Saturday, 7 January 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Thank you more please: Raw Chocolate & Seed Squares

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


Monday, 28 March 2016

Hunger & Homesickness: Coming home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Busylittlefoodie X

Friday, 15 January 2016

Pockets of sunshine: Winter Honey

I'm a big fan of summer, sunshine, warmth and long days. Any of you who know me or who have read BLF will know just that. So it comes as no surprise to know just how much I dislike winter. Or at least I thought I did. Until this winter. It snowed last night and I bounded out of bed like a six year old, opened the curtains and beamed a smile across my face at the delight of roofs covered in heavy snow coats. Little sis' front windscreen of her car was iced over with magical bouquets of frosted flowers before she drove me home. As I dog sat yesterday, Rodger (honorary doggie nephew) and I sat on the floor and looked out the sliding glass door at the snowflakes falling, heavier and heavier. I love blue skies, crisp air, seeing my breath fog up, hot chocolate, baking, cold hands, warm hearts and days of watching movies and coloring in coloring books.

There are two slight problems with this outlook of winter. One, this is hardly ever the reality we are presented with in Ireland and two, most of these activities happen when my nieces, Little Miss Seven and Little Miss Four and Three Quarters, are home from where they live in Spain. I've always hated winters when it never stops raining, a grey dome of ominous cloud descends onto the horizon and fixes itself there for months on end. Apart from Christmas, everyone is giving out about the rain, the cold, the news, the government, the gym, anything really. It's pretty grim. It takes concerted effort to be cheery and positive with such a short amount of quality daylight hours or decent conversation. Then everyone gets the flu.

I wish I could be more charitable, more optimistic but I don't want to sugarcoat the situation either. It's when my nieces come to visit that everything changes. I change. Being positive, fun, creative and free spirited is just a natural way of living around them. When they're around for those few precious days, suddenly I'm filled with all these idea of things to do and crafts to make and colors to paint with and seeds to plant. It feels natural. I feel like myself and better yet, I feel valued. I've never been the Auntie that's been flush with cash. I don't bring them on shopping trips or buy them treats and their birthday and Christmas presents are never lavish or expensive. I simply want to spend time with them, listen to them, play and have fun. We make paper snowflakes and plant sunflower seeds.

Then last year, I started making food with them and they became my little kitchen and garden assistants. They would pick nasturtium flowers from the garden for salads or help me dig up some potatoes for dinner. We would pick elderflowers and we made elderflower cordial, raspberry smoothies and chocolate rice crispie buns. I do these things because it's a joy to spend time with them and because I want them to see the value of love, passion in what you do and sharing an experience. I often think they have such busy, active lives that even though they enjoy it, they forget once they go back to Spain. I was wrong.

In April last year I think (I can't even remember fully), Little Miss Seven was sick with a bad cold. She was had a bad case of the sniffles and just not feeling great. I made her a honey and lemon drink I swear by and she latched onto it and said she wanted to make it next time she was home. I said sure, she got better and I didn't think of it. Just after Christmas, they were back visiting and we were doing coloring in and having a relaxing day after the madness of Santa and birthdays and cousin overload. "I don't feel good", said Little Miss Seven. "Can we make some of that magic honey, the one we made the last time with the lemon?". "Do you really remember making that?" I asked. Then Little Miss Seven spent the next five minutes telling me every detail of the drink and how great it was and how it tasted magic and...and...and.

It's almost two months since I wrote my post about Portugal and feeling lost and needing to reach out. There are times in our lives when we doubt ourselves, our value, our role. Sometimes I think about how when Big Sis was my age she was already married with a house. I'm nowhere near that but these last two months have taught me an immense amount about myself and finding my place. I understand myself so much more, see the relationships in my life and value myself, my personality and what I have to give. In among this journey I've been on the knowing myself and believing in myself and my dreams, I have, like I'm sure everyone does, stumbled a few times. Enthusiasm and love and valuing memories of 'Magic Honey' from Little Miss Seven and Little Miss Four and Three Quarters bursts my heart wide open anytime I'm becoming shy or unsure. Their love and bare-faced, honest understanding of me makes everything better.

The three of us sat and made the magic honey until Little Miss Seven thought it would be better to rename it 'Winter Honey' because that's the real time you should use it. Little Miss Seven a.k.a Little Miss Practical. She thinks of everything. We got sticky fingers, let lemon juice run down the side of the chopping board, tried peeling ginger, stuck fingers into jars, smashed lemon pieces, smelled the winter honey, put about ten teaspoons into our mouths and collectively said 'mmmmmmmmmmmm' about a million times.

These nieces of mine are one in a million. They are my pockets of sunshine on a rainy day and their last trip to see us over Christmas was the magic in the winter honey. They got me dreaming again after my two month rest and now I've got some big dreams coming up that are about to become reality. Because just like they know I believe they can do anything in the world, they think I can too.

Winter Honey: Makes 2 small jars

3 Organic unwaxed lemons
250 ml runny honey
50-70 g fresh ginger root-depending on your taste buds

2 small jars (this isn't an exact science so don't worry too much)
Optional: Cardamom seeds, cinnamon,

Make sure your jars and lids are clean and sterilized. Peel ginger and slice into thin circles, then again into thin strips. Slice lemons into thin circles and then into small wedges (about the size of a finger nail). Layer the lemon and ginger alternately, packing tightly into the jar. When you reach the half way point, fill to that point with honey. Using a small spoon, move the ginger and lemon pieces slightly to fill any air gaps with honey. Repeat the layering until almost to the top then fill with honey. Make sure to leave about an inch or more at the top of the mixture. (If you're adding cardamom or cinnamon, add that in a little after each layer)

Seal with a lid and let rest for at least 24 hours. The honey pushed all the air out, which pressures the awesome vitamin C from the lemon and anti-inflammatory properties from the ginger out into the honey. To serve, boil a cup of water, add a heaped tablespoon of the mix into the cup and stir. Winter Honey! Magic!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Love is all you need: Ruby Red Juice

I used to think that love is all you need. Love was enough, would fix anything, transform, nurture, save and secure. Love conquered, rescued, nursed, took care, listened, asked and held. Love could envelop, wrapping you in cotton wool while setting you free at the same time. What a magical world love lived in.

As a kid, I thought these things because it's what princes did in cartoons and Fred Astaire did for Ginger Rogers. I'd watch the longing and the bliss play out on screen as she carried out all the tap shift moves he did, only backwards. As a teenager, I read books about protagonists searching for something in themselves, in their lives, overcoming battles in their world and in their minds and understood that it was love for their beliefs, for another, for their country or for themselves that drove them beyond fear and into courage. I listened to music that stirred feelings in my soul of the joy and pain that love caused in and out of daily routines, how it led to Bon Iver hiding away in a forest for a year only to burst out of the woods reborn with a new voice, pain and joy hand in hand. I listened to JJ Cale and BB King and Nina Simone, Fleetwood Mac and The Frames. They all taught me the shifting waves and tides that were inherent in the concept of love.

I understood, even then, that love wasn't as simple as two red curves dipping to a sharp, singular and well directed point at its end. It wasn't soft, precise perfection. Love had folds, curves, hidden angles and unexpected lulls. And love hurt. I knew that it hurt the most when it was unrequited. I clearly remember studying a Shakespearean sonnet at school, aged fourteen and learning the word, though I already knew what it meant. Unreturned, unloved, uncared for. It's what all those blues songs I listened to were ever about. It's all I ever worried about.

My definition of love was always manifold but my definition always pertained to my perspective. You see, my definition was everything I was willing to give a person I loved. I give everything of myself to those I love because I don't know any other way. It comes naturally to me to be that loving and caring. I feel empty when I don't. The problem is when I give so much to others to the point where they start to think my reserves are everlasting, that the love I have to give to friends, family and a partner are limitless, the reserve magically ongoing. So it came as a surprise to many when I would simply shudder, stall and stop, like a tired old van. Stop interacting, feeling, giving, loving. I'd gather my resources quickly so I could continue to support, care, listen and help so that they would all feel incredibly loved again.

I repeated this pattern because I was proud to be all about the love. So why was the one thing that I did naturally, with enthusiasm, pride and great energy, slowly but surely bringing me down? I've floated the idea around in my murky mind a lot in the last few years and always swam up to the surface, out of breath and without any answers. Until last week.

Writing my post last week, admitting to myself and everyone I love the true details of my depression and anxiety gave me the answers I was looking for to the great blue debate going on in my head. For so long, everything was about fear. Fear of unrequited love, misunderstanding, lost friendships, isolation and loneliness. By clicking the publish button, I challenged my biggest fear of all; telling people I loved the true extent of my problem. This act transformed and elevated the level of love I have in my life. Friends, family, workmates and travel buddies got in touch from near and far, publicly and privately to tell me how much they loved me. I received one message, call and text after another and two words shone through each and every message: brave and love.

And then I realised. I understood what had been bringing me down. I had been ignoring two basic needs: to admit to my friends how much their voicing of their love to me was important and how much I had neglected to love and appreciate myself. I would listen to the black king on his throne residing in my mind; the voice of unreasonable and cruel reasoning who told me no matter how much love I sent out, it would be unrequited. No matter how much I created, it wouldn't be good enough. No matter how much I cared, it wouldn't make a difference and no matter how much I tried to truly believe that I was worthy, loved, appreciated, cared for and unique, I was not good enough.

There is no way that I would ever speak to another person I love the way I allow that voice to speak to me. I would defend a loved one with my life if another spoke to them in that way, with those words and those sentiments. So why would I not encourage such praise and love and respect to be directed at me? Why would I not put the same thought, energy and care into myself and the unique person I am? Why wouldn't I just be myself?

The beautiful words of love I received from all over kick-started something unexpected. I'd like to get to know myself again, to learn what animates me, makes me smile, sing and create. I'd like to become friends with myself. Love is not just about prince charming or your passions. Each love quote is not about the other man or woman in your life. It starts with you. I don't think it's about finding a man I can lose myself in when I look into his eyes for a sense of recognition, understanding and acceptance. It's about looking at myself in the mirror and recognizing and embracing the person looking back at me. The black and the white. The dark and the light.

Today's recipe is about embracing that love. Beetroot looks like a forbidding, hard and unwelcoming vegetable but when eaten fresh, it has the most beautiful and earthly sweet and fragrant taste. The juice always looks so vibrant and energizing. It's like the perfect mix of masculine sturdiness and feminine vibrancy. Before the frost arrived, I dug up the last of my beetroot from the garden. Dark, rustic, ruby red, covered in wholesome clay, all the growth and energy that they had absorbed from the damp clay and the sunshine of the summer was captured in each round. I made this juice to capture the last of the autumn and to remember that energy comes from the sun and the air but also from below the surface, in the darkness and when mixed, the combination is vibrant and electric. Something to remember.

Serves 2
1 fresh beetroot
2 apples
1 large chunk fresh ginger
1 pear
1 lemon

Wash all the fruit, peel the beetroot and chop them into manageable sizes for your juicer. Juice, add ice, serve and relax.

To everyone that sent their love my way, thank you x

Monday, 23 November 2015

Portugal Take 3: Lost

I've faced this page, ideas screaming around in my head for about two months now. It seems my last post, organizing the video, setting up the profile on the Dispensary, thinking back to times of travelling and realizing how I badly wanted to get away, were all just too much. That's what I told myself. That I needed a break from social media and hours spent organizing a blog post. I told myself I spent too much time online. That I needed to spend more time in the sea, in nature, out of the city, out of the mind bashing dizziness of everyday reality. Stress was the reason I felt like this.

I took a two week holiday to Portugal to surf and rest but five weeks before I was due to go and take a break from my life I had a panic attack and it drove me to run away from everything I knew and loved, everything I had worked towards because my whole life felt like it had been built on quicksand. I handed in my notice at work, I called my landlord and dear friend to tell him I was leaving. I struggled to see two and a half years squashed into the back of a car and I made a decision that I would never live in Dublin again, probably not even Ireland. I wanted to run away from it all.

It came as a surprise to most that I was leaving work and life in Dublin so suddenly but for me it was a ten month delay. Despite the lunches on Friday paydays, the access to cinemas and cool little cafes, runs in the park with friends, nights out and great students, I was predominantly miserable and I couldn't hold it in anymore. Friends knew I was struggling with my mamma's illness and that it tired me out but I only told one how I wanted so badly to run away from the whole thing.

The night before I was due to fly out, we had a going away of sorts. A few drinks and some food in a great Korean place around the corner. I was so thankful to the people that made the effort to turn up. There were some great friends who could only make it for five minutes or half an hour but their love, hugs and kind words were immense. The whole night felt like I was experiencing it through two different versions of myself. There was the smiley, well traveled, curios Grace who would miss her friends but was looking for a new adventure. She did her best to shine through the hidden world of loneliness, confusion and despair that belonged to the Grace who had built a life full of brilliant people, events and opportunities but still had a gaping hole in her life. I'm not even sure if I managed to convince people that I was excited and full of energy about going away and this new chapter I had haphazardly created for myself. When one friend gave me a hug and said, "I hope you find whatever it is you're looking for", it took every bit of energy I had not to choke with tears. When I went home to one last night in my little cottage in North Strand, a small thought of not going trickled into my consciousness. I pushed it away and forced myself asleep.

When I got to Portugal, the weather hit me with one storm after another.  It was miserable. I couldn't understand why I wasn't enjoying it. I moved to another town, the stunning 'island' of Baleal. The sun came out, along with freckles all over my face and for the first time in months, I could breathe properly again. I surfed and smiled but I didn't want to get to know the new people that would arrive every few days. I felt like a hyperactive fraud every time I opened my mouth to speak. Each sunset and surfable wave calmed my nerves, until they got ratcheted back up by night time and I would hide away in my dorm. 

I stayed on for four weeks. I missed my mamma's 60th birthday. I talked that day to most of my family. When my big sister got on the phone, she laughed down the line. "How are you?". "Where are you?". I laughed it off, said I was enjoying not knowing. That night I couldn't sleep and when I woke up the next morning, I sobbed silently because if I had been truly honest with myself, I would have answered "I'm not ok" and "I don't know where I am: I'm lost".

Through texts and facebook messages, emails and phone calls, I spent the next two days explaining to my family that I wasn't ok and that I needed to come home. I spent over three hundred euro on a stupid Ryanair flight because I couldn't cope with having to stay a minute longer alone. 

That was three and a half weeks ago. In that time, I've slept, cried and been more up front about my depression and anxiety than I've ever been in my life because for the last eighteen years, I've felt like a fraud, an unsuccessful emotional fraud. Every single time I tried to 'get on with it', 'put a face on', 'cop on to myself', 'get over myself', 'stop being so sensitive all the time' or 'smile through it', I've only ever managed to do it for a few months before I burnt out and failed miserably at life again. I'd not only lose out on what I loved at the time but I always ran the risk of losing friends who thought I didn't care, a job, money, a place to live and always, always, a part of my true personality and my self worth.

Now, at almost thirty years of age, my mind has had enough. It's as though there's a part of my personality, the inner part of me that hates the anxiety and depression has had enough of me and my decision to try and wash over it once the fitness or good food or counselling has kicked in. I realized that I can't keep crawling on my hands and knees emotionally. I've written about my depression and anxiety before but more along the lines of an anecdote but I can't take it anymore.

I'm fed up. I'm tired of feeling like this, of wondering when, if ever, happiness will extend to a majority in my mind and in my life. More importantly, I'm tired of pretending to the point where the pretense is beyond obvious. I've known that I'm obviously not the only one who suffers from mental health issues but I've never known anyone to admit it openly, to stop hiding. Then I read a book.

I stepped into a tiny bookshop and stared at the cover for a long time, my eye settling on the word 'demons'. I'd read about how Bressie had opened up about his mental health and anxiety disorder before. Then I judged. A rugby player, boyfriend to a model, professional musician, wealthy, respected. How could my anxiety possibly be related to his? I was enthralled. He felt the same about Mullingar, the schooling system, college life and relationships. Most importantly, he had lost sight of his values, of himself as an individual, of what was truly important to him. He had sacrificed his values for others, each time redefining his personality in their eyes. I just wanted to be good, to be loved, to be valued. I was willing to change everything about my personality to fit other people's expectations and my anxiety and depression were the painful repercussions of that habit. Toxic environments, stress, going against my opinions to be liked were all part of my life growing up. 

Then I would run away. I told myself I was travelling, trying out a new job, exploring other possibilities but in reality, I was running away from myself, my anxiety and depression. Afterwards, I would feel entirely alone and think that friends would now hate me, thinking I didn't care about them. Employers would think I was a waster. Teachers and lecturers would deem me a waste of time. My family would think of me as an overly sensitive, wayward and melodramatic child. These are the horrible thoughts that go through my head and for the last ten months, they've rolled on repeat. 

I read Bressie's book and last night, I watched Iron Mind. Watching another man from Mullingar talk about how if he could work through his mental anguish, he would be a different person jabbed me. He said he would be happier and less tired, instead of going to bed weary with tiredness. I knew what weariness felt like. A woman my age, beautiful and smiling with ebony hair, couldn't calm her mind even when she tried and another woman stared off into the distance as she spoke because there was so much pain there, she was numb. 

Coming home from Portugal, admitting to my family completely what was wrong, reading that book and watching Iron Mind all culminated last night in a decision. This will be the final time that I allow myself to be mentally so fatigued that I can't function. This is the last time I will devalue myself into burnt out, shy away from being completely frank about my mental health, live a balancing act of putting on a front when really I am numb. This is the last time I am running away from this part of myself. My mental health is worth more than some stop-start quick fix. If I'm to finally have a happy life and live the life I want, I need to accept that my mental health needs to be a priority. Just like a diabetic or asthmatic needs to monitor their health, I need to be open, honest and proactive about my mental medical needs. Even if that means facing my fear head on.

I feel like I'll scare people away, that friends will think I'm "too much", others will feel uncomfortable, maybe people I worked with or went to school with will wonder who the hell am I to write with such over the top honesty about something that should be kept private. I'm sorry if you feel that way. I'm writing all this because I can't stare at another blank blog post page, creativity blocked each and everyday because I can't cook, eat or photograph with even the remotest emotional energy for as long as I keep all this locked inside. Because the more that I ignore this pain, the deeper it becomes and the more havoc it causes in every aspect of the things that make me even slightly happy. Because if I'm to be brave enough to live with my mental health in a positive and nurturing away I have to stop being so afraid to share, to be so fearful of what everyone else thinks and how I will be judged. I have to start to realize that there are several beautiful friends and family who love me and who will read this and get in touch out of love. I have to stop being so damn scared all the time. And maybe, by writing this so publicly, other people who read this, who are going through the same agony, won't feel so alone.

Busylittlefoodie will still feature food, foraging, gardening, travel, people, places and recipes but I would feel like a fraud writing happily about blackberry jam or pasteis de nata in Portugal, accompanied by sunshine filled photos, if I didn't write all this first. I can't keep smiling for the sake of it. Hopefully this journey will be different from the last two and a half years of putting a band aid on a broken leg. I hope you'll stick with me.

Love, love, love