Saturday, 8 September 2018

Four legged friends

This is Inis.

The lead up to him becoming part of my life is complicated, vast and when I recount the details, seemingly unbelievable.

I have always had dogs in my life. As a toddler, I would frequently go missing several times a day, curly hair and full-cheeked face, only to be found curled up in the dog box with the first love of my life, our Springer Spaniel Gretel. Her black fur back was the perfect natural radiator and her house had a comforting scent of warmth and nature and of course, mud. I'd have a snooze in there and wake up feeling peachy. Gretel was the best for a quiet, no-fuss cuddle.

Sally came next. Gretel suddenly looked old and tired next to her. She still remained loving and loved but as a kid of six or seven, Sally was a wonder of tail-chasing, zipping about energy-filled firecracker. If Gretel taught me comfort and support and that motherly love was possible to receive from any creature, Sally taught me that adventure was available on a daily basis, it all depended on your attitude and vision of any given moment. While I could count on Gretel to always be there, to be ready for a cuddle or a cry in her warm fur, for understanding gentle brown eyes and sympathetic, non-judgmental ear, Sally was the adventurous and spontaneous Aunt who was just as loving but in unreliable doses because she was always itching for the next experience.

Frida was the anxiety laden, wiry German Pointer. She was the first dog or living being that I heard the word "anxiety" used to describe. At the time, I didn't know I had the same trait, even though it wouldn't begin to build up until my early teens. I only understood it to be negative. My mam was never her greatest fan. She had assigned the anxiety label, probably because Frida was a bag of nerves on the best of days. She didn't know how to relax, she slept irregularly and always awoke with the lightest of sounds. She gave birth to close to ten puppies and sat on a few, killing them. She looked bored and exasperated when she breast fed, as though she were an independent career woman suddenly clamped down to the level of mere mortals who stayed at home to breastfeed. The contrast between Sally warmly snuggling and caressing her pup and looking at him both with worry and adoring love, and Frida's nervous, eye darting tension was palpable. Frida would get bored of feeding. She would get up and walk out of her bed with three or four puppies still hanging on like perilous rock climbers over a ledge.

I used to be angry with Frida. I couldn't understand why she couldn't just be a mother, why she had to be so selfish, why she didn't care. I never understood why Dad loved her so much and Mam didn't. Then I went with Dad one day out shooting with him and Frida. It was magical the way she simply morphed into a completely different being. She was focused and rational and loyal as she followed Dad's commands to "go left" into a corn field or "seek out" in a ditch between two farms. Then that magical moment when suddenly, for no apparent reason to a child of eight or nine, she just stopped. And pointed. Tail in line with the crest of her nose, jaw stiff and right leg raised and curled with nose pointing in the direction of the wild bird. It was at that moment that I understood Frida and learnt to respect her. She didn't want to be a mother. She was a breed that had a sole purpose; to point, not to procreate or cuddle or relax. She was born with a singular gift and goal. It provided her with structure and a sense of purpose that other areas of her life didn't contain. The stress of unknowing in her everyday life was anxiety inducing. Pointing, using her instincts and her natural talents, that's what gave her a sense of calm. Years later, Frida taught me that when anxiety become too much, get outside your seemingly suffocating monotony and go do what you feel really needs to be done. That's where the calm is.

We sold all of Frida's pups that time and she would later have another litter with one solitary pup: Hazel. Hazel was a golden-brown beauty. Her fur was silken soft. She was playful, obedient, curious, loving, a gentle and inquisitive spirit who loved to follow you around the house or the garden just to be part of your day. She taught me that there is nothing weak or wrong about inherent goodness and kindness. It can be disconcerting and unnerving for some to be around that kind of eternal positive calm. She carried on regardless and taught me to do the same if my heart wished for it. I cried when we sold her. I couldn't understand why.

Bracken was the first male to enter our predominantly female household. Dad was amongst women with a wife and three daughters and three female dogs. Bracken was an Irish Water Spaniel,  with a Rastafarian coat of curly, oily dreads. He was obsessed with water in a way I never knew was possible. He would catapult himself off the end of the jetty and dive deep under the water and lily pads. We would put stones at the end of deep plastic buckets filled to the brim with water and he would stick his entire head under to resurface with the stones. Once we realised he could hold his breath for so long, when we brought him to the lake, we would do the same, careful to throw recognisable stones in. Not only would he dive to retrieve, he would resurface with the exact stone we had thrown in. Bracken was an example of an irrepressible love for the element of water, to an almost obsessive level. He was kind and patient and putty-like in his willingness to spend time with us and make us happy, because that made him happy. We tied up his floppy curly fringe with a shiny raspberry ripple pink scrunchy and played show dog with him in the back garden for hours and he never stopped, never snuck off. He was loyal, glued to us with a wide grin that always asked "what's next?". He was the perfect example of uncomplicated enthusiasm for the things you love in life and that no matter what anyone else says, including the negative voice in your head, there is always time for the things you love and they are more important than the tasks that should be done. Bracken was the real "you only live once" dog, so smile and go have fun.

Sally would later become pregnant. She was enormous! Her soft round belly looked like it contained a sardine can full of puppies. We placed bets. The highest count being fourteen puppies. When she went into labour, her playful Sally-ness morphed into a calm and knowing maturity. One massive puppy flopped out. She cleaned him, nuzzled his face, and gave us a look of deep love and deep fear like only a first-time mother can. We waited. No more puppies. Jack went on to be an Alpha like no other. His head was enormous and he had tank-like shoulders that were rock hard with defined muscle. His paws were equally big. As a puppy, he was a disaster to control and discipline. When he breastfed, he would greedily roll from one teet to another, leftover milk pouring from the side of his jaw. Had he had to fend off brothers and sisters, he wouldn't have gotten so fat so quickly. Despite growing into a jock physique, he was a complete Mammy's boy and out of everyone in the family, I was the only one who thought he was intelligent. Jack had to jump the highest, run the fastest and eat the most. When we walked with him in the park, he would search for the biggest stick he could find, only to be replaced by at least another five since once he came across a larger one, he would immediately spit out the inferior one and upgrade.

Jack and I had a special connection, even stronger than all the dogs before. I defended him when he was misbehaving, arrogant and headstrong pup when others had lost their patience with him. He thanked me with unquestionable loyalty and friendship. Jack protected me like a personal security guard on walks. When I swam in the lake, he would swim out to get me when he thought I'd been out too long, swimming circles around me and edging me back to shore. As somebody who is strongly independent, I hate being told what to do, having my actions questions or second guessed or having my opinions over-ruled. Jack did all of those things on a daily basis. Because he loved me, wanted to protect me, wanted to be near me. When we were together his Jock-ego melted away. He died of cancer six years ago. I still miss him. I wish he was here. I wish he had died old and I could have seen him swim and run around into old age, like those men you see swimming in speedos well into Autumn with grey curly hair on their shoulders, still tanned from the summer swim series, broad shoulders, not a pick of fat on them.

Bert was adopted from a kennel and arrived one day because the only time that Jack's morale ever dropped close to depression was when Sally passed away and suddenly his mammy, his comfort and his company was gone in one quick hit, like the final felling of a pine tree. All our other dogs up to this point had been puppies when they arrived. Bert was two or three years old already. He was incredibly nervous with a whispy foxy tail and watery eyes that didn't know how to make direct contact with another's. He still doesn't know how, years later, but the point is that he tries. For a few seconds at a time, and then he slowly looks away off in the distance but still wants you to rub the end of his ear or scratch his belly just so. Bert is an example of a beautiful, elegant dog with very low self esteem because he had such a horrendous upbringing. He was found muddied and hungry and cold having run away. From the way in which he balked at a mop or sweeping brush or scuttled away whenever any man came near, I can be sure there's some scumbag out there who physically and emotionally hurt this beautiful soul. No matter how much love, attention, hugs, kisses, paw massages and snuggles you give Bert, it will never be enough. He is equally starved and spoiled for affection. He is slowly phasing into old age. He sleeps more and accepts longer hugs and pets. He is another one who forgets all his worries, all his past, the moment he jumps out of the car for a walk. He runs through fields of wild grass and muddy puddles, his tail circling like a propeller for propulsion. He wades into the lake shore and jumps around like a puppy, waiting for a stick or tennis ball to retrieve so he can be told again that he's a good boy. For a long time, and still to a certain degree, I am also like Bert in that I crave(d) external validation. Please love me, please tell me what I'm doing is important, please comfort me from my crippling and exhausting anxiety. But then we are also alike when we are free. There is no fun, no timeline, only open green spaces and water to play in.

If all the dogs we have had before have had complexes galore, the latest dog to be welcomed into our family, is the emblematic antithesis to the rest of the tribe. J.J is named after Jack, in honor of the immense presence he had in our lives and the fact that J.J looks and acts like a happy-go-lucky version of Jack the Alpha. The contrast between J.J and his dad Bert, is extraordinary. If he had a catch phrase it would probably be "no worries". If a theme song followed him around it would be Marley's 'Three Little Birds'. He is equally strong in build as Jack but Bert's gentleness has come through so much. He is incredibly loyal and is as comfortable alone having a snooze as he is sitting on my feet looking skyward at my face, direct eye contact always, always with love. J.J has taught me that worrying is a useless activity, that being positive whether it's in a calm or excited way, is both thrilling and energy giving and always, always, everything will work itself out.

I always knew, after this lineage of incredible beings, that I would want my own dog in the future. I always imagined I'd have to wait, settle down, maybe have a house of my own. Either way, the basic idea was that I was not financially or responsibly equipped or ready to have a dog yet.

Then I saw Inis. His worried eyes came out from the screen of a dog shelter an hour outside Valencia. It was Carlos (my man) who saw the photo and reposted it on facebook. Something happened to me. I see photos of stray dogs all the time and though my heart breaks, I've always felt there's nothing that I could do. I wasn't in a position to adopt. Where would I live? What would my future plans look like? I couldn't be certain of anything. Then I saw Inis.

I talked it out with Carlos. I told him all my worries and woes. Carlos is a practical man, very direct, very Spanish. He never tells you what you want to hear. He never placates. He is rational. He told me that we have a life together and that he knows and has seen how much I care for the dogs in my life, how all of them have been family members to me. He told me he understood that it's a scary thing getting your own dog since the dog becomes your child, your responsibility. There's no return address but that I've got this. I was still terrified but a new feeling I hadn't experienced before rose up. A level of competence I had previously only reserved for times of solo travel when I had no one to rely on except myself. And I remembered how I had thrived. Now I had the opportunity to help another thrive and with Carlos, I had the support and help to do that.

I woke up the other morning to find my boyfriend snuggled against my shoulder, Inis between us and Vera, his seven year old dog sprawled at our feet on the bed. It baffles me that less that five months ago, I was waking up alone in a single bed wondering when if ever I could stop worrying about my life's direction. That morning, I didn't reach for my phone and I didn't say a word. I slowed and quietened my breathing and simply observed, like some form of mental photography and mindful meditation combined and wondered in awe at how I had ever become so lucky. It would be 6.30 am soon and Inis would wake us all up with grumbles and little yelps to go outside to the toilet. There would be commotion and feeding bowls and sleepy eyes and discussions about what to make for lunch and coordinating work schedules. For a few lazy moments, I was in my element, embracing everything that brought me to this place in my life and acknowledging the many difficult moments and choices that led me here.

Inis is still growing in body, mind and spirit. He is only three months old and I often wonder who he'll become. Right now, he is the adventurous and excited, romantically enthusiastic young being who delighted in everything. Equally, he is still a child, believes strongly in what is and isn't fair, (ie. why does he have to leave the park and why is it time to go to bed?) and a child who needs cuddles and understanding and lots of love.

Each day is about overcoming obstacles for us and learning but it's also so important to make light of difficult situations, to enjoy the running around and play times, to make time for cuddles, to find out how far the love of water goes as he jumps in and out of the shallow pool in the park. And to love. Always love. Because that's what radiated from our bed when all four of us were sprawled out together. Love. All you need is love.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

What the hell is going on?

Today is one of those days where you wonder what the fuck you’re doing and have up until now, done with your life.

Imogen Heap comes to mind

Resultado de imagen de imogen heap hide and seek

Emotions that I currently feel: anxious, tired, irritated, apathetic, frustrated with life and myself, hungry, hangry, fed up, ill at ease, confused, spoilt. Is spoilt an emotion? Possibly just a judgement then. One we normally use under muttered breath when we pass ugly children in the supermarket who are making their parent’s lives a living nightmare.

I’ve had some water. It turns out I was dehydrated too. First world problems.

It’s not often that I let this other side of myself out. Out of the darkness I normally keep it in, out of the friendly, thoughtful, honest and philosophical world I aim to live in. I am kind to strangers, friendly to coworkers, shop assistants, bus drivers and housemates. It normally doesn’t feel like an effort for me to be gracious, warm and welcoming; to strike up conversations, even in haphazard broken Spanish or English, is something I welcome. I have a cheery disposition in all my classes. I like to have the laugh, to enquire about their day, their mood, their weekend and their interests.

I like to use this blog to write about topics that matter to me. At first, it was simply food and all the beautiful forms, recipes, markets, farms, shared tables and quiet coffee shops it can come from. Then I started to write about anxiety and depression in its many forms, guises and lessons. This blog has helped me to write anxiety out of my system at times, to understand why I felt a dis-ease with life and surprisingly, my words, thoughts and insight have helped others struggling to find answers to their mood and their outlook too. This assistance that my writing has provided others would often both excite and scare me.

I had always wanted to be a writer. Look back at most of the gifts I have been given since childhood and the majority, aside from surf or travel orientated presents, were either journals, books, book vouchers or more journals. My friend Carrie and I shared out 18th birthday and she gifted me a sickly Barbie pink hardback journal with a light pink love heart on the cover. As I outstretched both hands to receive it with a loving smile for her thoughtfulness, I didn’t feel understood. That is until I opened it and read the inscription. She told me that I always had the best stories, the most wonderful way of seeing the world and life, of observing people and that I should write it down. All of it. Like most actions in my life, each journal is partially filled. What began as an earnest exploration into a at least part time career in writing flickered and fizzed out of existence. That is until the next fire started in my belly.

I forced my fingertips to type the most recent entry for the sheer sake of staving off boredom and forcing myself to get out of my head and onto a page, to skip around on it and eventually jump into that land of words and phrases and oddly placed punctuation.

Today, an angry fire built up in my belly. I’ve spent the last hour shopping for necessities while slowly feeling the concern in my gut rumble and sway and the only action I could imagine myself doing the second I got home (and after gulping down about a litre of water) was to sit down and write and let all that fire flow down my arms and onto the key pad because I couldn’t bear to have it trapped inside me anymore.

Resultado de imagen de women who run with the wolves

I’m reading Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Again. Having spent the morning pondering life’s existence and wondering what my life was worth if my weekend felt worthless, I forced myself off my mobile phone while on the bus to the beach and began to read. I have been fearing this reread for quite some time. I know what Clarissa has to say. Reading her words will remind me that I’ve lost my way again, that I need to take my life’s direction and life’s love seriously as well as the signs I receive each day that tell me when one area of my life is in line with that life love and others are not. Clarissa doesn’t fuck about. Her writing may be poetic but her words are beefy.

“So what compromises the Wild Woman? From the viewpoint of archetypal psychology as well as in ancient traditions, she is the female soul. Yet she is more; she is the source of the feminine….she is ideas, feelings, urges, and memory. She has been lost and half forgotten for a long, long time….Where is she present? She walks the deserts, woods, oceans…she lives in the tear and in the ocean…”

“What are some of the feeling-toned symptoms of a disrupted relationship with the wildish force in the psyche?...feeling extraordinarily dry, fatigued, frail, depressed, confused, unaroused, uncreative, stuck, fuming, crazed, unable to follow through, chronically doubtful, self-conscious, separated from one’s revivification, drawn far into domesticity, intellectualism, work, or inertia because that is the safest place for one who has lost her instincts. Afraid to stop, afraid to act and yet otherwise fully capable, fully functioning”

I read that at 1.30pm. I have been awake since 9am. When I woke, I had ideas of going for a swim. My bag for the pool was pretty much packed. It had been that way since yesterday when I didn’t go to the pool either. This is despite the fact that without trying terribly hard, I discovered that I am capable of swimming 2km in under forty minutes. Now I’m bored and lonely in the pool. It’s Saturday and I wished I had something better to do so I proceeded to spend the next hour and a half staring at the ceiling interspersed with doing a Leeloo Dallas on the internet, sucking in the world’s information through my eyes that glazed over at the plethora of useless information coming from my smartphone screen.

Resultado de imagen de as i lay on my back staring at the ceiling sylvia plath

At 11am I got out of bed and realized that I needed to get out of the four walls of my bedroom and preferably the flat too. I had a shower and that simple action was pure water therapy and I felt like I could in fact leave the apartment if I could get my shit together enough to bathe. Breakfast was healthy and nutritious and I tried hard to calm my restless breathing as my mind raced over the many ways in which I have failed to make any real friends in this new city.

I walked to a hipster café around the corner, the equivalent of any hipster café of its size. Vintage mismatched furniture, swing and blues on the sound system, tattooed waitresses who didn’t realize I was there until thirty minutes later, an air of superiority. I wondered what I was doing there and what I was looking for by being there, sitting on a cushionless armchair scrolling down my phone and devouring a saucer of green olives instead of sitting back to read and soaking it in.

I kicked myself back up off my resting place and decided to take the bust to the beach. I read Clarissa and had a minor panic attack. Everything in her words reminded me of the feeling that’s been getting my down for the last week or so. Of course, I simply closed her back up and stuffed her tattered cover into my bag. I found the local flea market; everything was five euro. Music danced playfully around ears and between circular tables and roller wardrobes displayed everything from vintage granny dresses to tartan shirts. Old ballet pumps and tatty converse sneakers lined the floors beneath. Shipping containers in the old factory housed a food truck and toilets. I was in my element in one way. It all felt very familiar to the flea market in Dublin and then I wondered again what the fuck I was doing. I wasn’t a hipster. If I hear “pulled pork burritos”, I scowl and then flee the scene. I am here because there are seemingly friendly people, five euro t-shirts and it’s familiar and I miss the ease of familiarity.

I glance at one stall where roller derby skater girls sell their posters and have a photographer take shots of them with their tattoos and their re-homed puppies and their bowler hats and crew cuts. I am immediately intimidated and look down at my clothes in horror. I slouch and feel bitter bile at the back of my tongue. I feel worthless, a loser; a friendless loser roaming around hipster flea markets at the beach because I can’t handle the city and its shoppers on a Saturday. I compare my insides to people’s outsides. I fall deep into the monkey madness.

Resultado de imagen de roller derby woman

I tell myself I will join roller derby in September when I have all the gear, that I could definitely be good enough to play if I train and finally get fit enough and learn Spanish so I can converse with them and get the right hours at work in my new contract so that they don’t clash with training times like now and then I’ll be fit and cool and strong and get some tattoos like I’ve always wanted and live the life I’ve wanted to live for a long time. But I won’t breathe or appreciate what I have or take a moment to pause and reflect on how far I’ve come or that moving to a new city (again) is inextricably taxing and challenging or that all good things take time. I won’t be kind to my mind. I won’t take the time to write down my goals so I don’t have to keep running through them in my head like I’m preparing for an impossibly difficult math exam. I won’t trust that I’ve been doing my best and that this weekend is the first time in three months that I have a break and I’m scared shitless and want to run away from the whole thing.

No I will “draw far into work and inertia because that is the safest place for one who has lost her instincts”. My instinct on the bus ride home was that I miss my tribe, I want to surf every day and change into whatever clothes are relatively clean and not care about what I look. I want to wear a flowery hippy dress and run around barefoot and at the same time there is this competitive, edgy, kick ass, pissed off and bold woman inside of me that wants to wear those same cut off jean shorts and top for days on end as I skate and build muscle and get strong legs and a stable and trustworthy core from standing my ground on my skates and pushing the opposition clear out of the way and not apologizing for it. 

There is a strength and a rebelliousness inside of me and I don’t want to feel like I have to choose or explain why I want to skate and be covered in bruises one minute and another have tanned shoulders and wrinkly feet from soaking in the sea and the surf all day. Right now, I work and despite starting to run and swim again, I am bored and I wonder why I am so resistant to making friends. Is it because I know I’m leaving at the end of the year? Why am I being so callous and judgmental? Why do I assume that people won’t want to be friends with me once they know I’m leaving?

Where the fuck is my head at?

I look at friends and their lives and know for a fact that nothing is perfect. I know they have difficulties and joys of equal and unequal proportions. I also look at where they are and what they’re doing and I want to be a part of it. I want to live somewhere warm, where I grow veggies and visit the farmer’s market and go surfing. Where I call into friends’ houses for tea and have them over to mine for dinner. Where I learn a new craft and spend most of my time barefoot and most importantly, where so much of the world around me is green and fresh and vibrant. I don’t factor in the partner that I’ll have at the time because no one can plan for that. I imagine the type of man I’d like to share my life with. Practical with his hands, lover of the sea, kind and funny with a big smile and an even bigger heart. Someone who want to build kitchen tables of old wood for friends and family to gather at. Someone who doesn’t need convincing to watch Autumn sunsets or have BBQs or go on road trips or surf with.

For now, I realize from my writing and my ranting that it’s the familiarity, the warmth of community, the sea, the lack of city and the omnipresence of greenness and options to grow veggies are what I miss the most and cannot be found easily here in Spain. This time in Valencia is a year to settle my mind, to nurture my health and my confidence and to save. I’ve pushed myself hard these last three months to tick boxes and work hard, make good impressions and fill in forms and this is the first weekend that I’ve taken a breather. I’m not new to starting again, moving house or moving country. I don’t regret relocating to Spain for the financial security I so desperately needed in order to afford to look after myself, my mental and physical health, all of which I had struggled to do properly for years in Ireland.

The fire in my belly, the fun outlook in my mind, the desire to be spontaneous and sociable are all dumbed down lately as a result of all this pushing and moving and change. Rather than be pissed off at myself and hipsters and the intense loneliness I’ve felt steadily growing inside, I can take a step back and instead tell the monkey dancing around in my mind and my heart that it needs to piss off. I’d like a break from judging myself. I’ve moved mountains the last three months. Yes I miss my friends and the beach and my surfboard but I also miss my confidence and resilience and spontaneity. I can meet new people here as I have always done but it doesn’t have to be today. I can run in the park and go for a swim because it makes me feel strong, not because I’m trying to counteract the massive stomach bloat side effect of my anti-depressants. I can call great friends and catch up with them and I can give myself a break so I don’t feel like I’m flagging myself trying to muster up the energy, confidence and courage I think I need to say hello to a stranger at a meetup.

Resultado de imagen de maslow's needs

I am lucky to have gradually improving physical and mental health. I have a place to live and a job. For the first time in a long time, my most basic needs according to Maslow are being covered. Now for companionship, sociability, recreation and day dreaming. And breathing. Belly breathing. And acceptance that things might not be changing as quickly or efficiently as I’d like but I wasn’t built to change everything in one fucking day. 

Particularly not today.

If I learn anything this year about myself, (as there is always a lesson to be learnt, year in year out, week in, week out) it’s that I don’t need fixing. Instead, I can step back, breathe, take a moment or two and then carry on following my dreams and goals with purpose, integrity and most of all, leaving frustration behind, with love.

Resultado de imagen de find my direction magnetically

Saturday, 31 March 2018


I find it quite difficult to write at times. Often, when I look at this blog I wonder what it's all actually about. I stare at the menu on the top of the page and instead of seeing hours upon hours of work and thought and an inability to want to dedicate myself to being only a food blog or a travel log or a gardening advice column, I see a messy amalgamation of all of those things along with whatever else I feel like throwing in at the time.

If I'm in a positive mood, it doesn't bother me that there is such a mix of items and topics that interest me that all come together on a public space where I feel happy to share, help and dive into. When I'm in a doubtful or negative head space like this morning, however, my monkey mind would rather spend three hours deliberating over ripping the entire blog layout to shreds, deleting entire sections.

(read: "What the hell is Kai folk anyway? WHEN exactly did I think I was going to do an entire series of gardening and sustainability blogs? Wouldn't it be better to have separate blogs for each area of interest? No, we've been through this; that's far too complicated. It's better to keep everything in one place. You're not three different people. You're the one Grace and these are all the areas you're interested in. So what if it's a little confusing. It's not a business! It may as well be. There's no way we can write a new blogpost after a year's absence. What were you thinking? This is such a mess. Oh F@?K it we just won't bother at all").

Still there?

That's my brain. That's what it sounds like on an almost daily basis. The to and fro, wish wash of my mind.

January last year. That's the last time I wrote here. There have been other gaps and breaks and I'm usually inclined to apologize for such absences. Readers of this blog have read the reasons why. They normally involve a loss of creativity or zest for life, a stolen camera, a broken heart or a forgotten job. Rarely do the reasons for coming back to this space involve a sense of obligation. No one is forcing me to write here. There is no editor to check my words or tone, no boss to appease, no approaching deadline to meet. It's just me and often when life is dealing me a hard blow (read challenge/life lesson), I don't feel like writing and so I stop.

I may not feel like writing but neither do I feel like stopping. In fact, I am usually fully aware that writing is what will save me, carry me through the darkness, help me to make sense of the situation I find myself in and lead me towards a clearer, brighter image of what's actually going on in my life. Writing will guide me to the truth of the situation. And yet I stop. Stop writing my feelings, stop taking a step back, stop letting my creative voice have a say instead of the analytical and critical one that is so dominantly prevalent.

And so a year went by. Last year was a blur of upset, isolation, darkness, struggle, panic and fear. What a year! I had gut issues, allergies, fatigue, intense apathy and agoraphobia. I had days when the sun came out where I was surfing, laughing, volunteering, cheering on friends, going to weddings and parties and greeting customers at work. I was swimming in the sea and watching sunsets and having heart to hearts. I was planning retreats and fitness regimes. Slowly at first and then like an inevitable avalanche, it all came tumbling down. These things happen. They seem to happen a lot to me but there is also so much to be thankful for about last year.

True friends rallied around once more. They didn't sigh and comment that my struggle with dealing with anxiety and depression had crashed "again". They hugged and listened and made cake and lots of tea. They visited and stayed in touched and didn't judge. Family supported and listened and made an effort to learn more about my condition than ever before. I admitted to myself that planning my life with such rigidity and declaring that with every new move "this was it", I was going to be happy forever in this chosen spot, was no longer the way to go, to live, to be.

Lahinch and the wonderful friends I've made in the year and half I was there, will always be important to me. I'll visit and enjoy its beauty and wildness and feel blessed to have faces to look forward to looking out for, doors to knock on, tea to drink, pancakes to eat, waves to surf and share with friends and beds to sleep in and I am thankful.

I realized I needed somewhere out of my comfort zone where I could work, be warm, be relatively close to home and take time for myself.

For the last two months, I've been in Valencia in Spain. An underdog of a city when you compare it to the mighty size of Madrid or the party and art scene of Barcelona, it's a manageable, creative little bubble of a port city. A park set in the dried out river bed runs through and loops around the city. There's a beach thirty minutes away by bus that has long stretches of Mediterranean sand and sometimes, some pretty good waves. Fruit and veg are cheap, beers are drunk by everyone at 11 am and there are bocadillos, bakeries and hairdressers everywhere.

It's manageable, friendly, fun and now that Easter is here, it's also starting to get warm. I have a job where I can work and plan and save and for now, it's lovely to rest. It may seem like quite a simple and maybe even boring life here to some but for me, right now, it couldn't be better.

Week by week, I can look back and realize I'm stronger than I ever thought I was. I've been to more official police, tax and government offices than I can count. I've meandered my way through bureaucracy through limited Spanish and come out the other end unscathed with a health card, tax number, social security number and pay check in tow. For me, that's all progress.

The pace in Valencia is much more serious than the horizontal attitude in Andalucia or the irresponsibility loving Barcelonians but it is teaching me very important lesson that I never would have learnt in Ireland last year or now. Poco a poco. Little by little.

I'm giving myself these next few months to get back on my feet, ground down into the earth and connect with myself and what I want. I'm giving myself a breather financially and I'm also giving myself time to reconnect with writing. I wish I hadn't stopped last year but at least now I know how important and fundamental it was all along.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Goals in the New Year: Flu Buster Ginger and Carrot Juice

I find setting goals and being present to be mutually exclusive. Which is why I've had such an issue with New Years and all the wash of deadlines and stress that come with it. I recently listened to a Ted Talk about slowing down and it talked about how we have glamorized and prioritized productivity over creativity so much so that our minds are never really in the task of the moment. We're always on "next step mode". I don't want to be like that. I've written a lot here about setting intentions rather than rigid goals. One that helped me so much before was "be where you are". This was like a little whisper in my ear, reminding me that every step and stage has its purpose, even when you can't see it clearly at that point in time. Especially, when shit is hitting the fan and you begin to question the validity and purpose of your existence on this planet and the concept of your feelings or decisions having any real effect on the world around you. Dramatic and yet more common place feelings then you'd think. The whisper kept me on track, kept me sane and most importantly, reminded me to be thankful.

Focusing on being where I was, in that exact moment, realizing that there would never be a moment like it again, forced me at first and later lovingly coaxed me into a head space where I became extremely aware of the haphazard and flippant nature of people, environments and activities. It pointed out to me how important it was not to let the little things bother me but also to focus on every task as if it was important in and of itself. I learnt that I love to wash dishes by hand; taking a kitchen of dirty, neglected dishes and lovingly cleaning them, rinsing off the suds and letting them drip dry in a careful order. I paid attention to what I was doing when I made a visitor a cup of tea and let myself fall into a flow as I cooked. Don't get me wrong. I didn't stay mindful every single day. It was difficult most of the time to stay present, especially when someone I cared about was sick or there was a traffic jam or a stressful day at work or a myriad of other minor and major issues.

For some reason, probably because the ten month mark of me living in Clare is looming, this year I wanted to set a new intention, one that would settle my nerves despite the fact that I still love it here. Unconsciously or with full awareness I'm not sure, but I set a goals list that would overhaul my life here and set me on a path of perfection in almost every area of my life that I care about. It took my two weeks of stressing and anxiety-laden sleeplessness to realise what I had done.

According to my Only Goals List of 2017, I was going to run cookery classes, permaculture workshops, go back to college part time, save to go to New Zealand at the end of the year, host weekend retreats, run a series of runs that would lead up to 10 miles, volunteer on the farm, with Clean Coasts and Tidy Towns, run community events, start writing a cookbook and start a Sustainable Festival in Clare. In a year. Did I mention that I also wanted all of these to work out fantastically? I think the word I'm looking for here is perfect. Everything had to be perfect. 2017 would be the year that my personality, my skills, talents and my life would be perfect. Because that's what perfectionists do. Self destructive perfectionists like me set themselves up to fail because not only is it impossible to achieve all of these goals in one single year, perfectionism simply doesn't exist. At almost thirty one years of age, I finally took note.

I realise that goals and dreams are vitally important. We all need something to strive towards but Brain Pickings had incredible insights into the role of creativity and perfectionism that has me hooked since. The first point she made about success really hit home. As usual, once someone translates a concept through the metaphor of a natural process, I instantly understand. I would never expect the plants in my garden to succeed, produce and prevail simply because I ordered it necessary within a time frame. The blossoming of an idea, an opinion, a project or a flower, no matter how big or small; that's where the real magic is.

“Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.” This is borrowed from the wise and wonderful Debbie Millman, for it’s hard to better capture something so fundamental yet so impatiently overlooked in our culture of immediacy. The myth of the overnight success is just that — a myth — as well as a reminder that our present definition of success needs serious retuning. As I’ve reflected elsewhere, the flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst and yet, as a culture, we’re disinterested in the tedium of the blossoming. But that’s where all the real magic unfolds in the making of one’s character and destiny.

 It's the second quote that really challenged that inner perfectionist in me. The one that kicked this whole blog post off. There is a dark, sinister, manipulative and cruel Industrial voice in my head when I stop for a moment and let my mind wander and think about what I'm doing with my life, how I'm measuring up, what I've achieved or accomplished and what other people think of me. It tells me that I'm inferior, a flake, wasted talent and above all a goal-setting perfectionist who hasn't achieved anything worthwhile because it probably won't work out. It won't be perfect. On good days, I love that I am good at a number of things. Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I was only every astute at one, solitary task and then it would always be done, perfectly. Then the voice would go away and what I did with my time, what I completed, how I did it and who I was as a result would be good enough. It's sad to think I have wasted so much time assuming the dreams and goals I had wouldn't amount to anything or there wasn't much point in trying. It's sad to think I listened to that Draconian voice deeming it all to be unworthy. Then I read this.

Don’t just resist cynicism — fight it actively. Fight it in yourself, for this ungainly beast lays dormant in each of us, and counter it in those you love and engage with, by modeling its opposite... it is a contracting is inherently uncreative, unconstructive, and spiritually corrosive....Like all forms of destruction, cynicism is infinitely easier and lazier than construction. There is nothing more difficult yet more gratifying in our society than living with sincerity and acting from a place of largehearted, constructive, rational faith in the human spirit, continually bending toward growth and betterment. 



All good things take time. Life and our dreams and aspirations are worth the effort and time and cynicism from others but especially within ourselves serves no purpose and is the opposite of growth. At my friend M's house the other day, at the height of my confusion, she told me joyfully how eight years ago when she first bought her house, she thought about a living soil wall skirting the front of her house and vibrant green moss smoothing it over, shaped in elegant curves as a welcome to her family home. She achieved that this winter and is happier now, knowing the length of time it took to complete with all its little imperfections and surprises than had it been perfectly done the year they moved in. M always has these pockets of lighthearted wisdom. She sees time as an aid and experience and tripping up along the way as part of the ride. She sees this act of blossoming and change and growth in everything all the time. So far, I only see it when I surf or when I'm on the land or in the garden but I'm getting there. Friends like M, websites with insights like those on Brain Pickings and taking a step back to realise what the true story is behind the ego and innuendo are all teaching me, slowly and in stages, what my goals really are.

In light of these learnings, I've made steps to organize a series of healthy cooking demonstrations nearby and am pouring buckets of love into them for people to enjoy and learn and grow. I'll do my best and my best will be good enough. I'm planning the mindfulness and healthy eating retreats for this year because they will never be great until I start them and there will never be a better time to start than now. The rest? I'll simply ask myself, "What makes you happy? What makes you calm? How can you help others? How can you help yourself? How can you be present?" The answers will lead to creativity rather than productivity for its own sake. I won't be living in a world of doubt and expectation but of learning and exploration and fun. It won't really matter anymore what the task is as long as it leads to that change.

In the spirit of creativity removed from perfectionism, I am posting a simple winter juicing recipe with unedited photographs from my smart phone. Ever since my camera got stolen, I've told myself the photos I have are useless compared to how they were and every other blog I follow. Now I'm telling myself that photos are still beautiful visuals and that you will forgive me. It seems like everyone around me is sick with chest infections and Tom Waits' coughs and I still haven't been sick. I put it down drinking this regularly. A healthy boost of sunshine orange vitamin C with an immune boosting and gut promoting chunk of ginger, it has kept me healthy and energized post Christmas. Here's wishing it does the same for you too.

5 small carrots
2 oranges
1 big chunk of ginger (the bigger the better immunity wise)
1 lemon
1 apple 

Wash all the fruit and veg. Peel the carrots if they are very mucky, otherwise leave the skin on. As a juicing rule, most of the pulp and fibre goes into a separate compartment from the juice anyway and so much of the nutrients are contained in the peel of fruit and veg so aim to leave it on.
Anyway...slice them all so that they fit into the juicer funnel. Juice away! I usually leave the apple until last to 'clean' out all the other juices that came before it. Don't refrigerate. Simple drink and smile with the realisation that you've looked after yourself, taken that simple step to care for your body and your health and you're not going to be sick like everybody else!

Happy New Year!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

There's a voice there and a home, you just didn't know it

I love to photograph. The way you can hide behind a lens and what you see within it is the world you captured seconds previous in your mind's eye. When I write, sometimes the words don't come. When I sing, I miss a note or two or falter on a lyric. Cooking has riveting heights of taste sensations that can so easily be followed by a billowing fluffy cake that last minute, decides it has given up on life and sinks inside of itself. And painting. Let's not forget painting. The image I have in my head doesn't seem to want to be placed on canvas. But photography. That's a different story. Each snap sucks up the colors and the energy of a sunset or the smells of turmeric muffins out of the oven. The shutter takes hold of breaking waves and spontaneous smiles. And yet that beautiful camera also leaves behind all that colorful, energetic emotion and sights for someone else to take hold of and save as an image in their camera, just as equally, just as fairly.

A few years ago, I parked my car by the lake, alongside everyone else's car on a sunny summer's day in July, to go for a swim and a maybe sail. I left my belongings, bar my wetsuit and towel, in a bag under a jacket in the boot of my car. Not on the back seat or on the driver's seat with the door open and a neon arrow pointing to the bag. Hidden. Obscured. Safely tucked away to be used later. A few hours later, I came back and the bag was gone. So was the smooth line along the door frame of my little car, as well as my CDs, including the Tenacious D one I roared along with on solo road trips to Clare. I remember laughing and joking with my Dad on the way back to the car and then mid conversation, realising something was wrong. When I saw that the car had been bashed and my bag was taken, I wasn't upset, rather confused. Why would someone do that? Did they not realise I was skint and had nothing of real value? Did they not know that there was less than twenty quid in my wallet, alongside a bunch of grocery receipts and some water bottles? Then it dawned on me. My journal. Gone. Stories and ideas and dreams built up over the summer. Gone. My camera. Gone. Sunsets and waves and wildflowers and more. Why?

It's funny that I hadn't thought about that theft or how it affected me until now. Suddenly, I could remember feeling stupid, blaming myself for the theft and damage to my little car. How could I have been so idiotic?! I remember my Dad and the rest of our family friends in the car park being astounded and rushing to offer their help and everybody being more upset than I was. Until a few days later. I imagined the morons who had stolen my belongings and reading through my journal and laughing at my dreams. I felt exposed and minor and immature. Mostly, I felt lost without my camera. It took me months of camera-less despair before I could afford another one. I was utterly lost. When I saved up for another, I carried it with me everywhere. Street lights, food markets, street murals and coffee cups. Light playing on windows and door frames, old ladies peering out over balconies and book spines. I couldn't get enough of it. Then the blog happened and every manner of food and adventure dripped from real life into my camera and onto my computer screen and I felt like I could share my world in the way it makes sense to me; visually.

Two weeks ago, that camera was stolen. Along with another journal, a beautiful bag my sister had gifted me, five euro and my housemate's fishing rods. The journal was one of those beautiful Taschen ones, bound in Gustav Klimt's artwork and given to me by my lovely friend Krisi. The bag had red handles the color of sun ripened summer tomatoes and hand printed retro patterns, because she's thoughtful and creative like that. Five euro and shopping receipts and lists from way back. Fishing rods. And my camera. There are photos of the whole summer in Clare on there. Of the time my nieces came to visit me here in my new home, swimming and adventuring on the farm and eating crepes twice the size of their faces. There are recipe ideas I was saving for September when work calmed down and I could share them with you here. And there are photos that were never taken of places in Clare I haven't been to yet and experiences I haven't had and images and visions I haven't yet had the wondrous privilege to formulate yet. Oddly, when I realized all these things were taken I didn't really care either. I was in a state of shock and overwhelming gratitude.

Two weeks ago, that camera was stolen and for a time, my unwavering beliefs in feeling safe and trusting that 'bad' people weren't part of my life, were taken too. You see, two men came into my house two weeks ago and they took things that did not belong to them. At 3.30 in the morning. While I was asleep on my own in the house. Even now, that's strange to stay.

I thought it was my housemate. He would occasionally come home unannounced for an hour or so to get something he needed before going back to work. He works away for weeks at a time so I'm used to having the place more or less to myself. I never feel weary or alone. It's a privilege to have it to myself. That night, I was so confused when I heard the squeak of the front door handle and footsteps move in the kitchen downstairs. I didn't know whether to jump out and give out to him or just turn and go back to sleep. I tucked myself into the duvet more and tried to rest. The footsteps kept lingering and shuffling. I grew quieter as I listened. My gut was telling me something was very wrong but I chose to ignore it. The reality of listening to that kind of reaction meant that I would have to admit the person shuffling downstairs was not my housemate.

The footsteps grew louder coming up the stairs. Then the flashlight scanned past my bedroom door and I noticed I wasn't breathing anymore. Two sets of footsteps walked past my door and on into his room. Even when it was obvious now that there were two strangers sneaking around my house, I assumed I was wrong and rang my housemate. No answer. Looking back on it now, I'm not sure I was thinking. Captain Hindsight says I could have climbed out the window, locked my door, called the police but the windowsill was covered in books and teacups, I didn't know if I had a key in the lock of my door and the phone reception was faulty. If I ran, they'd hear me or see me and I might not get out the house. So I did what would never occur to me in real life. I walked out onto the landing between his room and mine and called out my housemate's name. When two men dressed in black stopped whispering and walked out to see me, a voice I didn't know flew up from my belly and I roared with a fire I didn't know I had, "Get the f**k out of my house". I was terrified. They laughed at me and I nearly collapsed. Somehow, I didn't. I roared again, this time feeling my two feet firmly on the ground and my wild hair tossing around the air. I felt possessed as I roared at them and chased them down the stairs and out of my home. As soon as they left and I had bolted every door and turned on every light, I inhaled again and sobbed, putting on shoes and a coat and dialing my neighbors.

Every part of me collapsed when the first of my neighbors arrived, followed by the next and the next and the next. They were just as frightened as I was but I was held and given tea and wrapped up. Police and banks were called. One friend even drove over at 4am as backup. That's what hit me and also what stayed with me for days after the burglary. The love. I was terrified, couldn't sleep, every tiny sound and movement petrified me to my core but there was love and community and concern everywhere. I know that had my house in Dublin been burgled, friends and co workers would have been amazing but neighbors and shop owners, friends of friends and the veggie man? Never. They wouldn't have even known my name. Being a small town, the incident spread like wildfire but instead of feeling embarrassed or harassed, I felt part of the community, a cared for and loved and respected friend.

I won't lie. I still check the locks, sometimes waking in the middle of the night to lollop down the stairs to visually show myself that the deadbolt is on, the chain latched in tight. I pull the blinds down on the windows downstairs and don't leave anything lying around on the kitchen table anymore. I always need to know where my keys are and my gut bolts when there's a knock on the door or worse yet, the window. I'm devastated about my camera but not about the plastic object, rather the memories and colors and smiles and foods contained inside its little plastic chip. I miss the potential images I'll miss until I can save to get another one and the freedom of expression and creativity it gave me when writing proved difficult or my perfectionism was trying to get the better of me in other areas of my life.

I feel sorry for the imbeciles who stole my beautiful bag. They'll never know the care my sister took to choose it for me or how it got its little hole on the bottom corner. They never had a friend who remembered my love for one specific Klimt painting after ten years of friendship. I feel thankful for the love and the care and the fact that nobody got hurt. I'll get another camera and there will be other memories to capture and savor but I'll never get to experience that amount of genuine concern from people who a few months ago were strangers to me in this new town. What a gift!

If I summarize the events, it all does sound horrific but I often think it was the beginning of a major shift and a new change. A new place to live came up, you see. It's nearby all these beautiful people and places, work and farm and the surf but it's also in the country. The sun shines along the land all day. It wriggles the dew up from under a forest and lifts the haze of it into the sky each morning, waking birds into song for the day. In the mid day, the warm rays shine on tunnels of veg and when the warm orb is finished its orbit of the farm, it sinks behind more trees, only for the skyline to be replaced by the moon's orbit and it drifts up over the trees and nestles high above the house.

There's a room for me there now and a new stage. This stage doesn't involve me running away from discomfort and dis-ease like I've done so often in my life. I'm not so scared of failing and depression and confusion and relationships and trying that I want to run away somewhere warm and unfamiliar. This time, I'm looking forward to settling in even more, getting my hands in the dirt more regularly, feeling the comfort of wild winters and warm shelters. Even more than anything, I'm looking forward to standing my ground, tall and proud, wavy wild hair abound. I'm not hiding in my room anymore, looking for a key to lock discomfort out. I'm here to stay, to stand in my community on the land and in the sea and even though it will take some time to sleep restfully, I am safe, I am loved, I am part of a community, I am lucky, I am free.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Thank you more please: Raw Chocolate & Seed Squares

It's been two months since I wrote about homesickness and homecomings. Two long, engaging, challenging, sea-filled, magical months. Reading back over my last post, it seems like I had the realization I had been searching after for years and then all that was left to do was let everything fall into place and more importantly, trust that the sediment of the last ten years of my life would settle and the world around me would be clear and I would be able to see myself, my life, my situation and my present for what they really were.

If Vietnam taught me anything, it was to be thankful. Not simply thankful for a first world quality of life but for the magic that everyday normality can bring. For years, little sis has been trying to get me to watch this film with Domhnall Gleeson called "About Time". I hate romcoms so refused, until two months ago. It's about a guy who has the power to travel back in time and fix up messes he's made or simply relive an exceptional moment. As he gets older though, he stops repeating his days, trying to milk out the last bit of fun and instead wakes up everyday and appreciates everything as if it's his second time to live out the day and he is fully aware of everything, person and moment that is fantastic in its own simple way. His film made me realize that little acts of kindness are magical gifts to others but also to yourself. It also reminded me that instead of getting caught up in the activities of an entire week and stressing, referring to google calendar for every inconceivable notification, it is so much more important and healthy to start everyday the same. For the last month, I've woken up with a short but clear idea. Today is a new day, it's a magical day and you get to live it. Each day that I practice it, I feel freer, relaxed, alive and content all at the same time. Shoveling shit on the farm for hours on end can be a pain sometimes but then I stop, look around and say to myself, "I get to do this. I'm surrounded by funny, loving, kind people who are doing the same thing. I'm healthy. I'm free to stop or continue to work at this. I'm outside breathing fresh air beside the sea". It's then that I feel so incredibly lucky and I wonder why I didn't try this approach sooner.

I think of months on end, years even, of feeling down, confused, irritable and stressed. It's then I realize how change can impact so greatly on our lives if we just let it. I spent so many years resisting change, trying to control the situation, fixing relationships, exhausting my emotions, focusing on what was wrong and wanting to make everything right. If the last few months have taught me anything, it's how important change is for growth, development and freedom. Letting the small stuff just go has meant I can concentrate on what's really important to me. Letting other people's expectations go, no longer trying to prove myself to anyone be it about career, relationships, values and or living situations, has been riveting. And I'm happier. How did that happen?

I think it's because I started to listen to my heart and stopped thinking that volunteering on a farm, surfing, swimming, cooking food for neighbors and friends and working in a cafe to pay rent were all valued parts of my life that I needed to explain to others. The moment I stopped explaining and just got on with it, the more I made time for listening to friends, laughing, playing cards, shoveling shit on the farm and chilling out, the more my life has started to resemble what I've always wanted. Community, friendships, love, food, the land and the sea. That's it. Simple.

These last two months have involved finding a new place to live, getting a job, meeting new people, making friends and getting to know neighbors and community members, business owners and passersby. It was a challenge but like non other. Fifteen years ago, I came to this little town and walked to beach in the Irish sun with my wetsuit rolled halfway down to my waist. I walked along the beach with short hair and a wiry attitude but nonetheless, told my parents then and there, "when I'm older, I'm moving to Clare". In that space of time I've gone to college, had a million different jobs, traveled and had my heart broken but I wouldn't change it because now that I'm finally here, home, in my base, I know I didn't hold back or miss out on anything. All those broken pieces fitted back together. They rearranged themselves into a different form, like a beautiful but complex mosaic and now I can take a step back and look at my life and remember the pointed edges with a sense of pride because they all led me to this point and I'm so happy it did.

Last night, walking home from the beach with my great friend and new neighbor, we tried to recall what we did this week but the number of activities were so great, varied and fun, we couldn't organize them properly. There was a pesto making class, two swims in the sea after work, time on the farm, new jobs, card games, beer pong, laughing out loud and one of the most epic barbecues I've been to in a long time. We got to help out neighbor set up a surprise birthday party for her boyfriend with lights, fire pits and mountains of food. There was a point that night where I walked out to our courtyard. The fairy lights when sending out a warm hued glow, the fire pit had reached an epitome of warming glow, everyone was sitting around the embers in a circle, snuggled beside each other and there was music being played and all I could think of was "I get to do this, this is my community that I get to share with these people" and at that point, I knew that unexpected change had led me to this and I was never so thankful.

These raw chocolate and seed squares are packed with so many delicious ingredients and are the best treats I've made in a long while to share. I made them to be neighborly and they didn't last more than a day once I had them made but if you're very good, you could keep them in the freezer for up to three months. Good luck with that!


1 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
pinch sea salt
1 cup puffed rice (brown rice version is the best-healthy and nutty flavor)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup solid coconut oil
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 inch fresh ginger, grated to a paste
4 tablespoons raw cacao powder


Place pumpkin and sunflower seeds with salt onto a dry frying pan on a medium heat and toast gently for 10 minutes (give or take) until seeds are lightly toasted and pumpkin seeds have started to pop. Add cinnamon and nutmeg and put aside to cool slightly.

Put coconut oil, honey, vanilla and ginger into a glass or metal bowl over a pot of hot water (like a double boiler) and stir gently until to oil has melted. Once melted, remove from heat and whisk together to combine properly. Add cacao powder to liquid mix one tablespoon at a time, whisking to combine. Stir the coconut honey mix through the seed and puffed rice and mix well to coat evenly. Line a rectangular deep tray with greaseproof paper. Pour mix in and flatten down well with the back of a spoon and give the mix a little shake to make sure all the chocolate mix settles well at the bottom. Place in the fridge for 1 hour, pop out onto a board, chop into squares and store in a sealed container in the fridge for a week or freezer for a month. Or just eat them all in one go. Most importantly, share, share, share.


Monday, 28 March 2016

Hunger & Homesickness: Coming home

I've been hungry for a long time. Not for food but for change. Change in my living situation, my job, my relationship status, my whole life really. I've gone through stages of wishing it all away and thinking that if only I lived somewhere else, had a different upbringing, had more money, less money, lived closer to the surf, lived somewhere warm, lived anywhere but where I was, that I would be happy. Everything would suddenly be ok. It's strange now to think I thought that. I believe that deep down, I knew I was kidding myself. It's something we're all meant to go through I think. Questioning and utter confusion. I wish I had taken the time to listen to myself and my own voice and gut long ago rather than feeding into what I thought others thought of me, my life and every little conceivable decision I made about my life. I wish I had accepted my lovely flawed self sooner but then I wouldn't be writing this. I wouldn't be in this place of love for myself and my circumstances, my dreams, my values and most importantly, my imperfections. I wouldn't be so appreciative of the complexity of me and the path that led me here.

Funny thing about wanting your life to change all the time. You can travel to farthest ends of the earth, have relationships with different people and work at a variety of different jobs but until you stop to address you at your very core, you're just dragging around all that angst and regret and confusion half way around the world with you. That's what I did. For the best part of ten years. Please don't think that this post is all about how I've suddenly found myself, right in the nick of time, aged thirty. Far from it. I'm still single, I'm still stony broke and I'm still learning about myself but one thing that this last year of mayhem, upset and mental strain has taught me is that I am beautifully imperfect and I am fully willing to stand right in the present and face myself and my past. Each and every step that was pure heartache in the last ten years from being in debt to unemployed and critically heartbroken led me to where I am today. Sure, it would have been easier if the path was filled with more love and easiness but then I wouldn't have appreciated what I have now.

That is the lesson this past year and in particular, these past three months have taught me because the thing is, I followed the adventurous dream I thought I wanted so desperately all the way to an English teaching job in Vietnam and I hated every single minute of it. All the years of living in Ireland and lamenting the weather, wishing for more blue sky days, heat, cheap and delicious food, palm trees and cheap flights to Australia and New Zealand, were all in vain. I felt so privileged in my freedom, standard of living, education and life conditions compared to the vendors, families and mix of elderly and young living in Ha Noi. I spent those three weeks jaw dropped, looking at the neon green pollution in the central lake of the city, struggling to inhale through the humid smog, imagining what it might be like to sleep in silence in a house down a country lane rather than in the chaos of the city night. I got sad looking at dogs tied up, ill elderly stashed in tiny houses and families leaving their front door open to the polluted and traffic infused streets just to get some 'fresh' air into their tiny apartments. It upset me to see KFC beside a tiny street stall selling bread rolls filled with egg and chicken and realizing how those buying the local sandwiches could never dream of eating at KFC. There was nothing equal about any of this. Society was divided between the top 5% emulating the wealthy west and casting off anything that associated them or their lives with that of the other 95% who would never get a chance to change, grow or ask what they personally valued.

I realized I am so lucky. I am free to travel, to photograph, to be educated, to do whatever I like. Yes, I have suffered in the last ten years from people who didn't value me, didn't love me, didn't show me the love and respect I deserved. Still, I have it so much better than those in Vietnam. For the first time in my life, after years of solo trips away, I was homesick in Vietnam. Not just for family but amazing friends, clean air, green landscapes, wild waves, fresh rain, mucky dogs running through fields with enthusiastic abandon, welly boots, clean rivers and simple living. I vowed that if I made it back to Ireland, I would treasure my life and change things to feed the hunger I had for community, simple living and a life filled with love that was in alignment with my values because I could. Because I was privileged.

The day after my birthday, I went west, just outside Lahinch. I took a small bag packed with a few clothes that I was happy to get mucky from digging in a wet field on a farm in Moy. I decided on my birthday that I wouldn't waste time saying "I'll do that tomorrow". If things like living in a community, growing food, helping those working towards something valuable, being out in the open air were important to me, I wasn't going to waste any time talking about it. I have the privilege of being able to assume that I will live for another thirty years when so many others do not. That being the case, I plan to make the most of those thirty years. I am not going to live it wishing for a different life, different circumstances, living out my days hoping to appease others or take a job or a partner to seek approval. I write this as I start to pack up a few belongings like cookbooks to share dinners for groups of hungry workers for the farm, my surfboard for ocean respite, some jewelry supplies to make gifts for others and potting trays to donate to the local community garden. After fifteen years of moving around the world, I'm coming back to where it all began for me, the first place in Ireland I felt I belonged.

I've learnt so much from this hunger and homesickness it's the beauty of following my heart, believing in my strength, trusting my gut, surrounding myself with people I care about who love me and accept me just as I am. I've stopped being afraid to ask myself what's wrong when I get depressed, to inquire about my values and change my lifestyle and outlook accordingly. I've lost the fear of what the core of me longs for. We can travel, have relationships, live in a multitude of locations, drift in and out of friendships and family ties but we will always be homesick for ourselves, the home within, unless we take a look at why we feel so hungry for meaning and to feed that need with love, freedom and compassion. Because we can.

Coming home is also coming back to this online space to share stories and recipes. I haven't forgotten about the food. Porridge with cinnamon, mashed potato and brown bread never tasted so good since coming back to Ireland. I also didn't have a kitchen in Vietnam and am between places right now. Having said that, I'm excited about Spring, sorrel salads, the last of beetroot goodness, baking and making 2016 the year I give to markets, fermenting, wild harvesting and food bartering goodness!

Here's to fresh air and water Spring light-filled days, wild food abundance, pot luck dinners, hedgerow harvests and the beauty of wilderness and unpredictability in nature and in life! Here's to living life with this beautiful song by Ger Wolfe in mind: The Curra Road....

In the Summer we'll go walking, way down to the river, down the Curra road.
There's the blue sky we'll walk under, listen to the humming bees and on we'll go.
We won't worry about the Winter, worry 'bout it raining ,worry 'bout the snow. 
In the Summer we'll go walking, way down to the river, down the Curra road.
Past the cattle at their grazing, through the woods of hazel, holly, birch and oak. 
Past the robin on the gatepost, singing to the bluebells, sunlight is their host. We won't worry 'bout the radio, worry 'bout the traffic, worry 'bout the phone. In the Summer we'll go walking way down to the river, down the dusty road.
There is music in the river, listen to it dancing, underneath the bridge, and the wind is hardly breathing, words unto the willow branches overhead .We won't worry 'bout the government, worry 'bout the video, worry 'bout the day. In the Summer we'll go waltzing, hand in hand together, down the dusty way.

Busylittlefoodie X