Under the Fig Tree

The castle walls in Silves

We left the beach after three days and are staying in the town of Silves. Still in the Algarve but inland from the beach. The herd of goats live next door to the motorhome park here and there are stork nests all around us.

Through the narrow window of the walls

There’s a supermarket just up the road and a beautiful red stone walled enclosure of the previous castle (now gone) up the hill. We’ll stay here a week and take a one-day trip to Lagos to visit my sister in law, Helen, at the weekend.

Storks nesting at the supermarket sign

I mentioned I sit under the fig tree here thinking but I also sit under the fig tree crafting or as I call it playing. I play with a watercolour paint called Brusho. One of my favourite things to do is find a new process to repeat something I’ve made accidentally. At the moment I am searching for a process to recreate something my friend’s daughter, Megan, made accidentally – paint drips.

That’s me playing under the fig tree…

When she made them – could be 10 years ago now – she didn’t think much of them but I loved them and asked her if I could use them in a mixed media piece. She said yes. I was sure I’d be able to recreate more drips whenever I needed them. I thought it would be so easy. It’s just gravity, paint and some water after all… But I was never able to reproduce Megan’s drips.

My experiment drips

Megan went on to other things, in fact this week she finished her third level exams and will be starting work in the autumn. Go Megan! She probably can’t even remember playing with paint drips.

Can you see Megan’s paint drips?

All these years later your paint drips keep me experimenting under the fig tree, Megan❤️

Permission Cards

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

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

Little box of Permission Cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiny Handmade Permission Cards made from recycled playing cards

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

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

I’m not looking forward to Christmas…

(More pictures from Aubeterre, here’s the square with all the restaurants)

I’m not sure if I told you that Linda and I are running a workshop on Saturday 9th of November, about two weeks time. It’s our tried and trusted crafting and mindfulness workshop with the added sparkle of Christmas. I know it’s way way too early for actual Christmas… but it’s perfect time for playful Christmas. What’s playful Christmas, I hear you ask?

(Exceptionally Closed!)

As a child you might remember looking forward to Christmas? Maybe you still do! I did when I was much younger. Back then it was magical. My mother started telling Christmas bedtime stories at the beginning of December. I planned my gift list. No, not the gift list for others… the list for me. I looked forward to Christmas movies, Christmas food, Christmas chocolate, Christmas cake, Christmas… well, you get the idea.

(Cute alleyways)

Then I grew up and it was a shock to realise I was in charge of arranging all those Christmas things. The elves were missing and someone had to cook seventeen things and the seventeen things had to finish cooking at the same time on the same day. And the gift list? All the things on the list had to be wrapped. You know the saying that it’s the thought that counts? My thoughts were not entirely loving.

(Cute windows)

It took years of getting it wrong and being a right pain but eventually I came up with a system. It worked, the food got on the table the presents were wrapped but my back ached and my spirit was less than merry. I really needed a playful Christmas.

(That’s the church built into the chalk hill)

Playful Christmas isn’t a perfectionist, he doesn’t need seventeen dishes, he wraps with brown paper and newsprint. He starts planning early but not in a manic way… in a playful way. Playful Christmas reminds you that it’s the loving thought that counts and no one needs your well chosen gift anyway…

(Playful baubles)

So, back to the workshop, if you’d like a taste of playful Christmas, join us in Glendalough on Saturday 9th, November, 2019. You’ll get to make cute gifts, Christmas cards and among other things you’ll learn to wrap with brown paper and orange slices (very in at the moment.) Click the link MindCraft.ie to visit our website and book your place. And if you know anyone who would like a playful Christmas please, please share this email with them.

Happy, happy this moment! Mairead.

Gentle Sewing Warrior

(Here’s the craft shop again)

I went back to visit the craft shop yesterday and was really glad I did! I met Julie (pronounced differently, a bit like Shew-lee.) She and two other artist friends opened the shop just three months ago. They make and sell their work and each month they feature a different artist from the area. Julie gives sewing classes on Thursday evenings, hand sewing, machine sewing and pattern making. She also teaches knitting.

(And again)

We chatted for ages, her English is very good, thankfully, because we were covering more than just small talk. Julie talked about the protests last November in France and that although she agrees changes need to be made she has found a different way to protest. A quiet and gentle way.

(Hello, Julie!)

She teaches using her passion for fabric and stitch and her belief that we don’t need to have lots of clothes, just one or two good pieces. If you know how to make changes to the clothes you have then you don’t need to buy more. In that way we cut down on the damage we are doing to the earth and we save money.

(Here’s the shop opening times in case you are in Auxerre)

Things are quiet on the streets of Auxerre. Julie says they may only be able to stay open until Christmas, it is expensive to rent a premises in the city. In my ideal world Julie’s shop would be thriving, people would be queuing out the door to learn these skills. Studies show that making things, crafting, sewing, whatever it is, lowers your cortisol. Stress raises cortisol levels in your body and too much cortisol is bad for you. Julie is like medicine, I felt great in her company.

Loving Auxerre, Mairead.

Ps She’s on Facebook and Instagram. Maybe you could give her a follow?

Need a Break?

(Preparing for workshop)

There was a slight chill in the air this morning. Does that mean it’s autumn? Then it must be nearly time for us to get back on the road.

But first… my crafty pal, Linda and I are running a weekend workshop in the gorgeous Bobbio center near Magheramore beach, Co.Wicklow on the last weekend in August. There’ll be nature, crafting, swimming (in the sea!) and loads more but mainly it will be about slowing down in natural surroundings. We are calling it a retreat but it’s not a religious retreat, more a retreat from busy and stress, a retreat into nature. A retreat with play. We are really enjoying this planning stage and can’t wait to share it.

(Magheramore Beach)

We would love you to join us. There are some places available and you’ll find all the details on Mindcraft.com (click to have a look!)

Back to painting, Mairead.

Wet, Wet, Wet

(Way, way, way in the distance behind the clouds are the Pyrenees)

Orion is a constellation but it’s also a commune in France. A commune in France is like a district or a parish. (I’m getting all my information from Wikipedia.) We stayed in a commune near Orion called Orriule. On a clear day you can see the Pyrenees from Orriule. It was not a clear day.

(On top of the world)

We have been spoilt with the weather lately so the arrival of torrential rain has been a shock. Also, there are only 137 people in Orriule and none of them runs a cafe or Boulangerie, our step count is abysmal due to the weather and lack of motivational pastries and we are snapping at each other.

(Can you see the little cows?)

These are the sort of days I make my crafts. You may remember the cupboard filled with my craft supplies? So I got busy and made loads of beautiful things. I am so pleased with myself. Pictures? No, I forgot to take pictures… no couldn’t possibly take pictures now. No, of course I’m not lying about the crafts.

(Blue sky and fog in the valley as we leave Orriule)

I’m lying about the crafts. I didn’t do any. Someone might need to remember the storks… Maybe I’ll make a stork out of my supplies?

We’ve run out of toilet paper, Mairead.

Border Magic

(Saw this in the Spanish town, Irun on the border. Can you see the contraption over the bus? It extends down and connects with the roof of the electric bus. Could it be swapping out its used battery for a fully charged one while it picks up passengers at the bus stop?)

We spent a very quiet night in the car park at Irun, Spain. Next morning I noticed a river just behind us. While I was taking a picture I noticed something else… it was France over there. On the other side of the river there were signs, in French. I could see them… from Spain. Heady stuff. If only there was a time zone change. Oh well.

(I am standing in Spain taking a picture of France… that’s border magic)

On closer inspection I could see a bridge… to France. Maybe we could take the bridge? Maybe we would not have to pay the toll, again. Sorry, Estelle! Maybe things would go better today in France.We took the bridge, so far so good.

(The most beautiful villages in France)

Within an hour we had arrived at Labastide, a member of Les Plus Beaux Village de France. (The most beautiful villages in France.) It definitely deserves to be a member. I spoke to the nice young man in the tourist office and he said their village was the nicest. I am motivated to find out if he’s telling the truth. I wonder if there’s a The most beautiful villages in France guide book?

(Main street)

He also told me this was the Basque region of France and like it’s neighbour the Basque region in Spain it has two official languages. The people of both regions speak the same (small differences) language. I was intrigued by that.

(Modern water feature)

The town is adorable, old timber and stone houses with red roof tiles line the main street. There’s a church at one end and a port at the other. We were staying at the port. Well, it used to be a port, a river port but no longer in use. There were two restaurants (closed for dinner, Monday is often a closed day in France) the tourist office and lots of artist studios (most also closed.) The bakery was closed too. There was a shop selling macaroons. It was open. It would have been rude not to purchase, it was her granny’s recipe.

(Old shop fronts)

I went to see the Mairie (the Mayor). I didn’t actually see the mayor, just his office. To stay in the motorhome parking for the night you have to register with the mayor and pay your €5.

Done. Mairead.

(Labastide: Parking, €5 pay at Mariè, includes electricity, toilet.)

The Ceramists of Silves

(The studio)

As I was walking up to the castle in Silves I passed a door with a sign saying… Cerimeca. Ceramics! Of course I had to go in.

(Aren’t they gorgeous?)

Inside the dark interior there was a lady painting tiles. I nodded, Bom Dia and went to look at some buttons. They had buttons!After I had chosen and was paying a voice from the back said, you have chosen my work, I made those. Deeper inside the shadows there was a man, a very happy man, working on glazing some more of his work. I asked for a photo. He was happy to oblige.

(Happy man)

He was not happy with my photo though, so I took another. The second one was better. This man knew what he liked, he also knew what he loved. It showed on his face and in the way he spoke, he loved making ceramics and fortunately he loved explaining his work to me.

(His glaze collection)

He reminded me of a story I once heard. Once upon a time there was a shoemaker living in a small village. Every day he created shoes from his own designs. And every day the people of the village brought their old shoes to him for mending. No one liked his shoes.

(Beads after first fire, before glaze)

After years of this he was completely discouraged. Now, there was a wise woman living in the village and one day she visited him. She said, People may not like what you make, it doesn’t matter if no one likes it but if you like it you have to make it. The shoemaker didn’t really like what he heard but he liked the wise woman so he continued to work away on his shoes.

(After glazing)

Then one day, a stranger came to town. The stranger had a hole in her shoe and she asked around the village for the way to the shoemaker. She was in pain when she arrived and she sat outside his shop to take her shoe off and to rub at the pain in her sole. That’s when she heard the shoemaker whistling. It cheered her up instantly and she rose up to go into his shop. That’s when she saw all the shoes in his window. The most unusual shoes she had ever seen. The colours. The mix of fabric and leather. The buttons (of course he used buttons.) The laces. The variety alone was mesmerizing.

(More work cooling in the kiln)

From inside the shop the shoemaker could hear the young stranger’s gasps and sighs and wows! He stopped working to find out what was wrong.

Wrong? Nothing’s wrong! These are the most beautiful shoes in the kingdom! Please say you have my size!

(His wife is also a ceramicist)

A teeny tiny smile played on the shoemaker’s lips, you like my shoes? She gawped at him. You made these? The smile spread across his face, yes I did would you like to try them on?

(Work in progress – the hopeful fish)

For the rest of the afternoon the shoemaker and the stranger talked shoes. She tried on all his shoes and had many questions which he answered happily, delighted to talk about his work. The stranger stayed for dinner and that night moved in with the wise woman (she had an AirBnB). Every day for a year they worked on building a website to find other people who loved the shoemaker’s shoes. Of course you know the ending… everyone lived happily ever after…. except for that time when the website crashed because it was so popular and the other time when they couldn’t sleep with the stress but mostly they were happy.

(The process)

If you like something that someone else has created you might be the only person in the whole world who likes it. So don’t miss the opportunity to tell them.

Go on be that person, tell them. Mairead.

(Silves: €6 per night, parking, WiFi and water. Hot shower, 50 cent. No toilets. Supermarket 5 minutes walk, castle 20 minutes walk. Park with cafe, toilets, swimming pool, playground, tourist office 10 minutes walk. Loads of restaurants and cafes in the town.)

How I wrote a book not entirely on my own

(There was a Time Machine in Besançon… or it might have been a Time Museum)

Settle down, grab a cuppa and let me tell you the story of how I wrote a book with the help of six generous, creative and encouraging people …

It was the 4th of February 2016. There I was travelling around the beautiful old country of Portugal when I sort of fell in love with Andy Weir… Andy is a computer/space geek who loves to write. One day he decided he was going to give up the computers and become a writer. So he started and he sent off his first book to the publishers. He got loads of rejection letters for the first book but he was persistent so he started on a second book. He sent his second book off to the publishers and got even more rejection letters. He repeated this, I don’t know how many times, and then he stopped. He didn’t stop writing, he decided sure didn’t he earn grand money writing software, wouldn’t he be just as happy keeping the writing as a hobby.

(One of the clocks…)

So… he started his next book as a serial on his blog. It was in 2011. His friends loved it, they gave him feedback, they passed the blog on to their friends, he had some really high up people in the space industry correcting some of his science (By the way this is Andy Weir and I’m talking about The Martian – great book and great movie starring Matt Damon) he was having a ball!  Eventually he finished his book, while working away at his computer day job.

(Lip seem to be famous clock makers)

Some of his friends started to ask, “Hey Andy, any chance I could get that little book of yours to give to my girlfriend/mother/Dad they don’t know how to get at the blog posts?” So, Andy, lovely man that he is, gathered all the posts into an easy to read file (quite a time-consuming job for lovely Andy) and sent the file to his friend. He also put a link on the blog for anyone else who wanted everything all together. Then someone wanted to read it on their kindle and try as he might the lovely Andy couldn’t get it onto the kindle without charging a minimum price (an Amazon requirement.) So he charged the minimum and people started buying and money started accumulating in his account. (By the way… the full book was still on the blog – for free.) Then slowly but surely the kindle book started going up the Amazon charts and… surprise, surprise, the publishers started contacting him…. and then the movie producer rang… and that’s what happened to Andy.

(Time flying…)

The magic of Andy’s story is that he loved to write and he wrote even when it seemed like there was no good reason. And I love that he found a way to share his writing. Every time I wonder if it’s worth doing any of the things I do so that I can share my writing, I think of Andy and I ask myself: What would Andy do? He never lets me down, his advice is always great and he is never in a bad mood. One morning I was talking to Andy and he was saying maybe I could think about sharing the book I wanted to write on my blog? Andy thought that was a great idea. I thought that was a terrible idea and I had to go lie down to stop feeling nauseous. So Andy waited until I was feeling better (he’s considerate like that) and he suggested gathering a small team of readers and send chapter-sized chunks to them each week. Isn’t he really smart?  (Just so you know, she has never spoken to Andy or emailed him, this is all in her mind – Denis.) So that’s what I did.

(The email I penned to Pam and Allan, Sheena and Moira and Denis asking them to be readers….)

They all said yes and each Friday I sent the chunk of book I had written that week and they sent me back their encouragement. They also did the exercises and either sent pictures of their creations or news of their creative progress. On the 1st of April 2016  (yes, it was April Fools Day) I sent them the last chunk. It was done. It had taken eight weeks. It did take another two months to publish the ebook and a further two months to produce the paperback.

(There’s a cow in the fog and some more in the distance)

Then life happened and I tidied my box of paperback books onto a shelf and got on with dealing with life. Since that time the box has been sitting on a shelf in my studio (fancy name for my front room.) I’ve shared it with a few people but last week it started calling out for completion… So, I thought the least I could do was read it.

(Looks a lot like autumn here)

Back in 2016 my idea was to write a guide for people who didn’t realise they were creative (note:everyone is creative) and were hesitant about starting a creative project, thinking they weren’t good enough. I wanted them to be able to (at least temporarily) turn off the critical voice in their head so that they could get on with the work they needed to do to bring their project into the world. Reading my book again I discovered it works for any project…. Like for instance, something that I need at the moment – promoting and selling a book. You wouldn’t believe the mean things my inner critic was saying to me about selling and promoting (well maybe you would) but  because of the book I’m not listening. Now, I have a lovely encouraging voice in my head and it’s telling me to keep going. Keep going!

So here I am reading my book to help me sell my book and I will keep going. If you want to read the blurb or look at my Amazon Author page (imagine that!), click on Creative Monday – The Book. And if you have a voice in your head that’s stopping you from doing something (creative or otherwise) that you’d love to do then buy my book, follow the exercises and do your thing! It’s time for me to push my project out into the world so I can make room (on my shelves) in my head for the next one.

We wrote a book, Pam, Allan, Sheena, Moira, Denis, Andy and Me. Ps I’m keeping the royalties…