Monday, 23 June 2014

The Slow Moving Blog Hop

When my lovely friend Sinéad over at Stories of Life and Craft mentioned nominating me to take part in a slow moving blog hop, I have to admit, I was filled with some amount of trepidation and apprehension. Not because I didn’t want to participate, but because of my current lack of creative time that’s almost bordering on the ridiculous! Which brings me to the very reason I haven’t blogged in what seems like forever – work, a massive research project and running between one home and another (my own home and my family home, which is undergoing some renovations) seems to take up the majority of my time and leaves me very limited space to indulge in anything creative. But here I am on the hottest day of 2014  (so far…!) in a quiet little corner of my dreamy castle, under the swaying boughs of a hawthorn, with my brand-spanking new Mac Book perched on my knees while I stretch my toes out on the greenest grass in all the universe, determined to write a blog post for the first time in months.

My small stack of books will not be read today. It’s not a day for research.
Instead, I’m watching the swallows dip and dive and disappear like torpedoes in and out of the tiniest crevices in the castle walls while cows plod through the undergrowth behind me and lazy dogs stretch out in front of me in the shade.

Tractors gently rumble in the distance in a race to cut, toss and bale the hay before this heat wave breaks.
The sky has taken on that rare shade of perfect blue and butterflies dance in the midsummer sunshine.
The castle waits for visitors, but I know the sun will draw them to the coast today.
All is quiet.
At last, summer has officially arrived.

What a perfect opportunity to take advantage of the rare lull here in my little corner of the west.

I am writing this post a little in advance because next Monday, June 23rd (today, to you readers!) I will be jetting off to the west coast of France for a week of sunshine, culture, history and…well, just some long-awaited time out with my other half. It’s our first summer holiday in almost three years but now that our house is well and truly built, our itchy feet can finally be scratched again! Travelling has always been a big part of our lives and we are both revelling in the opportunity to resume our overseas adventures. Charming harbours, cobbled streets, vineyards and chateaus await our hungry eyes.

But to get back to the point of this post – talking about crafting why I love to create. I’ve been following others in this creative journey and feel honoured to take part alongside some of the most creative bloggers out there. Today I am going to talk about two of my creative endeavours – Scrapbooking and why I love it, and of course, photography.
So, here it goes!

I think creativity is possibly in my blood. My Dad is one of the only Master Bespoke Tailors in Ireland (and is the only person I know who can play the trumpet!) and has spent the past forty years perfecting his expert craft. His talent and attention to detail never ceases to amaze me. True bespoke tailoring is such a creative and innovative skill and I would like to think that he passed some amount of this down to me, which manifests itself in putting photo to paper rather than chalk to cloth! Then on the other side was my Mother, who as a child, would knit and write lots of stories. Highly imaginative, she was creative from a young age but as she got older and had a family of her own, her writing changed to reading but she always kept up with her knitting. Our school jumpers were often carefully knitted by her gentle hands. Although I can’t knit (or sew! Eeek!) Sinéad has recently taught me to crochet! I am slowly but surely getting through a granny square and loving it. Some day it will become a cushion!
I know my Mom would be proud.

I like to think of scrapbooking in its purest, simplest form - collecting stories and memories and pairing these with photographs and pretty paper. So if I ever get a little overwhelmed by this incredibly dynamic and versatile craft - which can happen with the amount of amazing display of talent out there in blog-land as well as the endless array of products to buy, I just remember those simple things.

Grab a photo, stick it to some paper and write the story.
It actually is that simple and this is the reason I love it so much.

Scrapbooking has not just become my crafty passion, but a part of who I am. It’s more than just a hobby as I have made great friends through this craft and I know it’s something that I will continue to do forever. It happened by accident but I think it was the craft that I’d been looking for my whole life. I’d always loved anything “artsy” and that combined with an emotional attachment to mementos and keepsakes provided the perfect outlet to unleash my creative side.

And I think that’s what drew me to it most - that it blends two of my favourite things – photography and recording stories and memories. Before I scrapbooked, I always kept a journal as well as a separate book which I filled with keepsakes – tickets, postcards, clippings, flyers, invitations, receipts of special meals etc, so it was only a matter of time before this type of memory keeping evolved into full-scale scrapbooking! My Dad recently found a scrapbook in our attic that his Mother kept in the 1960s. It’s filled with newspaper cuttings and photos of my Dad as a child. It’s such a treasure to have and I just wish I had gotten the opportunity to meet this amazing woman and tell her that I too, appreciate the importance of treasuring keepsakes and memories and hope that one day I can pass my scrapbooks onto my own grandchildren.

Which is exactly the point of scrapbooking - it allows me to reflect on my life right now, just like a journal, recording and documenting both the big and little details that may be otherwise forgotten, and to one day pass them on.

But it's also more than that. I scrapbook to de-stress, to get lost in a world of paper and colour and ink. It's therapy for the soul. It's relaxes me, it invigorates me, it awakens my creative spirit. 
Basically, I scrapbook because I really, really enjoy it.

In the beginning, I started out small, with just a few sheets of patterned paper, letter stickers, a few embellishments, glue and a scissors. I had no idea what I was really doing and would spend hours trawling the Internet for ideas and inspiration. Then I discovered Two Peas. And Shimelle. And so many wonderful blogs! Now I have a room in my new house dedicated to my craft where I am free to get lost in this colourful world of paper and glue and stacks of photos. And blast my music as loud as I want.

So now my world is filled with stacks and stacks of pretty paper, letter stickers and a whole host of embellishments to layer and add to the clusters on my layouts. My everyday vocabulary includes  “Thickers”, “Glitter Girl”, and “TwoPeas” and my other half actually knows what all these things are, whether he likes it or not! He listens as I talk endlessly about various products, techniques and styles and always eagerly awaits my newest layout. So it’s no wonder that he features in most of my pages!

My scrapbooking style is fairly simple. It took me a few years to really find my “style” but I think now, I know what works for me and what doesn’t. I like using lots of patterned paper and clusters of embellishments. I love stamps but don’t use them nearly as much as I’d like! I don’t really use mixed media  - I dabble in inks and embossing powders and masks but I prefer to stick to what I’m comfortable with and that is definitely paper. I scrapbook the everyday as well as important events, activities, weddings, weekends away and foreign holidays. As much as I’ve been tempted, I’ve never delved into Project Life as I don’t think I’m in a position to commit myself to weekly memory keeping. I work quite erratically – sometimes spending a whole day up to my elbows in paper and glue and then I might go two weeks without scrapbooking at all. The seasons can also dictate how much I scrapbook – short, dark winter days are perfect spent in a cosy craft room while these long, balmy summer days warrant time spent with family and friends, going to concerts or on road trips or just being lazy! But on a wet summer evening (which is common in this part of the world!) you will more than likely find me in my craft room working on my next layout!

At the moment I’m scrapbooking photos from our trip to Berlin in January as well as a few left over pictures from last autumn. I print in bulk so I don’t have any current photos to scrap with at the moment, but once I come home from France, I will make another, huge print order and once again, be inundated with piles of photos to get creative with.
All I can say is, bring it on!

I think I fell in love with photography long before I got my Nikon DSLR back in 2008. I was always one of those people who carried a compact digital camera everywhere and on nights out, I was always the girl with the camera. Now it has become a huge part of my life and I look at the world now with different eyes, always wondering, “would this make a good photo?” and “how will I scrapbook this?” or more often “I have a set of papers that will be perfect for this photo!” I have gradually moved past the automatic settings and am slowly coming to grips with manual. I love the control this gives me and am more often than not pleased with the results. But of course, practise makes perfect! Something that I'm not getting a lot of lately...and I blame this on one thing, and one thing only.

The iPhone.

Since I got my first iPhone last year, it's getting most of the action lately. It's just so easy to whip it out and take photos of just about anything because it goes everywhere with me. And of course I blame this on Instagram which I'm a huge fan of! But even so, my trusty Nikon is always charged and ready to go and was my first port of call on two road trips with Sinéad earlier in the month.

Kylemor Abbey, Co. Galway

Lahinch Beach, Co. Clare

Its only when I see my DSLR photos that I'm glad I don't use my iPhone all the time. And that's when I remember why I got my camera in the first place.
It takes awesome photos.

So that brings me to the end of my post. 

I want to sincerely thank Sinéad again for nominating me and bringing back into the world of blogging again. If it weren't for her gentle coaxing, I probably would have gone the entire summer without ever posting so I'm very thankful for this opportunity.

I honestly don't know who I would nominate to continue this chain, as I don't really know any bloggers, so instead I will leave it up to whoever reads this post to nominate themselves to join in.

Talk about your craft. It's that easy.


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

An Ode to Love and Other Things

I recently came across this early Irish tale that dates from the 8th century that's so beautiful I felt compelled to share it. It's called Aislinge Óenguso or "The Dream of Óengus" and ends with the magical image of the deity Óengus uniting with his otherworldly lover Caer Ibormeith from Connacht. It was originally written in old Irish but here is a translation of the end of the story:

She went to him. He cast his arms about her. They fell asleep in the form of two swans, and went around the lake three times so that his promise might not be broken. They went away in the form of two white birds till they came to Brug maic ind Óic, and sang a choral song so that it put people to sleep for three days and three nights. The girl stayed with him after that.

I just love its simplicity. It might be over a thousand years old but it's still relevant. The dreamlike imagery is just so sweet - two swans, together forever. I love that image. 
So it got me thinking about love and Valentine's and how lucky I am to have found my swan, my soul mate. And also how, thirteen centuries later, we're still preoccupied with love and still writing at length about it. Maybe not using swans anymore but in essence, the message is still the same. And I think it touches most people today with music so in keeping with all things Irish, here's some lines from The Script's song "I'm Yours".
Not exactly revolutionary enough to change the world, but I still love it.

You touch these tired eyes of mine
And map my face out line by line
And somehow growing old feels fine
I listen close for I'm not smart
You wrap your thoughts in works of art
And they're hanging on the walls of my heart

I love that we have such a strong literary tradition on this little island. I love words of love that evoke such powerful yet tender images and emotions. I love listening to a song that tells a story and brings tears to my eyes.

Okay so you're probably wondering why I'm talking about love and Valentine's Day in March, when we've just gorged on pancakes and about to gorge on the black stuff with Paddy's Day just around the corner. That's because it was put on hold for us this year till March 7th. We've had a tradition for the past few years to flee south to a little hideaway on a farm just outside the beautiful village of Adare, Co. Limerick for Valentine's. It's a total relaxation weekend. We stay for two nights in the cosy little 200 year old converted barn and go for long walks through the beautiful countryside and come back to snuggle under blankets by the fire watching movies and eating all our favourite foods.  It usually looks something like this:

It's a home away from home that we've grown to adore but this year the worst storm since 1998 hit two days before we were due to arrive and caused a whole lot of havoc down there. We luckily escaped the worst of the storm here, but further south was another story. Our little barn lost electricity and water and 25 mature trees were lost around the farm. So our romantic weekend was stopped dead in it's tracks. Nothing would be fixed on time so our Valentine's Day was postponed until this Friday when calm will be restored once again.
I can't wait!

So in the spirit of all things love I'll include some recent layouts that feature me and him:

(These layouts all feature photos from last summer - of weddings and weekends away in the sun) 

So on that note I must return to my books. On top of my pile of nine tower houses to photograph and record, I now have eight medieval churches and friaries to add to it! 
I am now officially swamped!
But I shall not panic. Yet!

I should also add that it is currently Seachtain na Gaeilge here in Ireland (and also Lent, which officially begins today...though I am not abstaining from anything!) which celebrates our native Irish language from March 1st - 17th, culminating with the St. Patrick's Day festivities (or should I say mayhem?!) on March 17th. It's when the non-Irish speaking population of the country try their best to use their cúpla focal (few words) in everyday life while the Irish-speaking population just carry on as normal. I live in a predominantly Gaelteacht area (Irish speaking area) and live with a bona fide Irish speaking man so I have no excuse no to join in! So today I will bid you farewell 
as gaeilge

Slán agus Beannacht!


Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Out of the Slump and into the Scrappy Zone

Today finds me in the midst of a research slump of sorts. I can't help feeling that time is absolutely flying by and I haven't much progress to show for it. I spent half of the weekend in West Connemara on a reconnaissance adventure. It's all part of a project that involves photographing and surveying nine medieval tower houses, the majority which only exist in a very ruinous state so actually finding them can a bit of a challenge to say the least. Especially when what you're looking for is not much more than a pile of stones (albeit, finely cut stones with medieval dressing and features) in an incredibly stony landscape. A needle-in-a-haystack type scenario. 

But I optimistically, or rather naively, figured I'd get at least three sites done in one day. I can laugh at this now because hindsight is of course, 20-20 vision and I now see that I was clearly delusional in my planning process. One of the consequences of archaeological work is that everything always takes much, much longer than ever expected -  it's a sloooow process and a whole day can be spent in a car with a map and a camera driving the same teeny-tiny narrow roads twenty thousand times with only one site located in an entire day. It is obviously apparent that I forgot to take a few key things into account: 

1. Sea mist + rocks = slippy hazard. Wellies don't have grips! Also, sea mist + freshly straightened hair = frizz. 
2. Bad road signage. Did I say bad? I meant pathetic. 
3. Even worse mobile phone coverage. Google maps doesn't work when you're in the middle of nowhere, which ironically, is exactly when you need it to work.
4. Angry dogs. And that's saying something because I'm a huge dog person. But scruffy, outdoorsy, mean dogs that love to show you how huge their teeth are, are a whole other story. Avoid. 
5. Private land with suspicious residents with shifty eyes peeping out through their curtains at you, wondering why you're in their fields with a map, compass and camera.  Ask permission before you go traipsing through their land! 
6. Hunger. Driving around all day without a packed lunch in a place where every thing's closed on a Sunday is just plain silly.  A rookie mistake. I mentally gave myself a punch. 
7. Ensure ipod is fully charged before departing. 20% of battery life will not last the day. I actually gave myself a punch for this one. Major grr.
8. Lots of boats in the middle of a field away from the water are not funny and shouldn't be laughed at and photographed. Apparently this fact is common knowledge but somehow it eluded me. Queue awkward moment.

So I got one site sort-of located. In a whole day. Sigh. This is going to take a lot of time. I was slightly annoyed with myself for not being as prepared as I would have liked, but it was a bit of an impromptu adventure. You know how it is on a Sunday - you get up late, have a long, lazy breakfast (he makes amazing scrambled eggs!) and then suddenly the sun comes out and you make a very impulsive decision at the last minute to go out into the wilderness to find castles. He enthusiastically agrees. And half way through the journey it rains but you can't turn back.

But anyway! The world was made right again by baking chocolate chip and hazelnut cookies when we got home. Because tea and cookies make everything better and can solve all the world's problems.

(However I did come away with an invaluable knowledge that there is such a thing as living in a mobile home/trailer surrounded by blocks. Yes, the mobile home is inside the block walls. It appears that people actually build blocks around these to construct an actual house and then once the house is built around the mobile home, it is then broken up bit by bit and thrown out the window! End result -  a mobile home shaped house! Yes, people actually do this and for some reason I found it both horrifying and weirdly fascinating!) 

Anyway, I got a bit sidetracked there...!

My research might be in a bit of a slump at the moment but my scrapbooking certainly isn't. But one might be a consequence of the other. If I feel all researched-out, my eyes tend to wander to the shelves of pretty, pretty paper (our study is shared - half is an actual study for his academic work and half is my crafty space. Very distracting when you're surrounded by pastel coloured crafty goodies!) and suddenly my laptop and the stacks of books are moved to the floor and my desk becomes a sea of paper and thickers and embellishments. So I've been getting my scrappy groove on and have made epic progress in scrapping my summer 2013 photos. My huge pile of photos is gradually reducing in size, while my scrapbook albums are getting fatter every day. Once I finished my Christmas Journal I was eager to scrap anything non-Christmas related again and the 12x12 pages suddenly felt huge to work on. Consequently, I tended to get a bit fanatical with embellishments, especially flair, arrows and coloured paper clips. These are featuring heavily in my pages lately.

I just love scrapping summer photos and currently, I tend to use bright, happy coloured patterned papers (I'm loving Dear Lizzy, Amy Tangerine, Studio Calico, Crate Paper and Carta Bella) that match the happy, summery feel of the photos. And most pages invariably feature some shade of turquoise or aqua.
I've just counted and in the last six weeks, in between researching and writing, I've knocked out 29 layouts. Allow me to share a few today, in no particular oder.

I just realised that I never added the journalling to this page. Oops!
Or the next page...
(It's all written in a notebook but I haven't gotten around to transferring it to the layouts yet!)

I feel a need to explain the title of this page. It's actually lines from a Sawdoctors song called "Bailin" (Or if you're not speaking in a west of Ireland accent, it would be "Bailing"). The song is all about one of the characteristic summer activities in rural Ireland - bailing hay. It's a huge event. I didn't realise just how huge until I moved out of the city and into the "ssshticks" last year. But I've since been indoctrinated in the importance of such pastoral activities and have a new found appreciation for the amount of organisation and dedication that is required for a successful day's bailin'. As well as the art of creating and arranging bales of hay with a tractor. So is it any wonder that the Sawdoctors are rather legendary in rural Ireland, especially here in the west, where they're from. But I think you actually have to be Irish to truly appreciate lines like 
"Get that wasp off my sandwich, hey!"

Moving on...I don't know about you but I'm just about done with winter. I'm tired of horizontal rain and wind that can take your breath away. I'm tired of having to constantly leap over puddles. I'm tried of the cold steering wheel freezing my fingers and having to wait ages for my car to warm up.
It's definitely time to discard the boots and start wearing pumps again. And blazers. And all things spring-like. Maybe it's due to the amount of time I'm spending scrapping summer photos, but I'm dreaming about hot, sultry days spent in shorts and flip-flops sipping ice-cold drinks and snacking on strawberries and watermelons. Going for long bike rides on country roads. Walking barefoot through the soft grass. Having late-night barbecues and listening to Bob Marley.
It seems so far away.
But then you stroll through town, lusting over the new spring-summer collections that are filling the shops at the moment and creating outfit combinations in your head... 
and suddenly it doesn't feel too far away.

Speaking of shopping...I had a bit of a long-awaited personal triumph last week and I immediately, predictably, itched to go shopping. (I am a self-confessed shopaholic. I will go into town to buy one thing and come away with eight bags of clothes and shoes and handbags and make-up. Yes, I am that girl!) As much as I promised myself that I wouldn't immediately hit the shops like a crazy person, I caved. But I did last three days in fairness! And now my wardrobe has gained a whole new spring collection, dominated by blue, for some reason. I just wish we had the weather to wear it all right now.

But I know spring is just around the corner. Here's the proof :)

I don't know about you but it made me smile :)

PS: I'm trying out central alignment in this post, as opposed to the text being justified. Justified gets a bit boring after a while.
I'm liking it. I think I'll stick to central for now.

PPS: I have to come up with a new way of photographing my layouts. My current process is to drop a layout on the floor and hover over it with my 50mm lens, desperately trying not to cast a shadow over it! I think I'll try to  photograph them on my desk next time. (I'm tired of having to crop out carpet from around the edges of the page!) Even if it does mean I'll have to do a major de-clutter first.

PPPS: Does anyone else watch Vikings? It's filmed here in Ireland and I'm loving it. Probably because the history nerd in me loves that it's about actually about Vikings (who are awesome!), but it also may have something to do with Travis Fimmel.

Seriously, can you blame me?

Saturday, 8 February 2014

A Christmas Journal...finally!

Can anyone else believe that we are now in the second month of 2014?! Where did January disappear to? It seems that one minute we were in the midst of the Christmas rush, I blinked, and now here we are in February, with Easter eggs lining the supermarket shelves! Which of course means I'm more than a little late with this post. After Christmas, more than a few stress-inducing storms, a glorious week in Berlin, catching up with friends, anxiously awaiting the arrival of a mammoth photo-order and finishing my Christmas journal, my time was completely swallowed up. It seems that I'm finding it a bit of a challenge to manage my time efficiently! This post has actually been started a million times but I never quite got around to finishing it. 

I suppose it's because the majority of my time has been dedicated to a work project that I'm actually very excited about. I'm currently finding myself elbow-deep in medieval texts and falling in love with research all over again. I know it must seem like a trial to some, but I love spending an entire day trawling through dusty bookshelves, turning fragile, aged pages. I love pouring over maps to discover lost and forgotten worlds. I love getting lost in ancient stories and staring at crumbling ruins for hours with endless questions trying to coax the answers out. But if you persevere, they will reveal their secrets to you. Secrets to be carefully put into words. All you need is an open mind, a good laptop and a pot of tea. Then the words just flow.

So what else is happening? While so much of the world is covered with a thick blanket of snow we are battling weekly storms and rain. Lots and lots of rain. But it has barely dipped below 5 degrees Celsius and almost feels like an extension of autumn rather than "proper" winter. And then, amongst all the low pressure and depressions and cold fronts, a perfect blue-sky day will appear out of nowhere like a gift, and the world is suddenly beautiful again, the rain forgotten. The sun warms your face and you know that Spring is only around the corner.

A surprise, perfect day in January close to my house

As I write this I'm singing along to the music from Nashville - a TV series that had me hooked from episode 1. But I'm no country music fan and I feel I have to make this clear. While the whole nation recently scrambled to get their hands on much-coveted tickets for the big Garth Brooks summer gig, I have to admit, I thought the whole thing was hilarious and found myself making very sarcastic remarks at this strange, country music-loving population of an island that has produced the likes of U2, The Script and The Coronas to name but a few...! I'm a huge indie fan. I love real, sweaty, guitar-toting musicians who can sing and write music and don't look like One Direction. Yet here I am belting out country songs with fervour and LOVING them. 

Which brings me to the subject of this post - my Christmas journal. I loved this project! I finally got around to finishing my very first attempt at a Christmas journal in mid-January and as much as I'm glad it's completed, I really enjoyed creating it and I feel it's definitely going to become an annual tradition. I have to say, it was much more time consuming than I anticipated and I think the 8x8 size contributed to this. I felt that I had to make a very full layout for each day with lots of "stuff" filling up each page as there was so much room to work with. It was just a little to much for the type of scrapbooker who takes three hours on one layout! I think I will switch to a 6x8 album next year with divided page protectors to give myself more flexibility.

I more or less stuck to Shimelle's JYC format but not completely, and left out some entries or added some of my own. I think I got every day in apart from December 5th for some reason, so overall I'm very happy with how it turned out. I tried as much as possible to stick to a fairly traditional palette of red, green, cream, kraft and blue and used a combination of new and old supplies with a lot of Studio Calico, Echo Park, Elle's Studio, My Mind's Eye, American Crafts, Jillibean Soup and Pink Paislee. I think it has pretty much captured my Christmas and if it weren't for the journal, I'm certain I wouldn't remember lots of little details that have been added into it. 

While creating the journal was fun and satisfying, photographing it was not! Photographing anything indoors in January in Ireland with our perpetual overcast days always proves to be quite a challenge, so one afternoon when the sun appeared from behind it's usual hiding place in the murky winter clouds, I grabbed my camera and started shooting. By some miracle I managed to get get the whole album photographed in about fifteen minutes while the sun dipped in and out of the clouds, much to my annoyance, as some pages are darker than others. Also, I didn't remove the layouts from their sleeves to photograph them simply because it takes too damn long to get them back in again! So if there's a shine on some of the photos, I apologise!

(Note: Lots of photos ahead so prepare for much scrolling! I tried to create  photo collages instead of posting individual photos, but those cool, collage-creating apps aren't compatible with my 2006 iBook G4's operating system...grrr! Time to upgrade I think!)





So that's my Christmas journal for 2013 done and dusted. I'm already excited about the prospect of this year's journal. Is it strange that I have already bought my entire Christmas kit for next year?! Two Peas had a fantastic sale just before Christmas and I'll admit...I went a little crazy. I had a theme in mind with three core colours to base my project around and I thought that would limit my spending, but who was I kidding?! It's just far too easy to pop a few little things into your bucket and before you know it, those few little things have turned into lots and lots and lots of little things. But it's a sale. (You're actually saving money, right?!) So I have far more than I'll actually need but I LOVE what I got and am already excited about next year's project. I have it stored away in it's own file in my craft room and hopefully by this time next year I'll have a second, fully completed journal filled with brand new memories and stories to share. But lets concentrate on Spring first. It's almost here and I'm looking forward to daffodils, new lambs, long days and a new wardrobe. Bring it on!

PS: For some unknown reason, some of my photos are misbehaving and want to remain out of line with the others. If I try to correct this, they jump all over the page. For the sake of not pulling my hair out, I'm going to leave them be!