Category Archives: research

California Dreaming

Last August, when I gave my first paper at an international Celtic conference, a great opportunity arose from it for me. I was invited by a professor to give a seminar in UCLA at another conference in March of this year. Of course, I accepted his offer on the spot! What a fabulous opportunity! The last few months have been spent writing and preparing for this and it was a nerve-wracking and stressful time. Hence, the absence from WordPress. My life was taken over by this. Thanks to my supportive husband, I was able to throw myself into the deepest depths of textual transmission and stemmatics (huh?!). There were many a late night spent in the 24 hour postgraduate reading-room in university and coffee and sugary sweets were a staple. There were many a time when I felt like throwing in the towel and trusting my own work and lacking confidence in my ability to present my work. But my supervisor and my husband were very supportive and egged me on! The hard work paid off  and I pulled it together in time. The seminar was successful and I had positive feedback. Unfortunately, I did not get to see any sights and sounds of Los Angeles as I was only there for three days. But UCLA is a great campus and I loved being there. Here are some photographs.

20120401-215248.jpg

Westwood Boulevard

20120401-215318.jpg

20120401-215350.jpg

20120401-215412.jpg

The iconic building Royce Hall, UCLA, this is where the conference was held!

20120401-215436.jpg

Royce Hall's Italian Romanesque style made it feel European!

20120401-215548.jpg

The reception for the conference was held on the balcony which faces Powell Library

LAX - Next stop Rome, Italy!

After my whirlwind trip to LA, my next stop was Rome for a week-long workshop, but I’ll save that for another post :)

5 Comments

Filed under research

Up the airy mountain, down the fairy glen …

Fairy ring in Deer Park, Dublin, with Dublin Mountains in the background.

I went a walking and came across a fairy ring! The title of this post is from the first line of a poem written by William Allingham, which we had to learn in school.

On my way to work today, while passing through Deer Park, I came across a fairy ring. I have not seen one in a long time. I am aware of the fact that these rings occur as a result of a naturally occurring phenomenon, but there is still an aura of mysticism about them which makes me almost nostalgic for an era that is coming to an end in Ireland. Well, in the cities anyway. Nowadays, we cityfolk are all too busy to notice nature around us and are too easily distracted by work, deadlines, finances etc. However, in rural Ireland, fairy folklore is still rife.  

When I was young, there was a field behind my house in which there was a fairy fort.  Of course now, there is a housing estate built on top of it. The myth was that if one put a bottle of milk into the centre of the fort and left it there overnight, the milk would be rancid the next morning. We never played inside the fort for fear of being kidnapped by the fairies or ill-luck befalling us!

The Fairy Ring by George Cruikshank

The belief was that fairy rings were created by fairies dancing at night. The ground within the ring was considered dangerous. It was not thought  a wise decision to build upon this land. There are tales in Ireland of roads being re-routed to avoid building upon a fairy fort. Ireland is strewn with ancient structures such as these forts, megalithic tombs,  hawthorn trees etc. and the common belief was that it was best not to destroy them as the fairies would curse those who disturbed them.

What always disturbed me were the folktales which related how fairies would kidnap children in the middle of the night and replace that child with a fairy look-alike.  Irish literature is full of these incidents. William Butler Yeats writes in The Stolen Child:

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Instagram photo of the fairy ring with gloomy trees

However, on a  more uplifting note, I also came across snowdrops, which herald the true beginning of Spring.  I love the way the drooping flower looks like a lamb bowing its head!

Galanthus ‘snowdrop’
 
 
 
 
 

5 Comments

Filed under photography, research

What deadline?!

I am due to present my first research paper in just under three weeks to a potential audience of 100 people. Among those attending could be some of the leading academics in my field. So, no pressure! Although I am nearly ready with my paper, there have been prolonged bouts of procrastination! You’d think I would have learned by now, at this stage of my academic life, but sadly not. I remember many a late night spent panicking, trying to throw together an essay or cramming for an exam. Even though I have put many hours into this paper, there have been days and nights when it has been difficult to focus and I thought that I would never reach my deadline.

Here are my top things I do when procrastinating:

  1. Make copious photocopies of periodical articles and highlight paragraphs in said articles until look like they have been assaulted by a five-year old with a highlighter pen.
  2. Organise notes and articles. Do a general clean up of thesis papers from the last two years. This includes files on the hard-drive.
  3. Wander aimlessly through the university library, browsing through books. Perhaps have a little snooze on a comfy couch, if another procrastinator has already stolen a spot. This usually kills a few hours.
  4.  Write a blog. Check site stats. Check site stats. Check site stats.

    I am sure this does not just apply to me!

  5. Go on Facebook and press the refresh button every five minutes, almost willing people to upload photographs!
  6. Spend time with the children because I feel guilty they are going to forget who I am if I am not at home.
  7. Bake, cook, garden. Take photographs of it all and post a blog on WordPress.
  8. Clean the crap of the bookshelf which acts as our repository for bills, important letters etc. which has accumulated for three months. It’s not like it cannot wait another few weeks, right?
  9. Clean the walls and skirting boards. Somehow procrastination makes me see all the streaks, dust and dirt in the house and I MUST clean it.
  10. Go to bed. I blame this partly on my children waking me at 6am every morning. So my excuse is that my brain does not function past 9pm.

My research desk - note a WordPress blog on the computer!

Then the guilt overwhelms me, the panic sets in and I throw myself into it. Back to reality…

What do you do to waste time when you should be doing something important?

10 Comments

Filed under research

The sloth and the snail.

Today started off at 5.20 am with Olwyn crying to get up due to those troublesome canines bothering her. They have bothered her now for near on three months and they are still a no-show! Poor thing. Olwyn goes around with her fingers permanently stuck in her mouth and leaves puddles of saliva in her trail. Anyway, I settled Olwyn and put her back to bed at 6am. I hopped back into bed and fell  into my slumber only to be woken by the bright-eyed Seren sitting beside me at 6.20 am, proudly announcing “I had a really nice dream! It was about lions!”.

Needless to say,  my good intentions in writing my research paper today were not fulfilled. There was a major dose of fatigue today! It is seven weeks until I give my first “professional” paper. The attendance to the week-long conference is in excess of 500 people. Gulp! No pressure. However, I was no closer to a finished product today than I was a week ago. The thoughts of sitting down and poring over books seemed torturous. I had to give a tutorial in the early afternoon though so I had no choice but to go into the office.

To add to that, it was actually a beautiful sunny day and all I wanted to do was stay home with the family and enjoy the garden. I called it quits after the tutorial and headed home. Alas, the sun was now hiding (Murphy’s Law) but we still got to enjoy the garden. Seren and Olwyn found a little snail and were intrigued at this little creature, who carried his house on his back. We sat on the bench in the reappearing sun for about ten minutes marvelling over the snail, touching his tentacles, watching him crawl. It was the moment of the day! I am so happy to have witnessed this.

Meet Sammy the Snail

Sammy snail is never worried

2 Comments

Filed under Family, Motherhood, research

Food for thought…

Flavour thesaurus

 

The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit, Bloomsbury, London, 2010

I got this book for Christmas as a gift and I think I have a crush on it. I secretly get butterflies in my tummy when it is time for bed because I get so excited at the prospect of reading about mad flavour combinations. The only problem is I usually get hungry at the thought of all this good food and end up having dreams about asparagus or something.

This book is great for the amateur who is afraid to break free from recipe books and trust their own instincts. However, it is also brilliant for those who have an appreciation for food, like me. In my opinion, this is just a good read let alone a wealth of knowledge about the food world.

The author, Niki Segnit, has a good sense of humour and is not afraid to say if something sounds disgusting if she finds something so. Although in her introduction Segnit does state that everyone’s taste buds differ and that your cultural background also determines to an extent how you sense and describe flavour. I thought this to be very perceptive of her as a writer catering to a wide audience. This is reflected in the selection of recipes and foods in Segnit’s book. They vary from American to Chinese, to Japanese, to French etc. Segnit makes the book accessible for those who may not be master chefs and familiar with the lingo of the kitchen. She also gives recipes of her own. But she does not shy away from recipes of renowned chefs, such as Nigel Slater, Ken Hom, Antonio Carluccio and Nigella Lawson, either.

The book is informative and gives the history of certain foods e.g. how the bulking out of chocolate with ground hazelnuts eventually led to the invention of Nutella. Each food is given an introduction which gives a general description of its appearance or taste, titbits of history and how to prepare it. Included in the rear of the book, as well as a general index, is a pairings index, which I have found most helpful to glance through, when I am looking for some quick inspiration.

What have I learnt from this book? Trust your instincts (and taste buds) and don’t be afraid to experiment with flavours.

5 Comments

Filed under food, Recipes, research

Whispers

I work in a most amazing place that is steeped in history. It is a house that has been standing for two centuries and has seen people from all corners of life walk through its doors.  I feel like I walk among ghosts when I wander through the endless warren of corridors. In its youth, this mansion was full of grandeur, entertaining the wealthy and beautiful lords and ladies of Dublin in the early 1800’s. The architecture suggests affluence and the grounds are extensive. There is a walled-in Victorian garden at the end of the property where a curvilinear glasshouse still stands. It is my dream to have this restored to its former glory. I think it dates back to before 1850.  There are magnificent views of Dublin Bay. The grounds outside the estate were popular with the gentry of that time for hunting. This is a sketch of the house, dated 1867. The original house can be seen on the right hand side. It had a massive conservatory which housed many exotic plants, but sadly no longer stands there today. A viewing tower was constructed as one of the lords who occupied the house was in love with the scenic views. 

In 1863, a religious order took ownership and it became a school and convent. The nuns constructed the left-wing, which was attached to the original house. The following  photograph is of one of the ladies who attended the boarding school, taken c. 1870. The school was originally a poor-school but it soon became popular with the higher classes in society as the quality of education given by the nuns was excellent. It was not long before the daughters of the rich began attending. This is evident from the school registers which record the addresses of pupils at that time.

The voices of the nuns are now also but a whisper, just as the  occupants before them.  The nuns have moved out of the convent since 2007 as the house was too big for them to manage. They are a dying breed unfortunately. Many of them are quite elderly now. The school has taken over the use of the convent, holding lectures and meetings there. The house still preserves the smell of history and the shadows of eras gone by.

3 Comments

Filed under research

Academic Anomoly

An anomoly can be described as something unique that goes against the grain, diverges from the established norm, breaks rules and trends. The pattern in academic life goes as thus: gain a degree; then a master’s; embark on a doctoral; followed by a post-doctoral and hopefully gain a tenure in your field in university. Sigh! I guess this normally takes approximately 10 years or less.

I have come across plenty of people who have been successful at this and are still in their early thirties. Well, I am an academic anomoly. Why? Well, I fell into academia later in life than the norm. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so I partied instead.  My aim was to get a degree. This was achieved in 2006. But here I am in 2011 and I am doing my PhD.

I look on jealously at those postgraduate students in the Reading Room who can devote hours and days on end to their research. They are at liberty to pour over books until the small hours of the morning. Yet, I struggle to keep my eyes open past ten o’clock in the evening. After dinner, playing, pyjamas and mental mind games to convince a 3 year old it is time for bed, my brain is jelly and the last thing I can decipher is the uses of the subjunctive forms in Old Irish.  These students don’t know how lucky they are.

Then there are those who are fortunate enough to have gained funding and scholarships to aid them in their research. Far be it that they have to worry about where the money is going to come from to pay the fees. Oh sure, the part-time job helps to pay for drinks, food and rent. But here I am cowering in worry as to how I am going to come up with the funds to pay for another 2 years on the research register and at the same time pay for 2 adults and 2 children to survive in the capital city. Is it a selfish act and should I join the real world? I guess most would say yes. I should put children first.

On a totally superficial level, I arrive into university everyday and enter a fashion parade. All these young hipsters have so much time (and grant money) to dedicate to their wardrobes and appearances. Everyone trying to out do the other in an effort to appear unique, when really what happens is that they all look alike. I get up in the morning and blindly gather some clothes and throw them on before dressing the kids. As for putting on make-up and doing my hair, forget it. A pony-tail is suffice. So I arrive in a fluster after cycling in and I realise my bra is on inside out or my top is on backwards!

At the end of the week between work, teaching and family commitments I have probably done about three hours productive research. Sometimes I feel like I am spitting in the ocean when I think about the vast amount of work I have to do still. Frequently, I lack confidence in my capability of completing this doctorate. Then there is a glimmer of hope and I see myself in the cape, graduating and sighing in relief. This is what I hold on to and I know deep down that I will achieve what I have set out to do, even in the face of all these adversities.

4 Comments

Filed under research