Community Gardens, Lifestyle

Shifting the Focus

June 3, 2016
Shifting the Focus - Greenside Up Garden June 2016

Greenside Up Garden, 3rd June 2016

All Work Not Enough Play

It’s been my quietest year on the blog since I began writing 7 years ago, mostly because I shifted focus away slightly from Greenside Up and more towards helping Community Gardens, both in a funded and voluntary capacity. This is now changing as things fall into place, but life itself has been far from quiet, despite continued efforts to find a better work/home balance.

We don’t value our health until we lose it

A few weeks after I switched to a mostly vegetable based diet, I had a health scare that convinced me the decision was the right one for me. Despite various test results showing this, that and other is wrong with me, ailments that I might never have known about if I hadn’t visited my GP with a sore knee of all things, I’ve never felt better.

I’m losing weight in a healthy way, aiming for a pound a week; I’m drinking 2 litres of water a day and am really enjoying experimenting with all the nutritious meat free recipes, one of which you can find below. (Chris if you read this, just leave out the spinach). I’m getting fitter, feeling happier, more in tune with nature and am managing stress levels; there’s really nothing like a health scare to wake us up to the really important things in life like family, love and friendships; it puts everything else into perspective.

All being well the shift in lifestyle will cure or ease the various problems and allow for many years of health and happiness. In the meantime, I’m having fun embracing everything I’m offered and all this glorious sunshine we’re experiencing is helping no end.

Magical evenings

Shifting the focusPart of the juggle is learning to say NO to working all hours of the day, night and weekends by switching off social media and saying YES to real-life experiences. On the most recent occasion this included being invited to an intimate house concert that took place in my friend’s holistic healing home a couple of miles away.

Harmony Hall is a bio architecture retreat and a magical place in many ways with its meditation area by the stream, affectionate animals and unusual building designed to replicate nature’s patterns. It’s difficult not to feel immediately relaxed there and I’m sure Frances Micklem’s vegan AirBnB guests must go home from this healing yet creative spot feeling healthier and happier on all fronts. Frances is a skilled and giving energy healer who’s been working wonders on me, I think sometimes when I’m not even aware of it, so if you feel the need for some tender loving care, do contact her.

David Corley and Hugh Christopher Brown

Given that I’ve been immersed in this work bubble for so many years, I confess I hadn’t heard of David Corley or Chris Brown until the evening of the house gig, but that has thankfully changed as I’ve played their CD’s in our sunny garden ever since.

Changing Focus

David Corley

I found David’s rich, baritone mesmerising as he played guitar and sang slightly southern songs that he’d written about love, life and friends in his deep, soulful tone. David mentioned that he’d started songwriting later in life and I for one am glad he did or he wouldn’t have been the only one missing out on his new life experience.

Throughout the evening David and fellow musician, song writer and talented producer Hugh Christopher Brown passed banter back and forth between themselves, something that came easily to the band mates who’d been on a European tour for the past few weeks. Chris regaled us with stories of his life and work as he moved between his New York and Ontario studios; on the one hand hanging out with colourfully creative people in the city, to the other, working on social justice programs helping develop prison inmates through music; here’s Chris’ TED talk about it.

Changing Focus

Hugh Christopher Brown

Chris effortlessly moved between song and acoustic guitar, intricately playing Frances’ piano, taking all the thirty or so dedicated fans who felt more like friends and family, to places I don’t think any of us were expecting that evening in the intimate setting.

At times I was reminded of how Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ album Raising Sand moves me, then later on, as I wistfully wished I had a smidgen of musical talent, I remembered  that years ago I wrote poetry so who knows if that will take me somewhere as I hope to enjoy more creative moments in life…

You can hear more from their band recorded in Waterford last year here.
Changing FocusA couple of days later and it was back to work. As I mentioned at the beginning, that’s been pretty full on too but in a more considered way. I’ve been managing a few websites including the Community Gardens Ireland (CGI) and An Gairdin Beo, as well as applying for funding for the national organisation that will help to make it more relevant and useful to community gardeners. This has been an ongoing and essential part of the work which of course takes time, as does writing and distributing strategic frameworks among committee members.

Changing FocusWe had a really successful networking meeting and Peace Gardening workshop in Belfast a few weeks ago which reminded me just how essential and valuable all our work is and I hope we can share more about that with you soon on the CGI blog. I particularly liked how Peas Park Community Garden incorporated so much art into their garden as well as flowers and vegetables and how they use artistic workshops to invite adults and children into the garden, albeit through sculpture, their constantly changing billboard or the inspired piece of painted art that covers their tool container.

Changing FocusGreenside Up is still very much alive and well too. I’ve refreshed and updated the workplace garden package I created with the help of my own INSPIRE mentor Brian Andrews a couple of years ago. This is an area I really hope will take off, allowing people working full-time the opportunity to spend more time in gardens and help to balance their own work life stress. I’m also putting a training package together for two new community groups in An Gairdin Beo that will help to address some of the 17 Sustainable Global Development Goals that were launched by the UN in 2015.

Changing FocusIn September I’ll be coordinating a pop up community garden in Electric Picnic once more, thanks to Cultivate, organisers of Global Green and during the weekend I’ll be joining fellow community garden enthusiasts in the Food Matters tent in Bloom. I’m continuing my Carlow Kilkenny ETB funded training with Gleann na Bearu community garden in Bagenalstown, a garden that’s a joy to be in every Wednesday morning, as well as my ongoing horticultural therapy with intellectually disabled adults in an HSE day care centre garden.

Next week I’m off with three fellow coordinators of the CGI to the Presidents garden party to share tea with others involved in helping to bring the UN development goals to Ireland and there’s other projects on the horizon too.

Are you still with me? I’m tired even reading that back ☺️

Sweet Potato, Spinach and Cauliflower Curry Recipe

Sweet Potato, Spinach and Cauliflower Recipe

If you’ve made it this far, I promised a recipe at the beginning which is one of the many delights we’re discovering with our new lifestyle. It has become a bit of a favourite and one that is allowing Mr G a rest in the kitchen. He usually puts on his blue and white stripped pinny and conjures up magnificent curries, but finally I’ve come up with one on my own that’s cheap and nutritious. It’s loosely based on a Jamie Oliver recipe but rather than using a Rogan Josh paste as he suggests, I’ve made it using a selection of complimentary spices. It’s much quicker to make than its ingredients list suggests too.


1 tblsp organic rapeseed oil
2 red onions, peeled and sliced
3 cm piece freshly grated ginger
3 cloves peeled and crushed garlic
2 tblsp ground coriander
2 tblsp ground cumin
1 tblsp tumeric
1 teaspoon Kashmiri chilli powder
2 tsp garam masala
200ml water
A good handful of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks
3 peeled sweet potatoes, chopped into bite sized pieces
400g chickpeas, tinned or soaked and boiled
500g passata or 8 ripe tomatoes
400ml tin of light coconut milk
400g pre-washed spinach
Half an aubergine, chopped into bite sized pieces
Half a cauliflower, chopped into bite size pieces

Serves 6-8, Cooking and preparation time 1 hour


Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion and all the dried spices except the garam masalla, mix together well, remove from the heat for a second while you add a splash of water to the pan to prevent the onions and spices sticking. Put the pan back on the heat and cook for ten minutes, stirring frequently and adding more water as necessary.

Add the ginger, garlic, coriander stalks, aubergine, cauliflower and finally the sweet potato to the onion and spice mix then add the chickpeas. Cook for a few more minutes before adding the passata and about 200ml of water. Reduce the heat and cook uncovered until the sauce has thickened and the sweet potato, cauliflower and aubergine have softened.

Empty the coconut milk to the pan and add the garam masala. Rinse the spinach in cold water, squeeze out the excess water and add to the top of the mixture, stir in and cook until the spinach has wilted.  Add the remaining coriander leaves and serve with rice, naans, mango chutney, or simply eat it on its own.

If you make the recipe I’d love to hear how you get on. How are you managing to balance life now that we’re online so much? Have you cracked it?




  • Reply rozz lewis June 3, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    Great post, Dee! Your year sounds lovely and like the sound of that holistic centre! Take care of yourself, you are doing the right thing by eating well and being in nature. x

    • Reply Dee Sewell June 3, 2016 at 2:59 pm

      Thanks Rozz, the weather is certainly helping right now, it’s gorgeous and makes everything a lot easier X

  • Reply Catherine June 3, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    Really enjoyed that catch up! It seems like ages since we had a good chat. You are certainly thriving

    • Reply Dee Sewell June 3, 2016 at 4:39 pm

      Thanks Catherine, I know, it’s been an age, must sort out that date in Clare visiting Susan soon so we can all catch up. Glad you made it to the end


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