Have a good journey!

Can you make out the terrace bar under shade?

It was the peace of the place that caught my attention first. We are getting closer to the Portuguese border, we’ll probably cross in a couple of days… but for now we are on the outskirts of a town called VillaBlanca (Whitetown) and it’s well named as all the houses are painted white. The park up is owned and run by a couple from the Basque Country in norther Spain. They opened five months ago having sold up everything up north. (He used to be in a heavy metal band touring Spain, she played classical guitar.) His mother was also with them for the winter, she’d be returning north next week. They all worked hard to turn these fields into a place where you could get everything you need in your motorhome. There’s water at every parking spot, toilets and showers and a little terrace bar. Everyone who arrives gets offered a welcome drink and that’s how Denis ended up drinking cervesa (beer) at 10 am on Sunday morning…

Here comes the sheep (and goats)

They continue to work hard, while we sit sipping and chatting with other campers, they were cleaning the toilets – every dream includes a dollop of work. This place attracts people who are curious and we’ve heard some interesting life stories.

A bit of a stand off happening

In the late afternoon we investigate the town. It isn’t too hot. We made a mistake and took the main road which didn’t have a path but joy, oh joy we found the back roads for the return journey. There was a shepherd with a small heard of goats and sheep. The animals were confused by our arrival and turned in many directions. I remembered my Spanish for I’m sorry and used it with my “very, very sorry” facial expression and it was like a key. A key to connecting with another human. Some day I will be able to speak Spanish better than the one or two phrases I can manage now but in the few moments with the shepherd we were all speaking human. He could have been a farmer in the west of Ireland who’s accent was just a little too fast for me to understand. Where in spite of that the essence comes through. He might have been saying, There’s no need to be sorry sure they’ll come back when they realise you’re just passing through. Buen Viaje!

Prickly Pear?

We had been invited to another drink around the fire in the evening and so we trotted over to find the owners, some of their friends and a French couple out on the patio (the promised fire not necessary because it’s warm tonight.) One of their friends had brought their dogs and one reminded me of my sister’s daughter’s dog and somehow I located the Spanish for my sister (mi hermana) and daughter (una hija) and dog (un perro) and then I ran out of words but I showed willing. For the rest of the night the lovely woman, who’s dream this place was, translated every word and every joke for us. And one of the things she explained was that in this part of Spain slowing down is part of the culture. We are very grateful to be here.

At the end of the day…

Buen Viaje! Have a good journey!

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.

Last day in France

(Cherbourg marina)

This morning we drove from Bayeux to Cherbourg. We will park all day in the car park near the Maritime Museum, Denis will work and at 6pm we will go to the port and queue for the 9pm ferry to Ireland.

(This is the theater)

Although we have been in Cherbourg numerous times arriving and leaving by ferry we have never walked around the town. Today is different. I set off to find the tourist office. Cherbourg is huge but the old part of the town is right next to the port and not a long walk.

(The pilot’s building)

The tourist office is located overlooking the water near a yacht marina and close to shops, restaurants and cafes. The streets behind it are car free and nice for a ramble. But I didn’t ramble for long. I found a fabric shop and lost track of time dreaming of all the things I could make if I only had a scissors.

(The journey leads us home)

It is hard to believe the journey is nearly over. I don’t like endings, I much prefer beginnings. In the beginning it felt like this trip would go on forever. Nothing goes on forever. In the beginning it felt like this day was very far away but that’s just a memory and waiting to leave is the only real thing. Here and now. And it’s always here and now. Even with such a long trip stretching out in front of me I was always just here and now. This makes me feel a bit better.

(Goodbye road)

If I’m always here and now and I like the beginning so much maybe it would be helpful to think of this here and now as a beginning. The beginning of the Ireland trip. The one where we stay in a house that’s way too big for us but it does have a shower and toilets and a washing machine and surprise – there’s a bath. The trip to hug family and friends and talk about Ruby, her breakdown and her recovery. The trip where we find a way to keep what we loved about being away. (Except for the croissants, we really have to break up with the croissants.) The trip where we intentionally spend time with each other.

From here and now and a new beginning, Mairead.

(Cherbourg: free parking near the ferry port all the motorhome facilities, shops and cafes nearby.)

Just hanging around…


We stayed a second night by the canal. Just being. Walking along the paths. Taking pictures. Getting by without butter, we do have the five litres of olive oil after all…

(The neighbours)

It’s so peaceful here. I might have mentioned that yesterday. Just us and the French fishermen. They are a persistent lot, I haven’t seen one fish taken from the canal. Maybe fishing isn’t about catching fish. Maybe it’s about waiting for fish to bite?

(Sunset over the canal)

Maybe it’s about being in the right place at the right time. Maybe it’s about being prepared to be surprised. Being ready for the result. Being alert to the fish signs.

(The path less travelled)

I don’t know the fish signs but funny enough we will be meeting the fisherman brother and his fishing family, accidentally, coincidentally on our way home, maybe I will ask him.

(The cycle path)

This has certainly been a trip with surprise meetings, with friends and now with family. With being in the right place at the right time. With being prepared to be surprised by the extraordinary ordinary things.

With hanging around and letting go. Mairead.

(Caumont-sur-Garonne: free parking, motorhome facilities, toilet, water €2, four hours of electricity €2, tokens from Mairie or post office.)

She Rises

(That’s a stork up there)

Yesterday morning we left Portugal. As I write we are in a town in Spain called Palencia. Leaving was a strange experience. First, the road was narrow and it twisted this way and that as it wound though the mountains. I was twisting this way and that too. It was uncomfortable. I hate leaving.

(The town of Puebla de Sanabria, Spain)

Just another characteristic of my human mind. Discomfort makes me crave familiarity. I am discomforted by change. The road signs change. The names of towns are unfamiliar. The possibility of a morning coffee very unlikely. I am a creature of habit breaking a well formed habit and it’s painful.

(River view)

We arrived at our destination for the night, a car park in the town of Puebla de Sanabria. It was hot. There was no shade. I was grumpy. The nearest coffee was up, up, up a steep gradient on the other side of the river. It was getting hotter. There will be no coffee. I leave Denis to park the van while I take my mood to the riverside.

(Can you see her?)

And there she is. Standing waiting for me. How quickly I forget. A stork. Every stork has been reminding me to stay present. Reminding me to drop my expectations, my past losses, my future hopes. Just be here now.

(Just at the last moment… she rises)

I looked across at the other side of the river and it’s beautiful. I hadn’t noticed. I missed something beautifully right in front of me because I was holding on tight to something I didn’t have.

I made tea instead of wishing for coffee. Mairead.

How to find the supermarket

(For when you want some alone time…)

We’ve been in this town before. I don’t remember much about it but when I needed to get some groceries I remembered enough.

(Or there’s a table and chair for writing with a view)

Staying present is a really useful practice if you ever worry. I never worry. Oh I spelled that wrong, the right spelling is: I regularly worry.

(One step at a time)

Anyways, thought it might be useful to get some staying present opportunities so I went off to the supermarket without a map.

(The tables…)

First I remembered I needed to cross the car park and continue on to the square with all the tables. Then I had no clue. But as soon as I arrived at the square I just knew I had to pass the house with the green tiles.

(Green tiles)

When I got to the tiles I knew I had to keep the cafe with the crochet flowers to my right and walk up the incline. Then I came to a complete stop but only until I noticed another cafe with the garden and white walls, I had to go left there. And then I saw the supermarket across the road.

(Lots of crochet in this town)

You can scupper worry by staying present. Looking at what’s straight in front of you. Or listening to the sounds around you. Or tasting the food in your mouth. Or feeling the floor under your feet. Or smelling the roses.

Note to self: Worry isn’t useful, Mairead!

(There we are just over the border in a town called Vila Nova de Cerveira, free camper parking near the old town, the river and park)

One stitch after another…

2018 1

(This is an old Roman road at the entrance to the olive farm)

Still here at the house with the oranges, in the town with the olive farm, waiting for Ruby to recover. The mechanic has started holding his head in his hands when he sees us… no translation necessary. It seems there’s still a problem. My mother reminded me that this is when I do craft stuff. I left the crafting stuff in the van.

2018 2

(Yummy yarn)

Then I remembered I had two balls of yarn and there was probably a crochet needle in my pencil-case. When I searched I found the laundry bag. Oh yes, the washing… thinking there would be a washing machine I carried our laundry the twenty-minute walk to the house with the oranges. There was no washing machine. First I hand washed the clothes, then I started crocheting.

2018 3

(It says Camel Wool…)

On the first day we arrived in this town we saw a shop with a sign offering accommodation. The lady explained the rooms were a bit far outside the town unless you had transport and we didn’t. As we chatted my eyes wandered to a colourful display – yarn. I realised she sold yarn. She had wool and cotton and a camel wool mix! Camel wool? Really? Anyway. Beautiful colours. Irresistible. I wanted one ball of every colour – just to look at. I bought two balls.

2018 4

(Granny square)

Crochet is very forgiving. Well at least it is the way I do it. My sister-in-law, Kate, taught me that you can join odd unmatched pieces of crochet work together like a patchwork quilt. So that’s what I have been doing ever since. Before that I was stockpiling squares, hiding them in cupboards, finding them when I was looking for something else. Taking them out to marvel at their colour, their texture, their comfort. Wondering how I could have forgotten them. The first one I pieced together made me laugh and cry, it was so surprisingly lovely.

2018 5

(Looks way bigger close up)

I kept crocheting over the weekend. I have no crochet books with me but I know one pattern off by heart, so that’s the one I’m doing. It’s called granny square and it starts with six stitches which are joined together to make a circle. By the third row it starts to look like a square and the square gets bigger as you continue. You can keep going until you run out of wool… or you decide this piece is done. I decide a piece is done when the work in my hand feels big enough, which is different each time. When it’s done you have to close it off so the yarn doesn’t unravel. The piece is actually finished when the yarn is cut. There is a moment when I realise something has been accomplished. Sometimes I notice this moment and sometimes I don’t but when I do it brings a feeling of contentment. Imagine if contentment was so simply attainable.

What if it is? Mairead.

Just in time…

2018 1

(Ruby being winched backwards into van hospital)

I’m exhausted. It’s 6am and I’ve been awake for an hour… Denis is snoring loudly this night/morning! I feel a huge fraud saying I’m exhausted when here I am here in a beautiful place with everything working out for my good and I am complaining. Two of my friends have just completed big projects, one had a third of her team missing and the other has a Mum who is very ill. I’m sure they are exhausted. My own mother is in pain and miserable with an ongoing physical complaint. I’m sure she’s exhausted. And you, you have challenges that no one knows about and you bear them yourself. Are you are exhausted? One person’s challenge is someone else’s dream day. This is just my story but maybe any story can be a symbol of every story. It’s a long story so I’ll go back to the beginning or even before the beginning…

2018 2

(Very organised garage)

Less than a week ago I wrote “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!

2018 4

(The boss mechanic won all these trophies playing five-a-aside in the 80’s)

Well you know what they say : be careful what you wish for… I had googled optimism at the time and loved that it said, “…hopefulness and confidence about the future…” I have always loved the word hope. It gets a bad press because it’s related to being attached too rigidly to a specific desired outcome. Maybe I am too attached to a happy ending but I think I love hope because when the ending comes I understand I will (eventually) find the happy in it. In the meantime hope keeps me going.  So my definition of optimism is: finding the happy in difficult situations.

IMG 3244

(Ruby is still in surgery…)

And then we are stuck on a small street in a small town and I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I get through the day finding plenty of happy but don’t sleep that night. My mind is racing… How will me manage until Monday? How will we get water? What if we can’t get internet? What if they can’t work on the problem on Monday? What if the police come to move us on or arrest us? How will we contact the mechanic? If they don’t come how will we push the van around the corner and down a narrow street with cars parked on either side? Will it fit into the doorway? If it does fit where will we stay? How will we get around without transport? How much will this cost? How do I empty the black water cassette so that the mechanic isn’t overpowered by ammonia fumes if this takes longer than a few days? How do we communicate with the mechanic? On and on and on… Answering my mind’s questions is exhausting.

2018 1 1

(There’s a river just up the road from the garage)

There was something else pushing it’s way quietly into my mind as I tried to find answers. Big Picture. Think about the BIG picture. The big picture has none of the little details that my mind was concentrating on. The big picture requires me to stand way, way back to look at the situation. The big picture is like a landscape photograph with green trees and flowing water. there’s me sitting quietly by the water writing, there are birds in the trees and they definitely look like they are singing. I am safe. I am warm. I am still. My mind is quiet. The answers come in the perfect time.

2018 5

(Lemon blossom and…)

Even though I like the big picture and how it makes me feel I still resist it. I want to answer all the questions. I have to answer all the questions or bad stuff will happen. The thing is, there is no way to answer the questions… until the precise moment an answer is required. For example, the question, how will I empty the black water cassette? got answered when I woke on Monday morning at 7am. The answer was clear, walk to the public toilets rolling the cassette behind you, there will be less people on the streets to see or smell you. I have no idea how many people saw me (or smelt me) doing that walk of shame because I was concentrating on the ground and even if there were people judging me, it was not a shameful thing… actually you could call it heroic – I saved the mechanic from ammonia poisoning. My point, it was the perfect answer and it arrived just in time, no sooner.

2018 7

(…lemon blossom bud)

And just in time is a recurring theme… Just at the precise time we needed to communicate with the mechanic a dutch couple who live in the town and speak Portuguese arrived to collect their car. They translated and offered further translation by phone. Other questions didn’t need answers because they didn’t arise… we had just enough water. There was just enough clearance to get into and manoeuvre in the garage (remember the skill of the Portuguese drivers? well this Portuguese mechanic could manoeuvre with centimetres to spare while outside the van pushing it!) Just in time we found a place to stay with wifi and within walking distance of the garage, so we didn’t need our own internet or transport.

We still don’t know when Ruby will be fixed but it’s probably going to be just in time… Mairead.

Spending time with Vera…

2018 2

(Notice the colour for the houses here is white and grey)

I hear there’s more bad weather on it’s way to you. So I won’t mention that it’s been a lovely day here and I’m outside as I write watching the sun go down. There may be rain here tomorrow, may be. Although I was in the tourist office today and the poster was saying that Serpa gets more than 3000 hours of sunshine a year… In one year? Every year? Yes. Yes. It’s going to be very hard to leave now.

2018 5

(Look an angel on top of the spire)

I had a great day in other ways too. You’ll remember the day I interviewed the young man about a week ago? Well since then I’ve been a little bit confused about what to do with my interviews. I keep forgetting they’re still gestating and I wake up in a cold sweat thinking I should be feeding them… if you know what I mean. So today I had a talk to myself and went back to meet the parallel universe me, she wasn’t free so I met someone else.

2018 3

(I like number 26)

I decided to fit in a few pictures of the castle first, then on my way back I spotted a shop called Serpa Lovers. I didn’t know what kind of shop it was but it looked very inviting so I went in. There was a lady behind the counter and all I can say is my Portuguese must be improving because after I said Ola (Hello) and Bom Dia (Good morning. Yes I know… it was afternoon!) she started talking to me in Portuguese. She reverted to English when she saw my face.

2018 12

(They love Serpa… and so do I)

Serpa Lovers is her shop and it supports local produce like the cheese, olive oil, wine, crafts, art and activities. (When I looked at the website there’s loads of other stuff, like music lessons, romantic dinners, hot air ballooning, walking tours, tile painting… Their website has an English translation) I had missed lunch and she said she could make me some tapas. Tapas is my new favourite word so… of course I had tapas. The local cheese had been calling to me for a couple of days now so that’s what I choose and it was lovely. Also, there was herbal tea, not tea bag herbs but dried-and-still-looks-like-herbs herbal tea. I didn’t know which one I wanted so the lady (later I discovered her name is Vera) let me smell all the herbal tea containers and I choose a mix of three, mint, verbena and anise. It was lovely.

2018 4

(I do love the weathered effect)

Then halfway through my sandwich her two sons arrived. How did I know who they were? Sometimes language doesn’t get in the way and you just understand. Not the details but the gist of a scenario. Anyway, somehow we got talking after they left, Vera and I. It turns out she and her husband and the boys used to live in Lisboa. I was thinking, “brave woman to move to a new town with young children” but she talked about the hectic lifestyle, the expensive private school and something being missing so I started to lean in for a story. I wasn’t recording but some words stuck in my head, “the children were growing up between the hours of 8am and 7pm and that’s when they were in school.”

2018 10

(Here’s Vera (on the left) she was smiling all the time not just in the photo! That’s her friend on the right (forgot to ask her friend’s name!) And that’s Serpa Lovers. Look at the cute lampshade!)

An opportunity came up here in this place, Serpa, to do interesting work and also to start a business, so they moved but first they asked their then ten-year-old son’s opinion. And he replied with a question, “will this mean we four will spend more time together?” And that’s when tears came to my eyes because that was such a beautiful, wise thing for a child to ask. Of course the answer was YES from the parents and YES from the wise old soul. And although they work very hard they do spend more time together because they now live in this beautiful town where life is lived at a slower pace. Their children spend less time being driven places or collected from places, they walk to friends houses, they walk to school. At the end of the story both of us had tears in our eyes and I’m welling up again now.

Imagine living in a world where the most important thing is your presence. Mairead.