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.

Funny name, adorable place

(There’s Denis racing over to the coffee)

We drove to the town of Le Bugue on Tuesday morning with a bag of dripping clothes and my nerves on edge. We had checked in the Campercontact app and were heading for camping car parking very near the center of town.

(The market was here earlier)

On the way there we passed the most amazing chalk cliffs. Each one more jaw dropping than the next. You could see people walking on ledges or standing at balconies cut into the cliff face. One cliff had a couple of two story houses built into it. This is the busiest tourist area we have seen on this trip, the traffic was mad and the roads were narrow and there were few places to stop. We kept going, promising to return.

(That’s someone’s front garden!)

Then the first thing we see getting into La Bugue is a market! I don’t know if I mentioned previously but we rarely land in a town on the right day for the market and this was the second time it happened this week. We were over the moon. Well to be honest we should have been over the moon but I was still a little moody after the lightening episode, coffee was all I wanted.

(So old)

Our parking was indeed close to the town – about 3 minutes walk over the Dordogne. It also was a little soggy because it seems the whole world had torrential rain on Monday night. We parked up and headed off to find a cafe.

(Reflecting on the Dordogne)

The town was full of people, chatting and buying and selling and generally having the craic. We found a spot for coffee. I started reading the Lascaux book and Denis was reading his phone. We hadn’t two words for each other.

(Hello I’m France, nice to meet you…)

I cannot give you any historical information about La Bugue but I bet it’s absolutely steeped in history like all the towns we are landing in lately. Yet here we were, oblivious. Can you see us? Are you shouting at me? Wake up and look at where you are!

Some days I’m just not at my best, Mairead.

(There’s La Bugue)

I’d rather not tell you…

(I’ll be making cards this time. I’ve been practising)

I’ve checked the calendar and there are just three weeks left until we board the ferry at Cherbourg to come home…and the weekend after that, 17th November,  I’m going to be running a Mindful Crafting Workshop with my friend Linda. (Details at Mindcraft.ie) So I need to start telling you about it. There’s just one small problem, I’d rather not tell you…


I realised something about myself earlier this year – I have a habit of giving up on things that I really want to finish. Mainly it’s due to fear. I have a natural pattern even when I’m not afraid to wander onto a new thing before the one I’m on has finished. I get distracted easily and there’s so much beautiful stuff in the world I want to experience it all. But, I also want to experience that delicious feeling of finishing. For example, I love ironing – not enough to do it regularly – but, when I do iron I leave the ironed bundles of clothes and sheets sitting around for days. I do this because I feel great when I finish and want to remind myself that I did it!

(Even more…)

Writing the blog is perfect for me because it gives me the two things I love most –  a place to wander off to and a place to finish up. When I get up in the morning I have a blank slate, yesterday’s blog post is gone, I have to start again, start something new. I’m positively encouraged to wander off. When I finish writing today’s post I’ll send it off and I’m finished. Pressing send used to hold loads of fear for me. For years Denis had to read every blog post before I sent it. To be sure, to be sure of… of what I don’t know but fear can be like that, unspecific. Now, Denis reads the posts the same as everyone else when they get into his email and I have no fear of sending a finished blog post… mostly. There are some blog posts, I am afraid of sending…

(Ok sorry about bringing Christmas up before Halloween…)

I’m afraid of sending the ones that I think might make people reject me. I’m afraid of rejection. Hilarious really… (not actual hilarity, more demented hilarity) as those blog posts are the ones with my most precious message. The positively mind scrambling part of all this is that my most precious message, the one I keep hidden in a safe part of my heart, in case of rejection, is mainly about letting go of rejection! My message to me and to you is that if we pay attention to our thoughts and fears about rejection they will hurt us more than any outside force. Paying attention to my thoughts and fears about rejection, immobilises me. I’ll say that again, it’s the thoughts and fears that immobilise me, not the rejection. Funny thing (again not actual funny): I never get rejected. Do you know why? It’s because I rarely do anything that might get me rejected – I’m too afraid! I will only be able to share my message about rejection when I stop believing in my thoughts and fears about being rejected. I can still have those thoughts and fears I just can’t be paying attention to them. That’s where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness teaches us how to notice our scary thoughts but not believe them.

Are you still there? Do you have any scary thoughts and fears you might want to stop believing?

(Peace and joy all year long… not just for Christmas…)

This has turned into a blog post Denis will have to read a few times. And he hates these ones. He much prefers the funny ones. Or the stories about the people I meet. Or the pictures, he laughed out loud looking at me in the hairdressers. I love when he laughs. I love when you laugh… if I make you laugh you won’t notice my fears.  …and Linda is going to kill me (again, not literally) this blog post is probably going to frighten off anyone who was thinking it was just a bit of fun… sorry, Linda. The MindCraft Workshop is a place where we can share our message through the medium of crafting. One of the places we learned to think about rejection as a child was at the art table, when our creativity wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, attractive enough, up to standard, as good as your sister’s art/ brother’s work/cousin’s grade…. With the help of mindfulness it’s also one of the places we can learn to stop believing those scary thoughts and fears…

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Ok. So, if I didn’t believe my scary thoughts and fears, this is what I’d say:

I would love you to join us on the 17th of November at the Old Stable Studio, Killruddery House, Bray, Co. Wicklow where we will have fun (it’s definitely fun!) be mindful and stop believing our scary thoughts and fears. All the details are at Mindcraft.ie.

What would you do if you didn’t believe your scary thoughts and fears? Mairead.

PS Really, tell me, what would you do?

You can see Spain from here…

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(The view today)

We finally moved on from Serpa. We’d been there ten days, the longest time we’ve spent anywhere on this trip. We were still missing it when we arrived at our new spot on the Spanish border… until we opened the door and saw our view. There are no facilities (no water, no dumping, no bins, no toilets) but it’s completely free and beautiful and the sun is shining. It is also really peaceful.

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(If you can see a road going up the side of the hill on the left… that’s a Spanish road.)

There could a problem with the internet and phones… but I spotted a cafe when we were winding our way down here, maybe they have wifi. It’s the weekend so one night without internet connection will be fine, right, Denis? I can hear hens crowing and pigeons cooing and tiny birds chirping. And just over the water is Spain. There’s a bridge, we could even visit.

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(What’s this?)

There’s a strange fruit growing at the far end of the car park. Could it be figs? Well, there’s another thing to imagine – figs growing in the car park by the river. The man in the yellow boat from the first pictures is working in his vegetable garden in Spain. He must have dropped over to Portugal earlier to have a coffee. I see he has a chair waiting for him when he’s finished work. Oh hang on he’s taking out a fishing rod. He’s moving the chair closer to the river bank. He’s taking a long time to sort out the fishing equipment.

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(There’s a rusty old winch machine near us)

I took my eyes off my man in Spain for a moment and he’s disappeared. I am feeling a strange sense of responsibility for him, no one else is watching him. What if he falls into the river? It’s ok, he’s back in the garden. Must have just been taking a break with the fishing rod.

From my patrol station on the Portuguese/Spanish border, Mairead.

ps Linda (remember who gave me the craft kit?) is running a great workshop in Glendalough next weekend (21/04/18) called MindCraft. There’ll be mindfulness and stories, you’ll learn how to make pebble craft pictures and quilling and you get a lovely lunch. Find out more on MindCraft.ie (or on the Facebook page.) It’s a fun day and you go home with your very own work of art! Tell Linda I sent you and she might forgive me for swanning off to Portugal!

pps My man in Spain is safely sitting in his chair, fishing.

Linda’s Craft Kit

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(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.

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(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.

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(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!

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(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 https://www.facebook.com/mindcraftie/

We are up in the hills…

(Sunrise this morning)

Do you remember the first time we took Ruby to Portugal? (I’ve put a link here if you want to remind yourself.) We ended up on teeny tiny roads searching for internet access. Well we’ve done it again, this time looking for electricity… We found the electricity but now we’re having difficulty accessing the internet!

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(Strange old machine in the car park in Viana de Castelo)

We are in the middle of nowhere in a campsite up in the hills of northern Portugal, thirty minutes north of a town called Vila Verde. Apart from the man working reception we are the only ones here. This is our first stay at a campsite on this trip. The only reasons we ever need to park in a campsite is for electricity or if we want to stay for more that 48 hours in one spot. Most of the free aires have a 48 hour (or similar) limit. So far we have been happy to move after 24 hours but that will probably change once the weather gets better or we run out of land to go further south!

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(Our new pet seagull)

It’s raining heavily at the moment but we have electricity so we are warm and our laptops are powered up. We have hot showers so we are clean and sweet-smelling. There’s food in the fridge and water in the tank and we also have half a rustic baguette, still fresh – it really doesn’t get much better that this.

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(Home for tonight)

In fact I’ve been reading and enjoying a book about meditation and mindfulness and I’m feeling very zen. The book is called 10% Happier by Dan Harris and the message I’m getting is that a day when you have half a rustic baguette is a very good day. Ok, it doesn’t actually say anything about bread, fresh or not… but it did say nothing lasts, neither good things nor terrible things. So, i’m choosing to enjoy my half a rustic baguette moment… I may have misunderstood the message.

We’ll probably move back towards the coast tomorrow, Mairead.

Sometimes it rains in Portugal…

It’s raining! I know you will be disappointed for me but I’m ok, I have some work to do so it’s probably just as well I won’t be able to sit outside sunning myself… I hear it’s sunny in Ireland!

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(Rocky and a bit cloudy in the distance on Saturday)

My friend Linda (of the tours around Porto) and I ran a workshop called MindCraft at the beginning of February and we’ll be running another one in May and again in June. This week I’m working on explaining what it’s all about for our website. I’ll send you a link as soon as it’s up and running but I thought I could start explaining now to get my thought processes working.

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(Smooth and blue skies on Friday)

MindCraft is a combination of Mindfulness and Crafting in a one day workshop. The Mindfulness part of it is all about staying present with what’s happening around you and within your body instead of the usual things we do. The usual things like  thinking and worrying about the future or thinking and worrying about the past. Or regretting the past or wishing we could repeat it or change it. Or wishing the present could be different. Or wishing we were different. Or wishing other people were different. We sure do a lot of useless thinking when all we really need to do is stay present and aware and deal with what’s right in front of us, right now.

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(There are lots of small gardens like this around here, all dug by hand. In need of rain, I suppose)

Last year when Denis was diagnosed with prostate cancer, everything slowed down to the essential – what do I need to be doing now? I don’t think it’s the big things that cause worry and anxiety… it’s the thinking about what if the big thing happens. In my experience when the big thing does happen you are kinda too busy dealing with it to be thinking about anything.

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(Another one, the small plants look like potatoes, maybe))

Mindfulness is about making us strong enough to deal with whatever life throws at us. So we have a little calm, contentment and the space to think about the important things… love, joy, peace, purpose, relationships, family, connection, community. The crafting is all about creativity and creativity is the route to finding solutions to our challenges. This is important: Thinking and anxiety are not the route to finding solutions to our challenges. Creativity is the route to finding solutions to our challenges, problems, concerns, difficulties, dilemmas, quandaries, troubles, irritants, stumbling blocks, obstacles, the lot! Creative solutions are what it’s all about. Every one of us is creative but not every one of us knows it.  MindCraft wants everyone to know they are creative and that they can come up with their own creative solutions.

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(And another one, I think there’s spring onions there)

So here I sit doing the work I need to do to make the message clear and simple… Mindfulness Strengthens Your Mind, You Are Creative, Creativity Solves Problems!

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(Interesting looking rocks on the beach)

But it’s not enough for me to just make the message clear for myself or others. Writing about mindfulness will not help me to be mindful, thinking about creativity will not help me to come up with creative solutions. So here I sit, also, doing the work of living the message. Everyday I practice mindfulness, I practice noticing what is around me, I practice exchanging worry and anxiety for beauty, I practice exchanging thinking for feeling my feet on the ground, I practice writing and photography and I practice telling myself, this is enough, you are doing enough, you are enough.

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(Behind the harbour buildings there are tables where the women sell the newly caught fish. That’s a cat on the fish scales. Fish weighing scales I mean…)

Step 6. Do the work, Mairead.