Thursday, August 24, 2017

NOTES FROM THE ISLAND

Hard to imagine that summer is almost over, but here on Inishturk, it is palpable. The days are getting shorter - no more dusk at 10 and dawn at 5 - and the breeze is out of the north from time to time. Still it is pleasantly warm at day, low 60's (this makes me laugh seeing the 100 degree temps in Texas) and when the sun comes out I can be fooled into believing summer will last forever. 
I had some friends visit from Camp Verde and Kerrville. Maria worked with me at Cypress Springs where I was the cook for almost 15 years. Her brother, Jesus, worked there also, although not in the kitchen. His girlfriend, Destiny, joined them for their week in Ireland with their first stop in Inishturk. Maria had just returned from a 2 week National Geographic trip to Italy and Greece - she was in big time travel mode before college starts up for this recent graduate (2nd in her class!). They were great fun and we hiked both trails on the island and stayed up late talking and laughing each night.
Maria, Destiny and Jesus
A few days after they arrived Turkfest commenced, so they were on their own as I was helping in the club kitchen. 150 Irish hipsters invaded the island and brought music and new energy to the calm isolation that keeps me here. It was intense, but for the most part, fun. I was here for it last year, so I knew what to expect. Nevertheless, I was glad when Monday came and the island was somewhat back to normal. Tuesday brought hoards again as it was the annual pilgrimage to Caher Island. Caher is a small uninhabited island which lies about halfway between Inishturk and the mainland. It was once the site of a monastery (7th century) and there are fine examples of medieval stone crosses. August 15th is the Feast of the Assumption and the day that hundreds of people brave the treacherous waters around Caher to experience Mass at the ruins of the church. There is no pier, so pilgrims must clamber up the rocky shore after exiting the boats. For many people this pilgrimage is part of the climb up Croagh Patrick on the mainland on the last Sunday in July. After Mass at Caher the folks board the boats again and head to Inishturk for food and fellowship. Once again, I was sequestered in the kitchen, avoiding the crowds. By evening, the island was blissfully quiet again. A wedding was scheduled for Friday of that week, but the forecast was brutal so the weekend celebration was moved to the mainland. From Thursday on, the island was practically deserted, with less than half its average population. It was lovely walking the island and not encountering another soul.
 Peace
The island tends to attract WWOOFers, which is how I found it last year, and some integrate into the community. My dear friend Mary Catherine has had a few this summer and, since I spend quite a bit of time at her house, I get to know them well. Earlier in the summer Mary C hosted Maria from southern Germany. She lives just 20 minutes from my friends Tom and Cynthia in Simmerberg, Germany! After Maria left, Claudia arrived. Claudia is from the northwest coast of Italy and her month on the island flew by. We worked side by side at island functions (mostly in The Club kitchen or at Mary C's busy guesthouse) and occasionally got to relax at the restaurant for a meal or take a hike on the islands trails. She was a remarkable young woman and I was really sad to see her go. WWOOFing is an incredible way to see the world and I highly recommend traveling that way - an opportunity to know a country by living and working with a family there.
Claudia at Tale of the Tongs
The blackberries which grow all over the island are just beginning to ripen. Days of rain and then sun have them turning from green to red and finally black. When they lose their glossy sheen they are ready to pick and with just a touch, they fall into my hand. 
They make for a tasty snack while on walks. An edible treasure hunt.
On Monday, the 21st - the day of the Eclipse - the weather was wicked, with heavy rain most all day. The sky was steely grey and the downpours flowed down the mountain, creating waterfalls off the cliffs into the harbour. Days later, there were still rushing streams coursing through mountainside gullies. On Curraun Beach, a trickle of fresh water that always flows from mountain to ocean became a cascade that carved curving patterns in the sand.
My friend Kathleen sent me a copy of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame). Although it's been on my Kindle for over a year - I mentioned it in my New Years post and it's included in my Books By My Bedside list - I have yet to finish it. After picking up my package from the Post Office (open from 12-1 on Tuesdays and Fridays) I walked to the Community Center (affectionately called The Club which houses the pub, restaurant and small shop) and sat on the empty deck overlooking the ocean. Although I truly love the idea of books on Kindle for the ease of reading while traveling, holding that beloved book in my hands and feeling the pages felt precious. It's just a different experience. 
The last page of Big Magic. Indeed.
After a quick visit from my artist friend Jeannette next week, my mother and three sisters descend on Inishturk. At 83, my mom hasn't traveled for years and it took a bit of coaxing from all of us girls to convince her to make the trip. But after she agreed, it was full steam ahead! I am beyond excited to show them the island and introduce them to the unique group of folks that make up its population. The island may never be the same...
Well, my morning is slipping away and the tide is going out. I'm going to meet my neighbor Pete at low tide to harvest some carraigin seaweed, also known as carrageen moss, to dry for winter use. Used to set liquids (like gelatin), it is considered a remedy for coughs, sore throats and chest colds. I gathered sea lettuce and sea grass yesterday, dried then crumbled it to make seaweed bread later this afternoon. I couldn't help but munch on some after drying it. So tasty.
September's almost here! Smile!


Thursday, August 3, 2017

ISLAND SUMMER

A busy summer here on Inishturk. I had guests for almost 5 weeks with my youngest daughter Lily here for ten days and my sweet grand daughter Natalie visiting for a month. Her mom, Marta, came for a week and they went back to the States just a few days ago. Marta loved it but was shocked that the lifeline to the mainland was a ferry that runs only 12 times a week. If you want to go into town for errands or groceries (town being Westport) you had to catch the 9:30 ferry in the morning, travel an hour, then catch a 20 minute shuttle to Westport. AND you have to stay in town until you catch the 5:45 shuttle to Roonaugh Pier, where you catch the 6:30 ferry arriving in Inishturk at 7:30. That's a long day to fill up when you're accustomed to jumping in the car and driving 10 minutes to grab a gallon of milk! Definitely a lifestyle adjustment! 
After a week or so of quiet at my house, the guest rooms will fill up again and be occupied on and off until mid October. It's wonderful to have the opportunity to share such a magical place with friends and family. Having Natalie here was particularly poignant. We spent a lot of time at the various beaches - each one holding a different purpose: Curraun for gentle waves and mussel harvesting; Tranaun for more exciting swimming - bigger waves - and at low tide an expansive sandy beach; and what we call Pete's Beach (because it's down the hill from Pete's house) for wading in tidal pools and picking winkles at low tide and swimming with no waves at high tide (it's a protected cove surrounded by rocky outcroppings). I love Pete's Beach for the variety of seaweeds I can find there and the unusual rock beach. I never leave that beach empty handed. 
A myriad of seaweeds at low tide at Pete's Beach
An underwater pic of a tiny starfish clinging to a rock. I found it while looking for winkles - it wasn't even 2 inches across!
The Harbour was also a favorite spot. I could sit on my neighbor Jo's deck and watch the kids swim or throw sticks into the water for the island dogs. Walks along the Harbour at low tide were fascinating for the sea life. One afternoon, in the course of a 5 minute walk we counted 24 jellyfish in 7 different colors. There was no swimming that day. Another time, the kids found a baby shark perhaps left behind after a day of fishing. Natalie made fast friends with the island kids and a few that were visiting for the summer. They did art projects - lots of painting on rocks - and produced hilarious videos on my porch with their stuffed animals. They investigated tide pools for tiny crabs, which they promptly named and brought home. 
Laura, Ellie and Natalie crabbing.
When the crabs perished days later, they'd have makeshift Viking funerals (minus the pyre): a small wood scrap with a bed of seaweed on top and the deceased crab resting atop the seaweed. Sometimes they'd invert a limpet shell on top of the crab. They'd stand solemnly on the shore, say a few words about the dearly departed, set the piece of wood in the ocean and watch it float away. It never made it far as the waves tended to quickly upend the lightweight wood. I convinced them it was for the best as the crab was ending up close to where its life began. Seeing the island through Natalie's eyes was a lesson in the art of observance. I miss her every day. 
Natalie with a heart rock at Pete's Beach
Jo's grand niece, Ellie Concannon, came by the day after Natalie left and told me she missed Natalie, "but I know not as much as you do Diane!" Ellie still comes by almost daily. We took a picnic hike this week to Tale of the Tongs, a small shelter made of local stone, glass and stainless steel which represents the global Irish diaspora. It's a favorite place of mine for writing and thinking and getting out of the rain or howling wind while hiking.
The Tale of the Tongs
It was built in 2013 over nine days by students from The Catholic University of America with the help of some islanders. It's said that when leaving Ireland during the famine times, a family would gather a hot coal from their fire with tongs (that sit beside every island fireplace or coal stove - indeed there is a pair beside my stove) and bring it to the fire of their neighboring friend or family member. They would also leave their tongs behind with the promise that when they returned, they would retrieve the tongs and a hot coal to start their fire once again. The structure sits on top of a hill with a view of the Atlantic on both the north and south sides of the island. Surrounding the "temple" are glass columns etched with the family names of the inhabitants of Inishturk and freestanding rock sculptures of various shapes and sizes. I frequently sun on a long low "bench" and Ellie and I had our picnic on one.
Ellie standing in front of the glass panel bearing her family name, Concannon. In the background is one of the rock sculptures representing those lost from memory from the island and those who come to be here. Like me.
As Ellie and I sat and ate lunch this week we talked of being an island descendant and how special it was that she had that connection. I told her she was fortunate for that. She told me I had a connection, too! When I remarked that I didn't - I am not Irish and have no kin here - she said, "But you love it here, so that's a connection of the heart and that's better than kin!" Oh my. 
I just discovered there is a video made about the designing, building and installation of Tale of the Tongs in Inishturk. It's called "Tale of the Tongs" (catchy name, huh?) and it's by Judith and Stanley Hallet. It's now on my Watchlist...
I've been told by a few people on the island about the "Money Rock" where coins would be pushed into the crevices of a particular rock for good luck. As Ellie and I were hiking up to Tale of the Tongs for our picnic, she also mentioned it. When I inquired as to it's whereabouts, she had no idea. It had been years since she'd taken this particular hike and she was a kid then, she told me (this made me smile as she's not yet 13). As we rounded a corner and followed the trail up the hill, she stopped. "I think this is the Money Rock!" And indeed it was! I happened to have some coins in my pocket so we each took one, found cracks in the rock and pushed our coins in. Then, per Ellie's instructions, we kissed our fingers and pressed them to the coin to send it on. We found one last crevice, put a coin in it for Natalie and both kissed it to wish Natalie good luck.
Some coins in the Money Rock.
I was helping out with breakfast at a guesthouse this week and I met a fascinating Irish journalist named Margaret Ward. She was the Foreign Editor at RTE which is Ireland's version of NPR and public TV. She wrote a piece for the Irish Times that was published last December about Inishturk and Inishbofin, an island just to the south of Inishturk, which boasts a population three times that of Inishturk (about 150). In addition to being written with a lovely lyricism, I found the article to be the most accurate depiction of the situation the islands find themselves in at this time. Since my return, I've been told more than once that in ten years this will be a holiday island only, meaning pretty much deserted during the winter and only coming back to life in the summer months for vacationers. Many of the islanders - some whose families have inhabited this island for generations - have homes on the mainland, so it would be an easy move. But I would think a tragic loss of a way of life. If you'd like to read her article and get an informative glimpse into island life, here is the link:
My favorite quote from the article is from my neighbor Bernard who says, "Ireland is an island off Inishturk." Which it kinda' is...
Mid June seemed to stall out weather - wise. Day after day was grey and rainy and cold. A malaise fell over me that I couldn't seem to shake. I stopped meditating and doing yoga. I wrote in my journal, but nowhere else. I hardly ventured from my cottage. I sent depressing texts to friends (thanks for listening, Sid and I apologize...). There are a couple truly inspiring women on the island that I am honored to call friends and their presence pulled me through. When I felt at my most aimless, they'd drag me out for a hike or have me in for tea and a long chat. Sometimes when I have concerns about spending the winter here, I remember that I'll have this close knit community to be with. I was told in the winter Wednesday night is late night card games because there is no early ferry Thursday mornings for anyone to have to deal with. And no fishing. Or holiday guests.
But now, the island is lovely and even when the rain comes, which it does briefly even on the sunniest days, it can't dampen the vitality summer brings to Inishturk. 
Everything is in bloom!
Even the "weeds"!
 The progression of lunch...
 After a rainshower
 My funny little cottage in the Harbour
 Swimming in the Harbour
 Growing out of rock
A long hike to the Harbour


Friday, June 2, 2017

TIME

Funny how time moves here on the island. It definitely has its own pace, which is pretty slow. Now, a bit more than a month into my stay, I find I've adjusted to this new schedule just fine. 
I've been gathering wild plants and experimenting with them in the kitchen. I have wild garlic growing right outside my front door. The bulb stays in the soil and a cut made at ground level yields a slender, almost leek like stalk that has a decidedly garlic flavor. Over time the bulb sends out another stalk. A 2 minute walk across my side yard brings me to a small creek that has beautiful mints growing on its banks and tall cress like plants that I use as salad greens. My favorite wild plant is stinging nettles for it's super nutritious, incredibly tasty and plentiful. And I feel like somewhat of a badass picking this rather nasty plant (any interaction with the fine hairs on the plants surface leaves you stinging for hours) and transforming it into delicious meals. 
A bowl full of just picked nettles. They look harmless enough, but handle with care!
Last week was Jo's birthday and I made her a Lemon Nettles Cake. 
It went over really well-so well in fact that Pauline, a neighbor whose daughter was heading to America for the summer, requested one for her daughters farewell dinner. I've made pasta with nettles, added them to omelettes and eaten them simply sauteed in olive oil with a bit of chopped garlic. Always delicious!
Jo has six hens and a goose named Goosey. This very old goose (about 18 or 19 years old!) still lays eggs and no matter how far into the hills she is, she responds when Jo calls her. Two of Jo's hens died recently, so she bought four more from the mainland. We kept them in a back room of the coop for four days to get them acclimated to their new home and before we let them out, I clipped their wings. One hen, white with a grey shawl, was particularly calm and didn't struggle at all when I picked her up to trim her feathers. Whenever I went into the henhouse after that, the white hen would run over to me. I could pet it like a cat and it would follow me as I collected eggs or changed the water. The other day I noticed the four new hens to the side of the coop, just outside the gate. Three of the hens were milling around but my friend, the little white hen, had her head wedged between two rocks in the rock wall. At first I thought she was stuck and I crouched down to see if I could help her. I petted her back and cooed at her, but she didn't move. I was just about to try to pick her up when plop! an egg fell beside my shoe. She removed her head from between the rocks and went to join the others. One morning Jo and I went up to the hen yard to feed the hens and Goosey was nowhere to be seen. Jo called and called (a loud "Goooooosey, Goosey, Goosey, Goosey"), but no answer. We realized it had been a few days since either of us had seen her. Jo went inside, put on a pair of boots, grabbed her cane and off we went into the hills to look for Goosey. Her niece Cathrin (my landlady) and Cathrin's two children Laura and Jamie joined us. I searched along the bottoms, moving through dense stands of irises. Cathrin and Jaime hiked to the very top of the hill and disappeared over the top. Jo and Laura made their way up the first level of the hill, past a low stone wall where I met them after I'd scoured the bottoms. Jo called constantly for her beloved pet. We started back down, trying to find the most gradual way down for Jo. She told me if Goosey was setting on a nest, it'd be along the wall. I'd followed the wall most of the way up the hill, but had left the last 30 feet or so unchecked as I headed for the gate. Although I was sure Goosey had met her demise, I headed over to the wall to comb the small area I'd missed. Two steps into the irises and there was Goosey, her nest right against the wall where Jo said it would be.
I had my first visitor last week. Eli Adams is my friend Marshall's grandson. He is on a 2 week holiday in Ireland and his first stop after a night in Dublin was Inishturk! It was fun to have him here. We took a long hike out to see the Puffins (I even got him to hike barefoot!) and he also did some exploring of the island on his own. The weather report predicted lots of rain while he was here, but he got two beautifully sunny days, perfect for being outside. He even got a bit of a sunburn! He was enthralled and hopes to come back next summer and WWOOF here. 
Yesterday morning I went to Helen's to get a lesson in making kefir. It was incredibly easy and I went home with my very own stash of kefir grains. I now have a jar of milk on my windowsill fermenting away! After my lesson, we met up for a hike to look for the elusive Bogbean flower. It sounded like something out of Harry Potter when she first mentioned it. It only blooms in May in a freshwater lake on the western side of the island. Since it was June 1st, she was afraid she'd missed it. We hiked through a field thick with nettles and then up a hill thick with sheep to a part of the island I'd never visited. We walked up a series of hillocks where Helen told me potatoes and maize used to be grown. We came to a small lake and aside from some buttercups growing along the edge, there were no other flowers to be seen. We crossed a small stream and walked on until we came to another lake. The far side was covered in green water plants and there we found the Bogbean! A delicate little flower, it was such a pale lavender it looked white. The frilled petals encircled a stiff stem that stood above the green foliage. Hikes with Helen are always enchanting events!
I wish I'd taken this photo, but it's from wildflowerfinder.org.uk
With the summer solstice less than three weeks away, it's light enough to take a walk well past 10:00 at night (although I'm never out that late) and the east window in my bedroom is showing me morning by 5:00. I like getting up really early (usually by 5:30) because the island is so quiet with no activity. The tides are low that early, so the harbour is still, it will be hours before the fishermen make their way to their boats. I'm realizing what a cooperative place this is...indeed, that it HAS to be. With so few people, you have to rely on others to get things done. Case in point: I was low on heating fuel and was told to ask Jack, Helen's husband, to pick me up some when he collected the mail in Cleggan. He takes his boat to Cleggan twice a week for mail delivery and various other errands. I had a choice- a five gallon container or a fifty-five gallon drum. The price difference per gallon was substantial, so I opted for the drum. He came by my house one morning on his way to the harbour and unearthed a barrel hiding in the weeds in the side yard. I'd never even noticed it there. He proceeded to load it onto his boat and headed out to Cleggan. By noon he was back and he docked where the ferry usually docks and the huge crane on the pier lifted the full drum off the boat and onto the landing. Later that day I walked to the pier and looked at that big drum of heating fuel. My house is close to the harbour, but how was I to get that huge, heavy drum of fuel to my house and emptied into my tank? This time I was told to ask Robert. I don't know Robert really, a hello in passing when I see him at Jo's, but I do know his wife Mary Helene, who runs the only store on the island. As I was walking to the pier one morning, Robert drove by and I stopped him and asked if he could get the fuel to my house and in the tank whenever he had the time. Like most everyone on the island, Robert has many jobs. Things get done when they get done. A few days later I walked in my side gate after visiting a neighbor and there sat the drum, empty. Wow. I suppose it's much like living in an intentional community, although it's rather unintentional. There are really only a handful of names here...most everyone is related and i'm still figuring out how they are kin. There are a few outsiders, but not many and we are all treated well. The islanders are an exceptionally polite group of people, mannerly and gracious. On a daily basis, I realize how fortunate I am to be here.

Here, the sea sings constantly to the shore.
Sometimes a low hum, repetitive and dreamy.
Other times a roar, a crescendo of violence.
But a symphony, always this, a symphony.

Friday, May 12, 2017

ISLAND LIFE

The Puffins are back! 
Tuesday afternoon Helen showed me a photo on her phone from a walk she'd taken that morning. We were outside and the bright sunlight made it hard to see the pic, but she was excited and it was infectious. "Come walk with me in the morning! If we go early, I think the viewing will be better!" I agreed to be at her house at 9:30, not knowing exactly what we'd be seeing on our walk. I didn't know Helen well, but I wanted to and this seemed the perfect opportunity.
The next morning at exactly 9:30 I knocked on her door and then let myself in, the island way. She bustled down the hallway to meet me and then turned back to the kitchen to apply sunscreen. In a minute we were in the car heading out. We drove past the pub and the football pitch and turned in at the water plant. She shut off the engine and grabbed her binoculars. We crossed the road and headed up what I would describe as a mountain, it was certainly more than a hill! "We'll talk when we get to the top..." she told me and I knew it was because we'd be so winded climbing. The climb was like doing lunges, one after another. The ground was soft and spongy, but not wet. More than halfway up was a rock outcropping and she stopped. "Let's sit for a bit." It was then I noticed she was barefoot. Helen is in her late 60's and retired from being a midwife about 3 years ago. I only visited her once last year and I remember being intrigued by the batch of kefir on her windowsill and her lush garden. She's barely as tall as my shoulder and she moves fast and with intent. We didn't sit long - she was on a schedule as her husband Jack was bringing a guest to the island from the mainland. Back to our lunges, we finally crested the top of the hill and walked through a grassy meadow with tiny wildflowers. The ground was spongier yet up here and in some places damp. There were a few freshwater ponds and we crossed a small babbling creek. She told me names of a number of wildflowers and the ones she didn't know, she'd pick and have me put it in my pocket to identify when we got back. I knew we were walking to the overlook on the west side of the island. When we got to the wooden fence that acts as a barricade to the treacherous cliffs beyond, she took the binoculars and started scanning the cliffs. "There!" she said, "There on the grass above the rock, look!" She handed me the binoculars and said, "Puffins!" It took me a while, but I was finally able to distinguish them from the hundreds of seagulls perched on the side of the cliffs. Their orange legs and their coal black backs and white bellies made them stand out. They come to the island every Spring to breed. There is a large historical decline of Puffins in Europe, so it is a thrill when they make it back to the island every year. Helen commented that they made her feel so peaceful and I knew exactly what she meant. Watching them through the binoculars I felt my heart rate slow down from the vigorous walk and a calm settle over me. I wish I could post a photo of them, but they were quite far away. I even tried to take a pic through the binoculars, but it didn't work (is that even possible?).
The white dots are seagulls flying around. The Puffins were on the lower cliffs on the left hand side. I would see what I thought were Puffins on another rock and get all excited, "Look, there's a whole bunch of them over there!" She'd take the binoculars from me, look and say no, those are ... (another island bird) - and point out that, although they were black and white, they didn't have orange legs and see how they were not as fat as the Puffins? She was patient with my enthusiasm. She told me that once she was lying on her belly at the edge of the cliff painting the scenery and a wind came and Poof! all her paintbrushes flew off the cliff edge into the sea! At one point she turned to the sea behind us, off the southern coast and pointed out Jack's boat heading in. It was a tiny speck in the ocean, but it would take us a while to get back to the car. We needed to head out. Before we left the cliff there was one thing I needed to do first. Leaning against the sturdy wooden fence, I took off my socks and shoes for the long walk back. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A NEW HOME!

I arrived on Inishturk last Wednesday on the 6:30 ferry. I'd taken the overnight flight Tuesday from Hartford, Connecticut (where I'd been visiting my mom) to Dublin, arriving at 5:15 a.m. I'd had nightmares about this part of the journey...from plane to bus to train to shuttle to ferry...but it went so smoothly I took it as a sign that I was in the right place at the right time. I was exhausted when the plane landed as I'd slept less than 2 hours and I knew I had a long day of travel ahead of me. But I followed my instincts and got on the correct bus to the rail station and the machine took my credit card to buy the ticket (note to self: buying the ticket online would have saved me half the ticket price) and I made the 7:35 train to Westport. The train was comfortable but when we stayed at one stop for over 20 minutes without anyone getting on or off, I got concerned. I had to catch a connecting train and I watched the minutes ticking away. When we finally started down the tracks again, I was already 15 minutes late. My stop came up and lo and behold! there, on the other side of the platform was the Westport train waiting with doors open. I settled onto the new train and nodded off a few times during the 90 minute ride. 
Arriving in Westport was a joy as it's a small, tidy town and reminds me a lot of Fredericksburg with about the same population. It will be my source for commerce for my time on Inishturk. Banks, groceries, shops, hotels, restaurants, Westport has everything Inishturk lacks and thank goodness, as I wouldn't love Inishturk near as much if it had those things. With my backpack on and wheeling my small suitcase, I headed into town. I tried to get money from 2 ATM's and neither would cough up a dime. I had a stash of euros and had planned to get groceries on my credit card (fingers crossed it would work), so I figured I was okay. I lingered over my lunch of bland soup and brown bread until the owner began looking at me suspiciously, so I moved on. I had hours to kill until I could catch the shuttle to the ferry and with my pack and suitcase (and being seriously tired), I had no desire to look in shops or walk around town. Across the street to the grocery store I went, loaded my luggage into the grocery cart and commenced to pick up supplies for my first week on the island. Coffee, yogurt, milk, veggies, spaghetti...I found myself calculating how much I could carry to my cottage if it was raining and no one met me at the harbour. My credit card worked (YES!) and I wheeled my luggage and groceries to the back of the store where I'd meet the shuttle to take me to Roonaugh Pier and the ferry to Inishturk. There was a bench there by the open door and I took a seat for what I knew would be a 3 hour wait. It was chilly and rained on and off. Folks would nod at me as they walked in and look at me puzzled as they walked out later. A little boy walked in followed by his mother and sister. He looked over at me and said, "Diane!" It was little Jamie, the son of Catherine, the owner of the cottage I'm renting. We sat and visited for a bit, then they left to get their groceries. When they came back out, while Catherine and I were talking, her phone rang and it was Mary Catherine from the island. She handed the phone to me and I got the wonderful news that she would pick me up at the harbour! 
The shuttle finally arrived and the driver helped me load my bags. I settled in for the 20 minute ride with the 3 schoolchildren from the island (yes, a total of 3 kids attend the island school) who had been to the mainland for a field trip with their teacher. We arrived at the pier just as the ferry did and as the passengers got off I saw a number of familiar faces. Hugs and promises made to catch up later as our baggage was loaded and off we went. The seas were a bit rough, with intermittent rain and gusty winds. It was nice to have folks to talk to as my stomach was turning everytime the boat did. We finally docked at the harbour and I was so glad to see Mary Catherine's sweet face! We loaded my bags in her car and took the short drive to my gate. There we carried everything through another gate and into the house. A fire burned in the coal stove and the house felt cozy and warm. Was I ever glad to be home! I put away groceries while running to the living room window to gaze at the ocean. 
I had landed in Paradise! I put off unpacking my luggage and went out my front gate (not to be confused with the side gate) and down a small path to a door...my private entrance to Jo's courtyard. Jo is the reason I came to this island in the first place last year-answering a posting on the WWOOFing Ireland site-and my cottage is next door to her house. She looked well and healthy. She had set the fire in my coal stove and I thanked her for the most welcoming gesture. After having a glass of brandy I headed back home - with a plate of salmon, vegetables and potatoes for lunch the next day. Mary Catherine came back by and dropped off a steak dinner, so I slowly ate while watching the tide come in. I had made it back.
 A gift of rhubarb from my neighbor Maggie, the island nurse. 
Wild primroses grow all over the island.
My first mostly foraged dinner. Spaghetti with mussels and garlicky dandelion greens.
Stunning views off the cliffs on the northeast side of the island.
Tranaun Beach



Wednesday, January 11, 2017

On New Years Resolutions

I've been wanting to write a post on making New Years resolutions for months. Or rather on NOT making them and how well that has served me. In the autumn of 2013 I was in the midst of a divorce and feeling pretty lost. I noticed that the word CLEANSE kept popping up. I'd open a book and the word would jump off the page. I'd be in line at the grocery story and overhear a conversation that included the word. It would come to me in my morning meditation. I decided that for 2014, CLEANSE would be my word, my focus. As there was much to clean up after over 10 years of marriage (both literally and figuratively), it seemed a good choice. I also decided that I'd quit making New Years resolutions and just have a word ready to put into action every New Year. Well,  2014 was indeed a year of cleansing and I made great progress in taking back the house and property and ridding myself of excess things, a process that continues to this day. In late summer of 2014, the word SERVICE began to surface in much the same way CLEANSE did the year before. So I made the decision that SERVICE would be my focus for 2015 and in so many ways it informed that year. I began volunteering in the kitchen of Haven for Hope, a massive homeless shelter in San Antonio. My youngest daughter Lily had open heart surgery in Dallas and I stayed in North Texas for over a month helping with her recovery. In September my mom had a knee replacement and I took a 2 week shift in her care along with my sisters. Mid summer of 2015 the word MERCY came to me. It didn't pop up repeatedly, it just showed up once with such presence that I knew it was the word for 2016. I had just decided that in 2016 I would take my epic trip overseas and I knew for certain MERCY was what I should focus on. About a month later Pope Francis declared December 8 to November 20 the Year of Mercy.
 During my travels I was the recipient of MERCY over and over. I experienced kindness and compassion like I've never known. I also had the opportunity to offer MERCY to others. It helped create an atmosphere of favor that continued well after I returned home.
While traveling, my constant companion was a book by Elizabeth Gilbert entitled Big Magic.
I would sometimes devour chapter after chapter on a long train ride or ruminate over one sentence for weeks. I came across a word in the book that intrigued me. EUDAIMONIA. It was mentioned only once, but I couldn't get past it. I began studying EUDAEMONISM and as a result I've become an avowed EUDAEMONIST and it became my word for 2017.
From the Merriam Webster dictionary:
EUDAEMONISM- a theory that the highest ethical goal is happiness and personal well-being.
Another definition: A system of ethics that bases moral value on the likelihood that good actions will produce happiness.
Imagine that! Good actions producing happiness! What a novel idea! Well, not really...the Greek philosopher Plato is attributed with this word, although he might have just expanded on an idea of Socrates. Meaning it's a concept that has been around a long, long time. Nevertheless, I know that this is the way I want to live my life. This is what feels good and right.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Happy New Year!

2017! Can you believe it? And with the new year comes change. When I returned to the states in mid August, I spent time with my family in Connecticut and then visited my grandsons in Virginia before heading to the Dallas area to see Lily. We visited for one night before she drove me to Kaufman, about an hour southeast of Dallas where I spent 11 days at a silent meditation retreat. No phones, no books, no communication at all with any of the other 50 or so women. There were 50 men at the compound as well, but we were segregated at all times except during group meditation where we sat on opposite sides of the massive dhamma hall. 10+ hours a day simply meditating. It was exactly what I needed after traveling alone for over 6 months. My re-entry back home was jarring to say the least, but I dove in and began the massive clean-up and purge it demanded. I cooked for my very last Thanksgiving at Cypress Springs as my beloved boss, Robert Parker passed away while I was gone. It was my 14th Thanksgiving cooking for a group of folks that had become family and it was beyond difficult to say goodbye to the people and the ranch. It was by far the most wonderful job I've ever had. It's been great to be with my kids and grandkids, to visit friends and work on my house. I am in the process of sorting and packing up 25 years worth of possessions in anticipation of moving into a much smaller house I'm building on my property. My plan is to rent the big house and move into the commercial kitchen while the new place is being built. Already the commercial kitchen is being dismantled and it's been bittersweet. It is a place that holds so many sweet memories of late nights baking, dancing and singing in the kitchen with all the ovens on and the smell of yeasty goodness in the air. But now it will house me for a few months and I'm grateful I'll have a place to stay that I love so much. I don't plan on getting the new house in move in ready condition, but really just dried in and secure-a place to store my furniture and my pared down possessions. I'm leaving the end of April to move to Ireland for a year to Inishturk Island. A sweet little cottage came available for rent right next door to where I stayed on the island and before I left I made arrangements to rent it beginning May 1st. I have to admit that, although it's been great to be back, a big part of my heart remains in Inishturk. Not a day goes by that I don't think of the island and its people. It will be an interesting time I believe. Winters are quite brutal-no snow and it seldom freezes, but bitter winds and almost constant rain. The ferry, which generally runs 12 times a week, sometimes doesn't run at all due to rough seas. For months it becomes a locked in situation...you grab any opportunity to go to the mainland because you never know when the opportunity will come again. For some strange reason that is an attractive idea to me. And I stay amazed that this gal who always considered herself solar powered is moving somewhere that demands wool socks in the summer. Ahhh, change.
My cottage is the one on the far left with the red door.