2019 Goals

As we close out 2018, I'm both nervous and excited about what 2019 will hold. I know there will be some personal challenges ahead, but I'm also hoping to come out the other side of some difficult things I've been going through.

I always set some intentions for the new year. Personal goals and commitments. I'm not fond of the word "resolution". It conjures too much "reform" for me and I don't feel that way about my life. But I do embrace change and growth each year and try to make those things happen with intention.

Most of these won't begin right away. Indeed, January always feels like the worst month to do anything different. But hopefully throughout the course of 2019 I can make these lovely things happen.

  1. Get through the health stuff I need to get through
  2. Continue training Beau
  3. Get more acupuncture, massage and self-care (use those benefits)
  4. Set new professional goals
  5. Figure out work wardrobe (I’ve been in a rut)
  6. When I can, start running again
  7. Be a better listener
  8. Drink less alcohol (it increasingly bores me to get drunk) 
  9. Visit Ireland
  10. Visit Lake Louise
  11. Travel somewhere new
  12. Continue making my home a home I love
  13. Keep more to myself (I can be too much of an open book)
  14. Make purchases with great purpose 
  15. Save more money
  16. Find new positive ways of understanding self, life, choices; live freely
  17. Read more books & poetry
  18. Spend equal time teaching & learning
  19. Get more facials
  20. Stop TV marathoning (no more than one episode at a time!)
  21. Keep bringing lunch to work
  22. Stop swearing (or at least, swear a lot less)
  23. Cook a new recipe every weekend
  24. Have people over more!
  25. Eat mostly plant-based but don’t be rigid about rules
  26. Don’t let people I dislike cause pain
  27. Wear sunscreen (find a sunscreen I'll wear first)
  28. Switch to natural deodorant
  29. Push work to a higher quality, every day
  30. Watch more new movies and documentaries
  31. Make fewer, better, more meaningful photographs 
  32. Less screen time (esp. Instagram)
  33. Relearn how to single-task
  34. Stop saying "you guys" 
Blogger Widgets

2018 Tree Project

In 2018, I decided to make a monthly photograph inspired by Irish tree mythology. I shared them on Instagram each month throughout the year. But now that the year - and the series - has wrapped, I want to put them all somewhere for memory.

And it occurred to me that I still have this place and it is *my* place, independent of the vagaries and algorithms of social media. It can also exist independent of any self-imposed commitments to post with any frequency or routine.

So I guess I'm reclaiming this little spot a little, without any strategy or design for it. But when I need a place for something of my own, it can live here.

January: Birch

In Ireland, birch is traditionally associated with birth - it was used to make cradles and its purity was considered a deterrent to evil fairies. Birch was also made into brooms for sweeping away the old and purifying the home.

I made this photograph of birch branches with various things I foraged over my Christmas walks. I’m especially drawn to foliage and flowers that are suspended in their flowering state and never fully wither. I added some crocus bulbs, just starting to sprout, to represent the hope of new growth in an impermeable winter.

February: Rowan

For reasons both seasonal and of personal history, February is a sad month for me. The twinkle of Christmas is long gone now and, though it draws closer, Spring feels farther than at any other time. At home, daffodils will be well up by now. But in Toronto, it’s still winter and we need signs of life.

I picked the rowan for February because it’s a tree of energy and protection. It’s alternative name is quicken, refers to its “quickening” or life giving powers. In Irish folklore, rowan in the home was believed to prevent house fires. And a sprig in a milk churn would prevent it from spoiling. It’s a time of year to protect what is dear, and to hold tight to every hopeful sign.

March: Willow

The willow tree might be associated with grief for many of us. But in Irish myth, its symbolism could not be more different. It’s a tree of fertility noted for thriving near flowing water. The willow is also called the sally - and a sally rod is a lucky thing to carry with you.

Even more cheerfully, the sally is also associated with an uncontrollable urge to dance. So it seems like a very light, springlike tree to me. More practically, the willow is often used for weaving and basketmaking. It has me thinking about the strength in pliability; in learning to bend without causing yourself to break.

April: Cherry

Is there anything that says spring more than cherry? It will be no surprise that the cherry symbolizes youthfulness, beauty and love in Irish mythology. But just as the cherry is a fleeting delight, so she also symbolizes the passing of those things too.

I had hoped these branches would be blossoming for this photo but they kept me waiting, just as spring seems to linger on the horizon as a straining hope. I paired the cherry branches with some bulbs and moss. When the tree buds start to form, the earth is moist and moving too. Everything is coming back to life.

May: Maple

The maple is not a native tree of Ireland so has no Irish mythology. But if this project is about trees and their mythology and what they mean to me, the maple very much belongs. And of course the maple tree and maple syrup have deep significance in Canada and to the Algonquin people, who believed maple syrup was a gift from their Creator.

In July it will be 15 years since I moved myself to Canada. But even chosen homes can be hard and I’ve been struggling with Toronto lately. It seems to have become an angry city... A maple tree was downed in yesterday’s fierce winds and I pulled these branches from the felled tree and found this abandoned bird’s nest there too. Contradictory things can come together; sweetness and destruction in one tree.

June: Oak

The oak (dair) is the highest class of tree; a noble of the wood in Irish mythology. It is a symbol of strength, fertility, wisdom and endurance. The oak is also the protector of the forest and its animals. It was a tradition of midsummer to burn and unwanted object with a sense of occasion and purpose. Like the oak, what’s brought in should be solid and enduring… now’s a time to make changes to stand by.

June is my birth month and the oak is at the heart of the Flanagan family crest so I’ve always felt an affinity with it - my favourite tree in the world is an old oak on the grounds of Malahide Castle. June is also the month of roses (the full moon in June is the full rose moon) so I paired my oak branch with my beloved rose as well as other foraged seasonal bits and pieces.

July: Ash

The Ash in Irish mythology is a Tree of Life, springing back wherever it is cut down. Ash was burned to banish the devil and an ash staff protected its bearer against evil. Ash trees also have a strong link to healing, holy wells (as does the Hawthorn, though this tree is much more fearfully regarded — so sinister indeed that I couldn’t bring myself to cut a branch for this series).

The ash tree is covered in bright green foliage right now. The last week in both Ireland and Canada has been searingly hot. I paired the Ash branch with Bells of Ireland, hydrangea and Queen Anne lace, the plants that seem to love this heat. There is a feather from a swan and one from an owl in the mix, both carried carefully from home. Healing, transformation and gathered wisdom are on my mind this month.

August: Hazel

The hazel is a noble of the wood - a tree whose damage is met with the most severe penalty in ancient Irish law.

And for good reason… a well of knowledge surrounded by hazel trees is at the centre of Irish myth. Nine hazel trees are said to have grown at the source of the Shannon or Boyne. The nuts would feed five salmon in the well below and any person who ate such a salmon would acquire a knowledge of all things and poetry - as did the hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill.

Part of great wisdom is knowing that there aren’t always easy answers. There are some questions knowledge alone can’t answer. And we must summon something deeper, more ineffable, in the face of such questions and decisions. Remember, though, that’s where you’ll find the poetry too.

September: Apple

This time of year, work is recommencing; back to school, the busy season at work. There’s a touch of melancholy in the air as nights become cool and days are still warm. And the apple tree is bearing fruit now, offering renewal and restorative powers.

In myth, the apple tree is a symbol of the delights of the otherworld. Its fruit can give hope when despair sets in. Now is a good time to register what has been accomplished already, before plunging into the world ahead. It’s a time to breathe, reboot and replenish. To enjoy the remaining sunshine and look up at the trees as they begin to turn.

October: Yew

The yew represents the goddess of land in her dark aspect, protecting both the living and the dead. It’s for this reason that yews are often found in church and graveyards - they were often planted to mark the boundary of consecrated ground in Ireland. With Samhain/Halloween nearly upon us, it is time to think of loved ones who have passed.

While the yew is associated with death and the afterlife, it is also tied to ideas of sanctuary for those feeling a hostile world. Perhaps most appropriate for the last few week’s news, the yew is also associated with war-like women. At this time of year, the yew wears a crop of pink berries, a sign of hope. Let us not lose our hope, women who’ve been through the wars.

November: Pine

Being evergreen, the pine is a symbol of eternal life. It’s a month when many of us can feel on the wane, drawn from dark mornings and shorter evenings, caught in the in-between of autumn and winter before the glimmer of Christmas imbues us again with warmth. So this steady tree can bring us solace.

The scent of pine is considered to have purifying powers against evil influences. There are two pines in this arrangement, a white pine and Scot’s pine. When I stood beneath these trees to pluck a branch, a waft of scent surrounded me and I imagined the shadows around me retreating, if only for a small moment.

December: Holly

A winter champion, the tough little holly is a symbol of strength and ability in the harshest of circumstances. I can’t think of better tree to end this year on.

The holly is also a protective tree and used to adorn houses for this reason. However unlike other protective trees, it’s not associated with fertility. Indeed if planted near a house, it was said to mean the daughters of that house would never wed (fun fact: There used to be a holly in our back garden).

Despite this, the holly also strikes me as a happy tree. Maybe it’s the associations with the holidays, but it feels benign to me. I feel a kinship with this stout little tree, it’s formidableness and cheerfulness combined.


As I alluded on Friday (and before), I've been thinking about this blog. It feels like every Sunday I sit down and write a Sunday best, with the best of intentions to publish other posts throughout the week, but then I blink and Friday rolls round and it's link round-up time.

I've also been thinking a lot about integrity. I mean, I know integrity became this awful term marketers use in ways that strip the word of real meaning. But I mean the way we talked about integrity before: the gut-check, I'm doing this for reasons I deeply care about and treasure way.

The truth is, I'm not blogging with integrity.

When I started this place, it was somewhat about reconciling disparate parts of myself. I believed that we had been forced to compartmentalize ourselves; smart or stylish, deeply reflective or profoundly shallow. But those things weren't so at odds for me, they were equal parts of me. Bluntly, I wanted to get comfortable having a brain and having an aesthetic sensibility, being sometimes prone to frenzied fits of lusting after shoes, or a new sofa. I wanted to reconcile all of this, but also to represent it, figuring many women my age felt a similar friction between being smart and being style-oriented.

I still believe this must be a friction for many people. But for me personally, the reconciliation has been accomplished. I don't really need the outward show of a blog to force these things to become comfortable parts of me any more.

But there's another part; at the same time as accepting these disparate things, I've also matured. It's not that I no longer care (I'm still thinking a lot about sofas), but frenzied fits certainly don't happen as much any more, if at all. My style has become settled, banal, just mine. It's not really worth editorializing. My home is eminently important to me, but not a design feat worthy of feature or comment. My style is unremarkable. Not in ways that make me unhappy — precisely the opposite; in ways that I don't need to examine and proselytize about.

I think this has even become evident in my Sunday bests. I mean, they're totally basic. And I don't say that in a way to dismiss my style; the simple, effortless look I love. But part of its being basic, means it doesn't really stand up to telling and retelling or to deep reflection other than the occasional trend thinkpiece (which I'm certainly not going to write).

I think too about how so many of us have grown up blogging. So many of the bloggers I first started following have been on journeys of marriage, divorce, having children, moving cities or countries, changing jobs, book deals, quitting the cubicle, shop launches or turning their small personal blog into a media empire. It's been remarkable to watch (mostly) women go on these very public voyages. Some bloggers I once featured here have become mega-stars. Others, have quietly quit or sidelined their blog into something else. If there's anything I've loved it's how this label - blogger - that bonded us and was also often used to dismiss us - could grow to mean so many things.

But back to me and my integrity: I don't think blogging is the most value I can share with the world any more. Which isn't to say that I'm indifferent to the fact there are people who value what I write. But I don't think I'm putting the best value I can share into this medium any more. There certainly isn't a business case for what I do here, so if I'm not  both transmitting and getting tremendous personal value from what I do here, the point is hard to see.

As you likely know, I turn 40 in June. And as you also likely know, I'm subject to moments of deep reflection when I'm approaching milestones. Lately, I feel that my integrity is much more found in my smaller world, in my connections with individuals (not excluding online friends — this intriguing form of modern friendship). It's not in broadcasting to a vague group of people I don't really have equal exchanges with. It's not in making my quiet style seem remarkable, or turning my quiet thoughts essays for public examination.

If you're one of the people who has come to consider me an [online] friend, please feel free to stay in touch through e-mail jane[at]janeflanagn[dot]ca. Of course, I'll also always have a connection with the online world, through social media and other outlets. You can also follow / connect with me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Thanks, you guys :)


Happy Friday, you guys! It's a long weekend here (which in typical Flano-style I only realized on Wednesday) so I'm chipper as can be.

I'm going to spend this weekend working for myself the way I usually work for others and come up with a strategy for what I do here. I feel it's time for a rethink. There's a part of me that's still hugely engaged in this space and medium, but there's a bigger part of me wanting to try something different, more daring and original, to create something that reflects what I do well rather than try to make what I do well work in a medium... if that makes sense.

So, I'm going to think about that this weekend.

Some links!