It has been the week of haves and have-nots. Either you have electricity of you don't. Although the woes continue, I can't help but notice something remarkable. We have all come to play in the sandbox together. Furthermore, we are sharing our toys. Where normally, we would share a friendly wave with our neighbors and then get on with our busy lives, today I spent time really talking with my neighbors. For some strange reason that I wish someone would explain to me, the absence of technology has slowed done our pace. People don't seem to be in a rush to walk back into their houses or get back to their schedule. It was really nice to go beyond the usual pleasantries and really hear their stories. It's nice to share with one another, what is needed to get through Irene's leftovers.. Sharing basics like water, board games and ice may be the key to creating a real community. Since suburban sprawl began and we started to drive everywhere to get our commodities, we have forgotten how to reach out to the ones nearby. If we need it, we quickly get in the car and get it. Imagine a world where fuel begins to dry up or becomes cost prohibitive. It wouldn't be very different from the lack of energy we are experiencing at the moment from the hurricane. We would share our gardens, our tools, and put our heads together to make things work. We would grab a squash out each others garden and in turn, bring over some muffins to say thank you. We would build a fire and talk around it to pass the time. Our home is one of the few that retained it's electricity after Irene. While grateful that I can flush a toilet without a workout plan, I feel like we have missed out on this experience. For us, there was no fun with flashlights for the kids. No board games. No love affair with a can opener. I still have to make dinner because my oven and stove works. I wish they didn't. My old house was built in 1741, it's practically begging for candlelight. The moral of the story here is to watch what you wish for. You'll look back on the "hard" times and realize they had some distinct qualities that truly made these times better. There are perks, just no coffee.
A muddy Wasdworth falls at the end of the storm.
The orchard seemed to dodge the bullet despite a few fallen trees.
Thank goodness the great tree at Lyman's survived.
Irene behaved like a gentle giant in Middlefield as most of us came out somewhat unscathed. The kids looked out the windows unimpressed. No cows or roofs passed us by during the height of the storm. The animals paced, but even they were still able to catch a few z's. The historian in me begged to go out into the thick of the storm and photograph it, but I didn't want to become a news story. I worried about the orchard above us as I have come to rely on it to nourish my camera with lovely photos. Luckily, I saw only one felled tree and the apples seemed to be holding on for dear life. After years of everyone mocking our old house, she proved to be made of steel and not timber. Not a creek was made or a leak was dripped. The huge maple in the back yard, although battered kept herself contained. Perhaps after hundreds of years years, the tree had decided it's still not quite her time. For some strange reason our electricity stayed on despite homes above and below us being without. It was a lucky day and I feel for those that weren't. The folks that were battered down at the shoreline today, bring back memories of the late 90's when Chris and I were first married. We lived through a category 5 storm named Hurricane Jorges. We lived in the Caribbean Island of Saba, a tiny place inhabited by less than 1000 people. We knew of the storms approaching doom, but didn't have any of the emergency response like we have here. Back then, a hurricane wasn't something the press obsessed about. My parents panicked as the weather channel said,"thank goodness this little island called Saba is so sparsely populated, because there about to get the direct hit." The storm had winds that came at the island at 160 miles an hour for hours on end. We sat huddled in our neighbors concrete basement as deafening winds howled. You couldn't even hear each other's voices over the raucous noise of trees flying by and metal roofs crashing into the landscape. It felt much like being Dorothy, but rather than being in the spinning house, the world spun around us. We came out of our concrete cave to see devastation like you wouldn't believe. Not a piece of vegetation remained on the normally lush tropical island. The tiny airport fell into the sea. We had no food delivered for almost two weeks because there was no longer a pier. To add to the confusion, we had no cell phones or land lines so we couldn't communicate for days with the mainland. We lived simply before the storm, but after we practically became primitive. All meals came from a can for weeks on end and electricity was not restored for more than 40 days. Chris studied by candlelight for weeks. Showers were taken outdoors with a bucket and to get water for a toilet, we had to hoof it 400 feet to a cistern down steep steps only to turn around and lug it back up. Even the Carib was warm. From this, I learned never to take anything for granted. We realized you can be really happy with very little. As services slowly came back, it became clear that life didn't need to be complicated. No one needs water to come pouring out of a spout in the refrigerator. No one needs a shower head that does a pulsating massage. Dishwasher…not necessary when the tin can can do double duty as a plate. No one even really needs a phone if you think about it. Since then, the only luxury I have come to truly need is the internet. But even that, I may be able to live without if I had to. So as CL and P slowly makes it's rounds, don't sweat it. This is your opportunity to play Swiss Family Robinson. Enjoy the little adventure for what it is. It will become a memory that you can tell your grandkids about and without doubt, the story will get better with time.
Gunther hides after the storm and from the last bits of wind.
Peter pilots a tricky flight in strong winds.
Gunther cat surveys the damage.
Every half hour I check the Internet waiting for Irene to rear her ugly head. After all she is looking quite ugly after she stole the last two days of my vacation as well as my husband's Ironman event. We woke up on Friday in Killarney and many many miles later, we pulled into our driveway in Connecticut. Wearily we fell into bed after midnight. Peter marveled at the fact that you could wake up in one part of the world and go to sleep across an ocean all in a day. In many ways this trip has given us so much while never letting us forget how so easily things can be taken away. The entire experience was parenthesized by a beginning marred by poor health and hospital visits and in the end, a mad rush to make it on the last plane out of Ireland for days. The good and bad are inevitably what would make our time in Ireland permanently etched into our memories. This sandwich is filled with enough nutrition for our soul that should last for much time to come. Before I even had my passport stamped at Kennedy Airport, I was longing to return to Ireland. I long for the simplicity of the place. I long for the sense of community and the warmth of it's people. I long for the maritime sky where within the frame of a photo, you can see brilliant blues and greens blended perfectly with shades of rainy grey. I long for natural beauty thats comes in 360 degree views. I have no doubt that this longing will bring me back someday and hopefully my children will remember the magic of the place. Until then, Irene lurks in the shadows of the dead calm of Connecticut and reality has once again come knocking. But this storm will pass and at the end of it's rainbow, Ireland will be calling.
Sometimes you just get the feeling it's time to go home. Last night after two weeks of eating Irish food, we skipped the pub food and finally broke down and stopped at a McDonalds to have dinner. When you begin to long for some American style chicken nuggets, you know the other side of the pond is calling. Funny thing is that when your ready to go home, you find out that there's 100 mph winds pinpointed at your airplane or it's general direction. Yesterday was let down day. We went from staying in paradise equipped with comfy beds, gorgeous views, fresh eggs and wi-fi to sleeping on lumpy beds, no internet and eating coco pops out of a tea cup. Chris has got himself a nasty cold two days before the Ironman and we made more wrong turns yesterday than a teenage boy on his first date. But to look at the bright side of things (there's always a bright side), we did get to see the cliffs of "Mohair" yesterday. The cliffs are spectacular and the visitor center is well appointed, but can someone tell me why, when you finally get to a majestic place like the Grand Canyon or a place like Moher, people tend to be cranky? Maybe it's because places like this are always tucked away at far reaches of the earth and it takes hours(and many twisty turns) to get there. Maybe it's also because of the inherent dangers of the possibility of your children falling off 1000 foot cliffs. I spent the entire time stressing out over the fact that Peter would fall of the cliff. At one point, the wall stops and the kids wanted to follow everyone beyond safe area. The European tourist seemed to stop at nothing to get in between the safety-net of my hand linked with my kid's hand. Really, whats the rush people? I'm no safety freak, but we watched a little 5 year old jumping up and down doing dance leaps and sucking on a lolly, 5 inches from the edge while her dad fiddled with his camera completely oblivious. It kinda made me want to throw up. Upon reading this, you may wonder where today's ordinary miracle is? First is that I have two kids that have not fallen off of any cliffs. Yeah! Second, because of our not so perfect day, we have come to appreciate the rest of this awesome trip for what it has been. Third… well I cant think of a third. But Chris just reminded me that we are staying in the only wing of the hotel that doesn't reek of cigarette smoke. The sun is up and today looks promising. Coco Pops for everyone! After enjoying this good nutritious breakfast, the adventure continues.
Nearing the end of our Irish venture, we hopped on board the Aran Island ferry today along with 300 Italians. It's a bit funny seeing their dark tanned skin in sharp contrast with the pale Irish we see everywhere. We went to the largest of the three islands. They were covered every inch by stone walls, so many it almost seemed laughable. One couldn't help but wonder if they built so many of these wall just because there was nothing else to do. In true Schulten fashion we rented four bikes and covered the roads and counted the many donkeys along the way. yes…today was donkey day…very few sheep to be counted. Chris kept taking in his best Eddie Murphy, "Donkey" voice. We ate digestive cookies, a keen reminder of our honeymoon bike ride through Wales 15 years ago. Here, they speak Gaelic and and knit sweaters…lots of itchy sweaters. I tried not to laugh at the Italian man wearing his Ireland shirt, Irish hat with his Aran Irish knit in hand. Throughout the day I couldn't help but feel like I was back in Saba, the small island where we spent our 2nd year of our married life. Both islands have less than 1000 inhabitants. Ocean breezes can be felt from every direction. Vegetation covers more land than roads and isolation is the main attraction. We visited a 4000 year old fort over-looking the ocean. We bellied up to the edge of cliffs and I winced as the kids teetered much closer to the edge than I would have liked them to be. The kids experienced riding a bicycle in a place more beautiful than most and I hope it's not something they would soon forget. This ends our time in Galway and yesterday I ventured out on my own into the city to say goodbye. It's a vibrant city and despite it's age it attracts the young. After the shops closed for the day the lovers came out and I found them 'snogging" shamelessly along the canals. I felt like I was eaves dropping into an indie romance movie with happy couples amidst idyllic backdrops. I do hope their romance endures as I believe ours always will with the gateway to Connamara. We'll leave this happy house with the best of memories. From caring for chickens to eating delicious, just picked peas, we felt at home here. We even had a dog that spent his day on the doorstep. We named him Bailey. We experience tea time like true Irish folks and practiced the art of relaxing. Tomorrow, were off to Killarney via the cliffs of "Mohair" but not without a true longing to return here. Hopefully, someday we will.
I find myself wanting to see more and more of the un-touristed parts of Ireland. It's very hard to do that when it is a country where the economy depends on just that. Trying to feel less like tourist, Chris signed up for a local 10k in Outeraud. Peter couldn't help himself and now he has jumped the race distance barrier from 5k's to 10k's. In 53 minutes, he pranced around fields of cows with 100 other Irish and may I say ruddy complexioned runners. Still, I find his love for running like being born again, seeing him embrace a sport like we did when we were much younger. Something just feels right about it as Kate and I watched the two boys head up to the starting line. Afterwards, we saw a square castle tower that was in pristine condition. It had everything from arrow slits for shooting invaders inside the home to a drop hatch to get rid of any unwanted visitors. I'll remember not to be an uninvited guest to that home. Because of National Heritage Day, we got to see some cool owls up close and personal. My husband thought I was trying to pick up the handler who looked a lot like Hugh Jackman, but really it was the owl's eyes I would have rather gazed into. Feeling much more like my normal self, yet unable to really exercise yet, I am antsy to move and explore. I dragged Chris into a local hiking route. We walked for 40 minutes and came to a fishing pond and we both looked at each other unimpressed. The wow moment came as we walked off the main paths into a a patch of towering pines. They looked like sharpened pencils standing tall reaching for the sky. But what made them distinctly beautiful and even more distinctly Irish were the millions of clover or shall I saw shamrocks that carpeted the floor of the forest. They grew on top of squishy moss and if gave one the impression of walking on green clouds. It was surreal and mystical and I half expected fairies and gnomes to come from behead the trees. The pictures would be some of my favorites thus far on this trip. It's a good thing not a peep is said about this secret place in the books as it just wouldn't have the same appeal if thousands of people traipsed through this perfection. After returning home, I hadn't had enough so I decided to walk and visit the horses on the other side of the river from the cottage. I felt like an Irish lassy. Filling up a bag full of tree fallen apples, I ventured into the rocky and marsh filled countryside. While it is all charming on the surface, truth is I fell 100 times into the marsh, got covered in prickers and burrs and came back absolutely filthy. It also turns out that the somewhat wild horses don't really seem to like apples. But when I came home and went to bed last night I felt like I lived in Ireland. I think I had some true Irish experiences, not concocted out of a tourist book. They were the type of moments where I felt like a kid again and not an almost 40 care-taking mom of two. Despite 40 looming in just three weeks I am glad to admit that everything seems right on track, even if I have to hide my grey hair with Miss Clarol. This adventure seems to just be getting exciting.
Leaving early, iconic Connamara lay ahead. Looking at the map made me car sick. A wiggle on the map line means trouble for our back seat cherubs. Off we went looking for sunshine and vistas that would please. On glance, Ireland is missing one thing that England seems to be full of… castles. Rather, the space here is filled with a far less ostentatious show of wealth. The wealth here is displayed by a scene so pure and unabated that it is worth more than gold. When one says there is gold in Ireland at the end of the rainbow, you can expect to find riches in hues of color and gentle slopes that ooze tranquility. So to capture this bit of gold, the family pushed towards the westernmost part Ireland in our little Hundai. With every curve, one would shout out "sheep". On the next, another spot, "ruins". Then like spotting sumac in the landscape at home, one of the intrepid travelers would shout out "Peat". It would parlay into a song, "Ruins and Sheep and Peat, Oh My". Miles would tick by with stops every 10 minutes to get out and appreciate taking the less route less traveled. We would find white sand beaches beyond the fields of yellow and purple. Chris's desire to jump in the frigid water was quickly put to rest when he realized he had forgotten his swim suit. Peter, disappointed that his dad wouldn't go in his underwear, shook his head at his father and said, "Dad their are 7 billion people in this world and only six people other than us on this beach. If only six people think your a weirdo for swimming in your underwear, then most of the rest of the world will still think your cool." Peter was right. But after wading in, and feeling the entire lower extremities go numb, the inviting water had seemed to change it's tune. We collected some shells and moved on. Every time we would near a marina with boats tilted on their side, the kids would scream for dad to keep driving despite my begs to stop for photo opportunities. Even the quaint small villages that would come every 15 minutes would blend into one another. We would taunt the kids by suggesting yet another stop into a store to look at Irish knits, despite the reality of how itchy a garment they tend to be. The massive candy counters in the news agent stores would continue to lure them despite their calls to get back to the cottage. They kids would learn later, that we could have taken a route that would have taken us back to the cottage in 1 1/2 hours rather than 3. Peter rolled in fetal position after thousands of curves at 50 mph would just grunt. Kate would quietly accept the fate her parents have dealt. In reality, along the way, we had had countless laughs at the expense of cows, strange road signs and as usual, each other. Here is to today's road trip being tomorrow's story.
A constant sheet of rain covered the emerald isle yesterday. We sat in the stone cottage watching movies. In a quick venture out, we found an outdoor market and found everything we needed for dinner. If felt similar to our small farmer's market in Durham with vendors that were distinctly more European. A french baker and an Irish guy making italian specialties had us filled up in no time. The down day was welcomed after our traipsing around Galway the day before. Galway is a city designed for walking. Small roads feel just right for human feet or perhaps a horse to cover its scenic roads. The city is surrounded by water at every turn as rivers seem to flow through it's every vein. Hundreds of small stores the size of a pantry meander down the curvy street giving the city a distinct European flair. Cafes are everywhere and so are the fish and chips, apparently the best in Ireland. The bay is a photographer's paradise. The mud flats at low tide make the boats tilt, creating a near perfect still life. As I slugged through the mud, Peter revved up his whine barely understanding why mom would want to take photos of boats with their paint peeling off. My only agreement with him was that perhaps this photo was taken too many times. But in Galway, this is a must for any lover of photography. It is even more of a must for photographers that appreciate colorful HDR style photography. So the kids sit up on the bank looking bored while I muck through seaweed and brown slime. A rat scurries by and I know I am down to the elements. Finally a seascape rather than a cow and my camera exhales some relief. The rule of thirds is easily obtainable here. The colorful houses are the backdrop, followed by the dark water then by the rustic old boats in the forefront. It is the ideal photograph and i understand why this photo has been taken before. I finally walk away much to the joy of my kids. Another photo checked off my bucket list. My hard drive will rejoice. Today's miracle would come in the fact that I actually stood on the shores of Galway Bay, a place you could only dream of seeing one day. Thanks to my lucky Irish, that day has arrived.
As I sit editing photos in the stone irish cottage in Moycullen, I hear squawks coming from the chicken coop followed by the squawk of my son. Through the muffle of the walls and windows, I can hear the stress in his voice. I quickly dress and run outside to find Kate with tears in her eyes and Peter running in circles trying to chase a family of young chickens back into the cage. Jimmy, the owner of the home had said one word of warning as he smiled his friendly smile and left the house, "Now, yer don't let the young chickens out, whit-ever you do, ya 'all wish ya hadn't". I now understood what he was saying in clear English. Dear Kate had forgotten to latch the gate and now we had a job to do. A hillside garden shaped in a maze of perennials lay beyond the big coop. The chickens were acting…like chickens. When Peter would dodge at them left, they would shoot back to the right stirring up chaos and clucking. The kids would dive at them in vain as I tried also in vain to protect the delicate perennials all around. The last thing I was going to do was lose my deposit over a bunch of lost chickens. I thought to just let them be and wander back into the coop on their own which would have probably been a brilliant idea. Rather, the adventure awaited and the three of us readied ourselves like the crochunter; we were ready to wrangle. Now chickens aren't highly unusual in Middlefield, where we come from. This however, would be our first foray into chicken stewardship even if it was only for a week. Peter had assumed ownership and after practice at being a Templar night only two days before, he felt the need to protect. One dive after another, we came up empty handed. They are fast little buggers. Knees dirtied we begin to strategize. We had come to realize that the little chicks just followed the mamma hen. The three of us flanked the mama, trying to give her no hole out, keeping her pointed towards the coop. We inched forward making no abrupt movements. After thirty minutes she stepped back into her coop looking even more relieved than us as her little ones followed suit. Kate having learned her lesson, slapped the door shut. We all sat down in front of the coop and cracked up laughing as the kids noted that this was the best part of the trip so far. The little cottage would bring us much joy in our first 2 days here. The kids would spend a good part of the day playing in the coop. I would take out a bicycle and slowly examine the countryside stopping to say hello to some horses. They would eat hand-fed daises and then line up for more. We would eat hundreds of fresh peas and then send of their skins down the stream in little races. The first to the rapids would be the grand winner, any that make it past that would just be lucky. The stream is about 12 feet wide and circles the property and has been a contestant source of entertainment. The fish jump freely throughout. Across the stream, a large expanse of land with a giant hill exactly as you imagine an Irish hill to look like, spreads as far as the eye can see. Just past sunset last night, we sat eating dinner, enjoying fresh peas and cabbage from the garden. An expletive runs out of my mouth when I see what looks like a herd of wild horses come pounding into the open field just across us. Instinctually, I run for my camera realizing their is no light, but not caring. Reality sinks in that this is just a show that we must hold inside our memories, not flash photography allowed. The horses linger for an hour. Two foals prance and jump while a larger male rears on it's hind legs showing who's boss. We gaze in wonder at how beautiful it is. It is surreal as the moon comes up and we watch until the horses become shadows in the landscape. This is all part of a busy day that we visited Galway, but that's another story for another day.
Skipping back a few days, I'll admit that I did see Dublin for forty minutes. Upon coming home from St Vincent's, Chris couldn't hold me back from the doctor's orders to stay put. I was so doped up on morphine and such, that I was feeling no pain. "Why not check things out", I thought. He rolled his eyes and I ventured off. I was limited to the tourist area of Dublin around Temple Bar. The Harp brigade was a good starting point and slowly, I walked along the Liffey. I wasn't a half mile before I realized that this wasn't the best of ideas, but my pigheadedness kept me moving along. Even though Dublin has some similar "Name Brand" stores to the US, they tend to make them blend in well. Now, after driving through many towns through Ireland, I have come to understand what Americans are starving for. While the family sat at the bustling hilltop town of Westport yesterday, we couldn't help but think about how America has gotten it all wrong. Every store in town was a "mom and pop". Each storefront was unique, reflecting the personality of each merchant. There was something for everyone…a butcher, a candy store, a angler's store, a bread store, a bookseller, pubs galore. No predictable aisle where you knew exactly where the marshmallows or laundry detergent would be. Each threshold promised an short adventure in shopping, one where you had no idea what lay ahead. Their products reflect the proprietor's choices and ultimately, their personalities. These personalities create a town picture that is distinct and memorable. It's this adventure that makes one feel like they are part of a community. We have been forced into the uniformity by our own cheapness, something that Americans never wish to admit to. If there is something I have learned from this trip, I would rather pay a few extra cents for ultimate sense of community, rather than getting," always the lowest price...always" . As Dublin struggles for is own distinction among stores like Claire's and Burger King, the cobbled streets beg to differ and smaller stores are strewn about. Molly Malone's statue stands as a reminder of Ireland's market roots. The men come up to shine her brass bosoms and pose for a photo as kids climb onto her trolly. I find something far more interesting out of the corner of my eye in a street artist. Truly feeling my condition, I sit while he works and we strike up a conversation. He is an Irishman out of work making the best of his poetry. He is friendly and scores of people snap photos around his work. He thanks me for asking permission, something that rarely happens to him apparently. It feels like being in the Village in New York City talking to someone you would rarely have the opportunity to converse with. Meeting people like this satisfy my need to step out of my daily comfort zone, yet for some reason, I feel very much at ease. As the kidney throbs, it's clear that it is time to get back; surgery was only hours ago. It was a brief walk, but with it came some nice insight for someone far from home. I do hope the youth of Ireland see the treasure in their traditions and look warily upon achieving the American way. Sometimes things are best kept the way they are.