Staying Present in the Story

I've always loved reading stories to both of my children and introduced them both to books at a very young age. Being a designer I have always been attracted to books that are beautifully designed and illustrated and got great enjoyment browsing through the children's books in every book shop. The many benefits of reading to you child are endless and we all know them but how often do we read the story from start to finish while being totally present? There were often those evenings when they were very young when I was so tired that I might have tried to skip a page without them knowing it. Or those evenings when I had a list of things to do that you just needed to get to the end quickly so that they would fall asleep. I don't think I'm alone when I say it's happened to us all at some stage! What I've discovered since practicing mindfulness is when you are completely present in the story as you read it you will not alone be spending quality time with your child - you will also be experiencing looking at things in childlike wonder and you might really enjoy the story as it unfolds - even if you've read it 20 times before!

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My memories of childhood stories are ones that had a clear beginning - starting with "Once Upon a Time..." - and a distinct end "...and they all lived happily ever after" and middle part knitting the two together. But since I started reading to my daughter over 10 years ago, what I have discovered is that children's books have come such a long way since I was a child - not just in how the story itself is told but also in the illustration and how this is now such a major part of every child's book.

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Both my children have always loved storytime every night and like my daughter, my son loves books with humour and to hear him laugh out loud on certain pages of his favourite books is something I treasure. Often even when my husband - or my daughter (as she likes to read to him too) is reading to him instead of me I often potter around folding clothes or tidying up and instead of thinking about all the things I need to do I just listen as the story is being told. It's such a lovely way to bring yourself back to the present moment as you listen into the conversation or really listen to the sound of laughter coming from the room.

The wonder in every word and every illustration...

My son is also very captivated by illustration and I have found that he really studies the pictures and will ask so many questions about each one which such a great way of being present with your child and a time when they can also open up about how they are feeling about something going on in their little heads.

My sons favourite are the range of books by Oliver Jeffers - an artist, illustrator and writer who is originally from Belfast but now lives in New York. Along with the amazing illustrations, my son loves the humour and the wit in every story and there is also a real sense of "anything can happen". Each story is told beautifully with "How to Catch a Star" a story about possibilities and also disappointments which also highlights the patience of the boy who tries to catch the star and the happiness he felt when he found what he thought was the star.

"Lost and Found" is also another beautifully told story that looks at feelings such as sadness and loneliness and the kindness in the boy who really wanted to help the penguin be happy. Determination and inventiveness are highlighted in the very funny story "Stuck" and another book imaginary Fred that helped strike up a conversation about loneliness and what it feels like to feel lonely (yes, my son is only 6 but he likes to ask alot of questions!). The illustrations and artwork in each book has also influenced my son in his artwork and given him great confidence in his own drawing ability as he has taken inspiration from each book.

To me, these books have also helped me to re-discover my childlike wonder as when you read them you have no idea where the story is going to take you - or how it will end and no matter how many times you read each one they have a way of holding your attention - no matter how tired you may feel at the end of your day.

Luke's collection of Oliver Jeffer's Books

Luke's collection of Oliver Jeffer's Books

Overall, what I love about these books in particular is that they help teach a 6 year old that that life isn't always plain sailing with a fairytale ending but it's also about the crazy unpredictable stuff that can happen along the way and how we feel when these things happen is always okay.

A Bank Holiday Well Spent

Every year for the last few years I have been saying the same thing "We should go to Bloom" but somehow for one reason or another we never went. Mainly because for a number of those years we had a mobile home in Liscannor so every June Bank holiday weekend when the Bloom Festival was on we were down there. This year as we are in the process of redesigning our garden we said "OK...no more excuses!". Then just when we thought "yay! I'm finally going to Bloom!" my poor little son got sick with a chest infection. I just thought okay, I'm going to be mindful about this as this is out of my control and there's nothing we can do about it - we'll aim for next year!

Bloom Festival...a real family fun day out

The funny thing was the one who was most disappointed about us not going was my son! After lots of couch cuddles on saturday and sunday he had a good nights sleep on the sunday night and was much brighter on the monday so after much deliberating - and major convincing from him we decided to head off. It was a late start for us (due to the deliberating and temperature checking) but again in the past I probably would have thought - it's too late it will be lunchtime before we get there. I thought - we'll be there by lunchtime so we'll have the full afternoon! As predicted, we got there by 1pm. After driving from Limerick we parked our car at the Red Cow Inn and got the Luas into Hueston Station where there were free shuttle buses going to and from the Phoenix Park where Bloom was on so it was stress free as we avoided the traffic and having to find parking.

Appreciating the tastes and smells...

Luke sampling some Innocent Smoothies

Luke sampling some Innocent Smoothies

Checking out the Cully and Sully Food Lab in the rain!

Checking out the Cully and Sully Food Lab in the rain!

On arrival I was very impressed with Bloom’s new ‘kids passport’ initiative, which gave my 6 year old son a wristband with a contact mobile phone number printed on it so that if he was to get separated from us in the crowd that we could be easily re-united. He's not one for wondering off but he was still happy out with his wristband! My daughter now having her own mobile phone was less impressed. As we arrived at lunchtime, we went straight for food and to say we couldn't have been in a better place was an understatement! We were surrounded by Ireland’s top food and beverage producers with the best of fresh food, artisan and organic produce, meat, poultry and fish and ‘Best in Season’ fruit and vegetables. We spotted two familiar places - Adare Farm and Country Choice (which we frequently visit in Limerick's Milk Market on a Saturday) - but these both had the longest ques - and with the beautiful aromatic smells wafting from both of them and knowing how their food tastes I'm not one bit surprised. The most popular items from the Country Choice stand appeared to be their iconic flash fried sirloin of Hereford with sweet carmalized onions, Country Choice honey and mustard salsa, mature Cashel blue, roast peppers and local Organic leaves all on a warm Ciabiatta. While Adare Farm had their roast suckling pork that would melt in your mouth with every bite.

There was also the Bloom Bistro that offered a more formal sit-down meal, or an informal café and seafood-bar which unfortunately we only discovered later that day. We were handed maps on our way in but I did think that the food options on this weren't explained very well and could have been clearer visually - and that's not the designer in me speaking as my husband agreed!

A Visual Treat in Garden Design

After we had sampled the food and we felt content with our full bellies we headed off to explore the gardens. The visual display of flowers, plants and trees here didn't disappoint and to see what some of the garden designers had created with their spaces was beautiful. We also managed to pause as much as possible to smell all the gorgeous roses and saw lots of bees To top it off there was even a Dispicable Me Garden with 2 Minions that made my son's day! After we had visited the gardens the rain unfortunately started to fall so we didn't get to spend as much time in the kids area as we would have liked but did get to check out strawberries and bluberries growing in the Keelings stand and my daughter also got to watch a visual tour of the Keelings farm which she enjoyed but to my son's dismay was over 12's. After my son got to sample some Innocent Smoothies we made our way back to the food stalls to purchase some produce and at this point there were lots of bargains on offer as the weekend was coming to an end so we stocked up on pestos, cold meats and even hand-made chololate and gourmet marsh mallows by Mallow Mia!

All in all this family day out was definitely worth a trip and something that we finally got to experience. After all the years of saying "We must definitely go to Bloom" I can now finally say "I'm glad we experienced Bloom"!

Stopping To Smell the Roses

Most of us are very familiar with the saying "Stop and Smell the Roses" but do we really take enough time to actually do it? Before I was introduced to mindful practice it is something I would have heard alot but did I ever really think about it - or actually do it?? While the meaning of this well known phrase is to slow down and take a moment out of your busy life to pause and notice the beauty around you, I have also found that actually physically stopping to smell flowers can be such a mindful experience in itself. There really is something so uplifting to walk into a florist and stand and notice the beautiful shapes, colours, textures and above all the wonderful scents that surrounded us. Or how lovely is it to treat yourself to a bunch of flowers? It doesn't have to be an elaborate bunch but giving yourself a simple bunch of daffodils is a way of practicing self love and going out picking wild flowers with your children is such a great way of practicing mindfulness and can be so therapeutic. I have also always loved trips to Dublin and been in awe of the flower stands on Grafton Street...each one as beautiful as the next but while I noticed and admired them I was always rushing to the next shop so I never really paused long enough to really notice them.

Joeanna Caffreys beautiful store at Avoca, Rathcoole

Joeanna Caffreys beautiful store at Avoca, Rathcoole

Less 'formal' flowers such as tulips have always been favourites of mine, and I adore flowering plants such as baby's breath (Gypsophila) and sweet pea as they have such a beautiful innocence about them. Another flowering plant that has become more common in florists are hydrangeas. I adore their shape and colour and always remember when my aunt who lives in the US introduced me to the world of Martha Stewart 20 years ago I fell in love with how she used hydrangeas in beautiful wreaths and place settings. So much so that my aunt made 2 beautiful wreaths from cream hydrangeas as a wedding gift to put in the church the day I got married and I also had boxed hydrangeas as the centerpiece on every table.

It's funny how a flower can remind you of someone or remember an occasion and giving someone a bunch is something that can mean so much - even if it's a simple bunch of daffodils. When I visited Avoca Rathcoole recently I was so excited to discover one of the prettiest florist ever! I was a little hut-like garden shed with the name Joeanna Caffrey written over the awning. Joeanna's creativity is evident from the second you set your eyes on the first bunch of flowers you see.

There was a beautiful range of flowers and as it was close to easter some stunning easter wreaths tastefully decorated with speckled duck eggs. There were also some shrubs in lovely baskets and of course there were my favourite - hydrangeas laced in beautiful tin containers! Each one blooming next to each other as if they were all cheering each other on! It really was such a lovely place to visit - while it's space was small there was a bench outside that encouraged me to sit down for moment to admire it all before I decided on which hydrangea was coming home with me!

Joanna also has stores in Avoca Dunboyne and Kilmacanogue and if they are anyway near as beautiful as the one in Rathcoole then I would highly recommend a visit - even if you just stop to smell the roses.

Putting My MoMe Cards to the Test on TV3

When I was contacted by one of the lovely researchers at TV3 to appear on their Boost My Business section of Ireland AM, I was excited about the opportunity but also very scared at the thoughts of appearing on live TV! Television was something I had never done - I was comfortable sitting in front of a computer screen but it was a first for me appearing on national television and the fact that it was going to be live - yes LIVE!!! - would normally have only added to my anxiety if I had allowed it to! 

After running my own design agency for almost 2 decades, I had done many presentations to clients but since I developed tinnitus I struggled a bit with these until I started meditating. So while I was getting back on track meeting clients and presenting my designs, being on television was another kettle-of-fish! I firmly believe that being mindful about the upcoming appearance really helped how I felt about it. I also had my daughters confirmation on the friday previous so that was a welcomed distraction as I said to myself "I won't think about it until after the confirmation" and that's exactly what happened - it didn't enter my head from that initial call from TV3 until the Sunday before my appearance. 

On the journey up to Dublin that morning at 6am, apart from doing my make-up followed by a 10 minute meditation and chatting to my ever supportive husband, I decided to use my MoMe Cards to flick through. I shuffled them around a bit and it's funny as the one card that kept coming up was "Inhale, Exhale, that's how you'll get through it". I joked about it with my husband a bit but I can honestly say it helped me breathe and forget about the cameras and the fact that it was going to be live and just relax about the whole experience.

I shuffled them around a bit and it’s funny as the one card that kept coming up was “Inhale, Exhale, that’s how you’ll get through it”.

When we arrived at TV3 everyone there were so welcoming. I initially felt at ease - still a bit nervous - but definitely not anxious like I would have been in the past. I realise 100% that as we get older, age definitely helps us deal with situations like this, but without a doubt I know that mindfulness and meditation helped me breathe and relax in a situation that in the past I would have worked myself up into a tizzy over!

Behind the scenes getting ready for my first live tv appearance and remembering to Breathe!!


It's a wrap! Such a lovely experience with all the Ireland AM team!

It's a wrap! Such a lovely experience with all the Ireland AM team!

Meeting Alan Hughes and below with the lovely Sinéad Desmond who was an absolute pleasure to meet!

Meeting Alan Hughes and below with the lovely Sinéad Desmond who was an absolute pleasure to meet!

We didn't have long to get set up as obviously everything on Live TV happens so quickly - but again - that was probably a good thing! I got the chance to have a quick chat with the really lovely Sinéad Desmond, but after Mark Cagney introduced himself to us it was time to go live! Even though there was no time for a run-through and have a chat about what questions we would be asked, Mark made everyone feel at ease. He was a complete gentleman and even noticed how I was using my cards to help me breathe! So, along with listening to my breath and not my tinnitus ringing loudly, and focusing on what Mark was asking me and not the cameras - I ended up really enjoying the experience in that moment so it was all over before I knew it! 

After we wrapped up everyone was so lovely. I got to have another chat with Sinéad Desmond - who was so friendly and approachable - and so genuine! It really was such a lovely experience and one that I am very grateful to the team at Ireland AM and TV3 for. I received such fantastic feedback from family and friends after the appearance and it also proved to be a great way of boosting a little business that ironically never ever set out as one! Thank you TV3!

There is Goodness In The World

What has struck me most about learning about mindfulness is that there is still kindness out there. There are still genuine kind people in the world. To be honest I had gone through some life experiences - both professional and personal that really made me question this and after running my own design agency for 15 years I frequently felt disillusioned with the fact that you had to be a little bit guarded with people in order to protect your business and I struggled with that. I am very open and trusting by nature and always struggled with that aspect of running my own business. In fact it was the side to running my own business that I didn't like. I didn't like the term 'Boss Lady' as it conjured up so many images for me like Meryl Streep's character in The Devil Wears Prada! I never wanted my staff to be afraid of me so I treated them like friends. I cared for them in a way that unfortunately most of them took for granted and some of them took complete advantage of.

I began to think that I was too trusting and it bothered me when I looked at my children and wondered how I was going to advise them about life, friendship and work without making them negative or cynical. both myself and my husband wanted them to have the trust and openness that we both grew up with but yet we wanted to protect them as much as we could. That is one of the reasons why I am so grateful I discovered mindfulness which has lead me on this journey.

When I walked into the room the first night of my MBSR Programme I got such a lovely feeling. There was a warm welcoming feeling from the people there. We were people of all different ages, there for different - but similar reason and all hoping for the same result - to better our lives through mindfulness. Some of us knew a small bit about it - some maybe knew more - either way we all wanted to learn. That was the start of me knowing that learning about mindfulness was going to have a positive impact on my life.

From that first night of my course until today I have been so overwhelmed with the amount of lovely and kind people I have met. Whether these people have been people I have met in person or just people who I have communicated with through email or my MoMe social media accounts the same thing has struck me - these people are all so kind.

Discovering Project Goodness

Apart from the direct contact with the people on my course one of the first people who reached out to me on this MoMe journey was a girl called Margo who runs an amazing website called Project Goodness which is basically a community dedicated to noticing and adding to the goodness all around us. When Margo contacted me first I did have that moment when I regressed into my old way of thinking and thought "why did she contact me?" and "Is she genuine?" I had been so trusting in the past only to learn the hard way that it was hard not to let my defences down completely - I was after all still new to the mindful world so it was only natural my defence went up a small bit but once I brought myself back to what I had learned on my course and what I had learned through meditation that I began to listen to my gut instinct and I felt a connection with Margo. I knew that she was genuine and I was so right. Margo is a beautiful, kind girl who has is dedicating so much of her time to her website and basically spreading kindness. She sent me a welcome pack that had stickers in it saying "I'm With Goodness". A simple clever little sticker that I believe has so much impact. I immediately put one on my mug at work, another one on my computer and my daughter and took the rest from me to put on her pencil case, school books and in her bedroom. She came home from school the first day after she stuck one on her pencil case and told me that a few of her friends had asked her about it and she explained that it was about being kind and I thought to myself "Wow...how cool is that!" I thought that if these young girls were looking at my MoMe Cards and also seeing stickers like these that they might just help them be a little kinder to each other. A little more prepared for the very cynical, filter-driven world that social media was going to throw at them. A world that I thankfully didn't grow up in. Kindness needs to be nurtured, needs to be cared for and it's people like Margo who need credit for this.

It is this kindness that I have found infectious since I started my Mindful Journey. This kindness that has helped my develop something that started out as a little project into something that is  now a little business... this kindness has given me the energy I needed to reignite my creativity. So while I started my MBSR Programme to help me deal with my tinnitus it had ended up benefiting me so many other ways than I could ever have imagined and it's continuing to do so every day. I am very grateful for that.

Me Meditate?! I'd Never Be Able To Concentrate!

When I started my MBSR Programme with Donna Curtin in January 2016 I never thought I would be able to sit longer than 5 minutes without doing something. I was always doing something! And even when I was sitting still my mind was always someplace else. If I wasn't thinking about a concept for a new logo or an ad campaign I was thinking about what needed to be done at home, or where the kids needed to be next or what I'd pick up for my friend for her birthday...there was always something on my mind besides just sitting still and allowing myself to breathe.

So I honestly thought that meditation was something I would never be able to do. I thought meditation involved sitting for hours in a dark room or something you only did on a retreat. I, like most people had so many preconceived ideas about it that I just thought it was something that wasn't for me. I never just sat there...that was completely alien to me so I remember the first time that Donna asked us to try it on our own at home I struggled. I can remember hearing the ringing in my ear from my Tinnitus louder than normal and getting very irritated with the whole experience. I couldn't wait for the bell to ring to tell me it was over to say "Yea, I did it and it did , I tried it, box ticked".

Acceptance is Key

While Donna constantly reminded us that this wasn't a test, it wasn't something we HAD to do, like homework. It was something she asked us to try in a non-judgmental way, I still struggled with feeling I had to do it as I wanted to prove to myself I could do which is the very reason why I wasn't enjoying it. I was forcing myself to like it instead of just letting go and seeing what happened. I can remember Donna asking us how we got on the following week and when I told her my experience she asked "what if you welcomed the tinnitus? What if you allowed the ringing in your ear to just be there" and I remember thinking "seriously? The very noise that drives me crazy?!!?...Welcome it?" I honestly couldn't imagine doing such a thing. But after a few weeks of taking what Donna had said on board I slowly started to realise that what she said made complete sense. What if I just accepted the tinnitus? Allowed it to just be there, become part of me like my rods were part of my back? That's when it all started to change.

What if I just accepted the tinnitus? Allowed it to just be there, become part of me like my rods were part of my back? That’s when it all started to change.

From that moment on meditation became easier, it became something that I even was starting to enjoy. It felt good to just sit or lie there and listen to Donna's voice guiding me through my breath. Actually feeling myself breathe and realising that it was perfectly okay to just sit and be without my mind running away with the next thing I had to do or pondering over the last thing I did. I found for me that doing a 10 minute meditation was something that I was more likely to stick as it was something that I thought i could fit into my life no matter how busy I was. 

After a few months I really started to notice a change in myself. Meditation combined with all the things I was taught over the 8 weeks on the MBSR Programme made me see things more clearly. It helped me make decisions easier and not react to situations like I would have done in the past. I felt calmer. And what's even more amazing is my family noticed a difference.

Finding My Headspace

Like anything in life we try and want to keep up, routine is key so I decided to set my meditation space at my desk at the same time every morning as I knew that this is a place that I could sit uninterrupted (once switched my phone on aeroplane mode). This place worked for me and sets me up for the day ahead. I also decided to download the HEADSPACE App a few months ago as it gives me a daily reminder on my phone at the same time every day to let me know when it's time to meditate. I have also set a place up at home - just a chair in my bedroom - it doesn't have to be a place that has Buddah statues, incense and candles lighting everwhere (alothough I have to say that would be lovely!) but just a space that you feel comfortable in that you know where you won't be disturbed. When you think about it you wouldn't go to the gym without your runners so to meditate the surroundings have to be right.

Just 10 Minutes A Day

Now, do I meditate every single day? I wish! Bust like any working mum will understand some days finding 10 minutes feels impossible but when you think about it 10 minutes is such a short time to allocate for yourself in 24 hours but there still those days when I don't manage to find those 10 minutes. But that's okay. Once again, it's like anything in life, there are going to be days for one reason or another you can't find the time - but what I have discovered is that the days that I don't I feel different. I don't have the clarity or calmness in my mind that I have on the days that I do.

I have found the HEADSPACE App really works for me as it is very easy to use and Andy Whitcombe's voice is extremely relaxing and pleasant and I have now found myself saying "Thanks Andy!" at the end of each session. Like I got to know so many people on my journey so far, really lovely people who all have different stories but are on the one journey to better their own minds through mindful living and meditation, I feel Donna and Andy are just two more people who are helping me along the way. 

My Headspace App on my desktop at my desk

My Headspace App on my desktop at my desk

A Mindful Cycle

I have mentioned before how starting to cycle again has really helped me get relief from my tinnitus. My doctor mentioned that it's the wind blowing past my ear that diffuses the sound so I can escape the constant whistling sound. While I have since discovered other means of distraction - much as meditation and being mindful - I have now started to discover other benefits of cycling apart from the obvious fitness side. Cycling has definitely made me feel more present. I notice my surroundings more and really embrace the freedom of the feeling of being on the bike. As an added bonus, my husband - who introduced me to cycling - and both my children also love it so it has become a great way to spend an hour on a saturday or a sunday.

We are also very fortunate to have the majestic River Shannon on our doorstep with a cycle path that goes from our house directly out to the stunning grounds of the University of Limerick. On a clear winters day it is one of the best feelings in the world to cycle along the banks of the shannon and stop along the way to see the swans and the ducks. My children absolutely love it and since I became open to Mindfulness I have learned how wonderful it is to appreciate these things even more. In a world where we are obsessed with perfection and appearance we all need to stand back and really see the beauty in everything. I mean really notice things. Before I started on my Mindful journey I would have frequently visited the ducks with the lads but I would still have probably had 101 other things going on in my head at the same time so while I saw the ducks I probably didn't really see them. Now I can sit there and watch them with my family and really notice and enjoy those moments in a different way. It's those moments on our cycles that I really enjoy. It's looking at the architecture while cycling around UL's campus along with seeing the shadows of my children on their bikes as we're cycling along. It's knowing that they enjoy it too as there will be plenty of days when they'll say I don't want to go and that's fine to but for the moment I will enjoy the ones when they do.

New...Mini MoMe Cards

The idea for Mini MoMe cards came about after my 11 year old daughter Fay, placed her favourite MoMe cards in her bedroom - on her locker, on her mirror and at her desk - and they really seemed to have a positive impact on her. When she packed them in her suitcase to bring with her on holidays I knew that I needed to create a set of Mini MoMe cards especially for her and other girls and boys of a similar age. I have had many conversations with my daughter about friendships, school and growing up so I wanted the messages on these cards to reflect that while also giving encouragement and praise.  Each card is double-sided with “you” and “I” because sometimes it’s more powerful to be told something positive and sometimes it even more powerful if we tell ourselves.

I have also created a set of the original MoMe cards is this smaller size also as they can fit neatly in individually in your wallet or you could fit the full pack in your handbag. Each is presented in a lightweight easy-to-open plastic holder and will be ready and up live on the site to purchase by the end of this week - just in time for Christmas!

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Learning To Cycle Again - how cycling has helped my tinnitus

Until recently, I hadn't cycled a bike since I was a child. Like most people my days of scooting around on my Raleigh Burner were well and truly over since I became a mum. Even the thoughts of cycling again scared me! My husband has always been into cycling and really enjoyed taking the kids out on their bikes so I decided to give it a go! I was a bit shaky at first - and to the amusement of my 2 children it took me a while to get my confidence back. Now just to clarify - by no means am I going to be competing in the Tour de France or anything - I just mean going for a cycle along the banks of the River Shannon with my family. But I was still cycling - something I hadn't done in years. 

What I didn't realise at the time though that getting back on my bike would become a form of therapy for me. After I was struck with my tinnitus in September 2014 I soon realised that the only time the ringing in my ear would leave me was when I was on my bike. It is as if the sound of the wind passing my ear drowns out the sound of the ringing. It's such a sense of freedom - not just from the obvious feeling of cycling but for me freedom from the ringing in my ear. It has also become something that I can enjoy with my family and a great way to spend time with my children. 

A view on the Shannon River on one of my cycles

A view on the Shannon River on one of my cycles