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 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 ( 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!

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.

End of the road

(Here’s our entire route from the Rego app…)

Thank you for being with us on the journey, now we’re all back where we started. We’ve been back a week and have managed to do some travelling in Ireland in that time. It’s just as beautiful here as it is in France and Spain and Portugal, by the way. The weather? Not as different as we used to think.

(Listening to a busker at the Rock of Cashel)

Ruby has been emptied, the washing machine has been filled and emptied many times and we are getting used to having extra space, extra power sockets, unlimited electricity, unlimited data and a wild garden. We’ve noticed having a car makes us walk less as does having a washing machine. During our forced stay in Benet I hit my step count just by going over and back to the laundry machines.

(Noticing sunset near Cloyne)

I am, as I decided when we reached the journey ending, at a beginning. It’s up to me to decide what this is, what I want to be telling myself and you for the next few months. Do you think it’s possible to live intentionally with a story you tell yourself? I think we live in stories we tell ourselves all the time, just accidentally. Telling an intentional story would mean choosing what you really want to be, do, feel, think.

(Smiling at the cute postbox in Dungarvan)

Our attitude to the weather is an accidental story we tell ourselves. In Ireland we believe the weather is supposed to be good, we are disappointed when it’s not. We complain about it all the time. What if we believed the weather was supposed to be terrible? On a wet and miserable day we would nod our heads and carry on. But on a day when the sun rose to a cloudless sky (like today) we would be astonished, in awe. We’d still just carry on but we’d notice the beauty… and we’d feel it.

(Remembering Lisbon scooter rental at the bike rental in Dublin)

I am quite nervous about sharing my plans for this beginning because I’m not at all confident that I can successfully complete them, so maybe I shouldn’t even start them. Weirdly, that’s a helpful realization and leads me to the first intention: to notice myself thinking, you never finish anything, you won’t be able to do this and carry on doing what I’m doing anyway.

(Listening to the son making music…)

So here’s my intentional story for the next few months… I will compile the blog posts over these last eighty-something days into an ebook and put it up for sale on Amazon. You never finish anything, you won’t be able to do this. When that’s done I will create a short and simple video course about how to compile your writing into an ebook and sell the course. You never finish anything, you won’t be able to do this. I will get up every day at 6am to get this work done. You never finish anything, you won’t be able to do this. I will incorporate healthy habits, like walking, eating well, practicing mindfulness and noticing beauty. You never finish anything, you won’t be able to do this.

I’m just getting started, Mairead.

Spanish Surprises

(Lovely old gate in Palencia)

After lunch we changed plans and decided to move from the beautiful view and my stork and travel a couple of hours here to Palencia. Travelling by motorhome you can do that, travelling by motorhome you sometimes have to do that. Earlier at Bragança the toilet cassette empty station was full to overflowing so we couldn’t empty our cassette. There were no facilities at Puebla de Sanabria so we went on to Palencia.

(Old bridge)

We had a moment of confusing when we were almost there. There was something wrong with the sat-nav. It was 2.55pm and the sat-nav was predicting we would arrive at our destination in five minutes. It also said our time of arrival would be 4pm. But that was an hour and five minutes away. Something was definitely wrong.

(Straight through the park)

It happens every time we cross back over the border into Spain. The time difference. We lost an hour. We will get it back when we land in Ireland. (Must remember to enjoy that.) What do the people who live beside a timezone change do? How do they avoid confusion? Of course it could be really useful when you run out of time to pop across the border and get another hour. Imagine that…

(Cute statue near the cathedral)

Palencia is a very old town with a great free camping place just ten minutes from the sights. There are toilets and showers and something we really need at the moment – a washing machine. I spent the afternoon washing clothes. There’s also a few clothes lines, solar power.

(Old stationery shop)

There’s also a cathedral, churches museums, loads of shops and plenty of restaurants and cafes. We found a lovely tapas bar. Another thing we forget when we cross the border, no one speaks English and there are no English versions of the menu. When I asked the waitress if she spoke English she opened her eyes wide in happy surprise and shook her head to indicate no. French? Same response.

(Post box at the post office)

It was a lovely moment because it was unexpected. She reacted without irritation or apology or sorrow or guilt or disappointment or anything negative. She seemed genuinely happily surprised. Almost like she couldn’t wait to see what might happen next.

(Wine bottle light fittings at the tapas bar)

What happened next was we discovered we know far more Spanish words than we thought. Words like Cerveza (beer) aqua con gaz, (sparkling water) and tapas came tumbling out of our mouths. Now we were smiling with happy surprise too. She pointed us at the tapas section in the menu and then went off to get our drinks. The words in the tapas section were lovely and mostly unfamiliar but they were only €2.50 each so we picked the names we liked.

(Love the coat hooks)

We picked well! They were amazing. The date on top of a rasher (not actual rasher but better if you can even imagine that!) on top of an egg on top of a pepper on top of bread one was the most amazing things I ever tasted. By the time we were leaving we could say multo bene which we hope means very good. It probably does because our waitress was smiling with a different happy surprised look. You know the one parents give to their children when they do something good? Although she was very young. Maybe it’s the look grandchildren give when their grandparents learn to use the remote?

Multo bene, Mairead.

Braving the castle walls…

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(One of the gates into the town)

We’ve moved about half an hour east and we’re at a new location, just outside the town of Serpa. We have never been here before. There’s castle ruins and the old part of the town is surrounded by a wall with narrow gates. Oh and there’s an aqueduct. We do seem to be finding very cute locations this year. Moving slowly for short distances seems to help. We have been in the region called Alentejo since leaving Lisboa and it’s full of atmosphere.

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(There be dragons!)

It’s not just the towns, I love the countryside as we drive through. It’s mainly agriculture. We’ve seen wine growing (well… vines) and olive groves and cork trees with sheep grazing underneath. There’s newly ploughed fields and rows of unidentified plants starting to grow. There’s drains fed by lakes and barragems to bring water to the fields.

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(Decorated by nature)

I went to visit the castle when we arrived and walked the narrow streets. I was immediately reminded of home. Back at the Rock of Cashel there was a lightening storm in the early 60’s and part of the (already in ruins) cathedral fell down. It was never moved and it sits to this day outside the cathedral door. Well something similar seems to have happened here, although it could have been an earthquake…

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(I walked under that! Portugal makes you brave!)

You have to walk under the balanced rock to get to the castle gates.There’s a museum with artefacts they found at the site, going way way back in time. I’m going back again tomorrow to see the original entrance, but I’ll still have to go under the balancing rock.

Do they have earthquakes in Portugal? Mairead.

Road Trip

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(There was an amazing sky last night)

We went driving around the countryside today. That wasn’t the plan but that’s what happened. We woke early and my plan was to go take pictures at the beach 2km down the road. Off we set at 9.30am and we were still driving at 10am. We missed the turn. We arrived at a golf resort, a very pretty gated community. We eventually did find the beach and I took the pictures and then we returned to the town with the castle, Alcacer do Sal.

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(The beach at Comporta)

We planned to stop at the free aire in the town but it was closed off, possibly for some festival or market for Easter. We had a coffee by the river to re-group. The coffee I like is an Americano but I have not (until today) known what it’s called in Portugal. I have managed to order it each time using hand gestures and knowing the word for water and milk (with extra nose wrinkling for no milk, thank you) The very happy cafe owner told me, without using any English, it’s called solo. I will need to road test this at another cafe but for now I think it’s correct.

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(The peaceful barragem)

We found a new place to go. A barragem. That means a dam, seemingly there are lots all over Portugal and they usually allow overnight camping. We drove for about 30 minutes from the town and then pulled off onto a narrow road and arrived at a place in the middle of nowhere, buzzing with camper vans. There was a cafe and even toilets. When Denis turned off the engine and I opened the door the sense of peace was huge. I went off to soak it up and take pictures and Denis started work. When I got back it turned out there was one thing missing… internet.

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(Pretty flowers at the barragem)

We said goodbye to the neighbours from the Netherlands who had great English (and German and Spanish and probably Dutch…) naturally. We’re in a new town, there’s a castle 20 minutes walk away and a cafe approximately 70 meters away. It’s not as peaceful here but it does have internet.

From Peaceful Portugal, Mairead.

Expectations and Surprises

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(You might see some smoke coming from the street half way down and off to the right… there’s a woman barbecuing fish outside her house)

I’ve been on walkabout in our new town today, inspired by another exercise from the Creativity Workshop… The one where I meet me (or to be exact me from a parallel dimension) in a piazza in Florence. I’m sitting there in Florence having a coffee while I write in my journal and along comes me. We have a great chat about the differences in our lives. There’s not many differences, actually, but there is one big difference. Love.

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(Can you see the cute metal steps into this grocery shop?)

Remember how I was telling you about my idea pregnancy? How I get these great ideas all the time and how I fall in love with them but ultimately I fall out of love with them? I think there are a few reasons why I fall out of love, one is fear. Fear of failure. Another is giant expectation. Giant expectation that everything will go well. And finally a huge reason I fall out of love with ideas is to do with money. Financial success. I think they are useless… unless they bring me money, when I already have enough money to survive.

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(This is a statue of Pedro Nunes, he’s a famous mathematician, google him. He was born here)

It turns out I was disrespecting my amateur status. The dictionary (well the apple dictionary) says amateur is a person who engages in a pursuit especially a sport on an unpaid basis. Or more cruelly, a person considered contemptibly inept at a particular activity. Fortunately, these are not the only definitions and last week at the workshop I got the definition that best suits me. The me that lives in this parallel dimension (note: anytime you think this is weird remind yourself, nothing weird is going on here…) An amateur is someone who does what they do for the love of it and not for financial gain. Me in the other dimension (note: you know what to do) has embraced this definition. She does what has to be done to bring in enough money to survive and then she nourishes the idea she loves. She still has fear but that does not stop her. She has dropped giant expectations and instead enjoys the giant excitement of surprises.

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(Ciara! Fred has a Fred in a parallel dimension sunning himself here in Portugal)

So this morning after breakfast (and after doing the jobs that have to be done) I went off to meet the other me at a cafe by the river. I brought my journal and I ordered a coffee. She’s a great listener. She understand me, she doesn’t judge me, and I think she might even like me. I wanted her to tell me what to do now, this minute, to move my latest idea along faster but she wouldn’t. She reminded me of the slow gestation period. So I got a bit irritated with her. She didn’t mind, she just looked at a seat two tables over. I followed her gaze.

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(Blue tiles, blue sky)

Right so, we have to jump back here. To the Interview exercise. You remember Virginia? From a couple of days ago? She of the great story? I know I haven’t told you her story and it’s not ready yet but I will tell you as soon as I can. For now you just have to remember that I was interviewing Virginia and the process of temporarily becoming Virginia had a huge (maybe even profound? no, too pretentious, remember expectations? huge is grand) impact on me. Well that’s kinda my latest idea. (Are you keeping up? Should I set up a help desk?) Can’t go into details about the idea as I’m honouring its gestation period. Suffice to say it involves interviewing people… Got it?

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(An open door…)

So there I am this morning following the gaze of me (from a parallel dimension) when I see a young man sitting at a table two over. I say, you can’t be serious! Me (from a parallel dimension) says absolutely nothing…

Me: I can not interview him!

Me (from a parallel dimension):  Still says nothing…

Me: What if he doesn’t speak English?

Me (from a parallel dimension): …silence

Me: What if he thinks I’m selling something?

Me (from a parallel dimension): …silence

Me:What if he thinks I want to be his friend?

Me (from a parallel dimension): …nothing

Me: What if he wants to be my friend?

Me (from a parallel dimension): …nada

Me: What if he expects something?

Me (from a parallel dimension): What if he doesn’t?

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(I love the way this door is shedding its skin)

I can hardly believe what happened next… I picked up my bag and phone, I got up and went over to the young man and after confirming that he did indeed speak English (he was bilingual! Portuguese and English! I’m not joking) I told him about my idea. He talked to me. He didn’t expect anything and he didn’t want to be my friend.

This is me enjoying the giant excitement of surprises. Mairead.

Thanks Mam, for Picking my Dad

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(Our bridge at Alcacer do Sal in the afternoon…)

It’s my Dad’s birthday today. He died on this day 16 yeas ago, but he’s alive in everything I do. For instance this week he was at the Creativity Workshop with me (again, nothing weird going on here…) From the moment it was time to lay down on the floor for the first exercise, he was getting involved.

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(…at sunset)

The exercise was so relaxing, we were to think about our grandmother, didn’t matter which one or even if it was our real grandmother. Then we went off to visit her under the sea (note: no, I did not get into a body of water) because it turned out I could breathe under water (note: no). I was considering my maternal grandmother, getting settled into meeting her again, but no my Dad says, look it’s my mother! So I met my paternal grandmother under the sea. She was delighted to see me. She wanted to hear my stories. She gave me a green pebble with swirling designs on it and sent me back to fight a dragon. As you do.

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(…at night)

I suppose it’s my own fault. We had to bring something from childhood with us to the workshop. In my group the other two people, Jodie and Mitch (waves) brought pictures of their well-loved teddy and rabbit from babyhood. Pictures, because they were travelling by plane and their toy was so precious that plane travel was too dangerous. That’s precious. I couldn’t think what to bring, I didn’t have a childhood toy. So I brought a picture of my Dad and me when I was nearly two, I’m standing on his hand. So I brought my Dad to the workshop.

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(My dad and me doing our party trick!)

I’ve known about my acrobatic gift for a long time and I’ve seen the photo many times in the last 50+ years. I’m almost up to the ceiling and I’m as cool as a cucumber. I have the cutest shoes and the worst type of check kilt. I’m adorable, can hardly keep my eyes off myself. It’s only when I shared it with Jodie and Mitch and they point out my Dad’s face that I see how he looks at me. He can’t take his eyes off me and he looks so happy.

Imagine our lives if we knew we inspired that reaction just by being ourselves. Mairead.

Is this morning sickness?

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(I like this house in the middle of the city. It’s behind a big gate, I peeped in…)

I think I might be pregnant or I’m a gardener… it’s one or the other, I’m not sure.

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(Who lives at 55?)

When I write a blog post I just sit down and start dumping all the things that are in my head into the computer. Then I delete some things, add some things, change some things, mix up some things, until I’m happy enough with what I see and then I post it. I never expect the first dump of words that come out of my head to be the finished post. I have to let them come out, not criticise them, not mistrust them, not judge them, not shout at them, just allow them. Allow them to sit in the computer for a while before it’s time for the pruning. Only then will they get a chance to thrive. This week at the workshop I realised I am a gardener for my blog.

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(There’s a garden behind this door…)

Last night I couldn’t sleep (me either, Julie!) because I have a great idea and I don’t know what to do. If you know me or get me or even just read me you will know that I say the sentence I have this great idea, regularly. It’s one of my favourite sentences in the whole, entire world. It’s always closely followed by a bunch of my least favourite sentences in the whole entire world, That’s a terrible ideaBut how will I do it? I can’t do it! Someone else has already done it! People will think I’m ____. What if I can’t do it? I hate this idea!

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(This is a wise owl’s house)

This morning (3am ish) I started to think that maybe I need to be a gardener for my ideas? The gestation period for the blog posts lasts a few hours and then it’s born, but the gestation period for an idea lasts much longer. I’ve heard, a good gardener honours the gestation period of his seeds. He does not prod at the seed. He does not start pruning as soon as the first teeny tiny leaf pops out of the seed. He does not expect every seed will survive. He does not warn each seeds that his entire reputation and the reputation of his family depends on them and they better perform well.

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(Lines, angles and branches)

I am gestating a seed of an idea. It might take a while. It might take months. But nothing is gong to happen unless I put the seed in fertile soil, on a sunny window and water it. Even then nothing might happen. But I love this idea so much I will trust it to do its best to grow. This reminds me of a quote the I love from the Talmud, Every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow! Grow!” I will be the angel for my idea.

Turns out I’m not pregnant, I’m an angel, Mairead.