Stop! Look Left!

First stop 15km from Fougères

It takes a while to transition to this different way of living. To any different way of living. We’ve all had that experience over the past two years. It’s a bit different if it’s forced on you, through ill health, pandemic, war. We choose this different way of living and we packed for it and we looked forward to it and still we were dazed and stunned by it in the first few days. Then we did something we’ve never done before… we stopped, we rearranged, we walked and talked, we drank a little coffee and then we made a tiny little plan.

Yum! The bakery opens at 6.30am every day (except Lundi!)

We had landed in France at 4pm on Friday and started driving south/west towards Portugal. We were on our way to a town called Saint-Brice-en-Cogles which is north of the city of Rennes. It’s a Village Étape. These are villages near the motorways that are nice places to stop for a break, a meal, to shop or to stay over. You can see signs for them on the motorway showing the junction nearest to them. We have always liked them as unlike a lot of French towns and villages the village étape will always have a cafe/restaurant serving food and there will be plenty of parking nearby. We found the restaurant and got a delicious chicken, mushroom and wholegrain mustard pizza to takeaway. And went to bed.

Ice on the windscreen

Next morning we woke to sunshine and freezing temperatures. There was ice on the windscreen. And Denis had forgotten to bring his coat. I had brought so many books they were spilling out on the floor every time we rounded a corner. The water tank had leaked all our water overnight due to a safety “feature” (does frozen water in the pipes really need to be avoided? Yes, seemingly.) Our carbon monoxide alarm had disappeared. We also needed to buy supplies for dinner. Plus the quality of our internet connection, so far, was intermittent which was a worry as Denis need to connect with work. It was a lot for a first day.

When we started travelling one of the things that worried me most was crossing the road. How could that worry me, I learned to cross the road as a child, I’m good at it, I know how to do it right. Right? No, not in France. It’s all to do with thinking I’m right. Crossing the road is a skill we learned as children. Just look both ways and cross when the road is clear or when there’s enough distance between you and the car to walk to safety. Right?


Wait! There’s a small important first step that we miss if we’re crossing the road in France and every other country where they drive on the right. Look Left! The cars will be coming from the left. Sure, I know this is simple. Sure, I know that you will look left…eventually. But, we believe the cars and trucks nearest to us will be coming from the right so we automatically begin walking BEFORE we get around to looking left (and spotted the car zooming towards us.) Trust me this is a worry! And it’s nothing to do with crossing the road.

I know it’s not the biggest worry, it’s small but it always reminds me that I am missing lots of other things when I think I’m right. When I believe what I learned a long time ago (or even just last week) is still true. Things change fast but we can cope if we stop and just notice… and then move on.

They sell carbon monoxide alarms here!

Our tiny plan was to search on google maps for a Decathlon – for Denis’ coat, a supermarket – for dinner, a petrol station – for diesel, a hardware shop – for the carbon monoxide alarm, a campsite – for water, laundry and a place to empty the toilet and wifi. Doing all these things is easy when you know where they are and how to get there. But what is true right now is that everything takes longer and some supermarkets have barriers that we can’t fit under and some automatic petrol stations won’t accept our credit cards and some campsites have terrible wifi.

When we just notice what is true now and work with that, rather than assuming we are doing something wrong, most things become less stressful.

…what is true right now?

Slow Down Packs

The Slow Down Packs

So… the website Permission.Cards is live. I can tick that off the must do list and move it to the must improve list. I’m not great at focusing on one thing at a time so it might seem logical to believe that I would jump from one thing to the next easily. And I do. And in case you didn’t know, it doesn’t work very well. I get less done. I’ve had to teach myself to focus on one thing until I have gone as far as I can go with it and then move to the next thing and focus only on that until it’s time to stop and move on to the next thing. I’ve been working on this strategy for years but it is only in this last strange year that I have made progress. And again the cards are helping me.

The Permission to slow down one has been huge for me. I’m not sure what the rush was? For example I’ve been doing the bookkeeping for Denis for the last 13 years. For the first 12 years I hated it. Then last year somehow I realised there was no rush. I could slow down and do it right. Seems like common sense. But it was news to me. When there was a mistake in the past I was stressed and panicked! How was I going to solve this and what if I didn’t get everything finished in time?

We saw this on a beach at Skreen, Co. Sligo last August.

When I slowed down I could see there are always mistakes, I’m always making mistakes and so is everyone else (whether they realise it or not) it’s only human. But when I started slowing down I made less mistakes and my understanding of the process improved.

The Slow Down Packs

That’s one of the reasons I wanted to make a Slow Down pack. The other reason is I have a lot of friends and family who are run off their feet busy. I would love to know if intentionally slowing down is possible or even helpful for people who have a lot on their plates and live a very busy life. Or would it just put extra pressure on them?

What’s your thoughts? Mairead


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

(This is clematis and it is going to look beautiful soon… possibly)

New experiences continue here and we’re like children (nice children, not cranky children…) as we discover different ways to be in the world together. Denis has returned to the fold and we welcomed him with open mouths as he is cooking again. I can hear him chopping while I type – there isn’t a nicer sound.

(You think you’re missing your hairdresser? Sadie is so concerned she needs Denis to reassure her that Eilish isn’t going to stab her)

Our latest endeavor has kind of snuck up on us. Like everyone else I’ve been doing a bit of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle for years but now I realise I was only playing at it! HaHa, Ha, I laugh in the face of my previous efforts. Here’s what’s happening…

(You can’t eat yarn…)

Yesterday Eilish came in to measure my head. Oh yes, I’ve forgotten to tell you why but first… she arrives over with her knitting, her needles and yarn in a bag. I thought I recognised the bag… And then I thought I’d wet myself with the laughing. You’ll never guess what the bag was? No don’t try, you won’t guess. It was a Tesco Finest Oatmeal and Linseed Loaf bag… (our favourite bread, that we can’t get any more by the way…) Inside you could see the yarn peeping through. Now this is more like it, now we can honestly say we are, REUSING our plastic. Also, every time I look at the bag I remember with affection the bread, oh how we loved you, Tesco Finest Oatmeal and Linseed Loaf, sniff.

(Here are our potatoes, can you see anything? No, me neither but soon…)

So back to the knitting and my head measurements… We are getting all our groceries from click and collect so someone else does our shopping (thank you ❤) and I collect it in the car park of the supermarket. It works well for groceries. Not so well for hairbands. My hair is growing and it’s getting in my face and I find myself swearing and flailing my arms all around the place when I realise I’m about to touch my face to get the stray hairs back. So I thought, wouldn’t a hairband be very useful? And there was a hairband on the supermarket website shop, perfect, right? Alas, no. When the delivery came the hairband was in the Not Available list. 😟 Eilish could see more swearing and flailing in her future so she offered to rip some of my crochet squares ( I have sensed for a long time that she didn’t like my crochet…?) and use the yarn to make a hairband. RECYCLING!

(Hairband doing its job, send Eilish your head measurements if you want one we have 6 stamps left and loads of crochet squares… we’ll happily send you one (free, we’re just having fun here) and then you’ll be recycling too…😁)

We were talking about opening up a website shop because she’s already on the second hairband and I only have one head. But then we realised if the shop was successful we’d never have time to go out in the garden… I can probably wear more than one hairband at a time.

(My favourite gardening tool at the moment, fantastic for management of strong emotions… I hear)

I wish I had a story about how we are REDUCE -ing but with all the baking we’ve been doing nothing’s getting reduced except the contents of the bag of flour. That reminds me… Eilish was telling me that during the war years people used to sew flour bags together to make bed sheets. Yes, I did wonder how comfortable paper sheets could be… turns out the flour bags were made of cotton… oh right.

May you be well, Mairead.

Old woman, Old man, Woods – Story


(Patterns… cabbage)

I was watching an art video on YouTube today and it reminded me (long story) that sometimes what other people hear in their heads isn’t what we thought we said. Many years ago I attended a course where one of the things we learned was how to listen to what was being said underneath the words that were being spoken. Anyway, I’m not sure I can explain it a few sentences (or maybe in many) and I’m not sure you want to read it so here’s a compromise, a short story….


(Patterns… Giants Causeway)

So… once upon a time there was an old woman. She lived in the woods, in a little stone cottage. She had been hurt in love when she was very young and went to live alone in the forest to make sure she didn’t get hurt again. She lived very simply and mostly she was content. Just sometimes she would have loved to have some company. Especially in the evening by the fire as she thought about her day or her week or her life in general.


(Patterns… garden seat)

Also at this once upon a time, time there was an old man who lived in the same forest, but a good distance away. He was a carpenter and loved being a carpenter and when he got older he saw no reason to stop being a carpenter so he continued to make things from wood in his workshop, in the shed. He had been happily married for years but three years ago his wife died. He missed her and talked to her most days as he worked.


(Patterns…  Altamont Gardens near Bunclody)

One day the old woman was going for a walk in the woods, she had a lot on her mind, took a wrong turn and ended up outside the old man’s workshop. It was a moment before she realised there was someone in the shed and the old man didn’t see her at all. So she remained silent and watched as he worked. And she thought, He must have been hurt too, poor man, he looks so sad. As if he heard her the old man suddenly looked up and said, Hello there, lovely day, isn’t it? Before she could reply, the old woman thought, Poor fellow, he’s trying to put a brave face on it, I’ll try to cheer him up.


(Patterns… Christmas snow and clothes pegs in Leeds)

Anyway, they got into conversation (as you do in these situations) and chatted away for about twenty minutes until (as happens in these situations) one or other of them made a move to carry on with their day. As the old woman walked back to her cottage, she thought, That poor man, it’s so sad. And back at the workshop the old man was telling his dead wife all about the lovely cheerful woman he had just met.


(Patterns… cobblestones in Hungary)

Sometimes I think we hear only what we know must be true, Mairead.


Be careful with the lettuce….

Hands 2

(Perfect Hands… Granny and grandchild)

I will be giving a talk in Dublin on Tuesday night and one of the sections is about being unique. I was thinking… we’ve heard it all before…. each person is unique. From our finger prints to our retinas to our heartbeats, we’re all different. We even look different. Of course we know this already, it’s normal, ordinary… and so it’s lost. Uniqueness needs to be connected to our everyday life. When I look in the mirror I don’t think about my particular eyes being the only eyes exactly like them on the planet. I’m more interested in what I’m wearing (do my clothes fit in?) How I look? (do I look normal?) Is my hair brushed? (will people think I’m a homeless bum?) Is there lettuce in my teeth? When I look at my hands I don’t notice the intricate patterns that are mine alone.

Hands 3

(Perfect Hands… Aunt and Niece)

We watched a movie the other night about the guy who created the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. He realised that fingerprints would be a great way to identify law breakers. Before that it was only possible to identify criminals or potential criminals from their photograph and if they were seen in the act of law breaking. But fingerprints are left behind after the person has gone and fingerprints are unique.

Hands 5

(Perfect Hands… artist)

Why would any of us worry about being as good as or as smart as or as pretty as or as successful as anyone else? Do we ever wonder if our fingerprints are “good” fingerprints. Are they smart fingerprints? Are they pretty? Are they successful as fingerprints? Yes, yes, yes, they are perfect fingerprints and only because they are ours. They would not be perfect glued onto anyone else…. they would be counterfeit. Fraud.


(Perfect Hands…. another artist)

So, as I look in the mirror this morning I will be brushing my hair and extracting lettuce but mainly I’ll be looking for what makes me different; what makes me unique; what makes me a perfect specimen of me. And it’s not just the stuff on the outside that’s unique, it’s a combination of everything about me. A combination of all the things I love, all the things I like, all the things I hate, the way I relax, the way I cry, the way I get mad, the stories that inspire me. Every little thing about me bundled all together is unique and is a perfect me.

Seriously, is there lettuce in my teeth? Mairead.

Little Signs of Creative Misery.


(Busy insect in Mount Usher gardens last week)

I’m immersing myself in creative things. Making and doing but also reading about the creative process and watching movies about creative people. And everywhere I turn I see more articles or books or movies about creativity. It’s almost like there’s a catalog of creative information following me around, showing me more and more. But why would it be following me around?


(View from the gazebo)

Maybe it’s true that when we decide we want something, everything around us conspires to give it to us? Conspires to show us it is possible (to have this thing we want) at every turn? To tell us there is a way and the way is not as difficult as we think? To pull us out of our habits and our normal thinking? Maybe we are too stubborn to notice? Too happy in difficult, troubled, heavy work? Too content in awful life? If I can just ignore the little signs, then I can continue to be content in misery. Ah, lovely misery!


(A place to rest?)

The Little Signs…. the project we can’t find time to do. The book we can’t find time to write. The painting we can’t find time to paint. The quilt we can’t find time to sew. The holiday we can’t find time to take. The blog we can’t find time to write. The photograph we can’t find time to capture.  When we wish we could do something but just don’t have the time to do it… it’s a sign. In fact, in general when I wish, it’s a sign. The signs draw me in, a reminder of joy, but if I just can’t pull myself away from the luxury of misery…..

Time to take a break from misery, Mairead.

Look! It’s the break light!


(Graffiti in cafe toilet – I didn’t write it)

I’ve uncovered another of my patterns and this one is big (for me). I’ve been working away for the past month on productivity. I’ve read the book, Getting Things Done by David Allen. I’ve had sessions with my friend Ashleigh. I’ve started using the PomodoroPro. I’ve devised a schedule with thirty minute time slots. My diary was full of next thing to do’s. I had three weeks of amazing productivity.


(Rowing on the Liffey in Dublin, with the Ha’penny Bridge in the background)

And then I crashed. I’ve been tired and motivation-less since last Thursday. I know this is a pattern… it was pointed out to me that I do this regularly. What do I do? I drive myself forward, paying no attention to the vehicle I am driving. I run out of fuel. The vehicle stops. For the duration of my life the vehicle is my body. I do feed my body and lately I feed it well, but I have not been paying attention. A light on the dashboard was flashing and I ignored it. It was the “break” light. When I pay no attention, I don’t know it’s time to rest. To take a break, a siestas, some free time, do some day dreaming, be at ease.


(Scary but true)

There are probably lots of reasons why this is my pattern. As with all patterns, it starts because it’s necessary and it works. There is a clue as to why it continues. It’s part of my normal thinking, something I didn’t realise….. I think taking a break is unfair, unless you work exceedingly hard and I experience extreme shame when I take a break unless I am exhausted. The good news is that it’s like my “I have to eat meat every day” belief – crazy but normal for me. And as we saw with the meat belief once you become aware of your normal thinking it’s possible to let it go.

I’ll be taking baby steps with this one, step, rest, step, sit down, up we get , step, Mairead.

More normal thinking.


(Library pictures….. meat….)

I have always been a carnivore. My normal thinking around it would be: To survive a human needs to eat meat (almost) every day. While I have often considered eating less meat, my normal thinking told me I would not survive. Eating less meat is a fine aspiration but hardly worth my survival!


(… possibly salmon….)

To be clear, I wasn’t exactly conscious of my normal thinking around survival and meat – I know it’s incorrect. I’m related to at least four vegetarians (hello Kate, Liam, Aidan and Rory!) and they have survived life without meat, two of them for their entire lives. That’s the thing about normal thinking – even when we know it’s incorrect we still believe it…..


(… prawns?)

So, I thought I might give it a try – life without meat. And it’s going remarkably well. For one thing, I am surviving – useful. For another, I do not miss meat, even a little. For another, I love chopping vegetables, and I use the same chopping board with raw and cooked! For another, I’m packing more fibre into my day. All in all, it’s been fun.

Go vegetables, Mairead.