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

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.