Sunday, June 29, 2008


I am a little ambivalent about traveling. I like meeting new people, seeing new places and doing things a bit differently. On the other hand, I like being at home. After the winter I have had, just being home and not having to go out is a huge treat. Truly exquisite days involve staying in my jammies, watching a flick and napping.
I have done a bit of traveling for work lately, usually staying away for 2 days at a time. Since I work long shifts, I don't get to really see the towns and cities where I work. Today I saw a road in daylight that I have traveled numerous times, but always in the dark. The first time I stayed over, I brought just what I needed. This time I brought my laptop (checked my email but never did blog) and a bathing suit, intending to use the hotel pool(didn't happen). Instead of swimming and getting some exercise, I found out that the Harry Potter OOTP movie was on HBO and I hurried back to my hotel to watch it. Kind of stupid, but I looked forward to it all day. Then I had a nice, leisurely bath.
Eating is hard when I am away. "Continental breakfast" translates to "no eating for you." I usually just get a coffee (gotta have Dunkin Donuts) and eat lunch or something. My sis yells at me because she knows I am just as content to eat crackers and cheese for a meal. I can expense breakfast and dinner, but seldom do- I grab some cheese or yogurt and call it dinner. This trip I ate at two chain restaurants. It was ok. Nothing great but I haven't time or energy for hunting down great restaurants. At least I got some protein and veggies.
I miss my kitties when I am away, like any self-respecting crazy cat lady. I got Bren to come visit them first trip, Buck came second time, Kate will visit the next trip. If I am gone 3 days, they need to be fed and watered by day #2- it's just too hot to leave much food out. When I come home, they shoot out the door as if from a cannon, then race in to chow. I usually bring home some fancier grub than they get daily, just to keep them looking forward to me. Bribery, but it works.
We had a huge thunderstorm roll in just as I was leaving. I had the challenge of driving home in it, but the sun came out halfway home.
It's nice to be home.

Hedging Bets

One of my neighbors came over and proposed that she and a group of neighbors wished to help me trim my hedge border on Saturday. I explained to her that I would be working three 12-hour shifts back-to-back an hour away, and I would be in no shape to be up early working in the yard. She said they were ok with that but she had 6 volunteers to help. I was really not happy about being pushed into doing the work at the convenience of others when I knew how tired I would be, but all my work friends said, hey, let them help, free labor and they're asking you. Another reason to be embarrassed- my yard looks so bad my neighbors want to fix it.
The border is lilac trees, set out about 40 years ago by the family who lived here. I have the boys cut back the stray saplings every fall, but we didn't get to it last year and there was so much storm damage over the winter. Multiple limbs were dead and hanging and it really did look atrocious. I have daylilies- some original and some donated by a neighbor- under the lilacs.
In the corner is my quince bush, which you couldn't get to. (My former house had a whole border of quince, which I loved and missed horribly when I moved- then, in spring, up popped one lonely old quince under the lilacs. I considered it an omen at the time.)
I woke around 11 am on Saturday and the crew had been hard at work since 10:30- and I never heard them. One neighbor brought his truck to haul the debris to the dump. The other brought tools- saws, clippers, secateurs, ladders. They had already cut down a number of the older, split lilacs and were busy as bees. I brought out water, took a quick cup of tea, and joined them. I ordered mulch from a local supplier to be delivered late afternoon. It was a hot, clear day, well into the eighties. We had ash, mulberry, hawthorne, catalpa and maple saplings invading the lilacs. One neighbor focused on pulling the weeds from the daylilies and the rest of us hacked away at the branches. By one pm, three truckloads of limbs and brush had been carted off to the brush dump.
OK- so it's pretty overgrown...

Getting another load ready for the brush dump.

All together now...


Nearing the end- making the tops even.

It was so hot. Staying hydrated was an effort. Most folks quit around 2 pm, and I kept going a while. I had to sit and re-hydrate for a while- my asthma made it hard for me to breathe after exerting myself. When I came back out, my last neighbor took her break. She had leveled all the trees at about 6 feet high, just to even them out, thinking they'd look better.
The guy came with the mulch and just dumped it in the driveway, so my neighbor came back out again. I started laying it out around all the daylilies and lilacs. I had put in a border of pavers, but she showed me how to make a clean line with a pickaxe so the mulch rested just inside. I ended up putting yet another load of brush on the lawn that will get carted off to the dump someday soon. It took a few more hours to lay down the mulch and it just wore me out completely. My friend borrowed a weed-whacker and set to on what should be a lawn but is a semi-dead collection of various weeds. I begged her to stop because I could do no more and finally she did around 7 pm.
It was really incredible of my neighbors to do this for me. I felt guilty for being so tired and unable to be energetic and do a lot. But, as my neighbor said, it was in their power to do it and they did. It was that simple.
I took a few pictures early in the day, and a few at the end. This is what my hedge looks like after the "decimation" as the neighbor's daughter called it.

Why look- the quince is visible now that the dead trees are gone!

Mulch on the corner.

Nice and even on the street side.

My shadow is as long as the day seemed- but it looks so much better!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

So How Hot Is It?

The northeast US is undergoing a huge heat wave. Dan got my air conditioner in the parlour window. I keep the doors shut and I have one room it's easy to breathe in. I can't sleep in air conditioning so I have a fan in my room.
So anyhow, my morning routine is get up, use the bathroom, come downstairs. Usually the kitties escort me to the cabinet where the cans of wet food are kept, chatting and bickering all the way. They somehow feel that every night I undergo selective amnesia and forget where their chow is kept.
This morning I got up, hit the bathroom, and was escorted downstairs by the two older cats. They led me into the parlour and sat in front of the air conditioner expectantly.
THAT's how hot it is.

Day Nine- Shannon and Home

Up early- no coffee.

We got up really early to pack; we didn't even try having tea or coffee in the room, but no sign of insects, thank God. It was raining steadily; we headed south on the N18 and arrived in Shannon pretty quickly. We gave back the car and got a shuttle to the terminal. We headed upstairs to the restaurant. The boys were happy to get a last full Irish breakfast; I got yogurt and fruit. Once the check-in opened, we got in line, checked the baggage, and headed up to shop. Ironically, we did more shopping in the airport than we did on the entire trip.

Bren decided to buy whiskey at the duty-free, when he voiced this, a little old lady came over and offered him a sample. He had three shots before we boarded. They found poitin- which is legal now, apparently- and bought some for Buck. We were shopping maniacs until they called out flight.

The flight home was uneventful. I know I dozed off for at least an hour. I watched a movie and part of a second. When I woke up, we were over the ocean, the sun was out- and there was ICE beneath us. I had to take some pictures.

When we landed, we were through customs really fast. Bren had a beer while we waited for our ride. A local TV station wanted to interview us about baggage, but we all declined. Kate met us with my car, but declined to ride home with us. All three of us voted not to have me drive, so Bren drove home, then Dan drove him home and went back to Boston. My kitties were very happy to have me home. And I was glad to be back.

That is ICE down there!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Day 8- County Clare; the Burren, Cliffs of Moher, Lehinch, the Loop Head Route

This was out last day to sightsee; we had to be at the airport by 10 am next day. We were very close to the Burren when we stopped for the night. Within minutes, we were in the otherworldly landscape of limestone deposits that form the desolate and eerie land of the Burren. We stopped at the ancient Neolithic tomb site known as the Poulnabrone Dolmen (a dolmen is a burial site marked by huge stones). It was dry and sunny but very windy out on the hills where the dolmen is situated. I have older photos of Dan posing beside it and inside the entrance, but now it is roped off and you cannot go very close to it (I understand why after seeing the damage at Newgrange). We got some good pictures and walked all about. We stopped down the road at Caher Connell stone fort; there is a nice visitor center there now with a cafe and gift shop. We bought some art at the shop, and made a pit stop but Bren wanted to push on to the cliffs, he felt he had seen enough stone ring forts for the nonce.
On to Cliffs of Moher, on the coastline of County Clare. It is so different from the first time we saw them. There is now a huge parking lot, then you cross the road, and enter the park. If you are just touring the cliffs, there is no fee, but of you want to see the exhibits, there is a charge. The old gravel road that once we hiked up is now a series of limestone steps, graduated to make it easier on the legs, but still quite a climb. The sides of the steps and trails are secured with thick limestone slabs to give added security against wind and erosion. The cliffs are dangerous; the first time we went, a German couple had been blown off the cliff and fell to their death. Everyone is always angling for a better camera angle and ignoring the danger. My own boys proved no exception. Dan was particularly keen to get some good pics because it was windy and rainy, slick and slippery when I took him there in 2003. The Cliffs are gorgeous; a habitat for seabirds and a place of desolate beauty. Dan had his binoculars so we could see the birds flitting in and out of their tiny holes. Dan wished we could have taken a boat tour that goes along the cliffs; it definitely went on the list of "must do next time"! The boys went beyond the park boundary on to private land (as did 99% of the other tourists) to take more pictures at better angles. I was too nervous to try.
After the Cliffs, we had pretty much fulfilled all the goals we had set ourselves, so we just headed down the coast, angling our way toward Shannon. I estimated Ennis would be a realistic place to end the day, so we just meandered on down the coast. We passed through Liscannor, with its awesome golf course and stopped at Lehinch, one of Dan's favourite towns.
Lehinch was always a very touristy town, but now it's even more so. It is a haven for surfers, and since the tide was right, we saw a lot of people heading down to the beach and hitting the waves. We had lunch at a little cafe with a surprisingly diverse menu and very bright and colorful decor. We walked about town and did some shopping; I got a Celtic painting on papyrus at the Bord Failte that was very unusual and a few other gifts. I stopped at the knitwear shop and managed to get the girls sweaters. While I was negotiating sizes, the boys visited an art gallery that they very much enjoyed, but felt I should stay out of. Heading down the coast, Dan suggested we do the Loop Head route that meanders down the coast; from this we could loop back east and head to Ennis. Great idea. Off we headed, through Miltown Malbay, Quilty, Kilmurry, Doonbeg to Kilkee. At Kilkee, we got out and discovered an excellent cliff walk that was extremely photogenic. Apparently, this walk extends for miles; I imagine this must be a very nice place to live. It started to rain and gust, so we headed back to the car and drove out. After a number of miles, it was pretty obvious that this was a very isolated road we were traversing, with few towns ahead of us. That's when I noticed I had only 1/8 tank of gas.
Normally, I am willing to chance things. With so little gas, roads marked in Km when I am used to miles, no cell phone (WHO do you call anyway?) and a deserted country road, my anxiety began to mount. After about 20 minutes, I decided I must head back to the town for gas. Back we went, and entered the town. We drove around and around (it's now about 7:30 pm- things do NOT stay open late in Ireland like they do in the US) and could not find a gas station. We pulled up and asked a local; there was none in Kilkee, he said, the closest is Doonbeg, and the road behind us (that would have taken us back toward Ennis) was closed for repair and a detour was on. I drove like a maniac back to Doonbeg and we quickly found a station and got gas. Now it was too late to jaunt out to Loop Head (another next time), so Dan navigated me back to Miltown Malbay to pick up a road that led straight to Ennis. Reaching Ennis at about 9 pm, we looked for lodging without success; no vacancy signs everywhere. I recalled a hotel out on the N18, so we headed out of the city and I found the hotel quickly. At this point it was raining pretty steadily, I was exhausted from the stress of driving and I felt that out aborted trip to Loop Head was a terrible way to end a vacation. Actually, there are worse ways to end a great vacation.
We checked in, had a lovely dinner and just as we were considering ordering our dessert, a HUGE cockroach ran out from the table next to us. The wait staff appeared unsure how to deal with this situation: we warned them not to step on it (it releases billions of eggs) and Bren put a glass on top of it. Another diner begged us to let it go in the garden; I encouraged the waiter to kill it and he poured boiling water on it. Dan insisted on speaking with the manager; he was polite but emphatic that the staff needed to take measures to eradicate the pests and should close the kitchen in the meantime. The manager felt that just one bug was a problem taken care of. I went to the desk and cancelled our breakfast. I might have left had I not been so exhausted; at least our room was far from the kitchen. You would think they would have cancelled the cost of our dinner, or given a discount on our stay. NOPE. West County Hotel, part of the Best Western chain and run by the Lynch family group. I emailed them hotel and made a complaint; I have yet to receive an apology or acknowledgment of any kind.

Photos Day 8- the Burren, Pulnabrone Dolmen, Cliffs of Moher

The Burren- a moonscape of limestone
Rock walls surround rock fields.

The rock undulates across the hills...

Poulnabrone Dolmen- a Neolithic burial mound; the capstone weighs over a ton.

A good view of Poulnabrone.

The boys pose at the tomb.

And so do I.

The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare; O'Brien's Tower

O'Brien's Tower

The Cliffs of Moher
The boys stop by the tower.

Observation area.

View of the tower from the trail.
This does not look safe, but it was a heck of a photo.

Guess who went beyond the point? Everybody but me.
People routinely get blown off these cliffs, & it was windy!

The cliffs from beyond the trail.

I am safe behind the walls.

Photos Day 8- County Clare- Lehinch, Loop Head

Surfers at Lehinch

Lehinch Beach
Loop Head Route

On the Cliffs

Loop Head Route

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Day Seven- Inis Mor, Dun Aonghasa

We went down to the town of Kilronan and checked our bags in at the Bord Failte, and rented bicycles to ride out to Dun Aonghasa, the stone fort far out on the cliff tops. Bicycle is the best way to see the island; the boys were game. Bren was querying the locals about the wormhole, an ocean phenomenon he read about in one of the guidebooks. I warned them that I could not keep up with them because of my asthma. I figured I'd make my way slowly out to the fort, maybe meet them there, then head back slowly to the village and shop at the Aran Sweater Mill, picking up some excellent knit goods.
They took off and I made my way out to the fort. I parked my bike at the visitor center and paid to go in. There's an excellent exhibit about the fort; I skipped it thinking the boys had been there long before me (plus I had been before) and hiked up the long and steep path to the narrow stone entryway, the only way in. The fort is situated far out on a cliff top, giving excellent protection from raiders and marauder. Because it's so high on the cliff, sentries would be able to observe attackers from afar, and sound an alarm, giving the inhabitants time to scurry back into the fort from their daily activities of farming, fishing, etc. The views are stunning. Not a few crazy tourists climb out onto the cliff to take a photo at yet another angle (see the photos and decide if my sons are among them). I passed beyond the barrier and hiked out some way along the cliff top where the vegetation was different; more flowers among the stones. Then I went back into the fort. The boys met me there, and relayed that Bren's bike chain had come undone, so they fixed it and went to the beach to clean the grease off, and saw me ride by on my way up the hill. We got some photos of each other on the cliffs; I got one of the boys leaving the sole entry way.
We spent a little while in the shops at the fort; I was able to get Kate a replacement knit cap from the very lady from whom she bought her beloved blue set in '01. I bought myself some silver earrings as well. We glided downhill to the tiny village of Kilmurray and did some additional shopping; I got Richie a sweater, and settled on one for myself. I wanted to stay longer but the boys were determined to find the wormhole and equally determined to drag me along. The B&B landlady had given us general directions, augmented by the bike rental guy; the knit shop lady advised me to check the tide from the visitors' center guys, which Brendan did. Basically, we had to head back towards Kilronan but take a right at the crossroads. So we did, and shortly after, the pavement turned to path. It was easier and safer to ride on the grass in the center of the path (see photo above- don't I look like I am having great fun?). The path eventually turned to track; unmanageable by bike. Bren locked the 3 bikes together and we set out on foot. The track eventually led to field upon field, walled with grey stone in neat rows. We headed in the direction we knew the wormhole was located in. After a bit, it was wilder going on the cliff top; it was safer and easier to walk on the long weathered blocks of limestone; stepping off meant sinking anywhere from ankle to knee deep in soft vegetation and peat. We walked quite a long way until we came to the ocean; we followed along the top of the cliff until eventually we did find it. The tide was very low, so we could see the square deep hole in the cliff. It looked like it was cut but according to the Aran Islands website, it's a natural phenomenon. When the tide rises, the waves rush down the deep hole and into the deep cave in the cliffside; it looks like a wormhole in space. We saw it as a pool of deep, dark water, but I could imagine how very dangerous it might be to approach it more closely. Of course, the boys angled in as close as they could. They were so excited, it made their whole day to find it. Once we got our photos, we realized how late it was and headed straight back to the bikes. It took a while to get that far, and then get back to the road. I was utterly spent, and we still had miles to bike to catch our ferry at 5pm. I was so tired, I lost my breath pretty quickly and despite albuterol, I was unable to manage even the slightest incline. So I walked the bike and coasted downhill when I could. Bren stayed with me because I think I scared the crap out of him- he's never seen me so out of breath. We made it back to the bike rental place with nine minutes to spare for the ferry. We ransomed our luggage and made it to the ferry exactly in time. A large group of French schoolchildren joined us on the ferry, so it was noisy and rowdy on the ride back. I felt better after a bottle of water and a chocolate bar.
We got back to Rossaveal and ransomed our car. Dan directed us toward Galway, but we skirted though the city without stopping so we could get close to the Burren, our next destination. Dan thought to take us to Ballyvaughan, but I was pretty spent, and when we drove through Kinvarra and saw a hotel, I pulled in. I had pushed myself about as far as I could for one day. The Merriman Hotel was full of local artwork, very colorful and attractive. Kinvarra was a pretty coastal town, so after checking in and washing up, we roved through looking for a place for dinner. We ended up walking all the way down to the harbor, where we took some nice pictures; my favourite was a group of three curraghs anchored together (a curragh is a boat made of cowhide; lightweight and buoyant, it's used all over the west of Ireland.).
I was so glad we had made the effort to go out to Inis Mor- it was a huge success with the boys and it made me very happy to see how excited they were about it all. It was a great adventure.

Check out the photos from the Aran website to see the wormhole in full glory.

I also like these paintings done by a Canadian artist: search for Gertrude Kearns

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