Be who you are, be the change

I remember Election Night 1992 very well. My sisters and I stayed up late to watch Rocky IV (as you do) while my parents were out at a party, and we switched it off to hear the final results.  We heard the newscaster read the percentages and say that Beverly Barnhart had won our precinct, and that my father had lost.

As a kid, the word “lost” only seems to matter incidentally when you’re playing Clue or watching baseball or running a race. But when you’ve just spent the last several months, including an entire childhood summer, helping run an underdog’s campaign – stuffing thousands of envelopes with literature, walking hundreds of miles canvassing, squirming through painful debates, posing for family photos, and being told in no uncertain terms by neighbors just how much your father was hated – hearing the word “lost” tends to feel a lot more dramatic.

President George Bush also lost that year, to Clinton, and I remember feeling a sense that nothing was right in the world anymore.

Still, my family was not beaten. My parents continued to campaign for others they believed in, mostly Republican, sometimes Libertarian, or Constitutional parties. We walked in parades.  We put leaflets in people’s doors. We listened to Rush Limbaugh in the morning and watched Crossfire at night. We listened to patriotic music in the car on our way to Homeschool Legislative Day in Helena. From a very young age I got used to marching with a giant sign every year for Right to Life, and volunteered hours at their Winter Fair booth, handing out pins and plastic fetuses and balloons, even though I didn’t really understand it.  As a tween, I manned Republican Headquarters when it was housed in an empty shop on Main Street, though I seem to recall I spent more time pushing the wheeled office chair across the hardwood floors than answering calls or handing out bumper stickers. And when I was 11, I sent Ron Paul $50 of my own paper route money to help with his senatorial campaign in a state in which I did not live, just because I knew how much my parents believed in him.

As a teenager, I worked as page in the Montana State Senate. I studied the founding fathers and Adam Smith. In the summer of 1998, I went to Summit Ministries in Manitou Springs, CO, to further my political education.  Even though I really just went to meet boys, I came away with the knowledge that the three worst things a person could be in life were – Democrat, Gay or Atheist. I proudly spent my entire flight home trying to convert a poor British man (who was well up for the challenge).

(I hope I haven’t lost you yet.)

Continue reading

Welcome Spring

My thoughts are a jumble these days, thus why I have not done much writing.  If you could open my brain, it would look like that corner drawer in your kitchen, overflowing with nails and screws, dried up glue and birthday candles, tangled string and electrical cords that belong to something, pens that don’t work and single doll shoes, tweezers, guitar picks and countless green grimy pennies.

That’s exactly what my mind is like right now.

I think about writing when I’m in the car or putting on my make up in the morning or walking to my office building – “I should write that down,” I say.  And then I forget. Little snippets of somethings that aren’t really a story or a proper blog post, but too important to throw away completely.

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It’s my first Spring working at Stanford, and it is beautiful.  Where once the space was inhabited by endless parched, brown grasses and the hum of bees and birds squawking in the trees, it is now cool and lyrical and very, very green.  If only my body could drink from this rainy fountain of youth every February and March, coming back fresh and soft and curvy, glowing with life the way the hills are right now. It always smells good on campus, usually of eucalyptus and evergreens, but right now the aroma of Spring is so strong it nearly makes your nose hurt.  There must be a thousand blooms around every corner, and sometimes the tiniest, most inconsequential looking flowers are the most powerful. So while the Birds of Paradise pose in the background of every tourist’s selfie, it is the nearly nonexistent and nameless species crowded in bushes around bike racks and doorways that you’re really smelling.  Continue reading

I Am Ireland

“Sons and daughters of the Gael, wherever you be today, in the name of the motherland, greetings. Whatever flag be the flag you guard and cherish, it is consistent with your highest duty to link yourselves together to use your united strength to break the chains that bind our sweet sad mother — and never before have the scattered children of Eire had such an opportunity for noble service. Today you can serve not only Ireland but the world.”

Éamon de Valera, early St. Patrick’s Day message

My husband, Frank, has been working on a film project of late, another documentary in the same vein as the “140” project he did in 2010.  It’s called “I Am Ireland,” and it is a project that hopes to give a voice to the thousands of Irish folks who have left their homeland in search of a better future. It is, of course, a story that is near and dear to us, because we have lived it.  Even I, an American, feel its importance very deeply, not just because I married an Irish immigrant, and had two Irish babies immigrate as well, but also because I spent all those years on Irish soil, trying, struggling, to make a whole new life for myself in a new world.  I can relate to the loneliness, the frustration, the excitement, the promise, the disillusionment and the feelings of prolonged unrest one feels in making such a huge leap of faith.

So, what is the project, exactly? Well, you can refer to Frank’s blog for plenty of details, but the gist of it is this – we want Irish ex-pats to send us their stories, via smartphone video clips, to be edited into a feature-length picture of what it means to be Irish in a different country. You can talk as long or as little as you want. If all you want to do is say, “I left Ireland in 1999 and I never looked back,” that is fine. Or if you want to say, “I left Ireland six months ago and boy what a journey, c’mere ’til I tell ya… <insert 15 minutes of riveting Irish storytelling>” that is great, too.  We want to see your faces. We want to know who you are, why you left, what it’s been like, what people don’t understand. There have been countless documentaries, TV shows, movies, articles, books and recordings of Irish immigration in the 19th and 20th century, stories of teary goodbyes in Belfast and Cork and Dublin, “wakes” held by family and friends who never thought they’d see their loved ones again after they emigrated. But what is it like now? Perhaps it will even answer some bigger questions, such as why are people still leaving? What can and should Ireland be doing to hold on to her young people?

lonely-beast

It can be about Irish men, women and children wherever they’ve moved – Canada, New Zealand, Spain, Poland, the USA… it can be happy or sad. We want to see your faces. It sort of reminds me of a children’s book we love in our house – “The Lonely Beast,” by Irish author/illustrator, Chris Judge. In the darkness of anger and despair and “I just want to go home!” that Frank was feeling last year, this seed of an idea sprung.  He was lonely. He wanted to find out what other Irish “beasts” were out there, and what they thought of this whole upheaval of their souls in pursuit of a more secure income.

It is also absolutely worth mentioning that next year is 2016 – exactly one century will  have gone by since the Easter Rising of 1916, which was one of the most pivotal events in the entire history of Ireland. It was a rebellion I did not understand myself until I had lived in Ireland for some time, and sought out the answers to my somewhat spotty and ambiguous Irish history recollections. The Easter Rising is a moment – six violent days, actually – of a battle for freedom that brings most Irish a great deal of pride, and continues to drive them forward in their personal and political battles at home and abroad. Next year will be full of 1916 commemorations, and the hope is that “I Am Ireland” will find its place among them.

The remains of the Dublin Bread Company at 6-7 Lower Sackville Street (now O'Connell Street) after the Easter Rising in 1916. Photo courtesy of the National Library of Ireland on the Commons (Flickr)

The remains of the Dublin Bread Company at 6-7 Lower Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) after the Easter Rising in 1916. Photo courtesy of the National Library of Ireland on the Commons (Flickr)

Here’s the thing – Frank has gotten a great response, in terms of interest.  He’s even been interviewed twice on Irish radio (always a bit tricky with an 8 hour time difference!). Everyone seems to think this is a great idea! But we’re still lacking in actual submissions.  He’s set a deadline for the end of this month, and would like to have at least 20 – 40 “testimonials” as it were. We’re not asking for money, or anything weird like that – just a few honest minutes of your time. If you’re an Irish ex-pat reading this – please! Send him your stuff. Break the ice. We’d be so so delighted. And if you have friends or family who are Irish and living abroad, pass the word along! Invite them to be part of a really special, historic piece of work.  And I promise, it’s bound to be good craic, too.🙂

Here are some quick instructions/tips, and of course, feel free to contact me or Frank about “I Am Ireland” at any time!

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Cupertino

It’s the 6th of December and I’m walking the dog in a T-shirt, skirt and flip flops. It’s been a lovely, lazy Saturday morning so far, the right kind of day for pancakes and coffee and warm sunlight streaming in the windows.

We live in a beautiful apartment community just a few minutes’ walk from Frank’s Apple office building.  It’s quiet, green, full of families and impeccably clean.  I pass the one lone smoker as he has his morning cigarette on the outskirts of our group of buildings.  He smiles and goes back to his phone.  Though it’s a pet-friendly community, Georgie is one of only a handful of dogs here, much to the delight of the children when we pass the play areas.  As I walk her around, she stops to sniff at Redwoods and many other trees I don’t know.  Some have fluffy little pink flowers that fall like snow.

Pink Blossoms

Ha. Snow.  You know I’m a snow-loving gal.  And I will always prefer a white Christmas to a green one… but this year is going to be pretty special, nonetheless.

We’re just getting started with the holiday merriment in our house – we only moved in two weeks ago, after all. The nativity set is out, as are the Christmas books, CDs and movies.  The kids are eagerly opening their advent calendars each morning and Evelyn writes letters of reminder to Santa several times a week. Her personal elf, “Robbie,” keeps a watchful eye on her from different spots every day.  We have a mantlepiece this year, and even a real gas fireplace.

Watching "The Late Late Toy Show" from Ireland in our new living room.

Watching “The Late Late Toy Show” from Ireland in our new living room.

I love how homey our apartment feels already, how “us” it is.  Even though the last few years have been tough, this place in which we now live is proof that we’ve been blessed, and our lives have improved dramatically.  In Drogheda, we made do with what we had.  In Indianapolis, we lived with what we could afford.  Here, in Cupertino, we have finally gotten to pick some things we really like.  Within reason! We got a wonderful sectional couch at a used furniture place, a beautiful rug from Home Depot’s online Black Friday sale, a master bed and mattress from Ikea, two new lovely matching lamps from Goodwill, and two matching bookshelves by the side of the road for free! It’s still a work in progress, but it’s a place I like coming home to. It feels safe, and that is huge for me. The kids and Frank are more relaxed, too.  Georgie doesn’t have a big yard to run in, but I think she’s pretty happy anyway because she gets to go on walks at least twice a day now.

I still don’t know much about our area, which is the South Bay part of San Francisco.  I can find my way around a bit better these days, though I still get lost in Apple’s Infinite Loop, ha ha! It’s a very expensive place to live, but the people are pretty “normal,” especially in our apartment community.  It’s very international, with more places to shop for Indian, Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine than any other specialties.  There’s lots of traffic and there are lots of people everywhere… but we’re not far from the beach, and the mountains, and some stunning natural woods.  There are parks everywhere. I like it a lot.  I may even love it, before too much longer.🙂 Continue reading

The Unpredictable

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”  – Woody Allen

It’s been over a month now, since we picked up our life and moved out of Indianapolis.  We crossed 2300 miles of open road, and passed through nine states. It was a real adventure, and one that continues! But more on that in a moment.

Devil's Tower Rear View (c) Frank Kelly

Devil’s Tower Rear View (c) Frank Kelly

I’m happy to report that the kids were real troopers.  There was the occasional whining around nap time, but mostly they adapted surprisingly well.  Even Georgie, the dog, acclimated herself to the cramped quarters of the minivan.  And the minivan herself ran remarkably well (now at 14 years old, 192,000 miles and counting!), the only mishap being a rock chip in the windshield 30 minutes outside our final destination! So we drove, both Frank and I, through wind and rain, mountain passes, flat prairies, through forests and over rivers.  We listened to all kinds of music and books on CD, and we had silent times, too.  We visited friends and family and we made lots and lots of memories.  There were tears of joy, and of pain.

Hyalite Reservoir

Hyalite Reservoir

I’d like to tell you about every moment, but I must confess, the two parts of our trip that stand out the most are The Disaster and The Unfinished Sequel. Continue reading

In Search of Home

Indianapolis Skyline from the War Memorial Mall, on Indy 500 Parade Day.

Indianapolis Skyline from the War Memorial Mall, on Indy 500 Parade Day.

It’s been just over a year since we moved, immigrated, back to the USA from Ireland.

Evelyn is going on 5 years old.  She’s started forgetting things, like how her Nana’s house looked, or what her little cousins’ names are, or who our doting neighbours there were.  She remembers a lot of funny little things, but not always the details and persons we so wish she’d recall.  Shea, on the other hand, was just 6 months old when we moved, now 19 months.  He remembers nothing from our former life, and only knows his Irish family from waving and blowing kisses to them over Skype.

Moving so far away from the people and places you love has to be done for a lot of really solid reasons.  And, once you’re gone, and homesick, and looking back and questioning why, somewhere along the lines you better feel, in your heart, that it was worth it.  The sacrifices led to something better.

Springtime, tree in bloom.

Springtime, tree in bloom.

My earliest personal memories come from the summer I was 3 years old.  I remember that summer in very vivid bits and pieces because it was my family’s first big road trip, from Bozeman to Seattle. My parents packed up our little black Buick Skylark, buckled my sisters and me into the back seat and headed  off, nearly 700 miles West.  I remember being afraid of everything on that trip – The Space Needle, the ferries, the shower in our motel!  I remember playing with my cousin, Paul, and I remember my Uncle Mac dropping an ear of buttered corn on the cob onto the floor and all of us laughing.  I remember my mother getting a bee stuck up her pants.  I remember posing for a lot of boring pictures. I remember the Sees candy shop with its little playhouse.  I remember my dad prying starfish off the rocks in a tidal pool and leaving them in the trunk of our car until the smell became unbearable. I remember rain forests, and my hooded rain coat and miniature villages on display in Victoria, BC.  And, perhaps the strongest sensory memory of all is simply the one of sitting in that back seat, in traffic, the rain drops racing each other down the widows, and listening to a Simon & Garfunkel tape over and over again.  “I’m sittin’ in the railway station, got a ticket for my destination, Mmmmhmm…”

I could be anywhere in the world and hear the first few bars of that song and be instantly transported back to Seattle, and my 3 year-old self.

I don’t know if it’s irony, or destiny, but by this time next weekend, our little family will be homeward bound to Seattle.  Yes – you read it right – after just a year, we’re packing up our things, selling what we can, saying goodbye to friends, and moving again.  And adding another 2300 miles to the distance already between us and Ireland. Continue reading

Jam, Goodbyes and Late Summer Ramblings

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. Continue reading