Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Love of a Neighbor

This is just one neighbor...there were others with incredible lives too.

Sometimes we have to tell the story of another because they would never tell it to the whole world themselves. They are humble and tucked away on a piece of old  Michigan farmland. Their old barn is one of the largest I've ever seen. I like to imagine two pioneer farmers casually chatting by the barbed fences of those hills, a hundred years ago when the trees were all cleared. Two old farmers chatting as neighbors, way before us. Before two new sets of neighbors, with their hardships, love, birth, and death. Since I don't know that story, I can only tell the one I was blessed to hear and know.

I almost didn't stopped by that day, as I hadn't visited in a few years at least, since moving away. I felt ashamed of myself for not checking in after the news I heard. But as I was driving by their house I thought, "What the heck...it doesn't hurt to stop by, and I do want to see how he's doing."  As I walked up to the sliding glass door, the kitchen lights had that warm glow just like old times. The two little dogs, Yogi Bear and Ranger, barked, and my old neighbor Gene recognized me as I walked up. We gave each other a welcoming hug and asked each other how we're doing. "I'm alright," he said..."I have good days and bad days." I took a seat at the kitchen table and noticed his big beautiful Harley parked by the sliding glass door. He had another friend over, as they were going to shoot guns together but it'd gotten too late. There was a gun case and ammunition on the table, not an uncommon sight for folks in this area. The two little dogs barked for awhile as my old neighbor tried to calm them down. He sat down to chat with me.

"Marilyn was my foster sister," he told me. "She was in foster care with my family because her father was beating her. We were 17 and 20 when we got married ... I was Catholic and she was Church of God. After counseling us for 6 weeks, the priest wouldn't marry us because he said it wouldn't work. So we went to her pastor and after he prayed about it for awhile, he said he'd do it and that we'd make it but it'd be hard. And we made it, through good times and bad times. We were each other's best friend, and it'd have been our 40th anniversary.

Two years ago she developed a throat condition. It was like a hoarse throat, she couldn't talk, but then it didn't get better. When we went to the doctor they ran tests, and sent us on to eyes-ears-throat specialists. That's when they told us that she had ALS, which usually develops in the lower limbs and not the throat. This wasn't what we wanted to hear...no one wants to hear that. It started with the throat, and then one part of her mobility after another. So for two whole years, I didn't go anywhere except taking her out to the hospital in Marquette. I sold anything I still had payments on, and just stayed home with her."

My mind kept returning to how vibrant and full of faith she'd always been, and it as hard for me to think of her this way, helpless. I sat at the table and kept listening to Gene, how he chose to do home hospice himself for his wife and keep the mucus in her throat from choking her to death. But as I listened, my mind kept returning to the memories I had of her: she'd invite us in for green apples and tea, and tell us about the power of God. Sometimes she fed my siblings and I other treats such as brownies or hot dogs. Sometimes she helped give a ride to town, or meet up on walks down the road with us. We could scarcely look through the trees out our window and see her walking Emily, her black lab, down the big hill. On one particular walk several of us took together, we ran into another neighbor further down the road. He was out on a four-wheeler looking for his lost dog, one of two or three dogs. He was clearly frustrated that his dog had run off into the thick nest of wood that sheltered the river, too hard to go through with a four-wheeler. Marilyn said,"Let's pray that God brings your dog out." to which he mumbled, "I'm not a christian, and I don't believe in that." But Marilyn chimed back in her uncensored way, "I am, and I'm proud of it!" So she prayed anyway and no joke, the dog ran out of the thick woods just like that. 

Other neighbors thought she was a strange one in many ways, but that didn't matter to me. We all have our ways of being strange and you should have heard the stories of some of the other neighbors! In some ways she was stand-offish and in other ways she had a wide open heart and made you feel well-loved. She typically dressed like a biker chic, with colorful bandanas, jeans and tees. I remember when she had her motorcycle accident from hitting a deer, and broke her collarbone. She didn't bike quite the same after that. Sometimes she put on a little weight which looked good on her tall height, but mostly I remember her being thin. She was either typically on a healthy eating diet or fasting with prayer, even to the point of frailty. This gave her strength later, I suppose. Gene said that as he'd take care of her during her illness, he'd ask if she wasn't tired of all the suffering yet. And since she couldn't speak, she'd shake her head, smile and point to a picture about Jesus the Healer on the wall. He said she never stopped believing that God could heal her, anytime.

 "You remember Marilyn's dad, hey?___ when he lived here with us?" Gene went on. I was now making the connection: Gene met Marilyn all because she was in foster care with his parents, and she was in foster care because her father beat her. And when her dad got older and frail, she took him in. I remember now, how she spoke of her dad with such love and care, and after making this connection, it pricked my heart. "You know, Marilyn forgave her dad...," Gene continued as he stroked Yogi Bear's fur and I tried to make friends with little Ranger. Wow, in my memory of her dad, he was kind and gentle to us as the neighbor kids. I wonder what changed in him and how. I wonder what the journey was like for Marilyn, and, for Gene her husband. That is love without walls. My heart beat, back in the place where it used to beat, but in new rhythm.

Gene started to tell me about the love of yet another neighbor, while Marilyn was sick. We all knew the trauma this man had faced some years before, with the loss of his daughter, and how he was now raising his grand-daughter. Well, if I go back, I remember Marilyn telling me she had a vision for cows on her land again. She kept saying the cows were coming, and she and Gene longed for grass-fed beef. Sure enough, one day there were Scottish highlanders up there on the hill, grazing away. Now, when she was sick, Gene went on to tell me how this other neighbor and his grand-daughter came over to care for the cows and mow his lawn, etc, every day. Whatever they could do to help, they just kept coming so he wouldn't have to do anything but stay by his wife's side. I could tell that it meant so much to him, and he was overwhelmed by their goodness. He said they looked forward to coming and caring for the cows everyday, and even when he could now do it himself, they still wanted to come over. I was overwhelmed by their care too...when have I done such a thing for a neighbor, for two full years?

Once Marilyn passed, Gene went to visit his grown son in another state, and then out to his sister's in New York City. He said it was hard to get back on his feet, literally, after only walking around the kitchen and to and from the bathroom for two years. His sister's life in New York city is very different from his own in the Upper Peninsula. A "house" can be just a large unit in a gigantic building, rent can be $15,000 a month, and an Amazon order of toothpaste and shaving cream can come up to a skyscraper unit within only 30 minutes of ordering. People do anything for work there, he said, such as the naked cowboy singer in the park...all sorts of people, all sorts of jobs, and a simple breakfast can easily cost $60. I'm sure this isn't everyone's life there but that's what he experienced. I'd say that New York City did the job of helping him 'get away' from everything he'd just went through though.

I knew he had many more days to get through, in his grief. The spring burial meant that he was still going to have to face everything again, so he was just taking it 'one day at a time'. I was glad that he had his Harley out in the kitchen...and he mentioned getting back into a biker group. "I still haven't been able to go through all her clothes," he said. I couldn't imagine. "Today I just loaded up more of her hospice care equipment for the hospital." I sat there thinking, "This is one of the strongest and most beautiful men I've ever known." I longed for him, as my old neighbor, to find a life again, to be happy again. Then he says the doctors found a little prostrate cancer in him, and he needed an MRI. He might be fine but he had no way of knowing yet, and he was peaceful. "You never know, it might not be long before I'm up there with her, so I live every day as if it were my last." Breathe in and breathe out...prayer for this man.

After hugging goodbye and wishing each other well, I drove off into the night and knew that this visit was nothing other than divine. It left my heart wide open to reflect, to learn, and to love selflessly. I will never forget Marilyn, her fearlessness, and the way that she impacted my faith as a neighbor.


Saturday, March 17, 2018

Chasing Dreams of the Night

 I'm not a big plan-maker...always been a dreamer. And quite literally I have some very vivid dreams at night, not all the time but enough to move me when I do. Lately at winter's end I may have been dealing with seasonal depression or at least anxiety, which was causing me to have very vivid dreams at night. It's was my childhood land...all 80 acres. I kept returning and I didn't know why.

 In the past I've had this too, however it was in Ireland and it was autumn not winter, so I really don't know. While studying abroad and living at Victoria Lodge, I had many dreams but I especially remember a series of three dreams. In the first, it was a peaceful day in the woods back home, my siblings, dog and I playing and having fun around our old porch. Without warning, wolves came charging down from the hill behind the rustic house, ready to attack us all. I, being in full protector-flight mode, grabbed all my siblings and my dog and bolted into the house as fast as possible and bolted the door with that one-of-kind floor slider we had to lock it. My heart beat loudly as I woke up. I'm not sure if it was days or weeks before the second dream came: My siblings and I were having a typical day inside the house, and it must have been a colder season. All of a sudden I realized that the house was filling with smoke and going into flames, quickly. Immediately I thought of all my siblings and dashed everywhere upstairs and downstairs to grab them and thrust them outside the burning building. Once again my heart was beating crazily and woke me up. It all felt so weird but I was beginning to realize that it must be symbolism, as I knew that my remaining family at home were going through, to say the least, some horrible situations. My parents had just divorced a few months earlier and though I didn't keep up with all the details at this time, the dreams told me. My siblings and I were losing our childhood home and disconnecting with the life we had always known, of having our own power to provide, water to keep running, and a fire to keep warm. Not to say this was all a bad thing, but it was traumatic to us. My third dream then, over in Ireland and far far away from this childhood place, was finally peaceful: There was our place, trees cleared out and garden fence posts we'd put up, weeds, sunshine, and the wild beauty of originality that was only our crazy place. And there were cows, cows grazing peacefully on the side of our huge garden. We'd never had cows so this was something amazing to me because no longer were there wolves coming down from the hill behind the house nor was the house on fire. All was well.

So here I am on the Wisconsin/Minnesota border, living a happy little life that's quite different from the one I grew up in, and dreams return to me. It doesn't matter where I lay my head to rest, they always find me to remind me of who I am. I'm a tough Yooper, born straight from the push of a uterus into one of the neighbor's living room (Yoopers can be open-hearted that way), and spent my infancy in a trailer with no running water, no fancy baby supplies, no plumbing yet, and only wood heat to survive the winter. Dad was building the rustic house at that time. I have no idea how I survived without getting illness and there were no doctor visits, only a midwife in the beginning, so I must have been a tough Yooper. But nothing about it was a sight for the eyes, that's for sure! And since I spent 20 years there, my night dreams have often reminded me of all the corners of the cabin-like house and all the deeps of the 80 acres. In one recent dream, silly as it was, my family and the current owners were all living there together, acting like nothing was weird and taking care of everything together. That was weird but hey, I can't judge my dreams! Then in another, it was a sunny kind of day where the balmy breeze brushed the poplars in that signature way, but it was our uphill next-door neighbor's trees, and I was coming into our old land from that direction. Before you'd reach our lot from that direction, there was the edge of their field, a wild apple orchard with drumming partridges hidden in the branches, the veins of taller hardwoods and then into the smaller poplars, maple, cedar, pine and birch. There was no path down, we just had our signature marks throughout, and whenever we'd walk through in that direction my dog Maxine  would always scout out a 360-degree range around us to smell all the smells and bark at squirrels and porcupines that she thought she was protecting us from. She LOVED running through there and always had the happiest eyes when when came back to me. "Good, good girl," I'd tell her.

So there I was heading back to the root land where dreams are born, and I really didn't have a plan. I really didn't know if I had the guts to stop by, to chase down my dreams that kept facing me down. As if they were saying,"Amelia, it's okay now...you can go and make peace. You can go and see." I've spent six years coming to terms with my new life in the modern world where we pay someone else to provide our running water, our heat, our electricity. Sometimes I'm overwhelmed in gratitude for all the wonder that is technology and power, and yet other times I'm depressed because I feel useless that everyday is not critical survival like it used to be, living off-grid. So I had no idea how I'd deal with my emotions if I just drove back and casually walked around the place like I knew it. Because I do know it. I didn't know if it would wreck me in a bad way. But I knew when I started this year that this would need to be my year of being bold, and for me this was bold.

I parked my car and it felt very weird and peaceful all at the same time. I looked around and breathed, and casually but not so casually walked in the drive, seeing the all-familiar snow and mud that thankfully wasn't too messy yet. The stream and frog pond, wow how tiny it all looked to me now, where we used to squish our feet in the mud, catch frogs, put fish and baby turtles into...you name it. And the driveway didn't seem so long as it used to, where we practiced our biking skills, dog-training, read the mail, etc. And there was the cabin-like house, not changed much from the way we made it, yet perhaps solar panels and an updated generator system. It was emotional, but I was okay. I knew I needed to go as close to Maxine's grave as I could. The evening sun was streaming across the ridge and through the woods just like I'd remembered so well. It's an intense wild beauty that I used to stand in and just soak up, and here I was as an adult and needing that again. So I stood, at the edge of the garden for awhile, just soaking in the peace of it all. I was so thankful and this filled me in a way I can't describe. And then I heard it: snorting. And I knew it but could hardly believe it: there were no cows but horses grazing on my old land! Horses, three big ones very majestic and strong, and then a wee miniature pony. Wow, wow! I dared myself to walk further near their fence and saw another thing: our old favorite maple tree was cut down, which is where my Maxine was buried at its base. I stared at the spot of the big maple's base where my brothers and Nana had put her in the ground for me after I'd put her to sleep with the Vet. I let myself tear-up as I remembered her, and all the memories we'd had. And I thanked God for the horses as I'd always dreamed of that while growing up. Here they were exactly where I thought horses should be! I asked God to bless the current owners there with the life they have, and then spoke briefly to a young girl who came out with her uncle. They were pleasant and I told them that I used to live there. I could have told them much more, but I was humble and moved and words escaped me. And just as I had walked in, I walked out and was just fine emotionally. I needed this, I knew. Sometimes we have to chase the dreams of the night, if they make any sense at all.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Business: Don't Let the Water get Stagnant - tips for the learning organization

We are an output society. Education has taught us this. From the time we started college, for instance, we push out assignments. One after another, just to get it done, whether we truly understand what we're doing or not. A common phrase in the scholastic world is, "I'm good at BSing."

So we morph into a society that's more about the doing than about the understanding. And so do our organizations. At some point many of us shut our brains down and are no longer learning new things, but rather going off of what we already know.

Therefore the question lies, how do we mix up the stagnant water? How do we keep moving and culture learning organizations? I came up with a few tips that any one of us can either initiate or start practicing, in order to help keep our schools and work places moving in a healthy direction.

Tip 101:
Be question-friendly. Show that you can both be asked a question and can answer one for someone too. This is huge. Many people either in school or in the  workplace get stumped on something with a simple solution all because they are afraid to ask a question. We're afraid to appear dumb in a smarter and smarter world. So laugh a little about your mistakes, and in the process say what you've learned. This will help a shy person feel that you are approachable and they may come and ask you a question.  Maybe there's even some things you've thought you should ask your boss recently, but then you told yourself,"No, I'll just figure it out." Well, why not go ahead and ask?

Tip 102:
Out with the old, in with the new. Talking about what's new, trying out new fads, new technologies, and new health options can really help make the workplace more exciting. When a work culture is too sedentary, it does not encourage learning and change within the organization. But showing a coworker how you utilize your android phone for organizing and planning, sharing how your new version of software has really improved your job, or how your new desk chair has really improved your back posture, can help your organization overall to stay up to date.

Tip 103:
Read books related to what you do. One can always improve and learn more.Have some fun with this and don't treat it like a college textbook that you want to avoid. There are many good, creative books out there with tips for a healthy workplace, and you are a big part of what gives your organization its own culture.

Tip 104:
Inspiration is key. This is a co-partner with things such as a creativity, innovation, invention, etc, so do what it takes to stay inspired. Maybe it's certain people in your life that inspire you, a nature photography hobby you do on the side, or traveling to a place you've never been. Whatever it is, take some time between your work and personal life to stay inspired.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Letter to the Lost Heart

 To the many people I love and listen to, who are all changing seasons, it's okay...

We all have seasons, beginnings and endings. We are brave and we are weak. We conquer one big section of life and do our duties, only to find it come to a surprising halt eventually. We weren't ready and we never figured it all out. We either end up feeling like we did our job well or we feel like a failure.

Therefore I have this ebbing question: where does the heart go? It always goes somewhere, but where? If we feel like a failure, I think this is along the lines of turning out the lamps of our hearts. We no longer do as much, nor let ourselves feel as much, and especially don't let another reach in and turn on even one light. Some people that feel like a failure are those who've had a major family crisis (or maybe several) and they feel that their effort in the crisis was utterly useless. Loved ones left their trust and never came back. Other people just simply cannot continue the role they have always performed, simply because it is no longer needed.

When some of our life roles end, what we really end up having to face is ourselves. Whether this is someone who is no longer working a certain job that utilized all their key skills, a loving girlfriend or boyfriend who's partner just dumped them, a parent who's kids have all left the nest, someone who's spouse has divorced them or died, or even a big sister or brother who's siblings never come to them for advice like they used to. I think in these situations, what the heart does first is grieve. Maybe even feel lost, and that's okay.

Just don't stay there. Realize that you still have purpose, it just might be a new purpose now. Reach deep and let the Maker of your heart show you your true identity. I am writing from places of my own lostness and have compassion on yours. Our identity is to be a Found people, and this helps us to not be lost after our season's ending.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Like Green Cliffs and Deep Woods

I'm a senior now. Have been for a little while actually. Now that I've made it this far and am still going in spite of the many hurdles thrown in along the way, it is pretty incredible. And the timing is perfect, because now I have the itch to go. I want to go far away from here, is that crazy? I try to make sense of what I'm feeling, but I can't totally.

When I returned from Ireland this past winter, it was one of the hardest adjustments imaginable for me. I had experienced The Big and had come back to The Small. All my friends were so very lovingly welcoming me back, which was very helpful, but when they asked,"Does it feel good to be back?", I couldn't give them the answer they expected to hear. It didn't feel good, not in the least bit. I missed my friends from oversees with all my heart since our time had been so short, all the while trying to find my place here again.

The winter, as usual, was heavy and cold here. Many days it was difficult to find the beauty around me. Not that snow isn't beautiful; it definitely is. But it was a cold one, and so much colder than what I'd experienced overseas.

I fell in love with my little college town again, especially with the onset of Spring. Since I'd been away for so long and came back to all-things-covered, everything looked like a new wonder when the snow melted. The ice melted off the canal and all of a sudden there was colorful water and a fabulous walking/biking trail beside it. I started to enjoy the outdoors daily.

It took a couple months to get in groove again and to reconnect with friends here, but by the end of the semester many were graduating. I had to say goodbyes yet again. And since I was staying in the local area for the summer, I wasn't sure who I'd get to stay connected with. These are the joys of living in a college town.

I also entered summer with stress from my living circumstances, and stress from trying to figure out if I could secure an after-graduation job. I started looking into jobs, even applying for some local ones because I wanted a good summer internship or a job where I could use my degree skills. After some time with no hopeful prospects, and the stress from that driving me crazy enough, I decided to stop worrying so much. I was planning on taking classes during the second part of summer anyway, and really needed to just enjoy the time I had in the first two months of summer. So I planted a tiny garden, and helped friends out with projects. I went on adventure trips  around the local area. I never realized just how many cool waterfalls there are in the backwoods of the U.P. And taking weekend day-trips in my local area reminded me of those wonderful day trips from back in Ireland.

This is the time in life when I try to find my place in this big world(which really isn't all that big now that we can fly everywhere). After going abroad I've really considered applying for work outside the U.S., say starting with an internship or program. But after much thought, if I live overseas again I've decided it needs to be for a year or a couple at least.This is because the going, adjustment, leaving, and then readjustment, are otherwise too hard on me. Being that I'm currently single, I have many open choices before me. Whether I ended up staking it out in a foreign land or starting a life for my single self here in the Midwest/North, each has pros and cons. But deep down I know God is guiding my steps. What I do know is that I want to work hard and happily, and use my degree. I love what I study and so even though college has been difficult, I may go for my Masters too.

On a phone call recently with my sister, I marveled how God's timing is really so much better than mine, because he intimately knows me better than I know myself. He cares for all of us, better than we can care. In the beginning of summer, as I said, I was desperate to figure out work stuff. But I didn't. I didn't get the marketing internship that I wanted. But here near the end of my academic summer, I applied for another local internship. And guess what, I nailed it. I'll have to fit it in with finishing college full-time and doing my work-study job too. And I may be crazy; I don't know how it will go. But the adventure and posing challenge excites me. I say bring it.

~Oh and P.S., I'm actually going back to Ireland, to visit, for realz.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

To Belfast and Beyond...

Friday the 5th, I met up with Lexi in the morning and we took off straight-shot down Western Road for hot chocolate at O'Connell's to study Strategic Management. We looked over each other's notes on corporate vs. business strategy, the core competencies, industry analysis, Porter's Five Forces, etc. The chocolate was creamy and beautiful and the time spent was productive enough. Even though I had an exam coming up, I was excited for the weekend. "So you're going to Northern Ireland this weekend?" "Yes...! I can't actually believe it. Thought I wouldn't be able to go and well, now I'm able to!"

Friday evening, after a long and laughter-filled skype with my sister Bekah, I headed out of my apartment with my bags. Meeting up with James and Melissa, it was a good-length walk to the cars. The three of us are a unique poshi of friends in that we have a common love for the poetry of nature, and speak to each other in such terms. We go crazy over a bright moon, the rivers and sea, and enjoy adventuring, speaking in quotes and poetic thought. And so as naturally as ever, we were laughing about trolls and lepricons of the stream beds before we even got into the car  for the 4+ hour trip to Belfast. Being so used to taking the bus everywhere is Ireland, it was the best feeling to be on a road trip in a cute UK-style car.

Crossing the border into the North was not nearly as epic as I'd thought it would be, as I didn't have to show anyone a passport as I thought I might. It was just mostly the songs on the radio that I noticed such as"you're so fancaaay." We arrived at the parents' home of our adventure leader, PG. They were the kindest couple and had beds all set up for us. I slept surprisingly well and woke up feeling so blessed to be in a Belfast home, with sunrise coming in over the garden.

After breakfast Saturday morning, a few from Dublin joined our adventure party, as well as a newly-wed Northern couple with those distinct accents I love. They say "jest a wee bet" in a rise and fall pattern of speech. We had a three-car party and I rode with the newly-weds up the North Coast. They were very fun and I had some great conversation with them. The Mr. drove fast and I soon felt the familiar stomach churn from the Island's typical roads. After some time he switched driving with his wife and kindly offered me the front seat, which actually helped. We soon turned onto a road that took us up the side of a large Glen, which is a valley that lies even with the sea coast, but with high headlands on its sides. There were country homes here in the Glen and at one of my favorite there were a few large geese puddling around the front. We pulled into a lot and got out to see some waterfalls. The waterfalls of this Glen fall down from high ground and run down the Glen toward the sea. They are the 'gems of the Glen'. We grabbed some coffees in the lodge at the head of this Glen, and I loved the decor of the ceiling. There were old artifacts of all types: lamps, kettles, saws, hanging everywhere.

We headed back for the drive along the coast and made a few stops along it. Of this I was very much appreciative, as I needed bits of fresh air repeatedly. And fresh it was indeed, the sea air off the North Sea gusting around my face. The views were divine:

Our traveling clan reached the town of Ballycastle around lunchtime, and picked up deli sandwiches at a store there, then ate them in the park near the boat docks. Paying for my things in pounds was a bit of a challenge, and I first when paying I'd say, "Well, I've got these coins; what do you need?" This was quite unprofessional so soon I asked British James to identify the coins for me so I knew what I was doing. After our sandwiches we got some of the best ice cream ever, even though it was a bit cold out. Back on the road, we made our way to the Causeway. I had presupposed imaginations of the Causeway, but when I got there it was a bit different than I had thought. Therefore it was a pleasant surprise, and a cold one too. We entered the area on top of a hill, and took the path down to the peculiar rock formations. I hadn't realized that there'd be so many of these weird hexagon rocks; I'd never seen anything so perfectly formed by nature: the affects of an artistic Designer. It took years, yes, but it was deliberate.

Our traveling clan meandered around the Causeway until it literally was too dark to see anything else. We decided to drive straight-shot back to Belfast to eat dinner at the Christmas market there. I'd heard about Christmas markets before, but had never been to one, so it was a world of wonder to me. It's full of huts and stands selling all sorts of artisan crafts and foods, and has some old-fashioned festival amusements as well. We basically walked in circles around the whole place checking out the different types of food, before finally choosing the specialty burger hut. There was kangaroo burgers, buffalo, wild boar, venison, etc. And since I come from Venison Land, I thought I should be true to my roots and get this type. No joke, it was probably the BEST venison burger I'll ever taste. However, I was inspired by it's flavor and so I hope to imitate it some day, as I love to cook. It was colder in Belfast than it normally is down here in Cork, so standing outside for a couple hours gave me a bone chill. After the Christmas market we went to view the political graffiti of the city, which was very fascinating. One street has the Peace Walls along it, dividing East Belfast from West Belfast. The drivers of our group feared for their cars on where to park in the midst of our stops, because if you're not careful apparently having a southern plate in the North makes you liable to have your tires popped. Yikes. And though I didn't see police cars while up there, I heard that they are extra 'armored' in case of riots. Here in the South the police are called Garda. On the subject of cars however, I should mention that because Northern Ireland is apart of the UK, most of the taxi service use London cabs, which I think look way-cooler than the normal taxi cars. Getting home after a long day had us all exhausted in a good way, and ready for hot tea and showers.

After church and lunch the next day, we finished sight-seeing. We drove around the docks where the Titanic was built and they still have the original Nomadic loading boat there. There are two huge famous cranes here that are used for ship-building, normally called David & Goliath. Next we went into the suburbs for the C.S Lewis tour. P.G's father grew up near where the great author had also grown up, and brought us to the house LittleLea. This is the house with the attic that inspired the wardrobe for the Narnia books. It it currently privately owned so it is by no means a tourist house.

Besides seeing Lewis's boyhood home, we went to a statue in the city that was erected for him. Though not too large, it is the wardrobe, the professor opening it, a chair, the face of a lion,  with a letter and other inscription on the back of the wardrobe. The concrete around the statue has the words inscribed: "Writer - Teacher - Scholar - Christian. Born 1898,  Reborn 1931." On the tour we also stopped at the church where he was baptized. I hadn't ever know all this stuff about this author, but now I was more enthralled than ever. Here I was in the land where Narnia was created!
 The last adventure of out time in Northern Ireland was jogging up to the Parliament building. It was quite the trek as it was a long, paved upward road, but totally worth the exercise. When we were most of the way up, the evening sun broke with brilliance out of the rain clouds.

When we returned back to the house, we packed up our things, and had a tea dinner with light sandwiches on delicate, flowered china plates. Before hopping into the cars we heartily thanked our hosts. Our drive back to the South was filled with laughter, story-telling, light sleeping, deep conversations, snacking, and just plain-tired silliness. Oh, what good times! I love being a traveler.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Chasing Coasts...with my Wellies in the Water

"Just WHO proclaimed there wouldn't be rain?" My friend Lexi cried as we stepped out of the Centra this morning where some of us were grabbing breakfast or drinks. "Oops, sorry, I should have kept my mouth shut", I whimpered. "But hey, it's not raining where we're headed__ see that blue spot up there!?" James put in a hopeful word. But I had already whipped out my now broken thrift-shop umbrella. "Look Lexi, it's now gotten the better of me...this umbrella isn't so great anymore." But we were close to the city center where we soon hopped onto the coach for our anticipated day trip with O'Brien's. Besides us three, there were the two Christina's, as well as a few others on the coach who'd just happened to book the same tour as us. We left for West Co. Cork and the Mizen, or southernmost point of Ireland. My friend James is from England(the area of Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice), but now lives in Whales and is living here a short time for his Apple job, and therefore wanted to do sightseeing like us students. He and I happened to sit in the seats behind a very lovey-dovey German couple who kept petting each other's faces and kissing. James and I just snickered about it and tried to focus on good conversation and the lovely scenery out the windows. Our bus driver was a normal professional Irish driver, let me tell you, we were almost ALL very motion sick by the time we reached the town of Bantry. He had been going like 100 km around those super windy barely-two-track roads across the countryside. At once point there was also a sharp slam-on-the-brakes as we narrowly scraped a haul truck on a curve. Anyway, in Bantry(just a stop on the way), we all lined up in the Pharmacy to get motion sickness tablets! Then we got fresh air by walking along the water and down to the beach. With the motion sickness tablets starting to kick in, we chatted cheerily about the boats on the water, about the gypsies living nearby, and about the swan who was out on a morning swim.

On the road again, we headed for the southern point again, hoping this shorter leg of the journey would be easier on our tummies. Thankfully it was. But whatever help that was, because when we got there our breath was taken away anyway...by the Beauty. The sun had broken out of the clouds at just the perfect time, and here we were standing on a plateau over the HUGE Atlantic. I've always known that the Atlantic is huge,but...this time my small eyes helplessly realized that IT was more than they could contain. There were cliffs...wave masses crashing into salt puree phantoms, ever high upon the most jagged rocks I've ever seen. I laughed to James,"The sea is saucy and the rocks dashing," knowing the sea and rocks have played for all the ages past. Up ahead we all crossed probably the grandest bridge I'll ever cross. The Atlantic expanse on my left and a God-sized ragged rock window on my right, with more rock walls and sea inlets beyond. And then I realized, if I were Amelia Earhart, this would be the PERfect rock cavern to dip your little plane down into and swoop around and up. I may just have to be the Amelia Earhart come-back-to-life and get my own plane to do this. It'd be totally worth it! It was sharp and deep, and the sun rays beamed over it's shadows, turning it into an enormous luminous hole toward heaven. Naturally we all turned crazy and realized our car sickness had been more than worth it. (Unfortunately I couldn't capture this rock chasm at its best).

There is a lighthouse out here, but it happens to be perched a lot a rocky spit-of-an-island, so we merely toured the lighthouse chambers, such as where the keepers lived. Now I have the old lighthouse scene plugged into my mind for any future novels I just may happen to write, haha. I've tried to envision the living space of lighthouse keepers for a long time now, especially after reading about Captain Jim in Anne's House of Dreams. Now I've got it. The Keepers live the lonely-beautiful. They have a dedication that courageously faces the deadly sea and then pet her calm and sleep, all the while keeping the light beaming for all the brave ships of the Northern sea. I contemplated such a life and story as I perched on the Island's southern tip lookout, literally yelling out,"Hey America out there!"(I know you're out there). I am far from home and yet I feel at home, and just can't keep my 'wellies'(rain boots) out of the water!!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Whiskey and the Wildlife of the Land

Early November in Ireland. Means you're busier with assignments at college and the rainy days have increased. So you feel quite lucky when it's a sunny day for traveling about. I did a whiskey tour this past Saturday, to the Jameson Whiskey Distillery. It was actually a field trip with my International Marketing & Management class, and this was just one of our stops. What history lies here__ while walking the historic courtyard you can almost hear the men blowing up the whiskey with gunpowder to test if it was any good or not. That was called 'shot whiskey' in olden days. You can easily imagine the old water wheel turning and making electricity for the blowers and pulley systems. You can imagine the farmers hauling in the barley from their fields...wagon wheels jiggling upon the uneven cobblestone. This place is old for sure, though they haven't made whiskey here since the 1970's or something like that. However they do still have some aging in barrels in one of  the dark, cool warehouses. What I found interesting is that while U.S. whiskey is only distilled once, the Irish distill their's three times. I especially loved the barrels everywhere, and there was furniture made from barrels everywhere too! Being a lover of design, I could hardly keep my eyes and hands of the barrel chairs. If you've ever seen barrel making, or a video of them being made, you gain high respect. It's a lot of work! And nowadays, especially here on the Emerald Island, they use barrels not only for alcohol but for decor as well.

After lunch at the Distillery cafe(sandwiches and soup), me and the rest of my class headed off to Fota Wildlife Preserve. This is truly an unforgettable place to me. I saw so many animals here that I've never seen before in my life, since I've never been to a big zoo or anything. This place was like a "little Africa" or "little Asia" really, as they take such animals as zebras, tigers, giraffes, monkeys, kangaroos, & many others, to protect, manage, and breed their species. I stood in the beginning of the park a bit dumbfounded, looking around thinking,"Wow, you'd never expect to see this in Ireland, it's so exotic!" Because, for one, it's not indoors at all, bit actually most of the animals are just in farm-type fences, if even that. The kangaroos and moneys practically free-roam, especially the many birds they have there too. I tried to get quality shots of as many animals as I could, but there were still plenty that I missed.For instance, the red pandas were curled up taking naps in the branches of their tree so it was hard to get capture them well. And some of the moneys....well as I mentioned some moneys are hardly penned and even have a "money island" for a natural-like habitat, but other kinds are surrounded by high fence. The zebras reminded me of horses, though a bit shorter and well, 'wilder-looking'.

Just look at these beautiful creatures! And yes, Ostriches ARE huge; so are giraffes! However, cheetahs and tigers aren't necessarily as big as I'd imagined. They are super strong and powerful looking though! I think my favorite were the giraffes.Oh my but the tiger too...have you ever looked into a tigers's huge cat-eyes? They are truly stunning creatures! Seeing all these amazing creatures, I realize just what a sense of variety and creativity God has. Obviously this place isn't a zoo exactly, but they do take some of the animals from the Dublin zoo, as well as other places around he world. It was just so incredible that I got to see so many of the animals in one day that I've been wanting to see my whole life!!!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

This City I Love

Well I've been living here in Cork City for at least two months now, and I couldn't love it more! Rain or shine, cold or pleasant, my heart is here. And the funny thing is, I haven't even seen all the city yet, I realized just last weekend. There are whole other sides of town that I haven't even visited yet. Last Saturday the other ISA students from Galway came down to "my city" and I got to experience the pride and joy of showing them around. First I met up with them in the Crawford Art Gallery, and that was funny because I sort of got lost trying to find the place. I do feel dumb about that because I've been living here for two months now and it should be easy. But hey, how is one supposed to find something they've never been to before? Anyway, the gallery is absolutely LOVely and I want to go back there now!

It was a very rainy Saturday. And before I met up with the Galway girls I had a parsnip soup lunch in the Farmgate Cafe with my friend Lexi. We went shopping a little together too, as we were planning a potluck for that night. Poor girl, Lexi's umbrella wasn't working right as the wind kept blowing it inside out, so she ended up getting pretty wet. My U.S. thrift-shop one was fairing out fine to keep the top part of me dry, but my boots were aweful. I've been wearing my boots everywhere lately, so that's probably why the wear-n'-tear caused them to start leaking. So I went into one charity shop after another until I found a pair of rain boots for 6.50 euro. I then took my wet socks and other boots off and stuffed them in my backpack, so I could wear the dry rain boots. They helped some, since we did a whole bunch of walking around the city, showing the Galway girls UCC campus and the English Market, etc. By evening though, I had blisters on my feet. But since the rain had stopped I delightedly put my Chaco sandals on. I made my Swiss potato kugel for the potluck, and chocolate chip cookies for dessert. After the potluck I went with a couple of the girls I'd invited to the potluck, to a pub where most of the other students were, and handed them the left-over chocolate chip cookies. (There was some great live music in there.) I wanted them all to feel at home in "my city." I was just bummed I couldn't invite all ten+ girls to the potluck, because they're all fabulous!

Sunday after church, I hung out with my Irish friend Anna. They skies played like kittens with sun and cloud most of the day, but Anna took me to new lookouts of the city. Off of Penrose Quay there are some steep-hilled streets, and the views of the city are just stunning! While climbing the street we also popped into one of the crafty shops along the way, and I saw yet others that I totally want to return to later on. A thought also crossed my mind: "Why be in such a hurry to travel all over when I'm in such a great place right here?" I feel blessed to live here.