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.

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.

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.

Life’s a beach…

2018 1

(There was a boardwalk to the beach so we took a quick look…)

The Algarve area of Portugal is very popular. We’ve been officially in the Algarve for three days now but most people (or maybe just me?) think of the Algarve as the coast and the beautiful beaches. So today we arrived in that part of the Algarve and we went to the beach. We couldn’t stay though because it was full up…

2018 6

(My feets in the sand! It was warm!)

Well, the first two beach side parking places we tried were full. So we went a little (5 minutes) into the countryside and we can just make out the beach (well, if only I had those binoculars, I could.) and we can definitely see the sea. The wild birds are singing and there’s a few hens doing what hens do…crowing? cock-a-doodling?

2018 5

(Denis looks so excited to be in the sea… oh, maybe he’s complaining because of the cold? It is the Atlantic)

I was a bit concerned that we might find it more difficult to find places to stay once we arrived in the far south especially as it’s getting later in the season and the weather has turned. (Fingers crossed.) But here we are in a lovely place that we might never have found if we’d been able to stay at the beach.

2018 3

(The tide was way out)

Something I really love about the motorhome is the flexibility. If your plan doesn’t work out it’s not the end of the world. Another plan is always possible. I’m not naturally optimistic, I have to work at it. Sometimes I am more comfortable thinking about what bad thing could happen so that I can work out in advance what I will do about it. Ruby and this was of living is helping me practice and I actually love optimism. Google it, I think you’ll love it too!

It’s all good, Mairead.

Bubbles and Connection

2018 3 1

(The tiles are like wrapping paper)

Yesterday I went off exploring the town on my own with my camera. I took some pictures. I sat under a tree. I took some more pictures. I sat in a square. I walked on. I stopped to take another picture. If you had gone out at the same time with the same camera on the same streets you would have taken different pictures. Even if you took pictures of the same things you would have focussed on a different section. Or you would have zoomed in or zoomed out.

2018 2 1

(More wrapping paper)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the different bubble of knowledge/experience/emphasis we each bring to whatever we do and wherever we go. My bubble is different to yours and each of our bubbles today are different to what they were yesterday. Going for a walk with my camera was the perfect change of scene to disrupt my thinking and disrupt my bubble.

2018 5 1

(Street name)

I was thinking that when we communicate with another human being we are communicating across bubbles, that can distort the communication even when we are speaking the same language. But then sometimes we connect with a person and it’s almost like we pushed an internal button that aligned our bubble with their bubble and we’re talking the same bubble language.

2018 5

(On top of a column)

Then at other times we are irritated by someone and it’s like we pushed a different button and now our bubble is fizzing and popping and no matter what they say it’s irritating. Recently I met someone who irritated me. My bubble fizzed and popped in a way that was distasteful… (I can’t believe I’m sharing this with you) I went on and on in my mind about how silly she was, how annoying, how childish. Then something about the word childish stopped everything.

2018 7

(See the fields and mountains in the distance)

It was me who being childish. The fizzing and popping had stopped. She reminded me of me! The same mean voice that criticises me was criticising her. I knew which side of the hostilities I wanted to be on. I pushed the internal button, my bubble aligned with hers. At first nothing changed, then she seemed nice and then I wanted to connect. Turned out we didn’t have much in common and we’ll probably never be friends but she taught me to notice my bubble fizzing and popping.

Morto, Mairead.

Beware of: Beware of Pickpockets!

IMG 3348

(Black and white and red and green Lisbon…)

It’s 4am. I’m awake. I think. This week has been like a dream, maybe I’m not awake…

Here’s what happened at the workshop (and here’s a link to the website: Shelley and Alejandro said some stuff and now I believe I can be a fairy princess… No, no, not can be, I believe I am a fairy princess.

IMG 3351

(Go left, that is unless…)

Here’s what happened… there was an exercise on the first day called the Interview. You had to pair up in your free time with another participant and interview them with the purpose of introducing them to the group the next day. So I’ve been to enough workshops to recognise this exercise but, there’s a twist. When you sat in front of the group the next day you were your partner. (Note: I forgot to ask my partner for permission before she left yesterday so I won’t be using her real name or her details but I hope you’ll still get the gist.)

IMG 3374

(Tiles in Colégio Militar, my metro station by the big scary bridge)

My partner’s name is Virginia (note: see previous note, her name is not Virginia…) So when I sat in front of the class I said My name is Virginia and I come from Wales, the one in America (note: no she doesn’t…) and then proceeded to tell a story about Virginia. As if I was Virginia. Right, I’m going to assume you’ve got the idea. The being-your-partner twist might seem like a small twist, it was not a small twist for me.

IMG 3393

(Mats in Sintra)

Anyways, going back to the day of the interview. Day 1 of the Workshop, the day I got lost and un-lost going to the workshop and also got lost and un-lost returning from the workshop: In order to interview Virginia (who was determined to get to know as much of Lisbon as she could in 5 days) we travelled to the other side of the city for lunch and a flea market, as you do. So I was perfectly placed for the getting lost part of this story. I got lost. (As an aside I almost met, but didn’t because she didn’t know my name yet and felt shy of calling out, Hey you from my workshop, Karen (from Canada, who never reads blogs) had also travelled with her friend all the way across Lisbon, coincidentally, to precisely, exactly the same spot I got lost in… are you getting this? I hope you’re hearing Twilight Zone music.)

IMG 3406

(Fountain in Sintra)

Moving along and returning to the point. Picture this, I am losing myself in the tiny crowded streets of Lisbon. I have a backpack the size of a small child on my back carrying everything I might need (except plasters, but that’s a different story.) Google still doesn’t know where I am and the only thought in my mind is, beware of pickpockets. (I need to jump aside here again, to say: Beware of thinking: “beware of pickpockets”!) So that when Karen saw me, she said I was moving in a determined fashion (she used other words but this is a mixed audience, no just joking, I can’t remember her exact phrase.) What she didn’t know was that I had lost my mind (… to thinking). The moment I found my bus to the campsite, I remembered Virginia. Oh my god, Virginia’s story is amazing. Followed by, I wonder if she knows it’s amazing? All the way home on the bus and later in the camper van I was preparing for my starring role as Virginia. Not in the, oh holy god how will I get up in front of all these people I’ve just met? No, instead, I could hardly wait to get up in front of everyone! I imagined how I would do it. I would persuade Virginia that we should volunteer to go first! Neither Virginia nor Mairead seem like the volunteer-to-go-first types. But they did volunteer to go first and they told their stories first.

IMG 3395

(Cheese wrapper from keep-in-touch dinner in Sintra)

I want to tell you Virginia’s story, but as I mentioned earlier I forgot to ask and it’s a bit personal, so I will have to change it a little… but I’m tired now, so I’ll tell you tomorrow… or the next day.

Night, night, Mairead.


2018 2 1

(Welcome to Portugal)

So it’s the week before my workshop in Lisboa and I thought it might be sensible to create some blog posts so I am doing some overtime to cover myself for the duration of the workshop. I have been wondering what to write because I have already written everything that happens (or that comes into my head) each day and posted it in that day’s blog, so there’s nothing left. But then I remembered…

2018 1 1

(Lunch. Isn’t that an adorable box?)

I didn’t blog much last year and I missed it. So before we left this year I decided I would write regularly, definitely weekly. Then I got kinda excited about the idea of writing every day but I didn’t think that would be possible… turns out it was. And now this week I’ll be writing twice a day. I’m doubly excited and doubly worried… but I’ve written previously about my plan to notice my thoughts and that plan doesn’t allow much space for worrying. So here goes…

2018 2

(Make mosaics)

One of the lessons we are learning as we travel is that when you see an opportunity that you want, you really need to go for it. Right when you see it. Don’t wait. Although there’s every reason to believe it will come around again… after a little discomfort. When we see a public toilet as we have a coffee or as we visit a tourist attraction, we use it (ok not every single one).

2018 7 1

(Fill up your gas bottle when ever you get a chance)

If we arrive at an aire and there’s water we top up and we empty our old water. If it’s possible to empty the toilet cassette, we empty it… usually. Last week we didn’t, I might have been distracted. We were in the grand aire by the flooding river. They had all the services but as we were leaving it started to rain, heavily… sure we’re on our way to a campsite, all campsites have cassette empty services. Turns out not all campsites have cassette empty services. There was a little discomfort. I won’t go into it but we will not be making that mistake again….

2018 1

(Travel to warmer countries!)

Going for opportunities is how we came to be living this way, travelling for months each year. It seemed to be possible so we went for it. Going for it can be harder than it seems. It might seem crazy but I find it difficult to leave home and travel. I haven’t shared that truth with many people. It seems ungrateful and a little insane, when so many people wish they could do this and can’t and I can. Or is that normal?

2018 2 1

(Walk in the leaves)

I suppose I’m saying opportunities come with down sides, like the rain falling as you empty your cassette or having to say goodbye to your sister when she’s only just got home. But opportunities also come with up sides and unless you go for it you’ll never know what those up sides are.

From virtual me, (while real me is having a great time at the workshop!) Mairead.

Linda’s Craft Kit

2018 1 1

(The craft kit Linda made up especially for me so that I would always have something creative at hand when I am away❤)

When I woke up this morning I was thinking about the craft kit Linda gave me the week we left Ireland. I was thinking, it’s a great kit and isn’t she very smart and doesn’t it look so neat and didn’t I get great use out of it already… Then I realised I was thinking and I was doubly pleased! Thinking for me is talking to myself and it starts first thing in the morning and goes on all day until I fall asleep. There’s brief moment or two of no thinking/talking when I am meditation or napping or engrossed in a craft. Other than that the day is full of me talking… to myself. And I rarely notice I’m doing it so when I noticed this morning I was chuffed.

2018 1

(Close up of some quilling I made using my kit)

When I first encountered meditation (and for many years after that) I thought it was all about clearing my mind, making it completely silent in there. It’s not. It’s just about noticing when I’m thinking and then going back to whatever I’m doing, like breathing (something else I do all the time.) So in fact every time I find myself thinking when I should be meditating I am actually meditating! (Did you get that? The “finding myself thinking” is the key! My sister has a term I like: the gift of failure.) But there’s even more important things about meditation. It’s not just the sitting there practicing… it’s what happens when I’m not sitting there meditating. Like this morning when I woke up thinking about Linda. The fact that I noticed that I was talking to myself is a BIG thing.

2018 3

(These are the quilling papers from my kit)

Because if I notice I am talking to myself then I can notice what I’m saying… this morning it was something nice. Often it’s not something nice, often it’s something horrible… about me! So imagine the scenario, you’re sitting there looking at a beautiful sunset and from nowhere comes the thought, you should be doing something more productive! Which leads on to an uncomfortable feeling and another thought, you’re a lazy lump! Which feels even more uncomfortable and leads to another thought, this is completely useless, in fact you are completely useless sitting here! Well, you might as well be sitting with someone who hates you! But no, you’re with the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with – You! Don’t be mean to you! But how can you stop being mean to you? You don’t even know you’re talking to yourself!

2018 4

(Here are the stones and glue that I can use to make pebble art)

And that’s one of the gifts of meditation! A different thought pops in to tell you, that’s a thought! At first you can’t hear this new thought and you carry on being mean to you. But one day, you hear, that’s a thought! And your eyebrows rise and you smile and you say, yes, that’s a thought, I’ll go back to looking at the beautiful sunset, sigh.

It’s just a thought and you are not your thoughts, Mairead.

PS If you want to hear Linda’s thoughts go to

Furadouro by the sea

2018 2

(That’s the Atlantic Sea out there)

We’ve travelled a little further south and now we’re in a car park behind the sand dunes at Furadouro. It rained when we got here. It rained all night. Really. All. Night. It’s raining now. But would you believe as I’m writing the rain has stopped! It has.

2018 5

(A sign…)

I’m still reading the 10% Happier book I was telling you about and the idea that things change and nothing, neither good nor bad lasts…. well when it rains as much as it has been here one might fall into the belief that it will never stop. One might become a little anxious and stir crazy. But I’ve been noticing… it isn’t raining all the time. It is raining more than one might expect as a visitor to Portugal, but it does stop from time to time. It stopped at 6.35pm last evening and we went out for a meal. Then it started again 90 minutes later when we were back in the van, which could be considered fortuitous. Very.

2018 1

(The neighbours)

It could also be considered very fortuitous that the good stuff doesn’t last either… during last summer there was a week of a heat wave, do you remember? Well, it was too hot – I know unbelievable, but I remember thinking, “this is way too hot”. Well that didn’t last either, a week later, I was cycling in the rain wondering if the sun would ever come back out…

2018 4

(The main street)

So here we are escaping the snow but getting rain instead, it would be absolutely fantastic if I could uncover a little life message… wouldn’t it? Well, it would and I think I have. You see I had heard of the nothing lasts thingy before and I was “duh! Yes I know nothing lasts, so what?” Here behind the sand dunes of Furadouro with the sound of rain pelting against the tin (poetic licence) roof, I think I finally understand what the so what is…

2018 6

(Even the fences are relaxed)

It’s to do with our thoughts and our feelings. When we think the rain will never stop it makes us feel something like frustration or maybe fear but definitely annoyance. Now, we might know the rain will eventually stop but… we don’t allow that knowing into our thinking. So we wander around in this thinking and we feel so very, very frustrated because the rain is never going to stop. We actually forget the rain always stops. On top of that we don’t even notice when the rain does stop because our thinking isn’t interested in stopped rain it’s searching for something to be thinking about that makes us feel frustrated or annoyed.

2018 3

(I finally asked someone if I could take their photo – can you see them up there?)

Once upon a time there was a woman living beside a lighthouse. She was a very unhappy woman. This woman loved the dark. But every night just as darkness fell instead of feeling happy this woman felt annoyed… because that’s when the lighthouse started to shine… all through the night. She had put up blackout curtains but still felt annoyed with the light. One night there was a terrible storm and a small boat was wrecked on the rocks under the lighthouse. The following morning the woman was walking along the cliff when she saw the wreck and climbed down to check for survivors. She found the sole occupant of the boat, a child, barely alive and carried him up to her house. Within a few weeks thanks to her care the boy had recovered enough to enquire where he was and what had happened. The woman had to explain that sadly his boat had been destroyed and he had had a lucky escape. But the child was very confused because he had no memory of a boat, he had no memory at all.

(You might remember this lighthouse…and what a blue sky looks like)

In spite of that he continued to recover and soon the woman found she was very glad of his company around her little house. He was very helpful and before long was even cooking simple meals for them. There was one thing though, the boy hated the dark. So much so that as soon as night fell he became afraid. And it was getting worse. The woman felt so grateful to him for the difference he was making in her home that she wanted to do something to help… so she took down the blackout curtain in the boy’s bedroom and explained that the lighthouse would shine on him all night long. In the middle of the night the woman was awoken by the child’s crying. Racing to his side she asked what was the matter, “the light keeps going off”, he cried. The woman was astonished, she looked out at the lighthouse and for the first time noticed that the light went on and off, on and off, it didn’t shine all night long. In that moment she lost her annoyance with the lighthouse. She held the boy’s hand until he fell asleep and then she removed all the blackout curtains from her home. Next morning the boy’s parents arrived (the story had gone viral on Facebook) and took him home…

Even good stuff doesn’t last, Mairead.