“I Know S”

I love Game of Thrones.  It is hands down my favourite TV show.  I love it so much, in fact, that my husband and I recently watched all 5 seasons from beginning to end.  I was amazed at the amount of nuances I had failed to pick up on the first time around.  One scene in particular struck a chord with me.

It is in season 5, episode 2.  The Princess Shireen is teaching Gilly to read.  They are sitting together, pouring over an old manuscript, concentrating on the letter s.  Sam looks up from the book he is himself reading and asks Gilly “Did you know the youngest Lord Commander in history, Osric Stark, was elected at age ten?” to which Gilly replies “I know S.”  To me, this seemed like a perfect example of focusing on the process, and not on the prize.  Gilly had mastered one letter in the alphabet, only 25 more to go!

I have found myself thinking about this scene a lot in recent weeks.  I was promoted at work, and as often happens, the transition from one role to the next has been anything but smooth.  Due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, I found myself rather thrown in at the deep end.  It came to month end and all I could think was “I can’t do this!” “I don’t know what I’m doing!”  “nobody showed me!” etc. etc.

I didn’t really have the luxury to wallow in this for long, so before panic well and truly set in I asked myself, well Arwen, what can you do?  Can you look at last months file and try to recreate it?  Can you ask your colleagues for help?  Can you apply your experience, education and good sense to the problem and try to work through it?  Can you find your S and start from there?

Just like any task or problem that at first seems daunting and insurmountable, I was able to keep breaking it down, into smaller and smaller components until I found something I felt confident enough to attempt.  I was able to focus on the process and not allow myself to be freaked out about an end point I felt sure I would never reach.

I think it’s important to do the very same thing when it comes to tackling anything that scares us.  Be it trying to lose weight, trying to get fitter or even trying to learn a language or an instrument.  Maybe the thought of making radical changes to your lifestyle is horribly off-putting, so break it down, and down again until you find the thing you can do.  Maybe you’re terrified of joining the gym, okay, can you commit to taking a walk each day and build up from there?  Perhaps you don’t have any cookery skills and have to eat out a lot, okay, can you find a cook book you like and even try one new thing each week?  There are no hard and fast rules here.  Remember, this is your process, you get to drive it.

I remember, years ago, my brother and I decided to take guitar lessons together.  I was about 23 and my brother would have been about 12.  We found a wonderful teacher, and both enjoyed the lessons immensely.  For many reasons, my brother progressed a lot faster than I did.  He was more committed and practiced a lot more.  I was juggling a full time job, part time study and a whole host of other “stuff” and so didn’t put in the time it required.  My brother, who is naturally gifted, I must add, is now a successful musician and the pride of the family.  I, on the other hand, wouldn’t know how to play one song!  He invested in the process, and so, he got the prize.

I think as we get older, we lose the skill of learning.  I know one of the biggest barriers to me with the guitar was that I was painfully aware of just how awful I sounded.  I was so self-conscious that I wouldn’t practice if anyone else was in the house. Ridiculous, I know, but this is what we do.  We are so busy trying to hide our ignorance and look like we know it all, that we miss out on the opportunity to learn and to grow.  As adults we forget just how long it took us to learn to read or to ride a bike.  As children we fell dozens of times and got straight back on, as grown ups, one slight stumble deters us forever.  We have forgotten what it means to try.

From now on, I am going to try to remember how to try.  I will allow myself to fail, and to keep on trying.  I will accept that there will always be someone who knows more than I do, and recognise that this is a good thing.  I will endeavour to leverage the knowledge and experience of my friends and colleagues to further my own education.  I will aim to never stop learning. But, most importantly, I will remember that although I may not have it all worked out, at least “I know S!”


The After Taste!

I remember the first time I went to Taste of Dublin.  I was with my sister.  At the time she was working in the restaurant industry and was far more knowledgeable about Dublin’s culinary scene than I was.  I got such a kick out of having the opportunity to sample the creations from restaurants that I otherwise could never have afforded to go to.  It was truly a gastronomic adventure, and I loved every minute of it.  Almost ten years after my first Taste experience, last Friday evening, I again made my annual pilgrimage to Dublin’s Iveagh Gardens.

I would love to say that the experience has remained unchanged, but sadly this is not the case.  Over the years Taste has become less about the food, and more about Dublin’s glitterati having a place to “be seen!”  In the past, Taste was a platform for Dublin’s top restaurants to showcase themselves, and they all seemed to take pride in doing exactly that.  Unfortunately, some seem now to have reduced themselves to serving up slop to the patrons, some of which have admittedly imbibed too much Taittinger to know any different!

At this year’s event, there were five in our party.  As always, we were quite strategic in our approach.  We sat and decided which of the restaurants we wanted to visit.  We then set about working our way through them.  Making sure to share the dishes, so that we could sample as much as possible without stretching our wallets and stomachs to breaking point.

The first spot on our hit list was Klaw and I have to say, we couldn’t have picked a more perfect starting point.  Klaw offered up a Trio of Achill Island Oysters, naked, dressed and blow torched.  They were truly amazing, like little bites of heaven.  I have always loved oysters, and had high expectations.  I certainly wasn’t disappointed.  My two aunts had never tried oysters before.  They sampled them with gusto and were delighted.  Klaw also offered us a Fish and Chips dish, which although well executed, was never going to offer the wow factor of the shellfish!

The next to be sampled was Farrier and Draper.  A restaurant none of us have tried before, so we had no expectations.  From here we again sampled two dishes.  We had Cannelloni, which we weren’t terribly impressed with.  The dish’s flavour was completely overpowered by the burnt butter.  The texture of the cannelloni also felt very soft.  We had bought two portions of this dish and one made its way into the bin uneaten.  When it came to Farrier and Drapers second offering, the result could not have been more different.  It was a Slow Brasied Lamb Neck.  This dish was an absolute triumph.  The lamb was extremely tasty and tender, cooked to perfect and overall one of the highlights of the day.

Up next was Pichet.  Three of our party have dined here before and were expecting good things.  None of us were disappointed, and over all, I think Pichet offered the best food I sampled all day.  We tried each of Pichet’s three dishes and each was equally outstanding. The Crispy Hen Egg, Black pudding, Pea Dressing and Tartare sauce was visually stunning.  It was very well executed, and I couldn’t help being impressed to discover the egg was still soft inside.  Their main course of Braised Shortrib, was an utter delight.  The meat was succulent and tasted amazing and the risotto was one of the nicest I have ever had.  Pichet’s Dessert offering was Peanut Butter Parfait, Chocolate Mousse, Honeycomb and it definitely did not dissappoint.  Even the non-dessert lovers had to admit it was sensational.  Overall, if I had been served these dishes in Pichet’s restaurant, I would have been delighted and happily paid full price.  Well done!

We sampled all three offerings from The Green Hen, and overall we found all three to be uninspiring.  The Surf and Turf consisted of an overdone scallop and a rather tasteless piece of pork belly.  Their Lamb Lollipop was deep fried and disappointing.  On paper the Duck Sausage Roll sounded extremely promising, but sadly failed to deliver.  The pastry was soggy and the meat itself was indistinguishable.  Overall, I felt it was a poor effort and would not entice me to make a booking.

Matt The Thresher was next on the agenda.  From here we tried the Dublin Bay Prawns and the Plaice Goujons.  The prawns were delectable, the meat so sweet it could have been mistaken for crab.  They were dressed to perfection in garlic butter and really were a treat.  The plaice goujons were equally impressive and I felt it was brave to showcase a perhaps unfashionable fish.  Seafood has always been a particular favourite of mine and I would have high standards, but I could not fault either dish.

Indian cuisine was next on the menu as we headed to Jaipur.  We sampled their Prawn Curry and their Tandoori Chicken Kebab.  Bother dishes were delicious.  I will admit, I was not expecting great things from the curry, but I was blown away.  The rice was light and fluffy and the curry was wonderfully spicy, yet allowed the delicate flavour of the prawns to come through.  The chicken was also very good, a lovely dose of heat and it definitely left an impression.  Even my mother, who by her own admission wouldn’t be a fan of Indian food, couldn’t fault Jaipur’s offerings, and it was their curry we all found ourselves craving on Saturday night!

After a brief respite, we sampled the offerings of The Port House.  We tried the Chicken Paella and the Croquettas.  I normally adore both of these items and was excited to sample them.  Unfortunately neither dish lived up to my expectations.  The paella was cold and gluppy.  The croquttas were just okay.  Neither dish was finished.

Chop House served us Steak and Chips and Lemon Curd Pavlova.  The steak was cooked beautifully and extremely tender, no easy feat to achieve under the conditions.  The pavlova was quite nice, but slightly overpowered by the lemon curd I felt.

Lastly we sampled the Calamari from Unicorn.  I could tell that the squid was very fresh and good quality, however, I think the oil needed to be changed. The greasy taste which came through rather spoiled the dish, which was a shame.

Between the five of us, our culinary expedition cost about €350, not including the price of the tickets.  I think that over the years the experience has become less value for money.  Perhaps this could be due to the law of diminishing returns.  When I have had a great time somewhere, I always want to try to recreate it, but sadly it usually doesn’t live up to expectations the second time around.  The sun failed to shine on Taste this year, so perhaps that also took some of the gloss off the event.

All in all, we had a nice time, but I would be hesitant about booking my tickets in 2017.  Some of Dublin’s “best restaurants” definitely need to up their game.  I want see Chaper One back serving their signature dishes and not trying to placate us with insipid desserts.  Some others seem to need to be reminded that Taste is an opportunity for them to wow potential diners.  Have they forgotten that they need us more than we need them?




Big, Fat BUTS!

My father was born in California and has always held some of the wide-eyed optimism associated with America’s West Coast.  I lost count of the number of times growing up I heard him proclaim the Irish to be a “Nation of begrudgers!”  Unfortunately, I must admit that I have often found this to be the case myself.  People never seem to like to see their neighbours or friends doing well, or getting “ideas” about themselves.  It is only recently, however, that I have begun to notice how often we do this to ourselves.

We cheat ourselves out of celebrating our achievements with alarming regularity.  I remember the Weight Watchers meetings.  Sitting there waiting on the others to be weighed in.  They would come back and take their seats to a chorus of “well, how did you get on?”  It seemed that no matter what the weight loss was, the person always followed it up with a big fat BUT!  “I lost 5lbs, BUT I was expecting more,” or “Down 2st now, BUT still a long way to go.”

Slimmers do this too when they buy new clothes.  They will slide into a sleek size ten and no sooner then they have it zipped up then they will start exclaiming “Ah, BUT the sizes are big in here!”  Ok, yes, I acknowledge dress sizes can be whacky at times.  You can pull two seemingly identical dresses off the rack and one will fit and one won’t.  This can be frustrating and certainly I wouldn’t be surprised to fit into a dress one size bigger or smaller than normal.  However, if you were a size 18 in the past and you are now strutting around the fitting room in a 10, this is not a sizing issue.  This is what I call a “Hell Yeah moment!”

Believe me when I tell you, these moments don’t come around too often, so enjoy them to the fullest when they do.  I am not sure what it is that prevents us from doing exactly this.  Is it that we don’t want to be perceived as vain or arrogant?  Could it be that we don’t want make others, who may be struggling, feel bad?  Or is it simply that we feel we don’t deserve it?

Other areas of lifestyle change can also suffer these effects.  It seems that every time I try to learn something new, be it double unders or pull ups or handstands, I say to myself “if I could just get one, I would be so happy”  What happens in reality, is that no sooner have I done one, than I want to string ten together!  Of course a certain amount of this is healthy.  It’s good to keep pushing yourself and to want to progress.  But there is also a lot to be said for taking a beat to celebrate what you have just achieved.  You don’t need to run around the gym high five-ing everyone in sight, but a little Hell yeah is definitely encouraged.

This self deprecation, whatever the cause, is not limited to health and fitness.  We take the wind out of our own sails in work, relationships and personal achievements too.  In fact, I would find it difficult to find an area of my own life, which has not been subjected to this treatment.  You know how it is?  Yes, it’s great that you got a new car, BUT it’s not brand new.  Yes, it’s wonderful to get a promotion, BUT it didn’t come with as big a raise as you were hoping for.  We constantly begrudge ourselves our own happiness.  It’s relentless and it’s crazy.

Mindfulness and gratitude are very topical at the moment.  Everyone is reminding us to appreciate all we have.  I can’t help wondering though, if we may be forgetting something important.  I wonder do we ever take the time to be grateful for ourselves.  To celebrate the milestones and to acknowledge the work that went into bringing them about.  I saw a Robin Sharma quote recently that said “Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.”  I was struck by how simple and powerful this message is.  These little achievements, that we are so quick to but away, are what will set the years apart from each other.

In life there will always be someone ready to talk you down.  Try not to add your own voice to the dissenting rabble.  I am just as guilty of this as anyone else.  So, I am setting myself a challenge.  For the next 30 days, if I receive a compliment, I will just say “thank you!”  I will not try to brush it off, or even tell the person that it was €3 in Penneys!  More importantly, for the next month every time I achieve something, no matter how small I will be grateful.  I will acknowledge the moment and be present in it.  NO BUTS.  Why not try this with me?  Perhaps we may see the world reflected more positively when we stop trying to take the good out of it xxx


White Jeans & Wasted Time!

Now, in my mid 30’s, I look back on my 20’s with a slight tinge of regret.  Although I spent the decade doing all the things I was supposed to do, building a career, buying a home (and populating it with pets,) and planning my wedding, I very much feel as though I wasted a lot of that time.

During my 20’s I was so unhappy with myself that it was paralyzing.  I didn’t want to go out and let everyone see what a fat mess I was.  I didn’t want to shop for clothes and have to accept the size I was.  I felt that there was no point in getting dressed up, or getting my hair and nails done.  No point either in putting on make-up, because as the saying goes “you can’t polish a turd!”  So, I became an insular person.  I withdrew from people.  Socializing only when I couldn’t get out of it, and feeling deeply uncomfortable when I did.  I was lonely and I was sad.  Of course, if you had asked me at the time, I would have told you I was fine, and I would have believed it.

I remember distinctly the moment at which I realised I needed to make a change.  I was getting ready to go out somewhere, nowhere special, just a movie I think.  I had ironed a pair of jeans and laid them out on the bed before getting into the shower.  When I came back into the room and saw them lying there all I could think was “oh my God, they are absolutely enormous.”  Tears of shame flowed freely as the reality of what I had let myself become came over me.   That was the point of no return and the story of how the change came about is one for another day.

A couple of years ago I was listening to some silly talk show on the radio.  The host was talking about the top 10 regrets of women in their 50’s.  She said she was surprised by the number 1 regret, and I admit I was too.  I was expecting to hear that women regretted staying in bad relationships, or making poor career choices.  However, overwhelmingly they reported regretting not appreciating how beautiful they were when they were young.

This has stayed with me, and I have tried to apply the wisdom of these matriarchs to my own life, and particularly to my journey towards well-being.  At each stage of the journey I have tried to remember that although I might not be where I want to be right now, I am going in the right direction and that is something.  I have tried to be conscious that I will never again be as young as I am now, and to try to be grateful for the youth that I have.  I have a strong body, capable of amazing things and that is to be celebrated.  I am trying to create a better self and although I may not feel beautiful, there is beauty in that.

So, with all of that in mind, I now try to live the 20’s that I missed the first time around.  I say yes to the invitations.  I take the trips.  I wear the make-up and the high heels.  If I think to myself that I have always wanted to try something or to wear something, I do it.  I buy clothes that my 25 year old self would have been jealous of.

My latest such purchase was a pair of white jeans.  I have wanted a pair for ages, but I was afraid.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to pull it off.  I plagued my ever patient friends with requests for their opinions.  Eventually I bit the bullet and ordered a pair from River Island.  I was so excited when they arrived, but that excitement didn’t last long.  As I pulled them out of the bag, I felt the familiar tears of shame threatening.  I thought to myself “oh my God, these are tiny!”  I felt sure they would never fit and instantly admonished myself for stupidly ordering such a small size.  Amazingly, they fit perfectly.  I was so delighted I wanted to sleep in them.

There will be moments like these in everyone’s journey and I urge you to delight in them as much as I did.  Don’t become so focused on the destination that you forget to enjoy the ride.  Wonderful things happen everyday, but often we are so caught up with ourselves that we barely notice.  Be open to experiences as they come your way and don’t take it all too seriously.  As they say, you only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough xxx