Lost and Found in Mérida

Sunset in the industrial estate

It’s funny what you need on the road and what you (of course, I mean we) will put up with to get it. We stayed the last two nights parked in a noisy industrial estate just outside the city of Mérida. The location is in a yard surrounded by fencing and there’s a big locked gate. No one would say this was a pretty spot. Or a quiet and peaceful spot. But it has quite a few other things going for it.

The neighbours

We left the old part of Mérida early in the morning and between the parking app and google we were directed to the industrial estate. If you live near Dublin, think Ballymount industrial estate. One of the interesting things about this one in Mérida was most of the roads were one-way which adds an extra level of confusion when you’re lost… and we were lost. Google maps was saying, you have reached your destination but there was nothing but warehouses and weeds. We had driven around the same petrol station three times when we finally decided to drop in for diesel and find a different parking spot.

Museum in old Mérida

You’ll remember the whole issue with the gas shortage – that wasn’t? Well, I had also read about the very high diesel prices and we were checking prices every time we passed a petrol station (which is funny as my Dad used to do the same thing during my whole childhood) and this one had good prices. Anyway, Denis was outside about to take off the petrol cap when a young guy jumps out of his car and runs over to him and says something in Spanish followed by the word parking. Unlike me Denis isn’t learning Spanish but somehow he is surprisingly good at communicating regardless of language. Humph. He holds up the van keys and says, I’m just getting diesel. And the guy says, in English, parking and Denis replies, no I’m not parking here I’m just getting diesel. A couple more attempts and the young guy realises that in spite of his confidence Denis hasn’t a word of Spanish and he takes out his phone, speaks to it in Spanish and then holds it up. And the phone speaks… I’m from the parking place that you keep driving past, I can show you how to get there. Wasn’t that lovely? He saw we were confused and lost and he hopped in his car and caught up with us! We were smiling and laughing when the phone spoke again, You can’t get diesel at these pumps they are just for trucks, go around the corner.

Sunlight through Roman ruins

We did go around the corner, got the diesel, got an extra discount off the pump price (my Dad would have loved that!) and then followed the young guy to the parking spot where he gave us a tour of all the services a motorhome needs, like water and water disposal and toilet disposal. There was also a toilet and shower and washing machine and just next door was their motorhome shop where you can get things fixed or changed or purchase stuff motorhomes need. The whole place is like a toy shop for motorhome owners. (By the way, we didn’t know any of this before we got here.)

Close to the past

It got me thinking – what do I really want and what am I prepared to put up with to get it?

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Bits of the old Roman road

It’s not all fun and games here. I brought along my Bookkeeping for Dummies book and I’m getting a handle on bookkeeping. Bookkeeping has always been like that big dark tunnel in Béjar – terror inducing. But last year I asked for help before I stepped inside and although it’s work it’s working out ok.

Inside the amphitheater

Today we are in the old Roman (in Spain) town of Mérida. It was originally called Emerita Augusta (Mérida for short) and was founded by the Emperor Caesar Augustus in 25 BC. It’s full of the ruins of 2000 year old buildings, medieval buildings and museum buildings. We got up early to keep cool and were first in the gate at 9 am to visit some of the oldest buildings. By 11.30am it was hot and we’d only seen three, you would seriously need a week to visit everything. We’ll just have to come back.

The stage of the theatre

We saw the Anfiteatro (Amphitheater) where the games took place, gladiators fighting each other and animals. The Teatro (Theatre) where plays were staged and civic ceremonies held. And the Casa del Anfiteatro (houses beside the Amphitheater) where you could see detailed mosaic tiles, some interior room decorations, a bath house, original water pipes and a kitchen stove. Everything in this area had been buried in the early 1900’s and when the unburying of the amphitheatre and the theatre started they cleared the debris off to the side not realising they were burying these houses deeper. It was only decades later when one of the mosaic floors was discovered that they realised what was underneath. Everywhere you walk in Mérida there are pieces of history, right beside the motorhome park there’s a field full of house shaped brick walls and in one of the pedestrian shopping streets there’s a preserved roman street made of large flag stones.

You might be able to spot the painted wall decoration and to the rear of that are water pipes

I don’t blame them for losing the houses, it’s hard to see what’s right under your feet sometimes. We have passed through Spain so many times and missed amazingly interesting places every time. We met a Swiss couple yesterday who were on their first motorhome journey to Spain and they had planned everything. Then in their first week they binned their plans when they met a Spanish man at a park up who filled in their map with every beautiful place he could think of in his country. Mérida was one of those places. The Swiss man handed me his phone to look at his pictures of two others, Córoba and Toledo, just a bit too far from where we though we were going but very tempting.

A section of the mosaics

For the rest of this week I’m going back into the bookkeeping tunnel I hope to uncover some hidden mosaics myself… I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck.

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Balancing Act

Adiós Béjar

You know when a small/annoying/disturbing/upsetting thing happens at the beginning of the day and the rest of your day is off? Like, it’s not balanced, it’s just a bit off? Ok maybe it doesn’t happen to you. It happened to me yesterday. Now just so you know, it’s wasn’t a big thing but I’m telling you about it so that I remember. I want to remember this is something my mind can do. I want to notice the off-balance that sometimes happens and just notice it. No need to do anything about it, no need to beat myself up. Nothing. Just notice that I may not be able to recognise the whole truth in this moment as I’m unbalanced. So here’s the story…

Our hero!

Wait, first here’s the end of the story… Our gas (LPG) gauge was in the red and that’s a problem because we need the gas for cooking and heating water and running the fridge. We have an app that tells us where the nearest gas supplier is located and we arrived to see red covers on the pump handles, indicating that they had run out of gas too. And only yesterday I had read something about gas shortages in the UK. Is there a gas shortage here in Spain too? My mind was getting ready to imagine the worst, when what should arrive but a gas tanker. No kidding! And no shortage. Ten minutes later we filled up with enough gas for two weeks. Is it possible that everything works out? Sometimes it takes ten minutes, sometimes longer? And the unbalance? It doesn’t last long either.

City walls in Plasencia

Ok back to the start of the story… We left beautiful Béjar the morning after my tunnel walk full of optimism and drove to the city of Plasencia, less than an hour south. There was a free car park near the centre where motorhomes were welcome. The sun shone and the temperatures were rising. We had hardly turned off the engine when a dishevelled looking guy came banging on the window. Even though we didn’t understand his words it was clear he was looking for money. Denis said no and shook his head and he left. He returned half an hour later and we realised he was going to every arriving vehicle.

Can you see the swallows? They move too fast for me but I’ve circled them above. Have the swallows arrived in Ireland yet? These ones seem to be getting ready for their journey north…

My mind asked, “is this a dangerous city?” and tipped off balance. Everything else that happened that day was slightly off. It was too hot to go for a walk, there were too many cars, too many bugs, I was hungry, no, I was thirsty, I was fed up. On and on until… We were eating a dinner of cold pie and salad (remember the gas was running out) when a knock came to the door. We both looked at each other… but it was only the owner of the camper next door who had parked so close to us that we couldn’t open the side door. As I’m the one learning Spanish… Denis indicated I should go out the other door to discover what he wanted. I began with “I don’t speak Spanish” in Spanish… turns out that’s not as useful as you might think. If you’re speaking Spanish – badly – the exact meaning is lost on the native speaker but well, you’re speaking Spanish, so they presume you probably understand it, right? I understood nothing and that resulted in the man speaking faster.

Here’s the gap after we moved…

Fortunately, he had a wife who spoke face-language – she saw my face and knew I didn’t know what he was saying. Between the three of us (and Denis looking from the gap in the door) we worked out he was suggesting that if we reversed a bit our door would be parallel with the end of their van and we’d be able to open it. And he was right and it was perfect and as we stood outside smiling and saying Gracias to each other Denis and I noticed we were now surrounded by motorhomes. Literally, surrounded. (Ok no, there was a gap in front of us but there were vans at each side of us and at the back, mostly parking illegally!) And they were still arriving. Smiling, chatting, gesticulating, happy people, parking wherever they could find a gap.

And an even smaller gap behind us…

And it was so odd it unbalanced me right back to balance. They do things differently here. They eat dinner late at 9.30pm or 10pm. They park in the tiniest of spots. They talk loud and fast. And it’s ok. I slept really well that night, all the windows were open and the sounds of fast talking Spanish drifted in. Yes my mind did throw up some safety issues but I took note of the location of our fire extinguisher and I was reassured. And the next morning we had landed in a new world. Everything was good. There was space again in the car park and the temperatures were more pleasant. We found a small bakery beside the city walls and watched the swallows swooping and soaring. And then as you know, just when we needed it the gas tanker arrived.

Coffee time

I remember as a child when we would go to the city with my Dad to some football pitch or greyhound track and if there was a big crowd there were men who used to help you park and then take care of your car. Everyone gave them a few coins but I always worried that there were so many cars they would forget which one was ours and it would be gone when we got back. It was never gone. My Dad called them the Lock Hards because they used to repeat “lock hard, lock hard” while helping you parallel park into a tight space. The Spanish motorhome drivers are experts at parking in a tight spot. Had a 50 year old memory unbalanced my mind? Was I just recycling one familiar situation and glueing it to this city with my childhood feeling of worry? I don’t know.

Noticing seems like doing nothing but it’s not and there’s nothing better to do when you’ve tipped off balance.

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The Tunnel of (Self) Love Part 2

The entrance and…

I did it! I walked through the tunnel. I wasn’t sure I would. Denis was with me and I said we needed to stop just inside so I could get a feel of the problem and then we would take the outdoor route. But within moments the problem was gone. The terror was gone out of my body. We walked another bit. For some reason I was holding my fists in front of my heart as I walked, I suppose it was comforting. I noticed the moving forward was getting easier. And sooner than I expected there was a small sliver of light coming from around the next corner. I didn’t want to hope it was the exit in case it wasn’t but it grew and grew and with my excitement grew and grew and then there it was – daylight streaming in through the way out.

…the exit!

We walked out and up a really steep hill to the town. We were actually very far from the old town and the town walls. The tunnel was never the best way to get to the old town. But we found the new town and had lunch outside and listened to the Spanish language all around us. I’m learning Spanish again but not in the way I usually do. I usually learn it to be able to speak it perfectly – god love me. Not this time. I’ve been reading a great book about how you can help yourself to be healthy for your whole life. And it turns out learning is a great way to encourage a healthy brain into old age. This time I’m learning just for learning. And I’m very surprised at the difference that makes to my experience.

Béjar and the mountains beyond

It is so much easier to communicate when your Spanish doesn’t have to be perfect. And it’s so much easier to meet difficult situations when there is acceptance of our own reactions and we can ask for help.

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The Tunnel of (Self) Love

Cobblestones beside one of the old railway buildings

Yesterday we arrived in the town of Béjar, about 200km west of Madrid. We have never been here before and that’s always exciting. We had set off early, too early for breakfast so I cooked my favourite – porridge, while Denis went for a walk. We always use other people’s reviews to choose a park-up and the reviews for Béjar were very good. One of them mentioned the greenway, called the Camino Natural Béjar that runs alongside. It used to be a railway line which makes it flat and great for walking. But like all railways lines running through the mountains it has a tunnel. One reviewer suggested that although it was long it was well worth the effort to go through it to see the old town. Oh, not sure about that.

Can you see the tunnel?

We have been travelling for 13 days now and because we’ve started to slow down it feels like the perfect time to soak up the inspiration that comes from visiting these new, strange, unknown places. A train tunnel could be exactly the strange place I need, if… I wasn’t the most careful, risk-adverse person I know. Hmmm. Or maybe it’s just perfect? Anyways, by the time Denis came back I was actually looking forward to going through the tunnel. And he was able to report that it was grand, it was lighted and he had gone all the way through and back and was happy to go with me if I was concerned about going on my own. But I wasn’t, how hard could it be?

Well at least there are lights…

It was awful! You can’t see the end from the beginning, it’s very long. Oh (expletive, expletive, expletive) it was bad.

No, now that I’m writing about it I realise the tunnel was just a tunnel, it was not awful, it was just a tunnel. The thing that was awful was how I felt. I felt very awful. I am searching for better words to describe the feeling. I have a thesaurus on my computer but its not helping translate a feeling into a word. Very unpleasant isn’t bad enough but disgusting is completely wrong. I went about five steps into the tunnel and could go no further. I had to get out.

Don’t you just love rust?

What’s funny (not funny) is I didn’t understand the problem until I was standing about three feet inside the tunnel. Beforehand, in the van I had thought I would be worried about being attacked by another human. So I had a little talk with myself, “you’d be very, very unlucky to get attacked today, first day in a tunnel, first day in Béjar, you’ll be grand, you can do this.” Of course I know what you’re thinking – this could be untrue, but it was enough to convince me I’d be grand and probably not get attacked. So that when I got to the tunnel I was not afraid of being attacked. The fear of being attacked is my mind-fear, my mind-fear had been reassured, however foolishly. No, the big problem standing inside the tunnel was no longer my mind-fear, the problem was my body-fear, the fear that took over my body. There should be a big word for that. Terror? Yes. Terror is a good word.

Can you see the old town walls?

Generally speaking my mind-fear keeps me very safe. If my mind-fear rises I don’t reassure it enough to go towards the fearful thing… why would I? But here on this journey I make myself go towards the fearful thing because of Reverence on Deck 9. Do you remember? That’s where I made a decision to learn from everything, and that includes this tunnel. I promised to meet every difficult moment with self compassion and silence. So I turned around and left the tunnel. Were you expecting that? Do you think I should have kept going?

There’s the van from up on the town walls across the valley

And then something I had missed rushing towards the difficult thing was a signpost pointing up. And there it was, a steep but gloriously outdoor path to Béjar. I took the path most travelled. Yes, I was not a brave tunnel traveller but I was something else. I was compassionate to myself. This is what self compassion does – it accepts what is true for you now and it doesn’t attack your truth no matter how stupid or childish it seems. I’m going to the mouth of the tunnel again today (even writing that makes my stomach clench) but what’s different is Denis is coming too and I’ll take his help and maybe today is the day. And maybe it’s not…

Collage of building materials and a smiling statue

The town was scrumptious, by the way. Ok again, not the right word but I need a word that invokes consuming… but with the eyes. What is that word?

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The rain in Spain…

Red Route – coastal. Green Route – diagonal.

We’re well into our second week of travelling and it’s time to catch you up on where we are. We spent two nights (Wednesday and Thursday) in Vitoria Gasteiz. The city is a very handy stop for campers as there are two supermarkets nearby, water and waste disposal and plenty of walking available among the tree lined streets. Both of us started daily walking during the first lockdown and we have kept it going so we are always on the look out for walking routes. One thing we’ve noticed here in Spain is the level of mask wearing is much higher than we noticed in France. Most people wear masks inside here but at least 50% also wear them outside. Not sure why but it’s very reassuring.

Sweet graffiti in Palencia

This route we are taking through Vitoria Gasteiz was the one I was hoping we would take. On our way to Portugal we generally take the northern coastal route and leave this diagonal route until we are coming home in May or June. That is because there can be snow at this time of year. But as luck would have it while we were in Bordeaux we noticed the temperature was forecast to rise later in the week so we stayed an extra night. And it worked, there has been no snow and the temperatures have been rising steadily.

Palencia park up. That’s the motorhome washing in the distance. Very excited!

After Vitoria Gasteiz we moved onto Palentia and as the van badly needed a wash we were very excited to see they had added a motorhome wash right in the parking area. This park-up also has toilets and showers and a restaurant nearby. I went for a walk to the town and took some photos of the huge cathedral and it’s ginormous door. It was the day before Palm Sunday and I passed a gateway nearby where there was a statue of Christ carrying his cross on a wooden plinth preparing to be carried by 6 men. All around was the smell of burning incense while the men chatted and smiled (behind their masks) and encouraged each other. It seemed to me I was witnessing a moment of sincere bonding and it was too private to photograph.

Ginormous cathedral door in Palencia and me for perspective

On Saturday morning we woke to heavy fog. Great day for doing the bookkeeping we’d been postponing followed by the van washing. A few hours later the sun was shining and we were on the road again, this time to the city of Valladolid. We parked at motorhome parking near supermarkets, cafes and restaurants and took a walk to get lunch supplies. We must have passed at least 30 benches in the shade. I was very tempted to sit and watch people go by but I was hungry.

This church was hiding in a shopping center in Valladolid!

Next morning was cold but sunny and we got up early to walk to the city and get a coffee. Valladolid is famous for its Holy Week and Easter Processions and we saw lots of extended family groups making their way towards the centre. The children were carrying what looked like sheafs of corn. Later that morning we moved to a campsite outside Salamanca. It was so warm we were able to sit outside (in the shade) for the afternoon.

I could see the statue up there from a distance and assumed it was on top of a church. Nope, it’s an lingerie shop

Next morning almost all of the campers had gone, probably on their way to Portugal like us. We spoke to a couple from the UK who told us rain was due and they had decided to change direction and move an hour back northwards towards France to escape it and make full use of the mobile nature of their motorhome. We didn’t follow, Denis’ new coat is rainproof and since we started the daily walking habit the quote from Alfred Wainwright, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” makes perfect sense.

Our grey Monday

As I write we are parked at a petrol station, the wind is blowing fiercely, rain is pelting the roof windows, the sky is dark grey and we haven’t had a walk… maybe we will head north after all.

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Too much coffee, too few photos

Luxury in Bordeaux – running water and flowing electricity just outside

Did I mention we are in Spain? We left the campsite in Bordeaux on Wednesday (the campsite we found for laundry, water and wifi, terrible wifi.) and spent a long time in slow road works traffic. The journey that should have take 2.5 hours took 4 hours. We finally got to a parking spot at a supermarket near the Spanish border before lunch and Denis got to work. I fell asleep… and I blame the coffee.


I have a tricky relationship with coffee… I love it but it only loves me if the cups are small and the gaps of abstinence are long. If I have coffee once a week it rewards me with a fire of inspiring ideas and loads of energy. That, I love. But more than twice a week and my reward is tiny palpations and tiredness. Don’t love that. I had already had three cups and then I accidentally had a double espresso! I suppose it wasn’t really accidental, more it’s my terrible grasp of the French language. What I wanted was an Americano. So I asked for a large coffee but then he said cafe au lait? and I hate milk so that was a no. then I tried saying “large” again and he asked “doublo?” Which meant a double espresso (or two weeks of coffee in one cup!) and foolishly I said yes! And then, to top it all, I drank it. Maybe I can’t blame the coffee.

Canoeing along the border between France and Spain

When I woke up Denis was finished his work and we drove over the border to an overnight car park but there was a lot of police activity. The type of activity that includes road blocks and automatic rifles! There were no other motorhomes in the car park so we made a decision to eat dinner and move on.

A different tunnel on a different road at a different time… sorry 😞

One of the things we rarely do is drive at night. There was only 90 minutes left before sunset so we drove those available 90 minutes to a different car park in a different town called Vitoria-Gasteiz. It was a beautiful evening and the lighting was perfect as we drove along this mountainous route. The long tunnels and scary high bridges added to the enjoyment… not. We have a dashboard camera on the front of the van and I took loads of beautiful pictures but you’ll have to imagine them as this was before I realised the dash cam only holds 100 pictures and it was already full… with pictures from 2018. Oh well.

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Preserve everything except the bread

Pretty park in Loulay

We arrived in a small French town called Loulay on Saturday afternoon. Something about a French town inspires me. Not sure if it’s the houses made of stone or the walls made of stone or maybe it’s just the stone.

Half of a school building – the girls half – it was too big to fit the boys half into the picture!

Or maybe it’s that everything seems to be old and falling apart but in a beautiful way. They don’t get rid of something just because it’s a bit dilapidated looking, they mend it and staple it back together.

Look at the colours on this old rusty door

Like the reuse, recycle, sustainability concept but in practice.

There’s us parked in a frosty field

To remind us we are part of something bigger, something older, something long gone but still alive here in the French village…

The Boulangerie. Notice the opening times.

Like the bread… it’s available fresh every single day at the Boulangerie. If the baker wants to go on holidays, he must organise a way to get bread to his customers. We were directed to get our baguette from a bar once in a small village when the baker was on holidays. And that bread is protected by law. From preservatives. There can be no preservatives involved in the baking of the bread. That’s why you need to eat it fresh (although it tastes good toasted next day.) But could it also be better for you? Please say yes!

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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?

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Reverence on Deck 9

Calm seas and selfies

I am sitting on the bed in our cabin on deck 9, the sea is incredible calm. There are no windows but from the slight movements, rattles and shakes in here I sense the calm sea. It was definitely calm when we were eating breakfast. Every time we travel on the ferry we remind ourselves that there’s no need to eat breakfast and then each time we see the beautiful photography for the breakfast we forget. The actual food does not look like the pictures and it does not taste the way the pictures make me think it will taste. I have been wondering about this for years. I think I’ve eaten my last breakfast on the ferry… maybe.

Looking good

We really want that breakfast to be pretty special and very tasty. And those photographs can’t be lying, can they? That’s how the food looked that day. The day long ago when the picture was taken. But today, here and now, the food is not that food. Today’s food is canteen food. The best you could say for it is – it’s not great. Those photos were taken when there was more time to make it look pretty, to add berries, to place the rasher in the most symmetrical spot.

Hello Astrid!

As exciting as you think it will be when I tell you where we are going and how long we will be away, it is often ordinary and boring and difficult and stressful. In fact, it’s just like home – different setting, same reactions, same me, same him. “Wherever you go, there you are” is the title of a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I bring the same way of thinking, the same instincts, the same inner demons, the same pain, everywhere I go.

The exciting thing is that at some point I realised this journey deserved reverence and I made a decision to learn from everything. To meet every boring moment with a “well hello, boring!” To meet every stress by noticing the discomfort within my body and allowing it relax. To meet every ordinary with a gold digger’s eye and spot the treasure within. To meet every difficult moment with self compassion and silence. The odd time I succeed.

Peaceful parking spot at the cemetery

Doesn’t our life’s journey deserve reverence?

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Habit Practicing

Every time we go away I promise myself I will pack the van early. I never did. Until now. I’ve been packing warm weather clothes. And towels. And cups and plates. I have a lot of categories half packed. I hope that will be enough for now.

Bring everything!

And of course it is enough for now. Now is fully complete as it is. Next week or next month isn’t complete yet… but when it becomes now – one moment at a time it will be complete too. And it will be done because we will have moved onto the next moment.

It feels like I will never be able to get back into blogging because I have left it so long and why am bothering anyhow? Because I realised something useful this month – writing my mind (thoughts) onto the page changes everything for me. It is like a rumba (I think that’s the name of the robot vacuum cleaner?) cleaning without effort.

Early morning at Eilish’s

Although there is some effort required. I do have to sit at the page and stay there until I am done. I also have to be non-judgmental about what comes out onto the page. At least until it’s out there. After I’ve got it out I can edit it until it’s time to post. And then I have to post. It’s a process I had been following for a few years. And it works. But I stop. And then it’s hard to get back.

Rainbows in the surf

I would really like to prevent myself from stopping. I would really like to keep going, keep cleaning out my mind. But first I have to start. It’s like any habit, it takes practice. And I’m going to practice. Is there a habit you’d like to practice? Let me know and we can be cheerleaders for each other!

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Noticing Every Tiny Thing

We have booked the ferry to France many times over the last couple of years and we cancelled the ferry to France many times… it’s hard to believe we will be actually going this time… I’ll let you know if we do.

Tiny beginnings…

This time it seems different. Like when you don’t eat ice cream during winter and the first one on a grey St. Patrick’s Day tastes better than you remembered. I am being reminded of small towns in France, huge mountains in Spain and tiny cups of coffee in Portugal. It’s like I’m already there, it’s like up until this ferry booking I didn’t allow myself to think of what I was missing and now I can’t stop thinking.

Tiny daffodils…

But I’m also forcing myself to remember the wet days, the grey days, the boring days, the ugly towns, the tiredness, the overwhelm and the underwhelm. Because it’s all part of the journey and if my expectations are just for the beautiful and the sunny then I can add disappointment to the list of expectations!

Tiny bursts of colour…

I love this quote in Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat.

Happiness is greater or equal to your perception of the events in your life minus your expectations of how life should be.

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Didn’t want you to miss out on a discount!

This feels a bit like confession – it’s been three months since my last blog. And since then I’ve been learning how to make videos in the fridge for my Instagram. Applying to be on the Late Late for Small Business (wasn’t picked😏) Figuring out how to get started on Twitter. Getting (almost) comfortable on Facebook. Risking extreme embarrassment asking local shops if they would stock the cards – without success 😳 while an adorable shop (called Sunfleck) in Dungarvan found me and asked to stock them! So, they’re in a shop! And today I sent my first newsletter.

These past five months since I launched Permission Cards have been a blast and in case you don’t know, you have played a huge part in that. I didn’t know it when I started but a big part of selling online involves writing. Writing posts to different social media platforms, different accounts, groups, writing copy for the website, writing and answering comments, writing thank you notes to customers, writing emails, writing a newsletter. So all the times I was writing to you from our travels in the camper van or on the motorbike I’ve been in training for this season of my life. If you hadn’t been reading I wouldn’t have been writing to you. Go raibh maith agat! Look at what you did – you have been supporting my small business! Thank you! May we continue to walk each other home for years to come.

And finally, just in case you don’t follow me on social media I wanted to tell you about the discount I’m sharing at the moment. It’s 15% discount off Permission Cards until Sunday 28th November. Go to https://permission.cards and use the code THANKYOU at the checkout.

No pressure, I just wanted you to know too.

Big Hugs, Mairéad

Social Media Links

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/PermissionCards

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/permissioncards/

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I’m not a complete idiot…probably

Saw this in Portumna, Co. Galway. For some reason it makes me think of social media…

Well I’ve never been more grateful that I write a blog… well I haven’t actually written a blog post since March but I’m still grateful I wrote a post in March. Let me explain… it’s been 5 months since I wrote to you and a lot has happened.

Wild flower. Not weed!

The website (https://permission.cards) has changed utterly. The cards are different. And I think it’s possible I’m different too…for one thing I’m making videos. Yes, I don’t know what inner voices I shut down to do that but I shut them down. And now I’m talking to camera like it’s ok, like I’m not a complete idiot, like I’m even comfortable exposing myself (fully clothed at all times.) And I am comfortable. Mainly.

Got a new coffee jug

I’m comfortable until I wake up with a thought in my head that I’m a fraud or too old or ugly or a failure. Those days are hard because it’s kinda natural to want to hide away on Bad Thoughts Days. And sometimes I do hide. Do you have this experience where you start the day with those thoughts and you go into social media and every post you see confirms your thoughts? I have. So on the really bad bad thoughts days I can’t go into social media and I can’t post anything. And posting on social media is kinda my whole marketing strategy (that’s a blog all to itself!)

Muddy track near Shannonbridge Co. Offaly

Funnily enough though, this routine of posting to social media makes me notice those bad thought days in a way I never noticed before. In the midst of a Bad Thoughts Day I think every day is a Bad Thoughts Day. I completely forget that yesterday wasn’t. I think “this is going to go on forever” and sometimes I believe that thought longer than I need to.

Having to post everyday makes me realise Bad Thoughs Days are not everyday. My posts show me that I must have been grand on lots of days because I have lots of posts.

Big sky near Fethard-on-Sea Co. Wexford

And why am I’m grateful I write blog posts (even inconsistently..)? Because when you’re in the middle of change you don’t notice it and you don’t think anything is happening. And maybe it’s time to start having Good Thoughts Days… what do you think? Wishing you good thoughts about yourself ❤️ Mairéad.

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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


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There’s a website!

The new website… Permission.Cards

I didn’t expect to be back to you so soon with this news – Denis made the website! For the Permission Cards. Click here to visit! If you have any ideas about what I should do to make it better let me know. For instance, I changed postage because there were so many options and was struggling to make it clear. Now postage is included in the price. And then there’s customs – can anyone explain that in one sentence? And Brexit, does that add another dimension?

I’ve decided to journal my journey here on the blog because I’m learning a lot and I’d really like to share that with you and get your input. Also, I don’t want to forget what I’ve learned or to forget that it takes a long time and what confuses or frustrates me today will be forgotten next month. Generally I’m not excited to learn new things and that’s not good for a human who wants to live to be 105 (at least!) I get very frustrated when I don’t understanding something. Not helpful. But that’s changing and the cards are helping. I have two sitting in front of me now.

They are, Permission to make mistakes and Permission to take baby steps. Babies don’t get frustrated when they’re learning to walk. They don’t get upset about mistakes. They just get on with it, no self judgement. This baby-step-accept-mistakes-as-normal process is slow but you still get the learning done, it lasts and you’re not in danger of being overwhelmed.

Being overwhelmed is not helpful. Taking baby steps is, Mairead.

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Permission Cards

Edited 5th December 2021… If you landed here looking for Permission Cards, this is a blog post from the time I was making the prototypes for the actual cards you can find at https://permission.cards. Have a grand day♥️

Well… it looks like we won’t be travelling anywhere soon. I thought that would upset me more than it does. But it doesn’t, I am very happy pottering away inside my home with the odd excursion to collect groceries. (An experience exciting for all the senses and not as insignificant as I used to think. But I’m getting sidetracked.) Instead of travelling to other countries or even counties, we walk around the neighbourhood – separately, he walks too fast, I talk too much… We also work separately, he has a very organized workspace, I’m a bit messy. Other than that we are together every single moment, eating, watching stories on the big (enough) screen, sleeping and arguing. Yes we do argue. But as we only have each other we can’t be bothered keeping an argument going, it turns out life’s too short. Denis taught me that, I used to love keeping an argument going. I’m right, how can I stop before he understands that? Turns out everyone thinks they’re right – understanding is overrated.

Little box of Permission Cards

I’m working on a new creative project. It all started pre-2020 when Denis was putting a board game in the recycling bin. (Remind me to tell you the name of the board game.) To be clear that doesn’t happen, ever, but this was a unique board game. It was designed to be used for one long game over the period of a year and then not reused… Seeing the cards in the recycle bin made me sad. I love paper and card and these were still fully functioning pieces of card, how could anyone throw them out? Maybe I could save them. I did. I already have lots of saved paper and card and at that time I had no organisation, just one big box. In the cards went, never to be seen again… until 2020.

My 2020 started with a lot of excitement (our son got engaged!) followed by a lot of fear (no explanations necessary) followed by a lot of gardening (thank you, Eilish!) followed by a lot of card making. I made cards to remind myself I could say, NO. I made thank you cards, to remind me that the small things are actually big things. Small things like getting groceries and garden supplies were very, very big things. Small things like getting post in the post box, were very, very big things. Small things like receiving offers of help were enormously big things. And then there’s the overwhelmingly big things like front line staff and especially for my family, the nursing home staff who have been going above and beyond to take care of the most vulnerable, including my mother. I had a lot to be thankful for so I made a lot of thank you cards.

It felt like I was reorganising my inner space and so naturally I started to reorganise my outer space too. And that turned out to be very freeing. I dumped loads and gained empty space and found the cards and paper I had been saving. What had I been saving it for? I didn’t know at the time but it turns out I was saving it for now. In amongst all the paper was Denis’ board game cards, looking just as lovely as they had when I first met them. I gave them their own place on a shelf. In November we (the cards and I) started working together. I worked on them and they worked on me.

The Permission Cards began when I was chatting with a friend and she said something mean to herself and it just popped out of my mouth, how about if you give yourself permission to be kind to yourself for the rest of the day? Then I promised to make her a permission card to remind her and we went on to talk about something else. I’ve been hard on myself my entire adult life, it’s a habit that I don’t hear but as soon as I hear someone else being hard on themselves, I notice. I needed this Permission to be kind to myself, too.

Later that day I took one of the recycled cards off the shelf and made a permission card for my friend… and it was for me too. As I made it I read it. Over and over again. I was reading that I had permission to be kind. To myself. My first thought was, “…that’s a bit selfish isn’t it?!” My second thought was, “who said that?” Something I’d heard long ago made sense: We are not our thoughts. Some thoughts are part of a flawed belief system and it’s not always possible to spot them before obeying them. So in this case, I thought that being kind to myself was a bad thing. What if it wasn’t a bad thing? What if it was okay to be kind to myself. Maybe even for the whole day? It’s a big ask so I’m taking baby steps.

With every card I make I am being kinder to myself. Even when I make mistakes! And I’m creating even when it’s ugly. I’m ignoring what does not serve me. I’m making the right decisions for me… on and on these little cards are working on me.

And now I’m selling them! Denis has promised to set up a sales website when he’s less busy (I recognise potential for a future argument here but life’s too short, right?) In the meantime it’s just via email (mairead@hennessynet.com) and instagram (@creativecalm_cards). Get in contact if you want to see the full list of Permissions and I’ll send you an order form and prices. They are handmade so they take a long time to make but fortunately the cards give me permission to take my time – so all good.

Tiny Handmade Permission Cards made from recycled playing cards

Oh and the name of board game? Pandemic. Yup, that’s what it was called. Twilight Zone stuff. Mairead.

Ps He set up the website, it’s called Permission.Cards Tap or maybe Click to have a look!

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Project Blackbird Snack Bar

Project Garden

I love projects, I have about sixteen on the go at the moment. Yes they are exhausting and yes it is a little sad when I consider that I will never finish them but they were so exciting in the beginning. There was the great project for an art piece for my sister’s kitchen, his and her wedding masks, the garden and all its many projects, the website design project, the fiction book, the eat healthy project, the get up early project, the walk to the beach every day project, the make a stick trellis for the raspberries project… until yesterday I thought it was just me. I’ve been reading (listening to) the book Happy by Derren Brown. The subtitle is, Why more or less everything is absolutely fine. Very uplifting. Derrren is the illusionist, magician guy from the telly and he’s very interesting. Anyways, it’s a long book and I’ve been reading (listening to) it on and off for months and yesterday he had started talking about death… yes, I know, interesting. He was saying, among other things, that humans love projects. All humans. So it’s completely natural that I love projects. Funny thought, lately, I have been falling out of love with my projects.

Project Potatoes

I get very excited when I think of a new project, I fall in love with it and fantasise about us walking together along a sandy beach into the sunset. It’s all very romantic. But just at the moment when the project becomes real, the love disappears, the sand becomes stony and there’s a thunderstorm. This is at the precise point where I have to jump into the unknown. Maybe I have to learn something new or share something stupid or risk looking ridiculous or I just don’t know what to do next. By that point I have committed and have to stay with the new project until death do us part. Very often I can’t wait for death to do us part. Now I think the problem is I commit to the project before having a good look at what exactly is involved. I will be more careful in future.

Project Jigsaw

Like our blackbirds. I say OUR, they are in fact wild blackbirds but they do seem to be getting friendly. So, back when Eilish was still here, she and I researched home composting. Before I go any further let me be clear – the research was not in a scientific way… we searched on Youtube for a video about home composting. It was very interesting… and confusing. So in order to get started we stopped watching and summarised what we remembered (not a lot) from the fifteen videos we’d already watched and began home composting. This is a perfect example of a project.

Project Trellis

We already had a compost bin but it was stuffed to the top with rose bush pruning that was not turning into compost. First step, empty the bin. Then start adding vegetable peelings, paper towels, grass clippings and leaves. Keep the bin uncovered. This did mess with the structural integrity of the bin but I found a bungie chord to sort that. Finally, add water regularly. Only a week had passed when Eilish spotted the first member of our blackbird family popping in for a nibble. Yes, popping into the compost bin to root around in our leftovers! Well, we thought it might be the leftovers but there were bugs in there too so maybe that’s what they were after.

Project Blackbird Snack Bar

Last Friday I was sitting in the garden sending a text to my mother, telling her about the blackbirds when one jumped up on the compost bin. Since I had my phone in my hand I turned on the video and watched him getting started on his own project. He stood on the edge of the bin for a long time looking in, looking around, looking back in again. He walked around the edge of the bin and nearly toppled a few times but fortunately he had wings to help him balance. He washed himself, got interested in other birds and possibly me filming him. Then after a very, very long time, four minutes and ten seconds to be precise… he jumped in. He’s right to be careful, there are a lot of dangers around but the compost probably smells irresistibly good.

Project Walk to the Beach

From now on I’m not going to fall in love with the next irresistibly lovely smelling idea, I’m going to take my time looking into it and walking around it. I’ll tell myself I have plenty of projects, finish one of them first or better yet, finish them all.

Project Masks (Hello Roisín!)

Also, wouldn’t it be amazing to have a camera permanently mounted over the compost bin? We could watch the blackbirds when they are inside the bin and we could set up a live feed to a website and… NOoooooo! Danger danger, that’s a project luring me in, stay back! Have to go now, I think there’s a an old camera in the attic.

May you be well, Mairead.

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Another New Normal

True Love

Eilish is gone. No, she’s not dead. She’s just gone home. We are learning to live in this new normal. How many new normals will there be?

A friend reminded me that Darwin’s theory was not about survival of the fittest but survival of the adaptable and we are learning to adapt. Denis is adapting well to my nagging. Didn’t Darwin talk about supporting your wife’s adaptability? Yes, I definitely remembering hearing something about that.

Before she left Eilish made us a Victoria Sandwich. It’s ok there’s no bread in it…

Anyway, the garden will never be the same, which is a blessing but now I have to adapt to doing the gardening on my own. So far I have fixed the compost heap with a bungie cord, pulled more than six weeds and watered Denis’ basil plants. Not entirely sure but I may need to increase my efforts.

We tried to kidnap Sadie…

The house also will never be the same, Denis emptied the dishwasher on the first morning AE (after Eilish) so that either means he’s going to keep doing it or next time it’s my turn. I would like to include optimism in my adaptability so I think he’s going to keep doing it.

These lovely things popped up in our front wasteland

We have a grocery delivery today and in the spirit of adaptability I added a game of chance to keep our spirits up. There’s a window of two hours during which the groceries will arrive. Today, if they arrive in the first hour I will get them and unpack them and put them away, all on my own. But if they arrive in the second hour Denis will do it on his own. We’re halfway through the first hour, anyone want to get involved in a side bet?

The old road…

Oh, the dog is gone too. Eilish took Sadie, with her. Yes we are grieving. Ok she was very annoying when she barked but she only barked when someone came to the door (not a lot of that lately) or when we kissed (also, not a lot of that lately) because kissing is like attacking someone with your teeth to Sadie… Or when any of us picked up the door keys or when the seagulls made seagull noise or when a cat sauntered through the back garden. Or when she heard an unusual noise or… actually, she barked a lot. But in the evening when we all sat down to watch Downton Abbey (family show, no violence, no bad language, no sex scenes, nice costumes, perfect for Sadie) she sat on my lap and fell asleep. Awww. Making it impossible for me to get anything from the kitchen so Denis had to serve me. Awww. .

Look! The strawberries are nearly here!

We’ve been in contact and unfortunately Eilish is very happy at home and not interested in coming back so we’ll have to carry on without her. Maybe DoneDeal.ie have a mother-in-law section?

May you be well, Mairead.

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We have a flour mountain…

Sadie’s favourite place to watch the neighbour’s cat

We seem to be settling into a bit of a rut here at the moment, one day is very like the rest with spikes of excitement on grocery days and 5km walk day but last week there was a huge spike.

Sadie’s “well, any chance of a walk?” face

We now have roadmap of the proposed situation for the next four months and in celebration Denis and I walked to the petrol station to buy a newspaper. It’s less than 2km but this was Saturday morning and the new 5km walking limit didn’t start until Tuesday. Anyways, it was a beautiful sunny day. When we arrived I waited outside, Denis went in with his makeshift mask.

Flour Hero!

Ten minutes later from my seat on the curb, I am speechless, Denis is standing in front of me with two bags of precious flour. They have a small shop in the petrol station and I did tell him to keep an eye out for flour but I never thought there would be any. Oh the excitement. We have been eating Eilish’s creations ever since.

(This is the only picture of the Curney Cake, you’re lucky to get it, normally there no time to take a picture before I eat it)

But now I think I might have a problem. I am secretly cutting slices from the Curney Cake (an absolutely delicious crusty scone cake with sultanas and orange zest) and slathering it in butter. No one knows why the cake is getting smaller and smaller, except me. Also, on an unrelated matter, no one knows why my cheeks are getting chubbier, I might be allergic to one of the plants in the garden? When Tuesday (the start of the 5km walking) finally arrived Eilish and I set out for the sea and we brought a picnic and the dog. Another beautiful day. Another Curney Cake, this time as well as butter there was Rhubarb Jam. Yes Eilish has made three and a half pots of Rhubarb and Ginger Jam. Yes I’m eating that too. But at least we are walking everyday.

View from our picnic

Oh, full disclosure, we drove to the beach and had a little walk, no need to over do it on our first day. Must rush, there’s an emergency in the kitchen – the Curney Cake is all gone, I need to tell Eilish. Only two and a half kilos of flour to go.

May you be well, Mairead.

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New Normal Gifting

Eilish modeling my scarf

I could hear Eilish rustling papers in the larder and wanted to know what she was up to, she told me to stop being so curious. Next thing she arrives out with a brown paper parcel tied with yarn. It was for me! The scarf she’s been crocheting for two weeks is mine! I have been eyeing it up since the day she started and she must have noticed. A note fell out as I was opening it. A very funny note about these strange times and our little community.

Brown paper parcel

On Sunday my FenceChat neighbour Aileen put on her angel wings and sent some self-raising flour over the fence. In case you don’t know, flour, of any variety has been impossible to get in the online supermarket delivery. That’s ok I don’t need the extra calories but we were missing the creative possibilities. Eilish’s hidden break-the-rules tendency comes to the fore when she thinks about baking. She’s been scouring the cook books looking for a recipe to break. The contents of our larder has constrained her a bit but in spite of that yesterday she made apple and clove queen cakes and tomorrow she has promised raspberry buns. I will need to increase the number of 2km walks and I’m searching Youtube to find out how to let out my jeans.

We’re nearly finished the most difficult jigsaw on the planet

In other news, my mother told me a story that made me cry. There’s a school near her nursing home and this week lots of letters arrived from the children. My mother got one from a ten year old boy and she read it to me. It was adorable and as newsy as a ten year old boy can be but the line that got me was, “everyday on our way to school we wave at your home” I’m tearing up again now, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I shared the story with Eilish and I couldn’t get past this line and again with Denis. It just doesn’t get old for me. I’m imaging the boy and his mother or it could be his granny driving him to school, maybe there’s a brother or sister and the adult is kind and she says, look here we are, start waving! Of course they’re not going to school at the moment so he waves in a letter. Isn’t that beautiful? I’m dribbling on the keypad. Oh and my mother has written back to him. She used her last stamp! Holy god, I’m in bits.

May you be well, Mairead.

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The TO DO List exploded…

My porridge sends you a heart!

We are still working away in the garden but we have slowed down. Thankfully. My back was starting to ache and Eilish was getting better at being the boss of me. She has a very productive way of getting me off a chair, she goes out into the garden and leaves the back door open. Did you know the east wind is still blowing? The east wind is very cold when you’re sitting in a chair. Fortunately she’s ready for a break now too and I’m encouraging her to take one, she really needs to slow down… I’m not getting any younger. Where would we go if we took a break, though? We’re already on a break, aren’t we? What kind of un-magical rethinking made this seem like work?

The cherry blossom on our route turned to confetti

I blame the TO DO list. We were moseying along from weed to hedge, to seedlings, to shed, cutting and picking and shredding and painting. Happily doing just one thing at a time and getting loads done. Then I thought I might be missing something, forgetting something. I came up with a great idea (not) to make a TO DO list. I was thrilled. I wrote down all the jobs we were doing and every time we had a good idea I added that to the list. When it came to two pages I felt very productive. Well I was productive, I had produced two pages of words. That’s great, isn’t it? No, it’s not.

The shed disguised as a beach hut

I could have sat looking at that productive list for a long time, if it wasn’t for the open door and the east wind blowing. Instead I got to work. Every time we stopped for a drink or a meal I would return to the TO DO list to scratch off something and I soon realised a mistake. It was only the first mistake. I had made the items on the list too broad, not detailed enough. Each item could easily cover twenty steps. Some steps needed two lines. Two days in I decided we needed a more detailed TO DO list. It took me an hour and more paper but I had a great list. I took a drink break and then went back to the garden.

Bluebells turned up in the front garden

Today I looked at the list. The ginormous list. I am overwhelmed. My overwhelm is slowing me down, I am doing less. I have slowly increased the number of drink breaks and even added a sit-quietly-in-a-dark-room break. I no longer care about the east wind. I wrap my blanket around my legs to keep warm now when Eilish goes outside. We will never, I repeat, never finish the TO DO list…

Our prize rootball… we celebrate every success

I’m starting to mumble to myself here in my dark room and just now I heard myself ask, Would it be ok to tear up the TO DO list? No! It would not be ok, I heard the garden police reply. Do the garden police even exist? They might not. I’m tearing up the TO Do list.

May you be well, Mairead.

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Community Spirit


(There was rain, beautiful rain)

I want to tell you a story about something that happened before I started writing about the new normal journey. The day after Eilish arrived in Greystones, Denis began feeling unwell. He rang the doctor and spoke to the receptionist who explained the procedure. He went on to the HSE (Irish health service) website to fill in a form for a test and then he went into self-isolation in our bedroom. I moved into the box room and we all lived happily ever after…

(The rain fell on the farmyard manure)

The next day I got up early to go to the supermarket. I wanted to do the shopping at a time when it would be quiet but when I got a text message from my sister-in-law, Helen, wishing me a happy St. Patrick’s Day I realised… it was St. Patrick’s Day. The supermarket wouldn’t be open early. Something cracked inside and I realised there were some things from now on that I couldn’t control and shopping in a quiet supermarket was one of them. Later that day I looked at the click and collect options and I booked a slot for the following week. Ok, I can do this, I’ll go to the supermarket early tomorrow instead but in the meantime I know we will have food next week no matter what.

(And it fell on the wire that will hold up the climbers)

Next morning, I delivered Denis’ breakfast and got dressed up to go to the supermarket. I hadn’t realised I was so tense, after all it’s just a supermarket trip, what’s so scary? When I opened the front door there was a leaflet on the porch floor.

(The leaflet, I’ve covered the personal details)

It read,
If you are self-isolating, I can help. My name is Orla… I’m part of a local volunteer network and live in…. My phone number is…
There was a list of things she could help with including talking on the phone. There were phone numbers for the HSE and Alone (charity for older people) and there were guidelines about the virus. At the bottom of the note there was a note saying how she and her neighbour had used hand sanitiser before preparing the leaflets and how they had used it again between visiting each house.

(Sun came out and painting moved to the fence)

I don’t know Orla but in that moment I loved her. I’d never heard of a local volunteer group. Did someone see the same news reports as me and instead of getting anxious, got organised? Orla was somewhere out there with kindness in her heart and a bundle of notes under her arm and if she was doing that then I could do this. I could be organised too.

(One down only 12 more to go…)

I got the groceries, it was very quiet in the supermarket. I went to the chemist, there was a small queue. All was well. Later that day I sent Orla a text to thank her, she said it was happening all over Greystones. She said she lived on the next green to me. I said I was really grateful for her note and we were fine for food but if there was anything I could do to please let me know. I made her a card and when I took Sadie for a walk I posted it in her post box. First, I laminated it and wiped it down with hard sanitiser.

(One and a half done… more to do)

While I was delivering the card I noticed there were children in Orla’s house (no I was not staking out her house…) Can you imagine the stories those children will tell their grandchildren about this time? They will say that their mother printed and cut up leaflets for nearly two hundred houses and that she sanitised her hands every time she popped one in a letter box. That she walked to every one of those houses letting people know they were not alone. That she went to the supermarket for her neighbours who couldn’t. That she chatted on the phone to strangers, reassuring them. I can imagine memories like that having the ability to sustain communities long after this is over. There’s a bigger prize than normality waiting for us on the other side of this.

May you be well, Mairead.

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Hidden Shed Treasures

(I suppose white is bright…)

And now we’re painting. Not art, no, the shed. Well it was bound to happen. I blame Eilish. She saw the old paint tins that I was storing until next year or the year after when I’d get the date right and take them to the town council car park for the toxic dump day. I never got the day right and here we are with a hidden stash of rusted paint tins. I’d never have opened them. I might have started burying them but I’d never have opened them. Eilish opened them.

(My shine a light on Easter Saturday night… Christmas angel from Sally)

The first surprise for me was that they are not rusted on the inside. Nope, not even a little bit. The second surprise was that even though we bought them for one purpose they can be used for something else… like a shed. I know, crazy right?

(We found this in the larder… yes, we ate it… at Easter. The rule book has been burned)

Eilish painted the shed door on a day in the recent past, as I no longer know what day today is it could have been Thursday or Friday or Saturday? Then yesterday I painted one side, we are very grateful that there are only two sides accessible therefore we are more than halfway finished already.

(Long life custard… I’m not sure it means you will have a long life if you eat it but I’m willing to experiment)

I have secretly dreamed of painting the shed for years. I have. I’d see brightly coloured little sheds on Pinterest or in the paint catalogue at Woodies and I’d think, some day…the day came. If only I had been buying the paint in Woodies, a brightly coloured shed might be in my future but no, our rusting tins of paint contain only white.

We like finished.

And therein hides a dilemma. Did I mention we got some jigsaws from the Cork art and craft shop that delivers? It’s called VibesandScribes.ie it’s well known in Cork so of course Eilish knew about it but when her daughter-in-law, Helen, suggested we might get some project supplies, Eilish and I did something we’d never done before.

(Jigsaws are fun…)

We went online shopping. Now there’s pyjamas and unmentionables (Eilish doesn’t like when I call them knickers) arriving tomorrow, the jigsaws arrived on Friday and there was a crochet kit too. We started the jigsaw and pretty soon just wanted it finished. Jigsaws are very frustrating. You get one piece to fit and you think, I can do this, this is great. Then the next 64 pieces you try won’t fit, I can’t do this, this is soooooo frustrating. In the midst of the frustration it’s really hard to notice that you got that jigsaw to have a jigsaw experience. And jigsaw experiences contain both highs and lows. Like life. Wishing for it to be finished is like wishing your life away.

(Seen on our 2km walk. There’s a lot of beauty out on our street that I hadn’t noticed before)

I’ve know about this dilemma for a while now but I forget… like in the middle of the jigsaw or painting the shed or when we can’t get flour in our supermarket delivery or when the lockdown is extended. So today I’m going to remember that gratitude is the cure for wishing my life away. I am grateful that the people in Vibes and Scribes are working. I’m grateful that my Mam taught me to bake scones when I was a child and that baking them still brings me joy. I am grateful that Eilish will never let a half empty rusty tin of paint be wasted. I am grateful that I am here and now and safe and well.

May you be well, Mairead.

PS. Eilish has just uncovered a rusty tin of blue paint, we haven’t opened it yet… I am beyond excited!

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The shredder is all mine…

(Growing baby daisy’s in the maternity ward)

The gardening continues. I’ve just realised this might be why my dabbling in the garden previously didn’t bear fruit (pun intended.) It’s a continuous game, gardening. Persistence is rewarded and popping in and out once a month is very much discouraged. Maybe that’s why a team of gardeners is a good thing. We have a team here at the moment one of us is part-time but we’re getting the most out of him. In spite of his protests about being too busy I’ve seen him secretly checking out the growth of our seeds in the maternity ward.

(Here we are in prenatal… with little Rose)

So last weekend was the first weekend Denis was able to get into the garden. Eilish had a list of jobs ready for him and I learned a thing or two about keeping him on point and not wandering off to do something he liked better. The phrase, oh no you’re not finished here yet! stops him in his tracks. Let me just write that down for future use.

(FenceChat location)

He fixed the fence between our house and my friend Aileen and now I’m not worried about falling over it during our weekly FenceChat. It’s a new app like zoom but no one freezes, except from the cold.

He also hammer-actioned some screws into some wood and fixed the shed door. It seems lifting the door with one foot while undoing the bolt was not the intended way to get into the shed. We are saving a ton of time without all the gymnastics.

(Can you see those fabulous hammer-action screws?)

Then Eilish found my new favourite tool – a shredder. It was at the back of the shed and one of the things I didn’t know I was grateful for… I woke up on Friday morning with a brilliant idea. With all our enthusiasm in the first weeks we had filled three huge garden bags and numerous smaller black bags with garden debris. Then we had run out of bags and no way of getting more so we were at a tipping point… On the one hand neatly cut plants and pulled weeds, on the other, towering piles of plant cuttings and weeds. I have to be very particular when taking photos for you, one centimeter too far to the right or left and you will be horrified.

(Denis was a little too wide angle on this shot… but there’s me and my shredder)

I started using my shredder (it’s mine) on Saturday. By the way, I’m the only one allowed to use the shredder, safety issues, you understand. Stay well back now. (Don’t tell them but it’s nothing to do with safety, it’s all about the optics, I look like I’m doing a lot but the machine is doing it all. Kinda like how I used to think about ironing before I realised no one was noticing my neat piles of ironed clothes left lying around the house for weeks. The noise of the shredder ensures everyone knows I’m hard at work…)

(Here’s Denis working on the fence or maybe he’s doing a little dance?)

So now I’m shredding (well ok the machine is shredding) the contents of the garden debris bags. On top of that we can use the shredded material for mulch (impressed? that’s a new word in my vocabulary, maybe I will become a gardening app next?) on the front garden. It works best with woody material so the weeds will have to turn themselves into compost on their own. For that purpose we have found a good spot and they are hard at work.

(Even with that big pile of rubbish, this is still my favourite spot to sit and do nothing)

Well to be honest they are slow at work, very slow but that’s ok, slow is acceptable too. I can feel myself slowing down too, is it time to sit and enjoy the garden yet?

May you be well, Mairead.

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The fairy princess and the dragon…

There will be a short story time interval from the garden…

Dorothy's Garden(Disclaimer:This is not my garden. This is Dorothy’s garden. One day my garden will grow up and be like Dorothy’s garden… maybe)

Once upon a time there was a little fairy princess called Betty…

Betty didn’t know she was a fairy princess, neither did her family or her friends or any of the people in her town. But she was.

Rain plant(There was rain)

They all thought what she did was just normal, ordinary, nothing special. This is what she did… every night when she fell asleep she made bandages in her dreams and every morning she walked through the town handing the bandages to everyone she met.

Rain Pegs(Rain here too)

Then one day everything changed. A huge angry dragon arrived at the edge of town and started screaming fireballs out through his mouth and down Church Street. Everyone was terrified. Including the fairy princess but she had a job to do so she carried on. It was a little more difficult today as everyone was hiding in their houses so Betty had to push her bandages through letter boxes or leave them in porches. The dragon had made everything very hot and Betty’s clothes and hands and face were getting a little scorched but she kept going and eventually had delivered all the bandages… except one.

Shed Love(No rain here… impressive, right? Yes, there’s still ivy but this is a marathon not a sprint)

Betty knew who this one was for and she was more than a little afraid but she carried on. On to the edge of town where the dragon stood. When he saw Betty coming towards him he hiccuped and the fireballs stopped. Betty held out her last bandage and the dragon took it. Then Betty turned around and walked back through the town towards home. All the townspeople looking out their windows were astonished and started to clap. Betty heard the clapping and joined in (she really didn’t know she was a fairy princess but everyone else in town was starting to suspect…)

Buds(Look! Buds!)

Next morning the dragon was still there and Betty did the same thing she always did, she gave out her bandages and as she approached the dragon he hiccuped again then reached out towards Betty and took his bandage. Betty turned around and walked home clapping along when she heard the townspeople from their houses.

Worm(Can you see the worm? Gardener’s friend)

This went on for weeks. Betty was running out of un-scorched clothes. The townspeople were wondering if they’d every walk down Church Street again when one morning as Betty was handing the bandage to him, the dragon spoke…

Thank you.

Seed Sprout(Sorry it’s a bit fuzzy in the seed maternity ward… one of our seeds has sprouted!)

We are the townspeople and we are beginning to suspect that we have some fairy princesses living among us.

To a fairy princess called Val, thank you, x.

To my fairy princess sister in law, Helen, thank you, x.

To the fairy princesses who take care of my mother in the nursing home, thank you, x.

To the fairy princess guy with the tattoos in the supermarket click and collect in Greystones who keeps us fed, thank you, x.

There’s every likelihood that you are a fairy princess too because I’m beginning to suspect you’ve been one all along, thank you, x.

May you be well, Mairead.


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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.

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Learned Experiences

P1080630 (1)

(Our shed-growing daffodils are still going strong)

I realised something today. Although it seems like NOT a lot is happening here, there’s a lot happening here. Only last week I learned how to make a loaf of brown bread that would not break your teeth. As Denis and I get older we become more fond of our teeth so this feels like perfect timing. Up until now I did not think this was possible but kidnapping Eilish has opened up a whole new range of experiences.

It’s harder than you think… one of the projects we intend to master

Did you know you have to feed plants every week? You do! Eilish has a catchy way of remembering, Miracle Grow Every Friday. Yes that’s it, ok, not very catchy and yet I have remembered it. She did steal it from a lady in a garden center and we do have to change it to Miracle Grow Every Tuesday but still… We’ll see if it makes a difference in the garden.

This one does break teeth

There’s an north east wind blowing today. Did you know that? Seemingly, it’s a very cold wind when it blows. I have a weather app on my phone and I can connect with Met Eireann (weather office in Ireland) but Eilish is her own weather app. In the distant past when she lived at home in her own house and I’d ring her for a chat, the first thing she always wanted to know was, what was the weather like with me. And I’d squint out the window or look at my app to tell her. These days, I always know the weather! Ooh that feels like a change in pressure, did you feel it, Do you think it might be going to rain a bit? That’s the kind of thing I find myself saying. One day I’m gong to be a weather app too.

(The knitting)

With the change in the wind and the lowering of temperatures neither of us wanted to go out in the garden today. Probably just as well as we have a few other projects to dip into. The first is knitting. We found a knit-along channel on YouTube called Arne and Carlos. They are two Norwegian guys who have to quarantine in their home for two weeks because they were travelling outside Norway. Norway’s got very precise instruction. Anyways they thought it would be a good idea to organize something to keep them company and to keep other people company too. So they designed a bunch of knitting block patterns. Eilish and I are learning how to knit with two different colours at the same time. I don’t know what it’s called but there’s a lot of counting and Eilish has learned to swear…

P1080636 (1)

(These might be weeds, we don’t know yet)

I can’t imagine how Denis is going to cope with the changes in the two of us when he gets out of self-isolation tomorrow. Not that he’ll have time to notice… he’s on dinner duty for the rest of his life after this.

May you be well, Mairead.


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The Journey

(Practicing Garden Therapy)

Today is the day we were booked to travel on the ferry from Rosslare to France ❤️ then onto Spain ❤️ on our journey to Portugal ❤️. Right about now I would be writing my first post from the car park of the services area near Gorey. But everything changed and here we all are on a different kind of journey. Together.

(Watching Eilish playing in the shed)

I’m sitting in my garden and I can tell you one thing I didn’t know before, I am very lucky to have a garden. I have been neglecting her but she waited, hibernated even, let herself go a bit with the grief of missing my care. I’m sorry, garden. I’ll do better. I think that’s one of the things this journey is going to be about – gratitude for the things I didn’t know I had.

(We are collecting sticks… I’ll explain another day)

Another thing about this journey is that there’s three of us. Denis, whom I’m usually living with in close confines, has been self-isolating for the past ten days, we talk on the phone now. I suppose I should add him to the list of things I’m grateful for. I didn’t realise how much I have got used to his presence. I am finding it surprisingly easy to be annoyed by his absence which I find surprisingly easy to turn into annoyance with him but he’s taking it well. I’m obviously not trying hard enough.

(Aren’t they lovely?)

Eilish is here too, Denis’ Mom (Denis and his five brothers all call their Mam, Mom – might be a Cork thing.) Eleven days ago we gave her an ultimatum and bundled her into the car to come live with us. Right about now I sense she’s ready to bolt. I’m really grateful she’s here though because she’s a huge distraction. You know, like Netflix?

(The description said they were ground cover and seemingly that means less weeds?)

When I’m not watching her we’ve been navigating a way to be two strong women sharing one house… politely. (Politely because Eilish doesn’t use swear words, I love them! I have found a way to make her laugh when I’m swearing though, I love to make her laugh.) She has a very different way of looking at things and she definitely thinks there’s one right way to do stuff. I don’t think there’s one right way… and I know I’m right…

(That’s wild garlic. Liam, one of Eilish’s sons, gave it to me last year and it survived!)

We are very alike in many ways, we like crafting and more recently gardening and Denis, we like Denis, mostly. We are also very different. She likes crafts to be exactly like the pattern intended, I don’t like following the pattern. I think weeds are just flowers planted in the wrong place and she thinks that’s crazy talk. I bet when she reads this she’ll say, Now, don’t mind me, Mairead but maybe just take a few more pictures of the garden and say less?

(Look! Ivy grows in our shed!)

It was my Dad’s birthday yesterday, he’d have been 99. I was thinking of him and the time of the petrol crisis (that was when we thought not having petrol was the worst thing that could happen to us.) He had a petrol station during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and the petrol crisis was a highpoint for him. He realised that how he behaved then would underscore the rest of his business life. So he was kind. He rationed the petrol so there would be enough for everyone. Even if you weren’t a customer, even if he didn’t know you or would never see you again. Thirty years later people from different parts of Ireland were dropping in to thank him and remind him of how he helped them when they most needed it.

He reminds me that my behaviour now will underscore the rest of my life. I’m negotiating my way through this and it’s not in every moment but most of the time, I try to be kind.

May you be well, Mairead.

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Back in Ireland

(Passing gates, grass, hedges and ploughed fields on our way home…)

We did indeed have calm seas with just a bit of waving motion which I don’t like so I went back to bed until it passed.

When we finally arrived at home trick or treat was in full swing. It was pitch dark, children and adults were wandering on and off the paths. Fireworks were exploding and it took a bit of effort to negotiate the reversing of Ruby into her spot. The freezer had defrosted itself while we were away so that needed attention. Everything else was fine.

Now it’s the next morning and time to write a to do list, hug the washing machine and get the groceries. Oh and empty Ruby, we couldn’t face that in the dark last night.

I do have another project in mind and as you know, from past experience, I have to tell you about it in order to do it but I’m not ready yet… instead I’ll write to you in a week and bring you up to date.

For now: Thank you for reading. To those who emailed or texted or commented or bought my book I really, really appreciate the time and effort and expense you expended.

Thank you for joining us as we wandered this autumn around France in Ruby. Mairead and Denis.

(There we are in Greystones)

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