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.
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!
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!
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:
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.
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.
This journey out to Clare one sunny weekday afternoon was glorious. I ended up at one of the many places in Ireland known as Diarmuid & Gráinne’s bed. Legend says that she was meant to marry the powerful (and old) Fionn mac Cumhaill, but instead she fell for one of his warriors, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne. They go on the run, pursued by Mac Cumhaill and his troops, sleeping somewhere new every night. I like the versions that say Gráinne loved Diarmuid so much that she wouldn’t rest; she would stay awake all night to watch over him.
It’s a beautiful story. But I won’t spoil the ending.
This place was so beautiful, so edge-of-the-earth, that I don’t blame them for picking it to spend the night! Imagine.
I was so engrossed in taking photos that I didn’t notice my road trip buddy taking photos of ME. I am usually alone when I go out on these photo trips, so it’s rare for me to have photos of myself, which is a shame as the locations are always so beautiful.
The pot-holes out there were WAY deeper than they look! Thankfully my little Micra made it through, but there was mud up to the windows by the time I got through the worst ones.
There is probably a tactic of how to drive safely on such treacherous roads. I, however, just cranked up the Taraf de Haidouks album and blasted through the bumps. It was the perfect soundtrack. 😂
A great day for gathering wild garlic – it’s EVERYWHERE!! – and a bus-load of nettles which are now wrapped and hanging up to dry. I also got a lovely bunch of lilacs from a neighbour’s tree that are filling the kitchen with their sweet scent.
But the real action was earlier in the garden when I made some of my herbs look bigger and mightier than you’ve ever seen them!
*…cue dramatic shot of my fennel plant*
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) – According to Culpepper’s Herbal:
‘Description. It has large, thick, white roots, which run deep into the ground, much dividing, beset with small fibres. It has large winged leaves, of a dark green divided into many segments, of long, slender, very fine, capilaceous parts. The stalk grows to four feet in height, much divided, and full of whitish pith. The flowers are found at the top in flat umbels, of small yellow five leaved flowers, each of which is succeeded by a couple of roundish, somewhat flat, striated brown seed. The whole plant has a very strong, but not unpleasant smell.
Place. It is generally planted in gardens, to be near at hand, but it grows wild in several parts, towards the sea-coast, and in the northern countries.
Time. It flowers in June and July.
Government and virtues. One good old fashion is not yet left off, viz . to boil fennel with fish; for it consumes that phlegmatic humour which fish most plentifully afford and annoy the body with, though few that use it know wherefore they do it; I suppose the reason of its benefit this way is, because it is an herb of Mercury, and under Virgo, and therefore bears antipathy to Pisces. Fennel is good to break wind, to provoke urine, and ease the pains of the stone, and helps to break it. The leaves or seed, boiled in barley-water and drank, are good for nurses, to increase their milk, and make it more wholesome for the child. The leaves, or rather the seeds, boiled in water, stays the hiccough, and takes away the loathings which oftentimes happen to the stomachs of sick and feverish persons, and allays the heat thereof. The seed boiled in wine and drank, is good for those that are bit with serpents, or have eat poisonous herbs, or mushrooms. The seed, and the roots much more, help to open obstructions of the liver, spleen, and gall, and thereby help the painful and windy swellings of the spleen, and the yellow jaundice; as also the gout and cramps. The seed is of good use in medicines, to help shortness of breath and wheezing, by stopping of the lungs. It assists also to bring down the courses, and to cleanse the parts after delivery. The roots are of most use in physic drinks and broths, that are taken to cleanse the blood, to open obstructions of the liver, to provoke urine, and amend the ill colour in the face after sickness, and to cause a good habit through the body. Both leaves, seeds, and roots thereof, are much used in drink or broth, to make people lean that are too fat. The distilled water of the whole herb, or the condensate juice dissolved, but especially the natural juice, that in some counties issues out of its own accord, dropped into the eyes cleans them from mists and films that hinder the sight. The sweet fennel is much weaker in physical uses than the common fennel. The wild fennel is stronger and hotter than the tame, and therefore most powerful against the stone, but not so effectual to encrease milk, because of its dryness.’
This place has become a real sanctuary. When I am working on something in the garden, I don’t go more than 5 minutes without stopping to think how damn lucky I am to live here. The garden walls are high, no one can see in, and I can hear all of the birdsong, people passing by, the wind in the trees…there is a real sense of connection despite being below street-level and completely hidden away.
Even on days when I am in a bad mood, or my back hurts, I never regret getting out into the garden and getting my hands and feet into the muck. I don’t even mind the biting red ants anymore! It’s the same feeling I get when I get into the sea in the afternoon; I just don’t feel right, or connected, until I do it. I don’t overthink it, or else I won’t do it. I just go towards it consistently because I know my body and mind respond well to it.
But it’s not all about me. 🙂 In the meantime, there has been progress!! A lot of clearing away the big and bulky plants so that the smaller ones – and wildflowers!! – can get more sunshine and nutrients from the soil. I am a rookie, and I don’t read very much on how to do any of this, so it is likely I am making some big mistakes (like accidentally ‘weeding’ out all of the sprouting carrot tops I had forgotten I’d planted…whoops!). I have also planted a few seeds into pots and gotten a plant that is NOT the same as the seed. Magic.??
But, it is looking good! Lush!
I want to thank this little guy. He’s the one I have spent the most time with since this whole lockdown affair began and he’s seen me in all of my moods. He never complains, and he’s still there.
He’s my rock!! And he’s only wee. Even the garlic is taller than him now! X
Cities typically kill my shutter-finger inspiration entirely.
The sight of concrete and – sorry to say – humans and cars, ruining my shot….makes me grumpy.
I am missing the green parts of the country IMMENSELY right now. To say I have itchy feet would be an understatement.
But I’m doing my best!
The Claddagh was very easy on me (and my eye) this morning.
Lá bealtaine sona daoibh!
The sweet spot, for me, is remaining – as much as possible – in a constant state of creative flow and inspiration.
By not necessarily having a ‘goal’, or putting pressure on myself to produce something that will impress others, I can turn to whichever direction my impulses and moods turn me. Nothing is forced. And I feel free.
“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.”
However, tonight I am quite chuffed with how my Bealtaine (May Day) headdress has turned out! In fact, I am going to show it off! 🙂 Although I may not be able to stray far from my home this May 1, or meet with others, I will certainly enjoy wearing this atop my head!