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!