Life is like a cup of tea, it’s all in how you make it

sligo-bridgeSligo Town, County Sligo was one of the larger towns we visited on our trip and was the farthest north we ventured, very close to the border of Northern Ireland. It was drizzling rain and the cold wind forced us into asligo-bridge-3 pub to drink an Irish coffee for warmth. Lo and behold, when we left the pub, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful morning. It’s amazing what a little Irish whisky will do for your mood. We walked along the Rockwood Parade, taking pictures of the Garvoge River, the pedestrian bridges, sligo-streetand baskets of blooming flowers, making our way deeper into the shopping streets. The town centers in Ireland are mazelike with streets coming in at all angles and at the spot where several converge there is almost always a monument.sligo-clock In the bigger towns, there are several center points so it’s an adventure walking around to discover what kind of shops are on that street.

That’s how I found M. Cosgrove & Son market-sligoDelicatessen on Market Street. Like most other food shops, the front door was open, inviting me in to wonderland.  I loved this tiny shop. It was jam-packed with beautifulsligo-jellies provisions and I wanted to buy it all. There was a path down the middle with shelves and cases, floor to ceiling on either side filled with everything imaginable for any meal, a romantic dinner or picnic…cheeses, olives, sligo-candiesjams, cured meats, lovely salads, nuts, and sweets. There was also a wonderful selection of dry goods to stock a pantry…grains, beans, lentils, peas, tea, coffee, flours. (I’m swooning as I write)sligo-cheese

There are so many things that make Cosgrove’s my pick as favoritesligo-shop shop. It’s inviting, colorful, clean, crowded, well stocked, and family owned. We were on a tight schedule in Sligo and didn’t have much time to linger, which is the biggest drawback for joining a group tour, so I didn’t have time to talk to Michael Cosgrove, the third generation who is now managing the store. He was there; in his white smock stocking shelves and seemed not to mind me taking picture after picture and squealing every time I saw another item I wanted to buy. If I had more time, I could have stayed all morning sligo-dry-goodsasking him about his family and the history of the shop. The store was founded in 1898 by Michael’s grandfather and I wonder if there’s a fourth generation ready to take over someday. I surely hope so. This kind of business is what gives a community stability, deep roots for generations of Sligo shoppers, and a direct connection between consumer and provider. Visiting this shop gives me hope that, while the market culture may be struggling in Ireland, it’s alive and has an excellent chance of survival.sligo-deli

 

Soft words butter no parsnips but they won’t harden the heart of a cabbage either

bannerI was so excited planning my time in Ireland. For a market junkie/foodie like me, the opportunity to study market culture in a foreign country was like winning the lottery. I had made some assumptions from my research last spring about what I would find. I thought there would be open air markets around every corner laden with beautiful produce and open seven days a week. That’s not quite what I found but I thought food shopping in Ireland was pretty amazing.

The fallacy in my assumptions was that I would find open-air farmers markets with local producers similar to the kind found in many US communities. They are there, just not every day. The advertisements I read told me that they were generally held one or two days per week in the morning. Unfortunately, I was usually in the wrong place at the wrong time to attend but did happen to find the Westport Country Market locatedmarket-dishes in the St. Anne’s Boxing Club in Westport, County Mayo. I walked in soon after the doors opened and was surprised to find so few shoppers. Small booths lined the walls of the gym selling homemade breads, pastries, jams, cheese, and prepared foods. There were also handmade knitted goods, wooden puzzles, photography, flowers, and beautiful produce. The vendors were welcoming and warm and willing to talk to me.jelly-jars I was a bit of a mystery to the vendors, though, this odd American with a Mickey Mouse backpack taking pictures and asking dozens of questions. I bought a chunk of cheese to eat for lunch, a colorful wooden puzzle for my grandson, and a beautiful photograph of Crough Patrick. I struck up a conversation market-lady-2with Michael Gannon, the photographer. I explained about my graduate research and my blog site and gave him one of my cards. I asked him about the state of small town Ireland and support of small, local vendors. His answers were very surprising.

When I walked around the cities I visited, I saw vibrant center city shopping districts. I was delighted to find no super stores or mega groceries. There was a wide variety of shops and they all were specialized; how lovely to walk into a shop that carries exactly what I need and not have to walk for miles searching through a thousand displays to find what I am looking for. market-ladyShopping may take a bit longer, moving from shop to shop but imagine having the shop keepers know you by name and supporting local business owners. Michael told me the shopping areas were growing smaller and many vendors were struggling to compete with big box stores like Lidl, a German owned discount grocery chain with more than 10,000 stores across Europe. I checked out their website, and it looks like an all too familiar Walmart situation.

We spoke a bit about the loss of American small town shopping districts to the one-stop mega stores sitting just outside of town, close to the interstate.imag0764 It was sad for me to think I had found the town squares in Ireland to be alive and well only to learn that they are waning. I told Michael about Findlay Market in Cincinnati and other similar city revitalization efforts across the US. Hopefully, people like Michael, and the other country market vendors across Ireland, can band together to slow Lidl’s progress. My concern is the people who live in these towns won’t realize what they have until it’s gone.

I’m thinking a call to the Project for Public Spaces is in order…bring in professionals to give advice and recommendations to bolster the markets and local vendors and let the movement spread before it’s lost. Hey, I’ll help. I can’t imagine a better way to use my master’s degree and, as a bonus, get to go back to Ireland. Michael Gannon, let’s talk!michael-gannon

Come for the beer, lads, stay for the craic!

For the couple of people out there who haven’t heard me yapping about it in the past year, I spent nearly three weeks in Ireland in September. Much like my visit to New York in June, I’ve been overwhelmed with the experience of my first trip to Europe. Ireland felt very much like home in that it reminded me of Kentucky. The lovely rolling hills and green pastures look a lot like where I used to live just south of Louisville. I must say, though, that the cows are much prettier in Ireland. Maybe because they’re pooping-up someone else’s yard and not mine.

 Our first two days were in Dublin. From de-boarding at the airport to first pub took maybe two hours.

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First pub!

That included finding our bed and breakfast, unloading our luggage, figuring out the city bus schedule, and riding to city center. Dublin is okay, not my favorite place but alright for a jumping off spot. We toured the Guinness Storehouse, which was way too crowded and not worth the admission. The Gravity Bar on the top floor was so crowded we couldn’t get near the viewing windows, so we chugged our free pint and headed out to the evensong service at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.st-pats-dublin The church was beautiful inside and out and the acoustics sounded nearly perfect when the choir was singing. As I was sitting there looking at the statuary and the tattered battle flags hanging from the ceiling, I got a true feeling for how ancient the culture of Ireland is. Construction began on the building in the mid-thirteenth century and took nearly forty years to complete. Throughout the trip I found myself mesmerized looking at pubs, buildings, houses, and stone walls that had been standing for hundreds of years. I couldn’t relate to the antiquity of it, I had nothing to compare it to. Even my visits years ago to the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park were of little help since Europeans first set foot on these places 300 years after the cathedral was built. On to more old stuff…we ate dinner at the Brazen Head, brazen-headwhich is said to be the oldest continually operating pub in all of Ireland. First built as a coach house in 1198, it has hosted literary giants James Joyce and Jonathan Swift as well as Irish radical and political hero Daniel O’Connell. Now, they don’t claim that there’s any of the original walls still standing but it’s pretty amazing to think of all the stout that’s been served on that spot over the years. We had pints Guinness and bangers and mash for supper. It didn’t take long for travel exhaustion plus a long day of walking miles in wonderfully fresh air to make us sleepy.

 Saturday was an early start from the Almara B&B with our taxi driver Robbie. Sure and those Irish are talkers. In the 15 minute ride to drop our luggage in day storage we discussed the rain, American politics, our vacation, and I don’t know what all else. He took us to the top of Temple Bar and we walked our way back to Heuston Station for our train to Shannon. Did I say there was heavy rain? We managed to walk through the courtyard of Dublin Castle dublin-castleand a bit around the winding shop streets before we were soaked through. Can you guess what we did? Of course that’s what we did…we ducked into the next pub we saw, O’Shea’s Merchant, for our first stout of the day.guinness I’m not saying who, but a couple in our little party did some whisky tastings, too. Before we knew it, it was time for a cab to Heuston because after beer and whisky shots, who wants to walk 2 kilometers in a rain storm? The bar tender made several calls but, due to the rain, none were available. In walks the bar manager and saves the day, or at least our feet. He offers to take us to the train station, can you imagine that? A vanload of tipsy Americans late to the train and he wouldn’t even take cash for his fuel. pub-driver

That’s the Irish we met, though, always ready with a story and a helping hand.

PS. Craic is pronounced crack and means fun or good times. Another thing I learned is the term lads apparently refers to boys and girls as our bus driver Paddy referred to the group as lads almost every day.

The Star Card

STARThe Star is a card of Hope and Faith in the Universe. It tells you that in spite of all your trials and tribulations, everything is as it should be, and in the end everything is going to be alright.

It encourages you to expand your horizons; to stretch out beyond your personal value systems and embrace the Universe as a whole.

It invites you to open your eyes and see the vastness of the world around you, the billions of stars in the night sky and the billions of people that make up humanity.

The Star card is associated with Aquarius as the Water Bearer archetype. It is a card of compassion, inspiration, intuition and faith.

A few years ago I suffered a traumatic emotional event. I felt like everything I had trusted was gone. What I had held as truth was a lie and the very foundation I stood on had disappeared from beneath my feet. I began having episodes of severe anxiety and depression spending most of my waking time either angry or crying. Luckily my children, my friends, and a really good therapist helped me to figure out what I wanted and needed and held my hands while I discovered the tremendous strength needed to rebuild my life.

When I was in the depths of turmoil I was reaching for anything that might give me the answers to why this had happened to me. I came upon a website that gave a free tarot reading and, as a bonus, e-mailed a specific card every couple of weeks that was supposed to help figure out my world at the time. Do I really believe the cards are seeing my future? No, but it was uncanny how much comfort and clarity the cards I received gave. I very rarely get cards any more but the Star Card landed in my inbox the other day and caused me to think about my life and the choices I’ve made the past few years.

I’m much happier than I used to be. I’m able to take what I need and not apologize for doing so. I recognize my inner strength, celebrate my independence, and mourn what was lost but realize it needed to be set free. In walking my winding road of recovery I’ve kept a bit of the broken-ness, though. When I first felt the tremendous hurt I locked away my battered and broken heart swearing to never set it free again. If I kept my soul safely tucked away I would never again feel pain, never again open myself to trusting others, and while it might be a tempered life, I would be safe.

The Star Card came along and reminds me that I’m going to be OK. I need to let my heart be open to possibilities and understand that a safe life isn’t what I want. I need to embrace the universe and move forward with a compassionate soul. I want to be inspired as well as inspire others. A full life is one with faith, in myself and the people around me. My travels the past few months have encouraged me to boldly step out into the great unknown and take a chance that something wonderful will happen.

Stay tuned for Gigi’s adventures in Ireland…lots of stories to tell.

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Let’s play the glad game!

Anyone remember Pollyanna? There are so many great quotes from that movie, my favorite is “Death comes unexpectedly!” shouted by the Reverend Ford during one of the church services. I’ve been to a couple of those

with the preacher shaking a fist and predicting damnation to everyone. Anyway…grab a cup of lambs broth and lets talk about some fun stuff. My last couple of postings were a bit heavy, so let’s do a glad post this week!

 

Last weekend was our yearly birthday celebration. I’ve never been a big fan of giving stuff but I love celebrating with an experience. For instance, when my dad passed I got some inheritance from the sale of his house. I decided to take my girls to Disney World. It was one of the best vacations we’ve ever  had. I guess I could have planted a tree or something in the garden as a memorial but the memories we created on that trip were priceless. We took a moment one night to drink a beer, toast Papa’s memory, and laugh about the irony of using the sale of his house to travel when the man had never been any more than 100 miles away from his home in his life.

My daughters are, thankfully, employed and doing fine financially. They don’t want for much and I would rather spend the weekend laughing and having a good time rather than buying something from the store that will wind up in a closet somewhere. Last year we went to the Elton John concert in Cincinnati for birthdays. This year, I proposed going to the Cheap Trick/Joan Jett/Heart concert at Riverbend then out for dinner. Instead of just Friday night, the celebration turned into a weekend of hi-jinx. The eldest elected to forgo concert attending this year (Boo!) so I’m still searching for something fun for us to do. But, the three younger daughters, two boyfriends, and I had a fabulous weekend.

I’m not going to bore everyone with a  recap of everything we did, but here are the highlights:

Friday: Grace Girls (plus Tracy K.) only. Great music but…Riverbend…please get some help with after the concert traffic flow. Had it not been for my mad driving skills, we’d still be waiting for the line of traffic to start moving out of the parking lot. Sometimes it’s good to drive a Beetle even if it looks like a clown car when the four of us debark.

Saturday: $10 coupons at Penny’s means half price mattress pads for new beds at my house. Thank you to my girls for getting up early and doorbusting with me. Next was a Ghostbusters matinee at the Florence Rave Cinemas. Fabulous, funny,empowering, and a must see. Boyfriends arrive, cocktail drinking ensues, Arnold’s Bar and Grill, not as fun as everyone has told me (too hot in the courtyard, too expensive, too difficult to find a parking lot with an open spot) but glad I can now say I’ve been to Arnold’s. On to Wunderbar, best dive bar in the Cincinnati area. If you’re ever within driving distance of Covington, KY you have to stop here. Fabulous food made in-house and cheap drinks. Lots of good, local beer on tap, and live music. Rumor has it that bar manager, Borden, has left for someplace else. I hope not…he knew my tastes in beer. Stacy S. joined us, so glad she drove in from way out where she lives to catch up on family gossip!

Sunday: Findlay Market, Black Forest Cherry birthday cake for desert and this picture sums up the weekend…

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Dimitri and Jay in the giant chair

The best part was watching them crawl back out. This family of mine makes me laugh harder and smile more than anything else in the world.

 

…and we’ll keep the music streaming until all the songs are sung

That’s a line from a song sung by Celtic Woman. When I’m writing I usually listen to soothing music to keep my mind from jumping everywhere else other than the words I’m trying to get on the page. I’m pretty sure the song is about a penniless musician trying to get a glass of ale by playing her fiddle and she wants to convince everyone that the sun isn’t coming up, they should fill her glass, and she’ll keep playing. This line jumped out at me but I interpret it in a bit of a different way.

I haven’t posted in a while because I don’t know what to say. My heart is heavy with the events of the past couple of weeks and I’m not quite sure I can make the words come out of mouth in the right way. I grew up in a racist home. My mom was afraid of people of color. Not just Blacks; anyone of any color other than white. Once, when I was little, we were shopping at the mall and there was a group of Mariachis getting ready to play. I remember being fascinated by their hats and guitars and started to walk toward them. She jerked my arm, pulled me to her side and said, “Aren’t you afraid of those dark men?” She didn’t let go of me until we got to the car. As young as I was I didn’t understand what she was afraid of. I still don’t.  My dad had a long list of names for anyone who didn’t have white skin, particularly black people. Unfortunately, I can still recite them all, and even more unfortunately, so can my children. He never curbed his enthusiasm for letting fly his thoughts on integration and other cultures, especially in traffic in the car. I never challenged him, never asked him what caused the vehemence and anger, and never asked him to stop, either. I explained it away to my girls using the trite statements everyone uses when they don’t know how else to explain racism: he’s from a different time, a different generation, a different way of life. It felt cowardly even as I was saying the words.

When I was fifteen and a sophomore in high school, bussing started in Louisville. The Catholic schools were bursting at the seams from white parents afraid to send their children to the black public schools downtown. There was a riot on Broadway with parents blocking the busses full of children. The KKK came to town and burned crosses on Friday nights and football games were cancelled. The “N” word was used in abundance. I don’t remember any coverage of African American parents afraid to let their children get on busses for the long ride into the county. I don’t know, maybe there was and my Catholic school whiteness didn’t pay attention. I’m ashamed that I never asked anyone to explain why there was so much fear and hate. I accepted that was the way it was, and as a teenager, thought I could do nothing.

All of my adult life I never believed that white privilege was a real thing. I always said that I had never experienced privilege at any point in my life. I had worked my way through high school and college and rode the city bus to get where I wanted to go until I had saved enough cash to buy my first car. I left home at eighteen to live on my own and never asked for help from my parents. I really believed that until Alton Sterling was killed in Louisiana then Philando Castile was killed in Minnesota. Now I understand. Finally, I understand that I don’t worry about my children when they go out with friends. I’ve never been refused service or followed through stores or questioned if I make a return. I’m not frightened by police or keep my hands visible and on the steering when I get pulled over. Finally, I understand that it’s not privilege of money. It’s privilege of the color of my skin. Because of my whiteness I don’t have to be fearful.

Does this make me the worst kind of racist? The kind who says “But…I have Black friends!” and “Bur…I sent my children to integrated schools!”

My daughter, Molly, dates Dimitri. Dimitri is a young black man. Now, I worry. I worry what will happen if he’s pulled over at a traffic stop. Will he be pulled from his car? Will he be shot because he reaches for his driver’s license? He has two older brothers and they have children. How does his mother feel when they walk out the door? I hope someday we’ll meet and she and I can sit down and talk about what’s happening in the world. Maybe somehow if parents everywhere can talk about this we can figure out how to make it stop. If we make it an issue for our own families, and not somewhere else with someone else’s family we can make a difference.

I want to make a difference, I want to leave the world a better place, and now that I’ve heard the message, I will keep the music playing until all the songs are sung.

Life is a highway

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If I am waiting until I am not scared to start my journey, my journey will never start. Courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness to move in the face of it.

-daily affirmation from The Body is not an Apology

 

 

2015 was kind of a crap year for me. At the end of 2014, I discovered some things that told me it was time to move on. Enough was enough, time for a new beginning. I thought I was poised and ready for whatever fate had in store until fate actually showed up and decided to play hardball. Long story short, I finally had my first mammogram and got THE PHONE CALL a couple of hours later. “We see something unusual in your right breast, it’s probably nothing but you need to come in to have a diagnostic mammogram to be sure.” Let me tell you, when you have to go someplace that has the words Cancer Center in the title you start to worry. Here’s another piece of advice: when they invite you to get dressed and come in to the small consult room, it’s never good news. The radiologists thought I should have a biopsy, all the while telling me that it’s probably nothing but a biopsy was the only way to find out. About a week after the biopsy I was at Findlay Market on a tour of the new shop Dirt: a modern market when my phone rang, it was the surgeon. She said, “Are you someplace where we can talk?” I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but when it starts out with those words, they don’t really need to finish. The worst part was calling my daughters and telling them. I didn’t feel bad for myself but I felt like I had handed them the worst genetic pattern ever. They had just become young women with breast cancer genes from both sides of their family…mother, grandmother, aunt…mammograms beginning at age 40, every year with no exceptions. Stage 1 breast cancer, I thought this can’t be happening to me.

By June I had gone through a partial mastectomy and weeks of daily, massive radiation treatments. The bright spot was that I didn’t have to have chemo. My skin was burned and horribly scarred but the prognosis was very good. I couldn’t make it through the day without naps but they promised that would get better. Less that 2 weeks after I had been released from the radiation treatment there was another urgent phone call. My oldest brother was in the ER and had a massive heart attack. He wasn’t going to make it, I should get there ASAP. By early Saturday morning, he was gone. I felt blessed that his children allowed me to stay with them and sit in the vigil to give him comfort and permission to go on. It was an honor to watch him give in, stop the fight, and finally, peacefully, quietly pass on. There was a seventeen year age gap between us, we weren’t close, but man…he had always been there. He was the oldest anchor and I was the youngest. Life felt unbalanced with him gone.

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Christmas 2014

 

A few weeks later I was sitting in some kind of community meeting at work, I can’t remember what it was about, but I started to wonder why I was wasting time. I had dreamed of starting a master’s program for years but never quite had the courage to complete an application. In July of 2015 I had been out of school for 30 years. I had never taken a course on-line or written a paper since the semester before I completed my student teaching in the spring of 1985. In less than a week I had applied, ordered transcripts from the University of Louisville, and been accepted into a Master of Arts in History and Culture program. Lord-a-mercy, what had I done?

I had started my journey. A movement toward fulfilling a dream. A footstep into a new life. A willingness to move in the face of fear. Freedom.