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We made no plans for Memorial Day today because Declan was on call for work and Eóin has been under the weather with a sore throat and low-grade fever all weekend. So, the day started like most days with a trip to a local coffee shop, in this case Starbucks, since all the other coffee shops were closed for the holiday. The only thing that set this morning apart from any other morning was the Elmhurst Memorial Day Parade marching past my Starbucks window while I enjoyed an iced mocha to the sound of marching bands. When it was time for me to leave I nearly had to run to my car as I saw dark grey-blue clouds approaching from the west and bright, jagged forks of lightning cutting through the dark sky. Luckily, I made it to the car and home before the downpour. I didn’t mind the rain when it came because it cooled things off a bit, bringing the temperature down from over 80 degrees to around 65 at one point, allowing me to turn off the air conditioner and open the windows. As it turned out, Declan received a call from work while I was at Starbucks and was ready to walk out the door just as I arrived home. Therefore, with Eóin sick and only able for naps and cartoons, Declan at work, and the rain lashing down, there was no option but to stay in for the day.

The rain and the cool air made me nostalgic for Ireland so, being confined to the house, I spent most of my day enjoying a newly discovered book of short stories by Eddie Stack called The West: Stories of Ireland while playing a cd of the haunting sean-nós, or old style Irish, singing of  Iarla Ó Lionáird in the background. Not your typical Memorial Day in Chicago, but a day well spent under the circumstances!

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Twenty-eight years ago today I became the mother of a much doted upon, blue-eyed, dimpled, baby boy… who grew… and grew… and grew even more… into a very tall man! His towering height may make him stand out to strangers, but his creativity, intellect, personality and kind heart make him stand out to all who know him!

Happy birthday, Anton!

This photo greeted me on facebook this morning. I am a subscriber to a facebook page called The Loop Head Peninsula, West Clare where photographer, Carsten Krieger, posts his photos and writes snippets about the beautiful Loop Head Peninsula, which is only a short drive from our cottage in Kilkee. This particular photo, taken last Thursday, came with a declaration that “the landscape is in full bloom and flowers even grow out of solid rock.”

"On the Rocks" by Carsten Krieger, courtesy "The Loop Head Peninsula, West Clare", facebook

Beauty like this makes it no surprise that last Wednesday it was announced that Loop Head has recently been declared the winner of Ireland’s European Destination of Excellence 2010, award. This makes the Loop Head Peninsula one of 22 destinations of excellence for aquatic activities and tourism in Europe and also means that it will represent Ireland at the EU tourism day in October. With County Clare tourism suffering recently, this announcement surely comes as wonderful news and offers hope for West Clare and the Kilkee area in particular. According to The Clare Champion newspaper, “Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Mary Hanafin said the award will be of huge benefit to West Clare tourism. ‘The Loop Head tourism project shows the significant achievements that can be made when the local community and tourism enterprises strive together. I have no doubt that the winning of this prestigious award will have real benefits for the local tourism sector in Clare and Ireland generally,’ she said.”

Hmmm…. with all this great publicity for Loop Head, I wonder how the parking will be in Kilkee this summer? Eóin and I may have to do a bit of walking into town… I hope the scary farm dog who lives at the end of our road accepts us as neighbors!

You can see more photos by Carsten Krieger on the facebook page – The Loop Head Peninsula, West Clare, or at his website here .

My youngest son, Eóin, is 8 years old today and I want to wish him a very happy birthday! It’s amazing that so many years have passed since this little boy with the gigantic blue eyes was born at the Coombe Women’s Hospital in Dublin. The baby of the family isn’t a baby anymore!

Happy 8th Birthday Eóin!

A young field mouse, photo courtesy derbyshiremammalgroup.com

This adorable creature looks nothing like the mouse that was running things at Rose Cottage in our absence. There was nothing Beatrix Potter-esque about the mouse situation in which we found ourselves when my sons and I arrived in Kilkee.

As I mentioned in my last post, the first order of business for Anton was to vacuum up the mouse droppings we found in corners and on window sills, thus dealing with any evidence of the uninvited inhabitants that had taken up residence during an unusually harsh Irish winter. I followed up with disinfectant cloths and within an hour we had the place clean enough for comfort.

But nonetheless, we did have mice and each day there was fresh evidence of their presence. Finally, after waking one night from a nightmare in which a vicious mouse was pulling hair out of my head one at a time, I decided it was time to make a trip to Kilrush, where I knew I would find electronic pest control devices. These are yokes, or gadgets, that plug into the wall and, though humans cannot hear a thing, apparently make a noise that is very unpleasant to tiny rodent ears, thus sending them packing and on their way. Although the salesman at the store in Kilrush told me that one of these contraptions would probably do the job for the entire cottage, just to play it safe I went ahead and bought two and plugged them in immediately upon returning home.

The next morning while sitting at the kitchen table having breakfast, Anton saw a mouse scamper across the floor. A large, grey mouse with a long tail! He promised me it wasn’t a rat and, because he lives in Chicago, I felt confident that he knew the difference. But a mouse is only slightly better than a rat. So back to Kilrush we went and purchased two more pest control devices plus a few mouse traps. Although I am a “bleeding-heart, tree-hugging Liberal”, and a vegetarian to boot, I am also a pragmatist who will not share a home with wild animals.

I know that there is never ‘just one’ mouse, but anyway, by the time we left Rose Cottage there was one less mouse. Meanwhile our old cottage in West Clare is pulsing away with a horrible electronic sound, which only a mouse can hear, and hopefully any relatives of our unfortunate fellow have left for more pleasant digs.

Our cozy fire in the rustic, ash covered stove.

The temperature in Chicago has plummeted in the last few days and the sky is grey. Having returned home the other night from a dinner of Family Bean Curd (“… with broccoli, no pea pods”) at The Red Dragon in Elmhurst, I noticed as I walked from the garage to the house that my next door neighbor’s fireplace was in use. Despite an absence of the sweet aroma of turf, the earthy scent of the burning wood made me yearn for Rose Cottage and our wood burning stove.

Having lived most of my life in three post-WWII Ranch homes and one Chicago-style Bungalow, I have never had the pleasure of owning a fireplace. Therefore, other than the infamous bonfire I built, with my sister and best friend, in the prairie next to my house when I was around 10 years old, I had never built a fire before. On our trip to Kilkee last November, I left the fire building to my husband who has built fires his entire life. However, on this last trip he was not coming along and with neither son any more experienced at fire building than me, I needed instruction. So, before leaving on our recent trip I asked Declan to explain the process of building a fire in a fireplace. He drew a diagram showing me how to start by placing the kindling in the stove and then, because I am a novice, he advised placing fire lighters between the kindling. Next he drew two little briquettes of turf I was to place, like a tent, upon the burning kindling. Finally, once the turf was burning he advised the addition of some coal to keep the flame going.

On our way to the cottage from the airport we stopped at Mace, the equivalent of our White Hen Pantry or 7-Eleven, and picked up supplies for the kitchen along with the items I needed to build a fire. Thus, well prepared , the first thing I did when we got inside the cottage, while Anton vacuumed up the mice droppings we found scattered in corners, was to get to work building a fire. Kindling, check… fire lighters, check… wash gasoline smell from the fire lighters off my hands before handling a lighter, check…. I lit the fire, waited for the kindling to catch and, with a real appreciation for the history of this old house, I put the turf on the fire and watched it burn! By the time Anton had the floors, beds, furniture and countertops vacuumed, my first fire was already dwindling and dying. I threw in some more fire lighters and kindling… then another piece of turf, and got it going well enough so that we were able to sit and watch it for a few minutes. However, I learned that it is very difficult to turn a bad fire into a good one and before long it was just a bit of spark and smoke. A dud.

The next morning I tried again, determined that we would start our first day with a roaring fire in the stove and have smoke rising out of the chimney announcing our residence. Again it was a dud. Eóin told me I was “a bad fire maker”. I feared he was right and that we wouldn’t have a decent fire the entire week.

But, remembering the words of Winston Churchill that we must, “Never, never, never give up!” I was determined to overcome this bad fire making affliction so I asked my husband for a refresher when he phoned later that morning. Then on that second night, equipped with my new instructions, I tried a third time and, charm that it was, I finally built a roaring fire that lasted throughout the evening! It was a thing of beauty… and I made my youngest son admit it! From then on every fire was a success and the perfect ending to each night.

It was my belief, and still is, that two things an old cottage in the West of Ireland must contain are 1) a roaring fire and 2) a bottle of uisce beatha, better known as whiskey. Thinking ahead when we were about to depart from O’Hare Airport in Chicago, I had the presence of mind to buy a bottle of Jameson from the duty-free shop. Therefore, once I had the art of building a fire under control, all that was left to do was make the hot whiskeys each night for Anton and myself (see recipe in my post of January 7th). My oldest son and I love rituals, so even with our short stay in Ireland we managed a nightly ritual of sitting at the kitchen table reading our books, sipping a lovely hot whiskey and, now and then, looking up to admire a gorgeous fire in the hearth.  Frankly, life doesn’t get better than that!

Hot Whiskey, sans the lemon and cloves, photo by kconway at flickr.com

My boys and a soccer ball on Kilkee Beach

“You just missed it, last week the weather was grand!” This was a statement I heard more than once during my stay in Kilkee, the week before Easter. We had a tiny taste of the nice weather, which was just about to leave Ireland, on the day we arrived. I actually had to put on my sunglasses when exiting the airport for the car park! In all my trips to Ireland, I think that was a first! However, we spent that day in airports, in the car and eventually unpacking and settling into Rose Cottage, so there wasn’t much of a chance to enjoy the end of the “grand” weather.

On our first morning we awoke to grey skies, nearly gale force wind and intermittent rain. This was pretty much the theme of our week except for a couple of variations. There was the time we drove home from Doolin in blizzard-like conditions with snow falling from the sky in an abundance worthy of Chicago. This happened fairly early in the week when driving on Clare roads was still a bit harrowing for me and the addition of snow to the mix wasn’t much help. Visibility was bad and although the snow never accumulated on the ground, it added to the rain, which had fallen on and off since our first morning, and made the mud at the sides of the narrow country roads into even more of a hazard when my tires would inevitably leave the road and sink, the couple of times I allowed myself to become distracted. On another day, we experienced a hail storm the likes of which I’ve never seen before! It was a sight to behold, with hail thick as fog billowing out of the windy sky in waves that mirrored the violent waves of the Atlantic Ocean that was visible in the near distance. I walked from the car into the Post Office, Oifig an Phoist, through this pounding ocean of hail and upon entering the building, an elderly gentleman waiting in the queue cheerfully greeted me with, “Healthy weather!”

Don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining! Although I had hoped for a week of nice, mild weather I knew that Ireland in late March – early April, much like Chicago, was capable of anything in the weather department. In this case she gave us nearly everything in the weather department! But we were quite ready as far as clothing goes… which means we had layers to put on or take off as needed. And although the weather pretty much dictated all layers on, for the most part it didn’t keep us from doing the majority of the things we had planned to do while in West Clare. Hoodies covered with rain-resistant jackets and feet snug and dry in wellies (except for Anton’s feet, but that’s another story), we enjoyed our time in County Clare immensely! And as far as pubs go… nothing makes a pub more inviting or cozier than the howl of the wind outside. And howl it did! I even heard wind howling as I walked up the street in Kilkee, something I didn’t think wind was capable of doing when you’re outside!

Eóin in his Irish glory!

But toward the end of the week, perhaps after paying our dues, we were blessed with one lovely day! The sky stayed mostly clear that day and the sun shined down on Rose Cottage and on beautiful Kilkee Beach. Since the weather to that point prevented us from spending any time on the beach, we opted to stay close to home in Kilkee. After breakfast we stopped at a small shop that sold toys and picked up a soccer ball and a couple of inexpensive racquets that came with a small yellow ball and then spent the afternoon on the beach. Here are a couple of photos of the boys enjoying their version of beach recreation and then me enjoying my version of beach recreation. Although I did spend some time hitting a ball with a racquet and kicking the soccer ball around with Anton and Eóin, I spent more time with my Kindle!

Recently, I have been a bit bogged down with distractions and unable to devote the kind of attention I would like to this blog. Please bear with me, I shall return very soon!

However, I did want to drop in a link for the Oxfam Gulf Coast Oil Spill Response Fund for those of you who are feeling frustration and worry over BP’s offshore drilling disaster, and would like to do something.

A victim of the spill, photo courtesy Huffington Post

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