You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2010.

Currently, I am reading a memoir written by Karen Armstrong, an ex-nun. The title, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of the Darkness, gives a pretty good idea of the mood of the book and of the writer’s struggle to come to terms with her difficult time spent in a convent and the years of readjustment that followed her decision to leave. Over all, it is a very interesting, well written, but somewhat depressing memoir. Normally, I would find this to be a perfectly acceptable and engrossing book to read. However, it is hard to relate to the life of a highly intellectual, angst filled ex-nun when I am currently being haunted by the group of likable, eccentric friends I very recently met in the fictional town of Ballybucklebo in 1960’s Northern Ireland.

"An Irish Country Doctor" from us.macmillan.com

My interest in Ireland, has led me to read many books about the country, both fiction and non-fiction. During my frequent visits to the local Borders bookstore, I have on numerous occasions, come across a particular book that both attracted and repelled me since it was first released in 2004. Patrick Taylor’s An Irish Country Doctor promised an escape into an Irish countryside of the past, while at the same time threatened to be one of those ‘didley-yah’ books full of exaggerated “Oirishness” that promote a fantasy of a quaint Ireland that either no longer exists, or never really existed in the first place. Often these books are full of stereotypes that are insulting to the Irish people and can be so corny that they make me cringe. So, over the years I have held this particular book in my hand, looked at the cover design with it’s painting of an idyllic Irish countryside, read the description of the story… and set it down for fear it was another of the many books out there trying to cash in on the Irish-American love of the fantasy of  a quaint Ireland and its quaint inhabitants.

Well, sometime in December, I was between books and looking for some light, easy reading to get me through the bustle and stress of the Christmas holiday season. Just back from Ireland, having closed on Rose Cottage, I decided to “chance my arm” on Patrick Taylor’s book. The upside of owning an Amazon Kindle, is that the purchase of a book is as easy as the click of a button, so within a minute of deciding to read An Irish Country Doctor, it was in my hand.

An Irish Country Doctor, tells the tale of a young man, Dr. Barry Laverty who, fresh out of medical school in Belfast in the mid 1960’s, moves to the fictional little village of Ballybucklebo in Northern Ireland, to fill the spot of assistant in the small rural practice of Dr. Fingal O’Reilly. As you can guess, the story is chock-full of interesting and eccentric characters not the least of which is Kinky Kincaid, the doctor’s housekeeper, who hails from County Cork, and is not only an excellent cook (and provides many of her recipes at the back of the book) but she is also fey… a bit psychic. As you might expect the writing is full of Northern Ireland and Cork colloquialisms and even peppered with a few Irish words and phrases for your enjoyment! Dr. O’Reilly, Himself, is a bit of a curmudgeon who has learned over the years, how to deal best with the characters in the town, while never sacrificing excellent, 1960’s ‘modern’ medical care. Due to the era and the rural location in Ireland, Dr. O’Reilly enjoys a lofty standing in the community that would no longer be granted to the town doctor, but provides an interesting background for the story. An Irish Country Doctor is a bit of a romp through an Ireland that no longer exists with a group of quirky, likable characters who manage to come to life through the simple narrative. And best of all, Patrick Taylor manages to tell his story without resorting to the kinds of Irish stereotypes and gimmicks I was so sure I would find in this book. There are no major plot twists here, no feelings of impending doom or even a lot of excitement and anticipation that would make a person want to skip ahead to see what happens. But this book creates a strong visual impression and provides characters that get under the skin and seem real. While reading I kept getting the feeling that these people, especially Dr. O’Reilly and Kinky, were just outside my field of vision and, though I could not actually see their faces, if I were to just look over my shoulder quickly enough, I would catch a glimpse of them. By the end of the book I truly did feel as though I had taken a pleasant, little holiday in the town of Ballybucklebo, and was sad the holiday had come to an end.

However, much to my delight, during the six years that I had been picking up and putting down Patrick Taylor’s book, he had been busy writing three… count them THREE… sequels! Well, the last book is more of a prequel, which focuses upon the housekeeper, Kinky’s, youth in County Cork and explores her mystical visionary gifts that are only touched upon in the first three books. With the help of my ‘magic’ Kindle, it was an easy matter of purchasing and reading one book after the other in sequence providing me with a marathon immersion into the 20th century Northern Ireland town of Ballybucklebo and eventually, Kinky’s childhood home of Béal na mBláth in County Cork.

This is not heavy reading, or even exciting reading. But if you’re looking for a pleasant escape during these cold, often dreary winter days, into a fictional place in Ireland and want to make friends with some likable, and a couple not so likable, characters, I recommend these books… as long as you are prepared to share your home for a time with a group of ‘ghosts’ who make it quite difficult to move on to deeper more serious reading!

For more information on the books, An Irish Country Doctor, An Irish Country Village, An Irish Country Christmas and An Irish Country Girl, as well as a bit of the interesting background of the author, Patrick Taylor, who happens to be a doctor himself, check out his website at: http://patricktaylor.ca/index.html

…and for an added treat, when you are browsing the website, go to the Home Page and click on the link in the blue text that says “Celtic singing” and enjoy the lovely voice of his daughter singing the Irish tunes, “My Lagan Love” and “Bonny Portmore”!

Chicago neighborhood by cojones 2010

We’re having another cold, snowy day in Chicago. Although, today and last night the snow has been very light, only accumulating about a half inch, last night it was blowing around like a blizzard… and I loved it! First of all, we needed a nice, clean white blanket to cover the dirty, partially melted January snow that was scattered about giving everything a dingy appearance. Secondly, there is just something invigorating about braving the wind and snow as it blows and bites into your face and forces you to walk backward! Unlike many in Chicago, I will admit that I love this stuff. But, all you have to do is look at the smiles on the faces of the people here when we get a real blizzard to know that deep down, Chicago people thrive on our harsh winter storms. We bundle up properly with no pretense of fashion, loudly stamp the snow off our boots upon entering the local coffee shop to pick up the morning cup, and proceed to moan and complain about the weather, all the while with twinkling eyes – though that could be due to the cold – and an energy you don’t see during the dog days of summer.

I love Chicago! This is the place of my birth and the city I have lived in, or next to, my entire life. Chicago is the place where both my parents were born and lived all their lives, as well as, the parents of the majority of my childhood friends. South-siders, most of them. The people here are friendly to the point of desensitizing me to the legendary, yet more subtle, friendliness of the people of Ireland. When I returned to Chicago after living a year in Ireland, folks often asked me, “So are the people there as friendly as I’ve always heard they are?” And I had to say… they’re nice, and they’re friendly enough, but nothing like the people of Chicago. The friendliness of the people of Ireland is more reserved. Ready with a smile and an interested response to anything you have to say to them, they usually wait for a person to talk to them first. The closest anyone would come to asking me where I was from after hearing my accent would be the statement, “So are you here on holiday?” But that wouldn’t be the case in Chicago. We are much more direct, in fact, I’m sure more than once my husband’s accent has been met with, “Are you from Ireland? How long have you been here? Why did you decide to move here? Do you still have family back in Ireland? My great-grandmother came from Tipperary! Do you know anyone by the name of “O’Reilly” in Dublin? He worked with me here in Chicago one summer. I think it’s Michael O’Reilly. Oh, is Dublin pretty big? I didn’t know that. So how do you like Chicago? How is it different from Ireland? Is Ireland as green as they say it is? I’ll bet you don’t get snow like this in Ireland!” And all this would be said with an open innocence and genuine curiosity that could never be mistaken for pushy or nosey, except by the most cynical person.

The first time I realized that Chicago people are different, was during my first trip to Toronto. I was waiting in line at a grocery store check out counter, and like any Chicagoan, I struck up a conversation with the person behind me. Well, attempted to anyway, as the person didn’t seem to be in the mood to talk and apparently did not find my observations about the great selection of items available in Canadian super markets, very interesting. I chalked it up to that particular person being a bit unfriendly, or maybe just having a bad day, until I then directed my casual chit chat to the woman working at the cash register and received little more than a polite smile and a slightly befuddled stare. It was then that I realized that the open, friendliness that I have taken for granted my whole life just might be specific to Chicago. After many subsequent trips to Canada and after meeting a lot of people over the years who have moved to Chicago from other states and cities, by the time I made my first trip to Ireland I was aware that Chicago people are unusually open and friendly. But, I’ll admit, I was surprised to find out that our friendliness even rivals that of ‘the land of a thousand welcomes’!

Coffee shop troll that I am, it’s no surprise that I came up with the perfect example of the difference between the friendliness of the Irish and the friendliness of Chicagoans, in the context of coffee shop experiences. If I was sitting in an empty coffee shop in Dublin and another person walked in alone, nine times out of ten, in spite of the room full of empty tables, the Irish person would sit either at the table directly next to me, or at most, one table over. They would likely sit there quietly, but there would usually be a sense that they would welcome a bit of friendly conversation if I were to initiate it. If I remained silent, they would often find a pretense to say something… like ask if the newspaper sitting on the bench between us was mine before they picked it up to read, and then use my accent as the perfect start to a conversation, most likely asking if I was on holiday. Now, move this situation to a coffee shop in Chicago. If I am sitting in an empty coffee shop in Chicago and another person walks in, nine times out of ten that person will find a table that is a ‘respectable’ distance away from me, very likely across the room, as we like our physical space and will give it to others as well. However, shortly after getting settled in their seat if not before, that person, if he or she is a true Chicagoan and not a life-long suburbanite, will catch my eye and begin a conversation as though I were a long time next door neighbor they just happened to run into. And if we’re lucky enough to have wandered into the shop out of a good Chicago blizzard… you can bet the conversation will be an enthusiastic rant about the weather!

Walking Across the Chicago River - HuffPo

Door of Reconciliation, wikipedia

If you have the opportunity to tour St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin you will see an old wooden door with a hole cut into it. The “Door of Reconcilliation” is said to be the place where the phrase, “chance your arm” was coined. This phrase may be used here in the States, but I only first heard it spoken when I was in Ireland. It refers to a person ‘taking a risk’ as in, “I may chance my arm and ask for a raise” or, “Life is full of exciting surprises if you chance your arm.”

The story behind this door and the phrase attached to it is that, in 1492 there was an ongoing bloody, feud between two prominant Irish families, the Ormonds and the Kildares. During a confrontation in Dublin, the Earl of Ormond, James Butler, along with several of his men, took refuge in the Chapter House of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, behind this very door. Butler’s enemy, Gerald Fitzgerald, the Earl of Kildare, stood on the other side of the door. Fitzgerald decided, in his desire to end the bloodshed, to make a peace offering. To prove his good intentions and honor, he ordered his soldiers to cut a hole through the door and then bravely, “chanced his arm” by thrusting it through the hole in the offer of a handshake of friendship. In doing so, he risked having his arm sliced off by Butler and his men. However, Butler magnanimously accepted this offer of reconciliation and with a handshake through the hole in the door, the feud was ended, and Fitzgerald was able to return home with both arms intact! Thus, in this case anyway, chancing an arm had paid off.

As a mother, I have in some cases advised my children to chance their arms… as evidence of this, one has a BA in English Literature and the other is about to finish a BFA at a Theatre Conservatory! I urged them to think less about taking the safe, conventional routes and to study what they love, work hard at their chosen subjects and the rest will take care of itself. I truly believe that no matter where their passions and pursuits lead them, they will end up more fulfilled if the starting point is at a place where their true interests and passions lie.

However, when it comes to advising my children to take physical risks… I am very protective and a bit of a coward! One example of this would be the threat they have lived with since they were very young that, should any of them ever purchase a motorcycle I promise I will sneak into their garages in the dead of night and put sugar in the gas tank. This is not an empty threat! As far as their physical safety goes, I have warned them to, “be careful” more times than I would like to admit… more times than I know I should have. A good illustration of my over use of the phrases, “be careful” and “watch out”, happened once when I was in a coffee shop with my youngest son when he was about 4 years old. He was having fun running circles around a small table. Suddenly, he came to a dead stop and with a concerned look on his face asked me, “Uh oh… do you think I’ll get dizzy and fall down?” I looked over at the people sitting at a nearby table who were having quite a laugh over his statement and said, “You know, that says a lot more about me than it does him!”

Hovering, worrying and warning my children when it comes to their physical safety and well being is just who I am… like my mother before me! So, this leads to my most recent conflict. Since Eoin and I will be spending our summer(s) at Rose Cottage, it is my intention to enroll him in some sort of summer camp in Kilkee to provide him with fun and an opportunity to meet some of the local children. Because Kilkee is a resort town during the summer due to its proximity to the ocean and the lovely Kilkee Beach, it makes sense to enroll him in a camp that will introduce him to the many watersports that are so much a part of the area. In my pursuit of this end, I came across watersport instruction, NEVSAIL Watersports, that is located next to the life guard hut on the beach and offers adult instruction and certification along with summer camps for boys and girls ages 6-16. As I browsed their website I read all the choices of watersports that this camp offers… kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing, raft building, sailing, orienteering (whatever that is!), boogie boarding, surfing, fishing and power boating. The school guarantees high safety standards and states that, “Kilkee is regarded as one of the safest and most popular bathing places on the west coast.” However, my gut level urge was to run the other way! Do I really want to introduce him to, and perhaps begin a passion for, any of these watersports? Shall I risk having a son who spends his leisure time in pursuit of the ultimate wave?! Even raft building, which at first sounded a bit more tame, upon more thought, gave me visions of Eoin floating away into the Atlantic on a raft without an oar! And don’t even get me started on power boating!

So here I am, torn between a desire to provide my son with the opportunity to explore this new horizon that Kilkee has to offer him, and my gut level urge to find him a nice pottery camp! Do I chance my arm? Do I allow him to chance his?

from NevSailWatersports.com

Ennis, photo by Peter Choi

One of the things I learned during my first trip to Ireland, was that often it is the mistakes and mishaps that can turn a vacation into a bit of an adventure and lead to unexpected delights. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes a mistake is just a mistake. Like the Jury’s Hotel my travel agent booked me into for my first two nights in Dublin. I had requested a hotel that would put me within walking distance of the City Centre so that I could do all my Dublin sightseeing on foot. She assured me this was the case, however, the rather fatherly taxi driver who drove me from the airport to the hotel, immediately set me straight on this particular mistake when he warned me that the neighborhood north of the Liffey, where this hotel had recently been built, was not safe to walk around in at night and that I should also, never venture north of my hotel even during daylight! It didn’t take me long to find out that the taxi driver was right and I was forced to hire the taxis I had hoped to avoid hiring when I booked my room from the States.

Also, there are the awkward, embarrassing mistakes that can happen when traveling to an unfamiliar place on your own. This type of mistake happened to me at Trinity College Dublin when I went to see one of the main sights on my list, the Book of Kells. When I approached the building that the map I was carrying had led me to, sure enough there was a sign posted on the wall stating, “Book of Kells” with an arrow pointing me toward the right. I turned right and proceeded until I got to the far end of the building, where I came upon another sign stating, “Book of Kells”… except this sign pointed me back in the direction of the other sign. A bit flummoxed, I stood between the two signs facing an oversized, unmarked, ancient looking wooden door with an old brass doorknob at its center that looked as though it had not been opened since ‘Dracula’ writer, Bram Stoker, attended the institution. I shrugged my shoulders and decided to give it a try. First I jiggled the doorknob, but it would not budge. Then, beginning to feel foolish but not wanting to give up too easily, I knocked. Nothing. Finally, while I stood between those two signs knocking on that old, locked door, a student walked up to me and said, “That door doesn’t open. I’ve never seen it open.” I indicated the two signs and their arrows and the student just shrugged it off as though that was to be expected and proceeded to lead me around the the corner to the large, quite modern looking entrance to the museum. Red faced, I felt like I had just fallen for the “make the American look like a fool with the fake signs pointing to the useless relic of a door, gag.” This all happened before I learned to never completely trust an Irish sign!

However, some mistakes turn out to be what artists call “a happy accident”. That is when something unplanned and initially unwanted occurs, but ends with a positive result. I had a few such ‘happy accidents’ during that first Irish adventure, and the most memorable of these occurred on my last full day in Ireland during that first trip. I was spending the last day and night in the town of Ennis and, after checking in at the Queen’s Hotel (chosen because James Joyce in his book “Ulysses” referred to this particular hotel as “delightful”) I went out searching for a place to eat. At this point, although I had enjoyed a wonderful trip, I was tired and ready to go home. I missed my children, was tired of eating out, and more than a little bit worn out from the previous days spent immersed in and navigating a culture that was different from my own.  I just wanted a quiet table in a corner to sip some tea, have a bowl of soup with buttered, brown bread on the side and to read my book.

After a bit of a search, I finally came upon a little shop down a side lane that turned off what passed for a main street in this medieval town of cobblestone and footpaths so narrow that they forced one person to step down into the gutter when walking side by side with another. When I entered the little cafe it was the middle of a rush and packed with customers. By the time I received and paid for my food at the counter, there was not a free table in sight. At a point when I was beginning to become annoyed and to feel hassled, a waitress approached and asked me if I would mind sharing a table with another woman. I did mind. I didn’t feel up to one more conversation with a stranger. Shy by nature, the previous days had taken a great deal of pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, and though it was well worth it, I was drained and didn’t want to do it anymore, not on my last day.

But, lunch in hand I needed a place to sit, so I replied to the waitress, “I’d be happy to share” and proceeded to follow her around a corner into another room to a small table for two. Sitting across the table was a petite, and charming looking, Irish lady of an age hovering somewhere between 75 and 80. She introduced herself to me and held her hand out for me to shake. I can’t remember her name, but I remember her face and how pleasant looking it was. Her eyes were lively and her face was framed with shiny, gray hair pulled back into a small chignon at the back of her neck. She was dressed very neatly, in pale colors that flattered her complexion and, in general, had a glow about her. I remember that the first thing she said to me after introducing herself was, “I suppose you won’t be surprised to know that I am a widow.” Due to her age, I wasn’t. But when I responded that I was also a widow, she was surprised… after all I was only 41 years old at the time. She said, “Only yesterday I was telling my daughter that all I meet anymore are widows, and when a young person like yourself sat down at this table, I was sure I was finally meeting a woman who was not a widow!” All this was said in a very good-natured manner and led to probably one of the most pleasant conversations and most enjoyable company I had throughout my entire trip, coming at a point when I really needed it. She told me that she was originally from Galway but had married an Ennis man many years ago and had lived there ever since. She talked about the booming Celtic Tiger economy in Ireland, but remarked that with all the money floating around there were more people begging in the streets than she remembered ever seeing back when nobody had much money at all. Most of all, she expressed amazement at what she saw as my ‘courage’ for venturing out to a foreign country all by myself. She said it inspired her to listen to her daughter’s plea that she get out more and try new things. Finally, she said she had to leave to make it to mass on time, something she did every afternoon. When she said goodbye she told me, “I believe everything happens for a reason and that I was meant to meet you and talk with you today.” I’ll admit, I was somewhat surprised at this mystical statement coming from an elderly, Irish, Catholic woman. She wished me the best of luck and told me she would light a candle for me that day in church. What she didn’t know was that she had already brightened my day and left me with a wonderful memory on this, my last day in her country.

Poulnabrone Dolmen - from burrenpage.com

I’ve been home all day today with my 7 year old who is, thankfully, recovering from a bout of stomach flu. Between the sick child, a lack of sleep last night and being deprived of my daily iced mocha… I haven’t a thing to write today, nor the energy to type it even if my brain would allow me to think clearly. So, as a bit of a cop out, I thought I’d drop in a pretty cool photo I found online, showing the Poulnabrone Dolmen that I mentioned in my post yesterday. This dolmen stands in a farmer’s field somewhere out in the Burren. The first time I visited it I entered the field through an open gate. On the ground next to the gate there was a bucket containing some coins and above the bucket a hand written sign was posted stating, “Donations, for upkeep of gate” !

Wildflowers in the Burren from myopera.com

An bhoireann, the place of rocks. During my first trip to Ireland I became acquainted with an Ice Age treasure.

The Burren, is a landscape made up of limestone criss-crossed with massive cracks to form slabs that cover roughly 300 square kilometers of north-west County Clare. My first glimpse of this Irish natural wonder was from the Coast Road, where the Burren borders the Atlantic coastline. Parking my car on the rough shoulder at the side of the road, I walked as close to the edge as I could safely go and stood on slippery rocks watching as huge, violent Atlantic waves pounded gigantic, limestone blocks. Standing within that surreal landscape, in nearly gale force winds with the deafening sound of the crashing waves filling my ears, was both frightening and exhilarating.

This haunting landscape stretches for miles from the Atlantic shore into Clare, covering mountains and valleys and is home to caves, ring forts, ecclesiastic sites, megalithic tombs and human relics that date back 6,000 years. The most famous of these is the Poulnabrone Dolmen, an ancient portal tomb also known as ‘The Bed of Diarmuid and Grainne’, once believed to have been a place of shelter for these star-crossed lovers from the mists of Irish mythology.

At first glance, and in most photographs, the Burren appears no more than a bleak, barren moonscape. However, this place is full of surprises. When I caught my first glimpse of the Burren I was quite surprised to see cattle grazing on the limestone terrain. I wondered what they could possibly find to nibble on in such a place. It was only after I took a closer look on foot, that I became aware of all sorts of tiny, colorful wildflowers, herbs and even the occasional wild strawberry, growing in the cracks between the stone slabs. Part of what makes the Burren a natural wonder, besides its geological formation, is that both Alpine and Mediterranean wildflowers, normally not found in the same country, exist sided by side in the small amount of soil available between the stone… apparently a delectable salad for cattle and a delicious treat for Clare bees as well, judging by the jars of ‘Burren Wildflower Honey’ found in most local gift shops!

Exploring the striking and mythical landscape of the Burren was a highlight of my first trip to Ireland and I recommend it to anyone planning a visit to that part of the world. But these days, my interest in this particular place is of a more personal and homey nature. Although I am by no means a gardener, it is my hope to turn the wild, weedy overgrowth that surrounds Rose Cottage into a bit of a wildflower garden featuring blooms specific to the region. I’ll work on this project a little at a time, beginning with an information gathering visit to The Burren Perfumery which lies in the heart of the Burren. It is my plan to stop there during our week-long stay at the end of March, if we can manage the time. Meanwhile, I will be content to browse their website… and invite you to take a look as well!

Buíochas le Dia… Thanks be to God!

While I’ve been sweating bullets worrying about the heating system functioning properly and the condition of the water pipes in the cottage during the recent Irish freeze, slowly but surely the problem was “circled, sniffed and poked” and I just found out that all is well! Jimmy, Declan’s friend who put in the alarm system and did some electric work at the cottage, finally made it back there yesterday and said everything is in order, heating system is humming along and the pipes made it through the record cold. He also installed a yoke* that will inform us if the electricity ever stops getting to the heating system. More good news is that the cold snap across Ireland appears over and the temperature is back to a more normal 8C, which is about 46.5F. While he was there he met and gave the keys to the  gentleman from Kilkee who has agreed to check in on Rose Cottage for us, which will be a great load off our minds. All in all, Friday was a very productive day in West Clare!

Since I have shared my worries about the situation here I thought it only right that I would share my good news!

*yoke, Irish slang used to refer to a thingamajig or an object… except when used to describe a person.

Doesn’t Curious George look content gazing through Eoin’s Rose Cottage bedroom window? He should be feeling content, after all he’s enjoying a lovely view! By the angle of his head, I’m guessing that he may be focused on the rustic sight of the outbuilding at the front of the property… perhaps making a game of guessing what we might find inside that little building, after the big brush clean up. If George was able to turn his head to the right, he would have the pleasure of looking out toward the wooden fence that separates the property from the road. Beyond that, is a vast expanse of countryside consisting of bog and farmland, that spreads out at a slight incline. Toward the right on a small hill, a house is visible, its lights already having served as a comfort to us, on pitch black Lisheen nights. Beyond that house at quite a distance is another hill. One morning my very excited 7-year-old came running to tell us about a herd of animals he spotted grazing on that hill. The distance and our untrained eyes kept us from being able to figure out whether the creatures were cattle or sheep. But not to worry… because the previous owner not only foresaw our need for a tea kettle, he provided us with a handy pair of binoculars… much to my son’s delight! Binoculars in hand Eoin determined the creatures to be cattle. This sight of grazing dots with legs became a daily fixture in the landscape… just as the binoculars were a constant presence hanging by a strap around my son’s little neck throughout our stay.

As much as the cottage was a physical manifestation of my idea of what a cottage in West Clare should be, it was the surrounding countryside and views from the house that sold me on this particular place. As I’ve described the view from the front of the cottage, the view from the back is equally lovely. Since the cottage is on high ground, from the back windows we look out on a decline across a great expanse of land leading down to where the main road lies and beyond… and if we look a bit toward the left, a two room school house is visible just a couple miles from our little cottage. And though we can’t see it from where we are situated, it is an added bonus just knowing that the rocky, Atlantic coastline is just a few miles away in the distance!

An element of the landscape we had not anticipated though, is the sky. The open, and for the most part, treeless expanse of land, combined with the vibrant and ever changing Irish sky, which seems closer to the ground than the Midwestern American sky, is a sight I’m not sure I can describe here. I know the photographs we took of spectacular sky performances, came back a disappointment. Like trying to capture fireworks with a camera, it’s just not possible to come even close to the beauty or the energy of the actual experience. All I can say, is that to witness a storm rapidly approaching from the distance is an awesome sight to behold and after the storm passes and the sky is still grey to one side with the dazzling Irish sun approaching from the other, you can almost count on the grand finale of a rainbow.

My young son is a boy obsessed with weather to the point of taking real pleasure in watching the weather channel. So this bedroom window of his, coupled with the binoculars that came with the cottage, seems to be pointing him in a particular direction in life. Either that of an artist or a weatherman!

To donate $10 to the American Red Cross – Haiti relief, text “Haiti” to 90999. Your contribution will show up on your next phone bill. Per the Red Cross website – “100% of the donations will go to support the Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti.”

Or if you prefer, Doctors Without Borders – Haiti Earthquake Response is another excellent organization where you may make your donation. I have provided the link below:

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Outbuilding, a dó

My two sons are accompanying me on a one week trip to the cottage at the end of March. Originally, the plan was for me and my youngest son to go alone, because although my husband cannot get away from work until the summer we felt that somebody really needed to get back there sooner to check on our “little housheen” to make sure things are in order and to attend to a couple of matters we were unable to address during our last, short visit. This would include arranging to have a new, painted red, wooden ‘half door’ built for the cottage as well as the purchase and installation of a few electronic mouse repellent devices, because after all, when the cat’s away – ! However, much to my delight, my oldest son agreed to come along for the trip. Having him along not only provides great company for us and lightens up my burden with the addition of another adult, but it also provides me with a pair of much needed, strong work hands. So, in addition to taking care of a few odds and ends while I’m there, I can also address the ‘brush’ issue.

Knowing back in December that my eldest son, Anton, will be accompanying Eoin and me on this March trip, I had the foresight to prepare a little “Clare Survival Kit” as a Christmas gift to him. The ‘kit’ consisted of only two items, but these are two items he cannot be without on this excursion, and with his size 14 feet, two items we would probably have a lot of trouble locating for him in the little town of Kilkee. So for Christmas my son received two large shoe boxes, one containing a pair of sturdy, warm, Australian sheepskin slippers and the other, a Cabela’s box containing something I’m sure my son would have never in a million years thought he would own… a pair of Wellies! The slippers are a must have for the cold floors of an old cottage. The brown, Wellington boots are a must have for a city slicker prepared to muck about in the bog and do a bit of ‘brush clearing’!

You see, our property contains two… count them, two… stone outbuildings in varying degrees of repair, or disrepair, depending upon how we choose to look at it. I emphasize the number ‘two’ here for future reference, when I one day tell the story of how it would have been only one outbuilding and less property, if not for the diligent work of a couple of Dublin solicitors, nudged along by our persistence. These outbuildings  probably once functioned as a shed and perhaps a small barn, maybe for a donkey or a few chickens. The larger of the two stone buildings is toward the rear of the cottage and borders the back of the property. That building is in great need of a roof and it is our hope to one day not only provide it with a roof, but to do the work needed to turn it into a guest room for the comfort of the many people Declan and I hope will come to visit from both the Chicago area and Dublin. The other building is at the front of the property and, though smaller, appears to be in better condition. However, we have been unable to peek inside, or even see a door for that matter, due to the brush, weeds, furze and whatever else has spent years growing around the structure. This is where Anton comes in.

The plan is that my son, all wellied up, will do his best GW Bush imitation and get rid of the brush, so that we can discover what is or is not, within the smaller outbuilding. Now, my son is a hard worker who has continually been employed since he began his first job, at a local coffee shop – Chocolate Moon Espresso Co., the weekend before his 16th birthday. And I have no doubts about his ability to work hard and to get any job done. However, this is a gentleman who has done very little in the way of manual labor during his 27 years and I doubt he has ever had the experience of calluses or even a blister on either of his hands. Now that I think of it, perhaps I should have included a pair of XL heavy duty, work gloves in the Survival Kit…

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