Friday, December 24, 2010

what I own has changed

Ten years ago, I owned an inflatable armchair and a see-through handbag. Everyone had them. We used to sit around on the inflatable armchairs planning which arthouse film to see that evening and our handbags filled up visibly with the latest lipsticks and ticket-stubs.

Most people had a lava lamp as well. Through some cruel deprivation or disinterest, I didn't, but I proudly owned a pink Romeo & Juliet bag lamp. Does that count? They are all long gone anyhow, my Longchamps handbag so much so that I couldn't even find a picture of it on the great wide Internet, so substituted a Prada for your convenience. Did I give the armchair away? I forget. At any rate that decade of conspicuousness and portability passed.

Walking back to the house a few nights ago after venturing out to kick the bloody outdoor Xmas lights in the eucalpytus by the gate, I thought of Carol Anne Duffy's line, "How do you earn a life going on behind yellow windows?" and noted that what I own has changed. I have a big stout oak front door, a knitted nativity, a tree covered with 10 years of accumulated baubles people gave us (thank you, Lorna, for my lovely latest). I have out-buildings that need reroofing and two stockings waiting for Santa Claus. I have a corkscrew with a lifetime guarantee.

And looking at my own yellow windows, I wonder why such a life should be 'earned'? Surely its attainment is progression rather than progress, and a Blogtopian life as observed by others is a matter of priority, presentation and the luck of the draw. Kicking the outdoor lights had done no good; they were still broken.

Happy Christmas, everyone, and a big thank you to the commentators for entertaining and amusing me so well. I'll be busy turning 40 for a while now but will see you next year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

a salted fudge experiment

If anything entitles me to take my place here in Blogtopia, it is that I am the undisputed Queen of Fudge.

Before I awarded myself that title, I used to make old-fashioned fudge by measuring sugar, milk and butter into a saucepan and boiling it with a sugar thermometer. Now I chuck in unmeasured quantities of those ingredients, boil till it looks right, and beat till I feel like stopping, and it turns out beautifully. I could nearly throw a few carrots into a pan and simmer and it would turn into carrot fudge. No need to applaud.

Here's how to make a good basic fudge:
USE: 300ml Milk, 450g sugar, 100g butter

1. Grease a glass dish or a plate
2. Put the milk, sugar and butter in a heavy-based saucepan. Heat slowly, stirring once in a while, until the sugar has dissolved and the butter melted.
3. Bring to the boil and boil for 15-20 minutes.
4. When the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage (115°C on a sugar thermometer), remove from the heat. Leave to cool for a minute or two.
5. Beat the mixture with a spoon for a few minutes until it starts to thicken and become slightly grainy.
6. Pour into the prepared dish and leave to set at room temperature or in the fridge.
7. Once set, cut the fudge into squares.

So I thought I'd jump on the current salted chocolate bandwagon and have a go at salted fudge. I boiled up a batch, added a few squares of 85% dark chocolate, beat it till it turned grainy, turned it out and sprinkled it with sea salt before it set. Any salt would have done, but sea salt sounds good and look at that sparkle it gives.

It was pretty tasty. Not quite as blatantly delicious as chocolate fudge with salted peanuts added, but more sophisticated. The children won't like this, I thought to myself, so I ate it all.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Things fall apart; the blogger cannot post

I fell off the edge of Blogtopia for a while there. There was such a ferocious amount of work to be done and the days sped by with hardly an email answered. I missed the graceful flurry of commenting wit, the giddy exchange of recipes. Perhaps I'll never know how your poem turned out, or your homemade Christmas mantel centerpiece.

To make amends, I thought I'd pop back here with an image of a teddy bear.

Greater love hath no woman than that she abandons her serious facade to post something like this. The veteran blogger strolls through the dense LA fog with his rookie assistant, their hands deep in their overcoat pockets. "That's the lowest point," he tells her, "when they post a teddy bear."

Amid the scrum, the most charming little bird arrived from Flora. Bless her for taking a notion to stick it in the post and cause international gladness. These little things that people make with care and send with impromptu goodness are the stuff of life. You may have heard that we're all shot to hell here in Ireland and have no theoretical money left. Well what of it? We have the bird.

And while you're here, if you haven't already, would you marvel at Jaboopee's St Brigid masterpiece? Note the jubilant colour, the intricacy, the scale. You mustn't tell her, but I'm hoping to launch the Pretty Far West Yacht (replica) Awards for Achievement in the new year and bestow the very first yacht (replica) on her. That's if I can get the glue to stick on this damned replica.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

send no money now

The latest thing to delay the Death of the Cupcake is the cupcake in a jar. Imagine how cross this makes me. Blogging has taught me a thing or two about cupcake presentation and jar use, but it never occurred to me to marry both concepts. If I were JK Rowling, I'd have sat there thinking "hmmm, a school story?... or, hmmm, a wizardry story?" and then "hmmm, I'll do some crochet instead."

So others have got there first, and another opportunity for commercialism is foiled.

Increasingly capitalist as I age, I spot all the billboard advertisments for Rite Price This and That and I think to myself that I shan't buy a Rite Price Thing, thanks, in case it rattles, but I'd like to sell them, truckloads of them, so that I could swan around product launches in my Rong Price Rolls Royce Silver Shadow II, never having to worry about where the next roll of beautiful handpainted wallpaper would come from.

[Image: de Gournay chinoiserie wallpaper]

Here's a plan: I'll patent a Rite Price Popomatronic cereal popper, so that the Helped Selves who read the Self Help books can popstart their day with their own organic cereal, freshly popped right in their own homes with an affirming CD playing in the background.

And I shan't forget you guys when I make it big. Not initially anyhow. I plan to send every one of you a platinum-"effect" Popomatronic. That'll be the best one, more expensive than the gold-"effect" and the vintage-"effect" Popomatronic. But totally free to you.

It's hard to see beyond that lovely wallpaper. Scroll up, have another look. Can't you just see the Popomatronic corporate offices with these blithely papered walls, Tom Dixon copper shades and some leggy teak furniture? Perhaps with clocks telling the time in New York, Paris and Tokyo, if I can be bothered.

Friday, November 12, 2010

the indisposable romance of Eilis Boyle

A classic is classic, says Edith Wharton, because of a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness. How true that is of these Eilis Boyle dresses.

I'd wear the white if I were feeling like an ethereal creature of the stony plains, as one does, or the black if Edith and I were popping exquisitely over to tea at Henry James' place. Either, like all of Eilis' beautiful designs, would make me feel as though I'd risen to any occasion.

For Eilis' clear and timeless romantic vision, her careful talent and imagination, and for her kindness, I'm honoured to take part in the international online launch of her 10th collection fashion film.

10th collection from Eilis Boyle on Vimeo.

Monday, November 8, 2010

becoming my sister

There I was in town on Saturday, staring intently at a scented candle in a china teacup, when someone came up and asked whether I was the blogging person with all the jam jars.

"Yes, I guess I am," I replied brightly, immediately aware that I was wearing my second-best butterfly clip.

"No, actually, no no no," I continued coherently, "she's my sister, and much nicer than she appears. Much. What a wet day."

And so we left an unsatisfactory encounter. I'll never leave home again without my best butterfly clip.

[image: Paul Sherwood for House and Home]

And here's the online addendum to the print article in House & Home.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Everything happens at once

First I was over at Jaboopee (a blog written by Elaine Prunty, glass artist and creative wonder), reading a little poem (ahem) of my own composition to while away the long hours while she finished her St Brigid mosaic.

[the making of St Brigid, from Jaboopee]

And then I appeared in the current issue of House & Home, defiantly disregarding the state of the nation to talk about myself. Paul Sherwood, the photographer, was an easy and affable presence about the house and made even our wellington boots look glamorous.

[House & Home, Nov/Dec 2010]

St Brigid was finished by then, I gladly heard, and I promised Elaine I'd rally the imaginary women of the parish to hold a cake sale to pay for a bus (the Mosaic-Mobile, we'd call it) up to Dublin to admire it. The imaginary women would show up with their crumbling rice krispie buns and banal scones* and there I'd be modestly brandishing my magnificent chocolate cake, one euro a slice.

*the imaginary women are really very good bakers

Magnificent chocolate cake (serves 10)
4 oz butter
8 oz caster sugar
2 eggs
8 oz flour (plain or self-raising)
1 teaspoon bread soda
2 oz cocoa powder
250 ml milk
juice of half a lemon

Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, then add the flour, bread soda and cocoa, alternating with the milk. Add the lemon juice and mix. Spoon into a tall 20 cm (or so) round cake tin (lined and greased) and bake at 180C/350F/Gas mark 4 for an hour. Allow to cool, remove from tin and adorn as you wish.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

winter, for Tom

Everyone knows that a blogger traditionally marks the changing of the seasons with a wishy-washy Book of Hours post. This, my second blogging year, brings more of the same old icumen in, same old hope and expectancy, same old make-your-own-bag kit that came with Cath Kidston's SEW! this time last year and lies neglected still. Is there anyone else out there who hasn't made their bag yet either? May we meet?

So, winter.

The robin hops outside the window.

The friendly robin hops outside the window.

The friendly robin hippety-hops outside the window as the days shorten in the shadows of the slanting sun, awakening the soul's ancient yearning for cashmere socks and a knitted hot water bottle cover. We walk down these quiet country lanes, mute disintegration surrounding us in the smell of ruined houses, nettles and damp, the abandoned illegally imported cars rusting on the bog. The yellow-lit windows are private worlds, taxed families drawn together to mutter about the banks and the public service pensions and agree that they could have managed the country better themselves for God's sake. Frightening frost covers our car window. We can't see. Sidney? Sidney? Are you there? Sidney?

The well-dressed homme sports a cable knit, the femme a camel coat. Jaded by the lettuce leaf, we move on to undepicted casseroles and warming pies. Australia stirs and bounds about, mentioning its spring tulips. We mutter enviously to ourselves and delete its blogs from our reader.

Not really, Australia.

Please don't judge me, people. This post is for Tom Stephenson, a gentleman of Bath.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

bring on the winter

After we had made do with a bunch of non heat-emitting lilies (non-heat emitting lilies? heat non-emitting lilies? where's Stan when you need him?) for a long time, the ivory stove appeared.

[schoolgirl preparing to reveal new stove]

[a hot brandy, anyone?]

Sunday, October 17, 2010

back on the bus

I haven't been current since 2005, when the first child was born. Colleagues around the wine-cooler ask me what I think of the latest bands, and I smoothly change the subject to how best to store ginger (in the freezer, and grate it from frozen) while resolving to listen to Pearl more often. I'm still reading last month's newspapers. Recent authors of gritty novels have wasted their time; it'll be a year before I get round to them, no matter what awards they've won.

[currently reading]

I'm not even current with my blog reading, except of course yours. I rush to check out your latest post every morning, before breakfast. It gives me a little hop in my step. When you haven't posted, the day is a grey swirl, hour heaped upon dismal worrying hour as I wonder why you haven't rearranged a room or bought new earrings or had a go making your own bagels. Should I phone...?

... and then the huge relief and an organic ginger biscuit as you appear in my rss reader.

Sometimes I'm briefly current with the chores, and then a small figure covered in spaghetti and chocolate sauce (not that we serve these proletarian foods) looms out of the household mist, triumphantly saying, "it's your pretend birthday, Mama, and we've made you a cake out of everything in the cupboard."

[current husband]

It's not always that much of a hardship not being current. I've learnt to scan the news and ignore the spectator-sport of farflung human interest that makes up so much of what the media reports. I happily wear the wrong boots, thinking to myself as I walk down the street that those ankle-strap bootlets with high heels worn by the current people look so odd. They surely think the same of mine. My current model mobile phone has just been through the wash. Your text message, "a girl, Daisy Cheriebelle, 7 pounds 2 ounces" may never reach me.

[currently working on a very important guest post]

The question is, how does one get back on the bus ? Will there come a time when once again I can bandy immediacies at soirées or do mothers retreat forever into their own private time-capsule as the zeitgeist bolts heedlessly past?

I have a minor headache now. Stuck in 2005, with a minor headache.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

mirror, mirror

BEFORE: bathroom with gold mirror borrowed from living room

AFTER: bathroom with new ivory mirror from the marvellously helpful people at The Collection by Panfili

Journalists from reputable, slightly left-wing newspapers all over the world ring me up and ask whether I have nothing better to do than getting a mirror just so. "No," I tell them, "no."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

the kindness of bloggers

An impromptu little package arrived today from Amanda of Small Acorns to delight us, a giveaway win of sorts. Someone else won, in fact, but Amanda's daughter decided that I should have a prize too. It's encouraging that young girls in faraway lands are being brought up with such a keen sense of justice.

And a fine prize it was. The lovely fabric teatime stickers already adorn the playroom and the charming purse will lurk in my handbag. Thank you, dear Amanda and Milly!

And you may want to rush along and get your name into Permanent Magenta's painting giveaway, which ends this Friday. It's mightily noble of me to mention it at all, as I have my eye on her Pink Eames Rocker and you're diluting my chances by entering.

So much for the survival of the fittest. Future sociological investigation will show that altruism peaked in Blogtopia in the early years of the twenty first century. Findings will be sensitively validated by peer review, presented in pink floral folders tied with pretty ribbon, and greeted with a flurry of admiring comments from the academic community. I guess we'll all have a small glass of sherry.

Friday, October 1, 2010

fireplace (does anyone know Bruce?)

For the kind commentators who took an interest in the fireplace, here it is. The vase of lilies is a feeble substitute for the long-awaited ivory stove (due next week, as usual). Would you rather spend a west of Ireland winter of lashing rain and gales sitting round a vase of lilies or an ivory stove alit with a blazing log fire? Yes, me too.

[If you peer closely at the left, there's a white-painted iron hook for a cauldron, so that people of yore could cook their potatoes and seaweed. I have no cauldron and people of yore might scoff at my pink casseroles, but we struggle on.]

Meanwhile, we've bought the Little House on the Prairie box set, season 1. It's the perfect thing for my elder daughter (aged 5-6), full of strung emotion and right & wrong. With the heightened cultural awareness of age, I keep expecting Bruce Springsteen to walk on set and belt out a bleak yet redemptive song, accompanied by Charles on the fiddle.

By the way, if anyone knows Bruce, would you ask him whether he'd write a guest post for me? Something keenly socially and politically aware that would help us rise above the wait for a stove.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

a brighter living room, and jelly babies

It's a long and lonely road, renovating a house. When the bathroom was nearly finished, we thought that as the place was so full of pink dust we'd add to the chaos by replacing the living room ceiling (Artex, lovingly put up by someone in the seventies), the dark grey slate-effect tiles (ditto, but down), and removing the fire surround to expose the original cottage fireplace. Easier typed than done.

At last, the new tiles are down, the ceiling up, and I've done more of my characteristically patient painting while breaking up fights between Pink and Blue Daughters over who has the smartest shadow.

The large old fireplace is uncovered, and all we're waiting for is the ivory stove. If ever you want an ivory stove, forget it. It'll always be on the verge of showing up, but never actually appear. And it's never the fault of the person you're speaking to.

And finally, a proud moment. Scottish Husband bought a packet of jelly babies the other day. No artificial flavourings or colourings. Superfoods, essentially: pure anti-oxidant, dusted with omega-3. We use them as bribes. But here's the thing: he put them, totally unprompted, all by himself, into an empty Bonne Maman jam-jar and placed it on the Bonne Maman shelf. Beat that, lifestylers.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

bathroom products styling assistant required

This is a special post for louloulovesbooks, who commented that she was trying to peer at my bathroom products.

Burt's Bees Radiance eye creme would keep me young, possibly even radiant, if only I could remember to use it.

Lots of soap. Very clean.

Favourite perfume. Wards off ankle boots, socialism and reality TV.

Clean and rose-scented. Bonus points.

Impractical bottles.

A new vacancy for a Pretty Far West Bathroom Product Styling Assistant will shortly be announced. The successful applicant will apply successfully. Ancillary duties will include banishing garish products from the public gaze, monitoring radiance levels, and daily opening and closing of the very labour-intensive Roman blinds. Would suit experienced fusspot.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

hoping to be Aunt Dahlia

My Blue Daughter isn't merely three years old; that would be beneath her dignity. She's 3-4, she declares, just as the labels on her blue clothes state. The 4 gives a gravitas and sense of aspiration, helping her to be within reach of Pink Daughter, who has realised the threat and is now 5-6.

Me, I'm aged 39-40, and it's important to bolster the dignity of that impending 40 by acquiring some more original artwork.

[a delightful meep miniature...]

[...from Shell Sherree, who is a dear]

These pretty ACEOs from Shell Sherree are my latest purchase (I didn't know what an ACEO was until I looked it up on know-it-all Wikipedia). This is surely the perfect Blogtopian art, charming and airy as a browse through the Hermes website. I'm convinced it's what wealthy Aunt Dahlia, proprietor of Milady's Boudoir, would display in her drawing-room along with Ronald Searle drawings and biscuit-tin lids. At 39-40, perhaps I can start turning into Aunt Dahlia.

Monday, September 13, 2010

finished bathroom in sight

This is the new bathroom, a work in progress.

It needs lights, a different mirror and that's about all. Perhaps fluffy new towels and bath-mats in a delicate sea-green or dinosaur-bone white. More botanical paintings. Sunshine. Helium balloons that say 'It's a Bathroom!"

A stained glass window would be lovely but that's an aspiration too far for now.

As the Duchess of Painting, I'm glad the end is in sight. Boring old painting. I'd much rather read your blog than paint.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

win win win (win)

In the time-honoured blogging tradition, it's a giveaway.

The prize is this necklace, created by my sister (the jewellery-maker & artist sister).

Ideal for wearing to blogger meets, country markets, garden parties, wine-tastings, insurgencies, gala balls and all that Stuff of Life.

It's open to everyone, everywhere. A random commentator will be selected as the winner, unless I decide to choose a non-random commentator based on wit, sycophancy or the ability to rise to the occasion. You know the drill.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

taking and giving back

I've learnt a lot from the good old Information Superhighway.

Well, maybe two things.

The surefire cure for no longer being able to wear my gold jewellery is to boil it. Yes, I too raised an eyebrow at that, because most search results told me I was allergic to things like Alcohol or Chocolate and of course one mustn't fall for that hokey stuff. But I gave the boiling a go and the gold was wearable again. I'm only harping on this point in case someone out there has the same problem and might find this solution in a search. Boil the gold in water for a minute or so. BOIL THE GOLD.

And lately, over at Fun and VJs, I spotted an array of colourful glass on a shelf, and liked the look of it, so I scoured the house for anything jolly I could find and created my own burst of colour on the landing.

How uplifting a sight in the morning as one struggles toward the continental breakfast buffet.

So that's two things, and now it's time to give back. I've made the perfect rose tea, and I'd like to tell you how. No, I insist. Brew a cup of Earl Grey tea (or similar, any sort of light china tea) and add a few drops of rose water (and milk, if you like).

Why did it take years of the quest for a good rose tea for something so obvious to occur to me?

And there'll be a giveaway in the next post for even more giving back.

Friday, August 20, 2010

what does beanz meanz?

Is this as conveniently tinned as the zeitgeist gets? These ingenious Can Lights, designed by Willem Heeffer of, suggest Warhol, rationing, catering and quirkily fashionable frugality, and are well in tune with the upcycling mood of our post-bling times.

"With the help of Dublin’s many restaurants and café who collect the tin cans, these everyday waste objects are turned into charming yet functional pendant lights. The lights celebrate the cross over between popular culture and sustainability and look great in sets of three."

[Willem says that he would like you to like fusefinds on facebook]

Maybe one day they'll expand their range and I can have used tins of tomato soup, beanz, pineapples slices and steamed chocolate pudding in chocolate sauce hanging in a row of four above the kitchen island. They'd amuse me when I walked into the room and I'd chop my well-lit vegetables whilst busily wondering what it all meanz and considering the ironies in the commodification of thrift.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

spinning to my death in a brand new raincoat

I'm edging closer to elusive edginess with my latest purchase, the Ilse Jacobsen soft shell rain coat that is half a wetsuit (available in Ireland from Avoca). Don't look so dubiously at me. They are much in demand and it looks very well on me. I know this because the shop assistant told me so.

[image: eshoes]

Worn with biker boots, it gives me a certain metropolitan moodiness, the look of someone who has an angsty blog. Lord knows I must chuck some of the long-promised disquiet in here soon before I lose all credibility. Underworld's Dirty Epic is on loop to help me along. Dated angst is all I can offer, dudes.

But while you're waiting for that, have a look at Kelly Swallow's lovely Squintesque chairs. How about this one, the chic and poised 'Long Leggy'?

[image: Kelly Swallow]

When I die in a helicopter crash (if I die in a helicopter crash) I'd like the interior upholstery to be done in this style, so that I can spin to my death in a kaleidoscope of designer fabrics.

[If there are any lost souls looking for it, I'm deleting the Pretty Far West Facebook account. It was taking a week for the blog feed to reach it. In the feverishly paced world of exchanging pleasantries about curtains, that's useless.]
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