Walking & Gawking in Ireland – Part 4

While visiting the pubs in Kinsale we met a happily drunk group of Canadian golfers who insisted we absolutely had to visit Old Head where they lost their golf balls in the sea.  One of the revelers called “Mikey” snuck away to the Actons Hotel with the intention of one last whiskey after a comedic rendition of Tura-Lura-Lural.  Intending one last beer, we found Mikey and everyone’s good intentions flew away as good conversation ensued.  A brilliant business man, he counseled me on building a customer base, his winning personality and eyes shining.  The first to comment on our ages, Mike said he wished he’d brought his wife to Ireland when they were younger; she died a few years ago.  We heard versions of his sentiment throughout our holiday.  The messages we brought home are live every day, joy comes through experience rather than possessions, and saving for old age is a gamble at best.  Again, human connections rounded out our day of sight-seeing and we slept with a cool salty breeze blowing in from Kinsale harbor.Old Head Kinsale

K at Old HeadA hardy Irish breakfast under our belts, we drove the long way to Kenmare via Old Head Kinsale, which took us up the cliffs, then wound us through country back roads all the way to Killarney National Park and Ross Castle.  Not the quickest route, but the Canadians were right.Ross Castle

Ross Castle, built in the 15th century and home to the Earls of Kenmare, is beside Killarney’s lower lake, Lough Leane.  It was the last stronghold in Munster to hold out against the bastard Oliver Cromwell.  I think the prefix is part of his legal name in Ireland and Scotland.Muckross House in Killarney

Built in the 19th century, Muckross House is comparably modern.  We chose to skip the tour for a walk that tuned in to a hike around Killarney’s middle and upper lakes.  Path in the gounds of Muckross House

A pathway next to Killarney’s middle lake led us away from the crowds and into the woods, which provided a rougher uphill  terrain, and made me grateful once again for a splurge on high-quality hiking boots that tightly cradled my ankles and supported the arches.  Waterproof hiking boots are my #1 footwear suggestion for Ireland and my # 2 is Sketcher Go-Walks for ladies on pavement.Killarney Upper Lake

Killarney Upper Lake

The path dwindled after the upper lake, but still, I hoped that it would lead me back to the immaculate flat lawn of Muckross House.Muckross WoodsYou never realize a path disappeared until you are well off it, however we were halfway back, just a little lost.  My stamina almost spent, I could not hike back the way we came, so my husband went up a hill to appraise our options.  Luckily he found a shortcut.  Unluckily, it entailed me climbing over a log,  up a steep hill, and down again to our original woodland path.Muckross hike

As I weighed my options that really were not options, he of course snapped a shot of me.  Unaware that I mistakenly set the camera to video, it caught an under-my-breath reference to sweating like a $2 whore.  Nice souvenir.Muckross House lawn

After resting on the lawn for a good half hour, we drove a short way down the road to Torc Falls.  Killarney National Park covers 26,000 acres, basically a walking and gawking expo.

Torc Falls in Killarney National Park

Torc Falls in Killarney National Park

Ring of Kerry

The Ring of Kerry, terrifying drive with large tour buses crowding a trim road, but luckily there are pull-offs to catch your breath.

Down the road from Killarney is Kenmare and Sheen Falls Lodge, our accommodation for the next two evenings.  Kenmare is the jewel in the Ring of Kerry,  and Sheen Falls Lodge, a fantastical manor hotel to which I often return in meditation.

Fish & chips stop in Kenmare

Fish & chips stop in Kenmare

Sheen Falls Lodge

Kindly Siobhan led us to our room on the second floor of Sheen Falls Lodge and handed us a key with a huge fob on it.  A king size bed dressed in pure white and light gold, a bathroom the size of most hotel rooms, and Louis XV cream brocade chairs still left plenty of room to walk around comfortably in our opulent haven.  We built in a slow day midweek so I could write, rest, and gain energy for my husband’s walks that turn into hikes and other escapades, and he could go fishing.  My swollen ankles and fatigue indicated perfect timing. Sheen Falls

First, however, a Portugese gentleman in the lounge regaled us with pictures of his seaside villa and hilarious stories about marriage to an Irish woman who didn’t go home after holiday.  An older Irish gentleman, to our benefit, competed for our attention.  Jokes and stories kept us up laughing and making new friends until midnight, a pewter statue of Molly Malone as witness.

Rushing water and birdsong

Rushing water and birdsong

The next morning I sat on the balcony at 7:30 a.m. in a soft white robe with a cup of coffee and eased slowly into my unstructured day, while my husband had to meet his fishing guide with a full-on hangover, so rushed down to breakfast after groaning about that last pint, or maybe the last two.  I almost felt sorry for him, but we were in each other’s company every minute of the past four days, and pulling rainbow trout out of Loughbarfinnity is to him what writing is to me.  We were both better for it.Sheen Falls Lodge

Following a light breakfast, I found the pool.   A pungent herbal aroma  and lilting Celtic notes lent to a healing vibe as I lazily floated on my back.  A couple laps and a soak in the blue glass hot tub were restorative.  Then I explored the hotel with my camera and notebook.

Getting lost at Sheen Falls Lodge

Getting lost at Sheen Falls Lodge

I settled on the patio next to the river and wrote some horribly flowery prose in my state of infatuation, then sought out a book of Father Brown’s photography I spied earlier in the library.

When he returned hungry from his adventure and found me with tea in a sunny yellow drawing room, he smiled and shook his head a little at my extravagance, then showed me the picture of his fish and told me about Damien the guide on the way to the car. 

 

 

Chapel on Ring of Beara, where tour buses cannot fit.

 

Ditching Shampoo, Tales of a Greasy Head

Michigan winters are especially cruel to 5th decade skin, so along with stocking our pantry and medicine cabinet, my winter prep routine includes stocking up on shower oil, body cream, sugar scrub in oil, and tea tree shampoo.  In a quest to retain dissipating moisture, I shampoo my hair every other day and can slip in a third pin-up day if I don’t have anywhere to go, but still, I fight dry scalp all winter.

Driven by this quest to keep the scales and itchy urges at bay, I decided to try cleansing conditioner in lieu of shampoo.  At one week in, doubt has taken root as I pin-up the hair I “washed” with cleansing conditioner yesterday, complete with a headband to keep the heavy greasy mass away from my face.

I wonder… is this yet another failed beauty experiment, the first of which took place early in the 2nd decade.  There is a sweet spot in the 3rd and 4th decades when our hair and skin is as healthy as it will ever be and the same products work for a long while.  Then the time to pay for our youth in the sun begins and hormones once again go wild, unsure if they are coming or going.   And again, the experiments begin, not as stupid as those of the teen years (I once steamed my face beet red), but more expensive.

The cleansing conditioner may work better on thicker, curly hair.  Frustrated with my greasy pin-up, I am now off to shampoo my hair, probably twice.  Maybe if I wear hats I can use up the rest of the bottle.

Walking & Gawking in Ireland – Part 3

Gawking at Blarney Castle was a slow process.  We arrived at The Spaniard late for lunch with the only other patrons a few men visiting the bartender.  From the yelling and laughing I surmised they were good friends.

Lovely place to eat and drink on The Spaniard's bar patio

The Spaniard’s bar patio graced by a handsome German man

We sat on the patio in the sunshine enjoying pints and the view from The Spaniard’s lofty location on a curvy road snaking up the Kinsale hillside.  Jim had fresh fish and home-cut chips, while I gave in to a Cajun chicken wrap.  Complimenting most of our meals was the standard bit of greens tossed in a light vinaigrette.

Tasty lunch at The Spaniard in Kinsale

Tasty lunch at The Spaniard in Kinsale

During our respite at The Spaniard we noticed a good number of vehicles with deep scratches or dents on the passenger side and mirrors torn off, all driven by local folks.

It made us feel more comfortable about the hedge scratches on our rental, which was brand new when we picked her up.

 

We left The Spaniard refreshed and drove on High Road to Charles Fort, an English 17th century  star-shaped fort which once guarded Kinsale Harbor.  The walls packed with turf, they were almost impregnable to cannon fire.

Charles Fort on Kinsale Harbor

Charles Fort on Kinsale Harbor

During the Williamite wars William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James II at Charles Fort by approaching from the land side and laying siege for 13 days, finally breaching after 3 days of steady cannon fire on a single spot of the outer wall.  My most important lesson of the tour was do not ask questions about William of Orange if you want to keep your friends in The Republic.

Inside Fort Charles

Inside Fort Charles

We wandered the fort after our tour silently taking in the panoramic vistas and the sailboats of Kinsale in the distance.  Ireland once again struck us dumb, smiling nostalgically even though we had not left yet.

Charles Fort

Back at our hotel we laid our heads down for a mere half hour before Kinsale’s pubs called to us to come play.  We found The Sea Captains at The Armada, a duo who played the banjo, acoustic guitar and Irish whistle.  We settled on Caesar salads with warm, dense brown bread, and a few pints for dinner.  The Armada is one of the few pubs that served us beer at our table, in which case it is entirely appropriate to go against the standard and leave a fat tip.  As I listened to The Sea Captains tears began to roll down my face.  I was actually at an Irish pub listening to two Irishmen play after visiting Blarney castle, eating well-prepared, flavorful, and fresh food in Ireland, hiking the grounds of a star-shaped fort, and eating the best brown bread I tasted so far.  My tears were happiness overflowing and I took a deep breath and told myself “remember this, remember this”.

Irish Flag flying at Charles Fort

Irish Flag flying at Charles Fort

View over Kinsale Harbor

View over Kinsale Harbor

Charles Fort

Expansive grounds of Fort Charles

Expansive grounds of Fort Charles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I May Not Look Handicapped, but I’m Parking Here

Yes, I imagine it is odd seeing me pull into a handicapped space at the grocery store and jump out in my gym clothes, but here in the 5th decade life is absurd and challenging to most of us because that is how life is.  When my rheumatologist wrote a prescription for a handicapped placard he said he rather I spend time shopping and supporting the economy.  Grocery shopping is a 2 and 1/2 hour workout, which is what I primarily wanted the placard for, however I did not consider the impact on my daily allotment of energy.  In auto-immune speak we refer to that allotment as “spoons” per the Spoon Theory and the number of spoons I get per day is unpredictable unless a storm is coming, in which case I know I am screwed.  People with chronic disease use our “spoons” on activities that healthier people take for granted, like showering, blow drying our hair, and dressing, so using a spoon or two to avoid a funny look from a stranger wondering why I am parking in a handicapped spot is plain silly.

Handicapped parking

Despite several turns at occupational therapy, the concept of pacing is difficult to adopt as a lifestyle.  I am not a calm person by nature, however biology forces me to choose what is important enough to spend my spoons on each day.  Forgetting to pace myself means I may use a few of tomorrow’s spoons, like spending tomorrow’s money when I use a credit card except a high-interest bill is due right away.  The 4th decade ambition I possessed is no longer sustainable, yet as my rheumatologist kindly advised, I need to find purpose every day.  If you see me park in a handicapped spot on my daily scavenger hunt for purpose, please consider that I am strategically doling out spoons, or do not consider me at all because you are focusing on your purpose, too.

Another Memorable September

Septembers became synonymous with celebration when my first perfectly round-headed child introduced herself and my Mom finally found Papa John, a man worthy of her, adored by us.  Sharing a birthday, Round-Head and Papa John also share a bond, forged in hours of teasing, whining, love, and mutual admiration.  When we celebrate it is still warm, usually sunny, and the last party before the snow flies.  We laugh, still tease, sing Happy Birthday off-key, and feast.  Papa John will eat pie and Round-Head will eat chocolate cake and some of us will indulge in both.  These are the times we like to remember, the good times we will fall back on when we need a boost.

Round Head

Round Head

Papa John

Papa John

Another celebration of sorts is ArtPrize 2015, an international art contest held in September with over 1,500 entries at 162 venues centered around Grand Rapids, Michigan.   ArtPrize offers accessibility with dozens of outdoor pieces, free venues and a unique voting process open to all attendees. The ArtPrize experience stretches my creativity, a story in each sculpture, song, film, projection, painting,  and photograph.  Other’s interpretations and feelings evoked by ArtPrize entries are part of the enjoyment, even the sarcastic ones.  Inevitably, ArtPrize resonates with talk about what constitutes art and the varying messages each piece conveys.

ArtPrize 2013 Sculpture by G.R. Public Museum

ArtPrize 2013 Sculpture by G.R. Public Museum

Creativity spawned during ArtPrize will soon be put to good use as I put my garden to bed and spend more time indoors writing.  October gardening intentions wither on cold damp days and by then the Sugar Maple’s bright leaves carpet the yard, begging to be piled and hauled away.  Anything still standing in my garden after September lends interest and reminds me that there is a garden waiting for me underneath the snow.  It’s all about perspective.

Michigan Apple Fest is the final village festival of the season, celebrating the local harvest of not only apples, but corn,melons, peaches, plums, pears, tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, potatoes, garlic, onions and a few others I may have forgotten.  It is a land of plenty.  Street vendors, antique tractors, cider, baked goods, a couch race, live music, craft beer and a ton of food lend to the party.  It is a time of thanksgiving, as well as a last “Hoorah!” for our community.  The morning air is cooler, the evening light is softer, and summer is at an end.

Walking & Gawking in Ireland – Part 2

Leaving Glendalough we wound our way through the Wicklow mountains to the Hollywood Inn, where we were introduced to the Hurling Finals and learned a few Irish turns of phrase not mentioned in guide books.

Great food, beer & patrons at the Hollywood Inn

Great food, beer & patrons at the Hollywood Inn

Ravenous from hiking about, I dug into fish and home-cut chips, fascinated by the muscular men on the field balancing a tiny ball on short clubs while running, hitting the ball and being hit by it, all with no protective gear, but plenty of blood and bandages.  The excitement rivaled a Superbowl party and Hollywood Inn was more than I hoped for with an uneven stone floor, heavy dark wood , a stone courtyard, tasty fresh food and superb service.  Our first day in the Irish countryside was a success, now we had a real drive.

Bolstered by a hamburger he described as “very lean”,  Jim drove us on narrow back roads to Kinsale, a quaint harbor town in County Cork, where we stayed at the Actons Hotel overlooking the harbor.

Actons Hotel in Kinsale, County Cork

Actons Hotel in Kinsale, County Cork

Our TomTom was set to avoid toll roads, which made each trip a bit longer and more scenic than motorways.  We had no trouble finding “toilets”, a convenient petrol station in many towns we passed through.

Billy, our bartender in the lounge at Actons, patiently explained how children in Ireland begin their first day of school with a lunch box, a backpack, and a hurling stick.  An older gentleman at the bar put us through a course of Irish dialect in a descriptive telling of a helicopter ride over County Tipperary that his daughter gifted him with on a recent birthday.  They both asked what we liked most about Ireland thus far.  I said I loved the water everywhere, especially the streams flowing down mountains and bubbling over rocks.  The old man said, “Ahhh, that’s the piss!”, then laughed open-mouthed as did we.  I told him I also like the potatoes, they were better than at home.  He said, “Ahhh, yes the new potatoes are in, but don’t eat the chickens!”.  Billy told us of growing up in Kinsale and said he would like to visit the Wicklow Mountains someday.  Huge sprays of Asiatic lilies and eucalyptus graced tables throughout the hotel while small bouquets of hydrangea and roses adorned each stall in the lobby bathroom.  Our room was modern  and bright with clean lines and a warm breeze blew through a tall unscreened, tilted window.  Sailboats rocked in the moonlit harbor.  We slept deeply.

Kinsale Harbor

Kinsale Harbor

 

After our first day of venturing we had a true appreciation for a full Irish breakfast, which consisted of an array of juices, fruit, pastry, cereal, breads, cheeses and smoked salmon.  We ordered eggs and sausage and the plate unnecessarily came with white and black pudding and a grilled tomato.  Each day seemed as though it may be the one to try  the pudding, but I never did chance it, afraid my stomach might upset our plans.  We walked around Kinsale’s colorful streets while our breakfast settled before taking off for Blarney Castle.

Kinsale, Ireland

Colorful Kinsale

Colorful Kinsale

Blarney Castle was THE castle of our trip and we took our time exploring all the nooks and scary crannies.  Stone stairs spiraled up to the stone with a rope on one side to hold on to.  As we ascended the walls grew closer and the old man in front of us stopped in fear, the opposite of my typical run through it reaction.  Voices filtered up from the stairs and signaled a group coming up behind us.  I felt trapped already, barely able to breathe.  I jumped back down two stairs and yelled to my husband that I’d see him when he came down.  My discovery of the family room, murder-hole above the castle’s main entry and arrow shaft views throughout the castle rooms thrilled me more than if I kissed a stone that through my camera zoom looked wet.  Ugh.  But, do not let claustrophobic me deter you.  Blarney Castle

Manicured grounds, gardens and a long carriage house were lush with vintage blooms and beside the castle stood a poison garden planted with castor beans, foxglove and other nefarious, yet pretty, flowers and plants.  We rested and took in the groups of people who dotted the expansive lawn before we perused the gift shop and purchased a watercolour that I would carry on the plane to insure its safe arrival home.  Our breakfast worn off, we headed back to Kinsale and away from tour bus crowds in search of a late lunch and a pint.

One of many Blarney Castle Gardens

One of many Blarney Castle Gardens

stairs

Before the Blarney Stone stairs turn scary

Under Blarney Castle

Under Blarney Castle but not the dungeon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blarney Castle Family Room

Blarney Castle Family Room

Blarney Castle TowerBlarney Castle

Blarney Castle looking at me from the topBlarney Castle window view