Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My heritage

Now most people would assume that when I say that the reason I’m drawn back to Ballyvaughan is because of my heritage, that I’m talking about my Irish blood. While I know I have some Irish blood (and I’m proud of every drop!), I’ve never delved deep enough to find out how much or exactly where in Ireland my distant relatives came from.

When I refer to my heritage as one of the reasons I’m drawn back to Ballyvaughan, I’m talking more about my rural heritage. You see, I came home from the hospital in Austin,to my grandparent’s farm in south Texas and continued to live there for several months. My Daddy was enrolled at Baylor Law School and would commute down to the farm on weekends. And, even after I stopped living there full time, I spent lots of time there with my beloved grandparents—Nana and Bampa.

I called the cows with my Bampa; rode with him on the combine, tractor and his red pick-up truck; “helped him” pick cotton at a very early age and even got to ride on the back of the trailer, pilled high with cotton, to the cotton gin. I collected eggs with my grandmother; “helped” her churn butter, bake bread, and cook all sorts of delectable foods from scratch. Bampa taught me to play dominoes at the age of 7 and then boasted to everyone that I beat him and “I swear I didn’t let her win!” I was always happy on the farm. The reason: I felt totally loved for myself, with few expectations.

So Ballyvaughan feels familiar; it feels like coming home. And most importantly, I feel loved and accepted as me—not as a Mother, grandmother, sister, chaplain, Deacon—just me. And as much as I treasure each of those roles most of the year, it’s so wonderful to return to my beginnings—my farm environment and just being me.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why go back each year?

So now that I've explained how I found Ballyvaughan, it's time to dissect what draws me back each year.

Ballyvaughan is a rural village. There are a handful of pubs, a small grocery store, one church-St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, a couple of gift shops, several eateries, a tiny post office, a small health clinic, the Saturday Farmer's Market, the Sunday Craft Fair, and a lovely assortment of special days throughout the year. It has everything you could need or want while on holiday.

Christy, Mary, Catherine & Tom
Then there are the people-the warm, welcoming, hard-working, fun-loving people. Each year they welcome me back like a long lost cousin. At the top of that list of special people are Tom and Catherine, and Tom's sister, Mary and her husband Christy. Tom is the local hackney driver, with Catherine filling in the gaps. Catherine is the very first person I met as I walked off the plane in Shannon. She and son, Aiden, picked me up, along with friends and family back in 2008-our first time to spend a month. These loving people take care of me, and not just my transportation. From serving as resources to providing my social network, they are there for me. And, I host them for dinner as often as possible, and take lots of photos of their family and surrounding community.

With Mary @ Farmer's Market

Catherine & I sharing good times.

People ask me if I rent a car in Ireland. I tell them no, I rent a Tom. Between Tom & Catherine and Mary, all my transportation needs (which are very few) are taken care of. Plus, the village is on a bus line, which travels 45 min. to Galway, where you can take buses and trains throughout Ireland, including a 2.5 hr. train ride to Dublin. So the village is ideally situated public transportation and Tom takes care of airport runs and local sightseeing trips

There are many beautiful places in Ireland but none more breathtaking than Ballyvaughan. Situated on Galway Bay and in the heart of the Burren, it has a mystical quality about it. The Bay ebbs and flows in a magnificent variety of colors, washing up onto a rocky shore, full of treasures for the boys to collect.

The Burren, "great rock," is a limestone plateau occupying an area of over one hundred square miles in North Clare. Here the unfolding layers of limestone form terraces on the slopes of the hills - a limestone desert but with a quick-changing landscape. The limestone formed as sediments in a tropical sea which covered most of Ireland approximately 350 million years ago.

At least two glacial advances are known in the Burren area. However it is probably the effects of the last glaciation (the Midlandian) that are most in evidence in the National Park. It is thought that most of the Burren was overrun by ice during this glaciation.

Solutional processes have widened and deepened pre-existing vertical joints, or lines of weakness in the rock resulting in the formation of an extensive system of fissures (grykes) separated by flat pavement like slabs (Clints).

The Burren is also famous for its plantlife. Limestone-loving plants such as foxgloves and rock roses grow here and rock's microclimates also nurture plants found in the Artic, Alpine and Mediterranean regions. Botanists have attempted to find out why, but no one has come up with a complete answer. Here too in The Burren, 26 of Ireland's 33 species of butterfly have been recorded, including its very own, the Burren Green. Does all of this not have my name written all over it?!

More on my ties to Ballyvaughan in the next post.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sharing God's creation

Fri., Aug. 26
The children, big and small, arrived early Wed. morning so the cottage has an entirely different feel to it. Where once it was very quiet, calm, and peaceful, now it is alive with high energy, excitement, and lots of noise!

Colin (6.5) and Dylan (3) and their Mom, Sara, and their Uncle Charles, landed in Shannon at 6a Wed. morning and Tom brought them to the cottage about 8a. Colin had fallen asleep in the van, so Uncles Charles carried him straight to bed. But, when I scooped Dylan up his first words were, "donkey?, cows?, horses?" He evidently, had gotten a bit more sleep on the plane and was ready to go exploring.

Across the road from the cottage is the beautiful Galway Bay. There is a great-for-walking-on stone fence separating a large, grassy, sloping area where 5 cherished donkeys live. Early this summer, 2 babies were born to the family and dance about, much to the delight of all the tourists.

This was Dylan's and my first stop in our morning of exploring. This particular morning, they had wandered a bit out from the fence but I promised him we would gather food (apples, bread @ carrots) to come back and feed the donkeys. As we walked around the corner from our cottage, towards town, there was a large gathering of cows. Dylan says, "those are my friends."

On into town, we pop into Hyland's, my hang out for wifi, friendships, delicious vegetable soup, and hub of the village. Everyone is pleased to meet Dylan, who is his sweet charming self. Una, the hotel manager, scoops him up and he gives her a big grin, while Katy Rose, a beautiful young woman, who does everything at Hyland's from serving food, to desk attention, also cheerfully welcomes Dylan to Ballyvaughan.

Another stop at Quinn's, my favorite gift shop in Ballyvaughan, to meet Madeline; a quick look into the Soda Parlor, to see if Josh and Amy are around but they are not; a d we've hit some of my favorite spots and people. Time to head back to the cottage for a nap.

Shortly after I settle Dylan down for a nap, Colin wakes up. (Meanwhile both Sara and Charles are sound a sleep). Colin only has one thing in mind-going to the shore to look for crabs, shells, rocks with "crystals" embedded in them, and other treasures. Last year he spent hours doing this, especially with my best friend, Hope. Just before he came this summer, unbeknownst to him, she had sent him a large magnifying glass to aid him in his discoveries. I slipped it in my suitcase and he was delighted to use it on his new discoveries.

One of the many pleasures I enjoy with the grand-boys, is teaching them about God in a simple, but very real way. I tell them that God created each and every shell, rock, crab on the beach. He created the sun and moon, the tide that washes up all those treasures. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and will always be there for us. Just as the water washes up on the shore, in smooth, gentle waves, so does His unconditional love. In bits and pieces (a favorite expression over here), I share my faith with the boys and enjoy their trusting acceptance of that faith.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A new friend-Maureen Green

I will return to this story of my discovery and love affair with Ballyvaughan, but first a sweet story of a new friendship-one of many!

Monday, Aug. 22, 2011
A perfectly delightful, surprise visit this morning from my new friend from North Yorkshire, England, Maureen Green. I'm sitting in my conservatory, as they call my glass enclosed room over here, sipping coffee in my pjs, listening to worship music, luxuriating in the view, when she taps on my window.

I met Maureen at the Soda Parlor on Saturday. I was already seated enjoying my very favorite crepe, Brie, crispy bacon and a bit of cranberry chutney, when Maureen comes in and sits at a table opposite me. We catch each other's eyes, we smile, and thus begins our connection.

As she studies the menu and peers over at me in that familiar way of viewing other's food for ideas of what to order, I volunteer my selection and declare it to be superb, which she promptly orders.

The Soda Parlor is very small and intimate, with probably no more than 8 tables so on any day, but especially a Sat., it stays full. All the tables are full and two women enter looking for a table. (I have become quite close to the hard-working young family who operate it and want them to have all the business they can manage so they can stay in business until my next visit.) I ask the two women to wait one minute and I go over to my smiling friend, Maureen, and tell her I would like to give up my table to the ladies. Would I be imposing if I joined her while we both finished our lunches. She welcomed me eagerly and thus has begun a wonderful friendship.

Maureen is 73 young years; a widow since last Sept., to a "good and kind man", who died after an 18 mo. battle with leukemia; has 3 dear daughters, 8 grandsons, and 3 great-grandsons; runs the family business of the engineering of gears for machinery, which she has recently sold, with great relief; travels; is chair of the Governor's Board of Education, which looks over the management of the school budgets as well as the curriculum; a woman of deep faith; and a lover and appreciator of life, just like me.

She has her beautiful springer spaniel with her, Paddy, which she leaves in the car until I insist that she bring him in. And thus a delightful friendship is started. We exchange emails, pictures are taken, and I invite her to come visit me in Washington, as well as here in the village next summer.

I am learning to be more and more open to each moment, each person God brings into my life. We walk amongst people in need; people hungry to be heard and cared about. Having the time and heart for those opportunities makes for lots of wonderful surprises and treasured moments.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Planning begins

It was about a year later, fall of 2007, that I began to plan my return trip to Ireland for the summer of 2008. On my previous trip, as I said, I had hit all the typical tourist spots: Dublin, Rock of Cashel, Waterford, Killarney and the Ring of Kerry, Blarney (No, I did not kiss it. I had no interest in hanging upside down to kiss the dirty thing.), Tipperary, to name the highlights. I am so glad that I saw all of those sights, with the wonderful overview of the island.

But when I began to plan my extended stay in some single village, I wanted to get away from the tourist hot-spots. That's when I began to look at the west coast.

I considered the Dingle peninsula, a gorgeous seaside area, but too busy with tourists in the summer. I then started north, along the coast from there. I seriously considered Lahinch, a surfing village, and one my family loves to visit, but too young and hip (and noisy) for my tastes. Next, north on the coast was Doolin, some consider the music capital of western Ireland but, again, too young and hip. Then there was Fanore, the next village south of where I am in Ballyvaughan. It was TOO quiet and small, with only one pub and a tiny market.

At the same time I was spending hundreds of hours researching, I got to know a woman, Bonney, who was taking her granddaughter to the same music class I was taking Colin to and we became good friends. I knew her husband was Irish and they returned frequently, so I asked her if she had a any recommendations and told her what I was looking for: a seaside village with a few pubs, shops, B&B's, that I could settle into for a month and just chill out with friends and family.

GODSEQUENCE Alert. She said her cousin, Louise, would be more than happy to help me. Louise worked for the Irish Tourism Board and lived in County Cork. Bonney would introduce us via email and Louise would find us the perfect place.

And so, that's how I found my first rental house and in Ballyvaughan. God's hand was in it from the very beginning, thus, the beginnings of abundant blessings.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Resurrecting the blog

I've been thinking for quite some time about resurrecting my blog but just haven't gotten around to it. But here I am, in the beautiful village of Ballyvaughan, County Clare, on the west coast of Ireland, over-looking Galway Bay with the time and the inclination and I have...Something 2 Say.

Many ask me, How did you find this place? Why do you go back each year? What draws you back? I will attempt to put into words, the answers to these questions and more reflections of how this place renews and fulfills me each year.

I, like many Americans, have a mixed bag of ethnicity: Irish, Scotch/Irish, German, English and even Cherokee Indian blood flowing through me. And , for all I know other strains of our rich blend of ethnic diversity. My Mother's side of the family had the German blood and some Scotch/Irish; my Daddy all the rest.

It was my Daddy who LOVED the Irish. He had many Irish friends, loved St. Patrick's Day, and inspired in me a love of all things Irish.  So, I grew up thinking the Irish were very special people, having caught the fever from Daddy.

In 2005, I came with a group from my church to the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) meeting in Birmingham, England, followed by tours of England, Wales and Ireland. From the first moment I landed on the Emerald Isle I was enchanted. There was something different about this place that drew me in. I only spent a very few days, visiting all the tourist spots, but promised myself then, that I would return and for a good long time!

I was thankful that although I had already lost Mother in 2004, at the time (2005), Daddy was still alive and alert enough to know where I was and be oh so happy for me to be experiencing his beloved Ireland. 

 I knew I would return to Ireland, after my caregiving days were over and I had time to re-group from the devastating loss of both my beloved parents within two years of each other. So after Daddy died in 2006, and I slowly worked through my shattered life (we had been a tight, inter-dependent threesome and now I felt like a 3-legged stool with 2 legs chopped off!), I began to plan my return.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

54.9 in. of snow so far!

I had just come in from shoveling my sidewalk when this very large branch broke off and fell across my sidewalk.

The boys playhouse.

The view out my front door.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Road Trip Down Memory Lane: Intro

The older I get, the more relationships mean to me. In fact they define me. The third time I battled cancer (and won!), I realized that what was important to me could be summed up in a word: RELATIONSHIPS. First, my relationship with my Heavenly Father, who is always by my side; second, my relationship with family and friends.

I have been blessed with a host of friends of every age, color, economic level, educational level and everyone in between. I keep up with as many as possible but some have dropped by the side in the busyiness of life. Recently I have been making a conscious effort to reconnect with some who were important to me and I'd lost touch with.

Last fall, I called a life-long friend of mine, Joan, and suggested that right after Christmas we take a road trip through central Texas. I had a host of people I wanted to re-connect with, plus I wanted us to go back to our roots together. You see not only have Joan and I known each other literally all of our lives (we are 12 days apart and she will frequently tell people I am the older one), but our mothers were very close friends as were our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. They all grew up in a (very) small farming community, 54 miles south of San Antonio (on the Corpus highway)-Karnes City. Those descriptions were what we grew up with. It was not about 55 miles south, it was 54 miles. And if you gave them a puzzled look as to where it was, the descripter "on the Corpus highway" almost always turned on a lightbulb of recognition.

Our Moms acting goofy, as always, in a school picture: Sara (my Mom) is on the left, Fran (Joan's Mom) is on the right. circa 1936

Our Mom's could really act the fools. As youngsters, Joan and I would get so embarrassed when our Mother's would loudly start laughing and carrying on in a public place. We would just look at each other, wishing we could get away with crawling under the table. They would laugh 'til they cried, ice tea coming out of their noses, and the more horrifyed we got, the funnier they thought it was. Oh goodness how we wish we could join in with them today.

Mother, Jack Crews, best man (Fran's brother), Paul and Fran Hanson.

Fran and Paul got married first, September 4, 1947. Mother, who had a beautiful soprano voice, sang at their wedding--I Love You Truly.

And almost exactly a year later, September 5, 1948, my parents, Sara and J.T. Rutherford, got married. Unfortuntately, Fran and Paul were in school and couldn't afford the gas to drive from their home in Dallas to Karnes City (and we think our economy is bad) but I'm sure the girls talked often and long.

Around Christmas time, 1948, Mother and Fran got together in Karnes City, both eager to share their good news. We understand the conversation went something like this:

I have some exciting news to tells you.
Well I have some exciting news to tell you.
You go first.
No, you go first.
Ok, well let's tell each other at the same time.
I'm pregnant!

Stay tuned.....

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Annual Baking of the Fruitcakes

My Nana

I’ve been making fruitcakes for friends and family for Christmas for 35 years now. It is a huge undertaking but some of my friends would be lost without their fruitcake. My fruitcake is not the door-stopper, joke inducing kind of fruitcake. People who don’t like fruitcake love mine.

My Nana made fruitcakes almost all of her life and as she got up in years, I begged for her recipe. The problem was that she was of the old school—a pinch of this, a handful of that—and she never made them on the large scale that I do. I looked through cookbooks and tried several different recipes. I couldn’t believe how many there were! But they never tasted any where near as delicious as hers

At last I was able to persuade her to do some measuring as she made her delicious fruitcakes and I still have her handwritten recipe. The first difference I noticed was hers included a bit of molasses. The other was an abundance of brown paper. She cut up brown paper grocery bags to line each pan she used and she covered all the pans with a large sheet of brown paper. She also cooked them slowly, steaming them with a pan of water under the cakes. And even this conservative Southern Baptist small-town woman, marinated her fruit and nuts in brandy prior to baking and then wrapped each cake in cheese cloth soaked in brandy.

To my great delight, she lived to taste my first attempt and declare it as good as hers. I knew I had accomplished the great fruitcake victory!

Each year, the kids and grandkids come over for the baking of the fruitcakes. It is such fun. Here are some pictures from this year. And yes, I supervise a thorough hand-washing ceremony before anyone touches anything.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

In loving memory of J.T. Rutherford, my Daddy.
Born May 30, 1921; Died Nov. 6. 2006

Always a Daddy's girl. Odessa, TX 1951

What I learned in the last year (written 11/5/2007)

I learned that like so many other experiences in life, no one can describe the excruciating pain of death. It encompasses your whole being—mind, body and soul. It can suffocate you at times. It reduces you to feeling very child-like, just wanting to be held and comforted. And, when it’s your parents, you feel like your whole foundation has eroded from underneath you.

I learned that when I lost one parent, Mother, and immediately started taking care of the remaining parent, Daddy, I went into remote control. Feelings were put on the shelf for later. I had a multitude of tasks daily and never enough time to take care of all of them. Plus, I had promised Mother I would take care of Daddy and that, to me, meant taking care of not just his body, but his heart. So, grieving for Mother would just have to wait.

I learned that grief is very personal. No one can go through it for you or tell you how to get through it faster. I wanted someone to give me a road map so that I could stop my pain; begin to function again. It was only when I surrendered everything that I began to see a glimpse of light; that I could begin to breathe. I gave up any sense of a time table; I gave up any “process;” I gave up trying to control my emotions, or worse faking my emotions; I gave up an agenda (the house, the yard, the dirty clothes, etc.).

I learned that my children were a continued legacy of my parents. They had grown up a block from their beloved grandparents. So when one generation passed away, my children stepped up, far more than I thought they would, and honored their grandparents in their actions, decisions and taking care of me. And they remember things I don’t and vice versa so we pool our memories into a collage of beauty and tenderness.

I never gave up on my faith, on the One who had seen me through so many other tragedies in my life. At mid-year, I flew to CA to be with my closest friends—a place where I could be nurtured, loved, listened to, and accepted for who I was and where I was. My friend and I had grown up in each other’s homes so she too grieved for my parents. I found that my favorite author, Henri Nouwen, had written a book, “Turn Your Mourning into Dancing.” I bought it and read it on that sunny southern CA patio, journaling, praying, and just being. Throughout that time, I talked my heart out, almost literally, to my friends. After lots of hugs, tears, and introspection, the fog began to clear; the pain grew a bit less intense. We prayed together and grew closer in our common grief.

And then I realized that grief is more than loss of a loved one, its loss of an identity. I was a daughter—for all practical purposes, an only child. I was a caregiver, best friend, prayer partner. I was co-dependent on these two people who had raised me. I was part of a triangle—a wonderful, supportive, intuitively thoughtful three-some. And on Nov. 6, 2006, I became one and for a long time I struggled with who I was, who I had been and who I wanted to be. I think that’s a huge dimension which is ignored by the grieving.

And, so as I approach the first anniversary of Daddy’s death, I am filled with sadness of what I used to have, who I used to be. I long to be called “my gal” by Daddy or “sweet girl” by my Mother. I long to have those enveloping, long hugs that said I love you no matter what.

And yet, I now know, I am becoming a new me. I’ve taken some of the old me, added what I’ve learned as a caregiver, and am re-directing my life into a new me. I’ll be ready for all of that on Nov. 7, 2007. Today, I’m just Daddy’s little girl, wishing for one more tender touch.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Summer Project: The Building of a Playhouse, Part 2

After we unwrapped our package of pieces, I burst into hysterics. "Easy to Assemble" kept coming to mind as we laid out piece, after piece, after piece...

But, we weren't intimidated. We could do this! And so we began. We quickly decided that the hex screws provided just wouldn't work efficiently so it was off to the hardware store for phillips-head screws and a phillips-head drill bit. Great decision!

Dylan makes himself at home and all our hard work was well worth it. Now I can look forward to enjoying my grandsons enjoy their new playhouse just like their Mother and uncle did several years ago.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Summer Project: The Building of a Playhouse, Part 1

One of the reasons I fell in love with my home 34 years ago, is that it has a large, fenced in backyard. My two young children and their friends loved creating their own magical world back there and I knew they were safe.

They had a swingset and miscellaneous toys but their backyard playground was not complete without a playhouse. They wanted a treehouse but their father was afraid of heights so they had to settle for a homemade playhouse 2 feet off the ground. Even then, I was the one who got on the roof to put the shingles on. ;-}

It was a huge hit with the playmates. One year we even had a birthday party in that tiny house!

But alas, the termites took up residence so it had to be demolished and taken away right when I started having grandchildren.

So, I decided that with Colin 4 and Dylan 1, this was the summer to build them a playhouse. I knew I couldn't do it alone, so I asked Lori, who was about to visit, to help me. She was eager to help (even though she had already comitted to helping me make a quilt of Daddy's ties) but once again had no clue what she was offering to help with.

I researched various possibilities on line and decided on a cedar version. It would come in pieces but "easy to assemble."

Lori and I defined the area where it would go and realized it would have to be leveled. So, I went to a gravel place and purchased many bags of pea-size gravel to be spread in the designated square. Uncle Charles was drafted to carry the 70 pound bags to the back yard.

At last, the big day arrived and the enormous truck (large enough to move an entire household of furniture) arrived. We watched as rather small package was unloaded into the driveway and eagerly opened it to see what we had in store.

To be continued.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Alzheimer's Foundation quilt show

On September 24th I attended the Alzheimer's Foundation quilt show in Chicago. A group of friends from the Alz. message board had been planning this reunion for several months.

My message board friends: Nancy (nsw), me, Joyce & Eileen (back row); Lori, Deb (mundee and Jackie (front row)

We gathered the night before, some meeting for the first time, to get to know each other in person and talk about our journey through Alzheimer's as caregivers. We laughed and teared up and had our respect for one another reinforced ten-fold. Joyce's daugher and SIL, Theresa and Mike, met us at the hotel with their large van and chauferred most of us to the quilt show. (What a stress-free gift!)

Here's Daddy's square. And me holding it up with a sea of quilts behind me.

The love and attention put into each and everyone of those quilts was a sight to behold. Over and over again you saw how a community of family and friends gathered around each and everyone of the loved ones affected by this horrible disease. You saw how they gradually turned from a vibrant person to one whose brain had devoured their being.

It was a testimony to the loved ones and the families.

On the way to the airport, my daughter asked me, "Do you think Granddaddy would have wanted his picture shown in association with Alzheimer's?"

I've thought about that a lot and here's what I've come up with. Daddy was a man of causes. He contributed all manner of resources: money, time, notes & letters. If this quilt show contributes any awareness of the need to fund research on Alzheimer's, I think he would be pleased.

Also, those quilts weren't just about the loved ones but about us caregivers. After his death, I was going through thousands of pieces of papers and came across a receipt for a contribution he had sent to the Alz. Assn. (long before his diagnosis). There were various categories to choose from as to how you wanted your money designated. He choose "Caregiver support." I think that says it all.