Fun Facts

Look what I found! This is just one of many tourism videos about my soon-to-be town. Be sure to set the resolution to the highest value possible (by clicking on the little cog wheel), and you’ll get a slideshow of the town, historical buildings, market, harbour… It’ll give you a bit of an impression.

As for me, I’m caught up in a whirlwind of preparations. There’s so much to do, and time seems to fly and crawl at the same time. I’ll spare you the details of all the things I’m organising right now and instead entertain you with a few fun facts:

  • I’m about to move just over 1,900 km South-East, as the crow flies. Holy shit!
  • Because roads aren’t straight, I’ll actually be driving closer to 2,500 km.
  • Exactly seven weeks from now I’ll spend my last night in Ireland. Early on the 28th, I’ll drive to Dublin port and board the ferry to France.
  • Within three days, I’ll cross five international borders, driving through Ireland, France, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and finally Croatia.
  • My new home is eight degrees further South than my old one, and six degrees further East.
  • This means that on the day of the Winter Solstice each year, Rijeka gets a full 1 hour and 20 minutes more daylight than my little village here in County Mayo.

Apologies to those who aren’t as fascinated by numbers and facts as I am. I’ve been known to pour over maps and globes endlessly and read up on places I’m interested in. Geography Now! is my favourite YouTube channel bar none.

In the meantime, I fluctuate between ecstatic happiness and fits of being “scared of my own courage”, as the Germans put it. What if I can’t live off my businesses? What if I never ever ever ever find a place to rent in Rijeka? What if they don’t like hags in Croatia? What if I never find any friends ever again??

Don’t worry; after being me for 49 years, I know not to take these phases too seriously. They are few and far between, and they’re simply a result of being highly sensitive and highly emotional. In fact, this meme I found on Facebook a while ago, perfectly describes me to a T:

I’ve never felt so understood in my life! LOL.

One thing that does make me sad is that I won’t be able to take my piano. Now, this is still the cheap-ish model I bought last year, but it’s actually really decent for its price, and it’s the piano that helped me begin to regain some of my former skill. Well, very little of it, actually, but that’s down to my lack of time for practice. This will change next year, and ironically that’s when I won’t have my piano anymore. So fingers crossed that I’ll find an affordable and decent one somewhere around Rijeka.

And if you know someone who’d like to buy a piano that’s easily worth 3 grand (ca. 5 years old and played for only 1) for 2,000 EUR, let me know. It’s a steal.

What’s absolutely typical of me is that I’m far more worried about finding a good piano than I am about finding a house, haha! Maybe, just maybe I should put my efforts into getting a place to stay first, or I’ll end up with a piano and no house to put it in. That’s hagish priorities for you.

I’m enjoying the excitement so much, but it can make it a little difficult to concentrate on work and do things like, you know, get enough sleep. The best way of grounding myself at the moment is to remember that I’m still here right now, and Mayo is as beautiful as it’s always been. And nowhere am I more grounded that when I’m in Massbrook, shooting.

In the kill!

Two announcements before I close:

  1. If you’re in Ireland and would like to see me before I leave, please get in touch now. It’s slightly frightening how little time I’ll have between now and the holidays, I’m going to have to plan for it if I want to see you (and if you read this, rest assured that I do want to see you!).
  2. If you’re going to come to my 50th in Vienna, keep an eye on the Facebook event tomorrow – I’m going to post a few things we could go to around my birthday, some of which I’ll order tickets for within the next few days.
This is one view I’ll definitely miss

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Preselim Se U Rijeku

Lough Conn, Co Mayo

I once swore to myself that I’d never move away from Ireland again.

From the first time I set foot on this island, it’s been my home. I still can’t explain why. For years, I cried every time I left. It’s why I usually got a window seat on the plane: I could turn my face away and look outside while tears were streaming down my face. I don’t remember when exactly this changed, but it must have been around 10 years ago, when I finally believed I was really, truly at home here now and would be coming back.

When I had to return to Germany in 1992 after being here for a couple years as a student, I fell into a clinical depression. That was when I made myself the above promise, a promise I’m about to break. But after the initial sadness, I’m actually happy about it. I know I’ll miss this place and its beauty and its people, and my favourite cafe, and the lakes and the hills and the storms and the rainbows. But people have always been forced to leave this island, and I’m so much better off than the millions who went before me. I’ll stay in Europe. I’ll be able to fly back and visit at any time. And I might even return; the jury’s still out on that.

So here’s what happened: My bank pulled the plug on the mortgage. It’s a long story I won’t bother you with. Disgusted, and not one to give up easily, I offered the sellers a rent-to-own deal, which they considered but then declined.

Did I really really want to buy a house here? Yes. But I’ve tried for 10 months, had three deals fall through, I fought for each of them tooth and nail, and you see, I have this pact with life: I trust and in return it guides me. I made this pact long ago and it’s never failed me. Fight for something, yes, but if you keep getting hit over the head, there’s a message there: This isn’t for you at this time.

I’m not sad about it. Or angry. I mean, the mortgage system in this country is ridiculous and rigged against anyone who doesn’t have parents who give them a piece of land, or 50 grand to pay down. But I’m not adding my energy to it by ranting about it. I might still get a house at some point. For now, I’m investing the little money I’ve got and saving some more. I’m actually grateful, because as I said in my previous entry, I’m giddy with excitement about my next adventure.

Here’s the plan.

Actually, I’ll start with what prompted me to come up with this particular plan: I realised that if I was going to keep renting, it couldn’t be in Ireland, where the countrywide average for a 1-bedroom apartment is now 1,300 EUR a month. Excluding bills. So I began to ponder a few things. If I had to move away, I reasoned, then at least I’d escape the terrible weather. Heck, why not go somewhere with really nice weather. And a coast, because I can’t be without a big water near me (I mean, I can, I have been for decades, but it’s miserable).

Have you put the title of this post into a translator yet? It means: “I’m moving to Rijeka.”

There it is! Click for a larger version.

I swear that’s not what I was planning to do when I decided to learn Croatian earlier this year! In fact, my idea was to study for a few years and then reward myself with regular holidays in Croatia, so I could practice. I’m nowhere near a level where I could actually have a conversation with native speakers yet.

But now that I’m in this situation, I realise that it’s a perfect fit. It’s a EU country, beautiful, with lovely people and reasonable prices – at least for someone who works internationally and location-independently the way I will once I’ve given up my job.

Rijeka is the third largest city in Croatia, it’s all of two hours away from Zagreb on the motorway, and it’s on the coast of Istria, not far from Slovenia and Italy. It’s got a university and quite an international community, but it’s not one of the main centres of tourism (thank the gods). And it’s got a harbour, and I’ve always loved ships and boats. It’s also a three hours’ drive from Venice!

There’s another, more serious issue I haven’t really spoken about yet. For the past several months, something weird has been happening to my lungs. Basically, every time I breathe, there’s a rattling and a feeling like my lungs are coated with something. I also cough at times, but not in the way of an infectious cough. Now, my entire breathing tract has always been the weakest part of my body health-wise, and Ireland is incredibly damp and has one of the highest incidences of asthma. It’s quite possible that life really is watching out for me here – general wisdom has always been to recommend a mediterranean climate for such matters…

Rijeka waterfront

So in December, I’ll put my books and most of my stuff into storage here in Ireland (in a year or so, I’ll either come back or bring it over, depending on where I decide to settle down), and then after Christmas, I’ll load my clothes, computer, and sheet music into my car and take the ferry to France. Then I’ll spend two days driving through France, Germany, Austria and Slovenia – visiting Helena along the way – before crossing the Croatian border and arriving in Rijeka on the 31st, in time for New Year’s Eve fireworks!

There’s tons to prepare and arrange of course, but the most important stuff is done. I’ve got my ticket and my overnight stays booked, as well as a hostel called “Music House” (!) in Rijeka for the first week. After that, I’ll either have a flat or I’ll find another temporary place – early January is hardly the height of the tourist season.

I’ve reached out to a few archery clubs, researched banks, and am keeping an eye on property to rent. The best part is that all the people I know from that part of the world, are really excited and happy for me (and my Croatian teacher pointed out that I’ll have to actually speak Croatian every day then! Haha). Yes, I’ll miss my soul’s home, but this is an adventure and it’ll be fabulous. And just think: You’ll all have a place to stay if you ever decide to holiday in Croatia! Otherwise, if you want to see me, you’ll just have to come to my 50th in Vienna.

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Falling Together Or Falling Apart?

Schönbrunn Castle in Vienna (more pictures of Vienna in the FB event for my 50th birthday – remember, you’re invited!)

Holy cannoli, the amount of things that have happened!

To spoil the ending: The insecurity isn’t altogether gone, but the future is taking shape. Some things can still go wrong, but it’s beginning to come together.

The less cryptic version follows in the next paragraphs.

The house I was going to buy in Kilmaine fell through at the end of August. Funnily enough, I wasn’t too upset. It all happened in the most amicable way between the sellers and myself, and the short version of a long boring story is that in order to sell it, they would have had to make an upgrade that was so expensive, it wasn’t worth selling any longer, at least for the price.

I would have loved to live there, but I knew that something better must be around the corner. Around the same time, my landlord told me I had to move out at the end of September when my contract ended – up to then, he’d said I could stay for as long as I needed. Argh! I had a few days to my trip to Germany, then another week before leaving for Vienna, and then I had to move out a day after my return.

Bob Proctor once said that stress only happens when a time factor is added to a situation. And that’s so fucking true! I decided not to panic. I was outrageously happy in those days, I wasn’t going to let anything spoil it. So off I went to Germany.

I still can’t tell you what I’m bursting to say, but the trip to Germany and most of all, the recital in Hamburg, were worth all the expense and the effort. It was incredible! There I was in the beautiful Elbphilharmonie, and I arguably had the best seat in the entire hall. You can see me at the back of the stage, third seat from the left, in the lavender dress. I was really close and had a direct view of his hands – perfection!

Ivo Pogorelich, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, 27.08.2019 (picture found here)

The recital was incredible. He played a long program, and yet it seemed to fly past. It blew me away and made me think, smile, catch my breath, cry… I should be used to it by now, but in truth, I probably never will be. Thankfully, I didn’t fall down a rabbit hole of blackness afterwards, partly because I actually went and got his autograph this time – after 31 years it was about time, don’t you think? – on the new album, no less, which I bought on CD for this particular purpose (I usually buy only digital these days).

I returned home on a high and spent a week frantically working, packing my belongings, organising for my piano to be moved, and packing for Vienna, and then I went to my magic city for an amazing three weeks. I saw old friends, met new ones, went dancing, did some sightseeing, and most of all, studied my hagish ass off, because Croatian is difficult!! It’s also a gorgeous language I completely fell in love with. We were a nice little group, and our teacher is amazing.

Ready for some serious 70s and 80s dancing

To learn the equivalent of a semester’s course – the entire A 1.1 level – in just over two weeks for the test brought me to the limit of my mental capacity. I loved it, but gods, there was just so much to remember! I spent the last four days before the test hardly leaving the house and studying pretty much all the time. But it was worth it. I officially completed the level, and my teacher agreed to lessons through Skype, so now I’m doing A 1.2! I only wish I had more time to study. Did I mention I’m in love with this language?

While in Vienna, I found a house to move into back home, and movers to help me get there. Yes, really. I’ve moved to the East of Mayo, where I’ve also found another house to buy, or rather, a lovely little cottage in the countryside a few miles outside Kilkelly. But the house needs some work – insulation mainly – and so the auctioneer who handles the sale has offered me to rent a house in Kilkelly in the meantime, for three months until the end of the year. It has perfect internet, which is great for my work, and although it’s in the middle of the village, it’s surprisingly quiet. The people here are lovely!! I’ve really fallen on my feet.

Finding someone to insulate and damp-proof my cottage for a price I can afford proved to be difficult, so there were times when I thought I might not be able to buy it after all. And since my mortgage approval is about to expire, that would have been it – my plan B was to move out of the country. I love it here, it’s my soul’s home, but I simply cannot afford the hobby “renting in Ireland” any longer. If I’m going to be renting, it’ll be somewhere else.

Now that I’ve found a builder I can almost afford (well, I can’t, but I should be able to earn the extra cash), it’s beginning to look good. And if not, well, then I’m, in Bilbo’s words, “quite ready for another adventure”. It’s like I said in my last entry: Whatever happens, I’m excited about it. Life is pretty amazing when all your options are equally appealing. This is no accident, by the way. I’ve consciously built my life this way and sacrificed a lot else for it. And was it ever worth it!

The little cottage I’m buying

So now I’m going back and forth between my solicitor, my builder, the house, and the auctioneer, all whilst working full time, working in two businesses to make enough money to pay for it all, studying Croatian, practicing the piano, going for archery, and even trying to find time for the gym in between. Who needs sleep, eh?

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Insecurity + Transition = Joy

Sibylle on a hillside
Hag on a Hillside II

I haven’t updated this blog in such a long time, not because I didn’t have anything to write about, but because I kept hoping I’d have something final to say about the house! Unfortunately, it keeps dragging on. I’ll spare you the boring details; to be honest, it’s nothing unusual here in Ireland. Almost everyone buying a house goes through some major delays.

The problem with all this is that I’ll of course be in Vienna next month and by the end of September I need to move out of my current place, so it’ll be inconvenient at best – I’ll have to move in without painting first, what a pain in the arse – and at worst, the purchase will fall through because I’m running out of time. With my job, I can’t just sleep on someone’s couch for a few weeks, I need an office with a tested internet connection and give advance notice of the move.

I’m not actually looking for comments or even sympathy on this bit, just wanted to keep you up to date. I’ve been through some emotional storms about it, but by now I’ve regained not just my balance, but my exuberant joy, because I just know something absolutely amazing will come out of this. Either my own house, or a new adventure! At times I can’t tell which one I’m hoping for most. The possibilities are sheer endless, and life has got my back.

So many great things have happened, some of which I can’t talk about just yet. But I’m really, really looking forward to the next few months in general. Vienna and the language course will be amazing, I’ve scheduled meet-ups with friends and can’t wait to be back in the most magical city in the world. I’ve got opera, concert, and theatre tickets and so much studying to do, apart from my own business work, of course. It’s going to be amazing.

But first comes the evening I’ve been counting down to for over five months. In two weeks’ time I’ll be in Hamburg; actually, as I write this, in exactly two weeks’ time I’ll still be sitting in the Elbphilharmonie and, judging by the program, Ivo Pogorelich will probably be playing Gaspard de la Nuit. It’ll be the highlight in an amazing – and long! – program. I’m too excited for words and just wish I could speed up time and then put that one evening on repeat for a while.

It’s such a high-vibrations time. Filled with love and wonderful friends, and music, and the sheer magic of life unfolding its abundance. I’m so very ready for the next steps! This includes my transition to a life of freedom, which at this point looks like it’s actually going to happen as planned, at the end of this year. I’m working insane hours right now, but it’s so joyful, I hardly mind at all – oh, it does get too much sometimes, but my friends are there to catch me, they come up for an evening or meet me for a tea somewhere nearby because they know I can’t travel much right now.

I believe transition is the word that applies to pretty much all my life right now. And I’ve always loved these times of insecurity and change. They’re sometimes exhausting, but nothing makes me feel more alive.

Lough Mask
Lough Mask

Yes, the house purchase is stalling and may fall through. Yes, my osteoarthritis has become so bad I can’t shoot a bow with my hand anymore and had to get a wrist-release which is awkward and means I have to almost learn how to shoot from scratch again. Yes, I’m in front of a computer up to 16 hours a day. But I’m so very, very happy! I go to the forest (or somewhere green) once a week. I get to hug lovely people on occasion. And then there’s the music, having a piano to practise on, listening to my favourite recordings, and did I mention it’s only two weeks to go to the recital?? I may just burst with anticipation.

Of course, there’s also a full moon coming up in three days, which makes the whole thing even more intense right now. Lughnasad is over, the days are getting noticeably shorter, the luminous weeks are done, but for once I don’t dread the rest of the year. I have so much to look forward to in the coming months.

P.S. Sorry for some rather cryptic bits in this post: I will disclose more when I can, but I didn’t want to delay writing an update any longer, and now you at least know some of the news!

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With A Little Help From My Friends

It’s my favourite time of the year, but since I write about this every single danged year, I think I’m going to spare you this time and just, well, mention it. The light. Oh the beautiful, endless luminosity, the nights full of blossom scents and pleasure. It’s so bloody sensual and sexy.

I guess I should give you all an update on the house. In short, it’s going well and ticking along, and looking more and more like I’ll be moved in before August. In the meantime, I’m doing unsibylle-ish things such as picking out colours to paint the rooms and buying a sofa. It’s going to be so pretty!

I could also use some help. I’ll probably start on the last weekend in June or the first in July, and spend Friday evenings and Sundays during the day painting. I love painting, but it’s more fun in company! So if any of my Irish friends could spare me a few hours some day, please send me a text or email, or a PM on Facebook and we’ll sort something out.

Apart from all that, I’m working. And while I still enjoy my job and love, love my business(es) work, there’s just so much of it. Way too much, to be honest, and it still isn’t enough and will have to increase before I can leave the job. I tell myself it’s only going to be till the end of the year (hopefully), but gods, am I tired.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you, in fact, everything is going according to plan. It’s just, the plan was to work like a maniac, and I’m beginning to realise that five months without time off is a lot less fun than it sounds.

What keeps up my spirits, apart from my lovely friends (who visit me and keep me from becoming isolated – truly don’t know what I’d do without them!) and thinking of my house, is that I’m counting down the weeks to the Pogorelich recital in Hamburg in August and my three weeks in Vienna in September (I’ll be studying my hagish ass off, but I’ll be outrageously happy doing it). Today it’s exactly 13 weeks to go to the recital, in case anyone’s interested. Yes, I’m counting.

I’m also stubbornly insisting on one day off per week, and while I usually cheat and sneak in a few hours of work in the morning, I do go to Mayo almost every single Saturday to wander around Ballinrobe and then do a round of archery in Massbrook. It’s even more ridiculously beautiful there at this time of the year, with the rhododenron blossoming all over the place.

IMG_0516

I don’t nearly practice the piano as much as I’d like to, and I skip more of my morning workouts than I’m comfortable with. Something’s gotta give, and while I don’t like it, I try to just go with it and repeat “only until the end of the year” in my head.

This sounds a lot more grim than I feel. It’s not easy, but it’s joyful, and the overload is temporary. When all else fails, there’s always Chopin. I recently read Alan Walker’s biography of him, and I didn’t think I could love Chopin any more, but I do. Here’s the waltz I’ve been practising, played to perfection by Kissin:

And now I’ll go to bed. It’s ten, but still light. By the time I wake up, it’ll be light again. Bliss.

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In Which I Get Scared

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Photo by Milada Vigerova

Nah, not really.

Maybe a little. When things are amazing, and everything keeps happening, I sometimes feel a little queasy, like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. And right now the good news keep on coming (more about this a few paragraphs further down).

I just wrote about it on my Facebook page: It’s the “Upper Limit” Gay Hendricks talks about in The Big Leap (highly recommended). Basically, we tend to sabotage ourselves when things feel too good, because we subconsciously want to get back to the level of happiness we’re used to. And in order to prevent this, you have to train yourself to raise your happiness baseline, so to speak.

This is at the core of my work as a Coach. I call it “increasing one’s capacity for happiness”. It’s not something you suddenly get and then know once and for all, it’s more of an ongoing thing. I’m pleased to announce that I am getting better at it!

And boy, do I get a lot of practice these days. So which news do you want first, the crazy shit or the really crazy shit? Let’s start with the crazy.

In September, I’ll spend three weeks in Vienna to do an intensive course in Croatian for beginners. Yay! People keep asking: “Why Croatian?” and I keep asking back: “Why not?” If you’re one of those who insist on a proper reasoning, here it is:

  • I love learning things.
  • I love languages.
  • I’ve never studied any Slavic language, ever.
  • I tend to learn “niche” languages (Norwegian, anyone?).
  • I live in a wet, windy country, so it makes sense that I’d pick the language of a warm, sunny place. And a gorgeous one with incredible nature (see above) and rich history.
  • Helena tells me that Croatian is a great way to get by in the entire region, not just Croatia itself. Win!
  • I keep reading about new Croatian writers who produce these amazing books that are never translated into any other language.

Are these enough reasons for you? There are more, of course, but my most to-the-point answer to the question “Why learn Croatian?” is: Because I can. To me, there’s nothing more exciting than learning something new. I’ll do it for the sheer, wild joy of it.

As a bonus, I’ll be in Vienna! Woohoo! I’ve already booked a temporary flat with a piano in it, and I’ve also paid for it. It’s all in the budget, and yes, that scares me too at times, but right now everything, including the solicitor handling the mortgage and house stuff, is budgeted and paid for.

In case you were wondering, the house has been approved by the bank and so it’s only a matter for the solicitors now. If all goes well, I’ll move in late July, only to disappear to Vienna in September to study Croatian! Ha! I think it sounds perfect, and it makes me so happy I feel slightly drunk from it.

Laniem
The one place in my house that’s never dusty

If that wasn’t crazy enough for you, here comes the really bonkers stuff: I’m looking to transition out of my daytime job. Yes, I know I’ve talked about doing this for years, but I’m actually building multiple streams of income now. Remember The Bilinguist? That’s one of them. And I’m building my Coaching business – my calling, my purpose – more than ever.

It’s not set in stone yet – after going broke once in my life, I’m not going to leave my job unless I’m certain that I’ll earn enough money, reliably, every single month including holidays and Christmas – but if all goes as planned, I’ll no longer be an employee this time next year.

Don’t worry about me saying this in public: My manager knows and is cheering me on, and I’ve also told him that I love the job and wouldn’t consider it hardship to stay on for another while if it turns out I can’t quite live on my business(es) yet. There’s no fixed timeline yet, and I’m welcome to stay or go (there’s a Clash song in there somewhere).

The reason why this is important is that whilst I work from home, I’m only allowed to do my job from Ireland. But with my own business, I can work from wherever I have an internet connection, and that means fulfilling my other crazy dream: that of spending a few months every year in Vienna. If all goes well, I’ll start next year! Then again, it might well take another few years to materialise, and that would be fine, too. I know it’s going to happen eventually.

I’m slightly hyperventilating from all the happiness! I want to include you into this, so please feel me reaching through the computer and hugging you right now. I hope this isn’t weird? I just want to spread my joy, and I hope you’re having a wonderful Bealtaine, the beginning of my favourite time of the year, the “luminous weeks”, and the sexiest, most ecstatic and beautiful month there is.

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Lady Of The Manor

House

I may have bought a house.

When I say “may”, I mean that I have agreed to buy it, and the seller has agreed to sell. This being Ireland, it’ll be anything from six weeks to six months until the banks and the solicitors have pushed sufficient amounts of paper around, and all sorts of things could still go wrong.

So, I probably shouldn’t be shouting it out to the world just yet. But then again, I think I’m perfectly capable of letting you know if it does fall through, and that everyone who reads this is intelligent enough to get it. This is real life. Shit happens.

Having said that, I have a good feeling about this. I mean, just look at it! Isn’t it so pretty? It’s in perfect condition too, and the sellers are a local family whom I’ve met and instantly clicked with. We liked each other, which is why I immediately offered the maximum of what I could afford, and they agreed to it although it was less than what they had been asking for (and what the house is worth, quite frankly).

In other words, I got a bargain. If and when the sale is done, when I’ve painted the rooms and moved in, I’ll of course provide more pictures. It’s just so lovely, wooden floors everywhere, a woodburning stove in the living room… Also, insulated to the nines, which is important in Ireland where heating fuel costs a fortune. And it has a lovely big garden, too. The best part is, it’s in South Co Mayo, exactly where I wanted to end up but didn’t think I could afford anything! It’s like a dream.

In short, I’m a very happy hag! Any good thought mojo you might be inclined to send for a swift and painless buying process, is now gratefully accepted.

I’ve some more news, though. After spending slightly more on the house than I’d been hoping to spend (much as it’s totally worth it), I realised that I’ll need to earn some extra money, pronto. My Coaching biz is ticking along, but I’ve also been doing additional work in the last year or so, and I’ve decided to take that to the next level and “make it official” as something like a second business.

It’s not new, exactly. In fact, this is what I’ve done since university days, and never really stopped doing because I just love teaching and I love languages.

Meet The Bilinguist!

(that’s me, in case you hadn’t guessed)

I know a lot of talented people who write books – both fictional and non-fictional – or have blogs and websites and whatnot. Well, here I am offering my language services in both English and German. Please spread the word! And let me know if you have any project in mind. Nothing’s too small, I promise, and my prices are very competitive.

Or do you know anyone who’d like to learn German? Here’s your chance, no matter where in the world you’re based. I have over 20 years of experience of teaching German as a foreign language, beginners to advanced, at universities and private language schools.

In Massbrook, with Sandy and Ali

It all feels so right, you know? It’s an insane amount of work, on top of a daytime job, but both my businesses are based on my passions, they’re what I love doing and do really well. It’s “happy work”.

Of course, I do need to get out, too. Thankfully, my friends have got my back; when I put out the word that I’m more or less grounded at home, they rallied and announced visits, and they came. And I jealously guard my Mayo-days which are usually spent alone in the woods but these days sometimes include company – such as Sandy and Ali, as seen in the picture above, and the folks who came to shoot with my club a few weeks ago. I made a short video about it, actually, here it is. Enjoy!

 

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5-Oh, Vienna, And You

The Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera) The Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera)

This post contains an invite and stories. They’re connected. The invite is for you, and the stories are of my recent trip to Vienna, where you’re invited to. Let me explain.

Next February (13.02.2020), I’ll turn 50. I’ve decided to spend “half time” (on my journey to the 100 years I’m determined to reach) in my favourite city in the world, and also to invite absolutely everyone I know. I’m not sure about the details yet, but the 13th will be a Thursday, and of course the following day is Valentine’s Day, so in case you’re part of a couple, you should definitely bring your partner, because Vienna is hands down the best place to be in love. Seriously, forget Paris.

You could make a four-day weekend out of it. And because a trip like this requires advance planning, taking time off work etc, I’m telling you now, nearly 11 months in advance. I’m fully aware there might be 5 or 50 people showing up. I’m good either way, just know this: If you do come, you will get hag-hugged! There’s simply no way around that.

Read on to get a taste of the most magical city on earth. It’s steeped in the history of an entire continent (Habsburg empire, anyone?), art, theatre, music… you name it. Most major cities have one famous opera house, and/or world class theatre, and/or concert hall. Vienna has two of each of these, and that’s not counting the many excellent smaller stages and art galleries and museums and the sheer beauty of the architecture – look up anywhere and see artwork and sculpture on the sides of houses – the excellent food and drink, and the unique wry humour of the Viennese, who like to appear grouchy at first glance but really have huge hearts.

Yes, I'd love to go to that concert and hear Liszt playing live! Yes, I’d love to go to that concert and hear Liszt playing live! Alas for being nearly 150 years late.

I made it a musical trip this time, but please remember that Vienna is also the city of Gustav Klimt and much of the Art Nouveau movement of the Fin de Siècle. This is where Hofmannsthal and Schnitzler wrote their works and so many more lived and worked.

On my first evening, I felt a little lonely because my dear Kati, who was going to go to the opera with me to see Figaro, caught pneumonia of all things. I went on my own and sold her ticket to a Korean conductor who lives in the US and was stranded in Vienna for a night because his connecting flight got delayed. We spent all our time before the opera and during the breaks chatting about music – it was one of those Vienna encounters that happen all the time there. In between, we admired the view from our seats, from where we could see the entire orchestra and the conductor, as well as having a perfect view of the stage.

View of the audience and orchestra from my seat View of the audience and orchestra from my seat

The production was incredible, just the right mix between modern and traditional, and the singers were all excellent, in particular Cherubino, the Comtessa and Figaro himself. Thoroughly enchanted, but knackered after only three hours of sleep the previous night, I went straight to the hotel afterwards, still humming “Voi Che Sapete“.

I’d decided that after over 10 years away, I had every right to call myself a tourist again (forget for a moment that I used to live in and around Vienna for over six years), and so I went sightseeing the next day. First came the house where Schubert was born, where I was just about moved to tears listening to a recording of the “Wanderer Fantasie” played by Anatol Ugorski (note to self, look up more of Ugorski’s albums).

At Schubert's birthplace At Schubert’s birthplace

Then I went on to one of Mozart’s apartments in Vienna. What I love most about all these is the handwritten originals of famous pieces that are on display there. On Tuesday at Beethoven’s house, I even saw an early version of my favourite sonata. As well as an actual lock of Ludwig’s hair, which I found strangely touching.

Then there are the historical instruments, of course. Check out the five pedals!

This belonged to Schubert's brother This belonged to Schubert’s brother

In the afternoon, just when my feet began to protest, I met Tom for dinner and drinks and a good long chat and putting the world to rights. I almost forgot to take pictures but Tom remembered – this is us outside the Stephansdom (St Stephen’s Cathedral) which stands right in the centre of Vienna.

With Tom With Tom

The entire trip was like closing a wound from the past, putting yet another piece of my life’s puzzle back into place (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read yesterday’s post). I reconnected with friends, re-visited places I loved, and basked in the most incredible music. Bliss!

The undisputed highlight of the trip was the recital of my other all-time favourite pianist (yes, I have two!), Evgeny Kissin. I knew I had a good seat but nearly fainted when I realised that I was actually in the front row, by the piano and just a little to the left, so I could see his hands. The piano was so close that when he stood to bow, I could have stretched out my hand and touched him.

The view from my seat! The view from my seat!

The people in the seats around mine were lovely and the perfect company for this. Kissin is just so unbelievably good, it’s almost surreal. I’ve never had such a close view of a pianist’s technique and I drank it all in, trying to take mental notes whilst being completely ravished by the beauty of the music. He played Chopin, Schumann, Debussy, and Scriabin, and I loved all of it, but the Scriabin (the very short 4th sonata) was probably my favourite.

The entire Musikverein was on their feet applauding every time he reappeared, and we got him to play four encores! And still it was all over way too quickly.

Beyond happy, just before the recital. Beyond happy, just before the recital.

To top it all off, I ran into him afterwards, and managed to thank him and exchange a few words! He’s friendly, unassuming, and funny, and I couldn’t help thinking that it wouldn’t make a difference to his playing if he wasn’t, but it’s still nice to know that the guy who’s probably the most ingenious pianist alive at this time, is also a lovely person.

This post is way too long already, so I’ll leave it at that. Go and plan your visit! You’ll be pleased to find that Vienna is a very affordable city to stay in as well. I paid all of 135 EUR for four nights in a simple, but clean 3-star hotel.

See you in February 2020!

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Oh, Maestro

The lovely crowd at my birthday dinner in February The lovely crowd at my birthday dinner in February

I was going to tell you all about it.

And then I didn’t.

And didn’t. And postponed it. And just “didn’t find the time”. And then I realised, this stuff is way too personal. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know that I wear my heart on my sleeve; I’m not afraid to be vulnerable and share, and yet, that’s only true to a certain extent.

The real inner workings of this hag are only known to a very small number of select people. Through my business presence alone, I’m a fairly public person, and I believe in authenticity, I’ve never been interested in presenting a perfect facade just for marketing reasons. What you see and read is who I am. At the same time, for this exact reason – because so much is so public – there needs to be an inner core of privacy that I simply don’t share online.

I’ll have to find a way to write about these past four weeks so it’s authentic and true, without baring that which I’m not willing to make public. This requires a modicum of history, so here goes.

On two occasions, I’ve kicked people out of my life. Both were indirect results of trauma I didn’t know I carried. Heck, I only realised I’ve lived through abuse and ended up traumatised from it, about five months ago, twenty years after it happened! Because I wasn’t physically abused and didn’t end up in a shelter, I thought I was fine. And didn’t notice that I’d been robbed of my self-esteem and was drifting into a series of terrible decisions, self-sabotage and what I call soul-amputation – cutting off things, and people, from my life, and pretending they’d never been there.

When I began to heal from several years of light depression in 2015, I started peeling back the layers, reconnected with friends, rediscovered passions, and found new friends and passions. I thought that was the extent of the work, but when I stumbled on that trauma from 20 years ago, I realised that there was more work left to do, older friends and passions to recover. This process is still very much ongoing, and I don’t actually need to go into the details, because the insight from it all is enough:

I need all parts of myself. I don’t get to pick and choose what to leave behind. Of course, toxic people and situations that were clearly unhealthy for me, can and should be kicked out of my life. But I’ve been in the habit of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and then throwing the entire bath after it, and the house too.

[Here’s the part where I keep details private].

The results of this process – although it’s far from complete – have been nothing short of dramatic. I’m manifesting an avalanche of blessings, everything’s falling into place magically.

First of these was my trip to Germany a month ago. I visited my dad and stayed with my lovely friends, catching up and talking until the late evening, and then in the morning I got the train to Nuremberg. I’d been in a state of hyper-excitement and tension for weeks leading up to it, there was just so much emotion involved. The first time I went to a recital again since Eveline’s death in 2011, had to be this one, and I had to go on my own because I’d never see Ivo Pogorelich with anyone else. I had a good ticket but managed to grab an even better seat in the second row, just to the left, so I could see his hands and he was only 10-12 ft away.

Beyond excited on my way to the concert hall Beyond excited on my way to the concert hall

My expectations were sky-high, but he still blew them out of the water. I’d completely forgotten how magical it is to have him playing live right in front of me, and he absolutely killed me with the Mozart Adagio (click the link for a one-minute sample; you’ll see what I mean), which I’ve been practising myself recently. But the undisputed highlight was the Liszt sonata. Out of this world. Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, brilliant, I liked them even better than his older (stellar) recording of them, something I didn’t think possible. I was struggling to process it all; he still does that to me 31 years later.

He signed CDs afterwards, but I didn’t join the queue. Maybe I should have. I did watch him for a bit, being his usual cordial self (where people get this BS that he’s arrogant, I don’t know. I’ve met him before, many years ago, and he’s never been anything but exceedingly friendly), and I just wanted to hug him. I’m so bloody grateful that he’s still around, still doing this, still putting up with the circus people stage around him. It means so much. Maybe I’ll get to tell him one day.

The Maestro signing CDs after the recital The Maestro signing CDs after the recital

Just like it had happened during my “coming back to life” in 2016, I had to wade through a lot of darkness in the wake of the intense emotion of that evening. It took me almost a week to come out the other side, but come out I did – just in time for the next magical manifestation:

I’ve been approved for a mortgage! If you’ve known me for a while, know of the financial breakdown it took me over a decade to recover from (by learning to manage my finances and paying back every last cent I owed without writing off anything) and my previous, failed attempts of getting a mortgage at my age and with only one income (as opposed to, a couple sharing), will be able to fathom the enormity of this. Renting in Ireland is excruciating, expensive, and insecure – I’ve moved house every 1-3 years since I arrived here. Now I’ll be a home owner!

I’m about as mature as a five-year-old about this, so I shall insist on people referring to me as Lady of the Manor (“of the Hovel”, more like, to tell the truth). I haven’t got anything yet but have put in an offer on a house I love. It’s doubtful that I’ll get it, and I keep repeating to myself, “this or something better will come along”. I’ll keep you updated, obviously!

The third manifestation was my trip to Vienna that I’ve just returned from on Tuesday. It was actually a series of incredible manifestations, and I’m going to do something I’ve never done before and dedicate a separate blog entry to it, because this actually concerns – you. Yes, you! Stay tuned and make sure you read it.

Now I’m back and thankfully there’s no blackness this time, just happiness. I also promptly manifested something else! See, after the incredible experience in Nuremberg, I was very interested to see the announcement that Ivo Pogorelich is going to be part of the Schleswig-Holstein Musikfestival this August, with a recital in Hamburg. The problem is that only category tickets were available at first, where they assign you a seat, and I’m not buying blind! So I decided to risk it and wait until seat tickets became available on the 15th (yesterday).

Except that last week, the concert had sold out completely. Argh! I resigned myself to it but still decided to give them a call on the 15th to check if there’s a waiting list I could get onto.

It took me over two hours to get through to them, the lines were so busy. And the guy said he had one ticket left, actually, but only one (in a hall with 2,100 seats!). “Where?” I asked, fully expecting it to be somewhere in the back.

He said: “On the podium, next to the piano.”

How likely was that to happen? I’m incredibly happy but also awe-struck and beyond grateful. I’ve known this state of effortless bliss and manifestation before, and it’s something you never forget. I’ll always recognise it immediately. This is the vibration of “flow”, and while I know I’ll never manage to stay in this permanently – I’m not some enlightened Buddha person – I’ll aim for it as much as I can.

And I’m absolutely basking in it while it lasts. Today, I’m in need of some grounding, so I’ll be off to the woods with my bow now.

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Kermit The Hag

Mount Nephin
Nephin this week

Me darlin’s. Life’s the best, and the biggest twat at the same time.

So I’ve developed symptoms of osteoarthritis in my hands. That’s the non-rheumatic arthritis, folks, the one that comes from a loss of the cartilage which usually cushions two bones meeting in a joint. Usually this happens to older people – unless, of course, you happen to have done a lifetime of practising the piano and a decade or two of extremely typing-intensive jobs as well as a few years of gaming. You know, the way I have.

Before I continue: Please, please note that I’m not looking for medical advice. I’m very well looked after and know exactly what I’m doing (doctor, physio, home treatment, supplements etc etc). People mean well, but it’s extremely tiring to explain over and over why I’m doing what I’m doing, why I’m not doing what they suggest, and why I’m not even open to hearing anything else anymore. It’s exhausting, and I’m not willing to talk about it for longer than it takes to keep you in the loop of what’s going on. Okay? Thank you.

It sucks, no question. But it’s early days and I still have a chance to protect what cartilage I have left. Right now, my main problem is that the OA came paired with carpal tunnel and cramping muscles in my hands – whether as a side effect or from being rusty after not practising for so long, I’m not sure. I’ve checked my technique, which has of course suffered from not practising for 15 years, but it’s not bad enough to warrant this. So I have to force myself to take it slowly. For a while, I practised no more than 5-10 minutes a day, which is completely ridiculous – it’s about enough to warm up, not to progress on anything. Argh.

So now I’ve extended it to 2 x 15-20 minutes. And even that is hard to stick to, especially as I’ve started practising a waltz by Chopin, my favourite composer. It feels like coming home to play Chopin again. And when it’s time to be sensible, it’s like I’m re-enacting that good-Kermit, bad-Kermit meme, talking to myself (as Oscar Wilde said, at least it’s intelligent conversation):

Kermit

Me: That’s it, now stop and get up.

Other Me: But.

M: Hands are hurting.

OM: I still miss that d-sharp occasionally. I need to practise until I hit it every time, otherwise the wrong note will sink in and then I’ll struggle with it for weeks.

M: Get. Up. You need to ice your hands. Or maybe: Make hot chocolate, ice your hands and listen to Ivo Pogorelich playing the “Tempest” sonata. How’s that?

OM: Deal.

M: Great.

OM: But first I’ll play it through one more time.

Like I mentioned before, I’m learning to see the pain as guidance, rather than annoying, and I actually manage this most of the time. And I’m just so happy to be at the piano again at all.

earrings
My new earrings

Other decisions had to be made: No more gaming for me, and swords are out for good. I’m also discovering lots of things that aren’t good for my finger knuckles, such as carrying grocery bags – ouch! Strictly speaking, I probably shouldn’t draw a bow either, but I’ll give up archery over my cold, dead body. I won’t train daily anymore and only shoot for myself, not competitively, once a week or so in Massbrook. But I’ll keep doing it.

And since it’s my first post of 2019, here’s a list of what was great in 2018:

  • I paid back the absolute last of my debts. That meant that I couldn’t travel or buy anything until October, but gods was it worth it. Feels great to have an actual net worth again, and a budget for things like travel.
  • I stepped up my Coaching, got clear on why I’ve been put on this planet and found amazing friends who are solo entrepreneurs, too. It makes the world of a difference.
  • I got a different position in my daytime job, with hours that suit me so much better. Cue happier hag and better business hours.
  • I reconnected with some long-lost friends. This is still a work in progress. It feels like the last of the healing from my “dark years”, but this one reaches a lot further back. One day I might blog about it, right now I’m not ready to share on that level. Suffice it to say that it concerns trauma I’ve been carrying since my short and ill-advised marriage. It feels great putting the last of the pieces back together.
  • I got a piano! I’m practising again!
  • I also found an exercise routine I can actually stick with. No more start-and-stop, I’ve been at it for 8 months and there’s no end in sight.

My plans and goals for 2019 are secret, apart from those I’ve already shared: Travelling to meet old friends and beloved places again, and to see some of my favourite musicians live. It’s already an amazing year!

Please feel free to leave a comment below. It will be visible after approval and I respond to every comment, so do check back later!

If you’d like a quick email notification every time I post something new on my blog, fill in this little form. I give you my hagish word that I’ll never spam you or pass on your data!