He’s a lover not a fighter x

Three years ago today, Leo came into my life, a special beam of sunshine that reminds me daily how lucky I am to be blessed, with his fun-loving, joyful, affection. We start every morning with a cuddle, he sleeps as close as he can, either snuggling his head into my shoulder, or simply arranging himself on the pillow around me, ready for cuddles and tummy tickles, the moment I gain consciousness. He has learnt that being awake doesn’t mean I’m actually getting up, but when I start to stir, he springs into action, usually placing his paws on my chest or either side of my face, in a deep play bow, smiling as his tail wags furiously, and kissing me enthusiastically! It’s impossible not to feel wonderful to be alive with such a greeting, and every morning is so full of fresh enthusiasm, as if he’s thrilled we’re both still here, together! Soon after Poppy jumps on to the bed, claiming her own tummy tickles as her tail thrashes away, and Platon stretches his full length alongside me, patiently waiting before sighing and nuzzling me for his share of attention too. Then the dogs start nuzzling each other and play erupts, before we all tumble off the bed, as Poppy impatiently pleads to go outside (to chase the creatures that may have crept into the garden overnight).

Leo came into my life as a timid stray that had clearly suffered abuse, as evident by the myriad of wounds and scars he sported. He was a nervous dog, too scared to take food from the hand of the guy that called me from the port, and he darted backwards and forwards as he found the courage to retrieve the salami scraps thrown on the ground before him. I remember that I sat alongside him, a few metres away, and he tentatively sidled over until when he got to me, he seemed to make a decision to trust me, and melted into me as he panted with heat exhaustion and trembled with fear. He was quite happy to accompany me in the collar I had coincidentally purchased that morning, and it was only when separated in the car (he in the boot, whilst I drove) that he cried pitifully, apparently at the distance between us, because as soon as we got to the house, he jumped into my arms as I opened the boot. He then cried woefully again when I tied him to the bottom of our stairs to secure Platon, climbing up as far as the lead would allow to follow me. It was late, but I showered him, removed ticks, gave him a flea treatment and treated his wounds; which he let me do without any resistance. I fed him and made a bed on the balcony, our quarantine ward, then left him whimpering as he pawed at the door to come in, before he finally settled for the night. The next morning he woke us early, calling in a high pitched whine, which changed to excited barks the minute he saw me, and he relished the cuddles and tummy runs he received with his breakfast. I had made a sun shade and a comfy little den for him, but he just wanted to be with us. I left Leo in his den and took Platon for his customary beach walk before the tourists got up, and when I returned my neighbours were all keen to let me know that the little dog had howled the village down in our absence.

I decided to take Leo straight to the vet, a 90 minute trip better done before the sun was high, so manoeuvred Platon into the bedroom again to bring Leo through the house and down to the car.. I must admit the door got badly scratched in his frustration, but it was worth every centime of the highly inflated repair price I paid to the landlord. I arrived at the Veterinary surgery to be greeted by Amanda with cries of ‘Hayley mou! Not another one! You are crazy!’ As we let Leo ‘christen’ (pee on) everything, and cleaned the sick out the back of my car. She inspected his wounds and surmised that the bruising around his flank and gonads was from someone kicking him, and that he’d probably been a stray most of his short life (approx 6-8 months), judging by the numerous scars and fresh wounds he sported. Leo’s right knee and left ankle had been broken but re-set and she advised that surgery to fix it would be too traumatic, especially as he seems to have adapted to accommodate it (he sits wonky, and walks in a circle whilst going to the toilet to prevent straining the knee… which means he leaves interesting poo patterns). She tested him for leishmaniasis and erlichia, both which came back negative, and gave me some antiseptic spray and ointments for his wounds. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that we discovered a lump in his neck, we had suspected was from a tick bite, was actually a bullet, and that another one was embedded in his skull, right between the eyes. Amanda suspects he was shot head on, and then again as he ran for his life. I remember the rage and fury I felt that someone had been so hideously beastly to this loving little dog, and the wonder and amazement that this adorable creature had suffered such cruelty, yet remained so trusting and loving. Leo is my daily reminder that life is 10% what happens and 90% how we handle it.. I strive to be more like him every day.

Once I returned from the Vets, I wasn’t quite ready to introduce Leo and Platon, Leo was still quite weak and timid, but he also still had his dumplings, and I wasn’t sure how my bigger, healthy, established and neutered boy was going to take to this testosterone disparity. So I again shut Platon in the bedroom, much to his annoyance, whilst I manoeuvred Leo onto the balcony. Leo cried on the stairs waiting to be let in, Platon protested loudly, and took his frustration out on the door. It was quite a din, then just as I got Leo into the house, Platon managed to catch the door handle, opening it and flying into the room. Leo immediately crouched, and Platon stood observing him, there was a half second beat where I held my breath.. then Platon dropped into a deep play bow, and Leo mirrored him, before jumping towards Platon, and they played adorably. Platon was gentle with his new playmate, who squealed excitedly and licked him adoringly, as they tumbled around the house and onto the balcony and back again. They soon tired in the heat, and lay in the breeze on the cool floor with their heads on top of each other, and so began the most beautiful bromance I have ever witnessed, and it continues to delight me daily.

That first night, Platon came to bed with me, but I left Leo in the dog bed in the living room, with all the doors open. I hadn’t planned on a second dog, and had initially thought Leo might suit my parents, but when I woke in the early hours to find Platon missing from my side, and when I went to investigate, found the two of them curled up together with Leo’s head resting on Platon, it was very obvious that these two shouldn’t be separated and I knew that our little family had extended unquestionably! I always say that it was a Platon’s decision, we had had several other dogs come into our lives, but none had bonded like these two, and Platon played a very valuable role in Leo’s recovery.

And so the scruffy little dog that came into our lives covered in scars needed a name, I knew it had to be a warrior’s moniker, and initially called him Hector, after a much underrated character who is honourable and brave, fighting to protect his brother. However, the name just didn’t seem to suit this playful pup, and he quickly became Leonidas after the gutsy king of the Spartans. I have a dear Greek friend who bitterly complains that this scruffy little dog is named after one of the country’s greatest legends, but Leo is not a calm measured warrior as I imagine Hector was; yet he is brave and gutsy and rushes in, despite his inadequacies, rather as I imagine his namesake. Leonidas also means son of a lion, and Leo’s scruffy little face with his wiry eyebrows and beard, certainly look a little lion like. It really doesn’t bother him that he doesn’t measure up to anyone’s perception of a warrior, and he truly bears the battle scars to make him worthy of the title. Truth be told, he’s a lover not a fighter, but he loves more fiercely than any other creature I have ever encountered!

Since that day, three years ago, Leo has been a bright ray of sunshine.. he greets everyone, people and dogs, cats, anyone with excited squeals of delight, and although this is sometimes misinterpreted, he often wins over the circumspect; like the cat that lived on our wall. A stray cat that the neighbours fed, used to sunbathe most of the day on the wall at the bottom of the stairs. Platon, being a calm, cat friendly dog, curiously used to sniff her as we passed, and eventually she did the same back, until touching noses became their greeting. When Leo saw this, he was beside himself with joyful enthusiasm to join in, but the cat wasn’t thrilled with this energetic bundle that approached her, so would hiss and walk away, yet Leo didn’t give up, he learnt to approach more cautiously, and eventually the cat succumbed and touched noses. You have never seen a dog so pleased with himself as Leo that day, and so our routine on entering or exiting the house included two dogs ‘kissing’ a cat, several times a day.

Leo has been a relatively easy dog, he was instinctively house-trained, was happy to walk on the lead, and pretty much did whatever Platon did, but in a more relaxed and trusting way. For example, he’s great in the car, if I’m there and Platon’s there, he’s secure and usually curls up to sleep; whereas Platon watches every inch of the road, as if he doesn’t trust my driving. Leo did however suffer with dreadful separation anxiety if both Platon and I left him, and used to watch us take quick ‘toilet walks’ round our Greek village, howling like a banshee from the balcony. But if I took him, or left him with Platon, he was fine. It has taken time and patience, and several courses in dog behaviour, but he is much better now. He knows we’re coming back, and I always walk them in the same order so he knows when it’s his turn. If I am going out, he quickly recognises the signs, but now he’ll come and watch me get ready, then curl up somewhere comfy for me to kiss him goodbye.

Leo is definitely the most affectionate of my three dogs, he loves to be cuddled and often rolls over to reveal his tummy in readiness for a tickle. He seeks me out when I’m relaxing, and is undeterred by how close to the fire I sit in winter (the other two are a bit nervous of cracking logs), or that I always choose the sunniest spot in summer, he likes to lie snuggled into me. He is the first to race upstairs at bedtime, to secure his place nearest my face on the bed, and often follows me around like a little shadow, preferring to be in the same room wherever that is. I love snuggling him too of course, and often ask him for kisses, which he’s very generous with but also humorous about. He developed a funny little game, whereby I ask him for a kiss, and he turns his face away, so I ask again, and make kissy noises, which he ignores for a while, watching me out of the corner of his eye, until quickly planting a kiss when I look like I am no longer expecting one. I laugh and tickle him, he in turn kisses me again and again.. until I ask him for one more kiss, and the game begins again.

I can’t imagine how Leo suffered before I found him, but I am determined that he knows he’s loved, is safe, and gets treats every single day.. he in turn blesses me, and Platon and Poppy with more love than I could have dreamed, he really is the most loving little ray of sunshine to ever bounce into my life, and I absolutely adore him!

Happy ‘Found-day’ Leo mou, you are loved so much more than I can put into words, and I’m so grateful that you manage to show me so much love without words too!

Photo and words by me, Hayley Darby ©️2018

Dear 2016..

maria-koutala-1

Dear 2016,

You have been brutal, by far the most difficult, painful, expensive, terrifying, sad and challenging year of my life. You commenced with life-changing, emergency spinal surgery (x2); and culminated with the heart-wrenching demise of my beloved father, cruelly snatched from life, so suddenly and unexpectedly. I have gritted my teeth determinedly, bitten my tongue patiently, and cried several oceans, unreservedly. My body aches daily, my mind worries anxiously, and my heart is repeatedly smashed to smithereens as the waves of grief crash over me. Yet, I am grateful, you have been a year of my life, I have learnt many painful lessons, and I am ready for 2017.

You have been a year of struggles and loss, but loving light has pierced the darkest depths of despair. Every day, as my world fell apart, the sun still rose, and the world kept on turning, even though I had wished it would stop and let me step off, momentarily. I noticed sunlight dancing gracefully in the leaves of a tunnel of trees, as I drove from the hospice, blinded by tears I couldn’t curtail. And once as I crested the brow of a hill, overwhelmed with sorrow, strong shafts of light poured through the clouds, reaching down from the heavens to steady me. When I felt hopeless, rainbows magically appeared to comfort and encourage me, and when I was tired and defeated, sunsets gently soothed and nourished me.

Amongst all the difficulties, angels have emerged to help, support and care for me, friends and family who held me when I fell apart, and picked up the pieces of my life as they lay scattered around me. I have been enveloped by kindness, as I learned to walk after surgery, and again as I learned to walk in a world without my Daddy. Dear friends have shared their understanding that the gaping hole in my life will never be healed, but that I will come to accept its presence, and learn to live by filling it with never-ending love and happy memories. I am eternally grateful for these loving souls that have shared my journey.

My mornings greet me unfailingly with the wet nosy kisses and joyful tail wags, of unconditional love. My dogs have been my best medicine, strongest motivators, and most comforting, loyal companions, through everything. Because of them, I have found the strength to get up and embrace the day, and found myself admiring beautiful dawns, when I thought I wanted to hide in sleep. They have licked away my salty tears, snuggled lovingly into my broken body, and found smiles in my face when I didn’t think there were any. They have silently acknowledged my pain and let me bury my face in their warm furry necks to weep, sought me out for snuggles and cuddles, and accepted the changes they couldn’t understand, patiently. Leo is such a loving boy, and continues to fight valiantly against the life threatening disease you bestowed upon him. Poppy is becoming affectionate and sweet, learning to trust and settle, despite the many moves and upheaval. And Platon remains my rock, protective and patient, unswervingly loyal and devoted, even when earthquakes unnerved him.

2016, you have been horrible, the world has lost some amazingly talented souls, you enabled Brexit, and voted in a disastrously dangerous choice of American president. Many desperate refugees have drowned fleeing war torn countries, terrorists have ripped apart the lives of many and their families, and atrocities continue to be inflicted on innocents as their homes are destroyed by militants. The world is full of hostility and cruelty, it is plagued by anger and swamped in sorrow, but light still shines through the darkness, beauty blooms amidst despair and misery, courage clings on through adversity, hope remains steadfastly, and love is still stronger than anything. Please tell your successor 2017, to bring it on, I am ready!!

Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo credit: The talented, Maria Koutala, Kefalonia. Words by Hayley Darby ©2016}

Back again..

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Photo via Pinterest

It’s a quiet wintry afternoon; I watch the sky bleed as the sun starts to set, with hues of orange and pink flaring beyond the silhouetted stark, bare, tree branches. A few geese ruffle their feathers and squawk half heartedly, and Platon, who’s snuggled against me, raises his head to check whether or not he needs to bark at them; and deciding not to, lowers his chin to rest on my leg again. He searches my face, as his expressive eyebrows bop about inquisitively; and I ruffle his voluptuous jowls, before stroking his velvety ears reassuringly. He sighs and we settle back into companionable silence; apart from the muttering geese, at the end of the garden.

We moved here a week ago, to a tastefully converted barn, on a working farm. It’s a temporary home, a stop gap in-between selling a property in London, our summer home in Greece, and an unknown future. It’s a haven for recuperation, a little time out from the normal stresses of life following an emergency surgery and a shock to the system. It’s my treat to myself as I digest and process a life-changing experience, and a peaceful place to heal and rehabilitate.

At the start of the year, after struggling with niggling back issues, I unexpectedly underwent emergency spinal surgery. I had a herniated disc that was impinging on the nerve root for the whole lower body, called ‘Cauda Equina” as it resembles a horse’s tail. If you google ‘cauda equina syndrome’, you’ll see how dangerous and scary it is; all I knew was that the risks of my condition were immense (loss of lower body feeling & function), and that I had been naively ‘soldiering on’, (since my GP hadn’t been too alarmed at what I now know are classic ‘red flag’ symptoms), walking my dogs and lifting heavy cases. I am incredibly lucky that I didn’t do more damage. Eventually, I was fortunate that a well-informed osteopath sent me straight to A&E (Emergency room), and I was soon signing consent forms that acknowledged terrifying risks, before swiftly being whisked to theatre for intricate neurosurgery. It should be noted, that I have always had a fear of hospitals, and have been terrified of General anaesthesia, but the emotional roller coaster I rode in this instance elevated me to a surreal state, a strange mixture of denial and resignation, that fear was neatly sidelined to a manageable degree. An experience almost as if watching myself in this situation, disbelieving it was really happening, a bad dream I couldn’t wake up from; yet coupled with an acceptance that nothing I could do could change the course I was hurtling along. I guess at some point, I mentally handed over responsibility for my future mobility to my medical team and God, the Universe, a higher power; whatever you want to call it, the name is irrelevant, in times like this you find ‘something/someone’ to have internal conversations with.

I am incredibly blessed, my surgeons were skilled and my nurses compassionate, and after several successful operations I am able to walk unaided. I have some numbness and a little nerve damage, but these are small, manageable issues compared to the potential difficulties I could otherwise face. I have found an online community, a support group of CES patients, and am aware of how fortunate I am to be one of the lucky ones. I’m also aware of how brave so many people are, quietly battling such a debilitating, and often invisible condition, that spinal injuries present. I’ve come through the initial trauma, feeling extremely grateful, yet also suffered anxiety associated with the fragility and vulnerability. I think that previously being relatively fit and fiercely independent, I have found the contrasting lack of mobility and reliance on others, particularly frightening, and understanding the risks, worry that every twinge could be dreadfully damaging. However, I am having physiotherapy, and each day is a step forward, and I’m gaining strength and confidence with each one.

My best medicine has been my darling dogs, their caring cuddles and unwavering affection have been comforting and heart-warming. It’s very difficult to feel sorry for yourself when you feel such love and loyalty. They are also very motivating, I can’t wait to walk them, or even be able to drive them to the paddock to watch them run. I have however been very fortunate to have some wonderful help looking after them, and am very grateful for everyone who has taken care of them. It’s in times of crisis we really find out who our friends are, and I have been very blessed with lots of love and support too.

As I write, I hear footsteps on the gravel outside, and Platon’s ears prick up in anticipation, as KG, my friend and current carer, returns from a walk with Leo (my other dog). Once he is sure, Platon launches himself off my daybed, and stands expectantly at the door, his tail wagging forcefully, like a metronome; until he can contain himself no longer and jumps up, bracing himself with his paws on the door as he peeks out the window. This means that the peace
I needed to write is about to cease, since my boys, thrilled to be reunited after a whole heart-breaking hour, will play exuberantly and require my attention.

I just wanted to pop in here, and let you know what’s been happening, by way of introduction to my current situation, as suddenly I find myself with time, and lots of material for writing again. I feel as if I have missed chatting with old friends and have lots to catch up on; the arrival of Leo into our lives will be a chapter, as well as our journeying between London & Greece. There are stories to share about my injury and the beacons of light that shone in the darkest moments, the caring compassionate nurses, the bravery of fellow patients on my ward, and realisations about life’s unexpected twists and turns that may actually have been necessary in guiding us to where we are meant to be. Meanwhile, two young and lively dogs are calling me with their playful antics, so I hope you are all well and I’ll write again soon, I promise! Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo ~Via pinterest, sadly uncredited, words ~by me, Hayley Darby ©2016}

Letting go…

sigh
Today I woke early, too early for my body, but my brain was insistent. My head lay heavy on the pillow, weighed down by a headache and sadness, my limbs felt leaden and sank into the mattress; my eyelids fought to keep the light out as it crept round the blind, and my heart just ached and tried to hide. I struggled in vain as I searched for the sweet oblivion of sleep again, trying to shut out reality as thoughts and memories flooded in. Words, that once uttered cannot be retracted, and more importantly, words that are left hanging, hopelessly unsaid; once happy memories distorted by bitter betrayal and knowledge that cannot be unlearned, however hard one tries to forget.

I lay for a while, drowning in disappointment as the sunshine pushed at the window, anxious to drag me from my den of despair. The knot that twisted in the pit of my stomach was interrupted by a realization that flooded my body; because today I don’t have time to wallow, to wonder how life would feel if things had been different; a record that’s recently been stuck on repeat in my head. So fortified with a latte, I washed my face and dressed quickly, smoothing the pain from my expression as I swept my bed head hair into a bunch of carefree curls, and applied mascara (not the waterproof stuff).

Today is a beautiful spring day in London, and my little pocket of the city was buzzing industriously as commuters headed to work, and the world carried on turning. My meeting this morning was informal and fortunate enough to include a walk, so we headed up the hill towards the Heath, comforting familiar territory. We walked and talked, my companion is well travelled, intelligent and interesting, excited about embarking on a new chapter, professionally speaking. Our conversation was full of hope and visions of the future; we discussed dreams, far-flung destinations and career opportunities.

I noticed the buds on the trees have started to swell, and the blossom that had tentatively blushed along branches, now blooms bravely and enthusiastically. The path was clear, no longer squelchy and impassable without danger of muddy footwear casualty. We wandered through the woods, where branches stretched skyward, reaching into the blueness, soon to become adorned with shady green canopies. Winter it seems has finally lost its grip, and slips away lost amongst memories as spring asserts her hopefulness and promise of summer. We all have to let go in order to move forward; like monkey bars we need to let go of where we’ve come from to embrace where we’re going. I have observed that people who insist on clinging to their past, often impede their future, painfully. Change is inevitable, sometimes we have to just let it happen, and when some things fall apart, we just have to trust its making room for something wonderful that’s waiting to catch us.

You don’t always need a plan, sometimes you just have to let go and see what happens next. Life isn’t about control, it’s about adapting to the changes that are inevitable, and sometimes it helps to remember we’re not in charge, which is probably a good thing. Once in a while, let go of what you think you want, create some space for possibility, let life surprise you xx.

Blessings & love ❤ Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; words ~Hayley Darby ©2014}

Dear 2013

HD beach

Dear 2013

You have been a year of my life, and I am grateful for you. We haven’t always seen eye to eye, and there have certainly been times when I wished you were shorter than 365 days, but that was only when I was hurt and upset, struggling with my human-ness and fighting to get ahead of the pain I was feeling; which really wasn’t your fault at all, rather mine for having expectations that could be disappointed and an immense impatience inherent of my personality. However, despite my faults you always stood by me, and managed to surprise me with wonderful, unexpected gifts and joyful memories, a reminder that things are often better than we can imagine, as long as we can let go of our plans and let life take us blissfully and carefree to where we are meant to be.

With you I have wandered along sandy Californian beaches, and sat watching the early surfers with my morning coffee, as dolphins played delightedly. I met blue whales, whose peaceful presence held me in awe and took me to new depths emotionally. You were there when I conquered my fears and braced the waves for surfing lessons, and let the tide carry me, accepting things the way they’re supposed to be. We danced at concerts in the park, and around bonfires on the beach, we sang along (loudly and badly) to the radio, driving PCH with my hair dancing in the breeze. Together we wandered round art galleries and enjoyed good company, and watched sunsets that burst my heart with gratitude for their beauty.

We returned to float in the turquoise blue of favourite Greek seas, and watch sunlight sparkle on the water feeling blessed and carefree. With you I enjoyed peaceful hours at the beach, and submerged into a marine underworld, snorkelling and scuba diving. We hiked through the villages, visiting interesting characters and revisiting memories; and we followed in the footsteps of mythological heroes to climb mountains and worship at ancient temples. We watched storms rage in the sky and toss the world around angrily, then suddenly forgive and restore calm, quickly and quietly. We discovered cracks in hearts that were quietly bleeding, and found forgiveness and love are by far the best remedy.

With you I found myself tempted into unexpected adventures, and let my heart lead without plans or itinerary. I celebrated my first Thanksgiving holiday, danced on bars in Vegas and flew to Mexico for an escapade in Acapulco. We let the night time breeze sweep through dreams to the sonorous sounds of the ocean, feasting on papayas for breakfast and drank pina coladas for supper. I was charmed by customs in Houston (who’d of dreamed!) and skied in Colorado, where I left a smarting hurt on a moonlit road through the mountains, and found some salve in the Garden of The Gods. I shared shrimp with Tiny Tim on Malibu beach, and had a delicious Mexican meal for Christmas dinner instead of traditional turkey, with dear friends in Laguna.

So dear 2013, thank you for being the year that turned an unexpected corner, and after a bump in the road, took flight towards the previously undreamed. You have been a serendipitous year that changed my direction by several degrees. With you I have learned to accept that letting go is often stronger than hanging on, and often an opportunity to discover a new route engraved on the map of my heart, for perhaps a more scenic journey. I appreciate all that you have given me, even those bits that hurt like hell in the beginning, but are shaping me towards the person I am meant to become. I’m excited in anticipation of future adventures, ready for the unwritten chapters waiting to take shape in the year to come. So as I prepare to say goodbye, know that I appreciate you, and tell 2014 I’m ready!! Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo & words ~Hayley Darby ©2013}

Grateful heart

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This morning I slipped gently into consciousness as delicious slices of sunlight streamed through the gaps in the shutters, extending their invitation to grasp the morning and embrace another beautiful autumnal day. I lay under the sanctuary of the mosquito net for a while, contemplating my blessings as wakefulness crept over me and vignettes of my retreating dream flickered across my mind in farewell. I had slept soundly, and woke smiling, from some place in the depths, where the knowledge that everything is exactly as it is meant to be had retained a hold on my memory, restoring my equilibrium after a little ‘niggle’ had wormed its way under my skin yesterday. You know sometimes that feeling that something is amiss, but you can’t quite identify the reason, or even put your finger exactly on the concern, just a little bothersome ‘niggle’ you can’t quite ignore. Well whatever mine was, it had vanished this morning, as if something stole into my dreams to reassure me, and I woke confident that whatever needed to be resolved, in the halls of my heart, had been.

I swept back the net, feeling quite regal after waking under the swathed canopy, and found the sunny pool on the tiled floor to bathe my toes in as I got up to stretch and open the doors to the balcony. I stood outside for a few moments, appreciating the warm sunlight on my shoulders, and the peaceful quiet of this little Greek village in my favourite corner of paradise. A few goat bells tinkled in the distance, the birds chattered in the nearby trees, and I heard my heart sing gratefully as I looked over the olive groves to the sea. I feel very blessed to have this opportunity and this place to escape to, to be alone as much as I need to be; to take time to listen to my heart, and ask it questions that only arrived once I gave it space to answer them. Although in many ways I’m none the wiser of the direction I’m heading, I feel more comfortable with the uncertainty. I’m practicing living in the moment, trying not to expect too much from the future, and allowing life to surprise me; which of course it does anyway, it’s just nicer to be open to it rather than resist the curve balls because I’m sticking too rigidly to where I think I should be. Letting go and going with the flow isn’t always easy though is it? I know that I have previously let stubbornness and stupidity masquerade as dedication and determination, and hopefulness cloud by judgment when I wanted things so badly

However, here where life is simple, it’s somehow easier to observe ones emotions rather than dwell in them; life has a gentler pace and it’s easier to see the wood from the trees. I am, in fact, literally surrounded by trees, twisted, wizened olive trees with their shady, silvery leaves that shimmer in the breeze, and tall, noble cypress trees, standing proudly with stretched shadows in the afternoon sun. The boughs of citrus trees hang heavy with colourful oranges and lemons, and bright red pomegranates along the roadside shine brightly against the clear blue skies of autumn. The countryside is beautiful, peppered with crumbling stone walls, adorned with honeysuckle and jasmine along twisting lanes, lined with long summer grasses that bask in the glow of sunlight. My ten minute walk to the village for coffee in the morning is as equally enticing as my fluffy cappuccino, and the walk to the next village to buy provisions is as rewarding with coastal views and elongated shadows as the ripe red tomatoes, and creamy Greek yoghurt.

Of course the jewel for me is the sea, spectacular clear water that stretches from aquamarine, through turquoise to teal, and eventually the darkest navy. Swimming one meets all sorts of pretty fish, whom are unabashed and unafraid of visiting humans to their world below the surface, where interesting patterns and rock formations can be seen clearly on the sea-bed at considerable depths. It’s the most peaceful place I know, and as I swim rhythmically my heart-beat slows to appreciate it. I cannot resist floating like a starfish in the setting sun, as the water sparkles like stars swimming around me, letting the salty buoyancy support my body as I surrender blissfully. I dream of this when I’m not here to enjoy it.

This paradise is filled with life’s simplest pleasures, and here I don’t crave all those things that seem so important in London, I’m satisfied with a few possessions (OK, admittedly my laptop is one of them!) and I guess I’m content with less because I feel so appreciative of what’s here naturally. I enjoy the simplest meals of boiled eggs and toast, feta or tuna salads and even cheese and tomato sandwiches, which somehow here taste absolutely divine; and my days pass by quietly reading, writing, walking and swimming. Here I feel so full of gratitude for my surrounding beauty, that it seems to eclipse the need to have, or indeed be, anything more. This is the gift of gratitude, and I find it here so easily, but the wonderful thing is, wherever we are, there is always a supply of it, because it’s carried in the hallways of the heart. Blessings & love ❤ Hxx

{Photo taken by me, the last to leave the beach.. again!! Words, also by me ~Hayley Darby © 2013}

Autumn morning

love autumn
Good morning everyone!! This morning I was awoken by thunder, ‘Zeus moving the furniture upstairs’ abruptly dragged me from sleep, to leave me lying staring up at the gauzy mosquito net as I found my bearings. The rain clattering at the windows and the wind howling round the villa, bending the cypress trees and shaking the olive trees, giving me a quick indication of the cause of my disturbance. So I lay in the half-light listening to the weather, and my heart beat as it slowed to a regular rate; wondering if sleep would reclaim me, and return me to the dreams from which I had been so rudely interrupted. The chill in the air caressed an exposed shoulder, gracing it with goosebumps before I snuggled back under the covers; heavy blankets weighing assuredly on my body, pressing me into the mattress. I let myself sink slowly from the surface of consciousness, and watched the light fade to find sweet oblivion and the gate to my dreams opened again.

At a much later hour, I awoke again to find the villa still shaking with the wind’s fury, which gave me an opportunity to appreciate how cosy and smug I felt, as I let wakefulness slowly wash over me. I slipped out from under the mosquito net, finding some thick socks to pad downstairs for some green tea, and settled with my laptop, to relax on the ample sofa. I addressed some correspondence and after a skype call noticed that the sun was trying to break through the clouds, so smiling, I dressed quickly and walked up the hill to Liz & Joes’ for coffee. The coolness in the air, heralds new scents along the lane, the honeysuckle and jasmine replaced by a damp earthy smell , complimented by the wood smoke that circles gracefully from a neighbour’s chimney. I met Nikos on the road, who laments the sea is too choppy for fishing, and we discuss his plans for garden maintenance and olive picking. We’re in agreement that autumn asserts a slower-pace, but with a responsibility to prepare for winter, and a reminder to appreciate the clement weather that allows us.

A large cappuccino soon put a smile on my face, as I sat outside to enjoy the sun that plays peek-a-boo amongst the clouds, and weigh down papers that flutter in the breeze, with the salt and pepper pots. The wind has dropped significantly, but the silvery leaves of the olive trees still shimmer as their boughs are swayed, and the vine leaf canopy, creates a dancing shadow on the road. The café is quiet, and I sat peacefully with my thoughts, enjoying not having to be anywhere in particular, or even have a plan. A pause to enjoy autumn, as delicious as my cappuccino, with it’s fluffy lightness, perfectly complimented by a balancing bitterness, and its rich comforting aroma. Just letting mellow autumn swell my heart with nostalgic tendencies and enjoy really being in this moment of transformation. I hope that you let autumn under your skin, and take a moment in your busy life to notice its beauty, and become part of the process. Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest, words ~Hayley Darby ©2013}

Autumnal acceptance

shoulderr

Good morning everyone!! Today I woke slowly, gradually drifting to the surface of consciousness, carrying contentedness into wakefulness from somewhere sweet in my sleepiness. I lay for a while in the gentle opaque light of another cloudy day, listening to the gentle patter of raindrops on the skylight, and let my thoughts wander towards autumn. Something has changed, and I realise I’m ready to let the last rays of summer slip through my fingers, to embrace the changing season. I suspect that after my trip to Cali, the arrival of cooler days in London felt too abrupt, but after a few sunny days on my Greek island, I feel replete with summery memories to face the cooler, darker days; as if my summer was incomplete without some Greek sun. Βεβαίως, φυσικά!

I stirred slowly, cosy under the heavy blankets, reluctant to expose my warm skin to the cool morning, but the thought of coffee became too tempting to resist; so I dressed quickly in a favourite blue sweater, and soft yoga pants, to keep snug despite the elements. I dashed through the heavy raindrops, noticing how they patterned the pool with their pretty concentric ripples, and jumped in the jeep (kindly lent), to drive up the hill to Liz & Joes for my grande cappuccino. There is a mellow atmosphere in the cafe today, the gentle flow of locals and tourists alike discussing the weather, and the conflicting forecasts. The rain falls steadily and persistently, but the absence of wind makes it feel quite calming, and I’m happily resigned to a day writing in coffee shops, noticing the nostalgia of autumn, and the slower pace it brings.

I ventured down to the port, where the choppy water bounced the few remaining yachts around their moorings. The quay was quiet, the rain bounced in puddles, chairs and tables sat desserted, canopies were drawn down, and waiters stood in doorways, watching the arrival of φθινόπωρο – fthinoporo (autumn) in the harbour. For them the end of the summer means a welcome rest, and for many a return to families and homes on the mainland. Autumn is after all a time for retreat, as nature gently turns within, to work on internal transformation, invisible till the spring. As the trees shed their leaves, maybe it’s also time for us to relinquish expectations, and observe our thoughts and feelings; maybe this is what makes it the season of the soul, a valuable time to pause and contemplate our journey. Wishing you a beautiful October day, whatever your geographic location, and hope that you find beauty whatever season you happen to find yourself in. Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photograph sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; words ~Hayley Darby ©2013}

Waiting for the storm..

waiting

Today I woke late (again), to find that moody grey clouds, which hung heavily over the port, had replaced the sunny blue skies of yesterday. The almost glassy still waters had morphed into choppy waves that caused the yachts to bob up and down, jostling for a safe mooring; indeed many local boats have been removed from the water completely. We are waiting for a storm, and the storms we get here are quite a spectacle, trust me! They are fierce, dramatic, exciting, beautiful, and oh so humbling; a real reminder of how impuissant our existence is on this planet when nature unleashes her energy to the sound of Zeus’ wrath. Or as my dear friend Hilda says of the thunder, “There goes Zeus moving the furniture around upstairs again!”

I wandered around the quay, finding Kostas in much better shape than yesterday, in fact he informs me that rather than ‘better’ he’s in fine form; quite a spectacular recovery! We sat on the deck watching the storm come in with our cappuccinos and shared traditional pastries from the local bakery. The change in weather means more work for the locals, as umbrellas and canopies are tied down, outdoor seating (which makes up the majority) is stripped of its upholstery, and anything that’s not nailed down is stowed away securely. The bars and cafes are also preparing to be busy, as we all cram in to the limited space when the rain starts, to sit out the storm in relative comfort with company. Meanwhile the visiting flotillas linger in the harbour, rather than risk the white-capped waves that wait beyond the lighthouse, as their crews sit on deck patiently waiting.

I spent the day visiting friends, lunching with the lovely Tselenti family at the big house on the hill, MT having cooked a feast for her mother and 4 brothers, who all tucked in heartily, between shifts managing their two hotels. I called in to see my oldest friend ‘Speridoula’ and my special friend Phoebus at the taverna with the best view across to the neighbouring island. When we met 14 years ago, Speri didn’t speak much English, and I certainly didn’t speak any Greek, but we quickly became firm friends based on some serious feet-stamping laughter and a twinkle in the eyes that made words completely unnecessary. Now we manage quite decent conversations, despite poor grammar and including much gesticulation, which is an amusing and beautiful testament to our friendship. Phoebus is one of the most determined and inspiring souls I know, he suffered a life changing moped accident years ago that left him severely disabled, unable to control his body including his speech and capacity to manage tasks we so often take for granted such as dressing, eating, or bathing unaided. He is such a brave, patient, courageous soul, and I adore him. Today we hugged and laughed, and I felt his strength emanate from his body, he improves each time I see him, slowly but doggedly determined to stand on his own two feet again.

The air is thick and heavy, but it’s still warm despite the breeze that tugs at the awnings and canopies; the dark sky has been threatening rain for hours and I have been holed up in a favourite patisserie with my laptop, in anticipation of the rain that slashes horizontally. Several cups of coffee and pots of tea later, the light is fading and just as I wonder whether the storm will pass by uneventfully, the distant rumble of thunder creeps into the chilled out music currently playing.

I am not a patient creature by nature, which doesn’t always work out best for me, but some things simply cannot be hurried, and life seems to teach that acceptance is key. Aristotle reminds us that ‘patience is bitter, but the fruit is sweet’. So as I wonder how soon I will sink my teeth into the soft flesh to release the juiciest pleasure, lightening fills the sky, flashing across the water; followed by much closer, quickly advancing thunder, and a dirty great grin creeps right across my happy face.. oh I DO love a storm!! The clouds have crept in, hanging heavy and low, almost obscuring our neighbouring island. The temperature has distinctly dropped a few degrees, but I am still comfortable in my shorts & vest, after all the less I wear, the less laundry will be necessary. Skin is certainly a fantastic design element of the human body; thermostat controlled and wipe dry, perfectly suited to dancing in the rain, maybe! In all probability we will lose internet connection soon, so I will post this and just let you know I’m barefoot and ready. “Bring it on Zeus, I’m in the mood for dancing, just throw the rain at me!” ☺ Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; words ~Hayley Darby ©2013}

My favourite slice of paradise

PN Kef emblisi pic

I awoke late by the Greek clock, early by the British hour, and my waking thought searched for that peaceful presence, that occupies a space in my heart recently encountered. I had been wandering along, feeling remarkably carefree and unsuspecting of the impending intrusion, and am left floating in the uncertain ocean of possibility, a place I have learned to embrace passionately, for after all it is full of infinite beauty, if we choose to see it.

I eventually found my body, having previously only been aware of my internal territory, and noticed the disparate relationship of my physical topography and the typically unyielding mattress of my austere Greek bed. Sounds of the port slipped through the shutters with the slices of light that had spilt across the crumpled sheet, wrapped around my legs, entwined in a memory. Sighing I summoned some strength and managed to inspire millions of motor neurons to move my body, in order to check the fluctuating Internet status of my abode by opening my emails. I read those I wanted, then sank back into my repose to process my findings until coffee called me, when I dressed swiftly in a faithful pair of denim shorts and vest, to bound down the stairs to greet the lively port and all the characters that make this particular slice of paradise so precious to me.

I wandered around the quay greeting friendly faces and answering the familiar questions (What took you so long? Where have you been? How long are you staying?), until I found Kosta in the quiet shade of his bar, whilst the staff served the tables outside as quietly as possible, so as not to aggravate his hangover. His face cracked into the most beautiful smile of recognition before his headache sharply reminded him of his condition. We laughed at life and hugged tightly despite his temporary fragility, catching up over a cappuccino (me) and water (he), sharing traditional pastries from the local bakery. Aggeliki lived up to her angelic moniker and administered her magical massage to the troublesome spot of Kostas neck that feels the tightest, and we lamented the consequences of age combined with the youthful behaviour of his crazy parties. Kosta surrendered to his struggling body and retired to bed, Aggeliki resumed her responsibilities at the bar, and I sat outside figuring there are worse places to contemplate ones indulgence in temptation, as the cheerful sunshine drenched the peaceful port, illuminating it’s beauty as boats gently traversed the glassy water.

After a while I left my seat on the balcony in search of the preciously acute and hilariously dry observations of Minas. He customarily spends the majority of the day at his favourite table, surveying his restaurant. Surrounded by his team of waiters, he called out across the square at my approach, heralding my arrival for anyone within 100m, and nursing his coke zero assured me that his diabetes is behaving lately. We discussed local politics and recounted stories of our shared histories, noting the changes and lamenting absent friends. We watched the life of the square and Minas’ grumbled for my entertainment, enjoying the audience for acknowledgement of his unique and frequently extreme viewpoints. I left Minas with a cheerful smile with a kiss for the orange juice, and walked around the corner to find Angelos in his office.

Angelos is a serious young man with the weight of responsibility resting on his shoulders, and a photo of his father smiling from beyond the grave on his desk. Our comprehension of the passage of time and our confusion over the specific years in which events occurred, served to remind us of the accelerated speed of time that age bestows upon us. Although at least a year younger than I (and a quarter of a century than Minas), he always makes me feel juvenile with my independent adventures in contrast to his empire building vocation. We put the world to rights, and he tells me to keep travelling and bringing home my stories for his enjoyment. I left him with promises to visit his mother soon and sent some love to his wife and children before sauntering back along the quay with an undeniable hunger for my darling, the sea.

As luck would have it, Makis had a similar craving, so when I popped into the shop on my way back to the apartment, he offered me a lift to his favourite beach; allowing me a quick change of clothes as he sat impatiently with the engine running. The car curled expertly into the curves of the road, just a short distance before our descent amongst the fragrant pines towards the turquoise water sitting, waiting, assuredly faithful, for our adoration. Makis changed in the car, and it was my turn to be impatient as I rushed towards the deliciousness. I paused momentarily to drop my bag on the beach and swap my ray bans for Cressi goggles, before hastily stepping into the water, saving my entering breath to exhale below the surface.

The crystal clear water engulfed me, and it felt as if anything other than bliss was cleansed from my soul, instantly revealing the clarity of this privilege. I swam towards the shelf, clearly marked by the line where aquamarine meets turquoise, inhabited by numerous fish that swim unafraid of the human company that dips into their world. I took a moment to float like a starfish in gratitude, to feel the surface tickle my sun kissed skin, feeling supported by the powerful entity in its reassuring calmness. Having spent the summer in California, enchanted by the ocean, my heart has still pined for my true ‘agapi’, the Ionian sea, with it’s gentle caress and beautiful hues of the heavenly blue spectrum. I submerged completely; lost in that peace that resides within and felt my physiology sigh thankfully, as does the heart in the embrace of a previously estranged lover. I noted my slowed pulse and that internal tranquility one finds when gratitude obliterates any other emotion, before breaking the surface to breathe in deeply the joy of living. I swam across the bay, much to the amusements of Greeks who tend to swim straight out into the darker deeper waters, beyond the rocks and around to neighbouring bays, whilst I cause disruption to the traffic system since I wasn’t born by the water and lack their confidence. I soon found my rhythm, breathing deeply for the long strokes my lengthy limbs prefer, and smiled at the un-phased fish, which loitered nonchalantly in my pathway, showing off their magnificent iridescence in the piercing sun beams. I finished my dip, resuming the star-fish floating position for my finale, before joining Makis and his sister on the beach to top up my tan as the sun sat high above the shady olive trees.

Makis returned to the shop, leaving his towel and flippers for his girlfriend Nancy, who appeared for her swim, bravely venturing beyond the visible rocks, before settling on the beach and into the conversation amongst the locals whose children played at the shoreline. I let the language waft over me as I lay under my panama, feeling the heat on my skin and remembering vocabulary and other trips. My thoughts wandered away from the beach and retraced some recent adventures, exploring new territory and chambers of my heart, slipping through the layers of awareness and comprehension, desire and vulnerability. The afternoon drifted by, as the shade inched towards the shoreline, soon eclipsing the beach, cooling my salt dried skin. Yaya, a French friend that runs the diving school, kindly gave me a lift back to the port, and I wandered down the steps smiling as I noticed my shoulders have dropped several inches after my sea-bathing. I encountered Nikos & Themis passing the bar, and admitted that I’d cheated on the Greek sea with the Pacific Ocean, but that my heart was ‘home’ again, laughing as they teased me good naturedly, but promising to join them for the last buffet at The Thai restaurant. It’s the end of the season here, and as tourism cools, businesses close for the winter. For me it’s the best time to visit; the port is returned to the locals, and as they untie themselves from their shops, bars and restaurants, they have time to relax and enjoy it again.

I’m writing in the port, replete after my Thai dinner and catching up with Anna & Pete (who tend to collectively know all the news in the village). I found a sweet spot at Le Passage, beautiful Eleni’s new business venture, which reflects her chic style and sweet nature, as well as her family’s famous restaurant for locals in the village up the hill. As I sip my tea (Jasmine) looking out over the still dark water, it reflects the pretty lights of the port in a perfectly mirrored image. The yachts are lined up and sit obediently waiting for adventures tomorrow, and the impressive private cruisers jostle for pole position for admiration along the quay. Passing friends greet me with hugs of welcome, and acquaintances nod in recognition; they know that this is my favourite slice of heaven on earth, and that I wherever I travel, I will always find a way ‘home’ again. I have had a gorgeous day, and I have more of the same to look forward to again tomorrow : )) Evlogimeni eimai (I’m blessed) !!

I hope that wherever you are, that you have an opportunity to appreciate your environment and spend time with people that enhance your being too. Blessings & filakia (kisses) ❤ Hxx

{Photo of my slice of Paradise 🙂 Words ~Hayley Darby ©2013}