Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Jonsi's "Sticks and Stones" Music Video

Miracle on 22nd St

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas from the O'Briens

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone - from the O'Briens! (Morgan, Nina, Hope, Sora, Rocky and River!)

Wrapping Robins! (Day 23)

Countdown to Christmas (Day 23)

Today was present wrapping day! Pretty much every present wrapped by Neen and myself was in red paper but I wrapped Neens in brown paper and twine yesterday...something a bit different and special! Here are a few photos!

This is a Christmas decoration Neen bought me in Monsoon yesterday while she was in town. It's extremely beautiful, the glossy finish in particular is stunning. Speaking of robins, the last day, when I was out back trying futilely to unblock the frozen pipe a little robin flew down and landed beside me. He chilled for a bit, seemingly unperturbed then flew off.  Right now we are chilling in the sitting room, just had hot chocolate and an apple crumble from the tart factory...yummy! Tomorrow's Christmas Eve...I cant wait!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

So So Cold (Day 22)

Countdown to Christmas (Day 22)

So so so cold -10 to -17 degrees in many places these past few days/nights. We Irish are used to rain, not snow and frost. Today I was due to go to the dentist for a teeth-clean, but received a call this morning from the receptionist saying all appointments were cancelled because the pipes and a number of instruments in the dental office were frozen. I wasn't looking forward to it at all so was suitably relieved. 

The house was icy this morning. So cold the cats went outside to warm up in the morning sun! Broadband wasn't working again, sink was still frozen but pipes were OK...so quite a relief! Given work was impossible I fed the pets, cleaned the house, cleaned the studio, wrapped a bunch of presents made the dinner and then relaxed with Neen. Most of my presents this year are being wrapped traditionally in brown paper and twine, I think it looks wonderful. I'll upload a photo tomorrow, (broadband permitting) In between the cleaning and wrapping Sora and I grabbed the camera, went outside and took some photos, she's such a snow bunny! I gotta say...I think I love frost more than snow....something breathtakingly beautiful about a frosty morning!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Broken Broadband and Bargain Buys (Day 21)

Countdown to Christmas (Day 21)

I bought the last few of my presents today! So so happy, Neen is always saying during the year that we should buy our presents early and I'm starting to agree! It's a 6-mile round trip in and out of town and I've made every single trip by foot over the last few weeks...I'm wrecked!

The broadband in the house and studio hasn't been working at all over the past few days. It flickers on and off occasionally but that's about it. I'm assuming the freezing cold weather has something to do with it, although our Broadband service is due to be phased out in the new year, I wouldn't be at all surprised if that's adding to the poor to non-existent quality of the connection. I've been writing these blog entries offline in the hope of uploading them at some stage over the week if the internet is active long enough to do a quick upload. If you're reading them it means I was successful if only briefly...

No luck trying to defrost the frozen kitchen pipe today. I cleared a few inches outside but the problem is too deep rooted. I tried a hair-dryer but no luck I'm worried If I use a more powerful heat source, such as an electric heater the pipes could expand and crack, so we'll just have to wait it out...I'm extremely great full we have running water at all. Not everyone is so lucky this winter so we cant complain about such a minor inconvenience.

Elveries Sports have a massive sale on football shirts at the moment. After much deliberation I decided to buy one, A 2010/11 Valencia CF Home kit, made by Kappa. It was €13.50 reduced from €60.00 a pretty good bargain, and I love Kappa as a sports manufacturer.

Monday, December 20, 2010

More Shopping and Frozen Sinks (Day 20)

Countdown to Christmas (Day 20)

Today the plan was to head into town for a couple of hours and pick up the last of our Christmas gifts. I nearly sorted everything but ran out of money. My bank has a pretty low maximum daily withdraw allowance and are pretty strict about it. I'll have to go back in again tomorrow morning and pick up the few things I couldnt today, no matter how we all try to cut back Christmas is getting pretty expensive here! 

It has been bitterly cold today. Thus far we have been lucky. We are in an old house but pretty much haven't experienced frozen or burst underground pipes yet. Our kitchen sink is unfortunately frozen, which is proving tiresome. The pipe which leads outside to the drain is frozen solid and has been since Saturday. This basically means we can poor water into the sink but have no way of draining it out. I've tried everything to defrost it, might take a hair dryer to it tomorrow. Hopefully I wont electrocute myself!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cozy Christmas Sunday (Day 19)

Countdown to Christmas (Day 19)

Neen and I, since our very first Christmas together have bought eachother a Christmas decoration. This year we opted to make eachother one instead. Today we stayed home, cranked up the heat and got comfy with the cats in the sitting room.

We watched a lot of Christmas movies today. To start RTE were showing two Sunday matinees back to back. 'Chasing Christmas' and 'Crazy for Christmas' Normally TV movies such as these aren't great but we really really enjoyed them, and were pleasently surprised. 'Crazy for Christmas' in particular rather impressively for a low-budget flick referenced 'Star Trek', 'Sesame Street' and 'A Charlie Brown Christmas.' Lolo my Godmother and cousin Mark dropped up for a visit and to pick up 4 Red and White Christmas hats Neen crocheted for them. 

For the evening we each worked on our respective gifts. Neen crocheted me a beautiful Nativity Scene. Mary Joseph and baby Jesus all wrapped up together. It is stunningly well designed and made and I really love it!
While creating we ordered Pizza and watched 'The Nativity Story'. Neens Crochet Nativy being very much inspired by the film. 'The Nativity Story' is pretty perfect and up there with Neens favorite films ever. We actually loved it so much we watched it twice. We highly highly recomend this simple classic!

For Neen I hand-sewed a Christmas Ball style decoration using some of the material Neen bought for me at the Knit and Stitch Show. The red ball has a matching red ribbon and on the reverse of the decoration a green pocket. In the pocket we are each going to write eachother a note and will not read said notes until Christmas morning next year. The plan is to continue the tradition every year.

Tonight while finalyzing the final details of our decorations we watched 'Holiday Inn' another classic before heading to bed happy after a festive day of creating together.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Dublin DeLoreans and Dangerous Weapons (Day 18)

Countdown to Christmas Day 18

Today Ant and I went to Dublin for the day. Ant had been to Dublin once or twice before but never actually had the chance to see and walk the city. We left Galway on the 9:45 GoBus. As we travelled from the West to East coast across the snow smoored midlands Ant and I chatted, joked, listened to music and snoozed. Dublin was especially busy and bitterly cold when we arrived just before 1. 

The first thing we did was walk up O'Connell Street so Ant could check out the Spire. We then walked along Henry St. window shopping as we went. We were under strict instructions from Neen to pick her up some tights in Evans so that was our first stop. Over the next hour or so Ant bought a present for Tuna who is still in Hospital, a couple of Christmas presents and I bought Neen a ball of wool from the The Woolen Mills. We then crossed the Liffey and went to Forbidden Planet a place I knew Ant would love. We looked around for an hour or so. Ant picked up a cool Predators comic book, another couple of Christmas gifts and I found something super cool! A 1:24 scale replica of the DeLoreon time machine from 'Back to the Future' I love these movies and as an Irishman I'm extremely proud that the DeLorean was an Irish car. I love the cars design and would love to see the DeLorean brand back in Car Show Rooms.

After FP we had some lunch then went as far as the Georges Street Arcade. I heard there was a cool Urban Wear shop Ant would have liked. Unfortunately it must have closed down as we couldn't find it, Ant instead spent a lot of time in a stall that sells old coins and military memorbilia. He found the collection really interesting and bought an old coin and medal.

Next we hit up HMV, then had a wander through St Stephens Green shopping Centre. Ant picked up a Russel Brant comedy DVD and and two more Christmas gifts. In one of the shops we spotted BB guns for sale, Ants eyes lit up, but he had selflessly spent all his money on Christmas presents, so I bought him one. He deserves it as he's a really mature responsible teenager and extremely trustworthy. The Irish have pretty strict laws concering the sale of and use of these toys and unlike their American counterparts shoot 6mm plastic balls, not metal and are pretty harmless if handled responsibly.

By now it was about 6 and we were getting pretty hungry so we walked back up Grafton Street and bought a couple of pizzas-to-go in Pizza Hut. The two of us found a spot adjacent to Trinity College in front of the fountain and hungrilly and happy ate our meal under the icy starry night sky. Our bus was at 8:15 but shops were starting to close by now so we headed back to Henry Street in search of a department store open late, we could kill some time in. Debenhams was luckily open til 9 so we wandered the store floor by floor completely uninterested by it's contents but having lots of fun regardless just chatting and joking around.

Soon it was time to head for the bus which luckily arrived and departed on time as temperatures were dropping fast. I really felt for the homeless of the city. I can't even imagine how hard it must be for those living on the streets of Dublin, especially during the cold winter months. At this stage in the 21st century I find it appalling that we still have citizens sleeping on the streets. It's unacceptable. For the most part the Dublin homeless community are completely ignored by passers by. People seem to be so accustomed by the sight of them they are no longer phased. Millions of Euro was spent in Dublin alone the day we visited. Ant and I gave what we could spare to the few people we encountered who seemed to genuinely need it. But most others just walked right past seemingly uninterested and unwilling. I realize many argue that giving money to a homeless person merely fuels the problem. And that there life style is partially by choice but I dont consider it that clear cut. I will always give what I can spare, and pray I never become so hardened by the world that I stop 'seeing' these people who need our help more than anything.

Ant and I arrived in Galway shortly after 11 at the end of a long tiring but super fun day. Ant headed home in a cab and I walked the last few miles home. I was freezing, tired, laden with heavy bags but how could I complain? I had a warm bed waiting for me. A bed I am extremely grateful for.... Merry Christmas one and all!

Poor Tuna (Day 17)

Countdown to Christmas Day 17

Today was a blisteringly cold one. The snow and frost are back and I for one am delighted. Granted inclement weather such as this leads to poor driving conditions but one can't argue with the happiness and joy a white Christmas brings. We had bad news today. Neen's little sister Tuna had to be brought to the hospital this morning, with assumed Appendicitis. If the initial diagnosis proves accurate she is expected to under go key-hole surgery in the next 24 hours and should be home for Christmas. We visited her tonight in the hospital and she is proving exceptionally brave, her only complaint being boredom. The television in her room is minuscule, only has four channels and no remote. There is pretty much nothing on, suitable for a 12 year old child. Ant joked that prisoners in the Irish prisons have more channels available to them than patients in public hospitals. The four of us had a lot of fun for the few hours Neen Ant and I were there. We bought Tuna a small 'Ocean in My Pocket' toy  and had a lot of fun playing with that. 

We made the most of what we had and included of all things, Tunas Sony MP3 player in the game. I gave him an English Accent, (London Cabby'ish) The nights playing saw the MP3 player giving off about iPods and touch screen devices, falling for the very attractive Nurse-call remote, and reacting rather humourously to the family of turtles who Tuna was making bark, meow and moo! simple fun but we were all in stitches laughing.

Neen got most of her Christmas shopping done in a blisteringly quick 3 hours or so this evening...I was very impressed. Even more impressive is she had her God-Child in tow during the seasonal shop. I sorted a few more of my gifts but have a couple left to payoff, pick up and choose Monday. 

The snow was beautiful as we walked up our moonlit hill tonight so I grabbed the camera and took a few snaps! (Warning this is taken in natural moonlight, so it's quite dark)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hand Painted Ornaments (Day 16)

Countdown to Christmas Day 16

These are two small hand-made Christmas ornaments I bought for the tree this year. They were made by Nuns in a convent in Russia, who have a stall in this years Galway Continental Christmas Market. I really love 'em. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Love Actually and The Santa Clause (Day 15)

Countdown to Christmas Day 15

Date Night! Neen and I are watching 'Love Actually' and 'The Santa Clause' tonight...Really Looking forward to it!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Letters From Father Christmas (Day 14)

Countdown to Christmas Day 14

This book is amazing! It arrived in the post just this morning...."Every December an envelope bearing a stamp from the North Pole would arrive for J.R.R. Tolkien's children. Inside would be a letter in strange spidery writing and a beautiful colour drawing. They were from Father Christmas, telling them wonderful tales from the North Pole...." This book collects all the letters and pictures in one enchanting volume.

Monday, December 13, 2010

You'll shoot your eye out! (Day 13)

Countdown to Christmas Day 13

We watched my absolute favorite Christmas movie tonight, 'A Christmas Story' The 1983 classic set in 1940's America is one of the best Christmas memories from my childhood. We used to watch it every year and it's a tradition I still keep. Directed by Bob Clarke and based upon the book of short stories 'In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash' by  Jean Shepherd 'A Christmas Story' is about Ralphie, a nine year old boy with only one thing on his Christmas list: A Red Ryder Carbon-Action 200 Shot Air Rifle! With his parents unwilling to buy him a BB gun because he might "shoot his eye out" Ralphie decides to mount a full scale, hint-dropping, Santa-begging campaign.

We also watched this! Dr. Seuss' 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas', the Chuck Jones animated special from 1966. It is a true classic and in my opinion one of the few movie adaptions that manages to equal the magic of the book from which it stems!

"Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville - did not. The Grinch hated Christmas - the whole Christmas season. Now, please don't ask why; no one quite knows the reason. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. Or it could be that his head wasn't screwed on just right. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small...."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Jingle Bells and Christmas Mittens (Day 12)

Countdown to Christmas Day 12

I got the notion early this week, I'm not exactly sure where from that I wanted to buy Christmas bells. I wanted to attach them to my coat or bag so that when I walked through town, or to the shop that the bells would merrily jingle and make people smile, most importantly children. I had to make a couple trips to town this week, delivering artwork to clients and also picking up Neen's new spectacles but on both occasions couldn't find one. Eventually I did find a bell,...In fact I found a pack of three!, so Neen has one one her bag, and I have one on mine. Neen kept the bow on hers but I removed mine as I just wanted the two bells on their own. (To see my wife Neens Christmas bells click here)

Everywhere I go people prick an ear or look up curiously expecting to see Santa or one of his elves. It seems such a simple way to partake in and spread Christmas cheer.

I never ended up finding those Christmas mittens I was looking for so my talented wife made me a pair. We went to Pippa Blue in Galway to pick out some wool last week. On asking how much yarn we would need she replied, just pick two ball in any colour you want. I couldn't decide between grey and turquoise so we opted to just make one in each! I often wear odd socks so why not odd mittens! : ) I love 'em and they fit perfectly!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fun Festive Friday (Day 11)

Countdown to Christmas Day 11

As per usual Neens brother and sister, Ant and Tuna stayed at our house last night. After doing the weekly shop and having some dinner we got out the craft box and some paper and pencils and made some hand-made Christmas ornaments. What I like about our rather eclectic collection is each of us very much created something in our own unique style and taste. 

To start, Tuna made a Christmas hat for the tree in pink and red, my favorite bit which actually isn't visible is  on the inside of the hat. Before she went with the polka-dot snow theme, she drew a very cool Santa hat on the reverse of the page.

Ant created red boxing gloves à la Mr T. They read "Merry Christmas Fool" which I thought was pretty darn funny! : )

Neen created a very beautiful paper and crochet bulb style ornament in a dark shade of rouge.

Finally I created a miniature Christmas book. It consists of a small red book with creme pages, dust jacket  in green and a red bookmark. I intentionally left the cover and internal pages blank. I wanted it to be left open to the individual interpretation of each viewer. Maybe it's 'A Christmas Carol" "The Night Before Christmas, the Bible, or a Christmas Carol song book...who knows.

Next up, what Tuna had been eagerly waiting for! We played Lego Creationary! This is a super family game! so much fun and never ever gets old.  It is a perfect gift for young and old and every single house should have one! If interested it can be ordered here from the Lego.com website! Last night, exceptional models that stood out were Ants football stadium, Neen's graveyard and Tunas Ambulance. The strict set of pieces available is great as it makes one really have to work hard and think through the best way to make any given picture.

Before Tuna went to bed they got out the big o'l box of Lego and got buildin' This time free style and just for fun! The night-time build saw the creation of a tropical Island with two teams of competing ship-wrecked survivors. Here's the twist, they were secretly being filmed as part of a reality TV show!....All this magic and hours of creativity made possible by a few hundred simple pieces of coloured plastic...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Toys for Tubs (Day 10)

Countdown to Christmas Day 10

'Toys for Tubs' is a national toy-drive being hosted by Irish radio and television presenter Ryan Tubridy. They are collecting NEW and UNWRAPPED toys and vouchers for less privileged families this Christmas. It's a great cause and I absolutely encourage everyone to get involved if they can over the last couple of days.

Today, I bought a couple of Lego sets in Tesco and Ant and Tuna donated them at the local dropoff point. Just something small but hopefully will help make a special kids Christmas that much brighter. There were a lot of sets to choose from, but I chose a couple that looked cool and would suit a boy aged 7 up!
Closing date for donations is I think, this Sunday...for more info you can check the website here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Advent Calender (Day 9)

Countdown to Christmas Day 9

Lego Advent Calenders are in my opinion the greatest Christmas treat any house could have. With Christmas anticipation is key and I cant think of a better way for kids to count down the days to Christmas morning. I would have loved one as a child, and can't wait for my wife and I to have children of our own to be able to share the tradition with. We actually have this years Lego calender, we've bought one for the past couple of years too just for fun! It's such a super idea and I can't recommend them enough. If you have kids go to your local store and get one...if you don't have kids get one anyway... 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Discovered Marshmallows! (Day 8)

Countdown to Christmas Day 8

I used to really hate marshmallows....maybe hate's not the right word. I guess I just didn't find them an all to necessary condiment, especially in relation to hot chocolate. To me hot chocolate was nice enough with out it. Well a couple weeks back while the kids were up watching the Toy Show, I made hot chocolate for us. Everyone was having marshmallows in theirs so as not to be a scrooge I popped a couple into mine too. "Why not I thought...sure it's Christmas!" Boy was I glad I did, nicest mug of hot chocolate ever!! I am a definite convert! 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Away in a Manger (Day 7)

Countdown to Christmas Day 7

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.....That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown"

This is my favorite Christmas decoration, a wind up music Charlie Brown Nativity. It was made by Hallmark and I've had it for years. It's pretty small a fact that makes it all the more impressive...It plays the song "Away in a Manger"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Inventing Christmas (Day 6)

Countdown to Christmas Day 6

I re-read this book tonight, 'Inventing Christmas' by Jock Elliott. A very good friend Padraig gave it to me a few years back as a Christmas present while we were in college together. The book uncovers the origins of Christmas as a holiday and outlines the various traditions we love and celebrate. Traditions such as the Christmas Tree, Christmas Carols, Christmas Cards, Santa Claus Gift-Giving etc It is a hugely interesting and insightful read. Jock Elliott did a superlative job weaving back and forth through history and every piece featured in the book is from his own personal collection.

After reading it tonight I had high hopes of writing Mr Elliott a letter, to compliment the book, but unfortunately discovered he passed away in 2005.

It's out of print and not any easy book to find, but if you ever spot it while rummaging through your local second hand book shop, or will perusing the library shelves make sure to check it out!

Happy Saint Nicholas Day (December 6th)

by: Mary Kurnick Maass

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bad Day...Good Book! (Day 5)

Countdown to Christmas Day 5

Today was a pretty crappy day, Christmas spirit didn't come so easily. I woke up this morning after a nights worth of really bad dreams, the memory of which still makes me shudder...

I had plans to do some drawing this morning but instead took the opportunity to do a deep clean of the terrapin tank. I clean out the filter every week and replenish the water nearly daily but a deep-clean was well over due. It has been so cold the past couple of weeks I haven't wanted to take the chance having the turtles out of there warm tank for the 3+ hours it can take sometimes to remove and individually clean all the elements.

The Christmas lights on the tree stopped working too. I checked the individual bulbs and eventually remedied the problem...two hours later the Christmas lights blew out again, this time unfortunately for good. They were the really beautiful and colourful new set we had too. I very slowly had to unwind them from our tree. It took ages as I always put the lights on first, so all the decorations, tinsel etc were basically layered on top. I replaced the faulty lights with a much smaller set, which I've owned for years. In college I used to stick 'em on my animation desk every Christmas. They also lit up myself and Neens very first Christmas tree years ago. For the past couple of years they have been on Neens little pink Christmas tree in the dining room. (Technically the terrapins now consider it's their tree as it resides next to the tank.)

Worst of all Neen wasn't well at all today. She is going to the doctor tomorrow, so I hope they can give her something to get her back to her normal self. I walked into town this afternoon to stock up on some supplies to help boost her immune system a bit, Multi vitamins, Vitamine C and Zinc capsules, Paracetamol etc...but there is only so much they can do...I hope she feels better soon!

To cheer myself up this evening I grabbed this book from the studio shelf and took 5 minutes to relax...'Santasaurus' published by Walker Books and written and illustrated by the very talented Niamh Sharkey. I'm quite proud to say my copy of 'Santasaurus' is signed by Niamh herself. We met during this years Baboró festival, she too had an exhibition and was meeting school groups during last Octobers festival. 'Santasaurus' is a perfect Christmas read for young and old and can be purchased online here!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Santa Cats and Paper Lanterns (Day 4)

Countdown to Christmas Day 4

We bought Santa themed cat costumes for the cats today. Hope wasn't too fond of hers and bolted shortly after we took this shot but Sora the Christmas Kitty seems to like hers a lot and is still wearing it, hours later. We only got them for fun, with the hope of getting a nice photo or two of them wearing 'em...they were super cheap and a bit of Christmas fun!

In the Galway Fair Trade Shop we found this tiny Christmas tree decoration. A dark skinned Santa Claus which was a really nice surprise as it's not the norm in western society to see such a cross cultural depiction of Ol' Saint Nick. I really love it!

Finally, before going home we headed out to Nina's parents house in Renmore, We brought with us a Chinese Paper Lantern to release with the kids. It turned out to be quite large, and once released flew really high and traveled miles out to sea before disappearing into the dark abyss of the frosty night sky. We all made a special wish, and everyone, Tuna especially seemed to really enjoy it. If we can track down a second lantern we will release another on Christmas eve, maybe with some special Christmas messages attached...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fortress of Solitude, Turkey for Christmas (Day 3)

Countdown to Christmas Day 3

The sun came out today after a week of frost and snow and as the rays peeked over the house and slowly crawled into the back garden I found Hope basking in the heat. If her jocund expression makes her appear 10 foot tall, she literally was. In this shot she is sitting on an old dilapidated garden shed. It's her fortress of solitude so to speak. Whenever she feels ill, tired, or moody, rain, hail or shine this is where she goes.

Tonight was Neen's Work Christmas Party, so I had the house to myself for a few hours.  When I wrapped up in the studio I made a snack, grabbed some books, turned on all the Christmas lights and made myself comfy in the sitting room. I had some Christmas music playing lightly in the background, Hope purring like a lawnmower on my lap and a good book to read...

The book in question was 'Turkey for Christmas' by Marguerite De Angeli written in 1944 it is the semi-autobiographical account describing the Lofft family's first Christmas in Philadelphia after moving there in 1902. My copy is an ex -library book I bought in America over 15 years ago. This particular publication dates to 1968 and is a beautifully charming Christmas tale.

It's quite short at just under 50 pages, but I really enjoyed relaxing next to tree and reading it once again as per my yearly tradition.