At Long Last, Ireland (Pt 1)

View from the Raphoe Bedroom

Our Daily Ireland View

I meant to blog about our trip in it’s entirety sooner, but to be honest it’s taken me a week to decompress and collect my many, many thoughts about Ireland.

The Plan

The trip was a fluke – we hadn’t intended to go!  If you’d told me a year ago that my family would be spending 3 weeks in Ireland, I’d have said you were full of blarney.

But that’s just what we did.

As many of you know, I’ll be teaching in Stirling, Scotland in August at the British Yarn Knit Camp and thought it might be nice to find a home share situation so I could take the family.

The Raphoe Kitchen

Our Irish Kitchen

I registered our home with Home Link, and got a few nibbles, but none from Scotland or Northern England.  In all honesty I have to admit I didn’t think St. Paul – as wonderful as it is – would be a huge draw…

I did, though, get a lovely phone call from a woman in Ireland whose son was to graduate from law school in the Twin Cities, and wondered if we’d like to do a swap.

After a family meeting, a pooling of our resources (frequent flier miles) and the decision that by saving a bit each month we’d have enough for the trip (9 months away) we said YES and started planning.

Class at This Is Knit

This Is Knit! Class

Our reasoning was that life hands you opportunities sometimes, and you should grab them.

As Auntie Mame says, “Live! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

And – not to put too fine a point on it – since we have a full understanding of the finite nature of LIFE Chez Landy, it seemed absurd to turn down such an amazing opportunity.

The Voyage

The Famine Sculpture & Max

Max at The Famine Sculpture

Because of the distribution of our frequent flier miles, we traveled in two groups, Gerry & Hannah on US Air, Max and I on Delta.  Reviews of both airlines were mixed, but it looks like Max and I had the more pleasant flight.

Arriving in Dublin we headed to the short-stay apartment we’d rented for 2 nights so I could teach at This Is Knit (a WONDERFUL yarn shop) and the family could sight see. Unfortunately Han & Gerry had a hard time getting over their flight (they may have picked up a cold or something)



So Max and I did most of the walking and exploring. We walked all over the city center, up and down the Liffey, and had a magnificent time riding the light rail.

But the most delicious memory of my first day in Ireland?  The  gluten free chocolate muffins I found at Marks & Spencer.  Light, moist, chocolaty – I wish I could find similar ones here!

My love affair with M&S had started, there was no turning back…

The Troubles

More Bedroom Window Views

Our View

The low point of our trip – and it was the lowest point, the trip only got better from there – was the theft incident.

I’ll leave that as I covered it at the time in blog posts, but it left us rather bereft and happy to head north on our hard-won bus tickets, clutching our last 2 euros tightly.

In the scheme of life, it was money.  Just money.  And the hardest to replace physical items, our passports, were not taken.  Huzzah!


In Raphoe [ra-FOE], which is in County Donegal [daw-ne-GALL], we discovered our haven. Our host family’s Manse (for that’s what it was called, seriously) was huge and beautiful.

Peat Briquettes

Mmmm, peaty!

And full of Irish detail we hadn’t expected (peat briquettes, anyone?)

We soon sorted out our financial worries with the help of American Express and Gerry’s mom, the host family even left us a small loan that we didn’t have to use (yay and THANK YOU!)

County Sligo

Sligo Snail

The morning that our host family headed off to our tiny-but-lovely Minnesota house I took the car out for a very early morning spin on Irish roads.

I wanted to get used to

  • A) The stick shift on the Right side
  • B) The steering wheel on the Left side
  • C) The traffic on the Right side
  • D) The narrow roads that seemed to have neither Left nor Right side.

And for good measure I pulled into a parking lot and practiced my parallel parking and use of the reverse gear.  I felt oddly at ease, and did quite well with it.

Dunluce Castle

Semi Circle at Dunluce

Gerry never seemed to have the same ease with the shift or the road oddness, so I did most of the driving (to the relief of the kids.)


Halfway throug our trip Max announced that he wants to grow up to design and build a museum of circles.  All kinds of circles; architectural, artistic, natural, cosmic – just circles.

Beltane Stone Circle in Raphoe

Beltane Morning

I was struck by that as so much of Ireland tends to revolve  around (no pun intended) circles.

My first circle adventure was a solitary trip to the Beltane Stone Circle in Raphoe.  It was on the morning of my getting-to-know-the-Peugeot wild ride, and the long walk up to the circle was a perfect nerve-calmer.

It was a foggy morning, I couldn’t see very far, but I could see far enough to avoid the many sheep droppings surrounding the prehistoric site.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but yes – I did have my “Outlander” moment when I desperately wanted to hear some of the stones buzzing.  No such luck.

But sitting quietly on one of the stones as the sun rose was a bit of a time-travel experience in itself. Everywhere we turned we found circles.

Here are the kids experiencing an amazing kid’s playground in Moville (where the kids and I went sea kayaking – more about that later!)


Speaking of travel, here is a  word about Irish Roads.  Everyone we met told me that driving in Donegal would be the hardest driving I’d ever do in my life.

Evidently these folks hadn’t driven in Scotland, West Virginia, or the rest of Ireland.

Minis on Parade

A School of Minis

Donegal was no harder driving than many other places that I’ve been (although I must say that Ulster was a teeny bit easier going.)

All over Ireland there are roads that are hardly wide enough for one small car – and in those cases you drive carefully and look for a wide space where you can let oncoming traffic pass.

The curves and mountains were no more daunting than tooling around Beckley or Ripley, WV, and the hedgerows (my own personal bete noir) were no thicker than in Scotland. But driving in Donegal – in all of Ireland – does take a certain nerve.

It’s like driving in snow.  You can learn it, but nothing takes the place of growing up with it and watching your parents deal with it. I don’t know if I’ll ever be as good as a native Irish driver, but I pride myself that I’m as good as any Yank driving in Ireland. 

I zipped my camera into my hoodie to take this driving moving from Letterkenny to Raphoe, then I forgot all about it.  The sigh of relief when I come to a stop says it all…


Gerry Works

Gerry Stays Home

But we were in Ireland to SEE the country, not to lay about watching The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle (both on Sky TV) and Black Adder (on videotape, now our kids are fans, too!)

Glenveagh National Park

Territorial Swaledale Sheep

So while Gerry finished up his two online classes at St. Paul College, the kids and I explored. I saw, Glenveagh National Park on a map and thought, “Oh, trees – a park – a castle!”

BOY was I wrong!

Park? check. Castle? check. Trees? Not so much.

In the course of our stay in Ireland we passed through the Glenveagh area about 5 times, each time it looked less daunting, more beautiful, less frightening.  I began to fall in love with the spare and dramatic landscape.

But that first day, driving alone with the kids to what I thought was going to be a green parkland and entering a very forbidding and dramatic lunar landscape (with goats) was – well – terrifying.  It was rainy and overcast, it was cold.

The fact that a Shostakovitch disk left in the CD player started up then just added to the overall effect.

The kids and I were fascinated and creeped out in equal measures.  Thus is the effect of music on an adventure.

And I got totally lost and couldn’t find the castle, which was no surprise given my shaky mental state at that time.

Glenveagh National Park

Jaysus On A Stick

We stopped the car at one point and I took a video of the barren, windy, desperate landscape, ending with a shot of an unidentified something attached to a post.

What was it?  A statue of Jesus – he definitely had his worked cut out for him.

I felt oddly comforted. Not only had folks been here before, they’d attached a statue to a post.

…and, I must admit, seeing anything on a stick puts me in mind of the Minnesota State Fair.

Next Post: More Ireland traveling with the WHOLE family!

Sending Up A Flare

I’ve meant to write about Ireland for a few days now, but finishing up a new design AND a sudden Fibro Flare-up have shut me up for a few days.

Not always a bad thing, some might say…

It’s so weird to have the fibro sneak in when I least expect it.  I had a few days in Ireland of a flare up, but it passed quickly and most of my time there was simply dedicated to experiencing such an amazing country.

I have been trying to watch my diet, to get in as much walking and biking as I can, because that’s been a help with the fibro, however I realized today (as my shoulders started aching and my throat became sore) that I’d skipped my vitamin D for at least 3 days, and BOY am I feeling those effects.

Not the nicest way to confirm how helpful the Vit D3’s been, but it’s a DEFINITE confirmation!  It has seriously been like a miracle drug for me.


I’m finishing up a small accessory crochet piece for Interweave (I’m having a hard time making the working up of it as elegant and fun as I’d like, I don’t like the patterns to feel too kludgy & overworked) but what I have REALLY spent a lot of time on in the past few weeks is my first piece for Twist Collective.

I’m SO excited!  I love the whole idea of Twist Collective, love that they (along with Ravelry and Pattern Fish and Interweave) offer designers a much more fair percentage than the 10% Soho Press (Vogue) seems to fee is appropriate for online pattern sales.  I credit TC (along with my own beloved Stitch Cooperative) with creating a new sense of empowerment among designers – empowerment is GOOD.

Colrain Knits Like Buttah

The cardigan I’m working up for TC is done in Valley Yarns Colrain, which is an absolute DREAM to knit with!  I meant to get a lot of it done in Ireland, but I ended up driving more than I’d expected, so most of the knitting took place on the plane and back home in my knitting chair.  Body comfort definitely affects knitting speed.

It’s a simple design, a slouchy kind of pull-it-on cardigan, but I think it will be appealing and it’s DEFINITELY fun to work up. 

Plus it has a cool belt, but that’s all I can say – you’ll have to wait until August to see the entire kielbasa…


The Emerald Isle, the trip of a lifetime for my family, deserves an entire blog post (or five) of it’s own.  And my shoulders are killing me.  So while I rest up and allow the vitamin D3 to work it’s magic, please feel free to check out all the pictures from my Flickr account from Donegal, Ulster, Dublin and all points in between!


I’m not teaching a lot in the US this year, I’m not teaching a lot at ALL, but I WILL be teaching in Columbus the first week in June!

The entire Stitch Coop will be offering some FABulous classes, with a special discount offered for those who sign up over this holiday weekend. We’re teaching at the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Columbus, and the classes are open to EVERYONE – TNNA attendees AND any knitter who’d care to come along for the ride!  Sign up this weekend for a juicy 10% discount!

Super Nanny

Max and I are home – YAY!!  Today Gerry and Hannah arrive (I messed up when I booked the flights, entirely my own fault) but this arriving on different days is kind of cool, too!

Max Studies over the Atlantic

I’ve realized over this trip that traveling with the 4 of us can be like herding cats.  In traveling energy, Max and I are similar while Gerry and Hannah are two peas in a pod.

A very slowly moving pod.

Max and I get up early, travel quickly, and plan ahead.  Hannah and Gerry tend to want to sleep in, stroll, and let things take them by surprise.

These are two VERY different energies that can clash in an enforced high-pressure setting like international travel.  Thus, although I didn’t consciously plan it this way, it’s probably VERY good that our travel was divided in this manner.


Why am I starting with the worst?  Because it’s like a spicy appetizer to a VERY satisfying meal.  Tomorrow I’ll write all about the BEST stuff we did, but today is catharsis…

Family Biking at Phoenix Park

Biking in Phoenix Park

In some ways Dublin was the BEST of our trip (This Is Knit, The Book of Kells, biking in Phoenix Park – all AMAZING memories!)

And in other ways Dublin was the absolute pits.

Having lived in New York for 20 years, I understand the dynamic of a large city, how cramming so many folks into a limited space ratchets up the tension a few notches.

Each large city – no matter how wonderful – has it’s own flavor with a slightly sour after taste.  To me, NY feels brusque, LA feels self absorbed, London feels a bit patronizing and Dublin feels like an inefficient-but-controlling nanny constantly telling one that they’re being naughty.

Nice Cockles

Naughty tourists.

Most of the negative interactions we had in Dublin revolved around us misunderstanding what someone in authority wanted us to do, and thus our inability to walk the invisible line they’d drawn.  See my post yesterday about the Nanny Hotel experience.

The wallet loss aside (which could have happened ANYWHERE) there seemed to be an almost – delight? – when our family was confused or had a hard time understanding something, and thus had to be admonished.

There was a, “Well, that is what happens to naughty children who don’t follow the rules…” attitude in Dublin, which we hadn’t run into at ALL in the rest of Ireland.

I’m sure it springs from the huge number of tourists who come through, and the Dubliner’s exhaustion with dealing with them.

An example was when we visited the National Museum.  We’d looked forward to this, there were exhibits that interested EACH of us, and after seeing the book of Kells we wandered through Georgian Dublin over to the Museum.

National Museum of Ireland, Front Door

As you walk in the building you’re overwhelmed with the architectural detail – the carving, the tile work, the interior of the entry dome, it’s all AMAZING!  I love architectural detail, I take photos of parts of buildings all the time and spent a few minutes outside photographing the front doors before walking in.

What I didn’t see was the hidden image of a camera with a line through it which was etched into a glass wall (seriously, it was HIDDEN behind a door.) No photography.

Now, I would NEVER photograph an exhibit unless I had permission or knew that it was allowed.  I wasn’t in the exhibition area, I was in the gift shop area.  What I was interested in photographing was the tile in the floor.  But if no cameras are allowed, I totally understand and I’m happy to put the canon away.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see the sign.  No one did.  NO ONE.

So when I pulled out my camera to photograph, I was yelled at.

“NO CAMERAS!” Very harsh, like the Soup Nazi.  SO I put it away.

But the fellow who’d yelled had to come over and say,  condescendingly, “You cannot take photographs in the museum, you have to put your camera away.” (it was away)

But he wouldn’t stop.  I don’t know if he was making an example of me in front of the other visitors, or if it just made him feel good, but he walked over to the “no camera” etching (which was only visible once you were INSIDE the museum looking back out through the front door) and said, “The sign is right here, there is NO photography.”

Thanks.  No pics.  I get it.

Once through the entry foyer we did what we usually do at museums; separated to view what interests each of us most with a ‘meet up time’ set about an hour later.

Now, I swear it was NOT my paranoid take on things, but I am positive that there was one guard who was trailing me to make sure I didn’t whip out the camera and sneak a black market pic of a stair railing.  I’d go upstairs, there he was.  I went downstairs, there he was.  I watched a video, he was outside the theater when I left.  I went to the cafe to meet the family and get a bite, he was right behind me.  Very odd.  I hope he had a good time – I know I did!

One of my favorite places to eat are museum cafes.  Often the food is just wonderful, and it’s usually not terribly expensive.  This cafe was strong on the great dishes, but the prices were higher than I’d expected.

They weren’t listed on the items, they were posted clearly on the wall by the cash register, but I found it hard to match the long descriptions of the dishes with the written text.  Let’s face it, reading a menu board, especially at a oblique angle, is NO ONE’s favorite thing to do.

So I was totally unprepared that an entree for me, a few cookies and tea for 4 would total €36.  We put back the cellophane wrapped cookies (much to the disgust of the woman at the counter) bringing my chicken roullade and tea for 4 to €24.  Looking at the receipt I saw we were charged for something we didn’t order, which further PO’d the cashier when we pointed it out (she looked at us as if we’d just made a big mess in her cafe – “Naughty, naughty Americans…”)

However, the museum was AMAZING.  We could have spent days there.  The cases themselves were not labeled extensively, but there was very good text along each exhibit and the arrangements were very good.  I saw a WONDERFUL video episode from a series called “Legacy” (which I would LOVE to find and purchase!) and seeing the bog people close up was an experience no one in the family will forget.  Amazing.

I also saw a knit beret-type hat with a flat brim that had been found in a bog, dated to the 16th C.  It was definitely knit in the round.  Food for thought.

As we finished up at the museum and started to leave,  I asked one of the gift shop cashiers about the video,

“Hi – I have a question; the video I saw about Vikings, would —“
– [clipped & short, interrupting] “‘S’not available.  Don’t have it.”
– Okay.  Thanks very much.  Sorry I bothered you…

Can You Spot The Duck?

Just then Max looked up and saw a DUCK sitting on the glass in the oculus of the dome  and asked the guard if it would be okay if he took a picture of it.

Happily, the guard said, “Yes” so the kids snapped a few shots of the duck

(And in the process the kids got a nice shot of the ceiling for me, too!  A nice companion to a ceiling at Aughnanure Castle)

Ceiling at Aughnanure Castle

Unhappily, some other visitors saw Max with his camera, so they took theirs out, and were  swiftly deterred with a strong and snappish, “NO CAMERAS!”

Naughty tourists.

The duck was not admonished.

Quickly from Killarny

We decided to take a few days in our last week and drive down to Southern Ireland to see some of the sites we didn’t want to miss.  High on our list was Newgrange, the cliffs of Moher and Coole Park (that was for me, the Shavian in the family)

Day 1 Driving

Day 2, MORE Driving

The hotels we found were splendid, but I did a bad job of matching hotel to where we ended each day, so an additional 2 hours of driving was added to each day for no good reason.  Live and learn…

Our car rule is that if anyone sees something they MUST stop and photograph or see more fully, we stop.

There’s no set limit of stops, but I (as the driver) have the final say.  We stopped a LOT yesterday, and each one was wonderful!

Here we are by the road, photographed by a lovely woman from Upstate NY we ran into!

Twee, twee, twee!

Our time up North has been GLORIOUS! If I’d had any qualms about being bored, or not having enough to see and do, they’ve been completely dispelled! Every place we’ve visited (and I will write about them fully when I have better wifi) has been interesting and fun and worth the effort.

The one place we traveled to that was less than impressive was the Folk & Transit museum in Belfast.  Perhaps it was the long distance we’d driven combined with the high entrance fee, but the displays seemed rather lackluster and the aerospace exhibits were, sadly, mostly broken or not working.

The folk museum part was lovely, but most of the stores were closed, most destinations were deserted.  This was on a Sunday (I figured on a weekend more would be open) but the few folks we met who worked at the park were wonderful!  I just wish there were more of them, and more shops / venues open that we could have visited.

Having said this negative stuff, we had perhaps the most memorable evening of our visit at the folk park when we wandered into a small farm homestead and visited with 3 goats, 2 chickens, a pig, 2 horses and a bunch of chicks – and a CAT – for a very enjoyable few hours.  We brought our tea and sat and had it amongst the animals – no humans around at ALL.

More later – the family is gearing up for a full Irish breakfast before we head off again.  Life is good!

New Methods

The best part of this trip, in many aspects, is the way that it compels us to look at how we – as a family AND as Americans – use resources.  Our host family is circumspect in their carbon footprint, and although I never thought of our family as profligate, I realize now how much extra energy we DO use, and how wasteful we have been.

Will we be able to carry some of the knowledge back to our home in St. Paul?  We’ll try.  I plan – at least during the warmer months – to dry some of our clothes outside.  I’m pampered enough to want to continue drying the close-to-the-body items in our nice dryer (making them soft and lovely) but there’s no reason we can’t dry all other things on a line, and our back deck would be the perfect place to do it.

We’ve been economizing in other ways here – partly due to our own natural frugality, but mostly due to our limited funds.  For the past two days our forays out into wider Ireland have included a home packed pic-nic lunch with a thermos each of black and cream tea.  The savings are such that we feel able to spend on things that we can take home and use and will remind us of our trip to Ireland.


I’ve come to believe that any family trip lasting more than 1 week demands at least ONE obligatory break down, usually by – but not limited to – one of the parents.  I had mine yesterday.  It wasn’t big, it took all of 10 minutes and happened in the front driveway, in our car, as we were pulling out for our day.

The upshot was that I was feeling a bit little-red-hennish.  As the organizer, chaffeur (mostly), tour guide, chief cook and bottle washer of the trip, I was feeling run down AND unable to come up with more stuff for all of us to do that would engage each of us.  A tall order, even in an enchanting place like Ireland.  I needed help.

I’d been asking for weeks for Gerry and the kids to become engaged, to look up things for us to do, to explore, to plan – all to no avail.  I downloaded walking tours of Dublin, driving tours of Ireland, I’d taken out tour books & videos from the library, but I seemed to be the only one who cared.

The result was that I was putting together all of the itineraries, which spread me thin and make the days seem a bit thin, too.  It also made the rest of the family feel pushed around, disengaged, disappointed, and – at times – complaining.

So we had a summit in the driveway, and the family agreed (for Mommy’s mental health, if for no other reason) that they would become more active in the planning of our final week in Ireland.


A Couple of Irish Laddies

In the past few days we’ve done some lovely stuff, which I will write about at length tomorrow.  But suffice to say Gerry is now comfortable driving a stick shift on the opposite side of the road, too, and we visited Donegal Town, Donegal Studios, and many points between.  Yesterday was Sligo, Yeat’s gravesite, Glencar falls & Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetary.  A brilliant day.  And we bought hats for Gerry & Max, a matched set, which they share.


Today we head up to the Northern Coast, which we’ll do in two days.  We’ll hit Carrick-a-Rede (rope bridge) and Hezlett House, then swing back to Springhill (owned by an offshoot of my own Cunningham family from Ayrshire) and we’ll hope to see the ghost…  We’ll finish at Wellbrook Beetling Mill to see how Linen is made and pass by Oakview Park in our own Raphoe on the way home.

Tomorrow we’ll head to Belfast for the Transit & Folk Museum, then come home via the North Coast (again) following a driving tour by  We’ll let you know how it goes, the tours cost about £5 each, and we can play them in the car on our mp3 (we have a cord that allows us to listen to my ipod through the car speakers)

It stays light SO late here, which is lovely for vacationing.  It’s also lovely as I don’t relish driving on the very narrow rows after dark!  Gerry’s taken the wheel a few times, and it’s good to have TWO drivers.  But it’s very wearing on him, I can tell, and it takes it out of him.  When I volunteered to do the bulk of the driving yesterday he was grateful AND he fell asleep immediately, so I was definitely good that he was in the passenger seat…


The internet chez Manse is good, but slow.  It took hours to download our driving tour yesterday (which is why we didn’t TAKE that driving tour yesterday)  For that reason, it’s hard to upload the photos I’d like to put into the post, but I HAVE been adding photos to flicker as I can.  You can check my flicker page, specifically my Irish trip set, to see all that we’ve been up to!

On The Water

Five Finger Bay

You can tell when a vacation’s going well – before the trip is half done, you begin planning how long it will be before you can come back again.

Today as I walked along the ocean at Five Finger Bay I found myself dreaming of future Ireland visits, times when I might come back with the family or alone, and felt absolutely caught up in the magic of this place.

We had a pretty great day today.  Low key, we didn’t cram a lot in, but we enjoyed every bit of it.

First we went sea-kayaking, which – for me – was an absolute HIT!  Total mom-win, Hannah wasn’t quite so convinced.

4 Kayakers (I'm on the Right)

I’d contacted a company I found online called Just Kayaks (very well run by Adrian Harkin) and reserved some time for the kids to get into the water.  The drive up to Moville was rainy, but gilded with bright sunshine and the day was perfect by the time we arrived.

Can I just say, I’m getting pretty good at the narrow Irish roads, it’s so similar to driving in West Virginia that I feel an odd deja vu at times.

Max Prepares

By the time we got to the beach the kids had convinced me to go out, too.  So against my better judgement, but because I hated them to go alone, I agreed.

The hardest part of the day was getting the damned wetsuit on, the second hardest was SEEING myself in the wetsuit.  And because I like you, I will not subject you to that.

The cost for the ‘taste of kayaking’ was €36 for an hour (€12 each) of guided time for Hannah, Max and myself.

Hannah at the Helm

Gerry watched, it just would have been too much for him – and even at that he was pretty worn out by the time we returned.

Hannah did well (although she took a bit longer to get the hang of it.) At first she tensed up, but finally she was able to relax and enjoy it.

Max in the Clear Blue Sea

Max did great, although he fell out of his kayak at one point, and it terrified him.  Our guide was stellar at getting Max up, back into his kayak and calm in just minutes.

I think if we were to do this a few days in a row Hannah would become absolutely amazing!  In all honesty, I was unprepared for how much fun I would have (and how good I’d be at it!) I kept moving ahead, cutting through the waves, going much more quickly than I’d anticipated.  It was heaven!

Shoes or Knives?

Shoes or Knives?

I highly recommend Just Kayaks, and the wonderful town of Moville as well – beautiful!  When we finished the kids couldn’t resist 30 minutes at one of the nicest under-12 play parks we’d ever seen – VERY inventive and extremely fun.

Leave the stillettos at home, though, kids…

Adrian had recommended that we drive up to Malin Head, the northernmost point on the Irish mainland, and since we were just 40 minutes away and the day was beautiful we headed up.

The View from Malin Head

That was when we took the detour to five finger bay, then continued up to the point.  If it seems that I’m hesitant with words, it’s that I’m afraid most of what I say would sound trite and could not describe the beauty and drama of the scenery.

Had I been alone, I could have just sat and stared at the ocean all day.  Even better would have been staring at it from a kayak.

Gerry Gazes at Scotland

Driving is tiring.  I think it’s mostly because I need to be very alert mentally and physically to operate the stick shift (haven’t driven one of those in about 10 years) AND keep my senses alert for driving on the opposite side of the road AND keep an eagle eye for sudden appearances of autos from behind hedgerows.

Gerry’s not been 100% on this trip, it’s wearing on him.  He’s had mostly good days, but he’s also having a lot of pain and needs to rest quite a bit every day.  The driving seems to be a bit much for him, he doesn’t really want to try it, and I can’t blame him!

I’m happy to do it, but I’m also happy when we get back to the manse and pull up that curving driveway.  Then I know we’re home and I can rest my own mind for a bit.

5:30 in Raphoe

This morning I was up at 4:30am.  Heaven only knows why.  I guess my body is still readjusting to a new time, and the stresses of the trip may be catching up.

Of course, there are WORSE things than being awake to see a glorious morning over Donegal.


Yesterday we visited the Ulster Irish-American Folk Park – a wonderful recreation of life in 16th-18th C Ireland, then walk through a ship, then a recreation of life in 17th-19thC America.  It resonated with me in ways I hadn’t expected.


I don’t think of myself as Irish – partly because my mother and grandmother were insistent that we were Scots-Irish, a totally different thing (in their eyes, and I’m certain in the eyes of many)

That strong belief sprung in no small part from the religious convictions my mother’s family held (I was raised Methodist, but my mother insisted I be baptized Presbyterian. I’m STILL trying to figure that out…)

Gerry does a dead-on imitation of my mother, “NOT Irish, honey.  ScotsIrish…”

In my mother and grandmother’s minds, it seems that Irish = Catholic, and we were not Catholic.  We have more than one John Calvin Modesitt or James Calvin Modesitt in our family tree. Thus, we were – like so many others in Appalachia – Scots-Irish.

Greater minds than mine have been unable to clearly explain what I’m dancing around here.  There’s such a painful history of religious and class persecution, and as I try to explain to the kids my own understanding of it, I realize how little I can truly comprehend.  All this while driving a stick shift with my left hand and driving on the opposite side of the road.

Watch For Little People

Oh, I DO read a lot.  I try to immerse myself in different historical texts when I visit a place, but each person’s perspective can be so different based on where they stand (or their ancestors stood.) A well-intentioned comment made in ignorance might be perceived as insulting.  At least, that’s what I try to get across to the kids – who see themselves as Jewish.

Wandering the historical recreation created a few peaceful hours of introspection.  The kids had a blast with the animals (especially the chickens), the antique methods of existence and  the freedom to RUN and burn off energy in a very engaging environment.

For my part, I spent my time pondering that although my family is over 300 years removed from Ireland / Scotland / Wales, I’m only 2 generations removed from a time when spring houses were necessary to keep butter cool and if you couldn’t make do you went without.  My mother was born in 1919, her mother in 1889.  In grandma’s corner of West Virginia, in many ways it may as well have been 1789.

I spent a good deal of time in the Weaver’s hut, talking to the spinning woman (she was lovely!) and then in the American area I was unprepared for how homesick a red maple and dogwood would make me.  Dogwood always makes me think of my mom – her favorite tree – and there was on in lovely bloom yesterday next to the pig sty.

Chatting with another lovely re-creator I told her about my family history, the whole Scots Irish thing. She waved her hand and said, “Oh, same thing.  You’re Irish.”


For my entire life I’ve believed that my dad’s family name was French, but my notions are all falling away like dogwood blossoms.

Recently while digging through my family ancestry at the LDS website and, I’ve found that the Modesitts who arrived in Maryland in the late 1600’s seem to have sprung from nowhere.

Mysteriously, at around the same time a family named Mothershed can be traced from England to Maryland, all with the same first names as my Maryland ancestors.  I’ve read a theory on some of the genealogy boards that the name changed upon arrival in the New World from Mothershed to Modesitt.

The two names DO sound an awful lot alike, especially the way my family’s always pronounced it – Mod-uh-set.  Food for thought while I’m away from home.

One things for certain, we certainly LOOK like an Irish family!


Burning Peat in the Stove

As a perfect augmentation to our history lesson yesterday, the home we’re staying in is a blend of old technology and eco-friendly modern practices which are in themselves an excellent lesson for all of us.

The house has central heating, but it’s a BIG house with 19C inefficiency, so our host family heats the living room and kitchen with burning stoves.

Bread Crock & Peat

They don’t burn wood – they burn long bricks of peat wrapped in a layer of charcoal – with additional charcoal chunks tossed in when some more immediate warmth is needed.

The fires have to be de-ashed a few times a day, and if they’re not started (or revived) early in the morning we have a very cold kitchen to eat in. Peat and charcoal have to be carried in by one of the kids regularly.

The kitchen itself is divided so the refrigerator & cooktop is in one room, the sink in another, and the ‘warming stove’ in a third.  Cooking dinner is like running a relay, no microwave here! 

Thank heaven for M&S prepared dishes or we’d be spending more time than we’d like cooking, or more money than we’d like eating out!  We’re not lazy, but it IS our holiday…

Sweater Drying Above the Stove

There is a washing machine, a nice one, but our hosts use Laundry Balls instead of detergent (they kindly left some detergent for our American needs, we’re giving both methods a try…) And they have no dryer.

Clothes are washed and spun and hung above the kitchen stove, where in about 12-24 hours they’re dry and peaty-fresh.  It certainly makes one think twice about wearing a shirt only once – not a bad lesson!  We may put a laundry line on our back deck when we get home (but not inside, we lack the big old-fashioned kitchen! with room for clothes!)


Perhaps it’s like the physical sensation after taking a long, long walk, or a hard bike ride, when 30 minutes later your body kicks in and THEN you start getting hot all over and sweating.  Delayed physical response.

A Parsnip / Carrot / Potato Gratin, Homemade!

A week ago tomorrow we lost the wallet.  For all intents and purposes we’re back on our feet as far as having support here & backup in the US.

But it’s as if – physically and emotionally – the whole adventure is just catching up to me today.

When you have kids, and a husband who is counting on you to be the chief organizer, you tend to push the fear aside so you don’t unduly freak out the loved ones.  But the fear will always come back and it must be dealt with.  This morning is my dealing time.

And, to be honest, I’d rather deal with the emotional stuff now than have had one more thing to juggle at the time.  But that’s what’s got me up early, I think.

As I’ve said, folks have been SO kindthank you to all of you – but the loss of that darned wallet (and the funds therein) was huge.  [Me = dope]

I’ve decided that a small way I can thank folks who’ve helped us out is to give them one of my upcoming online knitting classes (their choice) if a donation’s been made to our ‘Robbed in Dublin’ fund.  It’s the least I can do, aside from a most heartfelt THANK  YOU!


Is anyone out there a flash guru?  Gerry’s finishing up a semester of classes through St. Paul College on computer stuff (Web 2.0 and Flash) and he’s having a DEVIL of a time getting one element of a page to work.  But upon this element his project balances.

He’s been dealing with more pain and exhaustion on this trip that we’d anticipated (the stress is getting to him, too!) and that’s clouding his ability to think clearly.

Gerry Stays Behind to Work

The past 2 days the kids and I have journeyed far and wide, enjoying our Irish holiday, while Gerry stayed here trying to make a button animation work smoothly.  I don’t understand Flash at all, but apparently when he swaps a button image it goes back to the root image and changes that, too, instead of saving a different version.

We all think differently – that’s the mantra of my classes – and I would NOT change the way Gerry thinks for anything in the world.  He has perspectives on things that I never see, and he’s clear-headed at times when I’m filled with confusion.

But the reverse is true, too, and I feel physical pain when I see him – like an toy shop wind-up doll – running into the same corner again and again and again.

He doesn’t seem to have the mechanism to back up and head for a different corner, at least not when he’s worried or in pain.  Who does? So he gets to the point where the stumbling blocks to finishing a project get bigger with every run-in with the corner, and he’s unable to see any way out of his dilemma.  It makes me think of me a few days ago when I just couldn’t figure out what to do next to reduce the agony of wallet loss.  Maybe he’s still experiencing that?

It’s so painful for me to see.  And there’s pride, too.  We all have it – me more than most – and Gerry is not usually a prideful person.  But when you feel that you’re not operating at top speed [Gerry], I think it makes it hard to get advice from someone who usually seems to skate through stuff [me], so my offers to kibbutz haven’t been met with much success.

Jaysus in Glenveagh

And, honestly, what do I know about flash?  Nothing.  It’s my OWN silly pride that makes me think I could be of any help whatsoever in this situation.

So we’re in Ireland, Gerry’s stressed and in pain, he can’t get his homework done for his project that’s due – oh, did I mention it was due today? – and I feel that I’m absolutely NO help to him at all.

In fact, I feel rather that I’m screwing up his whole semester by dragging him to Ireland, forcing him to go through the physical stress of travel, the mental stress of a new country, and the emotional stress of being robbed, just in time for him to NOT be able to finish his final assignment.

Oh, look, the sun’s up.  Time to go get some peat and think about this tomorrow.  For today, we – the family – are off to Enniskillen Castle!

Green = Euros, Pink=Sterling

Waiting For ____________

First of all, I have to start by saying THANK YOU to folks who are helping us climb out of the hole we collapsed into after the wallet theft.  I am grateful beyond words, absolutely blown away by your generosity, we’re almost back at square one, thank you!  I will write to each of you when I have time to write and I’m not standing in line at An Post all day (read on…)

Today was just a day.  There were annoying bits and wonderful bits, but mostly we felt that we were fighting against an unseen, uncaring megalithic power beyond any human control: An Post, the Irish Post Office.

Gourmet Dinner in Raphoe

At the start of the day all looked promising. We’d had an AMAZING dinner last night (soufflé) and a wonderful night’s sleep.

I contacted Amex by using skype (our phone salvation!) and arranged for them to send an emergency wire transfer via Western Union to us in Ireland.  Amex also enabled us to use our one remaining credit card for a withdrawl of funds using a pin number, and I was thrilled to be able to set all this up via skype.

The Irish post office allows folks to pick up Western Union money grams, so we were VERY hopeful as we set out for Raphoe. But when we got to the post office, there was a problem.

It went like something this:

– “Hi, I’m here to pick up some money wired to me by American Express, sending under the name ‘Merchant International’, and the money transfer code is xxxxxxxxx.”

A Couple of Bronze Chicks Sitting Around Talking

– “Oh, yes, here’s the transfer!  And your name checks out, the passport is correct, you have the proper code… But wait, there’s no name in the ‘from’ section of the transfer…  WHO actually sent you this?”

– “It was sent by American Express, under the business name, ‘Merchant International'”

– “But what’s the first name?”

– “There is no first name – it was sent by a company.  There’s no one person who sent it, just ‘Merchant International'”

– “Yes, we’re showing ‘Merchant International’ as the last name, but we need a first name before we can release the money.”


– “Try ‘American Express'”

– “No, that’s not working…”


This went on from about 1pm to after 5pm.  Conference calls were made between all parties involved, the folks at the post office were AMAZINGLY helpful, it really wasn’t their fault.  They were at the mercy of the computer application which would NOT clear the funds for release.  It was the An Post computer which would NOT allow us to pick up the money.

It was all simple logic:

If there was no ‘sender’s first name’ information, the money could not be released by the computer.  Therefore it was impossible for us to pick up our money gram.

The fact that there was NO first name provided by the sender, that the field in the form could not even be filled out, was inconsequential.

Concurrently, while Gerry was at An Post, I tried to use our Amex card in every ATM in Raphoe.  Unfortunately, none of them would take Amex.

Our hosts fed us today – beautifully on pot roast and parsnips – but they leave tomorrow morning.  They have, however, lent us enough money to get through a week or so, which is very kind and entirely NOT expected of them!  But BOY do we appreciate it!

Everyone’s been very kind (well, everyone but the guy who took the wallet and the person at An Post who programmed the damned computer to reject any wire transfers from a business to an individual.)

The view from our bedroom


Tomorrow we drive to Letterkenny to a travel agency that is supposed to be an OFFICIAL Western Union stop with a ‘free standing Western Union console’ which will – according to general consensus at the post office in Raphoe – allow the operator to override the computer and give us our money.

We’ve also asked Gerry’s family to wire us some (why didn’t we think of them before?) so that even if plan A doesn’t work, plan B should and we should have SOME funds we can use for silly things like gas and food.

This day was so full of frustration, though.  At one point I was on the skype phone with my own bank’s branch manager back in St. Paul, who was very sympathetic, but there was really nothing he could do.  We went around and around with different brainstorms, but each solution seems so convoluted and fraught with potential pitfalls (like no first name in the sender field for a money gram from American Express)

Max & The Jenny Johnston

It was slight consolation that EVERY person we spoke with at Amex, Western Union my bank, even the postal employees, thought the situation was ridiculous.  No one could even imagine how it could be that we, the recipients, could have all our documentation, the money transfer code, even authorization on the phone from American Express and STILL not be able to get our money.

The only folks who seemed unable to judge how insane the whole thing is were the higher ups at the An Post. It seems they would rather follow the letter of some insane non-sensical protocol rather than use logic to solve a problem for a customer.


As it happens, we were explaining to the kids the other night about Beckett, and the Theater of the Absurd (Michael Gambon is appearing in Krapp’s Last Tape in Dublin, I would have liked to see it but things didn’t work out that way…)

Our Swap Kitchen

Sitting in the back room of the post office (they very kindly let us in to rest about 3 hours into our adventure) Hannah said, “This is like one of those plays – like the one where the guys are waiting for the other guy to show up…”

It would have been fitting if the missing first name turned out to be, “Godot”

But lest you think it’s been all rubber stamps and queues, I’ve sprinkled some wonderful photographs we’ve taken so far of our trip to Ireland through this post – enjoy!

Seriously, Rick Levine, Are You Stalking Me?

Thursday, April 15, 2010 By Rick Levine

Virgo Virgo (June 21 – Jul 22)

It’s likely that you have been thinking about taking a vacation or doing something with educational value, but you haven’t been able to pull it all together. Today, it’s reassuring when your vision finally falls into place. But the work isn’t done; you still have to fine-tune the details before executing your plan. Don’t try to do everything all at once; give yourself plenty of time to make it happen.


And that’s exactly what we’re doing!  We’re tacking our packing projects a little bit at a time, cleaning the house and getting all of our old clothes sent to goodwill.  We’re making space for our new houseguests!

Spring cleaning is good, and now that I’m on Prednisone (the bronchitis would NOT abate without it) I’m actually able to smell again (a mixed blessing) and my energy is up a bit (funny how not being able to breath will flag the energy, no?)

I’m not overdoing it, but I AM getting stuff together and I’m trying to intelligently delegate to Max & Hannah.  THEY’RE not nuts about that part, but it’s necessary, and they’re still of a good age to help us out with a minimum of grumbling…

In terms of my Fibromyalgia pain, it’s worth mentioning again that if I don’t get at least a small amount of exercise every day, my pain is much harder to control.

It may be that the warmth of Spring has something to do with reduced pain this week, or that my bronchitis is going away, but I chalk a lot of it up to being more on top of taking my Vitamin D (I flagged during our trip to Rushmore) AND my wonderful bike! YAY BIKE!

I don’t ride far, but I enjoy every last minute that I’m ringing my bell and waving to the crowds!


The new energy’s gone to my head.  I’ve scheduled a few classes in the coming months, no more than 1 engagement in any month (oh, for the days when I used to do 2 a month 12x a year…)

So here’s my schedule from now through September.  3 countries, no waiting!

I also have a few banner ads for my classes.  Since I’m foolishly proud of them, I’ll list them here, too!


I’ll be a guest on Knit & Purl Girl’s Stitch & Dish radio program Friday night (tomorrow) at 8pm Eastern Time.  If you have a way to get online, you can listen to the show!  She’s a fun interviewer, I really hope you’ll tune in!

THAT Direction

We’ve sort of been waiting for this, expecting this, for a little over 2 years.

We’d almost convinced ourselves that it wouldn’t happen, even as we would take any opportune moment to remind each other (and anyone who would listen), “We’re very lucky, but the luck can’t last forever…”

Gerry’s IgG numbers are elevating.

We’d gotten used to the numbers either going down, or staying steady.  Moving in no direction, static, flat.

Now they’re moving up from the 1,300’s in the Fall, to the 1,500’s in Feb, up almost to 1,600 now.  That’ moving out of normal range, and is probably the harbinger of a relapse.  Or not.  Or it is.

The indecision of this disease, Multiple Myeloma, compels us to become VERY zen in our outlook.

I’m having a rough time myself right now.  On our trip to Mount Rushmore Max and I developed bronchitis (he’s better, I still sound like Brenda Vaccaro) and Gerry picked it up on Tuesday.  Max is better, I’m recovering, but Gerry’s feeling bad with nausea, headache, fever, chills – the whole enchilada.

In the midsts of this, the phone call from his Oncologist asking him to come in for another blood test feels like an out-of-body experience, as if we’re watching it on a made-for-TV movie.  Maybe one starring Brenda Vaccaro?


I have a certain amount of – well, not guilt – but amazement at my hubris in taking my family to Ireland.  I’d find myself thinking, “Who do you think you are?  Taking your family to Ireland when you’re losing your health insurance on July 1.  Shouldn’t you be saving every penny?”

I just don’t know.

We’re swapping houses with a couple in Ireland who are coming to St. Paul for their son’s law school graduation.  Max & my tickets are paid for with frequent flier miles, I found a pretty good fare for Gerry and Hannah, so the total cost for the trip (figuring for extras) should be about $2,000.

For 3 weeks that seems like an amazing bargain, which quells a bit of my – ahem – guilt.

Now that Gerry’s MM numbers are moving in the direction we’d hoped they wouldn’t, I feel even more firmly that our trip to Ireland is the right thing for us to do.  Life is finite, opportunities don’t always repeat themselves.

So upon our return to St. Paul what will we be facing?  How long will it be until we’re back at the Mayo?  Will Gerry need another stem cell transplant, or can he get by with a new course of a drug like Revlimid?  How sick will he get?  Will he have more pain?

One thing we will know is that we’ll face what comes next with the knowledge that we are united, a strong family and trying hard to continue to thrive & create memories every day.

We’re VERY grateful that although I won’t be covered by insurance, Gerry’s covered with that Social[ist] Security Disability Insurance & Medicare.  Thank god that – without it I have no idea how we’d be getting through this period, between Gerry’s illness and my own reduced earnings due to my own brain-melting fibromyalgia adventure.

Folks have said really kind things to me, that I’m brave, or that I’m handing this with grace, but  I feel neither brave nor graceful right now.

I just feel scared, self-questioning, feeble & weak. Have I missed anything?  Oh, yeah, self pitying.

I woke up last night feeling terrified, too damned sick to give my family the full strength and comfort they deserve right now.  Thankfully, the feeling passed when the sun came out.

I apologize for the purely self centered stream of this post.  This is what trying to figure out how to keep a slowly sinking ship afloat looks like.

Once we’re bailed out a bit, we can decide in which direction we need to move.

Does anyone know how to sail?

In Happier News

Since neither Max nor Hannah had school today, it was the perfect chance for Max’s orientation meeting Breakthrough St. Paul (BSP).  This is the program that’s been SO great for Hannah for the past 2 years, and which Max has been accepted into!

It was a GREAT meeting, we chatted about what Max will do over the summer, what classes he might take, and how he can begin working on some projects while we’re in Ireland (he wants to visit some castles, excellent research for a budding architect!) The best part was that Hannah was so proud of Max (and so proud of herself – she made it into the Breakthrough Leadership Program and will continue to attend BSP over the Summer & into the school year.)

One of the perks for Hannah is that she’ll get to go on a week-long camping trip to hone her leader (and follower) skills, and she may qualify for her own laptop to do her homework.  It will be a new experience for her as we’re a Mac family and the laptop is a PC, but she was buzzing with excitement.

After the meeting we came home, and while Gerry slept the kids helped me change the storm windows and do some Spring cleaning.  We have to get our house in shape for non-family to reside here for a month!

In Knitting News

I’m having a wonderful time working out a pattern for some Tabi socks (split toe socks.)  It’s been one of the most fun, and one of the most challenging, patterns I’ve worked up.  I’m trying very hard to make it intuitive, to allow the increases and decreases to follow a logical route, so I’ve ripped out this darned sock at least a dozen times so far.  I’m very happy that I’m using worsted weight yarn!

Another ribbed and lace project, a cardigan, waits for me (the yarn is Louisa Harding’s Mulberry, it’s exquisite) and – of course – there is always the Gripsholm Jacket sleeves to return to.  So much wonderful work – if only I could do it in a more timely & efficient manner!

A special note – while in Ireland I’ll be teaching a short 2-hour class in Combination Knitting at This Is Knit in Dublin!  I’ll also be doing a book signing, and I’d love to see any Dublin area knitters while I’m there!  The class & signing will be on Sunday, May 2.  YAY!