Back to Work

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It’s been a while since I’ve seen this old purple lunch bag. Yesterday, I dusted it off  and headed back to work at my old and beloved stomping grounds, a great school where I spent seventeen years of my working life.

When I retired from teaching in 2015, people asked me if I would come back as a supply teacher. Aside from the fact that retirees were ineligible to work as supply teachers three years ago, my answer was an adamant “NO!” I was done. On to the next chapter.

I’ve loved this new chapter as much as I expected to. I’ve had time to volunteer, to exercise, to travel, to paint a bit, to nap. Last month,, I was able to launch my first published novel–which has been a lifelong dream of mine. I am never bored. In fact, a day isn’t long enough to squeeze in everything I want to do. And yet, even after three years away, I still feel connected to my past as a teacher. I’m still reasonably young. I have all this experience and all these qualifications I spent years working in my off time to get. I started to wonder if maybe, there was still a bit of juice left to squeeze out of the lemon.

And I also thought about the extra income. Pensions don’t fund trips very well. And there are so many places I still want to see and experiences I want to have. A part-time job has a lot of benefits.

I got a text a few months ago from a former colleague that the Board was now accepting retired teachers onto the supply list. There is a serious shortage of supply teachers at the moment, and many jobs “fail to fill,” leaving schools scrambling for coverage for classes without teachers. As much to my surprise as well as everyone else’s, I applied.

The process wasn’t easy. I had to start right at Square One–resume, references, an online test that included high school math, a rather grueling interview process (something I hadn’t experienced since 1989), topped off by orientation–because 31 years of experience and a string of satisfactory performance appraisals wasn’t orientation enough. I jumped through all the hoops (well, maybe in some scenarios, “crawled” would be a better word) and my first day as a supply teacher was yesterday.

There was always this feeling I got when I was working full-time upon returning to school after a summer. One day in and I felt like the summer never happened. Like I had never left. Three years later, it was exactly the same feeling. A few new faces and a couple of new fridges in the staff room, but other than that, it was home.

My first day back was a busy one. I was covering for a Kindergarten Prep teacher, so I was bouncing from classroom to classroom, and in and out off the playground. There were so many kids–kids with no name tags, all these nameless little people swarming around. So hard to make a connection with a child in this circumstance. But it did happen a few times. One tiny child asked me if I would come and see his rocks. He led me out to the coatroom to his cubby. He wormed his little hands in past his backpack until he got to his coat pocket, carefully zipped to ensure the protection of its contents. His unzipped it and reached his little hand in. When he opened his palm, it was full of tiny rocks he’d carefully gathered during his outdoor time. Mixed in with the stones was a wee plastic stegosaurus. Something about that little hand filled with treasures (and the fact that he wanted to share them with me) caught at my heart.

In another classroom of older students, I was reading one of my favourite books, a story by Chris Van Allsburg (of “Polar Express” and “Jumanji” fame) called “”The Widow’s Broom.” We talked a bit about the meaning of the word “widow” before I began the read-aloud.  Half-way through the story, I felt a hand on my knee. A little guy had left his spot on the floor and came up to me. Normally, I would have asked him to go and sit back down, but something in his eyes stopped me. He whispered to me, “My mommy is a widow.” I was rendered speechless with this unexpected revelation (most teachers can pretty much count on the unexpected from children during the process of any normal day) when he smiled and added, “I have a stepdad now, and he’s my new daddy.”

After one day back at school, I have a renewed vision for what is inspiring me (aside from a pay check) to take a step back towards teaching. It’s not a big step. I can have fifty days a year without it impacting my pension, so I figure, a day a week. Kids are incredible little humans. I love retirement, but I have missed these mini humans and their unique and often complicated perceptions of living life on Earth. I’m excited to have a measure of this blessing back in my life and I look forward to the little doses of learning the kids will inevitably offer to me. My days are full, but the heart always has room for more!

If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners now available to order in print and as an eBook!

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Words Matter

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My brother-in-law decided to change his name to “Diamond” one Saturday night several years past while he and his dad were watching “America’s Most Wanted.” I don’t think he and his father ever missed a single episode of “America’s Most Wanted” in the twenty-four years that it aired. My brother-in-law shared his dad’s outrage as they watched John Walsh inform viewers of the heinous activities of criminals who had thus far evaded capture and incarceration. One Saturday night, my brother-in-law was tuned in when he heard John Walsh say his name. To my brother-in-law’s horror, he and one of the fugitives Walsh was trying to bring to justice shared the same name.

“People might think that guy is me. I’m changing my name to Diamond!” he proclaimed.

I first met “Diamond” around 1979 when I started dating his brother. He and I quickly became “frenemies” out at the basketball hoop in the driveway. We would play “Twenty-One” or “Horse,” teasing one another about bad shots and gloating over our victories. Initially, I thought of these interactions as “joking around,” but over the years, I began to understand that “Diamond” tended to take these things more seriously than I did. Years later, I was taken aback to overhear him say to one of my daughters, “Me and your mother, we never really got along.” When I visited the house, I began to notice that a framed photograph of me seemed to be permanently toppled over on the end table where it was kept. I thought it was a defective support on the picture frame, but I realized eventually that “Diamond” was the culprit. Every time he walked past it, his mother told me, he would lay the picture face-down. It became a silent war. I would walk in and upright the photograph. The next time I came over, it would be face-down again. I began to notice the other family pictures in the house. If I happened to be in them, the picture would be glass-side down.

Would I have let him beat me at Horse, if I’d known this animosity was my fate?

Doubt it.

“Diamond” was born tongue-tied. Back in the 1950’s, the hospital staff missed this condition when they performed the usual checks. His mother brought him home and struggled for weeks to feed him. She wondered over the years whether nutritional challenges had been the reason for his issues later in life…but no one ever knew for sure. There has never been a label or diagnosis.

“Diamond” now lives in a supported environment, having tried different living arrangements throughout his close to 60 years on earth. His mother battled and advocated for his independence his entire life. He tried different living arrangements and there were many failures and disappointments until his parents found him a wonderful privately owned group home. It was one of his mom’s last wishes before she passed that “Diamond” stay there indefinitely.

We were all set to make sure that happened–until the place burned down last fall. My husband drove over and brought “Diamond” back to our house, and here he stayed until a new house was found and prepared for the displaced residents. He lived here with us for three months in the interim.

His brother already knew “Diamond” in the context of fixed family member, but the rest of us quickly realized how much more we had to learn and appreciate about him. One of my daughters who often  stays at our house thoroughly enjoyed being in his company and getting his take on things. Visitors to our house looked forward to their chats with him. “Diamond” is funny, wise, perceptive and compassionate–and always has interesting observations and commentary. He navigates public transit easily and has a set routine to his days that includes regular visits to his Day Program, workouts at the Y, visits to local businesses that offer free coffee, and his Tuesday night burger/Taekwondo adventure. His Taekwondo class had an 8:00 p.m. start time, but he’d be on the bus in his white, dragon-emblazoned gi and belt by 4:00.  There was no talking him into waiting until a little later to leave. And there was also no talking him into changing into his gi at the studio. I don’t doubt that he liked the attention he got on the bus–a formidable guy, well versed in the marital arts. I speculate that a few demonstrations were made in the aisle between stops.

I wanted to share a few personal details about “Diamond” as a segue way into something that has been bothering me quite a bit lately. Back in the “good old days,” the words that were acceptable in use when talking about people like “Diamond” were “mentally retarded.” Intellectually slow, limited. That little phrase sometimes got shortened to simply “retarded.” If one was feeling especially lazy, the word “retard” or even “tard” was used. Insensitive or bullying types often used it as an expression of belittlement when attempting to make someone feel badly (“What a retard!”) or to express displeasure with something (“That show is retarded!”) The word retarded and its derivatives have become offensive (and rightly so) in the present time. This is a pretty well-known societal fact in 2018. And so it saddens me that this word has made a resurgence in the era of Trump (and other non-Conservative governments), where anyone who is not conservative is bashed all over the internet and in face-to-face conversations as a “Libtard.” This cruel, inaccurate and derogatory word has found a resurgence. It is sneakily imposing its nasty little face, squishing itself in right behind the “Lib” as though people won’t notice it lurking there.

It’s the type of word that a kind society really doesn’t want to return any leeway to, in my opinion. After decades of shifting away from it and all of its cruel implications, why would we leave any room for it to creep back? It’s a shame that we have to resort to any kind of name-calling when we disagree with people who are not like-minded. But if we’re still thinking we have to do that, I wish that people would leave the “tard” out of it. “Diamond” and 200 million other people on the planet living with intellectual challenges have enough to contend with.

 

If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners now available in bookstores and as an eBook!

Tennis, Anyone?

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I’m not the athletic type. I never had the opportunity to play competitive sports growing up. I did try out for the basketball team in high school this one time, but after the first try-out, the coach promptly approached me about being a scorer/time-keeper for the team. I never got to chase a basketball around the court in my squeaky running shoes, but I did enjoy complete control of the big lit-up clock– including the deafeningly loud buzzer.

One sport I did get a little interested in was tennis. That started the summer I was fourteen years old while I was camping with my family. There was this boy named George at the campground. George was close to my age. He took to following me around and badgering me to play tennis with him. The fact that I didn’t know how to play did nothing to deter him. He was determined to teach me. Finally, as there was little else for a fourteen-year-old girl to do, I went with George to the tennis courts and he proceeded to patiently teach me the game. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed it, although I had no natural skill for the game. I even knew how to score by the end of the matches.

As a younger person, I played tennis in the summers quite consistently. My game was never great, but I could serve inside the line, get a ball over the net with a backhand from time to time, and keep the ball in play here and there. I was never the player someone would be excited to have as a partner during doubles, but I enjoyed being out on the court and found it to be a fun way to get some exercise, as long as my teammate and the opposition didn’t take the game too seriously.

A few weeks ago, I was out playing tennis with my husband as my partner, the opposition being my brother and his fourteen-year-old son. We all brought our own supplies of green tennis balls. The courts were full. This fall has provided ideal tennis-playing weather and several people were taking advantage of it that evening. Behind the courts are several apartment buildings and there are a lot of kids living there. And since these kids don’t have the benefit of a back yard, they tend to run around the tennis court area.

I was happily engrossed in the game, but I noticed that two little boys, maybe around six or seven years old, were tearing around the interior of the court area where people were playing. I figured they belonged to a couple inside the courts who were playing tennis and had brought their kids along with them. After about an hour of these two charging around, my husband pointed out that they had a basket with them. These two hooligans, obviously not being watched by anyone and probably residents of the apartment buildings behind the courts, were dashing around STEALING ALL THE TENNIS BALLS and putting them in their basket. These were the balls that people were using in their games, the ones that were missed and had bounced over to the side or behind the line. No one was saying anything to these two kids, although aware of the situation. Some of the players were even laughing a bit at the bold audacity of the little miscreants.

Mom of four retired Kindergarten teacher wasn’t laughing. I watched them as they made their way over to our court, their sights fixed on the collection of balls I’d missed near the fence behind me. Closer, closer, closer they came, their gleeful laughter becoming clearer.

I set myself between the fuzzy green balls and the boys, hands jammed on my hips.

“Ohhhh, no. No, no, no,” I said.

The two of them stopped dead in their tracks, uncertain of what to do with this strange word they had obviously never heard before. They both looked at me, as confused and outraged as puppies who had been interrupted at the beginning of a slipper-eating rampage. The people around me grew quiet and I realized there was a possibility that I was being judged as a “mean lady.” And so I adjusted my tone. And I said sweetly to the little thieves, “We need those balls for our game.”

And then, once everyone was back to paying attention to their games, I chased the little stinkers off the court, wielding my racket over my head.

Just kidding about that part.

 

If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners scheduled for release in March, 2018.

 

The Last Days in Ireland

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Although tired from the previous evening’s festivities, I got out of bed the next morning early enough to allow myself a half hour of wandering the grounds of Abbeyglen Castle. So pretty there, with a lovely fountain overlooking an almost tropical landscape. It is common to see palm trees in the areas of Ireland that we visited. I was able to snap a few photographs of the castle grounds as it was a beautiful morning, the cold drizzling damp of the day before dissolved into memory.

Breakfast in the dining room was sumptuous. Brian served me a pancake and poured on some good old Canadian maple syrup. Our group had a bit of fun over our meal, reliving our evening in the piano bar before Denise arrived with the bus. This was the first time on the trip that I experienced a real reluctance to leave a place. I would have liked to tour around the halls for an hour or two and have a peek into some of the bedrooms my fellow tour members had occupied. Actually, I would have loved the opportunity to simply enjoy my own room, cuddled up in one of the soft robes that were provided and settle into an easy chair, gazing out over the splendid views with a cup of tea. A good, long chin-wag with the delightful Brian in the sitting room would also have been an enjoyable event. This is one of the down-sides to doing a tour. A tour requires an itinerary to be successful, and that means being slave to the clock. You can build some flexibility into a tour, but when all is said and done, you are watching your wrist for the better part of your time. There is no lingering, no reorganizing, no shifting around. The sand in the hourglass runs out, and there is no flipping it back over again.

That being said, I think the tour format was the best way to go. I never would have seen the incredible things I was able to see if I hadn’t been on that little green bus. And I would have missed meeting all those wonderful friends who were on that bus with me.

And so, we were back on the bus again, and its nose was pointed in the direction of Dublin. We would be back in the city by early evening, and it would be time to say our good-byes, then face the long trip back to Canada.

But, the day wasn’t over yet.

Denise took us down some narrow back roads and through some hills, and we were soon pulling into the lane of a working sheep farm. I had been looking forward with much anticipation to this part of the tour, and it truly was a perfect way to end off. The farm was nestled in the green hills, and below was an enormous dark and shimmering lake, lined with rows of mussel traps. The sheep dotted the slopes like cotton balls. Misty clouds bent to graze the top of the distant hills. It was just a gorgeous sight to behold, and I remarked to Tom, our host farmer, that it must be pretty tough to wake up to that view every day. Tom is the fourth generation farmer to run the place and this has been his view every day of his life. I don’t think I would ever get over the shock of the beauty of it myself, but Tom seemed to take it all in stride.

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Sheep farming is far from lucrative in Ireland these days (wool is not a sought-after commodity with softer synthetic fibres available now), but it has been a big part of their traditions for generations. Sheep are still everywhere you look when driving around the Irish countryside. Tom inherited the farm, but is only able to continue running it because of his wife’s income as a teacher.

The star of the show was Roy. Roy is a black short-haired Border Collie, and he herds sheep. Tom trained him for three years and the feisty, lean little canine is worth 8000 euro. Roy was quite friendly with us, but if Tom hadn’t been present, it would have been another story. Roy had a very intense, wolfish look in the eyes, and he never took them off his master. I’ve never seen a dog with such a muscular frame. He sat poised, every hair on alert, waiting for Tom’s command. Once given, he sailed like a gazelle over the fence and tore off down the hill in the direction of a group of sheep. Tom stood at the top with his whistle, calling out directions. “Away” would send the dog immediately to the right. “Come by” would bring him left. “Walk on” would bring him behind the sheep. When Tom called, “No!” the dog would plunk to a seated position. In no time at all, Roy had gathered all the anxious-eyed sheep into a ambling formation and the little herd were soon clustered in the pen at the top of the hill. It was an enthralling sight to witness. It was as though the dog and owner had an intense psychic connection.

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Busy Roy was difficult to photograph, but there is he in the top right, and the sheep all looking pretty worried. I wonder if they think he is about to devour them?

Before we leave the sheep farm, meet “Sweep.” He is Roy’s predecessor, and now happily retired at the ripe old age of 13 and enjoying the high life. I love his name!

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As Denise was travelling back to the castle to retrieve a tour member’s forgotten cell phone, we had some time to linger and gaze out over the lake at the magnificent scenery. We were also toasting a birthday of a tour member, and gathered around a picnic table to enjoy some champagne. Tom agreed to take our picture. I was wearing the lovely green Aran sweater I’d bought on a whim in Galway. One too many of us sat on one side of the table, and we almost tipped over. My new sweater was thoroughly baptized in champagne!

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After a final lunch together, Denise did some fierce driving for the remainder of the afternoon and got us all back to Dublin, dropping us off at the same place we’d begun the week before. By this time, we were all “friends” on Facebook, so saying good-bye, although sad, was made easier by the knowledge that we would be staying in touch. It has been awesome to see everyone’s pictures of the trip, as everyone has a unique perspective even though we were visiting the same places.

My travelling companion and I had one more full day in Dublin before leaving in the wee hours the morning after for our flight back. We deliberated taking an excursion out for the day, but frankly, I was by this time “bused out.” We caught up on some sleep, walked through Trinity College, and did a bit of shopping, buying some small gifts to bring back for our families.

We were at our gate in the Dublin airport in plenty of time, and as I amazingly still had some euros left, I went to browse in the shops. It was there that I found the perfect memento of my time in Ireland, something to remember a special friend by…

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Farewell to beautiful, unforgettable Ireland.

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If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners scheduled for release in March, 2018.

 

A Night in an Irish Castle

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The following day began on the top of the Burren, a vast and rugged uplands of primarily limestone in NW County Clare. It was a grey and blustery day, with sheep grazing between the limestone deposits under the old stone-piled walls. I hopped from rock to rock, avoiding the mushy wet ground between. The layers of pale rock pocked the landscape for as far as the eye could see. Centuries of rainfall is slowly eating away at the limestone, leaving impressions and little holes scattered across the rock face.  In spite of the vast amount of rock, it is a protected habitat for many varieties of plants and flowers, many unique to the Burren.

Our main mission (aside from trying not to be blown off our feet by the wind) was to observe Palnabrone–an ancient portal tomb, hunkered down at the top of the Burren. This site is purported to be over 6000 years old. The portal was probably surrounded by dirt after it was built originally. The enormously heavy capstone on top was likely dragged up once the tomb had been buried under the earth. Countless years of wind and rain took the dirt away and left the entire rock tomb exposed to the elements. It was left undisturbed until the mid-1980’s, when the capstone split, the one piece upended behind the structure. It was then that the site became accessible and archaeologists were able to excavate the site. Inside were found the collective bones of more than twenty people. It is thought that the bones were all put in there together, well after the bodies had decomposed. The oldest of the bones belonged to someone around 40 years old, showing evidence of severe arthritis. There were also the bones of children, demonstrating signs of malnutrition. It was sobering to stand under the grey sky in the wind, contemplating these people–their short lives where every day was a fight for survival, the things they valued, their spirituality and beliefs.

Luckily for me, a day in the ruins was on the docket, and our next destination was Corkmore Abbey. Legend has it that the man who commissioned the building of the abbey in the 12th century had the architect executed once the job was done in order to ensure the design would not be duplicated.

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So many stories there, whispering in the stones. Here is the little cottage nearby where the monks would have slept.

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As in other ruined abbeys I’d seen, this one quietly maintained its decaying presence in the form of a cemetery. The church floor contained many graves from not so long ago times, and several of the gravestones outside were far from ancient.

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The dead are not aware of where they are laid and I suppose it doesn’t matter, when all is said and done…still, it seems a lovely thought to have one’s remains interred in an old abbey ruin and to join ghostly hands with those who went long before.

From there, we were bound for County Galway and Aughnanure Castle. It was starting to rain again, but I didn’t mind as I had learned by this time that gloom and rain are perfect backdrops for ruins. These were tower house remains, built in the 16th century by the Fierce O’Flaherty’s to block Galway from Cromwell’s invaders. Many of the protective walls were still in place, as well as a much-diminished black river that curls along the path up to the ruins.

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The site included a watch tower, and the main tower where the family had lived had a murder hole in the entryway–a little room above where guards sat, ready with rocks to drop through the hole and onto the unsuspecting heads of invaders. The stairs winding up to the different levels of the tower house were cleverly designed to prevent a man from swinging his sword on the way up, although people coming down could swing theirs. The actual stairs were also built unevenly, so that people unfamiliar with the place would misstep and stumble on them. It was interesting to see a tower house design and to learn how a 16th century castle fortress protected itself in such ingenious ways.

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As the rain geared itself up into one of the Irish’s more advanced levels of rain, we arrived at Abbeyglen Castle in Clifden, Connemarra for the last night of our tour. This was a more recent model of a castle–mid-1800’s, and it could not have been any more charming. I wanted more time in this place. Rooms were all cozy and comfortable, every one different, and accessed by skeleton keys. We were welcomed by Brian Hughes, the owner and manager, who ushered us all together for a group photograph–each one of us were given a copy as a keepsake. Once we had our suitcases put away and a quick refresh, we were invited to the bar for a champagne reception before dinner in the magnificent dining room. During the reception, Brian gave us a history of the castle, which included a previous life as an orphanage. Apparently, this orphanage was an unusually happy place for the children who lived there, and many recount lovely memories of their time there. (Stories, stories, must write stories). Every time I turned away, my glass of chamgagne was brimming to the top again. I have never been in a place where the wait staff are so attentive. You know. The kind of place that millionaires usually go to and you think you will never experience because you are lucky enough if you’re a hundred-aire.

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Dinner was a covered dish affair, another thing I never thought to experience in my life. The menu was incredible, and also affordable, as Brian had given all of his guests generous discounts on their meals. Our tour members gathered around a large table which was donned with an immaculate white tablecloth. I chose a sweet potato and coconut curry. All our dinners came out at once, covered in silver domes. The wait staff counted to three and swept the domes off at the same time. We couldn’t help but applaud. Then they came around with trays of hot vegetables and potatoes to add to our plates. My meal was just delicious. I resisted the dessert buffet, which was beautiful to behold. I was just so stuffed.

After dinner, several of us adjourned back to the bar. There was a baby grand in there, and Paul (another owner, Brian’s son) sat down at the keyboard. It was a piano bar, and they wanted guests to sing. I bought myself a Jameson Irish whiskey and ginger to brace myself and after taking time to gather a bit of courage, I marched up to the mike. I sang “Piano Man” as a solo. I had wanted to sing “My Lagan Love,” but a performer has to read the crowd, and they were all in jolly moods, singing along to songs like “Sweet Caroline” and “King of the Road.” Several of the ladies in the tour got up and we sang together, mostly old Irish standards. It was just so much fun. Suddenly, this amazing jazz band gathered near the piano and tuned up, and they were just incredible. Finally, I had to tear myself away because we were supposed to be ready to get on the bus again at 9:30 the next morning…which came far too soon. Abbeyglen requires more than a brief night’s stay. I could’ve settled in there for a good week.

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HELP! I’M BEING HELD PRISONER IN AN IRISH CASTLE!

(Lucky little devil).

 

 

If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners scheduled for release in March, 2018.

 

The Shocking Cliffs of Moher

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After our relaxing stay in Dingle, it was time to cram everything into suitcases again and head out in the bus with Denise once more. We had a brief stop in Tralee for a stroll through the rose gardens. Every year, the Irish are glued to their tellies to watch a pageant called “The Rose of Tralee.” Names of the Irish or Irish-associated lovelies are all posted in the park to commemorate the contestants and winners through the years. And there are many rose bushes there to memorialize them, although the flowers were on the sparse side at that time of the year.

From there, Denise drove our bus onto the ferry to cross the mighty River Shannon from County Kerry to County Clare. It was a short trip, barely time for the winds to ruffle our hair.

The big event of the day was the viewing of the Cliffs of Moher. Big sky, big water, big cliffs. A real tourist hub, with several large coach buses in the parking lot, and crowds of people streaming over the pathways around the cliffs.

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I was surprised to see how different the views were of the cliffs from different angles. The upper photograph is taken from the left side of the view, and the lower from the right. It is almost like seeing two completely different locations. At any rate, both views were spectacular–high and rocky and rugged, with the dark ocean waves breaking below. Walking along the paths in the windy sea air was exhilarating.

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The hills preceding the cliffs were used for cattle pasture, and thus, there were fences to keep the cows from getting too close to the edge. The path went along the fences, and became more and more narrow as you walked up. Some spots were rocky and required a bit of climbing and side-stepping. As I was coming back down from the top, several people were coming from the other direction. Being the polite Canadian that I am, I stepped back, pressing again the fence to let them through. ZZZZZZZ-POW! I had somehow missed the little signs that notified pedestrians that the fence was electrified.

It’s not everyone that can say they got electrocuted at the Cliffs of Moher.

Speaking of smashing waves, perhaps here is a good lead-in to the subject of Irish toilets. Things being as they are with me, I saw toilets a-plenty on my visit to Ireland, and there were many different models and flushing methods. The common thread that connects them is the ferocity of the flush. I would speculate that the Irish use at least three times the amount of water in their flush design than the more conservative Canadians. You push the lever or yank the chain and the whoosh is thunderous, water pounding in from all sides like a waterfall emptying into a cavernous basin. I was almost afraid to flush at times, and refrained from doing so at night for fear of waking my roomie.

From the cliffs, we drove on to the quiet little town of Ballyvaughan. There wasn’t much to see there, but I enjoyed a lovely home-style roast beef meal (that was my revenge on the cows and their electric fence) served with “mash” and fresh-steamed carrots, cauliflower and cabbage. I’ve heard it said that the food in Ireland isn’t that good, but the meals we had on our tour were all stellar.

Some of the tour people went to the “Whiskey Bar” that evening, but I cuddled up in front of the fire in the lounge with my art journal and sketched a picture of one of the falling-in, abandoned stone cottages that are sprinkled all over the landscape in Ireland. They sit there, roofless, the roaming sheep grazing in the long-abandoned yards. These little forgotten places make me think of the primitive little hovel portrayed in Emma Donoghue’s “The Wonder.” And they make me think about writing a story or two of my own…

 

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If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners scheduled for release in March, 2018.

Two Days in Dingle

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The charming town of Dingle’s claim to fame is a dolphin named “Fungie.” That is pronounced “Fun Jee,” not “Fun Guy” as I had originally thought. Stores were decorated with dolphin motiffs and shops along the water advertised boat tours to head out into the water to meet Fungie–there was a money back guarantee if you didn’t see the dolphin. Apparently, Fungie is a bit of an oddity–there are no other dolphins in the bay, and attempts to introduce him to both male and female dolphins has only resulted in Fungie chasing them out of his territory. Fungie is a lone wolf and he likes to be the star of the show. I didn’t meet the guy. I was happy to cuddle a bit with his effigy outside the tourist stand.

We had a nice stay in Dingle. The rain cleared at last and we were able to wander the streets in dry shoes and shop around a bit. Our hotel room was cozy and bright, with sloped ceilings and everything spic and span. The sunsets over the harbour were gorgeous, as were the sunrises. The harbour was filled with all manner of boats, and the water calm and serene. A nautical artist’s paradise, filled with many subjects for painting. There were nice walking paths along the water, too and I enjoyed a fine invigorating stroll there on the first morning.

There is a small ice-cream chain in Dingle named “Murphy’s” and everyone raves about it. The ice cream is served in tiny portions like gelato and my tiny bowl was “over” inside the space of a minute. That is why the ice cream in Ireland has far less calories than the ice cream in North America! There were lots of interesting shops to explore, as well as some nice restaurants and of course, many pubs.

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We did head out for a few hours on the bus with Denise to take in some of the sights in the surrounding area. We visited an oratorium–a very primitive spot of worship and prayer constructed of rock (with no use of mortar) in the early days of Christianity. This structure is dated around 800 AD. We were welcome to go inside. It didn’t have the atmosphere of the later Christian ruins at all, and even someone with a good imagination would be hard-pressed to connect with anything spiritual in here. I felt kind of like a beaver in a dam.

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We headed out towards the tip of the Dingle Peninsula on the incredibly beautiful Slea Head Drive–a gorgeous curving vista of enormous sea and rocky islands scattered within. Denise pulled the little green bus over and we lingered there for a bit, enjoying the views and visiting with a cocky little seagull who bobbed along the ledge, hoping for handouts.

Below us in the dark blue sea, we were able to view the northern-most Blasket Islands. Like Canada, Ireland has a “sleeping giant.” Here is theirs, sprawled out on his back in the ocean in the background of this photograph.

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He’s also known as “An Fear Marbh” or, “The Dead Man.”

Here is Canada’s sleeping giant, located in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

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Our giant in Canada is a little bigger. Everything in Canada is bigger!

Before returning to Dingle, we were able to see an interesting demonstration by a glass-cutting craftsman. The man who ran the show used to work for the famous Waterford Crystal Company. The glass was not blown on site, but he and his sons were the artists who designed and created the unique cuts. Every piece was unique.

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Our afternoon back in Dingle was restful and leisurely. It was nice to wind down a bit from the fast pace of the tour. What a great idea to have a bit of a “recess” in the middle of the tour.

As the fish entrees were so great that first night, we had our second dinner at the Anchor Away. This time, I had fish “goujons.” Here in Canada, we would call them fish fingers or fish strips. Fresh Atlantic cod in batter, and big “chips” to accompany them. When in Ireland, you have to have fish and chips at least once. No regrets!

That night, we went out to Dingle’s “Court House” pub. My friend and I are not beer lovers, but thought we should at least taste the Guinness while in Ireland, and the barkeep was kind enough to pour us a bit of the dark brown brew. I am sure he was heaving heavy inward sighs to behold the look of repugnance on our faces after our taste, but he was happy to serve us up two bottles of cold cider to get the taste out of our mouths!

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The Irish pubs are so lovely–nothing like the bar scene here. They look like little cottages–perhaps a few hundred years ago, they were. Pubs can be found everywhere you go, and there is always someone in them. They are the furthest thing from a “meat market” you could imagine–just a homey place to pop into for a pint and a chat and to listen to some Irish music. The ones I saw were not very big, but people just squish over and make room. The evening we ventured out to the Court House, several members of our tour group were there, and we had a great time. To our delight, a bride and groom came in off the street, still in their wedding attire. The groom had patches on his coat sleeves, and the bride wore a simple white gown with a square open back, and carried her pretty bouquet.

Imagine, forgoing your no expense spared $50,000 wedding with massive reception, and just having an intimate ceremony instead, with close family and friends. After the vows, you link arms and go out into the town to the pubs, being congratulated with cheers by the patrons within, listening to the entertainment woe you with love songs, and being served a celebratory drink. To me, that sounds like the loveliest wedding day ever. We were all thoroughly enchanted; some of us had tears in our eyes. The simplest things are the most beautiful.

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If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners scheduled for release in March, 2018.