Making time, the Irish way

I was driving home last night with a shameful haul of used books from a local second-hand shop – it’s an addiction, really – when I looked into my rearview mirror and noticed the sun setting behind a row of palm trees. It occurred to me that we’ve lived in California more than 2 1/2 years, and I’ve yet to sit back and watch a famous palm-tree framed sunset here. That’s kind of crazy.

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There are lots of things we’ve not done here in that time. We’ve never been to Yosemite, or Napa, or Lake Tahoe, or Hollywood, or San Diego. We’ve never splurged on the Monterey Bay Aquarium or Hearst Castle or Disneyland, we’ve not been to Alcatraz or the Winchester Mystery House, and I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve dipped our toes in the Pacific.

Why? Is it time or money or having young kids or what? I guess it’s just life! Weekends are so packed with preparation for the week ahead, and plans to do the above have often been cancelled due to illness or lack of funds or simple logistics.  Continue reading

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An Irish Christmas

It’s dark and quiet as I sit and listen to the clock tick this early morning while I drink my tea. I’m back in the corner of the couch in the kitchen I’ve sat in a thousand times before, contemplating Christmas, family, and jet lag.

We’re home in Ireland for Christmas!!

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Tea and a bun, Heaven!

This is the first time Frank and the kids and I have returned to Ireland since we left, over 3 years ago and I am so happy to be back! We flew in on Friday morning and, while I’m sorry to say my body clock is still adjusting, we’ve been having a great time. The weather has been cold and dry, just the way I like it, and every day we’ve been walking in the sunshine, meeting friends and family and feeling a little like we never left! Sure, there have been changes – new shops have replaced old, friends have had children, neighbors have passed away – but the countryside, the streets, and the feel of the place is very much as it always was.

I put Shea in a stroller on Saturday morning and pushed him up the road and right into town. Walking along, I nearly cried. (I’m a very nostalgic person, if you couldn’t tell before!) I pointed out familiar landmarks as we walked and he shouted and pointed at things that excited him.  I could smell coal fires and vinegary chips and drifting cigarette smoke and wet grass and my heart was full of love for this place that brought us all together, even when things so were hard sometimes.

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Christmas Cakes at the Moorland Cafe

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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.)

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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. Continue reading

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