changing my routine

Summertime is easy. As long as I can get home from work and down to the beach an hour or so before sunset, I am good to go. My favourite place to walk is along Altona beach, the bay stretching out to one side, fancy houses lining the Esplanade on the other. When the wind is from the north the bay can be like a millpond, and the mornings and evenings can be really peaceful. When the wind is coming in from the south across the water, the waves get choppier and the bay turns a darker shade of blue. Either way, it’s my routine.

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walking home to dublin: Cois Fharraige, Co. Gaillimh

Already I am a little bit behind schedule. Just a few kilometres. No good: I will have to re-double my efforts this fortnight.

My walk has taken me south to Rossaveal, where I could have turned off towards the harbour and boarded a fast ferry to the Aran Islands. Soon I can see glimpses of Galway Bay ahead, and I arrive at the crossroads at Ballynahown where there used to stand a big tourist shop selling (naturally green) Connemara Marble, Aran sweaters and other Oirish tat for the Yanks to take home. I know this part of the world very well: I spent a couple of summers down here in the Gaeltacht as a young teenager.

My first bean a’ tí (the lady whose house I stayed in)was a local woman who’d spent quite a few years in the US, so she spoke Irish with a hint of an American accent. The following year, the bean a’ tí was a Londoner who’d married a local man and now took in Irish-language students in the summer. She spoke Irish with no hint of an accent, presumably having absorbed the correct local pronunciation when learning the language.

I know if I walk straight ahead down that boreen instead of following the main road east, there is a big lake in to the right hand side, and if I keep going a mile or so I will find a little harbour with a few currachs turned upside down and a few more moored alongside. Across the bay will be the Cliffs of Moher, and the Aran Islands will be away to the west of me.


The road turns east along the coast road. This part of Connemara is simply called Cois Fharraige, or “beside the sea”. The Gaeltacht school where I went is in the centre of the tiny village of Minna, and the rock nearby where the boys always met the girls in the evening. Down another boreen is a graveyard where we stopped the car one night as grown-ups, and Orlando caught his first glimpse of the Milky Way.

Past Inverin or Indreabháin, I pass the Poitín Stil pub where I remember going with the family on summer holidays with my parents. Later, when I was at the Gaeltacht, my parents came to visit and took me and a neighbour’s child out for the evening, back to this old haunt.

Soon I arrive in Spiddal or An Spidéal, a little fishing village and more recently a tourist destination.

I remember my father and brother fishing off this harbour pier when I was very small. They didn’t catch anything but we bought some fresh mackerel from a local fisherman. My mum took the ribbon from my hair to thread through the mackerels’ gills so we had some way of carrying them. It was a red and white ribbon, and naturally it was ruined after that day. But the biggest memory is the smell of those mackerel cooking, and how amazing they tasted.

In two weeks, hopefully I will be the far side of Galway, somewhere past Oranmore and well on the way to Athenry. And yes, when I get there, we will sing.

walking home to dublin

So, autumn is settling in and winter will soon be upon us. How to keep the activity levels and Vitamin D intake at a reasonable pace when the evenings are closing in and it’s hard to keep motivated?

Well, I have hit upon one way of keeping on track (I hope): walking home to Dublin. Now, obviously it is a long way from here to there, so I had to think of a decent starting point. So what better than a trek across Ireland, starting somewhere on the west coast of Galway and heading east as the days progress?

I have decided Carna, Co. Galway is a good place to start. Our last family holiday was spent there a couple of Julys ago, and we just fell in love with this part of the world. It’s also a part of the world I am deeply familiar with, having spent almost all our summer holidays here.

So I have set off on my solitary virtual walk, taking it slow: only 16-20km a week needs to be covered. This will make sure my summer activity level stays about the same as the evenings close in here in Melbourne.

I sarted two weeks ago, and so far I have come as far as Casla, or Costelloe, walking north-east along the steep edges of Cnoc Mordáin or Aconeera, past Kilkieran Bay with its spectacular views of Gorumna Island and Lettermore in the distance. Inland, a little, to Screeb then south past a landscape littered with bog lakes, boulder beds and other ancient evidence of the glaciation this part of the world experienced.

Soon I will be walking along the coast of Galway Bay, the boreens of my childhood summers all around me, and the Aran Islands rising out of the Atlantic Ocean in the distance to the west. But for now I will enjoy my virtual walk through this little-explored part of my home country.

11 highlights of 2011

It’s been a hell of a year. Tough at times, full of adventure, travel (some work, some play), hard work, sorrow and joy. Here are my eleven highlights of 2011.

1.  Queensland

The year started busy. I spent most of the first three months hanging out in Brisbane with an army of Red Crossers, responding to event after tragic event. The staff in the Grand Chancellor come to greet me every time I checked in with a “Welcome home, Ms Doyle!”. The night before Yasi hit, I sat in a hotel restaurant with colleagues trying to understand the enormity of what was about to hit, the only Irishwoman at a table of battle-hardened Aussies. In Emerald, I met the Governor-General and got a lesson in looking elegant in tropical heat. Some of the people I worked with developed into an amazing support network that I still have today, and one or two deep friendships have developed from the times spent together. I gained four kilos and none of my summer clothes fit anymore, which didn’t matter as I spent the whole of the summer in a white Red Cross business shirt and black cut-off cargo pants.

What I learned: Just because it’s disaster season doesn’t mean you need less fibre – or more alcohol – in your diet. FitFlops are the only footwear you need. Talk about how you are feeling often, and use others to gauge how you are going. Forgive. Hydrate. Never go anywhere (even a disaster zone) without eyeliner: you never know who is going to drop by.

2.  Christchurch

Ten days in ChCh working with the NZ Red Cross after the earthquake was some of the most challenging but amazing time I got to spend this year. I slept in a tiny room in the friendliest little B&B in the world, and got used to the ground shaking beneath me. I saw regular people turn into heroes and find resilience in themselves they never thought existed. I feel privileged to have been able to help in my small way.

What I learned: Always leave your boots by the bed in an earthquake zone, and keep your phone fully charged. Leap instantly to a doorframe when the ground doesn’t stop shaking after five seconds. Be ready to accept help as well as give it. Take a break. And don’t watch live footage of horrifying tsunamis right after coming home.

3.  Lorne

A chunk of normality at the end of summer: the Easter/Anzac weekend down the Great Ocean Road in Lorne with Orlando.  Arriving Good Friday evening with a roast dinner in the boot. Long walks by the beach in unseasonably warm weather. Mid-afternoon naps just because we could. Watching the surfers and browsing second-hand book stalls in the market. A cosy Spanish dinner in a lovely tapas bar on Saturday night. Time to heal and rest and recover and reconnect.

What I learned: Heal. Rest. Recover. Reconnect.

4.  Barbados

A week in Barbados in June, spent mostly staring at the waves (or floating in them) at Maxwell Beach, near Orlando’s parents’ house. Amazing Caribbean food. Weekend nights at Oistins fish market. Plenty of good Mount Gay rum in our afternoon rum punch. Chefette’s legendary all-beef rotis just because they were there. Spending time with Orlando’s Dad. Shopping for jerk seasoning and pepper sauce in the local supermarket. Scuba diving with Orlando in the sites where he learned to dive.

What I learned: One dive is never enough. One all-beef roti is never enough. One box of seasoning shipped home is never enough. One week is never enough.

5.  Mexico

Nearly three weeks travelling through the Yucatan peninsula, visiting Mayan ruins, climbing ancient pyramids, staying in great little guesthouses and eating proper Mexican food. Diving Dos Ojos at last after twelve years of waiting. Gazing out across the jungle with Orlando from the top of a crumbling pyramid in Coba. Margaritas and good tequila. A long walk.  Discovering cochinita pibil.

What I learned: There are only so many tacos, tortas, empanadas, burritos and quesadillas you can eat. The green chilli salsa is the hottest and the best. The Mexicans keep the good tequila for themselves. Never walk home at night through the jungle.

6.  Tasmania

An August weekend with Mena in Tasmania, our favourite state. Gourmet food at Bruny Island and Salamanca Market. The Goddess of Russell Falls at Mount Field National Park. Driving through God’s own country to Lake Gordon. Discovering the secluded beaches of South Arm and falling in love with Opossum Bay.

What I learned: There is not enough time before we die to explore Tasmania the way we want to. You will always buy more cheese than you can possibly eat at the Bruny Island Cheese Company. You don’t need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to discover the hidden gems of this small island; you can do it in a Class A hire car. Always bring layers to Tasmania – the weather can surprise you.

7.  Fiji

What more does a body need than ten days on a tropical island, with a little bungalow, a pristine beach a few feet away, a comfy hammock to swing in, a reef full of fish on the doorstep and more Fijian curry than you can shake a stick at. Diving in clear blue waters with more marine life than I’ve ever seen. Snoozing on a hammock under a palm tree, whenever I want to. Watching a wedding take place on a low-tide sandbar out at sea: the wedding party appears to be walking on water. The graceful hand movements of the women and men as they dance for us after the lovo feast.

What I learned: Never go anywhere without nuclear-strength Baygon. Two swimsuits are not enough for one week. There is always time for a little more snorkelling.

8.  Ireland

Ten days in Ireland might seem short, but when all you want is to visit family and get a little Christmas cheer, it’s all you need. Shopping on Grafton Street with the lights twinkling above. Meeting an old friend by chance in a city cafe. Twenty-four hours in the UK just to catch up on all the gossip with Katharine. Putting up Mum’s Christmas tree one morning, listening to old cheesy Christmas tunes and reminiscing about Christmas trees past.  Christmas present shopping with Ashling and Connor. New puppies to adore. Turkey and ham with all the trimmings. Creating new Christmas family memories, even if they were a few weeks early.

What I learned: Don’t wear your precious Links bracelet over your winter gloves. You will always get a good winter coat in Dublin. Melatonin really helps with jetlag. You can never buy too much Newbridge Silverware jewellery.

9.  Darwin

They asked if I was going to Darwin to see Obama. No, I replied: he is in town to meet me. Memos from the hotel asking us to behave on our balconies (in case the Secret Service shot us) didn’t stop me waving enthusiastically at the Black Hawk helicopter that kept flying past. A lovely dinner with Julie Groome at Pee Wee’s. Celebrating the opening night of Darwin Pride with Chris Power. Power walking early in the morning, then trying to catch up with Hydralyte for the rest of the day. Dragging the living room furniture out onto the balcony for a Friday night feast, because they had taken the balcony furniture away at the start of cyclone season.

What I learned: Behave on your hotel balcony if POTUS is in town. Buy more Hydralyte before you travel in the wet season. Always pack one more white singlet top. Try not to turn into a comedy double-act when presenting serious stuff with Julie.

10.  Altona Beach

The one constant in my year: the boardwalk at Altona saved my sanity more than a few times this year. Park up near the Seaholme end of town, on with the Walkman and the sunvisor (not trendy, but it keep my hair at bay), get some UK garage going and power walk to the other end of the beach or maybe right into the park at Truganina. I know every step of the route and its familiarity soothes me, music or no music, sunshine or no sunshine, high tide or low tide.  It helped me get fit and healthy after the Summer of Love – both in body and in spirit.

What I learned: You can always walk just a little bit faster. Carry another layer with you in the boot of the car unless it is January or February. Sometimes it is best to leave the headphones behind and listen to the waves.

11.  Home

Sounds silly, but with all the travel I did this year, a Christmas and New Year holiday at home in our own house was the perfect getaway. No worries about what shoes to pack. Guaranteed comfy bed and perfect pillow. Only the best local red wine and bubbly served. Friends and family close at hand. The best travelling companion in the world. Excellent wi-fi. No air travel or packing or taxis or travel insurance to worry about.

What I learned: There’s no place like home.

health kick diary 2010 – take two

A couple of months I was feeling great. Hour-long power walks by the beach most days and good healthy eating before our holiday meant I was trim, full of energy and ready for an active trip to Laos. Three weeks of backpacking, locally-cooked food, little alcohol and miles and miles of walking every day meant that (as usual) I came back from holiday even healthier and lighter than I’d gone.

Then the clocks went back. Then the days got shorter and shorter. Then it started to get cold. I went into hibernation mode.

The month of May has seen me working from all over the country, eating mediocre hotel food and getting no exercise at all. Red wine seems to suit these winter nights, and it’s hard when I am at my own office not to enjoy a tasty curry laksa at lunchtime. My takeaway-food eating has spiralled. In one week alone recently I ate Indian food three times and Pizza Hut pizza once (a large pizza all to myself).

I gave myself until yesterday to get used to the fact: the health kick diary is back.

I have three weeks before having to fit into summer clothes back in Ireland and I’m back on the wagon. No matter that I will be spending just as much time in hotels and that it will be cold and dark by the time I get home in the evenings. I’m going to make a few changes.

Back to homemade healthy curries, full of winter vegetables and hearty goodness. Back to spicy vegetable-packed stir-fries with maybe an egg cracked on the noodles before serving. Back to turning right out of the office to the beautifully cooked homemade soups of Tre Sette, and no turning left to the noodle shop. As little red wine as I can manage, and certainly a minimum of four no-alcohol days a week.

Let’s see how it goes.

health kick diary 2010

It seems it is exactly a year since I posted a serious Health Kick Diary posting. I have been sitting here contemplating my big belly, wondering where all the Christmas gourmet food and fine wine has gone, and considering how best to remove at least 3kg (half a stone) from my middle bits.

The only upsides are that:

  1. This belly is very valuable as it is made up of the best of food and wine money can buy
  2. It could have been worse, as I was power-walking a good hour almost every day during the Christmas break, so I am still on the front foot.

So, back to WeightWatchers At Home, measuring food, logging every mouthful. I have marked my Waterford Crystal John Rocha wine goblet with a permanent marker showing where 175ml is, so I can watch every mouthful of the red stuff. Apart from the complete blow-out at yum cha (dim sum for you northern hemisphere people) yesterday, it has not been a bad three days. I am ready for this.

Looking back at last year’s post, the aim is the same:

Good simple fresh food cooked from scratch, no ridiculous-sized portions. Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Lots of T2 herbal detox tea (it tastes great hot and cold). Low salt, low refined sugar. Lots of barbecuing and salads in the sunshine.

I shall add a codicil this year:

Cull the wardrobe, hide the outfits that don’t look amazing on me, and continue to make the most of what I’ve got in the meantime. I can still be fabulous-looking by maximising those curves!

I think I feel a pedicure/manicure coming on…..

And a trip to the hairdressers.

And a spa day.

What the hell, it’s 2010.

new beginnings

The byline of my food blog is “what to eat when your world revolves around food”.

So I find it ironic that I am currently contemplating a new, and less fun, dilemma: what to do when your world revolves around work.

More than ten years ago I did little else but work. Moving back to Ireland briefly, I set my sister Annette off on regular rants about the fact that she could not get me out for a quick drink in our local pub because I was routinely too tired to get off the sofa. I had no life. It took quitting my job and a couple of years travelling to get some perspective on life. I continued wearing a bindi when I came home, to remind me never to get sucked into the rat race again.

Now, twelve years later, the main difference is that I have a better shoe collection than I did back in Malahide (when I was the owner of no more than three pairs of shoes, none of which were appropriate for anything fun). I still wear a bindi every day. But somehow, over the winter, I lost my personal life and my perspective.

OK, it was a tough summer and autumn, and perhaps I relaxed into the “simplicity” of focusing on work. After all, what we do is important, right? Over winter I stopped calling friends, going to the cinema, going for walks along the beach… everything really. I literally woke up every morning thinking about work, and Red Cross was the last thing on my mind before I went to sleep. I stopped blogging because I literally had nothing to say.

One evening over dinner with a friend (and workmate) I realised that I was little better off – and perhaps significantly worse off – than my Blugas days. I was shocked. How could an otherwise intelligent woman fail to learn from her very own experiences? How could I take such a backward step?

Well, as they say, recognition is the first step. I tried to remember all the things I used to do outside work, and couldn’t think of a damn thing. Then, we went to the cinema for the first time in ages. A week-old Arts and Culture pullout from Saturday’s Age reminded me that I had not seen any live theatre, dance or music for ages. I’d missed God of Carnage at the Melbourne Theatre Company, and the Dali exhibition at the National Gallery. I was horrified, and galvanised into action.

Now, my aim is to remember and act upon one enjoyable thing to do every week. So far I’m doing OK. A gig by comedian Daniel Kitson, going out for dumplings with mates and a Pinot Week wine tasting and gala dinner featured this week alone.

I am back on the mailing list for the MTC and a couple of ballets are booked for the run-up to Christmas. The sun is shining and walks on the beach are back on the agenda. We fly to Fiji in three weeks for an idyllic ten days on a tropical atoll.

I even went to see a medium – all things are possible!

And now I am back to blogging too.