Nancy (right smack in the middle!) with her siblings at a recent birthday celebration for her brother.

Being from Los Angeles, I have a pretty specific definition of the Independent Woman. She’s single or dating someone (or a few people!), has a successful career, rents a nice apartment or perhaps even owns a condo or house and has a social calendar that involves lots of fabulous restaurants, bars and friends. She not only brings home the bacon (or maybe some organic chorizo), but she can fry it up in a pan, toss it on a bed of farmers’ market vegetables and have it all ready for an impromptu Friday-night dinner party for a few of her closest pals without breaking a sweat.

Suffice it to say, I was that Independent Woman living in Los Angeles. And though now I live in Ireland, I’ve worked hard to maintain that IW lifestyle – though it’s not always easy. I do rent a fabulous apartment and have maintained my writing career but there are not a lot of great restaurants or bars in the town of Drogheda, where I reside. However I still have my dinner parties and nights out and I’ve made some incredibly fabulous friends. But the more time I spend here in Ireland, the more I’m realizing that there is a whole other type of independent woman out there, and she is the polar opposite of me.


My friend’s mother Nancy is in her 60s. She’s raised seven of her own children plus three nieces and nephews who lost their mother at a young age. She left school early to help out around her family’s farm. Nancy is the backbone, the main caretaker, the confidant, and the foundation of her family and though she’s never had a professional career or a high-fashion wardrobe, she is as strong as any female CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Though Nancy has been married for over 39 years, it is she who does the bulk of the heavy lifting – both physically and metaphorically. I don’t know how many times I’ve dropped by the house to see Nancy out in the yard, pushing the lawnmower up and down her enormous back garden. If she’s expecting special visitors (like out-of-town relatives), Nancy is outside with a can of paint and a brush, literally touching up the exterior of the 200-year-old family farmhouse she’s lived in her whole life. Her hands are cracked and weathered from years of wrestling piles of laundry in and out of the washing machine and fighting the oft-blustery wind to get the washing hung outside. At least a couple times a week, she’s out there in a sudden downpour, frantically removing socks and sheets and towels from the clothesline. She cooks a homemade meal nearly every night of the week and is sweeping and dusting every other day. She once showed me how she literally sweeps dirt under the kitchen rug, and then vacuums it up at the end of the week. Efficient and enterprising – it’s genius!


But despite all the cooking and cleaning and consoling and counseling that fills her itinerary every week, Nancy still takes care of herself in a way that would make even Carrie Bradshaw proud. Every Saturday morning, she goes to the hair salon in the town center to get her locks shampooed and coiffed. Right after her appointment, she walks across the way to her favorite little café and orders a salad sandwich on white bread and a pot of tea with lots of milk. She sits alone, savoring every bite of her sandwich and every sip of tea but mostly she takes pleasure in the peace of just having a little time to herself. Since I live in town and knew she ate alone every week I used to pop into the café for a chat, but ever since she told me how much she relishes this precious hour to herself I’ve stopped coming by. Anyone who actually enjoys eating alone in a restaurant truly embraces the spirit of independence, and far be it for me to intrude on Nancy’s small but valuable bit of personal freedom. I admire that she takes this break every week; every independent woman understands that having a little time for herself only makes her a better mother, wife and friend.

If you’d have asked me six months ago if I would ever consider a mother of seven with no professional career an independent woman, I’d have laughed at the idea. But a big part of living in a new country and adjusting to a new culture is recognizing that my narrow-minded idea of something can actually have more than one form or meaning. An independent woman isn’t always the career-minded singleton with loads of Jimmy Choos in her closet; sometimes she’s a stay-at-home mother in the Irish countryside.

chorizo salad

Crispy Chorizo Salad
(Serves 2)

50 grams of spicy chorizo, sliced thin
3 cups of little gem lettuce
1 carrot, sliced thin
½ yellow bell pepper, sliced thin
½ red bell pepper, sliced thin
½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 spring onion, sliced thin


Leftover drippings from chorizo
2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
Salt and pepper to season

In a shallow pan, cook the chorizo over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until a lot of the fat has cooked off into the pan. Set aside and let cool while you prepare the salad.

Divide the lettuce, carrot, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes and spring onions onto two plates. Carefully remove the chorizo from the pan using tongs, and divide evenly on top of the salads. To make the dressing, pour the chorizo drippings into a plastic container, then add the remaining dressing ingredients. Secure the lid and shake for a few seconds or until the ingredients are combined. Season with salt and pepper.

Drizzle the salad with the dressing and serve!