Blogger’s Freeze

I started thinking about blogging about six months ago. I wanted to practise my writing skills and reading so many great blogs meant I wanted to join in the conversation! I was aware that it would take a lot of work and commitment but had loads of ideas for content so no worries there. But what I didn’t anticipate was something I like to call ‘Blogger’s Freeze’.

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Writer’s and Blogger’s block are obviously well known concepts as both writers and bloggers are simply often unable to write. But for me the problem isn’t writing it’s publishing. Blogging is unlike any other form of writing as there’s no other stage between writing the content and publishing that content. Most other articles, stories, books, essays etc will go through an editing stage where their work is critically appraised and changed. Maybe a little or maybe a lot. But with a blogpost the whole process usually begins and ends with the blogger. I do occasionally ask my other half for a second opinion but he has enough of his own work to do and is often not here when I’m writing. So, I find myself writing posts, reading, rewriting and when the post is finished and ready to publish I freeze! What if it’s too personal? What if it’s not personal enough? Maybe it’s badly written or nobody will ‘get’ what I’m trying to say. Maybe it’s just dull? So, I hover over the publish button with my mouse and agonise and procrastinate. I’ve probably only published half of what I have actually written.

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It could be because I have read so many great blogs and I’m subconsciously comparing my work or maybe it’s just that I have never worked alone before and learnt to trust my own instincts. Either way I have to learn to embrace my creative autonomy rather than allowing it to paralyse me. I have to get over my ‘Blogger’s Freeze’ because if I don’t publish then I’m not exactly a blogger. Just a crazy woman with loads of random word documents saved on her laptop!

I’d love to hear if any more experienced bloggers have had this problem and if so how did you overcome it? Let me know in the comments.

Summer’s End

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Excitement is building here for the Rose of Tralee festival which is almost upon us and for me that always signals the end of the summer. The holiday houses will soon close up and families will return home to their regular routines of work, school and college. This time of the year is bittersweet for me now. I will enjoy the quiet beaches and playgrounds once the crowds have gone. I like September it always feels full of possibility and fills me with the thrill of expectation. As a child I loved school and always looked forward to returning after the summer holidays. I used to get so excited about my new school books and uniform! It was an exciting and busy time when I worked in television but I do feel a sense of relief that I’m not there anymore. How I mourn the passing of summer though…

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The summer here is wild and chaotic. The weather swings between Atlantic summer storms and glorious hazy sunshine. The beaches are dotted with happy screeching children, crazy dogs, dedicated swimmers and sun worshippers. Any coastal town or village all across the world buzzes with activity as soon as summer comes around. And I suppose they all enjoy the benefits and suffer the disadvantages in equal measure. Holiday makers can bring noise and litter, they can be careless in places that are not home. There were some frustrating stories in the news recently about dumping in beauty spots in Sneem and on the Conor Pass. But tourists can also bring money, activity, vibrancy and a lifeline to many small seaside places. There are businesses here that will shut up shop once August ends. It is only the steady stream of tourists that the summer months supply that keep them open.

‘Little P’ will miss all the extra children, the boats, the fishermen and the festivals. But September will bring a whole new set of adventures. There’ll be blackberry picking, jam making, collecting conkers and jumping into piles of crunchy brown leaves. I want to squeeze all the enjoyment out of these Autumns with her because I know how quickly time is passing and soon Septembers will mean school.

I’m learning how the seasons change life here. I’m also finding out what each season has to offer and I find myself anticipating each one with delight. For the seasons are about nature and weather and there is no better place to experience both. The Wild Atlantic Way has something to offer all year round and I can see that others appreciate that too. If we all do our bit to preserve our landscape and our government invest wisely in it then maybe those small business won’t have to close their doors in Autumn after all.

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Quickie Soda Bread

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This is a staple in our house and takes just minutes to make. It’s my wholemeal version of the Ballymaloe soda bread recipe and can be made after breakfast and enjoyed nice and fresh for lunch. It freezes well (just make sure it has fully cooled before freezing) and lasts up to three days. If it goes a little dry or hard putting the slices into a toaster usually brings the softness back to the bread. It costs roughly 80cent a loaf (not including the electricity cost of baking) so it’s cheaper than shop bought soda bread. ‘Little P’ loves it as well and it’s good to know exactly what ingredients are going into her food. I usually make two at a time and freeze one of the loaves so we don’t run out.
Ingredients
225g wholemeal flour (I use the ‘Howard’s’ coarse wholemeal)
225g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
400mls buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 180degs fan. Lay some baking parchment on an oven tray. Mix the flours and bicarbonate of soda together. Make a well in the centre and pour in the buttermilk.
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Using your hand like a claw gather the flour and milk together until it forms a ball (you may need to clean any excess dough off your hands using a little extra flour). The less you handle the dough the lighter and more spongy the bread, so no kneading.
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Shape into a ball and place it on the oven tray. Flatten it slightly with your palm and mark a cross in the centre with a knife. Bake for 35mins. Place on a wire rack to cool (and save your baking parchment for next time!).

Breastfeeding, keeping it real

As it is ‘ World Breastfeeding Week’ I decided to write about what has been a mostly positive experience for me and ‘Little P’.
She is now almost two years old and isn’t showing any signs of giving up yet! So, if you are considering breastfeeding or if you are just starting out on the adventure (!) then I hope this will make you smile and give you some, much needed, encouragement.
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Convenience
Since pregnancy I seem to have lost large parts of my memory – mostly the part to remember “stuff when leaving the house”, located in the *hippocampus part of the brain. Anyway every time we go out now Iinevitably forget something important – my wallet, my coat, changing bag (I once had to fashion an emergency nappy from a roll of kitchen paper I found in the boot of the car), Little P’s coat, my mobile phone, sunglasses etc. Thankfully, I haven’t left the poor child behind. (yet!). At least (what was) her main source of food is attached to my body so that’s never affected by memory problems.
*may not actually be located in the hippocampus part of the brain.
Economising
I am a bit of a cheapskate. I love a good bargain, I love special offers – two for the price of one, BOGOF, buy three get one half price even if you don’t need them etc. So, free baby food for the first six months was a no brainer for me. FREE! yes, I said FREE! The child cost practically nothing in baby food for six months, but now she’s weaned she’ll have to start earning her keep pretty soon.
A Quiet Life
There is nothing in life that breastfeeding cannot put right. War, natural disasters, pestilence, economic downturn. Or in baby terms – tantrums, teething, bumps, fall downs and dropping all your raisins down the side of the sofa. Whatever upsets her, even if she’s having a full blown meltdown, as soon as she sits in my lap for a feed, she calms down instantly. No need for soothers or blankies or favourite toys, just a quick breastfeed and she’s back to herself in no time.
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Bonding
I really don’t want this to sound like a bad HSE Breastfeeding pamphlet, but when you’re breastfeeding it’s impossible to ignore the ‘special relationship’. (no not the one between America and the UK, although I’m sure that’s also very special). There’s something pretty great about being able to provide your baby with all they need from your own body. It’s a primal experience, and in our modern world there aren’t many of those left to cherish. I have great memories of just holding ‘Little P’,  staring at her, and sniffing her little head (odd? – I know!) while while she sucked away happily when she was a tiny thing. That’s when the special relationship forms.😉. When I feed her nowadays it can be a lot of fun, which leads nicely to my last point.
Fun
Since she’s started talking and developing her own personality, every day comes with its own surprises! Breastfeeding your toddler can be a real comedy experience. She has her own name for the experience – she calls it her ‘Mamas’,  and she even talks to them, saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ to each boob as she starts and ends. She points them out on animals (that’s ok) and on other people, which unfortunately can be slightly embarrassing at times. She now brings her toys over for some ‘ Mamas’ and she tells me my nipples are ‘too cold’ when I have been swimming! For her latest trick she can now read a book whilst feeding – a multi tasking pro just like her Mum who can now simultaneously blog and breastfeed!
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On a more serious note the best breastfeeding article I’ve read this week was by Lizzy Davis in The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/01/pregnant-women-breastfeeding-tough-british-attitudes
Her article is about being honest with women about the difficulties of breastfeeding. Although I have been breastfeeding for two years it certainly hasn’t been without difficulty. It took hours to even get ‘Little P’ to take a nipple at all, then it took a couple of weeks for us both to feel comfortable. I experienced plenty of pain initially, engorged and uncomfortable breasts, feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. Breastfeeding takes up a lot of time particularly with a newborn and that can also come as a huge shock to many first time Mums. But, I was expecting all of it. I had watched and listened over the years as my female relatives and friends all struggled with the same issues in the early days and they spoke about them. So I knew that I wasn’t failing, I just had to get through the difficulties and come out the other side. Breastfeeding may be natural but that doesn’t mean its going to be easy, after all childbirth itself isn’t exactly a walk in the park! But women sharing their honest experiences prove far more valuable to new mums than official looking pamphlets quoting statistics.

Farmer’s Market Fun

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Sunday comes showery and changeable, so we’re off to visit a nearby Farmer’s Market. Every week we make the effort to scout these treasure troves of fresh fruit & veg, essential to a happy life in the country.  Summertime means it’s possible to do at least part of our weekly shop at the seasonally busy Markets (particularly the larger gatherings in towns like Listowel, Tralee or Dingle) and they do offer a different experience than just relying on the convenience of the supermarket. Market vegetables are fresh from the ground, the bread is fresh from the oven and the eggs are fresh from the hens bottom! We like to do our little bit to shorten our food miles!
‘Little P’ can wander around and explore in a place free from busy trolleys and the temptations of the sweetie aisle. There’s plenty of local accent, lively chat, and lovely relief from the piped music and plastic packaging. It’s a great place for little ones to see what real food looks like fresh out of the soil, with all the dangly bits still on, and not dressed up all fancy-like to sit in a pretty plastic bag! It’s also a great way to avoid over buying on supermarket specials that we might not really need.
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This morning we visited the villagemarket at Ardfert. Indoors at the Community Centre, stalls here offered a nice selection of local veg, a large variety of jams, delicious baked goodies and interesting craft stalls, selling handmade oilskin bags as well as other gifts. Ardfert Market is now our Little P’s favourite – not just because of the yummy cakes – but the best toddler friendly playground she’s seen is right across the road!
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You can find more about your local Farmer’s Market on http://www.bordbia.ie/consumer/aboutfood/farmersmarkets/Pages/default.aspx.

Mindfulness for Mermaids

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One of the best things about moving to the West for me is the Atlantic Ocean. I started swimming in the sea before I could walk. I have great memories of swimming lessons with my Dad on the beach. Once I could swim I would stay in the water for ages, long after all my friends had turned blue with the cold. I often wished I could become a mermaid so I wouldn’t ever have to get out of the sea!
I can’t imagine ever living away from the coast. There are some stunning beaches on the east coast of Ireland and I’ve probably been swimming on most of them but there’s something very special about swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. The water feels effervescent, full of life and energy and incredibly refreshing. Every day, no matter what the weather, I try to make time for a swim. The initial shock of the cold never really goes away and it’s like a jump start for the heart. Then, once I  fully immerse, my body temperature stabilises and I feel like I’m back in my natural habitat.
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Swimming is probably the best mindfulness therapy you could ever experience. During a swim you can really only think about staying afloat and getting to and from your watery destination. I swam all during my pregnancy up to the day Little P was born. I’m sure it was very good for my physical fitness but even more valuable to me were the psychological benefits. As a life long worrier pregnancy was a bit of a nightmare for me. I worried for nine months about everything, I even spent time worrying about the things I should be worrying about but didn’t actually know about yet. The only time I didn’t worry was when I was in the water. It was a lifeline just to shut down the anxiety and forget completely about pregnancy and the impending time bomb that was labour. My body went weightless so I even forgot about my bump for a short while.
 My first swim about 6 weeks after Little P was born was wonderful. I felt like me again and I’ve continued regularly since. It’s a thing I do just for myself and I think it’s important for everyone to have something like that in their life.
 Now I’m no Rachel Lee (fastest Irish swimmer of the English Channel and on my hero list) but I can swim and I can endure the cold. I need to work a lot harder on my technique and my fitness. There are some amazing men and women I watch during my daily swim that cover huge distances. I’m full of admiration for them.  So, feeling inspired, one of my new goals is to work on my stroke and my breathing and by next summer I can join them at least as far as the second swimming buoy!
I was also really hoping that Little P would like the water so I’ve been taking her to the beach since she was tiny. Now my difficulty is getting her out of it! She’s like a little mermaid herself and I’m looking forward to teaching her to swim just like my Dad taught me all those years ago.
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Are We Living the Dream?

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In the West of Ireland, seasons come and go with a special clarity. Summer spreads it’s wings the sweetest. This year the air seems super scented with elderflower, honeysuckle and wild rose, and the fuchsia has just flowered to satisfy even the fussiest butterfly and bee. Our local seaside village population balloons as holiday homes are opened out for the season. There’s a flurry of activity with boats and bikes, wetsuits and wave boards. We squeeze in every wild walk and swimming chance as Little P morphs into a summer bundle of salty curls and sandy toes – bliss!

I’ve wanted to live in the West for years and even now, almost three years in, I can’t believe we’re really here. I still get an ominous feeling that this is just a holiday, and come September we’ll have to pack up the car and leave along with the summer visitors. I need every night’s sleep to banish the unease and realise yes, we’re finally here to stay.
I first fell in love with the West on our annual holiday from our family home near Dublin to County Clare. The Atlantic landscapes were wild and open, the air was sea fresh and I felt such a sense of freedom. Everybody used to instantly relax the moment we arrived. When I started working, my job took me all over the country. I gradually discovered the rest of the West through Mayo, Sligo and Galway, eventually arriving upon glorious Kerry.

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Returning east to the suburbs of Dublin felt more and more cramped and claustrophobic, with cars and concrete too near, too often.

I met my partner who, as it turned out, just happened to be from Kerry. Weekends became our opportunity time to escape to the West, so over the years we developed our plans to make the move. We eventually found a house, packed up and left the East for the last time, settling in one month before Little P arrived and we were now a gang of three!

The move has been as positive an experience as we expected, but are we really ’living the dream’? Our new life is not without it’s challenges. But my family and friends notice them far more than me! They tell me as they visit how quiet it is, how isolated, there are not enough shops, the Atlantic is too stormy, too much wind, the rain is too wet……it goes on! But, although missing them is the one negative aspect in my moving experience, I’m not here to live their dream, or even THE dream. Now I realise, I’m here to live OUR dream.

For me it really is the most important thing that I wake up everyday in a place that makes me happy. Practically speaking, it may not tick all the old boxes. Living in rural Kerry or rural anywhere, doesn’t come with the same services or employment opportunities that we might have had in suburban Dublin. We don’t have high speed broadband, and sometimes even getting a radio signal here is a problem!

We have less disposable income now than we had before. We’re a long way from the National Gallery, Grafton Street or Dundrum Shopping Centre. So, if those places are important to you, then this is not the place to be.

Me? I prefer to be twenty paces from the ocean, where the air is sweet with wild flowers and little P can watch the bunnies from her window. This is our dream and every day we’ll try to live it and make it work for our little family.