Thursday, December 29, 2011


It's been a long time since I've written a post, but things in the Empty Nest have been busy! 

Fear Cheoil and I traveled up to Chattanooga, Tennessee for our anniversary in November. My sister lived there for a few years and it's one of my favorite places to visit. The downtown area is alive and busy every time I've been there. With so many fun activities to choose from sometimes it's hard to make a decision, but we opted for a dinner cruise on The Southern Belle. The food was delicious and it was peaceful to sit on the deck and watch the stars and city lights roll by.

This psyched me out because it wasn't the boat. It was the pier. 
The boat was on the other side where the smoke stacks are.

On Sunday, we walked around downtown for a little while. It was the first weekend in November and the leaves were at peak performance.

'Nuff said...

The Hunter Museum of American Art. Or maybe a space ship?

Walking from the Hunter Museum toward the Tennessee Aquarium.

Fear Cheoil makes a new friend.

 Pedestrian bridge across the Tennessee River.

The success of downtown Chattanooga is inspiring. It has taken a huge amount of dedication, collaboration and money to bring this kind of change about. There is a lot of history here. Some of it positive and some of it heart breaking. The city of Chattanooga embraces it all.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Old Baker Farm

I took a group of kindergardeners from Shades Mountain Elementary School on a field trip Friday. It's been a long time since I've been in amongst that many five year olds. Most of them had never been on a bus before and the first few curves and bumps the bus encountered caused a reaction similar to a flock of startled starlings.

Of course they had to sing all the verses of "The Wheels on the Bus"(go wound and wound) .  It was a little noisy but since I drive middle school students, I'm used to it. The destination was Old Baker Farm near Harpersville, Alabama, just a forty minute drive from the school.

The farm has been a homestead since before Alabama was even a state, and is still run as a family farm. They raise cotton, corn, and pumpkins. I followed along as the kids got the tour. They got to go through the barn where they were introduced to: 

 a lamb, 

a rabbit, chickens, geese, 

 some loud gobbling turkeys, ducks,

 goats, sheep, donkeys and a horse. 

They took a hay ride and picked out pumpkins to take home.

I stayed back at the barn and got up close and personal with a couple of jersey calves.

Somebody feed me!

If we put our heads together we can figure out
how to get her to feed us!

There were a good number of chickens of course. What farm would be complete without a few feathered yard ornaments? They had what looked like a Red Star, a New Hampshire Red, some Barred Plymouth Rocks and some Light Brahmas.

The farm is open to the public on weekends in October, offering families and groups hayrides, horse rides, corn and hay mazes, a Civil War re-enactment and Indian festival dancing. Check out the website for specific dates and activities.

It was a lot of fun. In fact, I might try to talk Fear an Cheoil into going down there before he morphs into The Hunter in the middle of November.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lessons From My Grandparents

As I was packing my lunch to drive a field trip the other day, I took a cold canned drink out of the fridge and wrapped it in a couple of thicknesses of paper towels, then in a layer of aluminum foil. It struck me that my grandmother used to do exactly the same thing and in fact that is where I learned it from. At times like these I miss my grandmother and feel thankful for all the life lessons she and my other grandparents passed along.

With the economy tanking more every day, it is kind of comforting for me to remember that all of them lived through The Great Depression. It may have been a little easier for them since most of them were farmers and could at least grow their own food. Even after they all left the farm to work in the city, they brought that same sense of independence and self reliance with them.

Their houses weren't fancy, but they were clean, comfortable and paid for. The same went for their cars. They both had a vegetable patch in their backyard for growing tomatoes and strawberries, mostly. One of my grandfathers taught me how to make a compost bin and the other showed me that just because you had open heart surgery doesn't mean you can't play softball at the family reunion.

These weren't lessons they beat me over the head with. Instead, they were spread out like a warm, comfortable quilt, practical, useful and even colorful. It's not that there wasn't any turmoil in their lives, but those times were weathered under that same quilt, with patience and faith in God.

I'm not a grandparent yet, but when I do get the chance, I hope I can pass that same quilt along to my grandchildren.

Friday, September 16, 2011


We got this hairy dog from the Birmingham Humane Society.
I can't understand why anyone would give her up.

Last night our friends Trent and Paul came over to practice with Fear an Cheoil for the North Alabama Scottish Festival and Highland Games, which takes place in Scottsboro, Alabama, the first weekend of October. Daisy waded into the circle of guitars, mandolins, accordions and bagpipes, tail wagging. I think she would have laid right there for the entire time they were playing if I hadn’t dragged her away. She wouldn't stay in my office with me but laid at the top of the stairs so she could at least hear the music, even if she could not see the musicians. This is a new behavior for her. She usually just ignores them. Doggie  dementia, I guess. She is eleven.

 Starting to show her age.

She was content there until Trent started playing his Highland Bagpipes. At the very first squawk, she ran back down the hall and cowered behind my chair while I was sitting at my desk. Her eyes pleaded with me to make him stop. We compromised. I let her out into the backyard while he was playing. Funny, that dog has not willingly gone into the backyard unless there was food involved since the beginning of June.

 Daisy, chillaxin' in the kitchen.

Since May she has been a constant fixture on the kitchen floor, kind of a large, furry rug taking up about half the room. She wants to be ready, just in case anything edible gets dropped. We don't allow her in the dining room while we are eating but as soon as she hears the chairs scoot back she is doggie on the spot. Rattle a little plastic or paper, Daisy is instantly under your feet, looking up in anticipation.

 My furry kitchen rug.

I guess I can't really blame her. She is used to having the run of the backyard, chasing squirrels, chomping on chipmunks and eating baby birds that fall out of the nest. Oh yeah, I know it's gross, but that's what dogs do. Last May she was diagnosed with degenerative liver disease, as well as significant arthritis in her back. We were devastated at first, but the vet put her on a detoxifying supplement called Denamarin, a special low protein diet and subcutaneous fluids three times a week. Right now, she's holding her own, having more good days than bad. I don't mind at all that I have to step over her to get to the fridge. I'm just glad she's still here to step over. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Girl Goes Traveling

My daughter, Brenna, left for a well deserved vacation recently. One of her friends from high school lives in New England and that’s where she decided to go for a long visit.

I drove her to the airport. On the way, I warned her, then gave The Mom Lecture. She listened with good grace and patience. She’s old enough now that it doesn’t offend her, but understands it means that I love her. I even asked if she had a jacket! Of course she did. I raised her to be responsible and independent and she certainly is. That’s wonderful but it means I don’t have too many chances to be Mommy any more. 

When we got to the airport I went in with her to make sure everything was okay with the ticket. That was the story anyway. The truth is: I just wanted to actually see her off on this new adventure. I saw her first breath, I saw her off to kindergarten, middle school, high school and college. I’ve seen her grow and change and blossom into this intelligent, beautiful young woman. Sometimes it just amazes me.

When I was hugging her goodbye at the security entrance, I had an intense flashback to when she was a baby. I loved holding her and kissing her sweet little baby head. It feels like I just blinked and here she is, all grown up and going off alone on an airplane. 

I wasn’t going to cry, but of course I did. Silly of me really. I know she’ll be back. Her car is here! Just kidding. Her family, friends and roots are here also. That's a powerful magnet.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Last Night and Goodbye

What a great time we’ve had here in Gleann Colmcille. We’ve learned some Irish language, made some friends, and had a wonderful experience at Oideas Gael. Thanks so much to Siobhan Ni Churraighin and Liam O Cuinneagain! They really do wonderful work, helping people like me and Fear na Cheoil learn more about Irish culture in a deep and meaningful way. Go raith maith agat, y’all. (Sorry, you can take the girl out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of the girl.)

The last evening in Gleann, we had dinner with The Belfast Lasses, Manuel and Cathy, all from my husband’s level a haon (one) class. They rented a two bedroom cottage right by the campus. Dinner was delicious; we had wine and conversation, most of it in Beurla (English) about Gaeilge.

Manuel takes a picture of Rick, taking a picture.

Good food, good friends, good evening.

We drank a dram of whiskey and walked up to join the festivities in the rest of the village. Fear na Cheoil stopped off at Roarty’s Pub to play in the session there and the rest of us walked up to the Halla na Mhuire (St. Mary’s Hall) for the Ceilimhor (big dance). The Lasses and Manuel decided it was too bright and busy for them and went back to Roarty’s. I stayed and did a couple of ceili dances and a waltz. I don’t have a clue what dances I did. The MC was calling and giving the directions all in Irish.

Rose and her partner step through the Slieve Luchra set.
Back at Roarty’s, The Lasses had saved me a seat. There were so many people in there it was difficult to get to the bar and say, “Ba maith liom pionta Guinness, le do thoil.” (I would like a pint of Guinness, please.) We talked and drank and played Harold’s bodhran and before you know it the lights were blinking last call and it was time to go back to the house. A look at my watch told me it was three am. 

Helen tries out Harold's bodhran.

The next morning, we said our goodbyes to Margaret Cunningham at Teach Gleann Dobhar and went to the final meeting at Oideas Gael.
Our housemates, Mert, Elisabeth, Paula and some guy I don't know.

Under sunny skies, we sang some Irish songs, ending with Mo Ghille Mar, then the set dance class did one figure of the Slieve Luchra set, I think. It was fun to see the President dance. She looked like she was really enjoying it.

The Irish President (blonde hair, black blouse) cuts a rug, uh, parking lot.

It was hard to say goodbye to everyone, but with email and facebook, we won’t lose touch. If we can go back next year, we might just fly in through Belfast. We know some people there.

Michelle, Ruth and me.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Rossan Point

The last walk we took from Oideas Gael was around the coast to Rossan Point. We were mostly looking for wildlife. Tony pointed out a stream the otters use to wash the salt water out of their fur. Sadly, none of them showed up while we were crossing the stream. Mostly what we saw were nesting sea birds and a lone seal. But we did see something on this walk that we had not seen all week. Sunshine!

I can’t believe how blue the water was and how white the wave caps were.

The walk wasn’t quite as difficult as the hike up to Glen Head on the first day.

That's Glen Head, waaay over there with the tower on top.

I really enjoyed the time I spent tramping around Gleann Colmcille. It’s going to be really hard to leave tomorrow. But, I’m not going to think about that now. Tonight, we have dinner with the Belfast Lasses and the final Ceilimhor. After this walk, I hope I can hold up for at least a dance or two!

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Thursday turned out to be a very frustrating day. The Music Man (an fear na cheoil) and I stayed out way too late on Wednesday night. (We got to bed at two am) On the way to the language class, he started feeling really bad and went back to the room. I couldn't concentrate on the lesson and walked back to Teach Gleann Dobhar at the tea break. He was feeling a little better and wanted to drive to Killybegs to get some money and find a pharmacy. 

I wanted to do at least one of the set dance classes and since it was still cloudy and very windy, I thought today would be the day. An added incentive is that the President of Ireland is at Oideas Gael this week and is in the set dance class in the afternoon. I'd like to say that I've danced in a set with her. Maybe I'll get the chance at the Ceilimhor on Friday night!

My husband said we could be back from Killybegs in a couple of hours. In my heart I knew it was going to take longer than that. It did. It took nearly three hours, which meant I missed the start of the dance class.

So, we decided to visit Tra Ban (Silver Beach) at Malin Bhig, just a few kilometers away. We had heard that there were 150+ steps down to the bottom. That's a lot of steps but it was so worth it!

From the car park.

 The famous steps. There might be 150+ I didn't count.

 Atlantic waves
Tomorrow is our last day, so it's language class in the morning and hillwalking in the afternoon. I'm already gearing up to say goodbye. Sniff.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Coastal Walk

In Alabama when somebody talks about a coastal walk, you know they’re going to be in Gulf Shores walking along the sugary white sands in their bathing suit. Coastal walk here in Gleann Colmcille means something quite different.

On Wednesday, the weather was cool and wet, again, especially on the heights, so Tony opted for a walk along the headlands just to the northwest of the village.
I’m sure he sighed heavily when he saw Sean and myself waiting in the parking lot with the others. Slow pokes again. Sean said it seemed to be the natural order.

This walk wasn’t anywhere near as strenuous as the first two, in the beginning, at least.

We saw sea caves.

We saw quartz outcroppings.

We saw rocky areas that looked like they could be on the surface of the moon.

This is our housemate, Elisabeth.

We climbed down rock faces. Well, some of us did.

We were going back by the beach, but the tide was in and we had to tromp through a farmer’s cow pasture. That was the steep part on this walk and while sheep are prolific, um, poopers, they got nothin’ on cows.
My boots stayed in the car all night. I hope they don’t charge us the extra fee for cleaning it out.