Happy Birthday

Today my hero would have turned 99. I met her when she was 62 and I was …zero, actually! I had the pleasure of knowing her for 33 years. She taught me most of what I know about being a decent human and a strong woman, and I respected the heck out of her. When I was little I went to church with her on Sundays just to be with her (and I liked the singing), and when she left her church due to their being not just slightly backwards and bigoted (for which I was so proud of her), she remained my full-time spirit guide in life. I miss our talks immensely; no one comes close to knowing me as well as she did. She never told my secrets, and when I was old enough for her to tell me some of hers, I vowed to do the same.
I would say that it’s unfortunate we were not contemporaries, because it would mean she could go the next two-thirds of my life alongside me, but I do think she was meant to be those few phases ahead of me in order to teach me so well.

Happy Birthday to my beautiful Grandma Madeleine, I miss you xx

Merry christmas

I’ve had a Christmas tradition for about 33 years now. I’m not religious, nor is my family, who I am often separated from this time of year by an ocean. However, I’ve been watching the Sound of Music every year since I was in kindergarten. My Mom was a huge fan of all of the great musicals – something she passed on to me – and this one was often on television in the winter. I watched our VHS version so much that I remember where all of the tv ads fell…and the snowy screen that appeared when Mom had pressed pause while she was recording it. In my 20s when I was travelling home / back to my home in Ireland at Christmas, I’d often watch it on my laptop in the airports. And, here I am, in my cottage, putting on the DVD. I don’t think there is any other film that brings so much comfort.


Julie Andrews is simply an ANGEL. That is all. I adored her as a child, no matter what the film (Mary Poppins, hello???). And now, at 36, I am altering my adoring gaze from her to the Von Trapp children; the way they look at her mirrored my awe as a little one. She really must be as wholesome and beautiful as I imagined her to be. Kids aren’t THAT good at acting. 😉

Merry Christmas from my fireside to all. I am about to Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do into the evening! xx

I’ll Fly Away

Tonight I am learning how to play I’ll Fly Away on my banjo. I’m a clawhammer rookie and this tune is great for a beginner.

What a beautiful song. So simple, and yet it is one of the most loved gospel tunes. It was written in the 1930s by a cotton-picker-turned-accomplished-composer in Oklahoma named Albert Edward Brumley. I aways associated it with being a joyful song to sing at a funeral, or a song that Grandparents would sing to you at bedtime…but I just read that he wrote it while he was breaking his back picking the cotton…dreaming of flying away. So, perhaps not entirely about death, but that’s what the song ended up speaking to us.

I sent this tune to a friend in Japan and – imagine my surprise WHEN – he told me that his mother heard him playing it and said she recognised it! She doesn’t have a word of English and hasn’t ever left Japan. Albert Edward would be chuffed!

There are thousands of versions but this is one of my favourites as it is so stripped down, and yet still makes you feel so peaceful. Mississippi John Hurt doesn’t seem to know all of the words, but it doesn’t even matter.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbZgm9Igd1U

The lyrics:

Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

Oh how glad and happy when we meet
I’ll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then
I’ll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away
I’ll fly away

The Book Pile

Behold: The Book Pile. I have developed a very naughty habit of starting books, and then casting them to the side when another book catches my eyes. Commitment issues? 😉 I think it is time to re-train the brain to focus properly. No more loosey-goosey reading habits. Although, I will say, it is interesting how a book I am reading will lead me to discover another one non-directly. It’s like one book lights up the path ahead…a bit magical, that.

I have decided to spend the winter season getting through these books. Not in any big rush or with any pressure (what is the point then?!), but it will feel very satisfying to inhale all of these and expand the mind throughout the dark months. I tend to read better late at night, and since it gets dark here early these days – around 4:30pm – I will hopefully be able to get into The Zone early on and get tucked into a book each evening. I have a comfy armchair, lots of firewood, and plenty of time during the Covid business.

I’m happy to say that ALL of these books are my top recommended ones from the last year. I have no reason for not finishing them in one-go. I blame it on somehow developing a short attention span. Netflix, social media, being bombarded with 30 second clips and soundbytes…when did life become so fragmented? One weekend last month I read two big books on bees and it felt so gooooood! Between Friday evening and early Monday morning. Just like that. I have missed that feeling of full immersion in literature. I feel like I haven’t had that feeling in so long. TOO long.

All of this can be fixed. My brain wants something to focus on for longer than 4 minutes. I’d venture even further to say that it is CRAVING a reading marathon.

Fire is lit. Away I go! X



Goodbye social media

Hello cyber-world,

I’ve bumped off of social media after foraying back into it these last few months. I am happy to instead make this site my ‘nest’ for the foreseeable future. Having just one place to call ‘home’ online is appealing to me. Too much time is wasted when you have posts all over the place to monitor. Just writing those words made me cringe. When did social media become a task we need to see to each day?

I have to say, although I made many new connections with fellow creative-types, good people, and local businesses during these crazy times thanks to Facebook and Instagram, the slightly sick feeling in my gut remained. I rarely ignore that feeling. Something has gone so wayward with all of this. I am fortunate to be a Xennial (look it up, it’s a thing!), which means I came of age in an era without smartphones and techno-fever. I know the difference. Friends who are only a few years younger, maybe late 20s, early 30s, have never BEEN without a smartphone or social media. So how do they know that it’s not good for them? The way we interact with the world and communicate is different between us as well. I see it.

I was definitely at my happiest when I was 20, had just moved to Europe, and had nothing on me but a backpack and a book with lists of hostel names in it. Oh, and an email address. For an account I needed an ‘Internet Room’ in a hostel to check. Remember when the Internet lived in a room?

It took me about six months to buy a mobile phone, and I don’t recall feeling lost without it. I went out with people for drinks, we were fully tuned in to one another, we wrote things down on napkins, turned up at meeting points at the agreed time….it just felt so free. I haven’t had the smartphone for a few years now, and recently my workplace bought on for me as we are now working remotely….I have to admit, I hate turning it on. It feels like a leash is being clipped on to me.

Saying that, it is now a task I have set myself to find other ways of creative social networking. If we weren’t in lockdown at the moment, in-person would be ideal. The old fashioned way! However, the current times require a bit more alternative thinking. Personal websites, I hope, will make a comeback. When you hit that Deactivate button, you really are stepping out the door in many ways. But I find it becomes unbearable to stay ‘inside’ for more than a few months.

I was watching some of Jaron Lanier’s talks lately. He said something very powerful. That his proposed mode of fixing this mess requires some of the population to remain outside of social media, and that that is the starting point for finding a way to turn it around. If you are on social media, you are ‘under the spell’ and not able to participate fully in the change that is ahead.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCTlcj5vImk is one of Jaron’s talks, for anyone who is also interested in this.

I continue to be surprised at the depth of my internal response to the effects of social media. Both on my own brain, as well as society at large. It terrifies me. And ‘terrifies’ still isn’t the word I am searching for. Maybe the word hasn’t been invented yet.

Dreaming of Atlantis

Photoshop. The ultimate game of escapism!

At the beginning of lockdown I realised, sadly, that it would be quite some time before I was footloose and fancy-free in the green spots taking photos again. So, I went through my huge archive of landscape photos collected over the years and started playing with them. I am totally new to Photoshop, but within minutes I was completely absorbed. You can create whole WORLDS on this!

This one I titled Atlantis. It turned out better than I expected, as it was my first play at photo processing. I’ve done a little series over the last few months and this one is probably my favourite. It has elements taken from all over the West of Ireland. Mayo, Clare, and Galway are both mixed in here. Three of my favourite places to explore near where I live. So it makes sense it is close to my heart.

Hot cocoa

My friend’s mother got me into this daily ritual of having a cup of hot cocoa at the end of the workday. I don’t know when she started it herself, but when I used to call up to visit her after work in the evenings, she’d sometimes have a little chocolate circle around her mouth. I knew she was ‘on the cocoa’! My friend always said to me ‘oh God if you see her like that before she goes out, please tell her to wipe her mouth! People will think she is crazy!’ It had never occurred to me. When I see people with messy faces and chocolate on their teeth or mouth, I consider them to be people who are enjoying their life.

Chocolate is definitely part of enjoying life. So every day when I ‘clock out’, I warm up some cocoa and reboot before beginning my evening. My day job doesn’t particularly inspire me, but I am very fortunate to have it right now. It is my hope to change direction career-wise in the coming years, but until then, I mark the transition back to my Real Life at 5pm with a cup of deliciousness. Particularly as the sun is gone here by around 4:30pm these days, this is a super cosy start to my evenings. There is also this decadent and downright naughty feeling to it that sets the creativity loose again after feeling stifled all day. Bring it on!

Cheers to you!

Grandma’s War Cake

When my Grandma passed away a few years ago, the things I chose to keep as mementos were largely based on things we used to do together. She was my hero, to put it short. I spent so many days at her house because my Mom was sick when I was little. And we’d play Uno, or bake, or she’d put me to work with household work (mainly running up and down the stairs for her as she had sore feet). We also spent HOURS talking. That never went away. I was 34 when she died, and up until her last days we would sit in our chairs and talk about everything under the sun. Another 34 years with her would have been a dream but the truth is, we never would have run out of conversation. I still do consider her my soulmate in so many ways.

“Wilma’s Caramel Squares’

Baking I will always associate with her. My favourite thing to make with her, usually on Sundays, was chocolate chip muffins. I also ‘inherited’ her rolling pin when she passed away.

These recipe cards I keep in her memory, although many of the recipes on them wouldn’t be considered vegetarian (or healthy!) these days. That’s ok. I keep them because I love to see her hand-writing – she was a teacher, and her long-hand was beautiful. And because of the adorable mention of the source of the recipe on some of the cards (‘from Susan’, ‘from Barbara’.) And because some of the recipes are so dated. There is one called ‘War Cake’ that I presume was so named because so many ingredients were considered to be luxuries during the war, so they had to simplify. I could be wrong though. I had never heard of War Cake before I saw it here.

These were her primary bundle of recipes in the kitchen, although I didn’t recognise many of the dishes from our family dinners. Some of them are old and yellowing, but the hand-writing is still hers, and I know that sometime in the past someone may have said to her ‘oh Madeleine, why don’t you make your famous butterscotch pie this weekend?’. They are one of the most personal mementos I have of any family member who has passed. It’s always a bit of a panic, having things like this as a renter who often has to move. They go in my most precious bundle when I am packing. Next to my passports.

The last time I saw her, when she was sound-of-mind, I was staying with her for a month over the Christmas holidays. This was a few months before she passed. It was just going to be the two of us for Christmas dinner, and she asked me what I wanted to have. I have a funny ol’ diet, mainly plant-based and gluten-free, but I never put that on her. I asked her to make me my favourite: macaroni and cheese casserole. That was my last big meal with her and I savoured every bite. I think anyone who grew up as an 80s baby in North America can agree that mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food!

“Judie’s Zucchini Bread’

Cú – saying goodbye

So, Cú returned to the rescue centre for some re-evaluation. His anxiety means that he may do best with other dogs around him for awhile.
He has come such a long way in the last two months since he was found abandoned in a rural part of the country. I am so proud of him!

I celebrated my birthday while he was living with me, and luckily one of my favourite groups had a live gig on that same week. I got all dressed up and ready for a boogie. I was worried he would freak out with the noise, but he just wandered into the little foyer where his bed is at night and settled down. He gave me some funny looks, but didn’t seem too alarmed.

I made the rookie mistake of mentally preparing to adopt him when he arrived as my foster. I learned my lesson! If/when I foster again, I know to have zero expectations that the dog will prove to be the perfect companion for me. It’s selfish. They have enough processing and recovering to be doing without shape-shifting into what you want them to be.

Bringing him back out to the rescue centre was awful. I’m not going to sugar coat it. Again, if I do this again, I will pre-organise that someone else chauffeur him back out. The car ride itself was so distressing for poor Cú that when we got there – after a 90 minute drive!! – he wouldn’t come near me. So I didn’t get to give him one last cuddle.
That morning I gave him a few treats right after his breakfast. I was about to put him into the car which I knew would be awful for him, so I was trying to sweeten him up first! The first two he ate, and then he did something he’d never done before. I was flattened. He hopped up onto the couch and gently started burying the treat in the blanket. ‘For Later’. Oh my heart. I suppose it clicked in his mind that this was his home now. Oh it hurts just remembering the moment.
However, I have to say that when we got back out to the rescue centre, he was very happy to see the lovely ladies who volunteer out there. He remembered them and wagged his tail, went down on his back for belly rubs. That made it a LOT easier. I couldn’t have brought him there if I thought it was a bad place. But no, they really love the dogs. And it’s more of a farm than anything else. Huge green space.

I cried like a crazy lady all the way there and all the way home. I called a friend who has known me for years and she said ‘I’ve never heard you cry like this, not even over a breakup!’ That made me realise it was like the worst and best breakup you could have. There is no way to communicate to the dog what is happening, that you love him and that you wish him well…so that’s tough. And then it’s a great way to say goodbye because dogs live in the moment. And he proved to all of us that even though he had a rough start, he can bond with humans and love them and PLAY!

Within a few days, I was so relieved to realise I had no regrets. I did my best, and I think he will have the best life possible with people who care about him now.

His arrival at my house in September, with a Big Box of Love that a dog-rescue group posted him when they saw his story on social media. There is so much good in the world too!

Moving again

A new home!

I almost always prefer living in the country, although I like to pop into my little city here every so often for a year maybe of ‘faster’ paced life. It’s great to have the best of both worlds as options.

However, given the current situation, when it was coming up to a year of being back in the city, my itchy feet started propelling me onward as usual, and this time it just made absolute sense – both for my mental and physical health – to get back out to The Green.
So, here we are. I moved out at the end of summer and luckily there is still plenty of sun and warmth and long evenings. My new locality is Irish-speaking, which is always a plus, and I am a few minutes from a gorgeous beach. I have no complaints.

It is so easy to cocoon out here. I try to stay aware of what is happening in the world, but, by choice, I am super selective and I don’t check the news often. You could say my privilege allows me the option to shield myself from the troubles of others….and I would agree. But I do think that there is sometimes too much connection and awareness. I don’t believe that our minds are designed to take on every political crisis on the planet. To stay informed, yes, but I am not able to take in that level of information and not feel responsible for it. If I could watch the news with some sort of healthy detachment, it would maybe be different. I know we feel compelled to fix the world but I see what this immersion does to my friends (who are much better global activists than I am!). It destroys them. They stop seeing the beauty in the world which exists alongside the horrors, and they feel helpless. I tapped out of this a few years ago after a death in the family and I never went back to this whole staying-in-the-loop obligation. I would rather stay well, and focus on the people and situations near me that need my help.

Instead, lots of walks, fresh air, gardening where possible, talking to the people I live close to, a weekly dip in the sea, and rest. It’s these little things that keep you strong. It doesn’t sound very exciting but when I stick to it, it leaves me with enough energy and enthusiasm for life so that when the mood strikes I am ready for mischief. I have a feeling that ‘when this is all over’ – whenever that is – I will have enough energy to spark a firework or two.

Evening walks near my home:

Cú – My little foster boy

In early September, I moved out to the country and almost immediately spotted a story online about a recently-rescued little collie boy. He was around 2 years old, weighed only EIGHT kilos, and looked terrified in the photos. I got in tough with the rescuers and over the next 3 weeks kept checking in with them to see how he was. I finally went out to meet him and, at first, didn’t think it would be a good match. He pancaked when I arrived, and kept trying to belly-crawl away. I went down on my belly and crawled towards his paws. He stared at me for a moment, then reached out a paw and laid it across my arm. Within a few minutes, I was getting little kisses and his tail had wagged a few times. He looked so little and timid. I have never seen a dog’s cheekbones so pronounced before.

He was brought out to my house a week later. He settled in fairly well, but it has been a serious learning curve for both of us. What did I get myself into?!? Not only is it my first rescue dog, but it’s a pretty hefty one at that! He is so sweet and gentle with me, but with any other person who approaches me or the house, he is fierce. I mean, growling, salivating, tail up, hunched over…it isn’t pretty. At night the fireplace sets him off, reflections in windows, shadows on the walls. When I dare approach him to try to calm him down, he stops straight away and licks me, then goes back to his growling and attack mode. The poor dog. I imagine whoever had him since he was a puppy just left him in a shed somewhere. Forgotten. He had no idea that these things won’t hurt him, and always seems to be bracing for something bad.

Mid-way through the month, I was overwhelmed by all of the barking and noise in the house. He was constantly so stressed out. Nothing I did would calm him down once he got a fright. He is terrified of cars, steam coming out of cups of tea, the fireplace, other dogs, kids (big-time!), and once he got a fright when he saw my backpack sitting on the kitchen counter. The rescue centre manager told me ‘you need to be the ALPHA! Yell over him!’ I’m not much of a yeller, more of a laid-back ‘hey let’s sort this out over a nice cup of tea’ kind of person. Which does NOT work with dogs. I found a real weakness in myself in this regard! Some people have that ‘way’ with dogs. They have the non-verbal leader-of-the-pack thing down. Not me. And I hate yelling at him. It works, but I feel like I’m cheating somehow. I get the feeling he doesn’t see me so much as the leader, but more of a puppy-sister. Which makes sense, because I am usually down on my belly with him, playing. Again: “Learning Curve”!

He isn’t allowed upstairs at night, but I was a bit silly and let him sleep at the foot of my bed on the first night, so since then he has been desperate to get back into my room at night. He woke me up twice that first night, both times I was laughing because he was so cute. The first time he managed to squeeze himself between my bed and the wall. I turned the light on and his little head popped up over the edge of the mattress ‘Oh, hi! I found you! Let’s play!’ and the second time, he did the same thing except managed to get stuck under the bed, bum out. His tail was wagging the whole time; he was so confident I’d rescue him. The little rascal. I imagine that is the first human bedroom he’s ever been inside. So exciting for him!

He waits for me where the gate is on the landing of the stairs every morning. I hop over and pause, and then we go down together, step by step. He never goes ahead of me. He is such a loyal boy.

In the last few weeks I have made him fresh mackerel from my locality, lots of eggs, and peanut butter. Oh he loooooves peanut butter! And he is looking beautiful! The cover photo is from one month ago. And this is now – October 2020:

I know I will only have him for one more week, and the thought of packing him up and bringing him to his next foster home, along with all his little toys – that he finally learned how to play with! – is heart-breaking. This is a real lesson for me in loving and letting go gently. It is so tempting to grab on to him and say ‘you’re mine forever now!’ but I know we are not a ‘forever’ match. He needs someone with more experience with tough rescue dogs. I have used every tool in my toolbox. I think he is much better than when he arrived here. I wish I could do more for him but this is the way it is. I will give him a big cuddle and breakfast on his last day with me, and make sure he knows that he is going to a great place next.

Here is a little video of him sleeping soundly on my chest. He was unsure of the couch at first. After a few days of glancing warily at it and not approaching it, I just lifted him up onto my lap. Within a few minutes, he was asleep. It must be so exhausting being on high alert all the time.



A few more…..


Caherdooneerish at sunset

This week, a friend and I trekked up to Caherdooneerish (‘Cathair Duin Irghuis‘, after the Firbolg chief Irghuis), an ancient stone fort overlooking the Burren in Clare. We left it a tiny bit late in the day, but actually the conditions couldn’t have been better. We found ourselves atop the hill with this fort, right when the sun began to set. It made for some beautiful photos.

I met Jana when she was my belly dance teacher these last two years and this place inspired the dancer in both of us! We promised each other we’d go back to this site to do some fun videos and photos some day.

The thing about the Burren is that, at a glance, some would say there is nothing there. But then, once you become still and observe it’s landscape, you realise how FULL it is. The seabirds, the ocean, the wind, the stones, the plants, the insects, the mushrooms popping up, the clouds blowing past overheard…and the feeling of being the only human in the world. That is when you realise that the Burren is full of everything.

The journey was a real treat, as we had been in lockdown for about three months and this was our ‘treat’ trip once the lockdown had lifted.

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