Family, grief, love.

I have not posted for a while. This is a long post. Please excuse me.

Tuesday this week, marked six weeks since my Mum died. Her name was Mary Anne Millar Macleod, once she married my Dad in 1966: Macleod-McCormack. My Mum and Dad were together for 59 years since Mum was 15.

She was feisty, intelligent, quick-witted, fun, a task-master, a damn-fine teacher, a red-head, political, an historian, focused, stubborn, respected, elegant, determined, dramatic, a lover of the islands she grew up on, their traditions and culture, a lover of country music, a Christmas fanatic, outspoken, a writer, could read a book a day, demolished the newspaper, informed, she remembered every detail no matter how minuscule and could hear the grass grow.

Since that Tuesday 6 weeks ago, there has been a very acute feeling that ‘something’ is missing.

Mum was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in May 2018 and began chemotherapy treatment on June 18th, 2018 – the only path available to her – this was scheduled to finish at the end of October, it finished early June 2019.

This cancer was Mum’s second.

Mary had ovarian cancer when she was just 36. I was 11. My age and, without doubt, my parents shielded me from much of that trauma. Years later, as she coped with the various side-effects the early 80’s chemo and radiation therapy left her with, it was summed up for us that parts of Mum’s body were ’20 years older’ than the rest of her. Sadly, these ‘side-effects’ seem to have masked the onset of her new cancer. As her new treatment progressed and we encountered problems, we were informed Mum was very sensitive to chemotherapy because her bone-marrow had already taken a battering as a young woman. (The doctors did not put it like this, but you understand.)

When Mum died, she still had the four small black tattooed dots on her abdomen and back, which marked, 38 years previous, where the doctors inserted the radiation pack. After being 38 years cancer-free, it was devastating to learn of this new cancer, lots of painful memories came flooding back, but we came to terms with the news and got on with supporting her ‘fight’ against it. There was nothing else we could do.

I have read in recent times that many cancer patients dislike the term ‘cancer fight’ or ‘cancer battle.’ I understand why. What they are doing is:

living as best they can while following the path of treatment they have chosen, provided there is a path open to them.
Metaphor v Reality.

My Dad, my Auntie Margaret, close friends at home and away, our Macmillan nurses, her Consultant medical team, our GP practice doctors and nurses, hospital medical staff, the community nurses and friends within our Hebridean island community; so many lent their support, as did our neighbours and friends in our local community in Ireland. Mum threw everything into her reality. She gave everything she did in life her full attention; her reaction to her cancers was no different. Her stage 4, oesophageal cancer diagnosis meant she should have died before August 20th. Her will was always resolute. However, though she provided us more time, sadly, the outcome is still the same.

Despite all this, during the last 15 months, we have had good times. Amazing times. One, in particular, was ‘the party.’ July 27th. It was a beautiful day. We hoped to take Mum outside to join some of her closest friends; however, quickly realised we could not even get Mum out of bed so, nine friends piled into the bedroom. Noel (my husband) and I were head-chef, and sous and the stories and laughter began. Mum was always good at rising to an occasion.

I wasn’t able to work for the first six months; I could not do it. Then there came the point where I needed to sing. Singing makes me feel good; it’s mindful of me to sing. Those gigs were tough, leaving for those gigs was tough. Make-up, my curls, and clothing became a protective shield. The best thing about this time away was: I came back with tales, photos, and videos and shared them with Mum and Dad.

Regarding the work I did, I must thank:

The Chieftains and their management team for bearing with me through my turmoil, their kind emails, and calls. My road-sisters Cara Butler, Tara Breen, Triona Marshall, Niamh Ní Bhriain for the laughter and hugs. My agent in Germany Daniela Wilde for accepting the two-week tour she had booked, be reduced to two days. SHINE: for understanding, I was out of the picture. Graham Maciver from @studio27.p and Karen Maciver for supporting me through to the completion of our Iolaire centenary documentary during what was the most stressful time and the many other musicians and writers who put up with my inability to focus quite as before.

Mum was effectively bed-bound since day 1 of her treatment in 2018. In her bed, Mum was safe; she chatted away quite the thing; when Mum was out of bed, only then, were we reminded of how ill she was. Mum did not wish to die; she loved life too much, but she got her second wish, which was to die at home, with her family, on the croft where she was born. I will be eternally grateful to all the medical personnel who supported my Dad and I during this time.

I must also thank my Dad, Angus, and my husband, Noel . You have witnessed me at my best and worst.

What I am most grateful for over these difficult months, is the time I have been able to spend with Mum and Dad. My Auntie Margaret; retired Sister/Ward Manager Margaret Dobson, said I made ‘an excellent nurse’ I threw everything at that ‘role.’ Sound familiar?

What a fifteen months this has been. I am very aware that what has happened has not fully ‘hit’ me yet, it will no doubt ‘hit’ when I least expect it. Or else, over time, slowly seep in. I am also aware; I am not myself. There is a new normal; to which, somehow, I must adjust.

I have decided to ‘throw’ myself back into life. What else can you do? Life has been so different this last year, moving forward is daunting. You may find me curled-up-in-a-corner crying. I feel very vulnerable. And even so, I know, I will also be heard laughing. I am going to do my best to keep picking myself up and get on with life because that – Mum – is what you would want.

Dad and I miss you every day.

 

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MeToo

MeToo

I was 16. I was asleep. At first. I continued to pretend I was asleep. I understand now that reaction was fear and weirdly self-preservation. The incident did not last long. I managed to roll myself out of it. I never said a word, not that day nor for a long time afterwards. I was too scared of the consequences; the fall out. I felt guilty. I felt it was my fault. IT WASN’T. There was no counselling, no support, I carried on as if nothing had happened. Lots was happening though, inside me. I was fucking angry. It’s like a ball of fire in your gut. It seeps out at times, the wrong times. It colours everything you do. My confidence was shot to pieces. If you think I’m confident, I’m a better actress than I know. Without counselling an incident like this colours your life forever.

I became bulimic. You stuff food inside yourself to supress the raging emotions. Then vomit it all up – it’s exhausting. I eventually went for counselling for my bulimia, group counselling, it didn’t really help I just learned that other girls were suffering too but we never discussed why.

Many brave faces have been put on. I wanted desperately for someone to protect me. I also wanted someone to beat him up. Basically, you experience a wall of emotions.

Directly after I got married I became quite depressed. (Sorry Noel – but if anyone knows that you do). I was 39 by this point. I was really happy newly-married to Noel, and the depression was so confusing, but this was nothing to do with him, I just couldn’t shake off this particular depression. I went to see a counsellor in Dublin. When I sat in her chair I could feel this ball of anger welling up inside me, I started crying, I could not stop. It was all to do with that incident when I was 16. I was still carrying around this fog, 23 years later, and it felt like yesterday.

Just after moving to Gorey – again a happy move – the fog came again but I got an appointment with our local psychologist.  He listened to me at length and suggested I go for counselling sessions here with the Rape Crisis centre. I met a wonderful woman called Imelda. After I explained everything she told me she wanted to check something out and the next week said ‘Alyth, by law, you were raped’. Now you may think I would know this? – as we all know what rape is – but rape can be many things. However, Imelda saying that to me made a real difference. She gave a name to this pathetic incident that had scarred me so badly. The guilt stopped. I believe people call that understanding ‘owning it’ (though this is nothing I wanted to own.) I was told to write a letter to him. I did. You don’t have to send that letter – writing the letter is facing the facts – but I did. He denied it. I am not surprised – who the hell would want to admit to something like this. I was annoyed, but now I am truly over it. I have no dealings with him. I don’t think much of him. I get on with my life. He has to live with it.

I know – with great sadness – I am one of millions.

If you experienced something similar I hope you were able to cope better than I, but if not find a way through it till it is truly over, otherwise it will never leave you. The problem with being a victim is you have to find the strength, the ability to heal even though you did not set this thing in motion. Respect and sex education need to be an open discussion. My thoughts about Lewis at that time was – there was too much religion and not enough reality but that would not be exclusive to Lewis.

What I regret most of all is my confidence being shattered and draggin’ this through my life for so long.

It has not been easy writing this as I am aware that once you post something you are open to any reaction but the objectifying and disrespect of women is far too commonplace to stay silent.

All about salt: kosher, sea and Maldon

About to bake a paleo banana bread and needed to check up on salt. Like this.

Food Science Institute

sea salt Sea salt

Salt comes in a bewildering number of packages: table, kosher, Maldon, sea and even popcorn. What’s the difference and does it matter? And why use kosher salt?  In this article we’ll tell you how these salts are different and how you might use them.

Well, first of all, they are all basically sodium chloride (NaCl) and crystallized in various ways with various numbers of impurities. Salt naturally crystallizes in little cubes, but if you fool around as it is crystallizing you can get slightly differently shaped crystals.

Table salt products usually have anti-caking additives so they will flow smoothly. Morton’s and Diamond both add silicon dioxide (sand), tricalcium phosphate, sodium bicarbonate, dextrose (glucose) and for iodized salt, potassium iodide.

Kosher salt is a larger crystal salt, and while it usually is actually kosher, it is really a salt used in the koshering process, to draw blood from the…

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How to Set Goals, Stick to them and Achieve Them!

The Zeit

Do you set goals with excitement and gung-ho attitude that you are going to “crush” your goals, have fantastic energy and momentum at the start, make some great progress, but maybe a few weeks later, you find yourself slowing down, or perhaps even unmotivated?

Why does this happen and more importantly, how can you make sure to see your goals through?

To understand how our brain works, picture an iceberg which will be representative of our brain. The tip of the iceberg that is visible symbolizes our conscious brain, which is only about 10% of our brain. This part of our brain stores both conscious and unconscious core beliefs. Core beliefs are the files we have that open up and have us react to situations in a certain way because of what we believe, which are formed unconsciously in childhood. These beliefs can serve us or not serve us today…

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‘What you can do to prevent cancer’

It’s not a cheerful subject but cancer is something we hear about more and more. I don’t think we should shy away from it. Both my parents have had cancer. My Mum when she was 36, she is now 71, and my Dad a few years ago. Cancer has often been spoken of in our house. My parents survived, my Auntie Joan did not.

I was trawling through a local bookshop the other day, something I love to do, and I came across a book called ‘What you can do to prevent cancer’ by John McKenna he is ‘a scientist, a retired medical doctor who has been practising natural medicine for 25 years’.

Because of my parents experiences I thought I knew a good bit about what cancer is and how it ‘works’ well it turns out I need to correct some of the ideas I have and in doing so could help myself strengthen my own immune system to fight against it. It is no guarantee but now I am in my mid 40’s cancer is something I think about more regularly. I’d also like to try to help my husband stay cancer free too. So, I am reading this book and would like to pass on some things I have learned.

  • It’s a western disease – African and other non westernised countires have lower forms of cancer: cancers related to chronic infections eg hepatitus.
  • It used to be an illness of the young and elderly as their immune systems being underdeveloped or in decline.
  • We develop cancer cells everyday it is a normal process, dealt with by our immune system, it is when this system goes awry problems occur.
  • A great many cancers are ‘exogenous’ that is ‘external so can be prevented’
  • Cancer’s main source of energy is glucose so that’s refinded carbohydrates – rice, pasta, porridge, potatoes, bread and – of course – sugar.
  • ‘Genes are only a small part of the picture’lifestyle and enviroment are a bigger factor and it is the ‘interaction between our genes and enviroment that determines’ whether our genes will be triggered.
  • ‘Epigenomes are the receptors in DNA that are a major factor in determining whether cancer will develop’
  • ‘The single major enviromental influence on epigenome is diet’
  • During the 2nd world war food was scarce so agricultural chemicals were developed to boost crops, these nirtogen fertilisers weakened plants making them ‘susceptible to infection’ so pesticides were developed to ‘strenghten’ them. These chemical are still in our enviroment.
  • Agricultural chemicals have been around since 1949 younger farmers don’t necessarily know how to farm without them.
  • Antibiotics are oversubscribed which weakens the immune system.
  • We should not eat ANY processed foods.
  • We should not eat anything anything labled low fat as this = high sugar.
  • Perfumes and body products are still not properly regulated they, like plastic, contain hormones disruptors.

My husband and i live in the countryside and love where we live. We work hard for this to be our home. We are surrounded by fields and nature – agricultural fields. As we are far from the main road we have a well as our water source and the water runs off the hills surrounding us. Hills and fields that are sprayed at various times of the year. The first thing we are having done is have our water tested. I am not panicing but I would like to be better informed.

I will continue reading, learning and reporting.

IMG_4795

 

 

21 Must-Have Travel Experiences in the Outer Hebrides

There’s more to the Outer Hebrides than the guidebooks would have you believe – but don’t just take my word for it.  Visit these islands for yourself, and take this list of essential travel experiences with you! See the sunset (or the Northern Lights) at the Callanish Stones. The Callanish Stones are older than Stonehenge, and…

http://storiesmysuitcasecouldtell.com/2016/05/11/travel-experiences-in-the-outer-hebrides/