Monday, December 27, 2010


For us, the word "home" usually just means "where we're staying tonight." But for me, nothing can restore the the old settled meaning of that word like leaning over Mom's kitchen sink so that I can look up through the window at the Chugach Mountains while I'm filling the coffeepot in the morning. And then walking through to the living room, opening up the shades and looking out across the Anchorage Bowl. During the day, the city is nearly invisible in the flatland below. In darkness, the lights twinkle below us like multi-colored stars. On a clear day, we can see all the way to Mt McKinley / Denali, more than a hundred miles away.

It warmed up quite a bit today. Must have been 10º or 15º above zero! That's -12 to -9 if you think in Celsius. Beautiful day for a ski. I always used to step into my skis on the front step and go from there, but back when I lived here the road hardly ever got gritted. Now it's a hike from the house to the trailhead, carrying the skis and poles if I want them to survive. I took the easy way out and had Mike drive me up to the Park entrance. Only had time for a short trip, but it was glorious. The sun was illuminating the mountains above me, and there were even a few bits of the trail that came out into direct sunlight. So I saw the sun "set" three times as I skied in and out of the shadows of the land around me, all the while watching the early sunset (1pm) colors reflected in the snow.

I haven't done as much skiing on this stay as I'd like to, and the first time I came out, I forgot my gloves. And it was cold! Made for a very short trip, but I discovered that it is possible to ski cross-country (I guess they call it "classic" now) with no poles when you have to keep your hands stuffed up their opposite sleeves to thaw your fingers! This time I had the gloves, and it was warm enough anyway that I needed to remove a couple of layers on the way up the hill. And warm enough to stop for many pictures. I'm putting them in a facebook album.

Friday, August 20, 2010

With a little help from my friends

You'd think it would be a fairly simple matter to get from Inistioge (County Kilkenny, Ireland) to Suquamish (Kitsap County, Washington), wouldn't you?

I research my transportation, buy air tickets... It's supposed to be the convenient way to travel. The last two times, though, for two different reasons, I'd had to get my tickets from Seattle to London instead of Seattle to Dublin, working out the London-Dublin part separately. The eastbound leg has gone ok each time, but getting back to Seattle last year starting with a commuter flight from Dublin to get me to the return half of my Seattle/London itinerary turned into a ludicrous string of hassles that left me stranded in London with no way home. Thankfully, two good friends - Kathie and Graham - lived an easy tube ride away from Heathrow. Their telephone, internet connection, printer, and fold-out sofa bed bailed me out of an impossible situation. The chocolate biscuits helped too :). The next day, a print out of my email confirmation of my re-scheduled flight failed to impress the airline's computer - no way would it issue me a boarding card - but the humans involved were able to give me a handwritten pass that got me across the ocean, as far as Minneapolis. There, what was supposed to be a short stopover turned to an hours long delay due to mechanical problems. By the time I finally reached Seattle it was past midnight, more than 24 hours after I'd been due to arrive, and too late to catch a ferry to the Kitsap Peninsula. Stranded again. Fortunately, I was just minutes away from another pair of wonderful friends - John and Lynne. And they have a couch, too! So I finished that journey two days late.

This year I was facing the same challenge of picking up the second half of a Seattle/London itinerary from Ireland. But since it had turned into such a drawn-out adventure last time, I decided to plan it that way from the start and make it fun. Couldn't just repeat last year's route, 'cause where's the adventure in that? And anyway Kathie and Graham had moved to Orkney in the meantime. But my friend Anneli had moved from Oslo to... you guessed... London!

Mike had been suggesting for a long time that we should do a day as tourists in Dublin, since we never go there except to catch flights or ferries. So to start the journey, that's what we did. We wove our way through crowded streets, past many exceptionally talented buskers (and a couple not so), admiring the public art and architecture until we were exhausted, spent the night near the airport, and in the morning Mike waved me off on the next leg of the journey.

Anneli's house in London is an easy walk from the city center, and she is an excellent tour guide. I took more photos than I know what to do with.
(Another album on Facebook may be in order.)

The next stop was, like last year, in Minneapolis. But this time I was in touch ahead of time with my cousin Jane, and spent the stopover in companionable conversation, catching up on nearly 15 years since the last time we'd seen each other.

Arriving in Seattle late in the evening, I was met by William and Felicia and whisked off to a comfy makeshift bed on a houseboat. The next day, after a good walk and some recreational tune playing, I was dropped at the ferry where I had arranged to meet Matt on his way home to the Kitsap Peninsula. Matt and Jenifer had stored some instruments for us while we were away, so I went home with him before getting a ride back out to my house. Jenifer had very thoughtfully packed up a bag of basic groceries for me - just some stuff they had to spare, she said. Which was great because I didn't have the time or energy to go out shopping with all that came next... but I don't feel like writing about that yet!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Summer of visitors. Our turn to sit still a bit.

Apart from the two small tours in the UK this summer, we had a rare opportunity to stay relatively stationary and have the world come to our door instead.

Left: Pip and Alison admire some of the very tall trees in the Woodstock estate.

Sue found a pretty tall thistle, too - about as tall as she is - on the trail up Brandon Hill.

Friends old and new came from England, Scotland, Canada and Italy, and we had a great time showing them around our corner of Ireland. Even found a few corners we didn't know about before.

Left: Reia and I took our time getting to the top of Brandon.

There were many raspberries and blueberries to be eaten on the way.

Mike and I hadn't been to Kells Priory in years. I always forget how spectacular it is.

We went twice this summer, enjoying both the ancient ruins of the priory and the not quite so ancient but still impressive mills and arched bridges nearby.

Not all of the fun was outdoors. The Phil Murphy Weekend was on down in Co Wexford while Toni and Michael were here. We caught, among other things, a set by L'Angelus - a truely charming and incredibly energetic young Cajun family band - before moving on down the road to join in a crowded session in a tiny pub well into the early hours of the morning.

We also managed, somehow, to get some work done on our little stone farmhouse, and will be adding more photos soon on our web page:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Looking down on Edinburgh, July 10 2010

This was a new experience for us, driving across Scotland from the ferry terminal at Stranraer all the way to the far side of Edinburgh. We decided to see what way the trusty Garmin would direct us... We'll go back to double checking its choices. The views were stunning, but these were not the easiest roads for a long day of driving.

Still, we got there, and that's the important part. The next day - Friday - Steven had a day off from work, but he went in anyway just to show us around.

Back in college, my favorite places to be were the library and the physics lab. At the Royal Observatory, we got to wander through labs big and small, where everything from micro technology to huge elements of telescopes were being developed and tested. Steven was a great tour guide, showing us through educational displays and working laboratories alike.

And the library! Surrounded by the history of astronomy in books and journals going back to the 1800s, I could easily have gotten lost for days, but we had other places to be. Steven had arranged for us to see the Crawford Collection.

I'd have been thrilled just to leaf through the first editions of Copernicus, Gallileo and Newton, but what really took my breath away were a couple of amazing medieval manuscripts. Oh yes, and the view of Edinburgh from the lecture room...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Mountains of Mourne, July 7 2010

We’re on the move again, heading back over to Scotland on our way to a couple of shows in England, and visiting some of our far-flung friends along the way. After so many years on the road, we have close friends scattered all over, and we always look for opportunities to drop in. A couple of days with Ferris and Sam, in County Down, was a relaxing, musical and scenic way to start the trip. Look at and for some of their wonderful international and early music.

Our first glimpse of the mountains, from Rathfriland, was so unexpected I snapped a picture of them through the windshield as we drove through a junction.

I didn’t know that we’d end up walking along the beach the next day, right past a monument to Percy French from whose lyrics so many of us have first heard of these beautiful mountains.

It's a gorgeous, long beach with a wide sandy strip across the top and rocky tide pools closer to the waves. We saw a family coming out of the water after a swim, which we wouldn't have thought the day was anywhere near warm enough for.

Beachcombers were more common; a couple of lines of hoof prints showed that some riders had been by that way; and, mostly, folks were walking like us, enjoying the fresh sea breeze.

The sand was littered with washed-up jellyfish. Most were six inches across or less, but a couple were much larger.

"Oh Mary, this London's a wonderful sight,
With people here working by day and by night.
They don't sow potatoes nor barley nor wheat
But there's gangs of them diggin' for gold in the street."

"At least, when I asked them that's what I was told
So I just took a hand at this diggin' for gold;
But for all that I've found there, I might as well be
Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea."

Monday, June 7, 2010


Late last July, after I flew back to the States, Mike went to a Sharon Shannon show ­– part of a festival down on the coast in Co.Wexford. When he phoned the next day, I heard very little about the performance, but all about an injured stray kitten he found in the car park during the concert. He’d have brought it home if we didn’t live such a transient life, but we do, and there’s no point taking in animals that you won’t be there to take care of. After a bit of asking around, he was directed across the street to Mona’s house– the unofficial sanctuary for homeless cats in Carrig-on-Bannow.

(July 27, 2009) ^

So little “Mikeen” found a new home. The injury turned out to be just some sort of sprain or strain, and he recovered quickly. Mona sent us pictures of the little guy and kept in touch. The months have passed and he’s now a grown-up respectable cat. Which is not really much different, is it?

(March, 2010):

Now we’re back in Ireland, we went for a visit. Mikeen was shy, and wouldn’t come see us (Mona got him in the house for about 2 seconds by bringing his food dish into the kitchen), but we did get introduced to kittens from two different litters that she’s pretty sure he’s responsible for.

Mona calls these our grandchildren. Hmm...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Day in Ireland, May 23 2010

My main job since we got back to Ireland has been clearing weeds. I haven't even gotten to the back yet, but I did go around to take this picture of the back of the house with its one new chimney.

This was hardly a typical day in Ireland (it didn’t rain at all) and when it’s like this it’s hard to resist taking loads of pictures. So I thought I’d turn some of the pictures into sort of a photo journal, to share a little of our life here with those of you who haven’t been to see it for yourselves.

Here’s the machine. It’s heavy, so I wear a harness to support it – which makes it easier to handle than the little electric one I have in the States - and protective gear to try to work safe. Not enough, as it turned out, but I’m not sure what you can wear that’ll protect you from getting splattered by giant hogweed. (sigh) I’m using LOTS of aloe on the burns, so I hope the scars will fade eventually. The one on my arm from last year is almost gone. Won’t be whacking any more of that now we know what it is.

Got most of the way down to the little strip of garden along the bottom edge of the yard; the rest needs doing by hand, which means it may be awhile! I’m usually ruthless with the weeds in the orchard, but one little clump of flowers was spared this time. It was the forget-me-nots that got me; it’s been years since I’ve been in Anchorage at the right time of year to see them, so I’ve kept this little patch of Alaska in Ireland. The buttercups sort of spoil the Alaska effect, but they’re pretty, too.

Went around to see how Mike was doing with his roof repairs (our canvas carport blew off its moorings while we were away, and punched several holes through the slate roof). The problem with having so much work to do on every front is that you never get to just be an observer. There’s always some way a second person could be helping, even if it’s only weighing down the bottom of the ladder to stabilize it.

Eventually I got back to cleaning the brushcutter, and Mike finished the roof, and there really wasn’t enough of the day left to get stuck into more big jobs… but there was enough sun left to get out the loungers and take advantage of some of the mowing Mike did earlier. He even had the foresight to freeze some orange juice for the occasion.

Just in case there’s any doubt about Mike having earned that ice lolly, let me show you a couple of photos of our house for comparison. One’s from a couple of years ago and one’s now:

To cap off a great day, we went out to two sessions in the evening – an early one that turned out to be just us and a couple of good friends we enjoy playing with, and then one that was a good crowd of local players.

It was another late night, and a good time was had by all.

Visit our farmhouse restoration pages to see the big story that this little vignette fits into.