Where there’s life, there’s hope


The ridiculously large seed is suspended but still touching the water beneath it.  It sits by the kitchen window, still a curiosity to all those that pass, but not for much longer.  Soon its identity will be revealed. A pre-historic wonder waiting for an extinct animal to come along, ingest it and in turn propagate it. I daren’t tell it that there are no gomphothere, large elephant-like creatures, roaming about the Earth for fear of breaking it’s will to live. Instead it has me and other enthusiastic Homo sapiens that help its survival.Avocado cut in half

I’m an avid avocado fan, and will do what I can to help Mother Nature ensure its genetic programming will kick into place and grow into a tree. And, although its ancestors did flourish in the forests of Central America, I can offer it prime real-estate in the form of a warm, south-facing room. Enough? I really do hope so. In a strange way, I would like to nurture this pre-historic seed, my way of saying thanks for all the help its cousins and family have given my skin over the years.

Tip: Go mash the flesh of a ripe avocado and add two teaspoons of olive oil, combine, and spread across your face. Transforms the driest, crepe-like skin.

Of course I am sure the avocado tree didn’t just propagate to quench our thirsty human skin, its mission was and still is to ensure the survival of its kind, but to do that it depended on large ground sloths, and those big, giant elephants to do so. The fact remains that these animals no longer exist, but back in the day, during the Miocene and Pliocene eras plants and animals depended on each other’s survival: evolutionary anachronism. Yet it seems, it’s not just the avocado that are affected.  Homo sapiens are not entirely exempt from such evolutionary leaps.  Think about our appendix, what about goose bumps and then there’s facial hair.Does the 21st Century person need any of these now? No, not really.

I’ve got good news and bad news.  The good news: instead of driving things to extinction, we humans are quite adept at saving plants, animals too.  Not just the avocado, but also the pungent Ginkgo Biloba, the tree that watched dinosaurs roam, graze, play and fight. And are you ready? Even coffee, we’ve saved that too. Can you imagine a world without coffee? Coffee cake? I cannot.  The bad news? We have driven far too many species to either the brink or complete extinction-beautiful, wonderful, fantastic things. And remember, once things are gone, they’re gone: there is no bring ’em back alive. We discovered fire, played with the matches and sent a lot up in smoke – let’s hope we’re not next on the list.

In the meantime, I’m going to watch in wonder as a very old seed begins a new life.

Indiana Jones and Me

image: empireonline.com

image: empireonline.com

In four weeks time I will sit a significant exam. If successful the trajectory of my life will change. How do I feel? Like Indiana Jones has showed up at my front door and insisted I accompany him on his next hair raising, whip-cracking adventure.  Tut tut, you say. Surely I must know that I will be in good hands with Professor Jones? Yes, but what if I let him down? What if I can’t live up to his lofty expectations or meet his exacting needs? What if, due to my lack of experience in the trusted role of side-kick, our quest fails? I’m not much good with water, hate heights and deciphering ancient hieroglyphics certainly is not my forte. The dangers and risks are many: the likelihood of failure too great. I could, of course, just explain all of this to Indiana. He’s a reasonable guy.  Hey, he’ll say, we’ll do this together and with a wink he’ll whisk me into action. He too has his fears: snakes.

My fear of failure, especially in exams, stems from my experiences in the classrooms of my youth. I remember when we, students of varying intellectual capabilities, competed with each other either for good grades or other rewards. Plus ça change. I can still see the faces of my opponents: the intelligent girls, the very smart girls, and those including me, who hovered precariously above the range known as average.  As an adolescent I hated the locale of average; it made me feel like I had fallen short somehow: never quite clever enough: ordinary.   Average wormed its way through me and nibbled away at any hopes I ever had for myself. Dare attempt to raise my little average self above the parapet, aim my arrow a little higher, a little further, a little to the left, or a little the right: Heaven forbid. So, I did what any good descent average person would do: I stepped back and let those unreasonable goals to the intelligent and very clever girls. At least my dignity remained intact.

Among the faces of the eighties there were the teachers who encouraged (a handful) and those who were adept in the art of beating away any semblance of confidence in a student like me; back then it was called getting too big in your boots. So, to acknowledge their unwavering dedication for knocking as much of the good stuff out of me as possible, I would like to propose a toast: To the teacher who snapped the foolscap essay copy from me on Monday mornings, certain (without even reading) that what I presented was average: To the teacher who insisted on leaving my copy book at the bottom of the pile: To the teacher who gave me a thump in the shoulder when I accidentally sewed the hem of my skirt (a class project, that sent the fear of God into us!) crooked. Our brown and peach (I know!) uniform lacked a vital, but very necessary component; one, I believe that should have been compulsory: a cuirass.

Should any of you be still teaching: Note Bene: Confidence and self-esteem in adolescence responds to the above with a sickening thud.

We live in an inherently competitive and cut-throat culture. From early childhood we pit child against child in the classroom. We raise children who believe that in order to succeed they must be the best, the brightest: brilliant.  We score their achievements: A, B, C, D. We say things like “could do better”, or the ubiquitous “needs to try harder”. No wonder most children are exhausted by the age of twelve.  They are trying harder all the time at subjects their brains are not hard-wired for; subjects that they will never, no matter how much time and energy they pour into, excel at. Outside the classroom, we take it another step: What team sports do you play? What hobbies do you have? Who has given up chocolate for Lent? Who is doing extra Maths after school? Do you attend camp during school holidays? Which ones? It goes on and on…As a society we are placing extraordinary pressure on these young children. Yes, I do know as adults we must prepare our children for the world and adulthood. But, what about just leaving them alone to just be? Allow them to tap into their inner selves and discover who they are? What about teaching children about citizenship? What does being a citizen really mean?  It’s hard been a kid. It always has been.

When I was fourteen years old I had to sit a very important (teacher’s words) exam in Chemistry.  If I did not pass this exam, the likelihood was that I would not be able to sit Chemistry for my Intermediate Cert (aka Inter Cert).  Up to that point, I was barely keeping my head above water; picture a solider fording a river, rifle held high.  The truth was I never wanted to study Chemistry, but the class I found myself in was orientated very much towards the science subjects. I tried to prove Chemistry wrong. I could beat it.  I would be successful and win.  I studied hard. I asked questions. I remembered the answers.

The day came, a Wednesday, and into the lab I went.  I took my seat at the bench and waited for our teacher to appear.  She didn’t.  A tall, lanky young fellow walked into the lab and announced he would be our sub for a few weeks; our teacher was ill. At first, I was relieved: no test. But then, this young sprat went on to say that he knew we were to be tested that day.  He turned his back to the class and proceeded to write two questions on the blackboard (it was 1987!). I watched his long letters appear on the board, and as his words formed, I wrote the questions into my test book.  And then it happened.  The questions on the board were not the questions I had studied. I couldn’t believe it.  I knew I was finished: Chemistry had beaten me.  I couldn’t even begin to think of what to write. Then, Mary Hannon piped up: Sir, they are not the questions we’ve studied for.  His caught ye all out smirk spread like soft butter across his face: Girls, if you studied Chapter Three and Four not only would you be able to answer your prepared questions, but these questions also.  We stared incredulously at this sadist. Slowly pens were put to paper. Some wrote pages, some wrote paragraphs and then there was me: I wrote lines: Short lines. The following week my result was revealed: D-.  When our teacher returned I was bumped out of Chemistry and found myself in double Biology learning about photosynthesis.

What did I learn from all this? Not much it seems.  Throughout my school years, I felt huge pressure to succeed even when I knew my brain was not hard-wired for certain subjects. I continued pushing. There was always a finishing line that needed to be crossed.  Failing was not an option. I can’t blame for parents for this. They certainly did not sublimate their ambitions through me. They did though insist that I did my best and try: God loves a trier you know.  But, somewhere inside me, a seed had germinated.  I nurtured it as a mother nurtures her baby.  I watered it. I fed it. I played with it. I even took it out for walks and trips to the park. By the time I was ready for college my baby, fear, was strong and ready to take its place in the world. It was this fear of failure that propelled me into adulthood.  I was terrified of letting myself down.

It doesn’t matter from what exactly: the fear of failure sucks.  Since life has a tendency to poke and prod, developing coping skills and becoming resilient beings that bend with our failures rather than abandon our hopes of success is of paramount importance. But, it’s not always that simple, is it?  How do you grow skin as thick as a rhinoceros in order not to feel that thump on the shoulder?  We are, after all, creatures that feel. Fear will curse through our veins ready to emerge at any moment; ready to pulse the very moment we find ourselves becoming audacious: a new goal, a new plan, a new dream. It is often easier to assume the ostrich position: Stick our heads in the sand, don’t do anything to distinguish ourselves from the herd. Settle for mediocrity.

When we settle for less we deny ourselves the joy of daring and looking beyond the pale of mediocrity.  We allow our fears to destroy our dreams and rob our lives of hope.  I, too, am aware of the crippling effect of fear, and know that if I allow it to consume me I will be no better than the thief that comes and steals during the dark of night; I will have sacrificed above all things loyalty to myself, and will remain a minion.   This isn’t a blame game. Blaming others for how we feel, while sometimes feels necessary, is also a way of letting our pain and discomfort go. I do, though, sincerely wish that teachers, and all those who possess huge influence over us during our Wonder Years would just stop and think about that: our Wonder Years. Please don’t knock that out of us too early. Please.

Over the past few years, I have made a concerted effort to help, maybe even heal myself. I have always been on the qui vive for the help I needed. Some of the things I have tried helped, some have not. But, and I love that sometimes there is a but, I’m very happy to say that I have made a wonderful discovery on my quest. I would love to share it with you.

This treasure comes in the form of a wonderful poem. Last Night As I Was Sleeping has transformed how I feel about, and face fear.  In his great poem (see below), Antonio Machado conjures image after vibrant image.  It’s the second verse that stopped me in my tracks. A powerful, startling image that of a beehive inside his heart, and of bees making sweet honey from his old failures.  When I first read these lines, it felt like I had stood upon frozen water that cracked and broke into shards beneath my feet. They broke open a new way of seeing my life. Imagine if we could see all our past failures as so sweet that we could produce sweet honey from them? Failures can instead become the ingredients for new experiences, new ways of being, new worlds. This is simply marvellous: life affirming.

Dare we believe that if we had not encountered these failures we would not be the people we are now. Initially perceived as disasters, our failures are now “making white combs and sweet honey”. What does this really mean? Perhaps, it means that, in the end, everything was as it should have been: as it should be.  I cannot begin to tell you how much these words mean to me. They give me a warm fuzzy feeling just like cinnamon, spice my hope like the peppery scent of the geranium and comfort me like hot milk on a cold winter’s night. Like flotsam, I will cling to these words and images for the rest of my days.

Indiana need wait no longer.  I’ve done a little research on snakes; just in case we come across any on our quest. I like to feel useful. When the water comes gushing forth, fingers crossed, he’ll somehow keep me afloat. On the rope bridge suspended between the towering cliffs, he’ll find a way to help me conquer my dread of heights. As for the hieroglyphics, I’m a fast learner!  Perhaps it is true to say that in the end life is one long quest, sometimes we will reach The Holy Grail sometimes we will not.

It’s time to trust Indiana, step out of average and into possibility.


Last Night As I Was Sleeping
Antonio Machado

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

Antonio Cipriano José María y Francisco de Santa Ana Machado y Ruiz, known as Antonio Machado was a Spanish poet and one of the leading figures of the Spanish literary movement known as the Generation of ’98. For more information please click here

Women are Back!


She is willowy, long and slender. Long chestnut coloured hair falls to one side, a liberated wisp falls across her swan-like neck, without doubt, blown by a gentle breeze that surrounds her.  Beneath her fringe hazel eyes rimmed in black kohl smile above the lush architecture of her lips, framing her pearly whites. She smiles. She dazzles. She is a winner in the genetic lottery of beauty. The hues of her mocha silk dress are set off harmoniously by patches of delicate black lace and a silk jacket falls gracefully from her shoulders: her coat-hanger frame.  By her side Mr Aren’t I Lucky leans his broad shoulder into hers: The cat that got the cream.  His grey suit, the colour of newly fabricated steel, emphasises his raven black hair. Enchanting her: Enchanting us. The epitome of chic and à la mode sophistication: the apogee of countless aspiring males and females worldwide. If I were to hazard a guess, I would declare them French, specifically Parisian; they could, though, be Roman: they are beautiful.

And then they go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like: Women Are Back.

Back from where? Where have we been? Has some global vanishing act taken place that I haven’t been aware of, a calamity that has rid the world of females? Where did we abscond to?  Did we, at long last, discover a secret female Utopia?

By now you’ve probably guessed that I am referring to a glossy magazine advert. Two weeks ago whilst waiting in a slow-moving queue for my dentist, I flicked absent-mindedly through a plethora of glossy magazines.  I say absent-mindedly because I don’t buy these type magazines: not anymore. Truth is I am a little bit weary, almost afraid of them. Why? Have you looked through some of them recently? An assortment of perplexing articles that cover a constellation of topics that don’t really help at all: Flirt like a Man, Mr Right, but not Right Now, or what about, Man up in the Boardroom. Need I go on?

Oh, but how things change. The story was a lot different a decade or two ago; an era when I regularly, almost compulsively, purchased several brand leading codices of beauty, fashion and self-help. I co-existed peacefully with modern-day guides to having it all, living it up and getting what you want when you want it.  Back then I believed, quite innocently, they were a sort of guide-book, map even, to Arcadia. I was positive that the next article would be the one that would show me the error of my ways; or, that the next personality test would highlight an unknown part of my personality that required fixing: once rectified success would be mine, the hope, that I would dodge the land mines in the province of growing up. In short I was looking for the fastest, least troublesome route to Sophistication Ville.

The official term for changing one’s patterns is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). It is a shame I wasn’t familiar with it back in the day; I could have saved myself money and instead invested my time on more deserving pursuits: learning Italian, yoga or the Tango. Most of us realise that change is not easy. For real positive change to take place one needs to invest time, great effort and occasionally possess long purse strings: obtaining scores of 20-45 in a generic glossy-mag test, or being informed that one is Personality Type A with a dollop of Type C, does not cut the mustard. Seriously though who constructs those quizzes? Have they been trained in the theories of Freud or Jung?  Do they know what they’re talking about? I wonder.

Fast forward and a new age has begun. Growing older has its advantages. It has a wonderful way of sorting out the “men from the boys” or, in this case, the “girls from the women”. Those once coveted words that I based my entire identity on are now fit for the lavatory.

Maybe that’s why I felt so cross and annoyed when I happened upon the two beauties: the pairing, marriage even of image and phrase emitting all sorts of mixed messages. The flippant use of words and phrases is rife in the world of advertising especially those adverts targeted at women, children and increasingly men; serving only to disturb and unsettle, in the case of the glossies, readers.  Why do advertisers believe that they can employ any word they choose? Do they ever stop to think of the consequences such words and phrases can have on impressionable, innocent young minds?  I don’t think so.  I believe that the subliminal messages contained within much of today’s advertising are dangerous, nefarious even. We are, unwittingly, being brain-washed; the builders have moved into our precious minds constructing all sorts of distorted ideals and perceptions. So, when an advert announces Women Are Back it drives me crazy precisely because most women already face a daily battle of invisibility, constantly trying to make themselves seen, heard and taken seriously.   When that gifted agency coined that axiom, perhaps around a glass-topped boardroom table with floor to ceiling windows, was there a woman who objected to the term? Who found it obnoxious? A man? Or, did they all just find relief in the fact that they had created a chippy one liner that would keep their clients happy? Cash rolls in.

I hate to disappoint those unenlightened agencies: Women never left nor are we planning to. Look around you. We are everywhere. We are the daughters, sisters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers and friends we all know and love; could not thrive without. We are the ones who do a higher proportion of the caring, raising and juggling.  We are the ones who tucked you into bed at night, rubbed your tummy when you were sick, wiped your noise clean and held your hand when you were afraid. We are the ones you call when you’ve done an awful interview for your dream job. The ones who say you are beautiful when you feel like crap. No advert can do that. Ever.

It would be so reassuring to know that when such decisions are being made in boardrooms across the globe, employees, the women and men who execute them, would remember the women in their lives. Maybe then so many women would not find themselves living beneath the Cloak of Invisibility.

I was very lucky.  I knew, deep down, that all that mumbo jumbo wouldn’t really make a difference. I was never Personality Type A, B, C or D: I’m me.  I had fantastic female mentors in my life; championing me, encouraging and believing in me.  I’ve had my moments when my train did arrive at Sophistication Ville. I have, though, stepped on many land mines on the way up.

I survived. I’m still here. And, so too dear reader are the women you know.

Women and the Stars


Women and the Stars

What’s your passion? The certain something you would do all day long if left to your own devices; if life did not throw all sorts of demands at you: mortgage, work, living costs: responsibilities.

It’s a tough question isn’t it? There’s something unsettling about it: unnerving, throws us off course a little. Why? I think it’s because all too often we no longer know what real passion is.  Sure, we’ve heard about it, seen it in the movies and if we’re lucky have felt it once or twice; but, the tendency to disconnect with that part of us I call passion-central grows exponentially as we age. As if growing older is the great destroyer of passion leaving only the remnants of a once felt need or desire. There’s nothing worse than being asked this question and not having an answer: even though we have probably jumped into our brains and sorted through the multi-coloured tabs like a Pentium Processor looking for it.

But no matter what, even if our processors cannot find the answers straight away, I believe that inside each of us there is an abiding sense of passion; sometimes we just haven’t had an opportunity to identify it or listen out for it. My grandmother has another word for passion: she calls it “fire in the belly” – now, maybe that’s a better way of putting it: What puts the fire in your belly?

I believe it is this wonderful ingredient passion that helps create pioneers: the ones who lead the way, the trail blazers who dared to identify, listen to and follow their dreams: saw a chance: took it. And, it is through their discoveries of new worlds and new ways of being that have in turn allowed us to pursue our dreams: a little like stepping upon their shoulders, peeping into the space ahead and daring to dream of something else.

In the 1880s a renowned astronomer called Edward Pickering embarked on a monumental project: to catalogue photographic plates that captured the spectrum of every star in the night sky.  Pickering, the Director of the Harvard College Observatory, had raised quite a lot of money from various donors to fund the study but what he didn’t have was help, or labour.

At that time, opportunities for women of any description were limited.  And since Pickering’s helpers did not need to be astronomers he decided to hire women.  The work these women carried out involved complex mathematical operations: the new workers were called computers. Also known as “Pickering’s harem” a derogatory term applied to this team of intelligent, precise women who did their job well but worked for as little as 25 cents an hour. 

Being women of intelligent mind and dedicated to their roles, some of the “computers” swiftly expanded their tasks and became respected researchers in the field: eventually making lasting contributions of their own in the field of astronomy. 

Their passion and dedication unlocked a much closed-door to professional astronomy for the generations of women that followed.  One of the women, Annie Jump Canon, developed an easy-to-remember system still used today for classifying star spectra, whilst, Henrietta Swan Leavitt discovered the period-luminosity relationship of Cepheid variable stars-stars that brighten and fade with a regular pulse-which can be used to calculate stellar distances. Such a discovery deserves recognition and Leavitt’s contributions were so that a moon crater was named after her. However, these women worked tirelessly and despite their successes were not treated equally; they were paid far less than their male predecessors but despite the restrictions placed upon them in the province of men, despite the odds, it was the fire in their belly that drove them, compelled them to experience more than society would allow them. As a collective they broke a science gender barrier that would see Valentina Tereshkova become the first women in space when in 1963 she spent three days orbiting Earth.

These are the giants on which our passions, hopes and dreams stand upon.

I’ll have some of that fire please.


War on the Weed!


Try as I did, I could not remove the invasive weed from my flower border. I grabbed it from the base and yanked on it: that didn’t work. I pruned it hard and yanked: that didn’t work. I cut it back and yanked yet again: that didn’t work. In France they have a word for this particular weed: une mauvaise herbe. No matter what I seemed to do the tenacious so and so had no notion of budging: it wasn’t ready to leave my garden. Why would it? Surrounded by beautiful Dahlias and jewel coloured Sweetpeas, it got too comfy basking in their beauty and light and decided to feed upon it: thrive it did.

As I wrestled with it I’m sure I heard a whisper: a malevolent voice: Just face it girl my roots go further down than your feet do. Give up, I ain’t going anywhere!  But this is my garden and each plant must earn its place: there’s no place in it for such an inferior sort. I have to admit, though, that I admired his confidence-it felt like a him-his audacious cri de guerre: Mutiny in the Garden. But what the weed didn’t know is that I, too, possess the gene for persistence. I, too, have a battle cry of my own: War on the Weed!

Before the battle commenced I gathered my allies: spades, shovels, trowels, and rubber gloves. I had my dog on stand-by; my aide-de-camp. A Golden Retriever who is highly receptive to the word catch; all I needed to do is call out: “Catch the weed, Stella!” her biddable nature a real boon whenever I need it. Like a solider I gathered my accoutrements. I circled my enemy just as a hawk intimidates his prey; a process I suspect all the more challenging for such a predator especially when his targets are of the moving kind; I’m thinking a mouse or a pigeon.

At first I didn’t know where to start: which sounds ridiculous I know, but the gardener in me knew –and, I always listen to Monty Don’s advice-that if I didn’t remove this nuisance correctly then parts of it would remain behind, ensuring a certain re-appearance; add to that a nice warm spring and a sprinkling of soft April rains and hey presto: Look who’s back! There was only one thing I could do: remove at least one feet of soil from around the weed and dig until I was sure I got to the end of its rhizome.  So that’s what I did. The dig-thirty five minutes and one of the best work-outs I’ve had in ages-as hoped led me to the source of all my trouble: the root tip.

I wasn’t taking any chances I wore my gloves and burrowed about the root with my fingers making sure there wasn’t any compact soil around it – I really didn’t want it to break-you’d be surprised at how little it takes for a weed like this to sprout from a fleshy part left behind, ready at my side a bin liner into which the nuisance would be disposed. Down on my knees prying the soil like an archaeologist, I gingerly released the unwavering root: the brains behind the weed.

Every living thing needs an operating system: a brain. La mauvaise herbe, without his, was powerless, ineffectual and of no use. I, on the other hand, had defeated the crux of my horticultural nightmare.

Where there was once a weed there is now ample space for a wonderful new specimen to flourish.

Wishing and Hoping


May you always …

Enjoy the peppery scent of a geranium, a fresh batch of scones
A cool breeze on a warm day, reflected glare of crystal blue lakes
Cinnamon buns, a stove, timber on a cold winter’s day

A soft towel after a warm shower, a fresh bar of soap
Knees deep in a meadow, candy coloured annuals at your side
Butterflies, ladybugs, dragonfly, to chase in the wind

Foamy waves that touch sun kissed ankles, sand between free toes
Many shiny days to sustain, during the dull ones that lie between
Smalt blue skies in your mind’s eye, charcoal grey clouds to paint

A secret, a promise, a surprise, perhaps a passionate kiss
Someone you wish to remember, somewhere you wish to go
Someone you wish to meet, a star, a friend, a brand new flower

Laughter, friends, sweet sweet music, jazz or pop
A spare room to which you can retreat, room in your life
For a new friend, dog, cat, plant, flower, scent

The joy of discovery, curiosity your faithful friend
The joy of freedom on a hot summer’s day, to walk
To run along the shimmering sands of beach and time

To hold a summer filled posy: sweet pea, cosmos, and lavender
The scent of freshly cut grass to tickle your nostrils
To swim out, to swim back, to return to your home

To be the change you wish to see in the world
Be the one who makes the difference in another’s life
And when the fury and cold whip around you
May you hold still, hold calm and be

© Maria E.FitzGerald
July, 2014

Zephyr has arrived


FernAnd the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom – Anais Nin

May has slipped in.  A fructifying west wind has arrived carrying with it the promise of summer. The world is greener, illuminated by each blade of grass and leaf. The sheer beauty of the Irish countryside is overwhelming – refreshing tired eyes and like a soothing balm restores the soul.

The hedges that flank the countryside byways are overflowing with the white coronets of cow parsley, its ancient scent suffusing the air.  The birds sing their rapturous song, an invitation to explore Nature’s bounty. Each living thing knows exactly what to do: grow, and thrive.

The orange, daisy like flowers of self seeded Calendula pepper the garden, their orange heads bursting with vitality; the Sweet peas are ready and set to scramble towards heaven upon their canes, and the flowerbeds are alive with Ladybirds, baby spiders and thousands of biting ants.

Tightly coiled, Fiddlehead ferns appear on every lane preparing to unfurl into a new frond, their pre-historic forms ready to greet a new world. The first blooms of Hawthorn fill the air with their heady scent and bring with it the veritable sign that summer is finally here.

Each trip outdoors, with the help of the green haze of May, is an opportunity to transcend oneself and observe all that Gaia has to offer. A collection of unforgettable May moments, each filed in my memory bank – ready to be called upon in the future.

My hope is that these gathered seeds will remind me of my favourite month, and how blessed I am to witness, for forty times, the bounty of magical May.


(c) Maria.E.FitzGerald
Photo: Greendragonflygirl/Flickr

Recipe for Friendship


Baking just isn’t my thing.  Baking I try, really I do, but my successes are fewer than the hairs on a gooseberry. Although it is in my blood it certainly isn’t in my genes, I haven’t inherited that particular gene: the one my mother, two grandmothers, great-aunt and sister have. My mother is a dab hand at making almost anything. Her repertoire is impressive: scones, apple tart, rhubarb crumble, chocolate cake, brown bread, Irish soda bread (I could go on). Let me tell you what she creates does not resemble the countless bland varieties found in the food forecourts throughout the country. No, my mother is a pro – an unadulterated Irish mother who has no need for recipe books or the latest app – everything she needs is stored neatly like multi-coloured spreadsheet tabs in her brain ready to be summoned at a moment’s notice.

It is often said that genes can skip a generation. I believe this to be true for it has happened to me. During my embryonic stage, the baking gene took one look at my DNA structure, clearly found me to be an insufferable host, and thus went running and screaming up my DNA strand begging the Almighty to find a more suitable home. I did, however, inherit the gene for optimism: of the eternal kind! Each time I raid the baking cupboard I hope that I will hit the baking jackpot. But hitting the jackpot is a tricky business. Very. So, I try again, and in doing so I have developed the art of turning a blind eye to my baking failures.

I review my botched-up attempts and retrace my steps. Like any good detective I try and figure out where it all went askew. I blame the ingredients – the flour wasn’t fresh, maybe the eggs were too cold or the sour-milk wasn’t sour enough. Then some lucky, or rather unlucky person – usually my sister (who, by the way should seriously consider entering The Great Irish Bake-Off) will witness my rant and my musings but never really eat what I’ve just baked!   She’s a great sister and will patiently go through the recipe with me – she’s my Watson, and together we piece the jagged baking jigsaw puzzle. Deduce is what we do best.

Sis: Did you weigh the flour exactly as it states in the recipe?
Me: Yes, of course – 8oz exactly.
Sis: Did you use self-raising or plain flour?
Me: Self-raising 
Sis: Did you add a pinch of baking powder?
Me: No, sure why would I? It’s self-raising isn’t it?
Sis: Yes, but it’s always good to add a pinch, helps the bake rise more.
Me: Oh, no one ever told me that.
Sis: Ok, so did you add all the other ingredients correctly?
Me: Yeah, even added a few extra.
Sis: Extra, what do you mean by extra?
Me: I thought some ground almonds would add a bit of a crunch and some orange juice, but I only used a smidgen.

That’s when she usually raises an eyebrow and her mouth sort of goes lopsided with a smirk. 

Sis: Why did you think orange juice would work in this recipe?
Me: Dunno, just like the idea of almonds and orange essence together.
Sis: Orange essence, is that what you’re calling it?
Me: Well it is! Isn’t it?
Sis: No, not really. It’s orange juice, but I know what you mean!
Me: I put a few bits of grated orange peel in as well…just for effect.

At this point, she can hardly contain her amusement at my inventiveness and blatant disregard for following instructions.

Sis: OK, did you put in the oven at 180 degrees for 30 mins?
Me: Well, I used the fan oven so had to drop the temperature to 160 degrees, but I did leave them in for 30 minutes.
Sis: Bravo!
Me: Ha bloody ha!

Her line of questioning serves its purpose.  Perhaps IF I followed the recipe things would pan out a lot better. But sticking to recipes is not who I am – it is not in me. So onwards and upwards I must go – until I have my very own Eureka moment…but in the meantime I think Watson will have her hands full with unsolved cases!

Here’s one recipe I have no problem following…get baking your way!

Recipe for Friendship
Start with smiles and conversation
Next stir in appreciation
Slowly add, in equal parts fun and quiet heart-to-hearts
Mix in honesty and trust
A pinch of patience is a must
Don’t make a mess, but if you should, apologies are very good
Serve it warm and loving care
And lastly, don’t forget to share.
There’s nothing like one good friend and two good cookies.


Recipe for Friendship poem (c) Becky Kelly, Spoonful of Stars
Image courtesy of Doire Greenspan: At Home       

Macavity, The Mystery Cat Strikes!


Poems by their very nature are conduits to our souls. They have a way of getting straight to the point, there is no waste of time or effort and usually by the end of the first line – the hook goes in. Today, I was re-acquainted with such a poem. One I have not given any thought to since secondary school but on hearing its first verse I was transported back to the 1980s; a time when everyday was a bad hair day, ski-pants were de rigueur and I suffered Serious Crush Syndrome. It was a time when my classmates and I sniggered from the back of the class as a new poem was dished out. There was one week though when that sort of changed it was the week T.S. Eliot’s, Macavity: The Mystery Cat came to town.

We, the super cool brigade, thought we had finished with nursery rhymes, but then Macavity turned up and reminded us that we’re never too old for a rhyme! What Macavity did for my imagination a chemistry lesson did for a science student. The curious rhymes and energetic rhythms suffused the air with excitement and fun; when Macavity visited our classroom boredom vanished and teenage self-consciousness disappeared when asked to read aloud. The escapades of The Mystery Cat had weaved their spell and by the end of the day more than one of us recited it on the way home. This is poetry at its best: when a poet has done his job well: when a class of 30 teenage girls do not even realise they are studying – smooth!  That week, we shared in an adventure, our imaginations ran wild and we become one under T.S. Eliot’s spell; his craft with words still evoke fun and enjoyment all these years later. Today.

A good dollop of school-day nostalgia is priceless and like the poem good for the soul.  To revisit the days of old and to re-discover that there was once passion, fun and adventure – there still is and it’s only a poem away.

T.S. Eliot

Macavity’s a mystery cat
He’s called the Hidden Paw
For he’s a master criminal who can defy the law
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard
The Flying Squad’s despair
For when they reach the scene of crime Macavity’s not there
Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity

He’s broken every human law
He breaks the law of gravity
His powers of levitation
Would make a fakir stare
And when you reach the scene of crime, Macavity’s not there

You may seek him in the basement
You may look up in the air
But I tell you once and once again
Macavity’s not there

Macavity’s a ginger cat
He’s very tall and thin
You would know him if you saw him for his eyes are sunken in
His brow is deeply lined in thought
His head is highly domed
His coat is dusty from neglect
His whiskers are uncombed

He sways his head from side to side
With movements like a snake
And when you think he’s half asleep
He’s always wide awake

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity
He’s a fiend in feline shape
A monster of depravity
You may meet him in a by-street
You may see him in the square
But when a crime’s discovered then Macavity’s not there

He’s outwardly respectable
I know he cheats at cards
And his footprints are not found in any files
Of Scotland Yard’s

And when the larder’s looted
Or the jewel cases rifled
Or when the milk is missing
Or another Peke’s been stifled
Or the greenhouse glass is broken and the trellis past repair
There’s the wonder of the thing, Macavity’s not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity
There never was a cat of such deceitfulness and suavity
He always has an alibi and one or two to spare
Whatever time the deed took place, Macavity wasn’t there!

And they say that all the cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie)
(I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the cat who all the time
Just controls the operations, the Napoleon of crime!

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity
He’s a fiend in feline shape
A monster of depravity
You may meet him in a by-street
You may see him in the square
But when a crime’s discovered then Macavity,Macavity,Macavity
When a crime’s discovered then Macavity’s not there!

Macavity’s not there!
We have to find old Deuteronomy


I am standing at my kitchen sink, the stainless steel bowl laden with dirty crockery.  The Weetabix is caked onto the white bowls. There’s not much hot water so I don’t hold out much hope for removing the cemented butter from the knives. I have run out of wishing-up liquid, there’s only one place these kitchen accoutrements can go and that’s into the dishwasher. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with using the dishwasher in fact, I think I’d lose my mind if I ever lost it! I’m ever so thankful that I’m not a scullery maid of 1677 whose duties included: washing and scouring all the plates’ dishes that are used in the kitchen…also the kettles, pots, pans and chamber pots’ – If Walls Could Talk, Lucy Worsely (Faber & Faber), the poor misfortunate and here I am complaining about a bit of Weetabix.  But it’s not so much the caked cereal and two tea bags sitting in the plug hole that are driving me mad. It’s the realisation of something bigger – an epiphany or as I like to call it Kitchen Sink Realism. 
I’m BUSY. I’m so BUSY. I’m finding it difficult to catch my breath and the fun and enjoyment that life is full of is beginning to slip through my fingers. On the face of it a tiny harmless four lettered word, but one that has insidiously weaved its way into my vocabulary and my many conversations of late. It’s a harmless word BUT then it’s not so much the actual word that annoys me it’s more the being and staying busy that does.
Once upon a time, our culture was one of achievement. However, that’s long since gone and now today’s modus operandi is OVER achievement. We have gone from a giving it 100% society to anything less than 150% and you are of no use to that same society. The general consensus is that busy people get things done; they’re the movers and the shakers, the ones you need to marry, employ, be friends with and just generally associate with.  Each of us has our own unique proliferating set of demands, for me it’s balancing my work life with my home life whilst trying to squeeze in my writing: an elusive balance.  Add to that my obsession with being the best mother I can to my little girl, and who is growing up at such a ferocious rate that I feel a little like a pioneer heading into an unknown prairie. Then there’s my efforts to be a good wife and home-maker, a women gets tired you know! Others out there are striving to be the best wife, husband, father, daughter, sister, brother, auntie, uncle, employee, dog or cat owner. I’m exhausted. We are all exhausted.  This excessive need to be the busiest and the best is chipping away at our contentment just as a sculptor chisels away at a piece of marble; the difference is that the sculptor knows eventually the marble will run out and quits when he’s ahead. Apparently there is a reward for all this speeding through life at such a pace; but, as yet, the discovery and attainment of such remains a mystery. What what happens if you become the best? Sure the glory and actual achievement is great in the beginning, but feeding the insatiable beast of OVER achievement is a relentless game and soon you get tired and start to lose your footing; a time may come when you don’t even know what’s missing any more and you fall. Down.
Twenty years ago my mother was busy. She did not have a dishwasher.  Her type of busy didn’t define her or didn’t overwhelm her, she was unperturbed by her list of duties.  She didn’t seem to be caught up in the spider web of intensive mothering. Yet, she was always present my siblings and I never went without anything – love, attention, fun, nurture, food, clothing it was always there for the taking. My mother and my father for that matter seemed to take it all in their stride.   We got plenty of quality time, plenty of one-to-ones but we were also left to our own devices on more than one occasion and never more than we could individually handle. The result of which meant we all grew up robust and capable adults, I think! I cannot recall hearing my mother say to another mother how busy she was or that there were not enough hours in the day. Of course, I am sure there was days when she was tired and times when all she wanted to do was put her feet up and read; sometimes she did that sometimes she didn’t. She never went crazy trying to be perfect or the best– she just was, still is. Even though there were times when the sink overflowed with milk stained glasses and bowls were stacked four high stuck with dried-in, break a finger nail muesli there was always a clean bowl in the cupboard. Then when I was about fifteen we got a dishwasher. A few days after it arrived my mother declared that she did not understand what all the fuss was about. She had a great view from the kitchen sink of my sisters, my brother and I playing in the garden, while we had a great view of her standing there watching.
I’m certainly not so naïve to think that my fairy godmother will arrive and erase my to-do list.  Practically speaking things do need to get done, and I need to work, clean the house and the walk the dogs. However, from now on I think I will try a new type of busy, a more relaxed version, a looser let it all hang out list! This is going to take a little bit of practise and I’m sure there will be times when I will get it all wrong messing up along the way, but I will try. I will close some of those multi-coloured tabs in my mind and relax. The time has come for me to step back and to stare; to fill the sink up with bubbles, to miss some of the appointments, to ponder, to just be and to make sure I have a little bit of marble left.
W. H. Davies
WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.