this secondhand place

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In the darkness of night and nothing but a fabricated light, the mirror brightens reflection. Framed glass plays back in real time a moving picture that looks like the story of my life. I star in this episode created in The Image, my image distressed with shadows and imperfections in this half-lit, secondhand place.

Carefully, I look this way and that, finding the best angle as if it matters to the world. But they can’t see it anyway. All that anyone can see is behind me in my shadow that is  larger than life. The shadow of my movement and the direction of my attention.

Blue eyes blink back at me until I turn away from my self-scrutiny. The shadows shift, revealing the profile of who I was born to be and who I have become. This is me, face turned from the mirror, finally possessing the ability to possibly see you and for you to see me.

What will we become?

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possibility

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Paint stained, memory stained, tear stained shirt is her heart inside out in the only room where she is right side in. Blank canvases hang limply on the wall waiting for her touch. “What do you see?” they ask. “What do you make of us?”

Tall windows testify to a world outside that is no more complete than the bleached fibres her fingers slowly make their way across. “What can I give to you?” she asks.

A shape, an image, a dream rasps softly against the surface. Possibility.

Her colours come out, the only ones she has. Tubes half empty, worn at the edges, shaped from years of use. And then the edges, the tools to mix and shape. Her tools. The ones that feel at home in her hands. She holds them like old friends and trusts them to work with her like so many times before. Her arms remember the movements even when storms of grief strip away her shoreline.

Colours dry for days, for weeks, no changes. She returns.

Paint stained, memory stained, tear stained shirt is her heart inside out in the only room where she is right side in. Colour carved canvases hang limply on the wall waiting for her touch. “What do you see?” they ask. “What do you make of us?”

Tall windows testify to a world outside that is no more complete than the stained fibres her fingers slowly make their way across. “What can I give to you?” she asks.

A shape, an image, a dream rasps softly against the surface. Possibility.

sweet potato rye bread

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A couple of days a week I work from home for at least part of the day. One of the benefits of this is that I get to put a loaf of bread in the oven since it takes very little prep time … you just need to be around the house. I have to seriously ration this to make sure I don’t eat the whole thing in one sitting! Plain, with a bit of butter, covered with sandwich toppings … oh man, it’s amazing. You will probably want an stand mixer with a dough hook since it is a fairly wet dough. The more often I make it the easier it is!

Sweet Potato Rye Bread

  • 300g peeled sweet potatoes, cut in chunks for boiling
  • 2 tsp yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 200g strong white flour (bread flour)
  • 100g dark rye wholemeal flour

Cover sweet potatoes with water, bring to a boil and lower to a simmer until they are soft enough to make mashed potatoes from them.

Set aside 75 ml of potato water and drain the rest of it. Put the potatoes back in the pot and return to a low heat for 1-2 minutes so they can dry out a bit.

When the 75 ml of potato water is lukewarm, stir in yeast and sugar.

Mash the potatoes with oil and salt. Mix into the yeast mixture.

Whisk the flour together in standing mixer bowl until well combined. Add in the wet ingredients. Mix with a dough hook on low until combined. Increase speed to med-high for 10 min or until dough is done. It should stretch a couple of inches without breaking. You might need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times.

Sprinkle a bit of flour on the counter, flip the dough onto it and form into a ball. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with cling film (plastic wrap) and a tea towel. Put it in a warm place and let rise at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 22o C. I bake my bread on a pizza stone and so pit it in the oven at this time. Evenly flour a tea towel and place flour side up in a bread tin. Punch down the dough and turn it out a bit of flour and shape into a loaf. I like the tutorials from Northwest Sourdough. Place smooth side down on the tea towel in the bread tin. Let rise for 30 min while oven is heating.

Turn bread onto the pizza stone. If you are using a baking sheet, lightly oil before turning the bread onto it. Run a knife down the centre to make a shallow cut and place in the oven. I like to add a bit of moisture at this stage to help form a crust. This can be done by pouring boiling water into a pan that has been heating in the oven or using a spray bottle and spritzing water in.

Bake for 20-30 min. You will know it is done when you turn the loaf over, knock on the bottom and it sounds hollow. When done, turn out onto a rack to cool before slicing into it.

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my love for smithfield: block t

The Studio

The old doors of the lift rattle open before I prop them wide with a green and white weave basket filled with eight sewing machine peddles and two coiled extension leads. Out come the machines, two by two, and then the bags of sewing notions and left over sewing projects from a class I taught that morning. It might only be one flight up but the lift makes my weekly workout just a little bit easier. Inevitably, I will open the door to the first floor of Block T and Chris will take one look at my stack of machines and immediately offer help with moving everything down the hall to the studio. Chances are that I probably had collected the machines that morning on my own, taught a two hour sewing class and have just lugged everything back again. With each week the machines get lighter as I get stronger and my appreciation for Block T grows.

I was a latecomer to Block T but an early enthusiast for sewing. Following a run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in secondary school my drama teacher told me that I should really take up costume design as a career because I came alive while doing it. “Yes,” I said, “but there is something I love more.” I pursued the first dream while maintaining and developing my sewing skills as part of my oasis of self-care. I would sew dresses for friends here and there while up-skilling in courses that were relevant. In my visits to Canada I began to take up quilting too and was adopted into the great big quilting family that is somewhere in every Canadian town.

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Two years ago I found myself in a fairly important transition time and was looking for a way that I could contribute to the community as an act of love for it, no strings attached. Generosity that is genuine and wholehearted changes places, it changes people and it can change communities. Sewing came to mind even though I had never taught a class before in my life. When I told family and friends they confirmed what I had been thinking – this made sense! It was a natural progression from some of the community work I had been doing before. At the same time, I was terrified. Theoretically, it made sense. Practically, I was recovering from some emotional wounds that left me afraid of anything I thought I was good at before. I was even having panic attacks when sitting in front of a sewing machine about to stitch a straight line. Friends patiently walked with me as I breathed through fear and took a courageous step in asking a local school if they could do with a sewing teacher. Within a month we had scrounged together ancient sewing machines and a diverse class of students. Soon I was getting calls from other local services asking if I could teach a group with them as well. Some generous people donated money for me to put together proper equipment for classes and in summer of 2015 all of this moved with me into Block T where I began sharing studio space with my good friend, co-founder of C Squared and visual artist, Laura Pettit.

Sharing a space with a visual artist is inspiring. Each week I enter into a space that is charged with eyes that see differently and shapes and colours that express intangible realities that resonate deeply. As I drift through the hallways of Block T, I am reminded that the world can look different. This old probation office building has been a Petri dish where new hopes and dreams for the future are given a chance to start incredibly small in order to become something that grows big enough to shape the culture of a city. Our practices interact with each other. During one Tuesday evening before Christmas I was in the art classroom with a sewing class. Paint was splashed across surfaces and well used easels stood as our backdrop – a room well loved with the lingering affects of art. Our gift in return was the calming smell of lavender from making scented heat packs. On evenings that I have ended up staying late to prepare for a class the next day, Kevin will knock on my door and ask if I have listened to this artist or that song. He helps me find them on my computer and they become an unexpected and very welcome soundtrack for my work. It has been an absolute honour to teach basic machine sewing skills as a part of their skillset programme as well as in the community. It is one way that I have been able to exchange generosity for the environment, opportunity, plasters (for when I cut my fingers open by being careless with a rotary blade) and helping hands every week.

Block T is a generous place. A dreamer’s place. A culture maker’s place. I, for one, will be sad to see it leave Smithfield Square in the coming months as it seeks a new home. Homelessness is a problem in this city. Meanwhile, I will be thankful as I think about my love for Smithfield and the role that Block T has played in strengthening many things that have been weak.

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unfolding for the sounds of the city

12509070_10156394458740324_5831690278449904378_nClip-it-ti-clop, clip-it-ti-clop. The sounds of the city filter through my window. I lift my hands off the keys and exchange a view through the window of the worldww for the window of the world. I stretch, lengthening my body from its desk side curl. My eyes search the grey sky above me, triangle peak and red brick in front of me until they settle on the cobbles below. A smile tugs my mood upward as I spot the source of the noise interrupting my staring contest with the screen. A horse, saddled, with its owner are the only traffic between my building and the next.

The cobbles and the hooves have been here longer than the metal strips placed between them and the ding-ding of the Luas sliding by. The new city resembles these. It has reconstructed the inherited streets so that glass, metal and plastic can whisk us through them fluidly … in a hurry … forgetting to look outside … forgetting to listen.  But the windows were not forgotten in construction. They have been built into our modernity. The sounds can still seep through them. Our legs can still carry us and feet can still bridge the cobblestone gap. And the horse outside, it can still clip-it-ti-clop, clip-it-ti-clop. They can still disrupt and entice me to the window where I give thanks for the sounds of the city.

Longing

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I am Longing. At the edge of the garden, that first garden, I made my home with you. Grief rolled in waves down your cheeks as you looked back one more time to the place of belonging and wholeness you were denied. I dried your eyes. While you slept I whispered promises of restoration until the air sang a new harmony that sounded like hope.

I am Longing.

In the soul of the nation.

In the breath of the prophets.

In the scriptures and stories.

You grew tired of waiting and tried to expel me from your home. You don’t even recognise me anymore. You mistake me for Hurt and lash out at anyone who doesn’t heal you. You mistake me for Loneliness, and so move the people around in your life like furniture, as if the right combination will finally make me disappear. You mistake me for Disappointment and so take control of your life and everyone else around you.

But I am Longing.

I turn your stomach sour at the thought of where you are and hang a framed picture of promise of some unknown, impossible place that will dissolve your sleepless nights and endless days into realities so perfect, so unimaginable. The painter of it dipped his brush in joy to wash the sky and carved out peace across the earth.

I am Longing

In the girl who believed what God had said to her.

In the wise men who studied and searched the stars.

In the heart of the shepherds who got up day after day to do the same thing all over again.

I am Longing, more than anything, in the baby born that day. His longing was as the one who could make the pictures come to life, not as in a dream, but life more real than you have ever felt before. His longing was for you. I followed him to the grave and back again. He restored the home built for you, where you don’t just hear about belonging but can be filled with it again; where you aren’t in search of the pieces of yourself you lost along the way but are complete.

I am Longing. He made me his companion, and I followed him to you.

lavender scented heat packs

2015-11-19 10.42.08-1The weather finally turned in Dublin, bringing in storms Abigail and Barney one after the other. Somehow, not all of our trees have figured it out that winter is coming. They are holding onto a few green leaves still. Days and weeks continue to roll over in spite of their ignorance … and Christmas is coming! The past week has been a busy one. There have been stockings to sew for the Christmas Fair in less than a week, Christmas cookies to bake and sewing classes to teach (amongst a few other things)!

This month I have started teaching two new 4 week beginner machine sewing courses. The first class is almost always one of my favourites. People who have never used a sewing machine before or who have had a bad experience eye their machine as if it has fangs. By the end of the first 2 hours they have worked out how to set it up, move their fabric through it with control, troubleshoot problems and come away with a project in hand! I have yet to have one person who doesn’t leave without a sense of accomplishment and renewed determination after the first class. The project that I love to have people complete during their first lesson is a lavender scented heat pack. It is quick and easy, practicing straight seams, pivot corners, back stitching (reverse stitching, bar tacking … loads of different names for going backwards and forwards a few stitches!), clipping corners and top stitching. Now that we have reached the cold weather, it comes as a particularly welcome project. If you would like to join us in warming up this winter, or are looking for the perfect small Christmas gift to make, you can download the pattern we use for the Lavender Scented Heat Pack. Want to sew with us?