Awards, Guest Blogging and Dog Sitting…

I’ve been given another little award, very kindly, by smirkpretty and this is the first time I have managed to actually post the image! A very big thank you to Shannon for this very unexpected award – really unexpected 🙂 Her writing is very powerful and her use of language and particularly her vocabulary are fantastic. Check it out.

Recipients of the award have to:

Now for my duties as recipient – here are seven things about myself…

  1. I feel an affinity to/with animals. I feel it ever so increasingly and it’s like they are looking into my soul if I catch a certain look they give me. Doesn’t even matter what type of animal although the usual suspects of dogs, cats and horses are up there.
  2. I am a very hesitant business owner, currently in start up phase and the business has been borne out of a major life transition, a connection with some very strong women and a lifelong feeling that I could express something of value to other people.
  3. I have a like/hate relationship with my country of origin. For a proponent of gratitude and the loving what is psychology of happiness, it is an ongoing challenge.
  4. A man at my swimming pool hit me as he swam past and instead of apologising when I pointed this out to him, he told me it was because I was swimming in the wrong place. What this says about me is that I am really, really not sure what the appropriate response to this is. Answers in a comment please…
  5. I was once told I had a very animated face which I didn’t believe until I watched back videos of me trying to make a business pitch. I have a very animated face. Especially in the swimming pool.
  6. I am constantly inspired by the women I meet who have overcome big challenges in their lives and only wish we could hear more of their voices in public platforms particularly here in Northern Ireland. Then again, I also believe in being the change you want to see…
  7. I am a wee bit excited today as I have a guest post on over at Deb Bryan’s blog in her For This I Am Thankful series. She will never know how much it meant to me to be able to do that and for that alone, I am thankful.

And now to the 15 other blogs I am recommending for inspiration…

Actually this is a bit of a stretch for me as I haven’t had so much time to read other blogs for a while and I would like to nominate some I haven’t before so I’m going to do them one at a time. Today’s nominee then is

Mackenzie Kincaid at brightstrangethings which I find altogether too inspiring visually and verbally. Enjoy.

As to the dog sitting. Think I may have found a better business idea as I am just back from ‘sitting’ a very pampered pooch which I came to love. What’s not to like?

Liz’s Cupcake Emporium

In the third of my interviews with inspiring women I am talking with Liz who has just opened her own Cupcake Cafe in Derry, where she sells her amazing cupcakes and also does garment alterations. Liz and I met recently at a Women Into Business seminar when we were paired together to find out a bit about each other and something that you wouldn’t know to look at us!

I discovered not only that Liz had a 32 year old daughter but that she had also lived in Mayo and also Paris and a few other little snippets of info I gleaned that day lead me to think she had an amazing story of her own journey into self employment. Here are a few more of those little snippets…

So Liz, if I asked where your journey began that brought you here to your very own cupcake cafe where would you begin?

Well I had a car accident 10 years ago when I was living in Mayo

Can I ask how come you were living in Mayo?

Yes I had an affliction of the heart! My partner who I had met while living in London and I had come back to where his family were originally from. Anyhow I had this car accident…actually I need to go back further than that.

I had been a single parent since 1980 when my daughter was born – I was only nineteen, eighteen when I was pregnant and to be honest I didn’t pass many exams. I was besotted with this guy at the time and that seemed to be what I was putting all my attention on.

It was a difficult time for me and my family who weren’t particularly supportive to me and my young child. Our family had it’s own difficulties – we probably were quite rich in that we lived in the ‘big house on the hill’ and had a car but I don’t think any of us ever felt rich. Looking back now I realise in many ways we were. What I do remember is that we were all immersed in and had a passion for wood – my dad was a timber merchant and had a saw mill which is still on his land even today and we were always talking about types of wood etc.

Anyhow later when my daughter went to school, I went back to school too. I knew I wanted to do something and I felt I wanted to do something that felt close to home – my mother was a cook and although my father was a timber merchant he was a really bad manager! and so I decided to do a degree in Hotel and Tourism management which I did do and got.

After that I went to visit a friend in London and I stayed there and got several good jobs working for example in the British Museum and also the Lido Restaurant. I have very mixed feelings about that time though as my daughter, a teenager by then, decided to come back home and lived with my mother. I do feel I missed out on her teenage years in many ways.

So you met this guy and then you both moved from London to Mayo…

Yes and at the time I had the car accident I was teaching in the Traveller Community and I hadn’t been happy in my relationship for a while. Someone said it was like I was ‘travelling too fast in the wrong direction’!!! Whatever, it did make me stop. I sustained a back injury which I know is never going to be completely right and it took 10 years to sort the legalities of it out but I finally got my compensation.

Up until then I began struggling with my finances and I got the feeling that I was missing out on what my sisters were able to do, like going out at night and just generally being around and involved with the family. Then a couple of years ago my mum got quite ill and I made the decision to move back home. It seemed like a good solution for both her and me and I knew this opportunity was entirely up to me.

Okay so you are back home with your mum and you have some money coming to you from the accident, how did you manage to actually put into place your business idea? I guess what I mean is a lot of us talk about doing things like that but you have actually done it – do you know where you got that strength?

Well I’ve always had an interest in alternative thinking and therapies. I even went to a gestalt therapy session when I was just sixteen – that is especially odd for someone in Northern Ireland!and! I’m still to this day interested in the work of for example Eckhart Tolle and I’ve learned about the integration of body and mind. It is believed that a problem with our back is a signal that our creativity is not able to get out or be expressed and I know that it is very important for me to focus on doing something I really enjoy doing. I really love decorating my cupcakes and designing my own cafe. And I also believe that for instance if you get into difficulty with debt and you can do just one thing – it will move you forward.

But I also know that it is really important to get support. When I first began the cafe, when it was just ready to open I can remember looking around and just crying and thinking I had done the wrong thing. It is very important also for me to be around positive people. I think honestly I had this illusion that when I was back among my own family it would be great and it would be a family business but it hasn’t actually worked out that way.

The most positive support I have got has actually come from my brother in law. I paid him to fit the shop and cafe out and we would get to talking most days he was working and I found him very supportive. He was one of the few people who said I should be really proud of what I had achieved and it was really important to hear that from someone. I do find decision making difficult though.

Well, just looking around the cafe it is hard to imagine that you find it difficult to make decisions!

Well, I know but I still think I do. Success is important to me and chasing positivity is a big aim – with positivity anything is possible. If I can raise my energy levels…I could have that sports car soon!

On a wet and dreary day Liz’s cupcakes with their amazing colours brightened up a little corner, bringing a touch of french style and flair to an otherwise grey street in the city of Derry. Her little cafe even has a view of Lough Foyle and the Peace Bridge in the distance but it was inside that captivated me the most. She has transformed the building she occupies into a brightly coloured business where she can practice that creativity and positivity.

I especially like that she drew back on the strengths that she had and really works with what she has, not carping about what she does or didn’t have. That is positivity and I admire her strength.

And what did she find out about me that you wouldn’t know to look at me? That I like pop music!!! Go figure!

The Points On My Compass

View from inside the mountain centre

I am just back from a weekend of Hills and Mountain Skills training in our local Mourne Mountains.  Two days of walking, ascending, descending, navigating and generally getting our bearings. It was a wind blown awe inspiring trip and I thoroughly enjoyed myself and even seem to have walked out the painful achilles tendonitis that I had developed in both of my heels recently. Probably something to do with stretching out the bigger muscles in my legs – seven hours of walking and ascending to 630 odd metres drew those muscles out and the cobweb lurking around my brain was last seen heading due west at about fifty miles per hour on the first day. Any remaining bits still clinging to my head were despatched more vigorously on day two although at a much lower height as we were putting into practice the navigational skills we had learned the day before.

Evening on the patio of the mountain centre

I will never look at a map in the same way again. That famous NLP term that ‘the map is not the territory’ holds just as true on any real map as those of the maps we make in our minds. I seemed to be constantly getting the scale a bit wrong, thinking that we were always ‘here?’ on the map only to discover that we were much closer to our original point of departure than I thought. I needed to focus on the detail, chunk down a bit in my thinking and move in from the bigger picture.

Translating this….

…into this

A bit like me moving into business start up really. I have the big picture sure, my mission and my overall aim but when I come to explain or voice to people what it is I am going to be doing I come a little unstuck ( just check out my last post to see what I mean) and some of the detail is missing. It’s just so nice to stay in that place with the long view, the big picture – it’s mesmorising…

The view is often worth the climb…

But in order to get up there and to navigate correctly to get where you want to go, you /I need to do some of the small chunk stuff. The instruction on the Hills and Mountain Skills course was so applicable. How it is good to have a strategy, an idea of what to expect to see on the way and probably most importantly what you expect to see when you get there. Also have a point to know if you have gone past your target and how it is often good to stick to your original strategy even if sometimes we automatically assume we have got there because something looks a little like what we imagine it should. Always good to check with some other point of reference.

So, with the help of a fantastic coach I’m getting down to the detail. I’m marking out my own contour lines, drawing the picture if you like of what I expect to see when I am ‘in business’. I’m thinking big, bold and beautiful and I know I’m heading in the right direction because it feels right. Our instructor that weekend said the best navigational skills are using our eyes and ears and for our own journeys in life the best navigational tools are our hearts and all of our senses. And, in the immortal words of that awful song, it’s the climb, that is, it’s the journey that counts and I am thoroughly enjoying mine, taking in as much of the detail as I can. I hope you are enjoying yours.

A Life Reconnected?

Here’s one for you – did you hear the one about the woman who lost her life, then found it, then stood outside in front of hundreds of people and danced at an interactive camera so that her reflection was beamed onto the side of the world’s largest Titanic visitor attraction? No? Oh well, I’m her. Let me explain…

This photo shows the light display that was being beamed onto the sides of the now iconic multi million pound building that stands in the Titanic’s birthplace. Using cutting edge architectural projection, 3D motion graphics and bespoke sound design the building was transformed into a vision of the actual ship and it’s journey from it’s launch and on…

The building has been built to replicate in actual size the front of the ship that can be seen from four different directions and the link provides a fascinating evolution of the design features. Absolutely amazing…

When the first part of the light and sound show ended a gate was opened behind where I was standing by one of the event organisers and he shouted ‘This way for the next part – only the first 75 people’. My sister and I looked at each other as we shuffled through the gap and made our way to the top of a queue to what exactly we had no clue. I am not joking when I point out here there was some flicker of an image of how the people lined up on the deck of the ship that fateful night must have felt. Here too it was a cold crisp night and the stars were sparkling above us.

When an orderly line had formed the guy started to tell us what we were about to do. We were to stand in front of a camera point and dance and our image would be shone up on the side of the building in the form of bubble people thus…

Oh. My. God. “What?”

“Yes, dance. You’ll get five minutes for groups of five people – are you together?”

I turn around and see that the young couple behind us are just as freaked out. Nervous hysteria begins with a slow giggle. This was either going to be epic or the birth of a second titanic disaster, for all of us. I felt I was having what Martha Beck describes in her book Finding Your Way In A Wild New World as my Rhinocerous moment. Yes the same questions were there – How the hell did I get here? and What the hell am I going to do?

Well I danced. I danced in front of a crowd of onlookers, in Belfast, so that my image was beamed up for all to see. This woman who has felt so disconnected from her community and has kept herself hidden locally for over a year now shook her boogy…


Can you see it? Nuts. It seems a little irreverent today being the anniversary of the sinking and the loss of so many lives but for a short time I showed myself that it was ok to be seen, that Northern Ireland could be a modern place and that in one hundred years from now God alone knows how the people of Belfast will entertain themselves of an evening. And the best bit for me? I made that young couple coming after me laugh! Either my life is now reconnected or I’m certifiable. You decide.

Three Clocks Ticking

I’ve been resisting saying this but now I’m giving in! I’m officially on a Creative Time Out. I need to focus on my business and am feeling guilty for not being able to post here or keep up with my favourite bloggers so I’m signing off until April – what? April is only eight or so days away so maybe I should say I have been signed off until April! Okay then maybe the end of April I’ll be back. Confusion reigns but then again that is good just look at my table…

I did say creative pause.

And the Three Clocks you see – one tells me the time in New York where my son is, one tells the time in Glasgow where my daughter is and the other one was bought to tell the time where my other daughter is (here with me) which is obviously the same as Glasgow but as I still have such a disconnect with Northern Ireland when I finally get around to putting labels underneath them it will say London where I pretend I live!

Actually, now, I’m thinking when I have finished my creative process I will be so ‘connected’ I will open that clock up, hang it on the wall with large black letters reading BELFAST. There, given myself a well formed outcome. See ya all soon!

A Vulnerable Truth of Titanic Proportions

Usual Sunday morning. Lazy retreat from the kitchen with my mug of tea and a clamber back into bed trying to ignore the achilles tendonitis I seem to have developed in my heels. The sun is high in the sky and I just know I’m going to do some reflecting, writing and find some solace today.

On with the radio and I can just manage to tune to my local station before the resistance becomes too much to bear. They’re discussing the forthcoming events that Northern Ireland (namely the tourist board and the governing Executive along with Belfast City Council) has planned to commemorate, not celebrate, the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic on it’s maiden voyage to America. There is also to be some celebration around the engineering feat that was Titanic. The ship was built in Belfast in what was then for Belfast a powerhouse of shipbuilding and engineering, the huge gantry cranes built over where the Titanic was born are still standing today loud and proud above the city skyline. Northern Ireland is still struggling to be forward thinking and moving out of the shadows of it’s troubled past and any story that can highlight an achievement is grabbed with both hands and feet.

The discussion on the radio was actually about how the issue of sectarianism is being addressed in all these commemorations if it is being addressed at all. It is well documented that sectarianism was rife within the industry at Harland and Wolff. Catholics were under represented within the workforce and numerous stories are told of how bigotry was used by the management as a way to keep labour ordered and indeed the shipyard went on to become a bit of an achilles heel itself in the ensuing troubled history of Northern Ireland. One of the quotes from the radio programme was how ridiculous it is to try to “give the ship a religion” and that to talk about sectarianism was “not what children wanted to hear – they’re not interested in that, they just want to know about the ship”. Oh dear, that one was from someone responsible for a cross community schools project on the Titanic.

There has also been a lot of derision around the fact that only Northern Ireland could be associated so grandly with a ship that did after all sink. Another quote from the programme this morning was “The ship was not a failure. It was the greatest example of engineering skill at that time. It was the White Star Line that sunk the Titanic, not the people who built it”

It is discussions like these that are usually such a turn off for me but today I tried to stay with it as I have been trying to examine for myself why I feel such a disconnect from where I live. This discussion about Northern Ireland’s part in the Titanic story began a descent into the usual discourse that I find so meaningless to me and yet…the mourneful story of the Titanic and it’s history is kind of a modern story of epic proportions too. There is a lot of discussion about how the American media back then began some of the enduring myths that surround it’s story. The making of a recent Hollywood blockbuster movie brought it a worldwide audience but only told a part of the story as any film only can.

Someone listening to the show texted in to probably misquote Freud ‘If something is not talked about, it will be acted upon’ The radio discussion continued on with the author Susan McKay suggesting that if we don’t tell the truth about our past, including the sectarianism, that if we try to ignore it then we are doing a disservice not only to the people who lived through those times but to ourselves as well. It is only by acknowledging our past, bringing it out into the open that we can move on. And there was my connection, my reason to stay with this discussion.

I have written an earlier post about Brené Brown talking about vulnerability and shame and how it is only through allowing ourselves to be seen, really deeply and vulnerably seen, that we can feel a true connection. To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart which was the original definition of the word courage. It was called to my mind again as I listened to the radio and contemplated my own feeling of disconnection with Northern Ireland.

BrenĂ© also suggests we need to practice gratitude and joy and believe that we are enough. Only then do we stop screaming and start listening and become kinder and gentler to those around us and to ourselves. So, as I go about my day today I’m going to reflect on why I hesitate to be seen so much when I understand that it is the only way to reach that which I am seeking, a sense of connection.

The size of the Titanic has always seemed a bit scary to me. So does the vulnerability I feel when contemplating making new connections in my life. But I also believe it doesn’t have to sink me. I’ve bumped into it and now I just need the courage to steer a new course around it. Happy Sunday folks!

The Line Of The Sea

Place. I’ve put it as part of the strapline to my blog and I find myself constantly thinking about it. Place as in where we fit in the world and where we actually, physically live. Is it home and what is it that makes it home? A place where the people we have relationships with live? Our community? A place that makes us feel at home, sheltered? Somewhere to set out from and return to of a day? Our space on the checkerboard of life perhaps?

So many questions. Every year around this time I feel a certain restlessness. It is an old and familiar feeling and it covers me again like a pair of warm, worn gloves. The photograph above shows Ballyholme Bay where I spent a lot of my childhood and adolescence as my family lived in Ballyholme, a couple of streets back from the sea. My mum still lives there in the same house she has lived for 62 years this August – now the oldest original resident as my mum and dad moved there when the houses on that park were first built.

I wonder did she ever feel a sense of restlessness, a want to live somewhere else. There is an old family myth that they once, almost, moved house to a much larger house that looked directly out over the sea but because I was so upset at the thought of moving and cried so much, they changed their minds! My response to this is always that they must have been very poor parents to give in to such a demanding child but the truth is I do have a bit of a memory of that time and the consequent fear I felt at the thought of such a big change.

Later, in my teens I couldn’t wait to leave my home town. I felt the draw of another place then too albeit only in as far as Belfast a mere 20 odd miles away. Since first leaving home at 18 I have moved house and lived in eight different ‘places’ the furthest of them from Ballyholme still only 20 odd miles. Unless of course you count our holiday home (a static caravan) which I did live in over the summer months for several years which was a grand total of 110 miles away. Not exactly a big stretch.

Most of that time has been spent living in Belfast where I live today and it feels like exactly that – where I live. Not my home nor my community, not where I feel most at ease or sheltered – well, sheltered now maybe as I have spent the best part of a year remodelling this house to make it comfortable for me. My friends don’t live in Belfast, at least not any that I see on a regular basis, I don’t see work colleagues here daily either. Okay the family tie is quite strong as I have one daughter not yet quite fledged and it is in close enough proximity to my mum whom I do remain close to.

In his book ‘Leaving the Nest, What Families Are All About’ the psychologist Tony Humphreys describes the importance of leaving our original family to set up a separate family unit for ourselves as adults. This leavetaking of the family is not necessarily a physical exodus, even though this is advisable for young adult family members. As an adult it is difficult to establish one’s own life space and pattern, he says, while for example living under the same roof of other adults.

However, he goes on to say, emotional separateness from families of origin is a far more important issue. The major tasks for parents according to Humphreys are to promote independence in themselves and in their children, to let go of children once they reach late adolescence, to take responsibility for their own lives and promote responsibility for themselves in their offspring and lastly to create adult-adult relationships with their adolescent and adult offspring. Parents apparently often resist the suggestion that they need to stop parenting children who are in late adolescence or young adulthood but it comes more easily to parents who have developed their own independence.

Then, he goes on, there are those people who physically leave the family – may even move to another country – but there still has not been an emotional leavetaking. Some people leave home through rebellion against families that are over protective or highly defensive. People who ‘people please’ subconsciously seek to cast others as substitute parents and, likewise adults who put on a tough veneer and pretend they need no one are showing deep dependence.

As human beings Humphreys says, we have many needs which can only be met in relationships with others. However, having needs is not dependence. When you acknowledge your needs, take responsibility for them and express them in a way that allows the other person the freedom to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, you are being truly independent. When you demand that people meet your needs or when you act as if you do not need anybody, you are showing dependence.

I found this book really helpful when my own children were in their adolescence and I was working in a parent support role. Actually, that was why I said I started reading it but the truth was really that I had a feeling I had some work to do around leaving my own nest and family of origin. This familiar feeling of restlessness and a need to ‘get away’ to somewhere else had been with me for a long time then too and some of what he was describing about emeshed families and the realisation of self within the family resonated somewhere deep within me as a then 40 something adult.

Humphreys says that in the case of an adult, the means of establishing self-reliance, independence of family of origin and mature relationships with parents are the same as those he identifies for the creation of an effective family (unconditional love communicated by means of affirmation, affection, encouragement, concern, support, belief in the other’s capability, listening and warmth). The one difference is that rather than relying on parents and other family members for a sense of self and independence, as an adult you learn to rely and depend on yourself.

Basically, you need to parent yourself in a way that leads to the realisation of self and involves a belief in your own immense capability and a deep unconditional loving and acceptance of yourself and of others. He then cites characteristics to aim for such as having high self realisation, unconditionally loving and valuing yourself, parents and other family members, seeing parents as people in their own right, not conforming to parents’ and society’s expectation of what you ‘ought’ to be, being open to change, competing with self not with others and being self-directing, independent and self responsible etc., etc.

As I walk along the beach I think about the journey I have taken since flying my own nest. When I first read Humphrey’s book I recognised a lot of the ‘Passively controlling characteristics of adults who do not love and leave the family’ that he lists (it is a very long list!) Today I see more that reflect myself in the list of characteristics of ‘Adults who do love and leave the family’. The restlessness is still there but to a much lesser degree. Interestingly now that my father is gone and my mother is becoming more dependent due to her age and diminishing physical capability, I feel our relationship one of less dependence. It feels more a healthier adult-aging adult one and is a much better basis from which to work out how best to support her in the years to come.

I love this line of the sea. It formed the backdrop to my childhood and now it helps the brewing thought process make place for my future.

You Can Read All About it, Read All About It, Ooh.

Yes, thank you Emeli Sande, my second interview with inspiring women moving through change in their lives is now published. Just click on ‘Interviews‘ at the top of the blog to find it. It is called ‘Sisters Making More Than Nice‘ and I am talking to Lesley and her sister Juliette about the big changes in their lives that led them to now be living ‘en famille’ in Dorset on the edge of the New Forest.  If you missed the first one it is there when you click Interviews too and is called ‘Growing Connections‘ where I talk to Joan and her partner Tina about them moving from Norwich to start a social farm in Northern Ireland.

I went for a swim today fully equipped with my new goggles and nose clip. I’ve never really been able to swim with my head/face in the water and thought I would try to teach myself so that I could flatten my back out more while swimming. Well, think I was breathing through my ears at one point! There is obviously a technique I haven’t quite mastered yet. Still I’ve made a start.

In NLP terms this would be me reaching the level of conscious incompetence in the learning cycle which begins when we try something new – i.e. I now know I don’t know how to do something. Practice will hopefully at least take me to the conscious competence stage when I will know I know how to do it.  You never know, I might even make unconscious competence one day (you know, when we do it without knowing how we do it). Heaven knows just the thought of another MRI scan is enough to send me swimming face down in a tangle of goggle strap and pinched nostrils.

Enjoy the interviews!!