Who Dat? Old Family Photos

One is reminded (when looking at old family photos) that back in the day, you took a photo and couldn’t be sure what you had snapped until days or weeks later when the film was developed. Was the lighting OK? Was it fuzzy? You just didn’t know. And film wasn’t cheap, so you didn’t take three (or ten!) photos of the same thing to make sure you got a good one. Most of my father’s photos are in focus but he didn’t throw out the bad ones, either.

I have no idea who the adults in this photo are. 🙂

My parents kept a little 3×5 metal file box of addresses (for the Christmas card list) because their air force friends became family to them—and they kept in touch, year after year after year. They kept in touch if they moved away but they hung out if they were stationed together.

This couple appears in several of the family slides; I can’t remember their names but I know we were close to them. He was a pilot. I seem to recall a story of airplane hijinks (flying under bridges? flying under something, something the US Air Force frowns on). He met her while he was stationed in Italy and married her. That’s me* in his lap, Jill in hers (probably early 1957). What intrigues me about this photo, though, is that marvelous carved wooden partition. That sure wasn’t our house!

*Notice I’m wearing a dress. Until I got older, I was always in a dress. Ninety percent of these slides, I’m in a dress, a dress sewn by my mother.


Working on a Detox

Four years ago, in early November, I drove out to my brother’s house to chat about family Thanksgiving plans, as I do every year. (Our parents are deceased; our sister lives far from here.) When I got there and walked into the living room, my brother was angry—at me, sort of.

(I should stop here and say I am the oldest child; my brother is the youngest, four years younger than me. He is a farmer, a kind and gentle man who loves animals, has stayed married to the same woman for forty-two years, raised a great kid. He served four years in the Marines. I’ve never heard him raise his voice to man or beast. He is a Republican, just like our father was. We agree to disagree on that last bit. My life philosophy was formed in the ’60s, and though many decades have passed, I am still that woman. I have not changed.)

But my brother was hopping mad … about the recent reelection of the American president, Barack Obama. He lit into me—a convenient liberal voter he felt safe blaming—with the litany of complaints that had been making the rounds: the country was going to go into a massive depression, in fact it was going to go broke, since there were “more takers than makers”; Obama was going to take away legally owned guns; and on and on. When I tried to speak (though not to argue with him), he shouted me down: “Just you wait! You’ll see!” (Collectively, this reaction has been called in the press the Great Right-Wing Freakout of 2012.)

It scared me. I stood up and said, “Maybe I should leave. We can talk about Thanksgiving another time.” And immediately all his anger drained away. “No, no, sit down, don’t go.” And we did talk a little (his wife sat silently by), but eventually his anger level rose again, and I left, shaking and disturbed. When I got home, I called my ex-husband.

(Here I’ll say that my ex-husband and I are on good terms; I like his second wife and his second set of kids, and we do a lot of holidays together. When I married him—the little girl with flowers woven in her hair—he was a long-haired hippie himself, threatening to run away to Canada if the draft didn’t go his way. I am not sure what happened to that guy, but his politics align with my brother’s now; they are buddies, in fact. I don’t discuss politics with either of them, and generally we just don’t anyway—we talk culture, not politics. Luis always tries to make nice; he knows I don’t like to argue.)

So I called Luis, since he and his family would be sitting at my dining room table on Thanksgiving too. I was shaken and upset, and as I started to tell him what happened, I began to sob uncontrollably, something I never do, certainly not to my ex-husband. “Please help me; please don’t bring up the election or politics,” I said. He agreed to “not go there,” and Thanksgiving plans proceeded.

On the night, my brother and his wife were running late. Something locally newsworthy had happened that day, and Luis turned on the television while we waited. But he turned automatically to Fox, which I consider to be … well, not news. Bill O’Reilly et al annoy and offend me. I waited—nervously; what if my brother got here?—until we had the update on the event, then quietly, calmly, asked Luis to turn the TV off or switch the channel. He rose up from the couch and moved into the kitchen in seconds, screaming, until he was face to face with me. “Don’t tell ME what to do! I’ll watch television if I WANT to!” (Should I remind you that this was in my house?) It was like he’d gone insane. Had a psychotic break.

I put my hands up around my face, because I actually thought he might hit me. When I did that, he stopped, and all the anger seemed to leave him. He turned around, lifted the foil covering the turkey. And nothing was ever said again, about any of it.

I have often wondered what happened on those two occasions.

Now, of course, we’re in the middle of an unbelievable, ugly election (again). My brother joined Facebook about a year ago, and he’s posted a lot of nasty right-wing memes. My husband says, “Just ignore him,” but it bothers me. He’s my brother, but I don’t recognize this person. He and my ex-husband share these ugly things back and forth. Demands to repeal “Obamacare” the minute the GOP retakes the country (even though my brother’s wife uses the government’s low-income subsidies to the Affordable Care Act to get health insurance*), and support for closing our borders and not letting immigrants in (even though both of my husbands have been immigrants**; even though my sister’s daughter married a Mexican immigrant, a lovely man). I don’t recognize them anymore, this bit of my family.

It’s not just them, of course. I live in a red state. But … the anger. The hatred! Sometimes I leave a comment for my brother—“Actually, that’s not true”—with a link to good information, but he responds with a repetition of talking points (propaganda), not actual facts. In fact, a lot of people on that side of the fence do the same in public forums, and it has the effect of shutting down conversation. It is a losing battle. The amount of bad, untruthful, twisted information being slung around here is disheartening. Where is this coming from? I’ve tried to remain calm, I’ve tried to educate myself—but it has done nothing but upset and unsettle me and keep me from sleep.

Until I found this: The Brainwashing of My Dad. It’s a documentary. The New York Times says it is “Jen Senko’s documentary about how right-wing news programs, talk shows and Internet sites turned her once reasonable father into a raging embodiment of intolerance and suspicion.”

As I watched, I found Senko’s story sounding more and more familiar:

When I was growing up in the ‘60s, I remember that my parents were really nice to everybody. They had a good time with lots of other grown-up friends and relatives; they were always laughing and joking. They didn’t even gossip, whereas I remember other friends’ parents doing so quite a bit. And later, with the dawn of the hippies and the new mores, I remember feeling proud of them—they already were open-minded and accepting. … My father was huge on education. He had his master’s degree in engineering, so it was his idea for us to read an hour before bed each night. … There were times he showed extraordinary acts of kindness. I recount this one story in the film: Since we lived close to New York in New Jersey, my parents would often take us into the city to go to a museum or Radio City Music Hall. Once, when we got out of Port Authority, an African-American homeless man asked my dad for some money. My dad called him “Sir!” and gave him some money. That memory is indelible for me. He treated everyone around him with respect at a time when that was not always the norm.

This sounds similar to my childhood, the one my brother was raised in too. Then Senko notes that her family moved and her father’s commute changed. Instead of carpooling, he was driving alone, and he was driving farther. He started listening to talk radio. First he listened to Bob Grant. Then he started listening to Rush Limbaugh. Later he began watching Fox [Not] News. Senko says:

And that’s when my Dad became angry all the time, argumentative, and hateful of particular groups of people. Of all things, he began lashing out against gay people. … He railed against “liberal universities.” He railed against illegal immigrants and Mexicans, and literally started telling my mother she should wait on him because he was the man of the house. … In time, it became obvious to me that the same mantras were being trotted out on various right-wing platforms. And I could see this in the few friends I had that “turned.” They would form identical arguments, repeating the exact same talking points and phrases around the same time as my Dad. One read The Drudge Report, while my Dad listened to Limbaugh.

Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Drudge, and others of that ilk fabricate and distort routinely; they are entertainers, not journalists, and certainly not academic experts. They are looking to drive up viewership ratings (which drive up advertising rates). But in terms of actual facts, these outlets are more like the National Enquirer than they are like USA Today. Senko discovered that a lot of those nasty right-wing emails (which have become shared Facebook posts or memes in the era of social media) with stories from “regular folks” who just wanted the recipient “to know” what liberals are up to were “written by a bunch of guys sitting in a room at some right-wing think tank, made to sound as if an ‘average Joe’ wrote them.”

Gosh, it all sounded so familiar. Senko described it as a nightmare for the family; it was like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The Senkos no longer recognized ther dad.

In the documentary, Senko goes on to explain the historical reasons for the rise of propaganda in politics (it really got a leg up in Nixon’s presidential campaign) and how the players of that game manipulate the talking points you hear across the board from Limbaugh to Fox to Breitbart and on and on. It’s a concerted effort to mislead; that “vast right-wing conspiracy” really is a thing. When Ronald Reagan killed the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, it opened the floodgate of poison that the moneyed right-wing spews. (And make no mistake, money is always the issue.)

Senko explains this history in detail, interviewing several experts, including including Noam Chomsky, CNN’s Reese Schonfeld, progressive talk radio host Thom Hartmann, media critic Jeff Cohen, Media Matters founder David Brock, and Republican political consultant Frank Luntz. The Daily Beast notes,

It’s also a densely packed, sometimes overstuffed examination of how shrewd strategists engineered a long-term takeover of the media on behalf of the GOP, arguing that right-wing think tanks, advocacy groups, and media outlets together achieved what the left has always refused, or been unable, to do: manipulate the minds of America.

With decades of ground to cover, Senko nails some choice sound bites from her interviewees. Luntz, the spin doctor who helped Newt Gingrich twist estate tax into “death tax” and the Bush administration turn global warming into “climate change,” unabashedly reveals how he polls plebes for keywords that frighten them the most and points out how Fox News anchors use hand gestures to subliminally connect with their viewers.

Senko also explains the neurology of brainwashing in general and of the negative talking points phenomenon specifically: alarm is addictive, and repetition of the same messages transform the hearer’s brain.

The whole thing was shocking. I was raised to be fair, tell the truth, to treat others the way I would want to be treated (with kindness and respect, among other things). I was raised to be competitive, to go after the things I wanted, but that winning in and of itself was not the goal. “Winning at all costs” is not the sort of human being I was raised to be.

Nor was my brother. And yet …

Watching this documentary gave me some peace of mind and allowed me to sleep for the first time in days. I like research. I like logic and facts. And here, at last, was a reason that my once friendly, gentle, kind brother has turned into an angry repeater of lies. Senko reports that hundreds of people have gotten in touch with her with their own stories. I could be one of them.

Instead, I’m writing about it. I finally decided that if I don’t get this out of my system, it will poison me. I have been journaling, writing, blogging my whole life, trying to make sense of life, so this is nothing new. As I’ve said before about this blog, it’s a lot about travel, but really it’s about my good life, my fortunate life. This is a part of it. Watching this video helped me, and if you are worried and upset about these issues, it might help you too.

(I’ll note here that I no longer engage with my brother; I no longer try to direct him to factual information. You’ve heard that old Robert Heinlein quote, yes? “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.” That’s where I’m at.)

* Note: A previous version of this essay indicated both were insured by the ACA, but only my brother’s wife is.

** My husband Gerry’s frail eighty-six-year-old mother is worried that if Trump wins, Gerry will be deported to Ireland. She shouldn’t have to worry about things like this and we’re surprised this level of detail has made it across the Atlantic, but such is the state of affairs right now.

It’s a Dog’s Life

We got a dog.


Suzy. (Note: you can enlarge any photo by clicking on it, and clicking again.)

We’d known we were going to get a dog (that is, rescue one, of course): Gerry’d had to leave his dog, Cleo, behind in Dublin, and, as he has been telling my felines Laddie, Spot, and Bean for the last fourteen years, he’s “a dog man.” So it was always a plan. Gerry and I both grew up with dogs (in my case, dogs and cats); it had only been since I was divorced that my pet roster narrowed to cats only.

The cats ignored Gerry’s “I’m a dog man” line and climbed into his lap all the same. Bean, in particular, is quite fond of him, and his lap is the only one Spot will sit in. The cats weren’t concerned about our dogged plans.

But Gerry began to follow a dog rescue group based in Cookeville, and that’s how we found our Suzy in the last week of March. She’d been abandoned by her male owner (a backyard breeder, apparently) just two weeks before we adopted her. We don’t know much about her past, other than he’d bred her very young, twice (she’s about three). We think he may have been mean to her. She was frightened when we picked her up at a meet-and-greet at Petco in Cookeville—timid, resigned, and anxious. Before we left the store we bought food and a bowl, a collar and leash, a crate and nice pad for it.

In those first days, she retreated to her crate a lot.

Suzy, first week, in her crate.

Suzy, first week, in her crate. It’s her safe place, of course … but she looks so sad.

She was (and is) very well-behaved, but so, so sad. I used to tell people if you looked up the definition of hangdog in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of Suzy. It was heartbreaking. She was OK … but so sorrowful. We’ll probably never know why.

Gerry started taking her on a long nice walk every day. And she got to know the cats. Spot was the first to come around, within hours. He could tell she wasn’t a threat. It took Laddie four or five days; he swatted her the first time she got too close, and after that she averted her face every time she saw him. Bean—our frail, sometimes cranky female—was a little harder nut to crack, but now even she is fine with Suzy.

The ongoing familiarization process with Suzy and Bean. Gerry is so patient.

The ongoing familiarization process with Suzy and Bean. Gerry is so patient.

Gerry spent plenty of time with Suzy, telling her how much we appreciated her. They watched a lot of TV in the man cave.

Well, one of them watched.

Well, one of them watched.

She fell into the routine of our household … feeding, walks, the cats’ habits, hanging out with Gerry, going for rides in the car (she loves that). We saw that she was comfortable with visitors—any friend of ours is a friend of Suzy’s—but she doesn’t jump up on anyone or otherwise invade a human’s personal space. She is a Lab, obviously, and we learned that she is a “yellow Dudley” Lab (that brown nose, her pale eyes). It was clear that she was getting comfortable, less worried.

Gerry spent a lot of time bonding with her.

Gerry spent a lot of time bonding with her.

He plays with her, talks with her.

He played with her, talked with her.

She hangs pretty close to him. She likes me OK—but Gerry she loves.

She hangs pretty close to him. She likes me OK—but Gerry she loves.

She even hung out in the office when we were working. (Actually, when Gerry was working there. My presence was immaterial.) 🙂

Suzy in the office with Laddie and Bean.

Suzy in the office with Laddie and Bean. 

But I kept hoping she was happy, that she would quit worrying the other shoe was about to drop and relax into a home that was all hers. I kept hoping for a “smile” from Suzy. And finally … she did.

Yeah, we think she’s happy.

Yeah, we think she’s happy.

We’ve learned Labs are always hungry. Suzy scours the floors every day for crumbs that might have fallen. She doesn’t miss a trick: I dropped a raw egg once and it was gone in a second. I didn’t even know she was close by, but there she was, slurping it up before I could tear off a paper towel. She ate a big hunk of dropped watermelon not too long ago. That said, she seems to be trustworthy around food. We don’t give her too much temptation but she hasn’t shown any inclination to put her paws on the counter or table. She is well-mannered, though I fear it may be that those manners come at a price paid to someone else who wasn’t very nice about it.

She’s a very quiet dog, doesn’t vocalize much. But she does bark when she sees a stranger on the front porch or a dog walking by on the street with one of our neighbors (there are windows by the front door, and she enjoys looking out). She doesn’t play—doesn’t chase balls or Frisbees, doesn’t play tug-o-war. We can only imagine that she doesn’t know how, or that play was discouraged. Gerry tries, every so often. The tennis ball just sits forlornly where it landed until one of us picks it up and stores it in the garage until the next moment we get hopeful.

Suzy does chase squirrels, though, and patrols the backyard constantly on the lookout for them. She sees them from inside and goes right to the back door, on high alert.

Squirrels, beware! Suzy is determined!

Squirrels, beware! Suzy is determined!

Earlier this year—and early in her tenure with us—she got out of the house, loose without a leash … the gate left open once, slipped out the front door once. In both cases, she was easily corralled; she only was running around with glee, playing chase with us in the yard next door. I don’t think she wants to get too far away; she just likes to run, to blow it out. She runs every morning in the backyard too. She does her business, and then she just revs up her motor and runs back and forth across the yard a few times.

Suzy also loves riding in the car. Window open.

Car selfie with Suzy.

Car selfie with Suzy.

When the weather was cooler we took her with us all the time, because she could hang out in the car. Now it’s too hot for that but we do take her for a ride every Friday morning, before 7am, to the farmers market, which is on a nice piece of land with a pond. This started simply as a leashed walk in a different place, but then we wondered … could we let her off the leash?

Why, yes, yes, we can let her off the leash. She runs, yes, but she stays in our orbit. She has no interest in being separated from us.

Why, yes, yes, we can let her off the leash. She runs, yes, but she stays in our orbit. She has no interest in being separated from us.

She found the pond in no time, and when we took her back the next Friday, it was like she couldn’t believe her good fortune. What? The pond again? Her joy was palpable; she ran back and forth along the wet edge, getting faster and faster.

This is not a great photo but you can see her speed: those are splashes behind her, where she has just been.

This is not a great photo but you can see her speed: those are splashes behind her, where she has just been.

It was only later that she took a dip.

It was only later that she took a dip.

Now we travel with towels.

Getting dried off.

Getting dried off.

This dog. She delights us. And perhaps the sweetest thing is her friendship with Spot the cat. Spot was a feral rescue (yes, truly feral, not stray: there is a difference), and though he has tried, he has never truly integrated with our other two cats. His body language is all wrong; he doesn’t “speak” cat, at least not the dialect of cat that Laddie and Bean speak. But with Suzy—who we suspect may have never had an animal friend, either—he can just be himself. Remember, he accepted her the very first day.

Now they have each other, these outsiders. They are friends. They play. They walk around the yard together. Spot has figured out the time and duration of Gerry and Suzy’s morning walk, and when they return to the house, he is waiting (having been fed and allowed out about sixty minutes earlier) on the porch to greet them.

Sometimes he comes out to greet her, sometimes he waits for her to come to him.

Sometimes Spot comes out to greet her, sometimes he waits for her to come to him. Here she pulls Gerry in her haste to see her buddy.

They bump noses.

They bump noses.

It’s very sweet, this friendship. They often find each other in the backyard. Sometimes they play (Suzy on her elbows with her butt in the air).

This is the beginning of play action. It may not look like much, but …

This is the beginning of play action. It may not look like much, but …

… maybe this photo tells a little more of the story. :)

… maybe this photo tells a little more of the story. 🙂

More often, though, it’s just a quiet stroll around the yard. Spotty usually leads the way, with Suzy following alongside.

“Fancy meeting you here,” she says, her tail wagging.

“Fancy meeting you here,” she says, her tail wagging.

This was the last photo in a series in which they started under the tree and walk all the way around the yard.

This was the last photo in a series in which they started under the tree and walked all the way around the yard. Side by side.

We got Suzy on March 27th, so we haven’t quite had her four months. But you can see in the later photos how her facial expressions and demeanor have changed. She is more doglike, alert. Alive. We pray that she has forgotten her horrible beginning, that the peace and pleasure of her life now is all she thinks of, though we’ll never know for sure. We’re so glad she is ours. Our good dog.

Suzy watching television with Gerry. (You think she’s sleeping but look again at the tail.)

Suzy watching television with Gerry. (You think she’s sleeping but look again at the tail.)


The Christmas Ornament (Part 1 of 3)

I’ve always had a thing for Christmas ornaments. (And decorations, but that’s another story entirely. Nothing that moves, sings, or must be blown up or otherwise requires a generator, thankyouverymuch.) Over the years I’ve collected all manner of ornaments (and things I’ve turned into ornaments), but I know my delight in special ornaments and the traditions related to them was … well, born with me.

That is, my parents had an ornament tradition before I came along. They were DIY people, and for their very first Christmas (1951)—my father was a college student at the time, and money was tight—my father made three ornaments with names on them.


(Beau was the dog.)

To do this, Daddy dipped a quarter-inch paintbrush in glue, hand-lettered each name in block letters (he’d studied as a draftsman; his printing was beautiful) on a large gold glass ornament, then sprinkled silver glitter over it. When I was born, he made another: JAMIE.

It doesn’t look like much now, I know. But I do treasure it.

It doesn’t look like much now, I know. But I do treasure it.

Sister Jill and brother Jon each got an ornament in due time. My father enlisted with the United States Air Force not long after his and Mom’s first Christmas; he was sent to Officers’ Candidate School (OCS), learned to fly both fixed-wing and rotary-operated aircraft, and was subsequently moved all over the country (and into Canada).

Things get broken in moves like these. One by one, all the other name ornaments were broken—but not mine. When I left the house at eighteen, I took it with me.

I still have it. I no longer hang it on a tree, but I do display it. Carefully. 🙂



The Cigarette Box

The cigarette box …

The cigarette box …

I have a cedar chest, and it has all sorts of things in it—school projects from when I was a little girl, some of Jesse’s baby clothes, one of my father’s suits, little mementos, and a lot of old greeting cards and letters, many of them from my dad. Why? Because, like photographs, they have reminders of his personality: his handwriting. (Due to her illness, my mother ceased to be able to write when I was ten years old and not of an age to think about saving things, really. So I only have items of hers that predate me, like her high school scrapbook.)

My father was a smoker, have I mentioned that? Yes, I have inhaled a lot of secondhand smoke in my life. Of course, no one knew, no one even thought about the hazards of secondhand smoke until the early ’70s, and I was out of the house by 1972. But Daddy was a dedicated smoker, from about age eight until he died at sixty-three (too young). We used to laugh and say he’d be buried with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, back when we were too young to fear death, for ourselves or for him. It’s less funny now that I’m his age.

As it turns out, we didn’t bury him; he preferred cremation. And this means no mementos were sacrificed.

He had an aluminum box, two nesting halves, in which he kept his pack of cigarettes (Kools, menthol), so they wouldn’t get bumped or crushed in all the strapping and belting of himself into the cockpit of a plane belonging to the United States Air Force. Daddy had that box as long as I can remember; it was an extension of him.

Last Thanksgiving we’d all gone our separate ways to feast, but I had everyone (the local fam) over for a dessert buffet. My brother and his wife (Jon and Teresa) lingered after everyone else had gone, just chatting. They’d been fixing up their house to sell, finding mysterious boxes and opening them, and so on. One box, unopened for twenty-three years, revealed Daddy’s cigarette box.

I said, “Oh my God, Jon, and you didn’t bring it? I want to hold it!”

They were walking out the door; Teresa and I were on the porch and Jon had walked out onto the lawn but he turned and watched me as I did this little wiggle dance thing, raising my arms and waving them around (you had to be there, I guess). “I want to just hold it in my hands and feel him!” For me, Daddy is a happy memory.*

Jon walked back to the porch and he had tears in his eyes, could barely speak. “I’ve already done that several times today,” he said. 🙂

These little talismans have such power over us.

I was out there on the 13th of December—family Christmas before I left for Phoenix—and Jon took me straight to it, and I held it. I’m glad he has it. But I told him if it were me, I would never be without it; I’d find a use for it and carry it everywhere!**

It’s a great story. But it loses something without my front-porch shimmy and hand-waving, me pulling down the Spirit of Daddy from the universe. 🙂

He was larger than life, my Daddy. And so at home in that flight suit.

He was larger than life, my Daddy. And so at home in that flight suit.

*Sure, the sorrow never leaves. He was gone much too soon. He was a fabulous father and would have been so proud of the people his grandchildren have grown up to be. But the immediacy of grief fades over time, thank goodness.

** I have something just as talismanic: his pocket pen. I gave it to him for a birthday or Father’s Day or something when I was about sixteen, and he never, ever carried another pen.

So You Want to Go to Ireland! (Part 5): Some Sightseeing Ideas

This series started with an introduction, and here are parts 1, 2, 3, and 4

In the previous post we discussed the notion of planning a personal vacation that incorporates things you and your traveling companions most enjoy. This is a different concept from, say, a guided tour that presents participants with a list of destinations, fait accompli.

If you want a city vacation, you can have a city vacation. If you want an outdoorsy vacation, you can have that. More than likely, you’ll end up doing a sampling of several things. So let’s expand on that list we’ve discussed in the previous post.

In every case, in every category, there are literally hundreds of other choices you could make; I can’t list everything (and we’ll discuss travel guides a little later). Nor can I describe what makes each listed venue special; this is already a very long post. But in each case, there’s a link that should help you get started. And don’t stop there—research a little more yourself! With a little bit of work, you can put together a list of things that interest you, and you’ll be on your way to planning your vacation.

And I’ve found planning is half the fun!

1 See prehistoric sites
It’s the antiquities that really trip my trigger. 🙂 The prehistoric period of Ireland consists of the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age societies. Mesolithic hunter-gatherers settled on the island after 8000 BC, but it’s the Neolithic (4000–2500 BC), Bronze (2500–500 BC), and Iron ages (500 BC–400 AD) that are very well-represented, with stone circles, dolmens, burial mounds, passage tombs, cairns, promontory forts, hill forts, and ringforts. There are dozens of examples of these all over Ireland, some in better condition than others; the ones I’ve listed here are just a scratch on the surface.

Beltany stone circle / Co. Donegal
Brownshill dolmen / Co. Carlow
Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange) / Co. Meath
Cahercommaun ringfort / Co. Clare
Caherconnell stone fort / Co. Clare
Drombeg stone circle / Co. Cork
Dun Aengus / Co. Galway
Dunbeg promontory fort / Co. Kerry
Hill of Tara / Co. Meath
Poulnabroune dolmen / Co. Clare
Toormore altar tomb / Co. Cork
Turoe stone / Co. Galway

Toormore Altar Tomb, on the R-592, Co. Cork west.

Toormore Altar Tomb, on the R-592, Co. Cork west.

2 See old ruins
The recorded history of many European countries starts with the invasion of the Romans, but, hey-ho, the Romans didn’t make it to Ireland, so we have Gaelic Ireland emerging in the first millennium … but the best historical record begins with the emergence of Christianity from roughly the fifth century, at the close of the Iron Age. These include castles, monasteries, churches, high crosses, and so on. Again, I’ve been to these but there are many more spectacular sites, so check around in the area you’ll be visiting.

Aughnanure castle / Co. Galway
Boyle Abbey / Co. Roscommon
Burrishoole Friary / Co. Mayo
Clonfert Cathedral / Co. Galway
Clonmacnoise monastery / Co. Offaly
Cong Abbey / Co. Mayo
Glendalough monastic settlment / Co. Wicklow
Jerpoint Abbey / Co. Kilkenny
Kilfenora Cathedral / Co. Clare
Mellifont Abbey / Co. Louth
Monasterboice Christian settlement / Co. Louth
Rock of Cashel / Co. Tipperary

Jerpoint Abbey, Co. Kilkenny

Jerpoint Abbey, Co. Kilkenny

3 Visit or stay in a small town or village
When you get out of the hustle and bustle of Dublin, you find a different Ireland. For our purposes let’s say any town—and I don’t pretend to know how they differentiate between village, town, or city over there—with a population of less than two thousand. I know, I know—by U.S. standards that sounds very small, doesn’t it! Ireland has a thriving small town life, though, and you’ll find lovely B&Bs, pubs, groceries, and everything you need—in particular, peace and quiet—in a village. Some of my very favorites include:

Dingle town (Co. Kerry) / 1,929
Dooagh (Co. Mayo) / guessing 500
Ennistymon (Co. Clare) / 881
Glandore (Co. Cork) / guessing 50
Kenmare (Co. Kerry) / 2,175
Kinsale (Co. Cork) / 2,695
Lahinch (Co. Clare) / 642

These are places I’ve visited or stayed in, but there are hundreds of tiny towns that you could be delighted by. County Clare, I’ve found, is very warm and welcoming. And if you want something just a little bigger, try Kilkenny (Co. Kilkenny) / 24,423. I love it.

Kinsale, Co. Cork

Kinsale, Co. Cork

4 Visit a city
It’s just fabulous to spend some time in a city, soaking up the cultural life (museums, galleries, theaters, nightlife, parks and gardens, pubs and restaurants, shopping, and more, more, more). It’s all right there at your fingertips—and sometimes within walking distance. I’ve spent a lot of time drilling down in Dublin (and still have much to go); it’s the capital city, and not just politically. But don’t overlook Cork, Galway, or Limerick, either. Belfast is an option, too, just a hundred miles north of Dublin. For a great overview, use the hop on–hop off bus tour. And be sure to check a travel guide.

The River Lee, In Cork city.

The River Lee, in Cork city.

5 Visit historic house museums
This is just what it sounds like: a house—often furnished as it was when new, sometimes the home of someone historically significant—transformed into a museum. In Ireland, these houses often belonged to Anglo-Irish or British owners … but not always (see Castletown and Derrynane, for example). This is not an exhaustive list; you can find other suggestions here or check a travel guide.

Bantry House (1700) / Co. Cork
Castletown House (1722) / Co. Kildare
Derrynane House (1702, home of Daniel O’Connell) / Co. Kerry
House 29 (1794) / Co. Dublin
Kilkenny Castle (1195) / Co. Kilkenny
Kylemore Castle/Abbey (1867) / Co. Galway
Malahide Castle (1185) / Co. Dublin
Muckross House (1843) / Co. Kerry
Powerscourt Estate (13th century) / Co. Wicklow
Russborough House (1741) / Co. Wicklow

Castletown House, Co. Kildare

Castletown House, Co. Kildare

6 See beautiful countryside
You don’t even need to leave Dublin to see lovely scenery—just drive north on the Clontarf Road (which becomes the Howth Road) and you’ll be treated to spectacular views of Dublin Bay and the Irish Sea. Of course, I’m really talking about getting a little further afield than that, but once you start going from A to B (to see C), you’ll be treated to beaches, mountains, rolling hills, pastureland, woods and forests … anything you can imagine. All of the drives listed here happened as a result of my wanting to see a particular sight (that is, going from A to B to see C) but … what serendipity!

Slea Head Drive (Dingle Peninsula) / Co. Kerry
Ring of Kerry (Iveragh Peninsula) / Co. Kerry
Galway to Westport (Connemara National Park) / Co. Galway
Sky Road (in Clifden) / Co. Galway
Inishowen Peninsula / Co. Donegal
Around the Burren to the Cliffs of Moher / Co. Clare
Dublin to Portlaoise (through Wicklow Mountains) / Co. Wicklow
Bantry to Killarney (through Killarney National Park) / Co. Kerry
Around Lough Derg / Co. Clare, Galway, Tipperary

Wanna know my favorite drive? The R597 between Rosscarbery and Glandore. You won’t find it on anyone’s top ten scenic drives in Ireland, but I’ve done this drive twice now (once originating in Kinsale, once originating in Cork City; both times headed to Kenmare) and it’s really special. Next time I drive it, I’m spending a few days there!

Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry (Margaret's photo)

Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry (Margaret’s photo)

7 Fill your eyes with unique and spectacular natural vistas
There are two very unusual geological sites in Ireland: the Burren (Co. Clare), a large karst landscape region, and the Giant’s Causeway (in Northern Ireland), an area of interlocking basalt columns. The latter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But there are other special natural wonders, so I’ve added them to the list too.

Blasket Islands / Co. Kerry
The Burren / Co. Clare
Cliffs of Moher / Co. Clare
Giant’s Causeway / Co. Antrim, UK
Malin Head / Co. Donegal
River Shannon / 224 miles long
Slieve League / Co. Donegal

If you want to visit the Blaskets you’ll have to get on a boat, but you should also consider boat rides to view the Cliffs of Moher and Slieve League (for something different). For those you’ll be on the ocean, of course; for a less turbulent ride, you might look into a cruise along the Shannon, including dolphin-spotting cruises.

Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare

Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare

8 Walk on the beach
On a smallish island, beaches are easy to come by. One of my favorites—in west Co. Cork—was discovered by taking a wrong turn (and to be frank, I’m not sure I could find it again; I have no idea what it’s called). I’ve walked the strand at Inch (Dingle Peninsula), Laytown (Co. Meath), the Velvet Strand in Portmarnock (Co. Dublin), Lahinch (Co. Clare), Salthill (Co. Galway), and Achill Island (Co. Mayo). But those aren’t necessarily the most famous beaches. I’ve heard there are beautiful beaches in Co. Donegal; near Dublin City, try Dollymount and Sandymount. For surfing—or watching others surf—go west, young man.

The strand at Inch, Co. Kerry

The strand at Inch, Co. Kerry

9 Visit museums, art galleries, and arts and crafts venues
You’ll find museums and galleries large and small wherever you go, seriously. And if you see anything called a “folk park,” take a chance. Ten years ago we stopped in a very small town to see a presentation Gerry’d been involved with; it was at their locally curated museum, which they’d called a folk park. It was charming, in an off-beat way (and that includes the cow’s head that had been stuffed and mounted).

Blasket Centre / Co. Kerry
Chester Beatty Library / Co. Dublin
Dublin Writers Museum / Co. Dublin
Galway City Museum / Co. Galway
Guinness Storehouse / Co. Dublin
James Joyce Centre / Co. Dublin
National Gallery of Ireland / Co. Dublin
National Museum of Ireland: Archeology / Co. Dublin
National Museum of Ireland: Decorative Arts / Co. Dublin
National Museum of Ireland: Natural History / Co. Dublin
National Museum of Ireland: Country Life / Co. Mayo
Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre / Co. Waterford
Waterford Museum of Treasures / Co. Waterford

Don’t miss craft shops that offer to let you observe, say, how the glass is blown or the wool is woven, either. I’ll cover these more specifically in an upcoming post.

Entrance to the National Museum of Ireland on Kildare Street, Dublin

Entrance to the National Museum of Ireland on Kildare Street, Dublin

10 Have a drink in a traditional Irish pub
We’ll cover eating and drinking in a subsequent post but you can find a traditional Irish pub anywhere.

11 Hear traditional Irish music
We’ll cover this later too. Bottom line: it will be pretty easy if you’re willing to stay up late.

12 See sites of historic interest
Obviously everything I’ve pointed out thus far is of historic interest, right? Sure, but here are some things that we haven’t covered yet.

General Post Office / Co. Dublin
Custom House / Co. Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin / Co. Dublin
Book of Kells / Co. Dublin
Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum / Co. Dublin
Kilmainham Gaol / Co. Dublin
Casino at Marino / Co. Dublin
St. Patrick’s and Christ Church cathedrals / Co. Dublin

You might consider touring for lighthouses or market houses; you might also consider specifically visiting the Gaeltacht, which is the Irish-speaking regions of Ireland. In research for this post, I also came across the Irish Astronomy Trail, which I think would be absolutely fascinating. I’ve put it on my list for a future visit.

The Casino at Marino, Co. Dublin (Margaret's photo.)

The Casino at Marino, Co. Dublin (Margaret’s photo.)

13 Visit public or private parks and gardens
All of Ireland is a garden, as far as I’m concerned, and there’s a lot to choose from! I’m most familiar with Dublin, so you’ll see several Dublin locations here. Whether you want to stroll or hike, sit and read a book, or take it all in, you’ll find something here … or even just along the way.

Dillon Garden / Co. Dublin
Ilnacullin / Co. Cork
Iveagh Gardens / Co. Dublin
Kylemore Abbey / Co. Galway
Merrion Square Park / Co. Dublin
National Botanic Gardens / Co. Dublin
Phoenix Park / Co. Dublin
Powerscourt Gardens / Co. Wicklow
St. Anne’s Park / Co. Dublin
St. Patrick’s Park / Co. Dublin
St. Stephen’s Green / Co. Dublin

There are six national parks in the Republic; if you travel around you’re more than likely to drive through one. And they make great intentional destinations, of course. Here’s a list of gardens in the Republic. You may be interested in doing some hiking, in which case this might be a good place to research.

St Stephen's Green, Dublin

St Stephen’s Green, Dublin

14 Visit sacred sites
This is a broad category—stone circles were probably sites of sacred ceremonies, for example. But I’m talking about Christianity here: pilgrimages, retreats, holy wells, shrines, beehive huts, monastic settlements, and other holy sites. I sometimes find the simple little roadside shines the most moving of all.

Croagh Patrick / Co. Mayo
Doon well / Co. Donegal
Gallarus Oratory / Co. Kerry
Glencolmcille pilgrimage / Co. Donegal
Glendalough, Clonmacnoise, Rock of Cashel (referenced in #2 above)
Inis Cealtra (Holy Island) / Co. Clare
Knock Shrine / Co. Mayo
Riasc monastic settlement / Co. Kerry
Sanctuary of St. Patrick / Co. Donegal
Skellig Michael / Co. Kerry

Don’t forget there are many sacred items in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin too.

Gallarus Oratory, Co. Kerry

Gallarus Oratory, Co. Kerry

15 Visit islands or lakes
Again—so much to choose from! Here’s a list of islands; here’s a list of lakes; and don’t forget there are islands in lakes! 🙂

Achill Island / Co. Mayo
Aran Islands / Co. Galway
Blasket Islands / Co. Kerry
Glendalough, valley of the two lakes / Co. Wicklow
Ireland’s Eye / Co. Dublin
King’s Island, Englishtown / Co. Limerick
Lakes of Killarney / Co. Kerry
Lough Derg / Co. Clare
Skellig Michael / Co. Kerry
Valentia Island / Co. Kerry

Remember, you could as easily choose mountains or lighthouses. 🙂

A view from Achill Island, Co. Mayo

A view from Achill Island, Co. Mayo

16 Observe wildlife
Ireland is right on the migration routes of many passerines and sea birds, so it’s a very popular place for bird watchers. To get started, check BirdWatch Ireland. To get started with wildlife watching, check the Conserve Ireland site. If you search online, you can find all sorts of guided hikes for bird and wildlife observation.

Cape Clear Island bird observatory / Co. Cork
Dingle Wildlife and Seal Sactuary / Co. Kerry
Eagles Flying, Irish Raptor Research Centre / Co. Sligo
North Bull Island UNESCO Biosphere / Co. Dublin
Wexford Wildfowl Reserve, North Slob / Co. Wexford

In St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin

In St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin

17 Stay in or visit a castle
Americans are particularly charmed by castles—and lucky for us, there’s quite a few of them in Ireland. Some have been turned into high-end luxury hotels (here are some examples), others can be toured (Kilkenny Castle), while others are simply old piles (Ballycarbery Castle). They cover a broad range of eras and styles, too, ranging from an Anglo-Norman stone castle to a medieval-era tower house to something you might simply term a very large house. Here are just a few:

Ashford Castle / Co. Galway
Aughnanure Castle / Co. Galway
Dromoland Castle / Co. Clare
Dublin Castle / Co. Dublin
Kilkenny Castle / Co. Kilkenny
Leamaneh Castle / Co. Clare
Listowel Castle / Co. Kerry
Malahide Castle / Co. Dublin
Oranmore Castle / Co. Galway
Parke’s Castle / Co. Leitrim
Slane Castle / Co. Meath
Trim Castle / Co. Meath

Just say no to Bunratty and Blarney castles. You do not need to kiss the Blarney Stone, really.

Kilkenny Castle, Co. Kilkenny (Jill's photo)

Kilkenny Castle, Co. Kilkenny (Jill’s photo)

18 Shop for uniquely Irish items
We’ll cover this in an upcoming post.

19 Enjoy the food
And we’ll discuss this, too, soon.

20 Enjoy golf and other sports
Ireland boasts world-class golf courses, soccer (in Ireland: football) players, and horse racing, but don’t overlook horse riding, regattas, surfing, sport fishing, rugby, or the Gaelic Athletic Association games Gaelic football and hurling. These last two are played at parish and county level on a strictly amateur basis—and let me tell you, the country goes wild in the lead-up to the All-Ireland finals in late September, so grab some tickets if you can.

Six Nations Championship (rugby) / February
All Ireland Club Championship (soccer, hurling) / March 17
Irish Grand National (steeplechase) / March, April
Great Ireland Run (10K race) / April
Irish Derby (horse racing) / June
Dublin Women’s Mini Marathon (10K race) / June
Irish Open (golf) / June, July
Galway Races (horse racing festival) / July
Cork Week (yachting) / July
Croke Park Classic (U.S. college football) / August
Dublin Horse Show (showing, jumping) / August
Laytown Races (horse racing) / September
Dublin City Marathon (running) / October
Railway Cup Final (GAA football, hurling) / October
Leopardstown Christmas Festival (horse racing) / December 26

This is by no means a comprehensive list.

At the Laytown Races, 2012

At the Laytown Races, 2012

21 Enjoy an annual cultural event
There are lots of good reasons to plan your trip around a particular event. Don’t forget the sports events mentioned above, of course, but there are many interesting things going on—art fairs, film festivals, music festivals, writers’ conferences … A cultural event is a great way to feel like you’re part of the scene. This is not a comprehensive list; we could go on and on.

St. Patrick’s Day Dublin / March 17
Dublin Writers Festival / May
Fleadh Nua (traditional festival) / May
Bloom in the Park (gardening) / May, June
Bloomsday Dublin / June 16
Taste of Dublin / June
Seosamh MacGabhann Summer School / June, July
Galway Arts Festival / July
Yeats International Summer School / July, August
Killorglin Puck Fair / August
Fleadh Cheoil ns hEireann (music) / August
Masters of Tradition / August
Rose of Tralee Festival / August
Kilkenny Arts Festival / August
Dublin Fringe Festival / September
Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival / September
Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival / September
National Ploughing Championship / September
Cork Folk Festival / October
Open House Dublin / October
Cork Jazz Festival / October
Kinsale Gourmet Festival / October
Cork Film Festival / November
National Crafts & Design Fair / December

Taken in Dublin, 2013

Taken in Dublin, 2013

22 Experience the local markets that happen weekly or monthly
I don’t have a lot of experience with this, since—as you know—I don’t live in Ireland. Your best bet is to ask the locals wherever you are. For example, we were in a small town in Clare for a wedding, and learned they had a farmer’s market in the village every Saturday. It was small and perfect. So these are a few ideas I’ve stumbled on. In some cases I had the desire to check it out but the itinerary took me in another direction.

Red Stables Food Market, Clontarf / Saturday
Temple Bar Book Market, Dublin / Saturday & Sunday
Jamestown Market, Dublin / Saturday & Sunday
Merchants Market, Dublin / Saturday & Sunday
Fairyhouse Market, Ratoath / Sunday
Dublin Flea Market, Dublin / last Sunday of month

The Irish Food Board Offers this list of farmers markets and this list of country markets. This is a small list of farm shops, and I can vouch for the Knockdrinna Farm Shop in Co. Kilkenny; I’m lusting to go back. Here’s an interesting site with lots of listings, including vintage and antiques. Finally, the English Market in Cork City is open every day, as is the open-air market in Dublin’s Moore Street (closed Sunday), but put them on your list too.

23 Work on your genealogy
This one is out of my bailiwick, so I’ll leave you with this information from Gov Dot IE—the website of the government of Ireland.

24 Wander, dawdle, relax
I think you can figure this one out on your own. But do stick around for part 8 of this series, which has a few tips for a stress-free, magical vacation.

I know this post has gotten very long—but I felt it was important to include all the information together. Be sure to use the summary list in the previous post to narrow your interests. And stick around! There are three more posts yet to come in this series.

Shall we go? On the N-71 in the Caha Mountains, Co. Cork

Shall we go?
On the N-71 in the Caha Mountains, Co. Cork

Dreams Do Come True

2 January 2012 … a new year

I realized recently that a long-held dream of mine has come true.

I was always close to my father. Not just as a child, but as I grew to adulthood. He was great—so smart and reasonable, full of wisdom and kindness. When I was a young married woman, before I had my son, I so enjoyed this relationship with my dad that I made a conscious wish—a hope, a desire—that someday I would also have such a wonderful adult-to-adult relationship with a child or children of mine. (I was married eleven years before I had Jess.)

Flash-forward twenty-eight years. I’ve just spent a marvelous six days—Christmas!—with Jesse, in his current city, which is Phoenix, Arizona. We cooked together, shopped, went out with friends, went to church, watched TV … we just hung out. I had so much fun. I think Jess probably had less fun than me 🙂 but he was focused on making my visit a good time for me. The best part was some great discussions we had: politics, the Civil War, the economy, blogging, social media, career-building, ecology, making a better world. I’m so proud that I have a son who likes to learn new things, is paying attention to the world around him, and who thinks about everything.

On the plane home, I realized this: that dream I had more than thirty years ago has come true. I’m so, so blessed.

I’ve been holding on to this thought for several days, wanting to say it but not wanting it to be just a passing comment on Facebook, seen today and then forgotten. It’s special and needs its own place. 🙂

A long, long time ago …

A long, long time ago …