Thursday, July 1, 2010

Greetings! I am actually sitting in the airport currently, waiting. We flew over the ocean to Newark, and now we sit and wait for several hours. Long journey, and here I am without a book! But the laptop is charged and I promised I would do this, so I will take the opportunity to talk about our time in Kilcar.

Kilcar is a small town on the southern end of Donegal County, in the northwest corner of Ireland. Jeff and I made it that way several times, and truly fell in love with the landscape. Kilcar is only about 1.5 hours from Omagh, and it is where my grandmothers’ family hails from. Her cousin currently still lives in the family home two miles out of town, in this beautiful valley very close to the ocean. The town itself is a one street sort of place with four pubs, some other shops, and an impressive hand weavery. It was once a fishing town, but now the space nearest an inlet of the ocean is a Gaelic football pitch. Perhaps the most beautiful place in the world to play a sport, though thoroughly miserable during ocean storms I’m sure!

So grandma’s cousin’s son, Kevin, and his family Maureen, Chris, and Kenny welcomed us into their home for two nights. We arrived on Saturday late and were greeted by a cup of tea, and then went out to John Joe’s for a pint (or three) and music. We are not ashamed to say it—Kevin was definitely slowing down with the pints so that we could keep up. The music was really good, a blend of contemporary and traditional Irish with banjo, guitars, and an electric fiddle. Kevin and Maureen knew absolutely everyone in the place, and it was packed until 2am with people of all ages. We were totally spent, but went home for another cupa and chatted until 3:30. Yikes!

The next morning we all slept in and awoke to a proper fry up. I have spoken about these before, it is what I tried to make for St. Patrick’s—eggs, potato bread, beans, tomatoes, bacon, black pudding, white pudding, and fried mushrooms. Just all of the vegetarian things was plenty breakfast for me, I do not know how they put it away! And Maureen is a tiny thing. That day we went out and about to Silver Strand beach and got a view of the lighthouse on Rathlin Island where my great grandfather worked. Grandma remembers him telling stories about rowing his boat out to an island for a week at a time with one other young man, and talking about the silver beach nearby, so this one must be the one. Very special. We also drove through the countryside for a while down tiny roads and heard about all the folks who lived here and there. Our final destination for the day was Port, a small secluded old fishing port where it is suspected illegal drugs enter the country because it is so out of the way! No one lives there, but as it happens, locals sun there on such a nice day.

Back at home we had Chinese takeaway and chatted Gaelic football with Chris. He is 14 and would love to come to America someday and visit. I think he would fit right in and could teach the cousins a new game. He is very sharp and certainly not shy, so I think he would fit in with the Wagner clan very well. The boys watched a match and the ladies (including Kevin’s sister Ethine, pronounced Etna, who has visited the Chicago sisters) chatted it up in the kitchen with a bottle of wine. Conversation centered on what Jeff and I are doing in Clanabogan and spiritual mediums, which are much more respected and common than they are at home. Good craic, you might say.

The next morning was a national holiday, so we slept in again. Then another beautiful breakfast of breads, cheese, tomatoes and salted butter (!!! We miss salted butter!!!) and we visited the family home which sits just 50 yards up the hill from the house we stayed in. We met grandma’s cousin and had a wee chat with a couple of Kevin’s brothers. Jeff and I said goodbye to everyone and set off around noon for a boat trip along the coast to see the sea cliffs. It was nice, but actually I liked seeing them from the top better than from the bottom. We were the only tourists on the boat and we were the closest vessel to a mayday call, so we had to respond to it. Surreal! The coastguard helicopter was hovering in the distance, and that was what we were aiming for. We were called off before we got there because it was just a mechanical problem and the coastguard was on the way, but very nerve wracking for a while! On the way out of town we stopped at the Donegal weavery in town to check things out there—a very different operation from what I have been doing but everything is still woven by hand albeit in very large quantities. Jeff found himself a scarf, and I enjoyed looking. Unfortunately the boat and subsequent car ride home left me car sick, a damper on the weekend, but all together a lovely time. The family was incredibly gracious and more than happy to have us out again, and I am pretty sure that we will be able to return the favor when Chris comes out some day. Good times, I just do not know why I didn’t manage to see them earlier!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Visitors and Honeymoon!

We have a lot of catching up to do! Last everyone heard from us in March, friends Kristin and Landon had just left. Since then, Jeff’s parents Dan and Terri Ann have visited, friends Cody and Kate have visited, and Jeff and I have gone on our honeymoon! Now that we have been back for a week and some usual daily routine to recover from the craziness, it is time for a blog update and some photos! First, our time with Dan and Terri Ann was a really nice reminder of home. We have been munching on the treats they brought ever since! They joined us in our daily work for a couple days in the community, Dan in the garden with Jeff and TA in the weavery with me. Then we headed out for a couple days and saw parts of Ireland that we had not seen yet! Here are some photos from the weekend:

The same day Dan and TA left the island, Jeff’s friends Cody and Kate came to visit. They joined right in on the Easter weekend celebrations, and then we all headed down to Dublin for some fun and a hostel in Temple Bar. Jeff and I flew out the next morning for Italy! Here is an Easter photo:

So, from Dublin to Italy! We had a flexible itinerary and found ourselves in Parma the first evening for pizza and a nice walk. Then we moved out to the Cinque Terre, which is a beautiful region for cliff towns, the beach, and hiking, for five days. Francesco, a round Italian man with enough English to offer us an apartment and haggle a price, swept us away to his grandfather’s old apartment for our time in Vernassa.

From Cinque Terre we took a train to Florence and rented a car to drive through Tuscany. Our first night we stayed in Volterra (of Twilight fame), a walled city atop a small mountain. We really loved it there, except for the parking ticket and crowd of Italian teenagers having a birthday party in our restaurant. Incidentally (due to a parking ticket blowing our budget) we stayed in an old seminary that night, which was surprisingly cool.

The next night was our splurge night—we drove into Chianti through rain and a little snow (!) and stayed at a vineyard agriturissimo. We spent the afternoon in front of a fire trying to warm up our chilled bodies. There were barely any other guests there that evening, and so we had the restaurant and therefore a chef and waitress to ourselves for a four course meal! Imagine all the candles lit and fireplace crackling, a bottle of wine, and olive oil chocolate on cheese. Amazing. Photos speak:

Unfortunately, we left my passport there and drove back to Florence to return the car. Upon checking in our last hostel (a very strange metal cubicle!), we realized it was missing and freaked out! When we realized where it was we rented a car and drove back. They gave us a bottle of wine for our trouble, which we had to consume that night because we could not bring it home! So bottle of wine, pizza, and a lot of noise from more Italian teenagers staying in cubicles all around us. Somehow we both slept very well, and headed out the next day. Not a great way to end the trip, but we were ready to come home and overall had a great one.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Irish St. Paddy's day

Hallo! Last week was St. Patrick's day, and I thought I would share our very strange experience of it here. It was not exactly what you would expect.

I will start in the middle. The morning began in a wonderful way, making a proper Ulster Fry for the house. Check photos on Wiki. This breakfast is actually a minor feast of grease, fat, and as an afterthought, tomatoes. Two flats of bacon, two sausages, eggs, tomatoes, fried soda bread, fried potato bread, and mushrooms all fried in a particular order and with a lot of butter and sausage/bacon grease. We were all rolling after that, even the vegetarians. Jeff and I decided that we have just developed a St. Patrick's custom to bring home and share.

So that seems Irish enough, right? We spent the afternoon with the house out at the Ulster American Folk Park, a living history museum, where we walked around and saw a play of sorts about a living or American wake (which was what they called a going away party for an emigrating person). The weather here has been gorgeous lately, two days rain in the past two weeks, and it was nice to be outside. We chilled out the rest of the day and had a nice supper. Everyone went to bed early, completely exhausted.

Now, rewind. We could not celebrate out on the town on the day proper, so we went out with maybe a dozen people the night before while Lukas covered the house. We went to a place called Sally's for drinks and music, and sat around happily chatting with our Guinness/cider. Things changed quickly when tiny creme de menthe and Bailey's shots appeared. We had a toast with the Rainbow House co-workers shortly after those, and then Niklas (new Rainbow co-worker) wanted to treat Jeff and I as well. Now, keep in mind that Omagh was the site of a major car bombing in 1998, and is perhaps not a good place to order an Irish Car Bomb (a Guinness/Jameson/Baileys mixed drink). He was not stupid to order it by that name, but instead ordered all the components seperately and came back to the table with three full pints and the Bailey's and Jameson in shot glasses. This was a larger undertaking than either of us were prepared for, but I suppose many people have had that thought on St. Patrick's day before... a half hour later the bar closed and forced everyone upstairs to the club, complete with spinny lights and the dance club version of Irish favorites such as "I'll Tell me Ma" blasting with a techno beat. Few were wearing green, but many women were wearing skirts as short as my shirt. Though this is not normally our scene, due to the aforementioned activity, we had a good time! We left most of our party still dancing and caught taxi around 1:30.

So like I said, not exactly what we were expecting. But still a fun time. Waking up the next morning to fry up all that food was difficult, but the result was well worth it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kristin and Landon!

We had a lovely time recently when our friends, Kristin and Landon, stopped by Belfast for a visit! In exchange for two boxes of girlscout cookies one of graham crackers, we took them around for a few days. We walked around Belfast the first day (and magically, they were mostly coherent despite the transatlantic flight), then headed to the west coast to Donegal for some natural beauty. We visited a point near Kilcar that was absolutely amazing. To reach it we drove down a potholed farmer’s lane, and had to stop for a sheep and her lamb. The lamb could not jump the stone wall like mama, so it kept running up and down the gate bleating. The most beautiful place I have been on the island yet. Seriously remarkable. See photos. The last day we showed them around the community, Omagh, and headed back to Belfast. We had a blast, but we were exhausted. Here are a couple photos of our time with them—

Friday, February 26, 2010

Lazy time

Feb. 26th, 2010

Back in the swing of things here. This week we had a lazy day on our free day, only leaving to go to the post office (straggler thank-you notes). Then we snuggled up with a Reese’s peanut butter cup, two wee bags of thai sweet chili crisps (chips), and caught up on the recent episodes of Glee. We are six weeks or so behind yall in the states, and it is very tempting to watch ahead, but our frustratingly slow internet connection squashed that impulse. The Reese’s were smuggled in from Scotland by Lukas, who was visiting his mother and sister there last week. N. Ireland has not figured out the beautiful combination of chocolate and peanut butter, and Lukas knew that I had been pining after some. Then Jeff napped, I read a book, and life was superbly lazy.

Later this week we had our supervision meetings to talk about how we are doing in Clanabogan. They are modeled for young co-workers, and the sheet we had to guide the meeting was rather frustrating. Most of the questions do not apply to us. So we laughed off many of them and had good, productive conversations instead. Jeff’s meeting brought about a change in his daily life which has been a big relief to him. You could ask him about it, but this is not the proper place to type it out. My meeting was just nice to have—no changes really, but a good conversation and good self reflection. Both meetings were very positive, and we were grateful for the reinforcement. I have been feeling good about the way things are going in the house generally. There are always little hiccups here and there, but the fact that they have all been little things is great. Somehow this week we are both very tired (I blame the Olympics, which air live starting at 11pm) but feeling good about our accomplishments in Rainbow house.

Monday, February 22, 2010


February 18, 2010

Amazingly, there are several very dedicated readers of our blog though we are not very dedicated bloggers. I am going to attempt to do this more often rather than posting huge ones once a month (no comment from Jeff, though). First, a couple photos:

My recent spring cleaning issue-- the holiday decorations

The cat in our manger at Christmas

A coastline in Sligo which we walked last week

Jeff, on the same walk, contemplating his next step

Over Valentines weekend we went to London and stayed with Jeff’s cousin Bill, wife Laura, and two kids Poppy and Daisy. They took us under their wings and showed us how to get about. We learned the tube and rail systems pretty quickly (one is forced to, lest they be trampled by hoards of women in heels). Sights on the list included the following, though I will not go into all the details of each: the National Gallery, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, the V&A Museum, a walk around the river, junk store shopping, the Tower of London, and the London and Tower bridges. These were cool, but I only want to talk

about my two favorite things, which were the food and the Jack the Ripper tour. Imagine a hundred tourists standing around in the dark, some with clear plastic ponchos despite clear skies, following around a dude with a wheely suitcase and a stool. Funny scene. We walked around what was old London proper and learned all the gory details of the Jack the Ripper murders while standing at the actual murder sites. The guide was awesome, though sometimes the sites were unexciting. (“This is the very site of the third murder…” as we stand in the middle of a parking lot). Anyway, it was a good time and a funny way to spend Valentine’s. Then, there was lots of food. We have

been severely lacking tasty tidbits here in N. Ireland—we have found one good Indian take-away in Omagh, but everything else is just lacking taste. So in London we got our fix. We had good Thai with Bill and Laura, made Mexican, had lunch at a fabulous vegetarian cafĂ© (Jeff loved the sweet potato pie), and we finally struck out at a bad Chinese place our last day. The best day was at a place called the Bell—we went out to the country a bit to see Laura’s parents’ place and go to this pub. The Bell has been owned

by one family for six generations, and the rafters were literally brushing my hair as I walked around. On offer are three things—beer, pickled eggs with vinegar chips, and baps (buns). Pickled eggs are, by the way, fabulous. On your bun you can order a variety of options, all of them meat or cheese. Jeff got ox tongue, which apparently tastes like baloney. I got the strong cheddar bun which is literally a bun with a half pound of cheese on it. It was

amazing, but definitely more cheese than I could ever eat myself. Here is a photo of the cheese. After lunch we visited a nearby sacred old yew tree, estimated to be around 1000 years old. There are all sorts of random sacred things around here.

We flew late at night, took a bus back to Omagh, and a taxi to the community to get in bed by 2:30am. The next morning we were up by seven to wake people up! I do not know how it came to be that all the people here are woken up by us (my previous experience shows me that most people can wake with an alarm). But that morning we were especially cursing the pattern that has been laid out for us.

More to come, sooner than later. This is unofficially my last big post, hopefully to be replaced by more frequent but smaller ones.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Honestly, a real time update, with TACOS!

We start with a few photos completely unrelated to the post from Giant's Causeway:

Chelsea: Well hello everyone! This is a real time update, not another thing I have been working on for weeks and am just now posting. Here is what is on my mind today.

On Monday, the whole life changes. Our kitchen in Rainbow house is being re-done into this beautiful model-home kitchen. We already know what it will look like because there is a twin home here, called Sunrise, and they have already finished their kitchen. There will be a beautiful tile floor, five (count em, FIVE) sinks which incidentally each have specific purposes under health code, granite counter tops, a new window, a new larder, new cabinets, better lighting, and a copper fume hood. Custom made dish sinks made to fit people more generally so that we do not have to bend over to do the dishes. We will still have the aga, but they're also putting in a range with an oven (read: proper temperature regulation for baking). Finally, a dish washer. If anyone can imagine doing dishes by hand for a family gathering or party of 12-20 people, then imagine doing that three times a day, you have an idea of how excited I may be for a dish washer.

This big change brings about all sorts of little ones. Our cooking crew is shifting over to Sunrise and their new kitchen, and Jill will no longer be in the crew. She will move to another house so that Catherine can cook in Sunrise again. What I hear is that Catherine is a wonderful cook and very efficient, so I am excited to see what we can do together! In reality I am only really cooking three days a week now. The bakery makes us pizza one day, a support worker (employed by the community to help out) cooks on Sundays, and I have a big meeting every Wed. so Christina has to cook on her own... more on home group meeting later. Besides cooking changes, we also are all spreading out over different houses for our lunch meal. Lucky for us, Jeff and I at least still get to eat together, and then run back home for a little R and R.

Home group. This has been slowly ramping up as one of my additional responsibilities. Wednesdays are a funny day for me. I attend this meeting, which is all about every big or little thing that needs talking about in the community, with the home coordinators of each house. These are the mover and shaker people who really run the administrative side of Clanabogan. They do not make every decision alone, but most things at least start in this meeting. I am learning a lot about the way things work here, and tucking tidbits away for future use. Later in the day we head to Introductory Course with all the young co-workers, and I get the other very basic side of things-- what is respect, how do we ensure safety in the tub, antidiscrimination policies etc. So I find myself a unique bridge between these two groups. I am quite comfortable in the young crowd meetings, and generally feel a need to help those meetings along with participation. My footing in home group was initially tenuous, but I am starting to feel the ground there and I am speaking up more when I have options or opinions. There is this funny thing that I think can be found in many do-gooder non-profits everywhere... do-gooders are not always so practical. We weave and tip around subjects, someone forgets their point, another brings a new one in the middle of a current point, someone brings us back to center... repeat. No kidding, it took us 25 minutes to figure out where everyone from our house could eat. So I find myself often drifting between daydreaming and bringing up poignant ideas that are often solutions. Oh, inefficiency mingled with efficiency mingled with bleeding hearts on everyone's sleeves.

Tonight we are celebrating my birthday with tacos. Old El Passo has a complete monopoly on the Mexican fare here, so you can imagine exactly what we will be eating. Add to those staples home made guacamole and salsa, and I am quite excited. We are having our house dinner early because two guys from the house, David and Christopher, are leaving tomorrow to visit home for the weekend. It was absolutely crushing to David that he would miss my birthday dinner (because he thinks everyone wants sausages and chips on their birthday), so we moved it up. In a wonderful but completely unnecessary gesture, his mother drove 20 minutes from Kesh to bring a gift for me. Likely, a tin of chocolates. We are still working on the tins we got at the holidays! After supper, I have a distinct idea that Jeff is taking me to a Jazz ensemble and dinner (second dinner). Maybe I have this thought because I told him it would be a nice idea for my birthday. Perhaps I will even get him to dance with me. We will see! More on all that next time. I leave you with a few completely unrelated photos: