Bird Song and Frog Croaks

(Park here… this one’s in Spanish but the picture is always the same)

Sunday is the day we travel the longest so from Évora we travelled three hours to a camper van parking spot called Penamacor in Benquerença which is in the middle of the countryside. We passed through small mountain villages, along narrow roads following parking signposts.

(Lovely lavender growing wild)

When we arrived it was full of camper vans and motor homes and there was a spot for us beside the river. The temperature was high but there was shade. With the solar panels we don’t normally park in shade but as we’d been travelling for hours our battery was full.

(Can you hear the frogs?)

We parked up and went for a walk. There was a little bar on the other side of the river over a foot bridge. I’ll remind you this was in the middle of the country, nearest tiny village probably 5km. In the height of summer the river gets diverted and you can swim here, there’s also a playground. There were plenty of people inside the bar and on the deck outside. The waitress had no English but we managed to be understood.

(Sun-bleached table)

Afterwards we walked along the deserted country road and a dried mud lane to another bridge. This is olive farm land with small holdings and what looks like hand-ploughed fields. The only sounds the birds singing and the frogs croaking.

(Wild flowers by the side of the road)

Denis barbecued chicken outside and we were asleep before ten. Next morning we left early.

Note to self: Spend longer here next time. Mairead.

(Free parking, free motorhome facilities, free rustic toilets and shower, near bar.)

What to do if there’s a petrol shortage…

(The front of Alcobaça monastery)

We hadn’t heard of the town of Alcobaça (pronounced Alco-Baza, I think) and I don’t know why. It’s very impressive. To begin with there’s s huge cathedral and monastery in the middle of a very cute town. The motor home parking is less than 5 minutes from shops, restaurants and the monastery. There’s free electricity and the parking is free!

(Inside the cathedral)

We were here when the news hit that the tanker drivers strike was causing shortages of petrol and diesel. We had filled up the previous day, fortuitously, so we safe enough. We had everything we needed (culture, food, drink, electricity, shopping, post office) and Spain was only two and a half hours drive away, if the strike continued. It didn’t continue.

(One of the courtyards)

I have some advice for you if you should ever find yourself in a similar situation…

1. If you can manage it at all, fill up with petrol (or diesel if that’s what your vehicle takes) before the strike starts. 2. Park somewhere with a nice historic monument. 3. Ensure there are grocery shops, cafes and restaurants nearby and some electricity. 4. At all times ensure you are within walking driving distance of another country. 5. Find a local who speaks English and pester ask her for hourly updates on the strike. 6. Go for regular lie downs because you will be feeling very stressed.

(Art piece: metal basket with knitting needles)

For balance here’s Denis’ advice: 1. Carry on as normal.

I’m not sure he took the whole thing seriously enough, Mairead.

(Alcobaça. Free parking, near town, free electricity, €1.50 for water)

Just in time…

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(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…

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(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!

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(…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.

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.

Communing with Deer

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(There’s a big map in reception showing the path through the park)

I woke up early this morning to birdsong. The rain had stopped and I had an idea. Before I could change my mind I had popped on some shoes, my furry fleece and was standing outside the van recording the sound. We’re still parked at the Parque Biológico de Gaia so imagine a lot of birds. I walked for a few paces to position myself where I thought the loudest birds were and turned on the recording app on my phone… Before long I was mesmerised but then I noticed something move in the park behind the trees.

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(Look closely)

It was when Fernando was taking me on the tour of the park that I realised the motorhome parking overlooks the deer enclosure. There’s a line of trees between us but at certain points the trees thin out and you can see part of the enclosure. Their area is quite big so the deer were off in another section most of the time we’ve been here but this morning as I listened to the birds I realised the deer were less than a 100m from me.

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(The lighter coloured deer by the fence was very cute, from time to time she used to put her head through the fence and nibble on the green plants and then wriggle her head left and right to get it back inside the fence)

There were no one around just me and the deer and it was awesome… There are lots of signs around the park telling you that the animals don’t like noise so visitors should be quiet and respectful. Well I just love rules and boundaries, I see them as guidelines for a happy life. So I was more than happy to stay quiet and this morning I was rewarded by the company of deer. They are so calm and gentle and slow and focused and standing with them I felt calm and focused too.

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(I promise you that fuzzy bit behind the branch in the middle of this photo is a red squirrel, you can just see his little ear)

My phone was still recording sound when I noticed something moving in the tree above me. It was a red squirrel, he mustn’t have noticed me because he squirreled (you can’t call it running, can you?) towards me and then stopped to shake his tail and squirrel away again out to the edge of the tree’s expanse on the tiniest of branches. Until he jumped to the next tree and was gone from my sight.

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(I know its hard to make out but…that one in the middle, that’s a stag!)

When I looked around again, there was a stag in with the deer. With huge antlers. Walking around. Just over there, over the fence, across the path, over the other fence. A stag!

I love this lovely life, Mairead.

Feeling some madness…

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(Can you see this kite surfing guy’s feet and surfboard are out of the water?)

It rained a lot last night. Lots of rain, lots of wind. Teeny tiny bit of sleep. Not feeling too bubbly today. So I’m reminded of something Eckhart Tolle wrote “When you complain you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation or accept it. All else is madness.” It’s kinda nice to find patterns in the things you see and experience and relate them to the way you feel inside, isn’t it? I think so. I think it helps to understand the feelings inside.

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(This boat was just sitting on the beach this morning… could someone look up French salvage laws, please – we might own a boat)

So, here’s us having a nice old-time wandering around France, minding our own business. Loving the sun and the pleasant temperatures at this time of year. Then, the storms arrive. From nowhere they come…. And one might be tempted to whine and grumble. At home we might say “desperate weather, isn’t it?” to the postman or the assistant in the bank or the next door neighbour.

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(More doodling today)

In France I haven’t a clue how to say anything about the weather and when I consider looking it up (or asking Thierry) there’s no incentive to do so. There’s no good that can come out of telling the French people in the camper van next door that it’s raining… They already know. Sometimes it rains. Get over it. There’s at least four guys out on the water doing their kite surfing thing. They’re already wet so a bit of rain doesn’t bug them and the wind is very useful when you have a big huge kite.

IMG 0634(Fence post with organic decoration)

So how’s this relate to feelings? Sometimes we feel down, maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s an insensitive friend, maybe it’s a disappointment – life can be very disappointing. So we talk to ourselves or others with words something like “desperate feeling, I’m having”. Maybe we whine a bit, grumble a bit and complain some. What if we had to translate our complaints into French (or Swahili if you’re fluent in French) would we bother? Like the rain, the feelings will be gone soon and like the wind for the kite surfers, they are useful – they remind us we’re alive!

Sure isn’t it great to be alive? Mairead.

Happy Puppydog Day

Souillac River Dordogne

(Fishermen on the Dordogne, just over the hedge from our pitch)

We have reached the Dordogne and it’s very hot. We arrived on Wednesday around lunch time. Very slow at the best of times the heat makes me much slower and in turn that can make me irritable and then annoyed with myself for being irritable. Bit of a vicious circle really… Denis was very glad there was an Apple event and a good wi-fi connection to submerge himself in. Eventually my body became acclimatised and I bounced back with the energy and disposition of a happy puppy. Now, as my happy-puppy-self two things occur to me… First, I didn’t think it would possible for me to be irritable here in my dream life. And second, surely being annoyed with myself for my irritability is counter-productive?

Signpost Souillac

(It’s a sign!)

So, my happy-puppy-self woke up this morning and realised the best of the day (temperatures of less that 25 degrees) was before lunch and if I wanted to experience that I had to jump out of bed straight away! So I did. I went off to reception to tell them we were going to stay another night and to collect our breakfast (baguette and croissants.) But, horror of horrors there was no bread or croissants! (I had forgotten to reserve them yesterday.) Fortunately, happy puppy is full of forgiveness and I decided it was definitely cool enough for a walk to town. Denis (whose default disposition is happy puppy) and I set off to find café au lait and croissants and we found something even better – market day!


(The view at breakfast)

Market day involves lots of people watching and the most interesting people to watch were the stall holders. There was one lady who was selling vanilla pods and some other unidentified vanilla things. People were stopping to try her produce and she was smiling all the time, even when they didn’t buy anything. She looked very happy and sort of proud of her wears. If I had any idea what to do with vanilla pods I’d definitely have bought some because her smile and her pride made me believe in her product!


(The veggie stall)

After our coffees we wandered around the stalls and spotted very good-looking humous (well… we thought it was humous.) We were engrossed in how lovely it looked when the stall holder (also looking lovely) started talking to us in French, he quickly reverted to English and told us about his product (now I think it was olive pesto or tapenade, maybe?) We were looking at the humous coloured one but he was saying that wasn’t his best, he was having an off day when he made it! Then he started giving us bits of bread with his best effort, so we bought some… of whatever it was. It cost more that I’m willing to admit but he threw in some sun dried tomatoes so we’re all friends again.

Fig Jam Souillac

(Bubbling Fig Jam)

He also mentioned it was good with Fig jam and as Eilish’s Apple Chutney is almost gone (Eilish! We are in a dire straits here! Please get in contact so you can arrange delivery!) maybe it was time to try a French temporary solution? I asked the lovely looking Frenchman where we could get some Fig jam and he pointed us towards the stall beside his. When we had passed over our grocery budget for the week (kidding… ) we approached the next stall holder. She didn’t have any jam… but, she did have figs!

I made Fig jam! Yes I did! (*tail wagging) Mairead.

I’m bursting to share this thing…..



AAAAAh I was taking to someone over the weekend and they asked me what I was up to and I mentioned my Kickstart you Creativity course was starting in November. And as I mumbled and stuttered through some kind of an explanation I realised I couldn’t talk about it. I can’t talk about this thing I’m bursting to share…. It. Is. So. Frustrating. And of course my fallback for a solution to my inability to talk is to beat myself up. Today, I’m going to do something different for a few minutes, here….


(Love in the Mist)

Because I know most of you don’t live anywhere near the town on the east coast of Ireland and the west edge of Europe where I am going to run my course it makes it easier for me to tell you. I’ll write to you about my tiny little dream that I’m too afraid to speak about out loud… and I can hide behind my writing. This post is just for me (note to self: is it time to admit that this whole blog is just for you?) I don’t know what I’m going to write. Maybe by the end I’ll have a moment of acceptance or a moment of clarity or just a big meltdown. I do know I will stop at the bottom, post it and tomorrow I will write about something else.


(Mushrooms… bursting through the soil)

But today it’s about this: I’m bursting to share a thing that brings me peace and calm! But it’s too, too, too precious for me to bring it out into the light. It might get attacked by marauding bands of baddies….. Ok that sounds crazy. I know. I know it sounds crazy, but… Remember when you were little and you got this great present from your favourite uncle/aunt/mother’s best friend/rich shopkeeper? It was so great! And you wanted to show your friends, didn’t you? And you ran out to the green/road/school and you said in your little girl/boy voice “Look at this great thing Uncle John gave me!” And that moment when you stopped speaking was the happiest you were for the rest of the day because kids can be cruel and they didn’t share your enthusiasm or even your interest in your great thing or your wonderful Uncle John.


(Beauty underneath)

So you learned a clear lesson – keep the best stuff to yourself. Keep the stuff that means the most to you to yourself, hidden from the light in a safe place. Even if it means you can’t use it. Like the tiny china tea set that I got one year out of the blue from a friend of my Dad’s. It was fun sharing it with my dolls but it would have been so much more fun sharing it with my brother and my friends… but I couldn’t trust my best stuff, the things closest to my heart, with them so we all lost out. When I couldn’t share my china tea set no one got to experience how great it was – not even me. I was afraid it was going to break or my heart was going to break because they wouldn’t think it was as amazing as I did!

Aaaaaah and here I am again!


(Fence in Altamont)

When this thing began it was a tiny dream and a minuscule little thought. I wanted to uncover a process that would allow me to share what I found – peace, calm, and the fun of creation – with others. It grew when I was in France, when I went out to the garden each day and I felt myself connecting to peace as I began the process. And it worked. I started to think I could really do this. I could definitely share this process and maybe it could help other people connect to peace.


(Moss growing quietly on a rock)

Then I began to have doubts… Would it actually work? Is there a path through creativity to peace and calm in a human’s life? A sometimes difficult, challenging, even awful life? If there is would my little process find it for others? Who would want this, maybe I’m the only one who wants to connect to peace and calm? Now that I think of it, maybe getting basic physical needs met is more important. Needs like food, warmth, health, money….



But the doubts (even if they are valid) are just a smokescreen… they are hiding my fear and my sadness. And I can’t blame the children who taught me the lesson. I can’t blame their parents. I have no one left to blame but myself… and that isn’t working too good…. so I’m going back to my precious things. The precious things, the china tea set or my course are so connected that I may be able to free one with the help of the other.


(Butterfly and Lavender)

I don’t need encouragement, I have lots of encouragement, I have to step out on this ledge on my own….

I don’t need anyone to tell me you big eejit just do it! I am telling myself that all the time…. and it isn’t working.

I don’t need anyone to tell me it’s easy…

I don’t need anyone to point out that I have been encouraging others to follow their dream and I can’t even do it myself… I know.

I don’t need encouragement not to do it…… I am bursting out of my skin to do this… and I am scared shirtless.

And that reminds me, I read a quote this morning: Fearlessly accept the reality; then fearlessly set about transforming what needs to change. — Elena Brower.

So while I’m revving up my fearlessness, maybe you could share your precious thing? Mairead.

Fear and Lightening on the way to Niagara Falls.

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(Treats at Tim Hortons)

We set off for Niagara Falls this morning (Tuesday). Denis went to pick up the hire car while I packed enough for the two days away. Something lovely happened when he got home. You remember Doris’s mum Bobba? Well… long story short, just as Denis arrived back with the car Doris and Bobba pulled up to the house with umbrellas (it’s raining today and well… Doris thinks of everything!) and a package. Bobba, knowing I love to crochet had crocheted me a blanket! I feel very special.

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After lots of hugs and kisses we set off but we hadn’t gone far when we realised we had to stop the car – Denis couldn’t pass Tim Hortons (it’s only been a week but Tim Hortons has got hold of him.) So just ten minutes down the road we stopped again. Everyone out for coffee and Danish. Everyone back in and power up the Sat-Nav. To make sure we got the most out of our trip to Niagara, Grahame (who lived and worked in Niagara for many years) typed up an itinerary for us and yesterday Moira programmed the Sat-Nav with all the locations so we were ready to begin. In spite of my dislike for planning, I do appreciate when someone else does it!

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(Gone a bit dark over here)

We got onto the 401 (highway south from Barrie) easily enough but just as we were getting close to Toronto we hit a thunder and lightning storm with torrential rain. The rain was so loud we couldn’t hear the little voice on the sat-nav and so heavy we couldn’t see very far in front. Something we’ve noticed about the drivers on this road – they like to drive close together, possibly something to do with slip streaming and saving petrol? Whatever it is, it’s very scary, especially in the rain. We passed two accidents where the car behind could not brake in time!! As I’m a nervous passenger at the best of times I was prepared with my crochet (very calming) and the storm soon passed (as they always do…) and we arrived safely.

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(More rain – yippee)

I’m sitting writing on one of the two ginormous beds in our hotel room. We’re on the 9th floor and have a great view… well it would be great except for the mist and heavy rain, but I’m not complaining I have a new sense of respect for rain (yes Isabel!) – it’s cooling and there are no biting bugs. I’ll be consulting Grahame’s itinerary soon and we’ll go for a walk in this soft Canadian rain.

From an Irish-looking Niagara Falls, Mairead.