Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ireland: At Last

In May of 2008, when I graduated from the University of Florida, my parents gave me a trip to Ireland to visit my friend Kaaren, who was (and is) working on a graduate degree in Irish Archaeology. Then, I started a job and couldn't go, and then I switched jobs and didn't have enough vacation time. Until this year! Finally, I jetted across the pond and, thankfully, Kaaren hadn't yet finished her program and was still there to show me around the beautiful green land of my ancestors. (No joke, I saw the castle built by the O'Donoghue clan from which my dear Grammy Beverly Donahue is descended!). So, three months after my trip, here is the tale of my two weeks of travels (with pictures!).

Many thanks to Kaaren for tolerating my indecision and just putting together a magnificent itinerary and for showing me so much beauty! (And, of course, big thanks to Mom and Dad for sending me on this adventure!)

On the morning of Sunday, May 13 (Mother's Day and my Uncle Matt's birthday), my parents and Gram drove me up to the Pittsburgh airport for my first solo international journey. After an overnight flight spent dozing in the window seat of the last row of the plane, I caught my first glimpse of Ireland:

While I promise not to run this post through with long, unnecessary descriptions of food (and pictures of said food), I must say from the outset that the food was delicious, especially the brown bread and butter. Kaaren and I decided that next time, I ought to put together a rating card with categories for texture, flavor, moistness, etc., so that I can objectively identify my favorite brown bread in Ireland. For the record, I think Chez Pierre, a tiny and charming French restaurant in Kilkenny, has my favorite brown bread and also a delicious vegetable tartine with goat cheese. Yum! Okay, onward!

First up, a trip to the Rock of Cashel and the purchase of my OPW (Office of Public Works) Card, which would afford me admission to most of the historical sites on our itinerary.
At just 21 euro, this card is worth it if you're visiting any number of historical sites.
It doesn't cover Blarney Castle, just FYI.
The Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary is home to Cormac's Chapel and St. Patrick's Cross (and a replica of the cross), among other treasures. The wind makes a jacket absolutely necessary, especially if it's spitting rain.

Wide shot of the site, including the round tower. Renovations necessitate the presence of the scaffolding over Cormac's Chapel. Moisture has caused damage to the roof, which is being restored.

Hugging the replica of St. Patrick's Cross
St. Patrick's Cross
En route to our B&B--Abbey House--we stopped at Nicholas Mosse Pottery for lunch and a bit of shopping. I didn't buy anything there, but I enjoyed browsing. Later, I would not exercise such self control when in the presence of pottery. After dinner at the Marble Slab Bar and my first encounter with mushy peas, we returned to the B&B whereupon I collapsed in sleep.

Guard dog at Abbey House Bed & Breakfast
Day two brought a tour of Kilkenny Castle. No pictures are allowed inside, but here's a shot of the exterior:
Kilkenny Castle
The grounds looked to be an excellent picnicking spot and, according to Kaaren, a popular wedding photo location.

We toured St. Canice's Cathedral:

St. Canice's Cathedral
I climbed to the top of the tower at the right of that photograph above. It's over 100 feet tall, and there are eleven ladders to the top. My legs wobbled, but the climb was worth it for the view:

View from the top of the round tower at St. Canice's Cathedral
After that delicious lunch at Chez Pierre, we ventured to one of Kaaren's research sites to see my very first Ogham stone! Ogham is the oldest form of written Irish.

The marks that look like scratches on the right side of the stone are Ogham.
In the morning, we took a guided tour of Jerpoint Abbey:

Jerpoint Abbey
Since I can't begin to describe the intricate carvings in the cloister at the abbey, here are some pictures:

This is a pig, and I don't remember why.
It looks like it has a flower in its ear.
I took a boatload of pictures at Jerpoint Abbey and even had to change my camera batteries. There were so many enchanting architectural details and fascinating carvings. Since I can't resist sharing them, here are some more. These are carvings on tombs. Some of them are apostles, and others are saints, but I don't remember which:

This last carving depicts St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers:

St. Christopher is said to be carrying child Jesus across a river.
After lunch at the Blackberry Cafe in Thomastown, where we learned about the Bridge Pottery (whose work provides the dinnerware at the cafe), we ventured to Burnchurch to meet one of the artists . . . and to purchase some pottery. I resisted the inclination to purchase a pig (and would later have to resist this inclination again and again because pigs are very popular in pottery), but I did find a lovely utensil holder that now adorns my mother's kitchen counter.

Then, at last, we were on our way to Cork, where Kaaren lives and where we would spend the next week. After dinner at home, we drove to Douglas's South County Bar to see Torcan, a band, and to meet some of Kaaren's school friends. I had my first glass of Bulmer's cider. Yum!

We took a day to be lazy: shopping, trying on dresses at Debenham's, posting the first batch of cards, and ending the day with an episode of Castle. The next day brought a trip to Charlesfort (OPW site) and my first encounter with Kaaren's friend Liam, a cantankerous but charming musician. I enjoyed exploring the fort and reading the history (none of which I retained) and taking pictures of the harbor and the sea beyond:

Charlesfort, a military base.
A view from Charlesfort.
A view during our driving tour with Liam.
Lunch at Fishy Fishy Shop & Chippy with fresh-caught fried fish and yummy chips with vinegar and then back home to Cork.

We spent a whole day in Blarney, visiting the castle and grounds, seeing Blarney House (but not touring it), and wandering Blarney Woolen Mill for hours. First, the castle:

At the top of the castle, in line with the windows, there's a bit of light spilling through.
There you kiss the Blarney Stone by hanging backward over the opening.
It's safe, though: guarded by iron bars.
To get to the top, you climb a narrow spiral staircase where the ceiling is so low that sometimes I even had to duck a little. All the way up, there are handrails or rope as a safeguard against falling. The staircases are designed to trip up invaders so the steps are different heights. Plus, because the castle is a ruin and exposed in places to the elements and because so many thousands of people are traipsing up these stairs all the time, the steps are rather worn down and even a bit slippery. At various points, you can peek through arrow slits for spectacular views of the grounds:

A view from the spiral stairs on the way up to the top of Blarney Castle.
At the top, you can kiss the Blarney Stone, which I was ordered to do by my Gram. I did it. Here's the proof:

Then, there was shopping. Blarney Woolen Mill is a three-story shopping complex. Many gifts were purchased there, as were many postcards, but simply wandering around the shop was the best part.

In the morning, we drove to Ardmore and saw a round tower and the sea. We took a walk along the sea, staying clear of the sand and seaweed, and had lunch at White Horses.

The round tower at Ardmore with a glimpse of the sea.
The sea at Ardmore. 
I hope you'll indulge me a food picture because this little fruit appetizer from White Horses is too cute not to share:

The inside was filled with cantaloupe, kiwi, strawberries, grapes, etc.
The next day, we had a driving tour of Cork City, narrated by Liam. We saw Everyman Palace Theatre, St. Finbar's Cathedral, the madhouse, and the longest and shortest roads in Ireland (according to Liam), among other sights.
The old madhouse. Some of it has been renovated and made into apartments.
Few Irish will live there because of its sad history.
To conclude my week in Cork, we enjoyed a gig by Liam and Ger, collectively known as Trad Routes, at An Seanachai in Kinsale. Some of the lyrics are a little naughty but only for a moment.

Dave, the barman at An Seanachai, said I was the loveliest girl in all Ireland. I won the band's CD, and they let me have it even though they accused me of cheating. (Kaaren told me the answer to the question that won me the prize.) Liam treated me to a pint of Bulmer's cider, and I was highly entertaining to a group of American tourists who thought I was part of the gig.

The next day, we drove to Killarney and had a tour of the aforementioned Ross Castle of the O'Donoghue clan.

Ross Castle, built by the O'Donoghue clan!
We ate dinner at Kate Kearney's Cottage and enjoyed some accordion music and a bit of Irish dancing before calling it a day. In the morning, we toured Muckross House and gardens.

After Muckross House, we drove to the Dingle Peninsula, which is a gaeltacht, a community officially dedicated to preserving the Irish language, both written and spoken. We had dinner at Ashe's (twice!) in Dingle town. I saw beehive huts and the sea.

The sea from the Dingle peninsula
We visited the Blasket Islands museum, which depicts the many efforts made at documenting life and language on the islands. It's a fascinating history, and I'd highly recommend the museum.

Blasket Islands
Out on the peninsula, we stopped at Louis Mulcahy Pottery for lunch and to see his work. Beautiful pieces but way out of my price range.

The lawn at Louis Mulcahy Pottery
For our last hurrah, we drove to Shannon for the banquet at Bunratty Castle. En route, we stopped at Annascaul Pottery. The banquet provided a delightful conclusion to my Irish adventure, complete with a delicious meal and superb entertainment:

Bunratty Castle staff and performers

Along the way, there were other potteries and charming B&Bs: Coolavokig Pottery (which uses a wood-fired kiln and which also had cute little pigs), Penny's Pottery (where everything was pastel shades of blue and green), Holly Grove B&B (Killarney), and Cill Bhreac House (Dingle, County Kerry).

Early in the morning, I caught a flight home, toting a bag full of pottery and a brain full of memories. I look forward to returning to Ireland, next time with my mother and Gram. Until then, here's a sheep, representative of the fields full of them that run through my every thought of Ireland.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Resignation and Rediscovery

I know I still haven't posted pictures or stories from Ireland, but I just made a big life change, and since I'm on this journey toward living authentically, here goes.

[Since this is a long post, here's a summary: I quit my job. Mostly. I'm growing a backbone and rediscovering my voice.]

For a while now, work has been tense. I was resigned to the tension. I could handle it. It wasn't pleasant, but it was manageable. Until July 16. In a meeting on the morning of July 16, the tension reached new heights, and it became abundantly clear that I could no longer continue in the position I held. On the afternoon of July 16, I submitted my letter of resignation and two weeks' notice. The next morning, I agreed to continue to manage the youth orchestra.

I have worked steadily since graduating from college in May 2008 so I find myself in rather an odd place without a full-time job. In a way, I feel liberated. Certainly, I am grateful not to have to spend my days under the thumb of a merciless dictator. (Okay, I'm being dramatic. It wasn't that bad. Most of the time.) In another way, I feel really lazy for not going to work.

I've sorted through a pile of old greeting cards (happy memories, those) and binders full of atrociously bad writing from high school. The dishes are all clean. My bedroom floor is visible. I've got a play to rehearse beginning this Monday evening. My days, though, stretch ahead in vast emptiness (until I find another job, which is, of course, the goal).

These free moments have led to some pleasant discoveries. Saturday Night Live has proven a time-consuming diversion. (Stefon is hilarious; Seth Meyers is dreamy.) Huffington Post directed me to Janet Varney's podcast: "The JV Club". Varney's conversations with talented and interesting women have helped pass the time while I'm cleaning the apartment and also provided thought-provoking brain fodder.

During Varney's podcast featuring Alison Brie from TV's "Community", Brie and Varney played with one of those paper fortune tellers sometimes called a cootie catcher. Rather than being a fortune teller, though, this cootie catcher asked deep, probing questions. (Here's a picture of their cootie catcher.) One of them was to name "three differences, better or worse, from your teenage self." Varney's answer covered, among other things, feeling not as smart and well informed as she once was. (She expressed, though, that this is changing through the work that she's currently doing because she stays really well informed, on a par with the intellectual stimulation of being in college. Yay Janet!)

In re-reading some of my writing from college, I began to wonder what has happened to my brain since I graduated. I had thoughts, big thoughts and smart thoughts, and I wrote them down and gave them to my professors--and sometimes even to my peers but only when required--to read. I remember, though, being overly concerned with what other people would think of my thoughts. I still am. That hasn't changed. I am terrified of sharing my opinions with people (excepting those few very greatly trusted friends).

I grew up in a very nurturing environment. I attended an all-girls high school with small classes and low student-to-teacher ratios. My thoughts were valued when I chose to express them, and the environment provided ample opportunity for such expression. Then, too, in college, my papers (mostly) received glowing comments with regard to my thoughts. Why, then, am I so afraid to share them now? What suppresses my voice?

It's a fear of discomfort. I know that. I can name it. I strongly dislike being uncomfortable or making other people uncomfortable. So I have kept my mouth shut and my head down. I have shied away from confrontation, which has allowed people to walk all over me. Recently, I found my voice and started standing up for myself.

People who like to walk on other people don't like it when those people grow backbones and refuse to be trodden upon any longer. People like that call standing up for yourself "insubordination" or "lack of respect." People like that refuse to acknowledge that maybe they need to change.

In the face of such miserable vindictiveness, I resigned. I retreated to a place where positivity is appreciated, even if that's only in my own brain. My thoughts are worthwhile, and I am valuable, and I am not about to surrender my newfound backbone and voice just because someone thinks I am worth less than I am.

Because I am awesome.

So are you.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Theatrical Update: Of Mice and Men

Next month, I will be appearing in my first ever adult play: John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men at Oglebay Institute's Towngate Theatre. Up until now, I've done musicals (Annie; CarnivalFootloose; Cinderella), shows with Parcel Players (the summer youth company at Towngate), and shows in the children's season at Towngate (You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown; Beauty & the Beast; Cinderella). While some of these plays and musicals did cover adult subject matter, I've never done a show with an adult cast meant for an audience composed of adults.

Steinbeck's play, based on his novel of the same name, follows George and Lennie, two itinerant farm workers, and the drama that unfolds on their new job. My character, unhappily newly wed to the boss's son Curley, has no name, no friends, and no occupation outside of housewifery. Longing for companionship and lost in dreams of a wholly different life, she seeks conversation with the men on the farm. The men refuse to speak with her, fearing the wrath of Curley and thinking the young woman a tart. She has hope, but . . . well, I won't spoil the end in case you've not read the book.

This role presents a challenge to me. Unlike the character, I had a really happy, pleasant childhood and now have a pretty pleasant and happy adulthood. I'm looking forward to digging into the character and learning more about her and her life. I also greatly appreciate the opportunity to work with director Tim Thompson on a show of this caliber. The men who compose the rest of the cast are mostly new to me, but I am excited to get to know them as friends and fellow actors.

Oglebay Institute's Towngate Theatre presents Of Mice and Men September 21-23 and 28-29. All shows are at 8 PM, except the 23rd, which is a 2 PM matinee. Tickets are $12.50/$11 for OI members/$6.25 for students with ID.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Toast

Today, while cleaning out my accordion file, I found some papers from college. I don't recall the assignment Dr. Cech gave us in that Fall 2006 section 5611 of LIT 4930: Hermes to H. Potter (or what, exactly, was going on with my capitalization here), but this is what I wrote:

A Toast

To Kool-Aid and Crayons and Color by Number
Stuffed Animals, Sleepovers, Best Friends Forever
To Coffee can stilts and a witches' stew
So little time and so much to do
To hand drawn cartoons like The Little Mermaid
Party dresses and costumes that Gram made
To Lightning Bugs in Mason Jars
Rugrats and Super Mario Brothers
To Hot Dogs and Macaroni & Cheese
To Overalls and matching tees
A Pink Dress, White Polka Dots
To A Dad called Pop who called me Dot
To Cheering lifts and camping trips
Singing with the band in my cowgirl outfit
Jump-rope and jumping on the trampoline
To Saltine crackers on Grandpa's swing
To Right to Read week, the Merry-Go-Round
Pig Math, clapping games on the playground
To The Pledge of Allegiance, The Act of Contrition
To Drug Abuse Resistance Education

To the time before--
. . . I knew being teacher's pet might be a bad thing
. . . I knew what cancer meant
. . . I cared what boys were thinking
. . . boyfriends happened
. . . I was expected to have a boyfriend
. . . I was supposed to wear make-up
. . . the pressure to be thin
. . . political correctness
. . . cynicism and air quotes and double entendres and innuendo
. . . we learned to curse, to drink, to party, to hate
. . . imagination made me an escapist
. . . reality tainted my imagination

To the days when--
. . . dirt was my only enemy
. . . my little brother was still little
. . . people thought we were twins
. . . my cousins were more like my sisters
. . . my brother and I could lie across the backseat side by side
. . . sharing was just what we did
. . . we went to church as a family
. . . I dreamed of being Mary in the fourth grade Nativity play
. . . I had time to read for fun
. . . the shows on Nick at Nite were what my parents had watched as kids
. . . no one had a cell phone and we only had computers at school
. . . I felt comfortable in a bathing suit
. . . I still wore shorts
. . . I thought I could be anything
. . . the grass was green enough at home

To smiling

To laughing

To enjoying the little things

To seeing the bright side

To enjoying swimming pools--not dreading them

To not holding my nose

To swimming with my eyes wide open

To plunging in sometimes without testing the water first

To believing in things that aren't real because they might someday be