A Love Story About Spain

What do you know about Spain? Before I went there, I knew nothing. I never thought Spanish people ate a lot of burritos or other Mexican stereotypes that many people I knew as a teenager and young adult rigorously applied to Spain. Still, I wasn’t well informed. Where Spain is on the map was only a blank space waiting to be filled in my mind. The only European geography we learned in school was memorising the names of the countries in German class and I still think of Austria as Österreich. Otherwise the extent of our European history revolves around immigration to Canada and the World Wars. Which by the way fit very nicely into our narrative of Canada being  a wonderful free cultural  mosaic, a sort of patriotism that makes little sense when First Nations people face daily prejudice and inequality and, like in other countries, Canadians are becoming increasingly hostile towards immigrants. But I digress, as Canada never had a large wave of Spanish immigrants and they were not a major player in the World Wars we learned nothing about Spain. While I can fault the school system for a number of things, this isn’t one of them. It’s not feasible to learn extensively the history of every country in the world and it would be a bit European Centric to demand we learn about Spain in lieu of any other country.

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So when I travelled to Spain the first time I found the blank space where “spanien” was filled with colour and life. With palm trees and that certain glow in the sky. With tiny bars with metal tables where you can eat the best toast with tomatoes, olive oil and salt. With arguing with waiters. With long beach days with the usual variety of people. A scholarly looking woman with just a towel and a book, fellow tourists liberated  and sunbathing topless.  Families that always come with nearly a houseful of stuff. People selling bottles of water and corn cobs cooked over coals. At sunset, older couples hauling out their card tables to sit on the promenade and us wondering how they got them there. Teenagers hanging out.  One of the differences between European and Canadian life is the presence of children and teenagers in every day life. My husband pointed this out to me a while ago, saying when he went to Canada he wondered where all the teenagers were and it’s true. I was a teenager in Canada and even I can’t answer that, I don’t know where we went. But in all the European countries I’ve visited children and teenagers are a part of every day life, in the pub or hanging out in clusters doing, well, normal people things. In Spain, much to the befuddlement of myself and all my other foreign colleagues, teenagers are allowed to sleep over at their boyfriend or girlfriends house at young ages.  For better or for worse they are treated as adults much younger than, say, we were in Canada.  But what I love most is the rhythm of life. The sense that everyone is doing everything at the same time. That there is a correct time to eat and that any food not consumed at the ordained time will be rejected by the body. There is a time to go to the nightclub or bar and a time to shop in the sales and a time to go the beach and a time to eat rice (not in the evening). And that even with these rules life has a certain easy flow, that unless you have a set  dinner at 10:00, the day or night could take you anywhere. Of course someone might say that that lifestyle is stifling and I wouldn’t disagree because it’s not my place , but for me, someone living there, who had friends but no family it was infinitely freeing.

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Malaga four.JPGBut whatever my perception or non-perception of Spain was, here in Europe there is a very clear image of Spain as a place where people retire who never learn Spanish and even say “hola” in that strange stilted way of English speakers. Or where hoards of young English speaking men and women on stag and hen parties get obscenely drunk and then plunge headfirst from their balconies, occasionally killing themselves. So when my husband and I went to Malaga in January, that combination of images was mingling in my mind. But as we strolled the streets and walked along the blustery wintery beach, the massive waves crashing against each other, I remembered all the things about Spain that intrigued me and the affection I have for the country.  We ate a paella on the beach in the afternoon, and sat outside chatting and drinking beer, husband becoming ever more worried about the quantity of tapas we were being brought and the financial situation of the establishment if it could afford such tapas for free. We got up early on Sunday to walk the streets and found them empty as ever you do in Spain, later watching them fill up with families and couples, wandering in and out of shops or sitting down for a snack. We wandered into a bar where a drunken Irish woman came over and asked if we were on a tinder date. When we said we were married she looked unnecessarily embarrassed and fell off her seat. That has nothing to do with Spain it was just a funny story. Or maybe it does have something to do with Spain, I have been asked a few strange things by English speakers in bars in Spain. Hmm.

When I was in high school I didn’t particularly enjoy poetry, Shakespeare or a lot of other works that we studied. However, when I went to University, I discovered something. The fact was that we weren’t given a particularly nuanced understanding of poetry movements or the history and context of a lot of works. Again this isn’t necessarily a fault of the school system, in general teachers have prescribed works that they have to get through in the year and so on. But when I took a Shakespeare class in University the first module discussed critiquing his works and that indeed some of them were imperfect and even sexist. I realised that understanding and being able to dislike or criticise something was critical to liking, even loving something.  When I began to learn Spanish, I went all in. I spent hours a week listening to Spanish music, watching Spanish films and soap operas, and then I moved there. Through learning and experiencing I developed an affection for Spain. Of course, I don’t know all there is to know about Spain but  I’m happy to keep learning.




Exploring Irish Literature-The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride




Note: I am not using character names in this review.

I suppose the question we are always asking ourselves is, does art have a responsibility to be ethical, does it have to, for instance, depict healthy relationships or is there no moral imperative for art, does it just have to tell a story. Of course I lean heavily towards the belief that art has a certain responsibility.  While listening to a Fifty Shades Freed review this morning this issue came up. Yes, it’s inadvertently a story about domestic violence and not an accurate portrayal of a BDSM relationship but it’s also essentially a fantasy about a plain Jane who’s “quirkiness” lands her a hot husband, epic wealth, many modes of transport and a career! Who doesn’t want all of those things to just fall into their lap?? As a woman and a feminist I think films, books and pop culture at large should stop telling stories about how if a woman is good enough she can stop a man from abusing her and help him turn his life around. As an avid consumer of books, film and pop culture at large I enjoy the more, let’s say nihilistic or realistic stories. Which brings me to Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians. Set in the 1990’s in London, this novel is about a romance of sorts between an older actor and a young Irish woman who has moved to London for acting school.

Whenever people talk about Irish writers they think of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and so on. Of course those are good authors who have written some of the most significant works of the last centuries but there are a multitude of living, vibrant Irish writers, in particular, many who are women and it is both my duty as a Canadian living in Ireland and as a woman who is interested in literature to seek out these authors.

This is a story that is about what I would call an abusive relationship. It’s a story that contains many scenes which I would say depict rape. That’s neither here nor there I suppose. Certainly a woman writing about possible sexual assault from a woman’s perspective is valuable. Throughout the novel it seems as though the protagonist doesn’t class them as assaults, which again is neither here nor there. I think it’s interesting and important that victims of sexual assault or sexual experiences that are, perhaps, morally blurry should be able to define those experiences however they want.  I think people often do romanticise abusive situations and experiences for a multitude of reasons and I don’t particularly want to criticise that. I think that a lot of people when they are first sexually active, especially people perhaps from more conservative backgrounds, do consent to a lot of sexual activities that are perhaps not okay or not okay for them.  I grew up in a Christian community at the end of the purity culture craze and one of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately is what happens when you get a bunch of hormonal teenagers together, talk to them about sex non-stop, tell them how wonderful it is (but crucially don’t give any details!) and then tell them not to have it. Mainly what happens, I think, is that instead of emerging with a sort of healthy, nuanced view of sexuality and appropriate boundaries you emerge with a  much raunchier and more inappropriate view of sex.  I would imagine that many people who grew up in rural Ireland had a similarly conservative sexual education. What reading this novel particularly reminded me of was the sense that I had, growing up, that there are “Christians” and then there are people who fuck and those people are having sex all the time in every manner possible with as many people as possible. Which you know, is fine but also not the reality. There are people who don’t have sex!  There are people who have lots of sexual partners and those who have few! Who have their first sexual experiences at a young age and who wait till they are older. Perhaps I am projecting my own experiences onto our protagonist but I did feel that she, like me, felt that the only option is to have as much sex as possible in the biggest variety of ways. That’s all to say that the first half of the book felt uncomfortable but also deeply truthful.

I guess where I would push back is the sort of, to me, strange moralising around certain sexual acts. By the time we reach the climax (ooer) of the book, our protagonist has lost her virginity in a more or less unpleasant manner, had sex with two men at once and had anal sex. There has been abusive incest and childhood sexual assault. But the ending of the book is our protagonist giving the male protagonist a blow job. As you can see from the photo, the book was a bit dog eared because at this point I launched the book across the room. Of course everyone is allowed to be as puritanical or not about any kind of sex or sex act. Yes some people find oral sex more intimate. But framing it in this way, as something scandalous, just felt dated to me as did the implication that the only reason someone might have a lot of sexual partners is because they are “troubled”.

The second problem I had was the “traumatic past” of the male protagonist was pure schlock. Up until that part I was, more or less on board with this book. The writing is truly brilliant. I think anyone who has moved away from home at a young (ish) age  and experienced the sense of being nobody and nothing mattering would feel the same way.  But it was that authenticity that made the reveal of his past feel so weird, it felt as if it had been cut from a soap opera, or yes, Fifty Shades of Grey and pushed into a book that otherwise felt very nuanced. I wrote in my The Shadow of The Wind Review that I feel as if my consumption of art has been deeply impacted by the recent talk of sexual assault in the media and I felt similarly here. When the male protagonists’ history was revealed I mainly felt, well, nothing. I’m certainly not implying that men can’t face sexual abuse or that it is any less important than when women face it but rather that from a literary standpoint the character, for me, didn’t need a traumatic past. People can just be jerks! I didn’t need an explanation. If however the implication is that he’s a jerk because he faced abuse, well I’m kind of over that narrative.

The ending troubled me as well. Sure, I believe that an emotionally abusive, averagely successful, middle aged actor and a naïve young woman, desperately longing for drama would end up together…for a bit. That isn’t a criticism by the way, I think most of us have put ourselves in harms way for a bit of drama at one point or another. But the tone of a Disney-esque happily ever after felt like an insult. It felt like an alternate ending on a film that didn’t need an alternate ending. I didn’t like it one bit. Depending on where you fall on the topic of “do characters exist outside of the story” we can look at the ending in two ways. If you think characters can exist, or that is, we can and should imagine them outside of the text then perhaps the story is just one that has chosen a place to stop and the happily ever after is just another example of our protagonists naiveté. If you don’t believe that characters can be analysed outside of the text than we are meant to believe that, like in many a problematic romance film, our protagonist alone is good enough to change a bad, troubled and philandering man into a kind and loving and monogamous  one.

In the end I left this book feeling conflicted, which was maybe the intent after all.



Dublin Whiskey Tour Review

Back in ye olden days of 2010 I was travelling in Spain, as I do, and everyone was drinking gin and tonics , there were gin bars and all manner of fancy gin accoutrements. I know from our lofty position of 2018 we laugh at my naiveté, “of course, gin is a tress cool drink, the epitome of hip and gin bars are A THING”. This however was not the case back then, a bit strange to call 2010 back then especially when I still think 2001 was last year but anyway. When I went back home I was the only one, generally, on nights out who would order a gin and tonic and when I started dating my husband he made some comment about it being an old man’s drink. Little did we know! Gin was the next big thing and it’s so big that it’s almost not a thing anymore. How passé!

In any case, these drinks that only a few years ago were dated and stodgy are having something of a revival.  Sometimes I find that, or perhaps it is one of those things where you think you perceive something because you’re an outsider, Ireland still has more entrenched gender roles than perhaps other European countries or even Canada. Of course, I’m not sure who-drinks-what-kind-of-drink sexism is our most pressing issue of the day but here we are. When I first started drinking I often drank rye (Canadian whiskey) and I wasn’t the lone woman drinking it either, women I know drink and are knowledgeable about beer, stout and other traditional “manly drinks”. Of course I am not saying that Canada is a paragon of equality and virtue, we have those kind of sexist and frankly confusing standards of drinks too. One time a man in the restaurant I worked at wanted me to send a “girly drink” to another man in an opposing sports team’s jersey (it was a Smirnoff Ice which I don’t think is so much a girly drink as a “I’m 18 and haven’t suffered enough of adult life to make hard liquor taste good” drink). Sadly as a person relying on tips I could not say what I wanted to which was “what is your life like that this is so funny to you that you asked me to do it twice and ALSO THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING GIRLY” Anyway, I have digressed quite a bit here. Our guide told us that because she was a woman people sometimes assumed she didn’t know anything about whiskey but that things we rapidly changing and, beyond these drinks making a comeback, people were more willing to branch  out into the unknown territory of ordering drinks not traditionally associated with their gender!


Joking aside, the Whiskey tour was a very enjoyable  and informative evening. You know the feeling when you come out of an art gallery, museum, the ballet or something like that?  You feel that you’ve learned something and are better for it? That’s how we felt leaving the whiskey tour, and also frankly a little bit buzzed because the shots weren’t that small. Our guide was lovely and we learned a lot about the history of whiskey, the production of whiskey, many other things about whiskey. That’s all I’m saying because I think everyone should do the tour! And of course there was the tasting. The basic tour consists of five different kinds of whiskey in three different bars and there are other options that including food pairings. Honestly I think we will be doing the food pairings one in the near future. There’s cheese. I mean. I imagine there’s cheese. It wasn’t like being on an airplane, they didn’t make us walk by the people on the higher end tours sampling their cheese with dignity while we made our way to the peasant section where some underpaid flight attendant hopes that you don’t wake up so they don’t have to offer you a drink.

Dublin is a touristy city and that’s okay! Temple Bar is a lovely area, for example even if famous for the hourly increase in the price of drink. The Guinness storehouse is interesting and the view from the top is stunning. The point is that Dublin is a great city to be a tourist in. The Dublin Whiskey tour does go into Temple Bar but it also takes you to quieter, local pubs and so strikes that balance of touristy, but not-too-too-touristy. Doing a tour of any kind, even an increasingly trendy food or drink tour (or as I like to think of them, grown up pub crawls) can feel… well cheesy. Every tourist or expat dreams of blending in and looking stylish while doing it.  Of gracefully giving the correct number and order of air kisses (to be clear that number in Ireland is “0”) and saying “oh I know a place just around the corner here”. But tours are great! They’re interesting, they’re fun and the hosts are, understandably passionate about their topic, whatever it may be.  We had a really  lovely time on this particular tour and can imagine us going back sometime soon for the fancier tour! If you’re looking for something to do in Dublin that’s a little bit different and very fun, I definitely recommend Dublin Whiskey Tours. Bottoms up!





A Woman Travelling: Reflecting on 10 Years of Travels

On Safety

In Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in The Woods” Bryson writes about an incident that occurred while he was hiking the Appalachian trail, albeit in a different part of the trail. Two women were brutally murdered and the murderer never found. This incident is told briefly and without much consequence, that is, it doesn’t stop Bryson from hiking the trail and so doesn’t effect the story much. But for me, a reader and a woman who likes travel it did have an effect. It reminded me that for women travelling and travelling alone are still rebellious acts. It reminded me that so often when women tread in spaces that have been traditionally occupied by men there is danger and fear. It reminded me that explaining this fear is still a job, an exhausting, draining job, that often to falls to women. It reminded me that my good navigation skills, even in strange cities, isn’t a natural skill but a consequence of having travelled alone and paying attention to where I am at all times. It reminded me of the way we are often  blind to situations that don’t affect us directly and as such there are probably a multitude of issues that I, a white woman, don’t personally see and need to learn about. And it made me angry that women’s safety is so often treated this way, as an oh-well-what-can-you-do, and something that shouldn’t discourage women from travelling or even taking precautions. As a feminist, I would like to live in a world where women are always safe, but this isn’t, notably, the world we live in.  Telling women that sure, they should travel any and everywhere and throw caution to the wind seems callous at worst, and thoughtless at best.

On Being Alone
Back when I was 21 after my first trip abroad (and alone) I remember someone saying to me that they could never eat alone in a restaurant. Of course at that time I fancied myself an extremely worldly and independent woman (having both lived abroad AND gone to the cinema by myself) and looked at this comment with contempt. But it’s hard to deny, for me at lest, that in the last ten years the attitude towards women travelling alone , or in general doing things alone, has changed a lot. Many young women from my home town are travelling alone now, and my social media is flooded with advertisements for groups with titles like ‘Solo Women Travelling’ and so on. Also a lot of mentions of “girl tribes” which, if I’m honest makes me highly uncomfortable. When I see fellow women doing things  alone it makes me happy, it makes me proud. But there’s a commercialisation of women travelling that honestly doesn’t sit right with me. We know that women have a lot of buying power and these trips that promise round the world adventures, courses that suggest that you will make a massive income while lying on the beach and sipping from a coconut, and wellness retreats that promise you that through the right meditations and essential oils your life will be fixed, seem less like women’s empowerment to me and more like plain old capitalism. As I’ve written before, travelling is great and can certainly help and empower us but we have to be careful how we frame it.  And if I’m honest, why does it have to be empowering? What is wrong with women doing something we want just because we want to? Because it’s fun? Because we can? It seems in this day and age we are all crushed under the weight of having to constantly be bettering ourselves. Our hobbies should become jobs and our spare time filled with informative podcasts and TED Talks, if we’re not making money we feel guilty. But there’s nothing wrong with doing something because we want to and this is especially true for women whose enjoyment of leisure time so often gets labelled as selfish.

On Being The Only One

Often, over the last two years I’ve wondered why I found this move to Ireland more difficult and more frustrating than when I lived here before or when I lived in any of the other cities I’ve lived in over the years. And it occurred to me the other day that it is because I’m relatively alone. That is, I’m the only non-Irish person I know. In other places I’ve lived I’ve always had the barrier of expats around me, people with whom you can laugh at your cultural foibles, wonder at the things that annoy you and praise the things you love. Whatever the case may be you’re on equal footing. Everything is as new and different to you as it is to everyone else. Without that, I’ve felt lost at times.

Of course I am writing this as a white and English speaking person who has moved to a largely white and English speaking area so I don’t wish to conflate my experiences with that of people who might be visible minorities or experience racism or prejudice.

On Social Media
When it comes to social media, particularly Pinterest and Instagram I often find myself torn. On the one hand I know and can feel the way that they contribute to personal and community stress. When it comes to travel it’s not enough anymore to go somewhere interesting and have a fun or interesting time. It has to be done while perfectly dressed and shot with a high quality camera and edited to perfection and posted with a thoughtful and engaging, but not-to-obviously-looking-for-followers and then. THEN if it’s a moody shot of a mountain or something it will be praised as art but if it’s you on that mountain then it’s more vain, self obsessed unrealistic-expectation-setting trash. Social media is fickle and difficult, just when someone thinks they’ve figured out the algorithm, it changes. It puts pressure on us to act like every moment is perfect. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know there.

On the flipside I think that a lot of the derision towards Instagram and Pinterest has a sexist undertone. People use Instagram to showcase their beautiful homes and skilfully and artistically applied make up, their DIY craft projects and other things that traditionally have been feminine pursuits. Pursuits that are so often labelled as shallow.

Sometimes I miss the days of travelling without Instagram. It didn’t matter if my outfits weren’t perfect always (okay, hardly ever) and I didn’t feel that I had anything to lose or to prove. Still I enjoy an artfully arranged and taken Instagram shot. I suppose the necessary thing as in everything is to find balance, to keep learning and to worry less what people think, a not simple task in itself.







Travels in Literature: The Shadow of The Wind-Carlos Ruiz Zafon


the shadow of the windFor years I’ve been working my way through one of these “A hundred books everyone should read in their lifetime” lists that someone tagged me in on Facebook years ago when that was still a cool thing to do. This list, like many of its ilk, is severely lacking in diversity so I am not rushing through the list but as a list lover I am still determined to finish it. One of the books on this list is The Shadow of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I was ready to be intrigued by this book, a mystery set in post-civil war Barcelona and indeed there were parts I liked.  The discussion of the civil war and the aftermath is intriguing and thoughtful and the pain and suffering of living in Barcelona and Spain during that time is raw and believable. There are truly funny moments and the main characters are well developed and interesting. The resolution of the mystery is a bit long-winded and sometimes, arguably, unnecessary. Even I, a person wholly uncapable of solving literary mysteries, had figured out the end. That’s not a complaint necessarily, because The Shadow of The Wind is an homage to the gothic novel, right down to the creepy, abandoned and possibly cursed mansion and the troubled women within, to the dark lurking figures and violent villains. But it’s the women that present the problem. Perhaps I am thinking more critically about these things because we are in a cultural moment where women’s stories are more centred than ever, and we are finally taking control of abuse narratives. Whatever the reason, here’s the problem as I see it, the women in the novel lack volition or desires of their own. In the first part of the novel we meet Daniel, then only a boy who after finding a mysterious book meets Clara, a beautiful and blind young woman. Young Daniel is smitten but over the years the two develop a friendship. Daniel remains in love with her throughout his adolescence evening abandoning his childhood best friend to spend time with her. But she does not return his feelings and when he walks in on her having sex with someone else their friendship ends. In the final pages of the novel, the narrator makes sure to tell us that Clara is aging and bitter and has a failed marriage under her belt. She, supposedly, longs for the admiration and boyish love of Daniel. But why do we need to know this at all? The narrator never really tells us anything about Clara, she’s beautiful and vapid like the rest of the female characters in the book and so she deserves to be “punished”. She deserves this punishment for treating the main character as a friend and not a lover, an unforgivable sin. And what is her punishment anyway, a divorce and age? Things that happen to many and all of us, respectively. Why would she become a bitter older woman unless youth, beauty and marriage are the only things that can possibly matter to women? The other women don’t fare much better. There’s Bea, Daniel’s later conquest who we first learn about as, yes, you guessed it, vapid and beautiful and unsure of what she wants. Luckily Daniel shows her and after they get to know each other in the Biblical sense she falls ill. Of course, she is pregnant like another character who the same fate has befallen. The story within a story structure draws explicit parallels between our protagonist Daniel and the mysterious author he is obsessed with, Julian Carax. Like Daniel, Juilan comes from a working-class background and was in love with a beautiful woman. I want to say she was described as vapid too, but we don’t even get to find out that much about her. After they have sex she becomes pregnant and Julian flees to Paris after her father attempts to send him to the army.  Later we find out she dies in childbirth as her father refused to get a doctor. Unlike Julian, Daniel has the ability to change the course of his life and that of his unborn child by marrying Bea and starting a life together. That’s all well and good, if not particularly feminist, but completely missing from this story are the women’s desires or even personalities. The mystery of the novel can’t be separated from the treatment of women. Julian becomes a writer and later a disturbed and mysterious figure because of the loss of his young love. But the women only exist as fuel for the men’s desires and their suffering the fuel for their art and their actions. Yes, they consent to the sexual activity but that’s all we learn of them. Their hopes and dreams, what they could have become if they were allowed, these ideas aren’t even entertained. That Daniel and Julian in their romantic turmoil abandon and destroy friendships and destroy or alter the lives of the women they purport to care about, even leading to the death of another character, Nuria, is presented without criticism is another oversight. Like so many other books women exist merely to be acted upon and only through their conquest can the men become who they are and the story take shape.

Have Yourself A Minimalist Little Holiday

A few weeks ago I was waiting to meet my husband and I was standing in the street with my shopping bags in hand, in which I had a cinnamon scented candle and a baguette, among other things of course.  Man cannot live from cinnamon candles and French bread alone. There was a brisk wind blowing and I thought, ah I am so  European winter, this is what it is all about, carb loading and scented candles.black heart

Happy holidays everyone, I was working on some serious topics for the blog, but like many I feel overwhelmed by the world at the moment and I think we all need a bit of a mental break, so I thought I would write about my holiday plans this year. The holidays can feel like an overwhelming time. The idea that we are spending beyond our means to buy presents that we don’t need, the pressure to entertain, the extension of Christmas all the way back to Halloween, the erasure or main-stream minimization of other important holidays that take place around this time, these are real problems. Still, I think we can make the holidays into a time to spread love, to do good and to come out the other side feeling refreshed and renewed. If we include others, give generously to those in need, put thought into our actions and bring our values to the holiday table, we can make it through, guilt free and uplifted. I went through a little phase where I pretended to not like Christmas but in reality it is  my favourite time of year. I love the cheesy music, the food, the warmth of sitting by a fire, I love buying presents and yes, I love getting presents. I love spending time with family and I enjoy and need the time spent doing absolutely nothing, spending a day or two in pyjamas and not worrying what anyone thinks. I love Christmas dinner and Christmas breakfast. I love it all.christmas three

Honestly, I get caught up in all of it.  Just this morning I read about ten articles about festive entertaining, despite the fact that I am not doing anything this year.  But despite all of this, I’ve made an effort to lighten up the load. I had a good laugh the other days as I was browsing for last minute Christmas presents on Amazon. I had Amazon UK in one tab and Amazon Canada in the other, both open to the “last minute gifts page”. To my shock Amazon Canada mainly listed toys and electronics and Amazon UK had… alcohol and condoms. I guess they celebrate a bit differently over here. This will be our first Christmas together in Ireland and in our own place so I’ve tried to make it a bit special. However, we are also looking for a new place in January and are trying to save money, so while we’ve spent enough on Christmas presents we also been somewhat frugal (not totally, we aren’t saints) on decorations and that sort of thing.  For our tree I knit a few bows out of leftover yarn and we got some vintage decorations from my in-laws that look perfect n our home. I also went foraging around our house for pine branches, pine cones and berries and have put them in small glass containers all around our house. I mean all around, no room has been spared.  They look beautiful and our house smells festive. I also made a pom-pom garland which looks very instagrammable lovely atop our bookshelf. We are big take-away eaters but in the past weeks have cut back and for our last order each got a meal instead of starters, soup and a load of other things that we always end up eating half of. I’ve also taken some time in the weeks before Christmas to eat healthy, work on some courses I’ve been taking, exercise and meditate. Don’t get me wrong, I plan to eat all around me over the holidays but wanted to feel a bit better before I do that. There’s also something calming and invigorating about going for a Christmas walk. Even though, for this Canadian, it’s  bit bewildering going for a walk a mere few days before Christmas when everything is still green. Well kind of brown actually, even the Emerald Isle isn’t Emerald all the time.

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However you celebrate, or don’t, this holiday season let’s take time to sit down with a cup of tea, go for a walk, take a minute to ourselves, to create something and to be generous with our time and money and to have compassion for ourselves and those around us. Let’s dress up (if that’s your thing), dance the night away, light candles, curl up for a movie night, watch the new Star Wars, listen to sad songs, call loved ones who are far away  and enjoy the moment. Happy Holidays everyone.





Everyone Has Something I Don’t Have

I have a few rituals for when I get discouraged with myself. One is I buy or download a book that could be called pretentious so that I can casually drop into conversation that I am “just reading Ulysses”. Or I listen to new age podcasts. It’s not that I particularly agree with everything in them but I just love the idea that I can meditate my way to a better life. For the record, I do believe in meditation and some of the other parts of it, but I think there is room for doubt in any belief system. In any case you would think that after many new age podcasts and “build your self a life you don’t need a holiday from” affirmations that I wouldn’t experience jealousy. But you would be wrong! I am not, as previously disclosed, what you might call a positive person. In fact, I am the opposite. Where others my see the unknown as something beautiful to embrace I live in constant terror of what bad thing might befall me around the next corner. And I’m jealous, but I’m not just jealous of one thing (ie: other people’s travels).  No, I am jealous of everything even when I can rationalise why I don’t have or even want something. Someone has a cleaner? I am jealous of that even though the longest I’ve lived in one apartment at a time has been two years, the last two years in fact. A European friend gets to go on a long haul break and I am stuck doing city breaks? Of course that makes sense I’m from Canada and if I want to go home once a year than that costs as much as their long trips. Someone just has that pregnancy glow? I’m jealous of that too, even as a childless-by-choice woman. Earlier I was feeling down because “I hadn’t gone anywhere this year” and this despite a weeklong road trip around Ireland, a city break in Belfast, a music festival and a week in Prague. Does this all sound ridiculous? That’s because it is.

Now I would like to offer you a solution, but I don’t have one. The truth is that there are people who have things I don’t have. There are people who are better at not buying a take away on the weekend and have more money for bigger things they want.  There are people who pursued their careers and didn’t do the “free spirit” thing. There are people who come from wealthier backgrounds. Those are all true and being thankful for what I have (which I am) doesn’t magically make them untrue. Personally I don’t find that I can improve my mood by reminding myself of the things I have, because again, I can rationalise them all away. The fact is that I’ve always had an image in my mind of who I was and wanted to be. In my mind I was the world traveller who was always wearing floaty caftans and “just dropping by” before jetting off somewhere else. I never seemed to have a job but yet had stylish clothes and an extensive wine knowledge. I was well read and had heated arguments on the phone in another language. I could easily discuss current affairs around the world while also being able to casually drop some reason that someone should or shouldn’t do something based on their numerology. And friends. That’s who I am now. Well, more or less. I need a few caftans and my knowledge of wine is not so much extensive as it is “I have tried a lot of different bottles of wine to excess”. But even being the person I wanted to be doesn’t stop me from seeing what other people have and sometimes being envious. This is why I balk at the “build a life you don’t need a vacation from” nonsense.  You can build the exact life you want and still wonder what it would be like to have that other thing. There’s that cheesy saying about one door opening when the other door closes but the truth is that when we choose one door another one closes. Every choice we make excludes another choice, or excludes it for now.

So what to do about that human emotion of jealously? I think, as I’ve learnt from the many meditation podcasts I’ve listened too, the only thing to do is experience it and then let it go. To say to ourselves, “I feel jealous of that” and then to not shame ourselves. We try to make ourselves relentlessly happy and feel guilty when we aren’t, we already have so much we tell ourselves. In the travel community we say that if we just change our destination then we can be happy. That endless travel is the solution. But it’s not. Happiness is an elusive and ever-changing thing and trying to make ourselves happy doesn’t work. Next time we feel jealous let’s forgive ourselves for being human and then just keep doing our thing. Instead of trying to be relentlessly happy let’s relentlessly be ourselves.