put the chopped vegetables in a pot and cover with water. Add the sea salt.

Boil for about 20 minutes, or until you can put a fork easily into the vegetables. I use an immersion blender to blend the soup, but you could use a a regular blender or food processor,

The soup is ready to serve as is! I sometimes drink it out of a cup, like a warm drink. For the kids, I sometimes stir some milk or fresh cream into the soup to cool it down.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advent Calendar

I love December! I remember how exciting the build-up to Christmas was when I was a child and I love reliving that with my children. Last year, a good friend got me started on making an Activity Advent calendar for the month of December. The month became even more fun. There are lots of beautiful ideas for homemade advent calendars to be found online. You can check out my Christmas Advent Calendar Board on Pinterest for some lovely examples.

I have been really busy this year and last, so I kept it super simple. Last year I clipped paper bags to a ribbon. This year I used brown envelopes and a set of pegs on a string that I found at Tiger (I love that store!)

It is my goal to start including more "giving" activities in our advent, but that didn't happen this year. Its mostly food and crafts. Fancy that! Here's my list (shhh, don't tell the kids!)

1. Open the ottoman, and you shall find.... (a lego advent calendar)
2. While doing your homework, drink hot chocolate with a special topping (marshmallows)
3. Make gingerbread houses
4. Go into town and visit the Christmas Market
5. "Family Movie Night"- Watch Rudolf and eat popcorn
6. Go ice skating!
7. Visit Castletown Market
8. Decorate and send Christmas cards
9. Dress the car up as Rudolf!
10. Dress Pepper (our dog) up in her Santa suit for the walk to school
11. Make new Christmas ornaments for the tree
12. "Family Movie Night"- Watch Miracle on 34th St and drink eggnog
13. Buy a Tree!!!!
14. Make origami ornaments
15. Go for a neighborhood walk to look at Christmas lights
16. Write secret notes to each family member and put them in their stocking
17. Have a picnic dinner by candlelight beside the tree
18. Bake Christmas Cookies
19. "Family Movie Night"- Watch Home Alone 2 ad drink hot apple toddies
20. Make pinecone bird feeders as Christmas present for the birds
21. Make a silly video Christmas card
22. Go to the Panto
23. Have Afternoon Tea
24. Sprinkle Reindeer Food (Magic Sparkling food that lights Santa's way) in the Backyard!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Clara Lara Fun Park

Today I took the kids to Clara Lara Fun Park in County Wicklow. 60 acres of fun in the Wicklow mountains. Only adults and children 12 and under allowed. We had a blast! If you happen to visit Ireland with kids, May-August, take them to Clara Lara.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Banquet at Bunratty castle

After our lovely day visiting Kilkee beach, where we found a huge colony of jellyfish hanging out on the sand-

we headed back to our cottage to get ready for our evening activity- a banquet at Bunratty Castle. I had been to a banquet at Bunratty when I was about 13 years old and it was one of those truly memorable experiences that sticks with you always (and not just because, back then, they gave me snuff to snort and some to take home. Whooooo.) 

Anyway, I think we have visited Bunratty on almost every trip to Ireland. The kids LOVE it there. Its not just the castle, but there is also the "folk park." Some info culled from the shannonheritage website:

Bunratty Castle
Welcome to Bunratty Castle, the most complete and authentic medieval fortress in Ireland. Built in 1425 it was restored in 1954 to its former medieval splendor and now contains mainly 15th and 16th century furnishings, tapestries, and works of art which capture the mood of those times.

Bunratty Folk Park
Enjoy the sights, sounds tastes, scents, of this enchanting place as you stroll from house to house or around the charming village street complete with school, post office, doctors house, hardware shop, printers and of course McNamara’s pub!

Bunratty Walled Garden
The gardens at Bunratty Folk Park have been restored to their former glory. The gardens are modeled on the original Regency period garden which supplied fruit, vegetables, and flowers to Bunratty House (built in 1804) and are refurbished in typical Victorian style. This is your opportunity to experience one of the great gardens of Ireland.

The Bunratty Collection
Browse the castle and marvel at the finest collection of medieval furniture in the country which brings to life a vital part of our Medieval past.  You can explore at your own leisure or join in a guided tour with our experienced guides. At night time the castle is the impressive setting for the medieval castle banquets which are held year round.
As I had regaled my children with stories of this fabulous banquet that I had once attended at Bunratty, DD was adament that this was how she wanted to celebrate her sixth birthday. After many years of childrens' birthday parties that involved hard labor, who was I to argue with no work and bottomless (or so it seemed, at least) jugs of house wine.

There are two seatings for the banquet: 5:30pm and 8:45pm. When I went to book, 5:30pm was sold out, so we went with 8:45 (knowing that we would be on Spring Break and my kids are not sleepers.) So, we headed down for our 8:45 banquet and were allowed stroll around the folk park, though it was closed to the public.

At around 8:30pm we entered the castle for our banquet. After being serenaded at the entrance by a bagpiper, we entered the main hall where the adults were offered a porcelain goblet of mead (Mead is an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water, and frequently fruits, spices, grains or hops.) Yum!!! The children were also offered a goblet of juice. Everyone was happy. While enjoying our refreshments in the main hall, we were treated to delightful music by a harpist and violinist.

We soon moved up to the dining hall, where we were treated to a four course meal (lovely vegetable soup, ribs, chicken with potatoes and vegetables, then dessert) and lively entertainment. There were jokes at the audience' expense. Incredibly beautiful singing. People taking photos with their giant iPads (oh, rewind, am I the only one who struggles with this? people whipping out their giant tablets to take photos! Who carries a bag that big around? get a camera! anyway...)

My daughter was brought up on stage to contrast her youthful 6 year birthday with the 60 year old who was also celebrating his birthday (by being taunted and sent to the dungeon.) It was a fabulous evening. My children had the time of their lives (and were oblivious to the tawdry jokes at the 60 year olds expense), and I think they were the only children at the 8:45pm seating. We had a fabulous evening and highly recommend a banquet should you visit Ireland (or this area). I think you have to be a visitor to attend. No one that I know who lives near there,  it seems,  has ever been to one.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cottage in Clare - part I

Its been a while since I posted and I now have a bunch of catching up to do. Last month the kids were on Spring Break for 2 weeks. So we were able to take a nice little week-long vacation to county Clare. Then, the week after Spring Break, there was a "bank holiday." There is a bank holiday every month! That's basically a Monday off, so you get a three day weekend. Every month! For the May bank holiday, we took a little trip to Wexford. So, we had two trips in a row and I was itching to blog about them. I really wanted to do so while I was immersed, but I had no internet in either location. Grrr. There's always a lot to catch up on after a trip, so I am only getting there now.

I won't try to cram everything into one post because we did a lot of touring around while we were in Clare and that would be too overwhelming- for you and for me!

We chose Clare for our trip because DD wanted to celebrate her birthday with a banquet at Bunratty Castle. I also have friends in Clare and generally love visiting the Shannon region. There is also The Burren, caves, Cliffs of Moher, beaches and plenty of "touristy" things that we love to explore. I had a little trouble finding a cottage for us to rent. Though cottage rentals are abundant around Ireland and generally pretty cheap in April, it was hard to find one that allowed us to start our vacation on a Friday. The standard turn-over is Saturday. Bringing the dog was not problem, but starting on Friday was. I looked on vrbo, airbnb, a whole bunch of cottage rental sites, but ended up using sykes as they were really helpful and found me a cottage at a great price, that allowed me to start our trip on a Friday.

Clare is a county on the west coast of Ireland. We rented a cottage that was somewhat central in Clare and would allow us to tour around. It took about three hours to drive there. The cottage was a small, traditional two bedroom farm cottage, just perfect for our little family.

The cottage was in a rural area, near the village of Kilmihil, mostly surrounded by farms. The day we arrived, the weather was beautiful, so we were able to take a nice walk around our new hood.

On the second day, we decided to drive over to the beach. It was about a half hour drive to the town of Kilkee. Again, we had lovely weather and a really nice day at the seaside.

Next up, Bunratty castle!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


My DD has just started Irish dancing classes, so a new pair of ghillies (Irish dancing soft shoes) are in order:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Love/Hate Tuesday- Taxes and Walking


WALKING!!! I love that I don't have to get in my car, at all, if I don't really want to. In fact, I have been getting in my car about once a week. I have only filled my gas (or petrol, as they say here) tank one time since I've been here. DH may have filled it once or twice too, but having been here almost 4 months now, that's pretty phenomenal if you ask me. I realize this is probably peculiar to the area of town we chose to live in and not everyone in Dublin is having the same respite from driving that I have. But, that said, there is a part of town (many parts of the town really) that one can choose to live in and render their car optional.

I realized how profound this is for me the other day when I was checking out swimming lesson options for my kids. There are three(!) swimming pools within walking distance that offer lessons. None of the lessons were at my preferred time, so I decided to look at another pool that someone suggested and when I discovered that it would be a 10 minute drive, I vetoed that pool. That would add another once a week car trip to my life. No thank you to that!


TAXES!!! Seeing as its tax day back in the US, I figured I would try and make you all feel better about how much you have (or don't have) to pay, by griping about the taxes here. We knew what we were coming to, but it still smarts when you are living it. Income tax is as follows:

-single person income up to 32,800 at 21%, remainder of income at 41%
-married couple/civil partners on one income up to 41,800 at 21%, remainder of income at 41%
-married couple/civil partners on two incomes up to 65,600 at 21%, remainder of income at 41%
-one parent family up to 36,800 at 21%, remainder of income at 41%

But that is not the extent of it (otherwise, I wouldn't think that is too bad actually) Its the 23% sales tax (called VAT) that you pay on almost everything, goods AND services, that smarts. Its not just on things you buy, but also on activities that you do, etc... There is even an additional tax, above VAT, on alcohol. There is certainly no such thing as "2 buck chuck" in Ireland. The cheapo gross wine is 10 bucks! There are a few things that are exempt or zero rate (like children's clothing and footwear) but for the most part, prices for everything are high because there is 23% tax tacked on.

On top of that, there are other random taxes that just crop up here and there and everywhere. For instance, there is a  160 per year TV license. If you own anything with a tuner in it, you are required to buy a license each year. A guy knocked on my door yesterday, checking to see if we had paid our tv license. He seemed a bit surprised when I told him we don't have a tv, but I guess they do check. Also, the other day I was checking my credit card statement online and there was a random  30 charge. When I looked into it, I found it was the yearly "tax" for having a credit card!!! WTF?!?!? I am really glad I am saving so much money on gas/petrol by walking everywhere, because all the random taxes make living here pretty tight.

One thing I have to note however, is that the US is the only country that I know of, that taxes its non-resident citizens on income they earn while living somewhere else. So, if you earn over a certain amount while living abroad, you pay taxes in both places. What’s more, the term “citizen" includes former citizens whose loss of citizenship had as one of its principal purposes the avoidance of tax, ( but only for a period of 10 years following such loss.) I think that's pretty darn lame, if you ask me!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Small space design on a budget- kids room

As I've mentioned in other posts, part of moving to Ireland encompassed a choice to downsize. I have been happily embracing this choice and have been enjoying the process of maximizing the use of our 700 square feet, making it a space that I enjoy visually (very important to me) while doing so on a strict budget.

I am finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel (of boxes.) Our little home is starting to come together.

The first room that I chose to tackle, was probably the most challenging- the kids room. My kids each had a room of their own in L.A. and they had WAYYYYY too many toys. Not only were each of their (pretty big) rooms full of toys, but they had toys scattered all over the rest of the house too. We had storage ottomans in the living and family rooms dedicated to coralling toys, and that was not the full extent of it. It was obscene! Very happily, we whittled the toys down to what seemed like a minimum, in order to undertake this move.

That said, they are now sharing a very small room. Not a box room, but close. Also, a room in a home that we rent, so there is not a lot we can do to the space. They still have too many toys as far as I am concerned, but thanks to Ikea, we are trying to give them all a home in their new, teeny, tiny space.

This is what design-on-a-dime for a small space is looking like for our kids' room:

I like this room so much, that sometimes I just come and hang out in here!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Mother's Day at the Dublin Flea Market

Today, for Mother's Day, I insisted we all go to The Dublin Flea Market in Newmarket Square.

I really like this maket, because its small and accessible (well at least compared to The Rose Bowl or even Pasadena City College Flea Market) and has a lot of fun stalls to browse. Its easy to pop down for an hour and see the whole thing. There are a few stands with mid century furniture, but mostly bric a brac and clothing. 

There are coffee and food stands and the Dublin Food Co-op is housed in the same building. The co-op is a pretty amazing source of organic and Fair Trade food and household items. I am blown away by the selection and prices here. SO not missing Whole Foods! Anyway, this was how I wanted to spend Mother's Day. I am in search of the perfect chair for my living room and didn't find it today, but I still had a nice time.

After the market we visited my lovely Donnybrook Fair and The Natural Bakery to get a lazy dinner that I don't have to cook.