Saturday, 23 May 2020

Five months and counting

Most people on the planet are focussed on time. Clocking up the days with hashtags, with a photo a day on instagram or another loaf of sourdough bread has become the norm. Terms like lockdown, self-isolation and contact tracing are in daily usage. Here in New Zealand, there's been a shift from counting the days at home to anticipating and guessing the number of weeks we'll have at the various levels until we are fully free.

Mariana (Millais) - Wikipedia

I've given up counting, along with hope, since I don't really care anymore how many weeks we'll be at Level 2 or that fishing and hunting is allowed again. It's comforting to know I can be in the water for a swim or a surf but I feel evaporated for reasons other than being apart from the soupy blue sanctuary of the sea. I've given up counting because there is no clear number that leads to borders opening. No clear day to aim towards exists to give us permission to book flights that will allow Carlos to finally get to New Zealand.

It's been five months since I've seen him. It could be another five before I see him again and that fact makes me unbearably sad. This wasn't part of the plan. I talk about the plan when I meet people I haven't seen since I got back here after Christmas or new faces on the beach when walking with Inis who ask me why I moved to Raglan. I relay the story and have now told it so many times that it doesn't feel like my own. I've learnt how to condense it to the bare facts. I tell it almost without pause. I'm so well versed that I feel like I'm talking about someone else's life, someone else's plans simply because the thoughts of a well-coordinated vision for our lives together seems absurd now.

I summarise for all concerned as if I'm on autopilot. We were supposed to arrive together in December. The vet missed an important step. I had to leave ahead of them to activate my visa. Carlos had to stay until March with the dogs in Ireland. Vera got sick. She has lymphoma. She's not coming. Inis is here now. He arrived in March. We both have our jobs. We're very lucky. The plan was to wait. Now Covid has happened. The borders are closed. We don't know what's going to happen. Sympathetic faces that I both appreciate and want to run a mile from follow.

I don't tell the other dog walkers the rest. That's saved for friends. I don't divulge the emotional details of the plan, the dreaming and the deflation. I no longer have a desire to get into the details.We were all supposed to arrive together in December. We'd put the dogs on a plane. They'd stay in quarantine for two weeks while we enjoyed sunshine and warmth and found a home for all four of us. We would start a new life together in a new year. It's a six month process between vaccinations and vet checks to get our canine friends from Ireland to kiwi shores. Our vet missed an important step three months in. My visa would expire if I didn't activate it before the end of December. Carlos would need to stay with both dogs until March. I cried. I called myself stupid. How could I have fucked up so badly that I hadn't noticed? I was the organised one. We had a plan. I don't tell anyone how I cried for a week at the thought of being apart from the dogs and Carlos for that long. Silent tears that came along suddenly in the middle of the working day, quickly quashed in the toilet cubicle at work with some deep breaths. Heavy sobs at home in bed with the duvet softening my shivers.

Direct, pragmatic, steady Carlos held my shaking nerves like a pool of water in a cupped hand, not wanting to spill a drop. His patience for my drama was boundless. Assurances that it would only be few months, that Inis would keep me company until he got here, that this was a short term sacrifice for a long term gain of our dream, that this time apart would be 'worth it. He was right. I got on the plane, I stayed with friends. I was focussed in setting about finding a place for us to live, a car, a job and time for friends and the beach and zoom calls. There was no distinctive, definite time we could count down towards but it felt sooner, rather than later.

We are all Edward Hopper paintings now': is he the artist of the ...

And then Covid happened. And now I get asked by well-meaning friends and new folks I meet, "what's going to happen to your partner?!" and the list of reasons why he won't be here for an indescribably long period of time mount up and I feel like suffocating would be preferable to letting my anxiety count the many ways in which we are kept apart. What follows each time is my ego's determined peacocking, attracting all my attention, time and energy with the sole focus of toppling my resolve over and revealing the shoddy foundations beneath holding me up. Threatening 'always' and 'never' comments roll around in my head. "He'll never get here", "this is your fault-such a stupid idea-why did you ever think this was going to work?" "Your plans always end in chaos or disappointment or failure". "You're so self-involved. There are families separated and partners grieving and you're whingeing about being apart". On a loop like some offensive 90's dance track.

I feel ashamed that I can't keep a level head. I am envious of Carlos who can remain so calm and only focus on the fact that all this is unalterable and so attachment to a particular outcome is futile. I'm furious at myself because I am aware that worrying doesn't help and that routine and detachment from outcomes is the only healthy way to deal with this much uncertainty. The little dreamer in me cannot grasp that reality, however. I am a little girl lost trying to be an adult woman and feel like I'm failing on the daily. Some days I make lists of tasks to do in order to feel accomplished and on track. When I wobble, I make lists of goals I have accomplished and challenges I have overcome to remind myself and my impatient ego that I am not a failure. Most days it simply doesn't feel enough, though.

I guess I'm tired. My weary mind feels as though I've spent the last fifteen years pushing through cling film bound stages of struggle. Up until a year ago, I used those wins as nourishment for my soul. I am stronger, more capable, more experienced, with clearer boundaries and a strong sense of self. I've experienced loss and heart break, disappointment, concern, stress and more than enough house moves to understand myself and how I deal with life's sharp edges. These days I often feel that Covid was just one knock too many. Perhaps for some others, this has been an awakening to a new way of being, to a redirection towards previously forgotten or unknown values. For those people, I am delighted. For me, I have already had my periods of lockdown and self-isolation. I've stayed at home for days on end and thought about the great mysteries. I've sat with myself when I didn't want to and thought about what's real and essential and valued. This year was meant to be the time of implementation. I'm fed up sitting with myself and my thoughts and having this forced upon me once more has only given room for anxiety to breathe and stretch out into the spaces it once called home. It has grown new tendrils that have started to take root again. Fertile thoughts of freedom and choice, enthusiasm and celebrated sociability have been suffocated by this weed again. I turned my back on this beautiful garden of ideals, optimism, colour and adventure in my mind and now I'm faced with a yard of brambles provoking me. I see the brambles growing and coveting more space daily and for the first time in a long time, I would love to give up, just not care anymore and lead a mediocre life with a nine to five job and zero expectations of a reunion with Carlos or my optimistic, loving the world and all its magic natural state.

I think about how I'd like to be in my own conversations in my mind with myself, as well as socially. I want to be friendly and enthusiastic and joyous in my free time. Effortlessly. Not manically high on life on the daily but content about life in general and the direction it's heading in. Maybe that's why in others' rush to socialise as soon as the new levels permitted, I hid away. I was more eager to cancel with the thoughts of meeting new people and retelling my sad separation story one more time. I missed others but eight weeks alone with my thoughts has taken its toll. I don't feel proud of where my head is at. It takes effort to hide that. Socialising is probably the medicine required to ease me back into my natural state and yet it's the one thing I struggle the most with right now, more than I ever have before.

There's still some hope there, fed by Carlos' smiles on Zoom, his stupid jokes, his steadfast commitment to routine and his ability to make me laugh when I'm a mess. When I was a teenager, the Love is... illustrations were incredibly popular.The randomly naked cartoon couple, holding hands and explaining to us what love was all about both disturbed and fascinated me. I learnt what love was from dramatic love sick dances and exchanges in Pulp Fiction, Casablanca and Fred Estaire and Ginger Rogers moves. And these illustrations. I was perpetually confused. Love is....when he walks you to your car. Love is...the relationship you never thought you'd have.

Love Is

These last five months have taught me my own version, much more aligned with Puuung's illustrations. Puuung draws images of day to day realities of being in a relationship. Hugs in the kitchen for no reason except that you're passing by. Binge watching movies on a rainy Sunday. Doing a food shop together for the week ahead. Surprise gifts and Sunday pancakes.

I have run out of hope for myself lately. I'm tired and fed up of the challenges I've put myself up against and walked into blindly. I really believed this year would be a break, a small pause in all of that when in reality, this lockdown is an experience that all of us are feeling. It's the largest obstacle we have encountered so far. The only way to get through this is to desist concentrating on the long distance, separation and unknowns that keep Carlos and me apart. Instead I think of the times and experiences we have to look forward to.
Sunday pancakes. Weekends camping. Learning to surf again. Walks on the beach with Inis together. Cuddles on the couch. A hug. More hugs. Seeing those brown eyes again in person. Reaching out to a hand to hold. Hearing him potter around the house. Planning and dreaming while sitting on the same couch. Sleepy conversations before falling asleep at night. Dozy grins across from me in the morning. Watching him excitedly roam around the wood shed at the local recycle center. Cycling side by side while chatting about what to have for lunch. Drinking coffee quietly with my legs balanced across his lap, feet dangling and carefree. Making a home together. Having my best friend back. Companionship and that energetic Spanish accent in my ear. These are the things that keep me going. These are the thoughts, memories, sounds, smells and dreams that I hold close to my heart to get me through each day. When I can't think how I'm going to explain to one more person what I'm doing here alone, I think of Carlos and the life we deserve so much to have together.

Love is complicated and risky and completely unpredictable, much like this lockdown. I just need to try and find a way to embrace the process of waiting with the same eagerness I want to hug my man again.

And maybe then this experience can be that one great story that marked our lives and relationship and I can start to feel that joy, enthusiasm and idealism that makes me feel free.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Why I hate cooking now, Thermomixes and choice

I’m not sure where to start. I only know that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. Too long. And so here I am writing. Not apologising for not posting a damn thing for over a year. Not feeling guilty for neglecting my need to get things out of my head and onto a page. Not being hard on myself for procrastinating the shit out of anything that wasn’t necessary to day to day living just right at this moment in time.
Partly, I want to write about the book I’m reading.

The other things buzzing around in my head are as follows: 

  • moving to New Zealand (after 10 years of trying)
  • reaching my 10 year goal and not knowing what to do next and (oddly) being ok with that
  • having arguments over the phone with my manfriend with a thirteen hour time difference and then lovingly resolving those arguments and realising that we’ve got this more than we ever thought we had before
  • adulting according to society by completing paper work to meet deadlines for the pet transport of my dog while also making sure I don’t just eat cereal for dinner while organising rent, bills, getting a car and a place to live
  • staying in touch with friends old and new and negotiating a new job
  • wondering how I got so horribly unfit that my dreams of being a good surfer again and someone who is active seems insurmountably unattainable
  • realising that my previous love of cooking and its inherent expression of love that I weaved through my cooking for others dissipated two years ago and now I resent it every day
  • being unattached to the outcomes of anything I set my mind to
  • feeling lost in terms of how to start doing the things I love after putting so much of that aside for the best part of two years
  • mothering, listening, the mental load and the division of labour at home
  • how I’m going to find an outlet for all these things above.

Clearly, this blog can’t contain all those thoughts.
Sometimes, it’s better just to start where you’re at.
Let’s start with the book.

It’s got a neon green cover. I’ve been meaning to read it since it came out. Friends had read it. I’d perused through it a few times in the library. Podcasts were listened to. There’s no reason that I didn’t read it before now. Except maybe, in the odd way that books can arrive in your life just as you need them. This one had to wait for certain aspects of my life to catch up before I fully clicked with all that the author had written about.
Sometimes books are just waiting for us to begin.

When I arrived back in New Zealand, this time with the knowing intention that this was final and I was not leaving this time round, I stayed in a house bus with fuschia pink and the same neon green colouring as the book. Set on the top part of a rolling hill leading down to my friends’ section of land, my favourite Karioi mountain was blocked from view but I could see their new house build, Jess’ stunning English country garden planted up and could hear their son Alistair’s sweet five year old voice outside my window while he trapped cicadas to listen to them buzz in his cupped hands.

I was thankful every day of being there. Not simply because it was free accommodation. In fact, that became less than secondary. I was thankful for the space, the time, the lack of outside influences and noises and lights and hassle that came from everywhere else when I lived in Dublin.
I could hear birds and insects rather than buses and traffic lights. I went to bed when it got dark at 9pm and woke up when there was a buzz outside early morning.
The time to make tea and drink it before it went cold. The space to take a few breaths and write a gratitude list. The chance to get my hands in the sandy soil and pull out creeping weeds, mulch up around feijoa and fig trees and sweat under the sun. Breaking every day down into its simplest tasks was an enormous relief after last year.

The aspect I cherished the most, however, were the relatable, thoughtful and inquisitive conversations we had at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Politics, land, energy, soil, tree planting, favourite desserts, bushfires, climate grief, travelling, personalities, how we met stories. No topic was off limits and it was such a beautiful and nourishing time. No tv, no clock, no interrupting messages from our phones to intervene.

Many times, myself and Jess talked about domestics, motherhood, goals and choice.
As a mother of a five year old with Nathan, she is calm, loving, dedicated and nurturing. Alistair innocently told her the other day that he never wants to leave and just wants to marry her. He imitated her tone of voice to tell a play mate that he could jump and roll down the hill, “if you feel safe” and it warmed my heart. The greatest aspect of Jess’ parenting and our conversations, is the realism.

One part of that realism that we threw ourselves into was the topic of cooking, how we both used to love it and happily spend hours in the kitchen cooking for our men and friends and selves and now, the last few years, we both fucking hate it.

We still make the healthy, dairy free home made pesto with our hand held blenders. And it still tastes amazing. But we both want to clock someone over the head with the blender. We budget and meal plan and make food from scratch. We boil pot fulls of potatoes from the garden (her) or the market (me) and turn those spuds into something beautiful with a homemade mayonnaise or a fresh herb-seasoned omelette or a mild curry with freshly steamed jasmine rice. We bake muffins and make energy balls and think about time and money and health and dietary requirements and preferences. And we’re both fucking sick of it. Over it. Hate cooking.

And we’re both equally devastated.

How did this happen? We both talked about the point for a long time. When her son was born and when me and Carlos moved in together. When cooking changed from a creative expression of love and pleasurable food to a day in, day out expected chore that was sapped of value for its sheer ordinariness.

When Carlos and I first started dating, we went to a small park with a little pond where his dog Vera could swim in to cool off. It took us forty minutes of cycling in the Spanish heat to get there, I realise now, but at the time I looped in and out of the cycle lane users with abandoned ease as we made our way there. I had gone to the market before and smelled about six mangos until I had found two that were tropically perfect. I handmade granola with toasted coconut furls. I whipped coconut cream to a cloud and blitzed vanilla and maple through it all to make vegan compotes for our lunch. Quinoa salad with fresh avocado, lemons and vine tomatoes with ripped fresh basil leaves on the side. I played music as I spent all morning swaying around my kitchen lovingly stirring, whisking, dicing, assembling and neatly packing all the various elements of this romantic meal for two.

Looking back, I didn’t need Carlos to be amazed at all I’d done. I had no expectations as I swanned about the kitchen that morning. I just loved going to the market and having the time to cook for those I loved. I even put the same amount of love into making food for myself back then. It was bliss.

When I took the lids of the various containers, his eyes widened and he asked questions about what was in each tub. He was appreciative and expressive. And then he ate the vegan mango compote and announced, “wow, that’s amazing!” and instead of being uplifted with my previous people pleasing barometer, I just smiled because not only had I made someone I love happy with my food but I had also made myself happy with the time and care and joy I got from making it.

Fast forward two years. We’ve just spent a six month winter in Ireland eating dinner on the sofa with both dogs while watching Netflix followed by an entire cup of peanut M&M’s he gets for free from Facebook. I’ve come home from another shit day at work to our hyper dogs only to drop my shit (stuff) on the bed and bring them outside for a walk straight away. I try to relax and breathe but all I can do is keep an eye on both dogs as they run around and look on in dismay as people have littered along the canal side walkway as far as the eye can see. I’m trying to think of what to make for dinner. Again.

You see, in saving money, we budget our shopping list severely and I have to decide what to make for dinner, that’s not vegetables with rice or vegetables with pasta or vegetables with noodles. Again.
There is no discernible difference in the meals I make anymore. Sometimes it’s soup but then it’s soup with vegetables and some rice thrown in to bulk it up. There are some mixed dried herbs in there. Sometimes, if I’m feeling adventurous, I throw in a table spoon of apple cider vinegar. Go wild! It’s Groundhog Day in the kitchen. We buy a near identical shopping  list every weekend and then I try to make something nutritious and affordable with what we’ve purchased and every day that I sit down to eat on the sofa in our tiny cottage, I mindlessly put the food into my mouth and chew and get annoyed at Carlos that I have to remind him to say thank you.
“I forget” he says.
“I’m always thankful that you cook” he says.
“Then why don’t you say ‘Thank you’? Why do I always have to remind you?”
“You know I thank you for your food and for cooking. You always make amazing food”
“Then why don’t you ever say it’s amazing anymore like you used to?”
“This is just what happens, love. When you’re in a long relationship, you don’t need to say those things anymore”
“Well I need you to say them, so say it”
“Thank you”

And now I feel like a needy asshole.


Because truth be told, I know he appreciates me cooking and meal prepping. But also because it’s taken me this long to realise that I’m not losing my mind; I’m realising that after close to thirty years of not letting patriarchal systems and expectations dictate my life, those systems have nonetheless parasitically creeped in and infected the one thing I hold more dear than all else: my completely lacking-in-expectation joy in expressing love to others through my cooking.

Why in a modern, cohabiting relationship did it take a standoff from me after a month of living in our new place for him to learn when the bins go out, where we keep the spare toilet paper and where the teabags go? Why did I need to ask him and remind him at least four times in one week to hoover the floor when he never has to remind me once to make the shopping list or cook the dinner?
Why has he still not figured out if cardboard goes in the recycling bin or the compost?

And then I started reading the book. Clementine Ford’s Boys will be Boys and the rage within me rose higher on each page turn.

Let me be clear, before we moved in together, Carlos cycled with me back home, forty minutes out his way, to make sure I got home safe.
He would ooooh and ahhhhh over a slice of toast with avocado on it if I made it.
He used to go the bakery around the corner to get pastries and coffees, come back and set the table and give me a hug before the pancakes I was making were even ready.

He’s my greatest supporter when I have a job interview or a wobbly moment of self-doubt.
And even now, living together, he offers to take the dogs for an extra walk before going to bed and tells me to go ahead and relax and he’ll be home soon. When we go to the supermarket together for groceries, he packs the heaviest items into his backpack so that I don’t have to carry so much. He cracks the best jokes when I’m stressed, holds me accountable for my choices, goes to my favourite Vietnamese restaurant even though he’s probably sick of going there so often and always has my back.

So why am I so friggin enraged when he doesn’t do the laundry/hoover/take out the bins/wash the dishes/make a shopping list/remember to give the dogs their meds/put the toilet seat down/rinse down the shower/fold the laundry when it’s done/turn off the tumble dryer/put out the bins on bin day/take the bins in once they’ve been emptied/remember the vet’s opening times/cook?!

Mindless, unaware, patriarchal society structures my friend.

I’m tired
I forget things easily
You’re so much better than me at doing that
It’s easier for you
I do other things for us

These are not new sentences to this one relationship and they are also not unique to my relationship alone. Talking to any of my female friends in hetero relationships and the exact same issues appear.

And as a modern, feminist cis-gender woman, I do not want this dynamic and to speak out about it only to find that the next layer to this ingrained structure is a long, repetitive, tiring, cyclically unsatisfactory tennis match where inevitably neither he nor I get what we want.

He ends up feeling that his inputs to the relationship are not “good enough”.
I end up feeling that if I want something done right, as a modern woman, I better do it myself.
Only catch? The whole point was I didn’t want to be the one doing it. I didn’t want to remember/cook/clean every goddamn thing.

As it turns out, Clementine Ford has discussed and experienced the same structures at play in my relationship and she experiences the same frustrations even though she too is in a relationship with a similarly clued in, feminist man who is aware of gendered roles and still unknowingly sinks into them.

So my love of cooking is gone. Markets and food blogs and photography and writing and inventing dishes. All gone.

But I want it back.

Enter the Thermomix, a contraption I had up until now associated with rich Instagram influencers with nothing better to do, as parodied by the hilarious The Katering Show

Jess invited me to a demonstration at her house. We watched the high revolution blade make icing sugar out of raw cane sugar in two seconds.

It’s blitzed through a whole chilly and a thumb end of fresh ginger in two seconds as if an old Indonesian lady had been pounding them in a pestle and mortar for the guts of an hour.
And when I say two seconds, I’m not adlibbing; the digital timer on the interactive screen told us so.
We made vegan ice cream in two minutes and steamed kumara curry with homemade cauliflower rice that wafted throughout the kitchen in twenty three minutes. I shit you not.

The flavours were incredible, there was minimal prep and it was one container with one attachment. It was the first time in two years that I got excited about the smells in a kitchen and yet we were still making vegetables with rice but this time, it had flavour, there were new ingredients and none of the blunt knives, shitty pots, cracked steamers or slow ass blender blades of all my previous kitchens combined featured.

And yet I wasn’t sold. Me and Jess talked a lot. Did we really need a Thermomix to cook for us? Could we not just get some decent knives and do a short cookery course to get our kitchen groove back? Then two realisations occurred to us. Jess realised that as they’ve been building their own house, Nathan will often say to her that he thinks they need to buy a new electric saw/drill/cable/whatever and since it’s a tool he needs to save him time and do his job more efficiently, she doesn’t think twice and tells him of course.

If we are to cook efficiently in our domestic space of the kitchen, surely then we should have our own tools. Jess would never tell Nathan to get on with it and just make do and saw the wood by hand. Not that he would ever expect her to make do in the kitchen but Jess and I both realised that as women, even modern women, we expect ourselves to make do with the shit, sub standard ‘tools’ we have at our disposal to crank out at least one if not three meals a day, seven days a week. What?!

This Thermomix seemed to be combination of a steamer, hot pot, high speed blender, set of knives, timer, accurate scales and cookery book in one. Why the hell where we thinking about not getting one?!

I then pointed out the aspect of cooking I had grown to hate the most-the mental load-the one that French artist Emma illustrated so aptly in the Guardian. I’m halfway through cooking when I get a phone call or I’m late coming home from work.
One scenario is starting to cook and when Carlos comes home allowing the following conversation to ensue:
“Hey love. Great, you’re home. Can you finish dinner for me? I just need to call my Dad”
“Sure, what can I do?”
(Pause as I quickly task manage a list of requirements, cooking times, recipe measurements and steps in my head and tailor it to this situation)
“Ok, so just boil the potatoes, blend the pesto ingredients and boil the eggs. We can add some salad on the side when I get back”
3 minutes later, his voice trails down the hallway corridor.
Where’s the pesto? How many potatoes do you want? How long should I boil the eggs for? Cold water or hot water? Do we have stuff to make salad?
I tell Dad I’ll call him back. Mentally, it’s just easier that I do it myself. I will remain frustrated. He doesn’t understand what he’s done wrong. He was happy to help me and make dinner.

The Thermomix has an inbuilt scale with a ‘next step’ touch screen recipe built in. The instructions are clear and the timer sautés and steams and boils and simmers for you. This is the moment I realised that I may consider buying one. Because the mental load would disappear. I could, during the week, split the cooking 50/50 and just walk away. I could spend my weekends using a tool that helps me make pesto and nut milk so that there’s so much less horrible packaging in our home. I could create at the weekends with my time. The time I would make back with space in my head after the mental load leaked out and away.

Do I need a Thermomix to do that or simply keep reading the book and get Carlos to cook 50% of the time while I leave the house? Will I continue to be disappointed or jaded with my own cooking? Will I still need to manage the household simply because I’m a woman? Do I really need to buy a machine that costs almost $2500 NZD simply because I’ve lost the will to live in the kitchen?

I just don’t know. All I’m sure of is that my loving, practical, attentive, modern and feminist partner still falls into the same trap of expecting me to take the household management mental load on 24X7 and I find myself resentful in the kitchen making vegetables with rice and no flavour or sighing at a raised toilet seat or another half completed shopping list.

I think back to my modern parents and all the feminist and modern ideals they raised us with. I think to the regular conversations I have with my female friends about their identical predicament. I think back on the chapter I just finished in Boys will be Boys and I realise we have a very long way to go yet.

And a Thermomix isn’t going to magically solve the issue. Though maybe recognising that we are lacking in sufficient tools (including time, energy, creativity, money and hardware) could be the starting point.

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!