View From an Irish Back Yard

Jam, Goodbyes and Late Summer Ramblings
July 31, 2014, 3:04 pm
Filed under: America, Family, Food and Drink, Friends, Indianapolis, Ireland in General

It’s just after 9 a.m. and I’m finally moving.  The kids seem to get me up too early these days, but I won’t let the couch call my name again today (if I can help it).  I pour my first cup of coffee – my favorite – and watch it swirl and steam up inside the cup, like futures in a crystal ball.  I love watching that first cup of coffee.  I add a dash of cream and watch it follow a counterclockwise  swirling pattern.

Evelyn is sitting on the couch in her princess nightgown, swinging her legs and dress-up shoed feet in time to a song she’s making up.  Shea is napping and Frank is still asleep.

Evey's Flowers

Evey’s Flowers

It’s a beautiful, sunny morning, cool and clear but humid in nearly tropical proportions.  At least to someone who spent the majority of the last 6 years in Ireland.  I’m so thankful that this has been one of the coolest Julys on record in Indianapolis.  It’s still been a hot one for us, but not unbearable, particularly considering we still don’t have the air conditioning fixed on our minivan.  And it’s nice not to have to keep the air on all the time in house, too.  I wish I could keep the windows in the house wide open all the time, really, but that’s unfortunately not an option in our neighbourhood.

Cherry Pits

Cherry Pits

I’m making strawberry cherry rhubarb jam.  A strange combination, maybe, but it’s made out of the over-ripe stuff I have on hand, like all the best jams are (of course).  I’m pitting the cherries with my fingers and staining my cuticles.  Ah well.

Cherries get kind of a bad rap.  They’re kind of the Regina Spektor of the fruit world – lovely and worthy but a bit of work to get into.  Like drinking from a cup and saucer instead of a mug.  Like starting your summer plants early from seed instead of buying 2 inch plants from a store.  It’s a nice idea, but no one has time for that.  I think it’s sad that people avoid cherries for “easier” fruits like apples or bananas or strawberries.  When I was growing up in Montana, Flathead Cherries were anticipated all Spring.  Rainier Cherries, too.

I remember the Friday fruit stall in Drogheda would often have gorgeous piles of ripe, red cherries that didn’t attract any attention beyond small swarms of yellow jackets.   The proprietors would walk up and down in front of their stall with samples of the beautiful fruit, and samples of fresh Spanish peaches and nectarines, too, but couldn’t coax the aul’ Irish ladies to try any.  “I don’t like the stones,” they’d complain.  “I don’t like the fuzz.” So I bought some cherries, most weeks, and some peaches and nectarines, too, even though I was usually the only one in our house to eat them.

The jam is smelling pretty good and I’m sitting down with my coffee to finally read the Sunday paper.  You read that right – it is Thursday.  Better late than never – and I do enjoy paging through a real, live, inky smelling newspaper, even if I don’t get around to it for several days.

Better late than never...

Better late than never…

I wonder what kind of a day it’s going to be.  I know it’s passe to say it, but I can’t believe a lot of schools have started already.  It’s not even August! Not quite.  I’m not ready for that.  We ended our YMCA membership, so I don’t know what we’re going to do with Evelyn for preschool.  So many up-in-the-airs for us right now.

As the jam bubbles away, I think of a dear woman who passed away this week, another loving mentor at the Tinsley Living History Farm.  Helen Heaton was a wealth of knowledge and humour, and I pray she is hammering away on her dulcimer in Heaven.  What an inspiring, strong, lovely person the Pearly Gates have gained.

And I think of another beautiful woman, this time a much younger one, who is nearing the end of her life as well.  I met Susan Hodgin in 2006, I think, when I took a painting workshop from her at the Indianapolis Arts Center.  She was lovely, bubbly and encouraging, and gave me a real love and better understanding for painting.  I have never been a great painter, or even a good one, but she showed me how enjoyable it is to pick up a brush and some cheap acrylics and lose myself for a few hours.  Not that I’ve been able to do that in quite some time!   I went on to know Susan a bit better because she’s related to a friend of mine, so we would often frequent the same parties and book club.  She’s a sensitive, honest soul and an extremely talented painter in her own right.  She’s now also a wife and a mother to a 2 1/2 year old girl.  And cancer has slowly sucked the life from her, without reason or fairness or even good timing.  Not that there’s ever good timing for cancer.  Cancer is a lot of profanities I want to rattle off right now but will spare you.

So we have to say goodbye to another life full of promise.  We have to say goodbye to another friend full of sparkle.

Susan Hodgin - copyright Nuvo

Susan Hodgin – copyright Nuvo

I know we are all helpless, and this must be felt particularly painfully by those who love her most.  I find myself wishing I had one of her works of art hanging on my wall, even a print would do, to remind myself during my own hard days that at least I have my life.  At least my kids have a mother.  Susan has been fighting for every breath like a champ, determined to live even her horrible moments to their fullest before she has to go and leave everyone behind.  And I feel ashamed that I don’t always have that kind of fight in me.  Looking at her work reminds me that, behind the lump in my throat, each moment (even a bad one) is a blessing.

So, for us, there will be jam at the end of the day.  And probably a clean load of laundry (I won’t promise it’ll be folded) and some bills paid.  There might be pain, but pain reminds us we’re alive.  And perhaps that’s enough for now.

Kind of a beautiful mess.

Heroes, Inspiration and Big Questions
July 8, 2014, 1:43 am
Filed under: America, Family, Film, Indianapolis, Literature, Music, Writing

Lately, I feel like people are thinking, “Oh Geez, here come those complaining Kellys again. Never happy.”

If you follow our Facebook or Twitter accounts, read my husband’s or my blogs or keep up with us in any way, you will have seen a lot of up and down commentary from us over the last good while. Job frustrations, money woes, loneliness, homesickness for Ireland, challenges with the kids, and certainly a lot of anxiety since our home intrusion back in April. But mostly, I think, our admitted dissatisfaction comes from a passionate and unquenchable desire to be something more. To hold on to our dreams, and work hard for them. To leave a mark. To mean something. And the knowledge that we are not “getting anywhere” at the moment.


Me, full of dreams, back in 2009.

I’ve found myself asking a lot of questions lately. Does everyone dream big, but only a few achieve? Why do some people never “get there?” Is it a matter of work, or belief, or opportunity, or luck? If God puts talents and desires into each of us, shouldn’t we fight for them, and try our best to see them through?

I know, when looking at famous examples throughout history, a lot of dreamers had to sacrifice things like family, friends, even health and certainly money, in order to follow their hearts. Some of these people were selfishly obsessed with money or fame. Some were simply driven by belief in what they had to offer. I’d like to think that Frank and I are part of the latter group. We both, and together, have deep, sincere, heart-felt, nearly primal dreams we dream every day. They don’t really involve celebrity, power, or fortune, but rather a better life for our kids and a greater feeling of satisfaction and some pride in what we’ve been able to give back to the world.

We are, both of us, story tellers.

Frank, full of dreams, back in 2010.

Frank, full of dreams, back in 2008.

Yet, it seems unpopular in our world today for anyone past the age of, oh, say 25, to dream. That’s kid stuff. If you haven’t taken a risk or made your mark by then, you need to give it up. It’s selfish and foolhardy to pursue personal ambitions past 30, much less 40! And when you have kids? Don’t even think about it.

It’s like we’re perpetuating a myth, generation after generation of us, raising children with hope and encouragement, only to squelch our own ambitions before they can fly if they don’t succeed within an accepted time frame. We watch our parents and grandparents give up, and we dream for a little while, and then give up, too. We tell our kids to dream, and then watch them close the door when their own little ones come. And unless you’re extremely driven, or lucky, or cut-throat about it, you won’t break free.

I find this ideology incredibly frustrating. And I feel like I can’t sincerely tell my daughter and son to aim high and reach for the stars if I won’t allow myself, or Frank, to do it as well. Continue reading


“Old friends, old friends, sat on their park bench like bookends.”

When I was in college, my summer job was working as an interpreter at a living history farm in Bozeman, Montana.  Looking back, I could not imagine myself landing a better job than this – dressing up as a circa 1900 woman, cooking on a wood stove, talking to visitors, learning how to crochet and embroider and sew on a treadle machine, getting to try a huge array of interesting vegetables from an ever-expanding heritage garden, and, best of all, learning from the bottomless well of knowledge that was our volunteer base.  We had everything from blacksmiths to gardeners, spinners and weavers and musicians, all historians of sorts, all (or mostly) lovely, wise, fascinating people.

Karen at the Tinsley House with our first attempt at cheese making, summer 2001

Karen at the Tinsley House with our attempt at cheese making, Summer 2001

My favourite days on the farm were usually Saturdays, particularly early in the season when it was still a bit chilly.  If it was raining out, the house would be dark (no electricity!) and visitors rarely came down the wooden sidewalk.  Those were the days when I would build up the fire in the wood stove, make a big pot of cowboy coffee, and sit around the table with my boss, Dave Kinsey, and one of my very favourite ladies, Karen James.  I was only a teenager, but they never, ever made me feel small.  We would talk about the farm, Western history, our town, our lives, local politics, and so on.  And, usually, Karen would bring a truly magnificent coffee cake.  We’d sit there, cozy and pleasant, eating piece after piece of this sinfully buttery cake covered in sugary walnuts and cinnamon.  We’d drink gallons of coffee, ignoring the grounds sinking to the bottom of our cups as we topped up and poked the fire.  I know it sounds funny and a little naughty that I loved those peaceful mornings when nobody would come around the house looking for a tour!  But it was those sweet friendships we were forging that I found myself looking forward to all week, and missing when the job was over for another summer.

A few years later, when I was working for Heartland Truly Moving Pictures in downtown Indianapolis, I formed similar bonds with many of the staff.  I still remember when Kevin Swiontek would poke his head in my office nearly every morning with the same single worded question: “Coffee?” He’d usually accompany the query with a gesture of drinking a cup.  I would smile, grab my purse, and join the group that   also usually included my friends Claire Brosman and Kristi Gross as we walked across the street to Nordstrom’s coffee shop.  Somehow, we all needed those few moments of camaraderie at the start of our long days, just a short break to get a breath of fresh air and ask how everyone’s weekends went.  It brought us closer as friends and co-workers.  And if it was a good day, or perhaps a particularly bad day, I would treat myself to Nordstrom’s “old-fashioned” coffee cake, which was the closest confection I’ve ever had, before or since, to Karen’s wonderful cake.  This one was probably factory made, but still buttery, rich, and sweet with nuts and cinnamon.  So the same comfortable association lived on, even in another time and another city. Continue reading

East Side Indy
April 11, 2014, 3:35 am
Filed under: America, Crime, Family, Indianapolis

My head is throbbing.

I am jumpy, skitterish, probably unnecessarily anxious.

Today was a long day – getting Evelyn off to pre-school at 8:30, coming home to catch up on dishes and try to work on an article, then work at Starbucks 12:30, taking Frank to work at 5:30, then getting a babysitter and going to do a film review this evening.  I missed dinner and didn’t have much of a lunch.  I felt almost jovial coming out of the movie, stopped in to Trader Joe’s and headed for the highway home.

At the stoplight just before I69/465, I clicked on the little indicator that says how much gas I have left – oops, only 7 miles until empty.  And I was in the wrong lane to turn around.  So I got on the highway, nervous and scanning the exits for a gas station.  This wouldn’t do – I had to get off at Lawrence.  I wasn’t going to end up stranded at night on the highway with one headlight and no one to rescue me.  I drove down a street that, while well lit, was not where I wanted to be.  I had to pull in to the first gas station – really the only gas station – I could see, and as I did, I noticed there were police cars parked askew in the lot and a couple officers having heated debate with some young girls.  I tried to stay nonchalant, but a voice came over the speaker and told me I’d have to pre-pay inside.  So I locked the car and walked through the police cars and in to the station.  I waited in line, listening to the shouts and curses of people in the store.  I could feel my face flushing, a rushing sound filling my ears and a sort of desperation as I willed the line to move faster.  I paid a polite cashier and quickened my steps back to the car, where I put $20 worth in my tank.  A well-dressed man on the other side of the pump filled his car and shook his head at me, saying, “I’m just dreading this summer, when those crime rates are gonna climb even higher.  A few months from now, I don’t even want to see.  It’s already started.  These young kids, they just don’t care, don’t even care about living.”  I nodded soberly back at him.

I finished pumping my gas, wished the man good night and safe home, and got back in my car, locked the doors and got back on the highway.  But the more I thought about it, the more I began to feel the chills of reality.  He was right, and I knew it.  Everyone around here knows it.  This summer is going to be bad, unless something changes. Continue reading

Kiddos – the hardest job on earth.

I love kids. I always wanted kids.  Yet, every day it seems I ask myself, “Am I really cut out for this?”


“In The Night Garden” always works magic.

I started babysitting at 11, was a camp counselor as a teenager, volunteered in the church nursery in my 20s and was even a nanny for a stint in Ireland, so I know all about changing diapers, giving baths, making babyfood and bottles, playing games, calling time outs, and all that stuff. But it’s the bigger stuff, the life training stuff, that really throws me curves with my own kids.  Like I said to Frank just yesterday, with any other job, if you’ve tried your absolute best and still failed, the world won’t stop turning.  But with your kids, if you’ve tried your hardest and failed, that’s not good enough.  Frank says everyone has frustrations and stresses with life, and kids, and he’s right – but sometimes I wonder if “everyone” has better coping mechanisms than I do?

It’s Saturday morning, just before 7 a.m.  Evelyn has woken me up (and subsequently, Shea, too) with a cheerful, “Good morning!” I get up and go about turning on cartoons and getting her breakfast.  Shea is grouchy and smells sort of sour behind the ears, like he spit up during the night.  He was whinging all night long anyway, probably too hot sleeping in the bed between Frank and me.  I rearrange dirty dishes in the kitchen and find some clean ones so I can bring Evelyn her cereal, milk and juice.  She is drawing at the coffee table and politely says, “Bank you Mummy!” I put Shea down so he can crawl while I check my email.  He crawls over to Evelyn and pulls a piece of her drawing paper off the coffee table – of course the piece of paper her breakfast was sitting on.  So cereal, milk, paper, all over the carpet, wet and stinky and soaking in.  I get cross at Evelyn for not watching Shea, even though I know I should have been watching them both.  I call the dog to clean up the first layer of mess, then I come in with towels and cleaner to try and soak up the rest of the milk.  Throughout my cleaning, I have to keep moving Shea so he won’t crawl into the mess he just made and I scold Evelyn for not playing with him as a distraction.  When the mess is sort of clean, I put Shea in his high chair and proceed to toasting some bagels for our breakfast.  I look over and he does his beamy chin-in-the-air smile at me while eating something he found stuck to his high chair.  I thought I cleaned it last night??? I wait for his bagel to cool and hand it to him.  He throws it on the floor.  I scold him, pick it up and examine it for dog hairs, in which it is covered. Guess Georgie gets to eat his breakfast, too.  I pull the shade on the kitchen window and sit with Shea to watch the sun rise.  And even in this sweet moment, I sort of want to restart the day.  Actually, I feel like I’m not ready to begin the day at all.  But there is no mountain of covers big enough to hide me from my needy, lovely, children.  Continue reading

Reverse Culture Shock
February 6, 2014, 3:37 am
Filed under: America, Family, Indianapolis, Ireland in General, Parenting, Writing | Tags: , , ,

Well, seeing as you’re still reading, I guess I’ll keep writing.  For now. :)  I’m happy with a lot of the posts I’ve achieved with this blog over the last several years, and I don’t really want to give it up.  So if you’ll just be patient with my few, sporadic, posts, I’ll try to focus a bit more and put stuff up more often.

After the last post, a kind woman who has been through a similar situation expressed the feeling PERFECTLY as “reverse culture shock.”  Yes, I’d say that’s exactly what we’re feeling after this most recent move back to the USA. I know it’s what I’m feeling for sure.

It’s been a little crazy. :)  We were so worried, and anxious, and upset, when Frank didn’t find work for so long.  And health care (or the lack thereof) really, really got to me.  I wasn’t even thinking about President Obama or all the debate or even where we were going to find the money – I just wanted the security of knowing we’d be taken care of!  And after being turned away and hung up on and treated like dirt when I just wanted the basics for my family, I was very, very upset.  Finally, as you know, Frank found work and the benefits are really good.  In fact, they just went into effect for us, which is good because Frank and I were turned down twice for Medicaid for “lack of paperwork,” even though we provided everything and more that they requested.  The kids, however, were covered by Medicaid for some reason, so they’ve been “safe” for the last few weeks. Whew.

Then, just as we prepared to celebrate, I got very sick all Christmas week.  Explosively sick.  Was it our Dec. 23rd Chinese take-out, or was it an evil predatory virus?  We will never know.  As soon as we’d gotten back on our feet from that one, the weather came in to play.  As you probably also know, it’s been an insane winter for the Midwest.   Continue reading

Here. Now.
October 26, 2013, 3:55 pm
Filed under: America, Family, Friends, Home, Indianapolis | Tags: , , , ,

It’s been nearly seven weeks since we made our great move back over to the USA.

Every one of those weeks has presented its own unique challenges and blessings.   Some days are filled with hope and others, defeat.  We always knew it wouldn’t be easy, yet even I have to admit, I never knew it would be so exhaustingly difficult.  We are ALL homesick for Ireland, and all probably wondering at times if we did the right thing.  Frank feels the strangeness of this place very acutely, and I struggle to grasp any sort of sense of belonging here.  I guess this is what it means to be nomadic?

Sometimes I feel a bit like this shattered glassware we (unsuccessfully) shipped over from Ireland.

Sometimes I feel a bit like this glassware we (unsuccessfully) shipped over from Ireland… shattered and wondering if we did the right thing?

Our biggest hurdle  is finding work for Frank.  When I was in Ireland, I kept in touch with friends and co-workers here in Indianapolis, so I was lucky enough to have a part time job waiting for me at Starbucks.  Not ideal, but imperative in terms of insurance benefits and a small amount of income.  Frank is still looking under every stone!  He’s had a couple of interviews, but so far, his search has been fruitless, and very, very frustrating for him.  My heart hurts to see him feeling so lonely, and isolated, and “unwanted” by employers thus far.  I know that feeling – I went through it myself about six years ago in Drogheda.  And to top it all off, a care package from his mam got lost in the mail – after a week of hanging on to the promise of Lyons tea and Cadbury’s buttons, this news was just really sad!!!  So we’re worried, and anxious, and probably a little too impatient with the kids!  But we won’t be broken – we aren’t giving up.  I married a lovely, strong, hard-working, sensitive, kind, Irishman – the kind who says, “the glass is half empty, but there’s another pint on the way!” :)

In the meantime, I am thankful.  Sometimes I have to remind myself to be so – OK, nearly every day I have to remind myself.  But I am, truly, truly grateful for many things here, even while I’m missing all that we had before.  I am delighted with the pumpkins, spiced cider, and changing fall leaves of the American Midwest.  I am thrilled with the local libraries and parks for our kids (and us!).  I am thankful to be able to watch the World Series on TV again.  I so treasure our friends and family and the incredible generosity and empathy they have shown us.  At one point I felt like we were experiencing a real life “loaves and fishes” scenario:  we started out in our home with very little, but by the end of the first week, we were surrounded with so many gifts of furniture, kitchenwares, kids clothes, bedding, towels, food, and more, that we actually had more than we needed.  And at the end of the day, we may be worrying about where the money is going to come from in a few more weeks, BUT we are well cared for now.  We have a nice home filled with comforts.  We have food in the fridge.  We’ve had our little bouts of colds and infections, but we’re healing.  We have a minivan that we bought from friends and was exactly in our limited price range.  We have each other.  We have love.

If you’re thinking of us anytime this week, please say a prayer for our family and for Frank’s job hunt.  And if you’ve been helping us out all along, as many of you have, THANK YOU, once again.

30 Days Remain
August 10, 2013, 5:22 pm
Filed under: America, Ireland in General, Irish Outdoors | Tags: , , ,

I’m a bit in denial, even as I sit here surrounded by half-packed boxes.  After 5 1/2 years of Irish adventures, my family and I are moving back to the USA on the 10th of September, just 30 days away.

It has been a bit crazy, trying to plan out the whens and hows, and I am desperate to cross things off a list of endless details that must be organised.  But, deep down, I know this is going to be a lot harder than merely getting to the airport on time or finding the right car when we get there.  It’s going to be really, really difficult to leave.


Magdalene’s Tower, part of a 14th century friary, just a block or two away from our house.

People keep asking me if I’m excited, and yes, of course I am!  In my stacks of lists, there is one near the top for the first precious groceries I will buy when I’m settled back in Indiana – it includes things like cornmeal, applesauce, spicy salsa, Italian sausage and coffee-flavored ice cream.  I can’t wait to see my friends and family again, and introduce them to my kids.  And I’m really looking forward to making a fresh start and building a new life with (hopefully) more promise.

But Ireland has been a very special place for us, for me, as well.  I don’t think I can actually put into words all the moments and places and people who have forever stamped this country on my heart.  And really, I’ll forever be a transplant here – Ireland was never really “mine.”  But there are bits and pieces of her I will carry with me from now until we return, which will hopefully be soon and often.

Continue reading

What I’ve Learned About Grandmothers
August 1, 2013, 11:57 pm
Filed under: America, Family, Ireland in General, Parenting | Tags:

My grandma Evelyn always used to have squirty cream in her refrigerator and Breyer’s Ice Cream in her freezer. Even if she wasn’t hungry for dinner, which was often in her later years, she’d still have a bowl of ice cream with a generous flourish of whipped cream on top.  The older I get, the better that sounds to me, too.


My grandparents’ New York of the 1930s

It’s easy to idolize people after they’re gone.  I’m sure my grandma would love to think we were all nominating her for sainthood down here on earth, immortalizing her in cloudless, pink-tinged memories.  And there are a lot of those memories to share – long Sunday picnics at her condo in the summer, comfortable afternoons spent learning how to quilt, or crochet, or bake or play Skip-Bo.  There are funny stories we share, times when she embarrassed us as teenagers or brought down the house with her New York-accented comments in public places.  We loved her dearly, and we keep her with us this way.

It’s important to remember, at least for me, that she wasn’t perfect, either.  There were times when she hurt my feelings, usually with a sharp opinion on my wardrobe or weight.  And, like most grandmas, she complained that I did not visit her often enough.  Like most kids, I ignored this annoying little reality, telling myself I did enough and that my life was very busy.

Now, years later and living in Ireland, I have seen firsthand that she was right.  Continue reading

Another Man Called Peter
May 13, 2013, 8:10 pm
Filed under: America, Dublin, Ireland in General, Literature, Writing | Tags: ,

I used to take very long, solitary road trips when I lived in the States.  I never minded being on my own or driving for days – it was a bit cathartic, really – except for one particular time, when I drove from Indianapolis to Baltimore and back for a friend’s wedding.  Many calamities befell me on that trip, from having my car break down on the highway, to a bout of seasonal hay fever that drove me to insanity, to spending my 25th birthday alone, and on top of it all, a terrible aching for Frank.  I was in a pretty miserable state of mind – he lived in Ireland, I lived in the USA, we’d been apart for five months, and there was no end in sight.  I was feeling very sorry for myself, to say the least.

However, even in the dark moments of that trip, there were pinpricks of beautiful light, and one of the best was when I stumbled across a used book store in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was the kind of place that was packed end-to-end with stacks and shelves and piles of dusty books, into little rooms and closets, up a rickety staircase, and haphazardly thrown into some sort of organised chaos. Often in places like that, you don’t go looking for particular titles, because you’ll get lost and frustrated. Instead, you explore, and you let a book find you.

Peter Sheridan's Memoir Collection

Peter Sheridan’s Memoir Collection

On that humid May afternoon, Mr. Peter Sheridan, and his memoir “44: Dublin Made Me” found me. The book ended up in my hand, then on the seat of my car, and all the way home to my bookshelf in Indianapolis. I didn’t actually read it until some time later, but I can truly say that it, and its author, left a permanent and growing imprint on my life, particularly since I set up housekeeping in Ireland. In the years after discovering this treasure, I’ve found Peter’s other books as well, and, funnily enough, mostly in used bookstores – “47 Roses,” “Big Fat Love” and “Break A Leg.”  They’ve joined an elite pile of literature I am loath to part with – except for “Big Fat Love,” which was too good to keep to myself, so I had to share it with my best friend for her last birthday.

Continue reading


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