Gotta Grow Some Taters

I grew up in St.Augustine, FL which is also known as the “Nation’s Oldest City.”  Flat sandy beaches, beautiful bay front views and magical sunsets court the variety of tourists that come from near and far.  But, what some may not know is that further inland, people grow potatoes.  Some of my dearest friends growing up were farmers.  I wanted to further my appreciation for them by trying to do all the preparation, digging, weeding, singing and sowing that goes into food production.

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Ms.Dudley’s favorite first graders, ever.

Since my special delivery of cowshit, onions, garlic and taters are giving way in my little plot.  Swiss chard, perpetual spinach, kale, swedes, basil and thyme are attempting life in the windowsill.  The anxious reality that my onions and garlic won’t be ready until August will be quelled once my leafy things take off.  Well, unless the hares get them first!

“I don’t believe in green thumbs, only brown ones.”-Klaus Laitenberger

Sadly, we often forget all the time and energy that farmer friends dedicate to growing real food.  And instead of giving veg a go, we opt for a grassy lawn overlooking some serious garden potential.  Here’s to sustainable living and super stinky garlic breath!

 

 

Fire in the hole!

Just days after I got the nerve to post about living in the van, the thing spontaneously combusts!  Rolfe and I were headed to town, I cranked the engine and it wouldn’t turn over.  I tried again and voila! it started, with an extra, special plume of smoke coming from the engine.

I freaked, hopped out of the van,  popped the bonnet to open her up and there was a small fire ablazin’.  Sweet!  I tried to blow it out. (stop laughing)  It persisted so I grabbed Rolfe and ran frantically around the other side of the house, expecting the whole thing to blow.  I spun around and round like a dreidel, dreidel in the meantime calling Molly, my landlady-neighbor to tell her, “The van is on fire!”  Still smoking, I secured Rolfe and decided to try harder to save the van.b76344cd-1853-4dff-a27d-64cf5fe03b2b-4986-00000b04efab6e29.png

I grabbed a hoodie that was still damp, drying on the line to extinguish the fire. Moments later, Gary (Molly’s husband of 41 years) arrived to investigate.  The electrical around the battery was completely singed.

Is this a sign telling me to give up my journey as a van woman? Naw, I think it means fix her up, get a sub-woofer.

A weekend without wheels in rural Ireland was great! Until it wasn’t.  The truth is without my veg going or the hens laying, food was scarce.  We took turns riding the bike into the village, determined to keep the coffee and ciggy stockpile fierce.

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I told Gary I’d look for a car on Done Deal (Irish Craigslist) and done make me a deal!  He said, “Now, I’m not telling you what to do but…” advised me to go down the lane to the neighborhood garage.  There I was greeted by two stately German Shepherds, and a genuine Irishman.  Genuine in the sense that he says ‘fuckin’ every fifth word and has a heart of gold.

Ladies and gents I am the proud owner of a 2003 Ford Fiesta and it is exactly like driving a go cart.  The car guy’s best advice was to give meself! plenty of time to get to town.  I thought he meant this as a precaution because I’d be wanting to turn into on-coming traffic, seated on the opposite side than what I am used to.  Or, I would have to get used to the clutch, but no, it’s because, it literally. takes. longer.  I feel so cute driving it like somehow I am petite. It has a sunroof, but it’s not electric.  There is a hook that I thought was for dry cleaning, or something but it is actually a hand crank which would be life saving in an unexpected underwater event.

I am thoroughly impressed with the Irish hospitality.  It is underpopulated and they make every effort to help you out, make you feel welcome and part of their lush rural haven.  Google actually gives hitch-hiking time travel estimates.  “Eye?” “Eye!” They seem to take care of one another, no matter where ye come from.

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A Swede, An American and a Teleporter

Agharrow- I have been planning this garden since January when the sun was non-existent.  I started with some research and now here I am getting fresh cow shit dumped gardenside.

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I know now why the Irish build stone walls, well sort of.  The stone border here and throughout were collected from digging out the beds.  Jesus Christ.  To be fair, I think all of this was fill dirt added many years ago.  After a while it was great fun seeing who could hoe out the biggest rock.

IMG_7386.JPGHad the early potatoes chittin’ in the windowsill until a few centimeters of shoots emerged (mine are Colleen Organic).  Early potatoes are more blight resistance but have smaller yields.  My leeks turned leggy, but better luck next year because I don’t really like them anyways.  My biggest flaw is impatience.  In Ireland, it is so important to wait to sow anything because the hours of daylight are so few in the winter and sunlight scarce.

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Pretty awesome when the delivery man does a shite job and your neighbor helps you out.  No chance of me moving a one tonne bag of Envirogrind compost over a 3 ft wall and into the garden.  The next day he dumped a load of fresh cow manure over the fence after I had mentioned interest.  One of a kind, he is.

IMG_8002.JPG(Boring paragraph about gardening, skip to the next for the food porn)  The scutch grass is still a pain in the A$$ but I am getting through it.  I did break down and buy some timber raised bed kits but then realized I will still want to double dig beneath them so there’s really not much point until my raised mound beds disappoint me or I want a mini garden out the kitchen window for the hares.  So far the garlic and onions are starting out nicely.  I’m sure I planted the garlic while it was still cold enough, otherwise it will just grow into one giant clove instead of bulbing out, like a boss.  I covered the onions with a cloche for the first two weeks which seemed to keep the birds away until they rooted.

Missing the van life  a bit so were decided to cook paella (vegetarian version) outside on the portable stove.  It was brilliant!

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Makin’ it to Mullaghmore

Benbulbin in the back, rocky cliffs in the front, Mullaghmore or An Mullach Mór is Irish for “The Great Summit” and a couple of villages away.  Whenever I meet a local, the conversation usually reveals two things 1) I am not Irish 2) I have not been to Mullaghmore.  With a free day and some curiosity Rolfe and I hopped in the van destined for this famed surfer’s peninsula.

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My iPhone retired itself a while ago, so for navigation I usually jot down the directions and then forget them at home.  Out here, the rural roads tend to be too tiny for two cars to fit fairly, therefore it’s always a game of who has the nicer car.  Generally, I am the one who has to go off-roading.  The best advice I can give for riding around these parts is if the road seems like somebody’s muddy driveway, it’s probably your best bet.

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The waves were dwarfed with no surfers in sight.  I admit, I was a bit nervous, alone, well besides Rolfe, with the wind and wide open ocean below the cliffs.  I was mesmerized for a moment, like the nihilist in me saying “just do it, jump in there, go back to the sea!! let it take you!! Life in meaninglesssssssss!”

I did spot one soul up on the cliffs. I passed him later by the beach, umbrella down, enjoying a little ray of sunshine.  In Ireland it’s always worth it to go out even if the weather seems crummy.

I took Rolfe down to the sandy shoreline.  There were a few signs posted that cattle could be grazing…on the beach.  I kept Rolfe on lead while investigating.  We arrived with windy rain and left the place in the sunshine, typical for Ireland.

IMG_7917We got our daily dose of adorable on the way home.  The new life roaming around this time of year is the epitome of cute.  They use a paint by number system to match the lambs with their mothers.  This kind of takes away from the ambiance of sheep sightings not to mention that this little guy will probably be ordered for dinner sometime soon.  My heart is still warmed by their sweet existence.

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I will return to Mullaghmore to see the Classiebawn Castle and maybe some rad wave BOMBS over next winter.  But for a first run, it was worth the go.

Life in the Van- Amsterdam

I have been hesitant to write about living in the van.  I envy the awesome Instagram travel posts #vanlife and the like.  My expectations were that picturesque pimped out Westfalia with all the mod cons and the interior designs of an Anthropologie store.  Being a novice and in a foreign country I wanted to take the approach like we do in nursing for medicating old people with opioids, “start low and go slow.”

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What van life dreams are made of.

While still living in a flat in Ganzenhof,  I scoured Markplaats (Dutch Craigslist) for a suitable vehicle that I could convert into a proper sleeping mobile. I found a super nice Volkswagen for €3500 in the Jordaan.  The biggest turn off here was that the dude had named it something horrible.  I can’t remember but it was Bess or Sissy…is was Sus, yep Sus. He had taken it for a quick spin to Spain and it had higher mileage than what I wanted.  It was also my first “newsflash!” that I would have to learn how to drive a manual transmission, I needed more time to think.  I also didn’t want to be driving a bright green van around the city, sleeping and working until I got my bearings and deciding where to go next.  I needed something stealthy and not a RV.

Although the culture of campervans and aires is quite common in Europe, it is harder in The Netherlands, especially in/around Amsterdam.  This is common sense really.  I don’t think the Geemente wants a bunch of people like myself living in vans, making shanty towns and going for wild plassens, despite the general tolerance for prostitution, soft drugs etc.  I will say my experience(s) with the Politie and Eurocops in general has been quite friendly.  But, go to France and you can sleep in hundreds of aires for free, Spain, just park wherever you want and carry on.

I didn’t know a lot about cars except that German ones have intricate engines and are expensive to repair.  Solution, go with a Ford.  This sounds very American, but hey! I needed cup holders damn it.    I found the Transit for €1600 and it came with three free driving lessons! No, not exactly but once I admitted to not knowing how drive a manual, Jan (the owner) thought it necessary to make sure I wouldn’t kill people, especially cyclists.

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Who I am

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Who I wanna be

After the first driving lesson in Zaandam, Jan dropped me off at the train station.  Before that he asked me to make the money transfer.  I whipped out my iPhone and transferred the money straight away as HE drove away…in my van.  My heart sank.  I called him hysterical and crying.  Useless shitty wimpy girl I was.  He was totally helping me out with the driving lessons and registering the car.  He said, “Uh well you know where I live.”  Which I did, but I had NEVER bought a car myself, like without a parent or significant other to say “Yes, good job Haley!” typical, I know.  I will credit my mother with giving me the confidence to drive a large van.  In high school I had to drive her van.  We called it the party-bus, it was dank.  I picked up the van after two more lessons, barely knowing how to reverse.  I’ll never forget the back and butt sweat on the way home, stalling out on an uphill, stopped on a bridge letting a barge through or something.  Terror on wheels-it was.   I made it back to Ganzenhof and promptly took a three hour nap.

We (my companions to be described at a later date) started making some renos on the van.  In The Netherlands you need a few specs to register it as a campervan, one being a certain height requirement that I didn’t have.  Instead I insured it as a business van, Haley Wool ftw! which earned me the name “Haley Lawless,” along with making U-turns every chance I got. Alas, transforming the van- we needed a place to cook, storage and a bed.  Now, some campers get a portable toilet.  I have made a career out of cleaning up other people’s feces (sometimes really joyous patients throw it around the place) so I chose to forgo a toilet sloshing around every round-about.  The goal was to make the van sleepable with a bed, insulation, buy a stove and give up all belongings unless they fit snugly in the van.  Plans to install an aux battery were and still are alive, but winter came quickly so we had to move fast.

I bought the van in July and by August we were camping every night.  It was lovely but as the weather changed and I realized I was in Northern Europe, I began to unravel by Halloween.  Planning is key here and a big misstep on my part was that I started way late in the season.  However, if you find an opportunity to live in a van and a willing partner to travel alongside you, I suggest you go for it no matter what the length of time.  As the spring is warming me up now, I am certainly thinking about getting back out of the road.

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The Vanje and the best lil’ camper ever, Rolfie!!

Starting the Irish Garden

Aside from being a registered nurse and dogmom, I dabble in gardening. I have moved around quite a bit in the past three years from North Carolina, to Amsterdam and now Ireland.  The pace and lifestyle in Europe is quite different from that of the States and also varies from country to country.  I was a chronic “over thinker” but find it easier to relax here.  In Ireland I am applying to the Bord Altranias to become licensed but life and processes move much slower.  I am embracing this sabbatical and reinvigorating my love for gardening, among other things.

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Last day of Nursing School!

The first memory I have of gardening was when I was a wee lass in Florida.  I planted watermelon seeds in my backyard.  The melons didn’t get that big probably due to lack of minding as I was quickly soiree’d into my dancing and piano lessons to care much for the fruit I had planted.  In North Carolina I started a garden in the teeny backyard of my mother’s townhouse.  I couldn’t believe the height of my sunflowers and definitely picked my carrots too early.   I am most familiar with these hot, humid climates so moving to Northwest Ireland has become quite the challenge.  Wind, tons of rain and a shorter growing season without a poly tunnel has left me scouring the library and internet for any information I can get for these typically, atypical conditions.

At the library I stumbled upon a book by Klaus Laitenberger called “Vegetables for the Irish Garden.”  Klaus is a German transplant, expert organic horticulturalist who has successfully grown everything from tomatoes to ocas in Leitrum County which is the next county from me.  I am planning to go to the Ardcarne Garden Center next weekend to hear him speak and get some advice.  I want to go super nerd, breakdown and buy a copy of his book, have him sign it with a good luck note and get my photo taken with him.  He is also the spokesperson for Soil4People, an organization that advocates soil fertility and sustainable land use.  I didn’t realize how detrimental intensive farming is to the ecosystem and the soil.  I am torn however.  Every time I am out in my allotment ridden with scutch grass and rushes I wish for the farmer neighbor to come in with his tractor and plow through, easing my job.  This quickly fades as I get so much gratification from pulling long roots of scutch from the mounds I have overturned, preparing my beds for my bounty!

By not thoroughly disturbing the land with a big ‘ole tractor or rotavator, I am giving my garden the best chance to be grown organically.  Pests and their natural predators will flourish. The positives also include undisturbed earthworm channels, keeping good microorganisms and retaining healthy nutrients for my garden. In time and with some patience during my first season as a gardener in Ireland I’m hopeful that at least the Garlic will grow.

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Sligo County, Ireland- I broke this hoe in a matter of minutes and got myself a Chillington Heavy Duty Hoe accordingly.

 

 

98% and the “NCLEX hospital”

My nursing program is coming to a swift close.  It seems like everything is due and every test taken.  I still have half of my preceptorship to go, but that is quite an enjoyable experience versus sitting in the classroom for hours on end learning about the “NCLEX hospital.”  For background purposes, the “NCLEX hospital” is a magical place in which everything is perfect and there are few variables.  The NCLEX stands for the National Counsel Licensure Examination, or simply the state boards.  This test is what keeps a nursing school graduate from becoming a registered nurse.  By taking this test, you are recorded on the State Board of Nursing Registry as a safe and competent nurse who is able to practice in the state, respectively.  Thus, a large portion, if not all of nursing school is spent preparing for this test.

In class, we answer questions based on working in the “NCLEX hospital” which refers to the correct answer on the the state boards.  This is opposed to working a scenario in real hospitals that require more critical thinking and a variety of techniques based on a tremendous amount of patient information.  In nursing school we go by the “NCLEX hospital” to make things more black and white.  We also go by this because the state test we are taking may not be based on the most current evidence based practice of the year.  Not that the “NCLEX hospital” is not a great example of what to do while practicing nursing, it is just that once a clinical experience starts, a student may see somethings done differently or the classic exceptions to the rule.  We are taught which decision to make under certain circumstances, meanwhile in a real hospital setting we may choose one intervention over another based on different factors such as hospital policy, psychosocial assessments, family history or data to long to place in a four sentence multiple choice question.

So with that, today I took an NCLEX predictor test. This test predicts, yes ladies and gentlemen, how you will perform on the state boards.  I am happy to say that I received the highest possible percentage of 98% pass prediction.  This gives me confidence and lowers my anxiety about taking the big test.  I will still take a moment to study, but at least it gives me some peace of mind that I am not blindly navigating this new career, but that I actually have a pretty good handle on situations…in the “NCLEX hospital!”

With this I celebrate.