June 11, Settling in
We have started the great unpacking. We didn't even pack everything, but it feels like a lot right now. We're slowly moving things over from the storage unit, committed to going through stuff and getting rid of more as we unpack.
And also unpacking from the trip. I found a roll of masking tape we bought in Ireland. It's 2 inch wide tape. We carried it everywhere with us. Unbelievable how useful it was. I'm adding it to my list of things to consider when you're traveling for a long time. We bought it because David's Frog pants got caught on a bramble and tore on a hike. We couldn't find duct tape anywhere in Ireland. But then we carried it with us, because we kept finding other uses for it. Now I feel nostalgic for it, which is funny.
I'm working on two pieces of art--a photo book about water and manhole covers from the trip, and a printing a lino cut block I made.
And starting to prep the garden. I will try to get some tomatoes in.
June 9, Our house, in the middle of our street..
One of the best lessons we learned on this trip is that home really is about who you're with rather than the location. But it was awfully nice to wake up this morning in my bed. Part of it was knowing my kids were in their beds too. Kate picked us up late last night and we all moved back in to our house. Our house is pretty much just like we left it. The tenants took very nice care of it. Our garden has exploded with the wet spring here. Today we'll settle in and begin to unpack.
Some of my takeaways, in no particular order:
I will always try the street food.
Listen to local radio stations.
In addition to history, read fiction from different cultures, and books in translation. Gives so much insight into a place and people.
I really could have taken fewer clothes, even with packing for the seasons. But I used all the art supplies. Favorite items I will always travel with in the future--minimal kitchen supplies, depending on length of trip (like tongs, spatula, decent can opener), hiking shoes (so much more support than my running shoes). I sent them back after Boston and really missed them in Puerto Rico), a Turkish towel (works on picnics, at the beach, dries quickly and packs small), fold up backpack (our little pink backpack is shot from the daily wear of the trip), and some fold up grocery bags (we used the 3 we took almost as often as the backpack), the travel speaker, and small board games (we definitely used Cribbage and cards for Double Solitaire the most, but we had Backgammon and later got Yahtzee and Boggle). Sara and I also got a lot of use out of the travel yoga mat, and our yoga app.
Take two credit cards when traveling. We normally each only have one, but both my debit card and credit card were compromised on the trip. Our credit card company fedexed me a new one, but that still took a few days. And my bank wouldn't fedex a new debit card, so I didn't have one for the second half of the trip. David had to give me cash when I needed it. If I'd been alone, that would've been tough. I had gotten an emergency credit card before we left, and was glad to have it.
I really enjoyed the month long YMCA membership in Boston. It was a great balance to running. I plan to join a Rec Center or the local Y now that I'm home.
Keep my most important valuables and some clothing in my carry on. We had some bags go missing on the airlines and both times it took days before the bags caught up.
I like beaches and the ocean more than pools. But living in a hot beach place forever wouldn't work (ie, I will not be retiring to Florida).
I prefer walking and public transportation to driving. That said, in some places we really needed a car. The rental cars we had were all fine. The giant Warlock Truck in South Carolina was the most unusual. That's what you might get when you do the wildcard option.
Side note on driving-- Puerto Rican drivers are the craziest of any I've seen anywhere in the world. Craziest. Anywhere. And unfortunately, it does result in accidents. We saw accidents every time we drove, which just increases the traffic problems.
David and I will be fine in retirement (but that's not coming for a while). I'm glad he's learned to play cribbage.
I'm pretty flexible. And so is my family. We took a lot of things in stride, readjusted pretty well. That said, we do like to start with a plan. But as David says, it's just a plan...
I like hanging out with people. I'm looking forward to seeing friends! And continuing to stay in touch with others via zoom, etc (like our monthly calls and dinners with Margie and Alana in Ireland. FaceTime Yahtzee with Sara and Kate was fun too.)
June 8, Homeward Bound
This afternoon David and I will head to the Fort Lauderdale airport and catch a flight home. Kate will pick us up, and we'll all move back into our house tonight. I'm ready. It has been a truly fantastic adventure. And I'm looking forward to hugging my two kids, seeing my dog and tortoise, sleeping in my own bed. Then I want to work in the garden, cook as a family, see my parents and friends. The team at ASLD has some great things going on for summer and beyond, and I'm excited to join them later this month.
I've learned a lot over these 6 months, about myself, family, the world. Lots to process.
I will be doing a wrap up/thoughts post or two over the next few weeks.
June 4, Puerto Rico to Delray Beach, Florida
I thought I would be writing a final post from our jungle paradise in Puerto Rico before this one, but part of what made it paradise was no internet connection...We spent our last few days there in a tree house on the edge of El Yunque. It was spectacular. It was right on the Rio Grande river, and we hiked down to the river each day. The river had huge rocks in it, which we climbed along, but very slippery. Our treehouse had a great balcony overlooking the jungle valley. All four walls had windows that opened up to the outside, no screens, and the bathroom shower was like a rainfall, with view through the window into the jungle. I finally got to see of the Coqui Frogs there (which we'd been hearing all month, but which are quite elusive), and fireflies, and sooo many birds. Very cool and a wonderful way to end the trip there. On Wednesday, we made one last beach stop and had one more great Puerto Rican meal on our way to the airport.
Then, on to Florida, our last stop before Denver. We are here visiting Betty, my mother in law. She turned 94 last month and I haven't seen her since Jack, David's dad, passed away in December. We spent yesterday with her. She was really emotional when we got there, which was tough. She's not usually an emotional person. But we settled in and had a nice day with her. We brought over her favorite foods, spent the day hanging out, made a nice dinner and just talked. She started telling stories last night about her childhood, and raising all her kids, and memories with Jack, etc. I always enjoy those moments with people as they age. It's interesting to hear the stories. She is starting to get confused on a few things, something we saw with Jack as well. But overall, think she's in pretty good shape.
May 31, Puerto Rican Dim Sum
Yesterday we took a day trip to Loiza, which is another beautiful beach area. it's known for a mangrove forest, the beach and food kiosks all up and down the road. We stopped at one called El Boricua. It was a terrific food adventure! We stood in line for about 30 minutes, watching them cook all sorts of wonderful looking items. We didn't know what things were, but a helpful person behind us shared some info. When we got to the window, we ordered one of most every kind of item, in different flavors-- a shrimp Alcapurria (fritters made of green plantains and yautia (taro root) and filled), a lobster arepa (a fried bread made from rice flour, with different toppings), bacalaito (fried codfish fritters), chicken pincho (grilled meat on a stick), meat piononos (Los piononos is apparently one of the most traditional dishes in Puerto Rican cuisine. They are made from plantains that surrounds a meat or cheese filling, and then fried) and roasted plantains. It was like a Puertorican dim sum. Everything came out hot, as it was finished. I was able to stand near the window and watch them making everything--rolling the alcapurria masa in a leaf, filling it with shrimp, dropping it in the hot oil...It was all incredibly delicious. And too much for the two of us for lunch. We brought home half of it and had it for dinner with a salad. I posted some pictures of the place on the photo page. Again, the street food here has definitely been my favorite.
Our time in Puerto Rico is winding down. Today we pack up our stuff one more time and head to spend a few days in treehouse resort on the edge of El Yunque. We're not moving far from where we are now, just thought a treehouse in the jungle would be an interesting end to our time here. I will miss this cute house though, and being in a real neighborhood. We've created our daily routine--the path we run, where we walk in the afternoons, the store we shop at. We know which dogs will bark and are used to the rooster next door...
Later this week we head to Florida, and then home! More thoughts on that to come.
May 26, I love the National Park System
We spent a fabulous day at the El Yunque National Forest, PR's national park and, according to the US National Park's website, the only Tropical Forest in the US Park system. It's beautiful. (Apparently it has been considered on the lists for the new seven wonders of the world--but hasn't made it.) There are lots of waterfalls, and some you cans swim under. And there are several lookout towers throughout El Yunque, one built in the 30's, and one in the 60's, which offer amazing views of the forest, down to the ocean.
If you've been reading the blog, you know we hiked to the highest peak in El Yunque a few days ago. That was one of the trails that is more off road. This time, we were in the main part of the park, for which you need reservations. Reservations were tough to get, as they are very limited right now due to Covid and ongoing repairs happening in the park following Hurricane Maria. But, the nice part is, if you get tickets, you are one of a very few compared to normal times, so you don't see as many crowds.
We hiked pretty much all day, and did most of the trails that are currently open. We skipped the one that the forest service site says "We lose the most people on this trail. Very challenging." And it made me realize once again how much I love the US National Park System.
They do such a great job of making different trails accessible to different abilities, they had great picnic areas, we saw intergenerational families throughout. Well worth the $2 reservation ticket...
May 25, Time Flies
So I thought I was finally getting better at blogging at least every other day, and I see it's been four days since my last entry...Not sure how that happens.
On Saturday we went into San Juan and visited two museums--the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Art. Both had some very interesting exhibits. MAC had several hands on, interactive exhibits. On was about record albums, their covers, etc, from the 60's and 70's. It was really well done and had a collection of records and a turntable to play them on. There was also an exhibit on water resources and an artist who is building a water filter with natural materials. There was large area with different materials people could help her prepare for the filter.
The art museum's exhibit was their permanent collection of PR artists and it showed the history of PR through the exhibit. It was a great way to learn more about PR culture and history.
The museums are close together, so were able to get lunch in between our visits. We went to a Cuban restaurant, just as it was opening. Our waiter had no other customers while we were there, and he took the time to talk to us quite a bit about life in PR. He was probably late 20s, early 30s, has a son, talked about the effects of Maria on his life. He went to Hawaii to work after Maria, as there was no work on PR. (he shared that of the Puertoricans who emigrated after Maria, most were middle class, which has left a population of very wealthy and lower income households on the island, and exacerbated many of the problems facing the island, like adequate affordable housing).
He talked about his hopes for PR. He thinks they are better off with the status they have now, as a commonwealth, rather than as a state or an independent country. He doesn't think it's feasible the US would ever let PR go completely (so that independence isn't a viable option), and he doesn't think they can maintain their culture being a state. And he acknowledged the problems in PR. He believes there will be tremendous change in PR over the next two-three generations. It was an enlightening conversation.
Yesterday we went to Fajardo, a small city about 15 minutes west of Luquillo, known for beaches and water sports. We thought we were meeting a guide to do a tour of El Yunque, but that didn't work out (see David's blog). So we visited Seven Seas Beach, and found these series amazing little beaches that the waiter on Saturday had told us about. On one, we were the only people there, and on the other we were 2 of maybe 15 people. Even though it wasn't the day we expected, it was another great day. I didn't take more pictures, because the beach pictures are starting to be like sheep pictures in Ireland--hard to tell them apart!
May 21, Settling in at Luquillo
We've had a great few days in Luquillo, which is almost exactly opposite Boquerón on the island of PR. On Wednesday, we drove east to Ponce, taking a slight detour to check out downtown Ponce, which has some really interesting architecture. Then we headed north, to do another detour at Cueva Ventana, which means Cave Window. It's actually 2 caves that you hike to and through. It's only accessible via a tour. It was beautiful and our guide did a great job. But they do let they groups on each tour get pretty big--we were 27 people, all ages, and levels of fitness, so it was sort of hard to keep everyone together. Inside the cave there were swallows, bats, spiders, petroglyphs, and the guide explained everything. At the end, we came to a the window which overlooks a beautiful valley. It was well worth it. Then we drove across the northern side of the island, through San Juan, and ultimately made it to Luquillo.
We're in a true neighborhood now, in a cute house with a front and back yard. There's a huge mango tree in the back (with lots of ripe mangos! yum!). Yesterday we went to the beach here. Luquillo is known for it's beaches and also for being close to El Yunque, the National Forest on PR (More jungle than forest). Today we hiked to the tallest peak in El Yunque, El Toro. Fantastic views and almost no other people.
Some random thoughts--
We're loving Puertorican food, and determined the street food is our favorite--it's amazing, and everywhere. At the Luquillo Beach, there's a string of about 50 kiosks of different foods and drinks. We had Mofongo Relleno yesterday, which is stuffed mashed plantains. I had mine stuffed with ceviche. David had this delicious pork in his. We've tried lots of different kinds of empanadillas and pinchos (roasted meat on a stick) as well. I'm working on some recipes to replicate some of the things we've had, as well as working on things in the PR cookbook I got in San Juan.
The Puertorican flag is everywhere. I mean everywhere. In the house we're staying in now, I can see 16 flags from where I'm sitting as I write this. So, I've been doing some reading it's history--it's complicated given the colonialism PR has faced. And at points during it's history, Boricuas weren't allowed to fly their own flag. If you want to read more, this is one of the most informative articles I've found on it: https://www.motherjones.com/media/2019/07/puerto-rico-resistance-flag-black-and-white-flag-san-juan-la-puerta-colonial/
May 18, Last full day in Boquerón
We'll spend today at Playa Boquerón, the beach closest to our studio--we can walk to it-- and then we pack up to move to Luquillo tomorrow. Starting to think about going home, and preparing mentally for that change. I'm excited to see the girls, and be back in our house and am also trying to savor the last few weeks of this amazing time we've had.
Yesterday we spent the day at Playa Buye, an absolutely beautiful beach not far, but still a drive. It was packed, even on on Monday. David and I are starting to think it must already be summer vacation time here, for Puerto Ricans, and that's why the beaches are so crowded while the towns are so quiet.
Yesterday we drove along the coast for a while, and saw some pretty extreme examples of the wealth disparity here. Still very much trying to understand how this place works. I finished the second book on Puerto Rican history, about the failed push for independence in the 1950s. It's not a very pretty picture of the American Government at the time.
May 16, Five Months of the Big Adventure
This past Thursday was the five month anniversary of our big adventure. It's been quite a journey. We've settled into the flow of each place. I realized this morning that I'm spending this Sunday in Puerto Rico in much the way I would if I were at home in Denver--went for a run, doing laundry, reading the paper, doing some cooking, talking to friends and family.
But it's also very different--this afternoon David and I will pack our cooler and head over to the beach for a few hours of swimming and people watching. We take our mini-Coronas and snacks and hang out as the day cools off. There's always someone playing music on the beach, and always huge families hanging out.
It's amazing how long people can hang out in the water. Friday we were at the beach and there was a group of probably 20 people, all ages. They all stayed in the water the whole time we were there. Their grill master, who had set up a makeshift charcoal barbecue with some bricks and tinfoil that was cooking perfect burgers brought everyone's food to them in the water and one of the dads brought fresh drinks every so often. It's fun to watch everyone enjoying each other.
Yesterday we took our second trip to San German, in hopes of seeing the museums there. Two of them were open--the Museum of the History of San German, and the Pharmacy Museum. The Art Museum was still closed (despite the website's info). The rest of San German was pretty much completely closed. We're not sure if this state of some of the smaller towns is due to Covid, or if Puerto Rico is going through a significant economic challenges (still related to Hurricane Maria, perhaps?), or some combination of the two.
We met the Director of the History Museum, who spent some time talking to us about his views on Puerto Rico, which to me were quite depressing. He did not speak positively about the young people at all, saying they are all willing to take government support rather than working, and being generally disinterested in learning about how to govern themselves, or the future of PR. I always find it disheartening when people who aren't "young" talk about the "young" generation in such negative terms, and in that collective manner. Sigh. Still, it was interesting to talk to someone about their perspectives. David and I are reading a lot of history of PR and current literature and news, and it's been a struggle to figure out what's really going on here as it relates to statehood, independence, etc.
May 14, la bioluminiscencia
Last night we took a wonderful trip to the Bioluminescent Bay near here. There are 3 year such bays that glow year round in Puerto Rico, which is unusual, because we learned there are only 5 year round bays in the world. What are they, you may be asking? They are bays filled with plankton that glow when disturbed. So, we went on a two hour boat ride, watched the sunset, and then traveled to a small bay. They topography of the bay is such that the water is 3-4 degrees warmer and much saltier than the water outside the bay. There is a wall under the water which holds keeps the plankton in. The mangroves and other plants create an ideal food source, so they thrive there and are thus visible year round at night. We swam in the dark with them. It was magical! It feels like you have stars all over you, shooting from your fingers. And also like you are in a giant snow globe.
Apparently, we went at the perfect time. The moon was in a crescent phase, so it was about as dark as it can get, and there were no clouds, which reduces the light reflection. We got to the bay at about 7:30 and it was just starting to be visible. As the night got darker, the bioluminescent lights got brighter and brighter.
It's very difficult to photograph, so this one was an in the moment experience...
May 13, Sara is 17
May 12, Apres Surfing
Yesterday we surfed in Rincon. According to the the little kids (literally 2-5 years old) who were finishing their surf lessons when we got there, it was a great day for beginners. Ha! It was incredibly hard. Our instructor, Nego, was very patient and enthusiastic. I sort of got up a few times. I did think just riding the waves on my stomach on the board (basically body surfing) was really fun! Given that it was my second time in my life (last time was in Costa Rica, ten years ago), I felt pretty good about it. Not sure it will be my new sport though. Seems like you really need to do it a lot to get comfortable, and we don't live by an ocean...
It's hard work and the waves buffeting you wears you out. After the lesson, we drive to another beach (Tres Palmas) and relaxed with a picnic. We drove home along the coast, which was stunning. A great day!
And this morning I'm not as sore as I expected...
May 9, Mother's Day
Happy Mother's Day to all the mother's in our lives! I had a great day--got to talk with my mom and my girls, and emailed with Cindy.
David and I enjoyed San German, although the museums we thought would be open weren't (website info isn't always correct). The city was beautiful and the drive through farmland was also nice.
Getting into a relaxed flow here. We get up, run or walk, then get ready to go on a day trip somewhere, which usually ends up at a beach. The beaches are beautiful, and hot. So after a few hours, it's time to come home for a siesta and a shower. Our evenings have been pretty relaxed as well. We might walk into town, or have snacks and a drink at our lovely apartment. Then maybe a game (cribbage or Yahtzee) and a movie or show.
I'm up to the 1800's in my history of Puerto Rico book. Reaching the time where the island's focus moved to sugar production, which seems like it's going to take over everything else. Doesn't seem like it's going to go well in the long run for the average members of the population...
I'm also reading a book of short stories called San Juan Noir. For those of you who like to read mysteries, etc., it's a great place based series. I've read the Berlin Noir, Marrakech Noir, Boston Noir. They introduce the reader to a variety of contemporary authors from the places in addition to being stories based there.
I'm working on some small prints/stamps, doing mini Lino cut blocks. And I've started culling through the photos taken on our journey, trying to figure out what I want to do with some of the themes I've covered in them.
May 8, Boqueron, Puerto Rico
The southwestern part of Puerto Rico is gorgeous. Lovely beaches and amazing birds and foliage everywhere. We've been discovering the area. We visited the Cabo Rojo lighthouse and saw amazing cliffs all around it. Some crazy rock formations there, and intense cliffs. Yesterday we spent the day at Buye beach, which was as beautiful as the beach in Negril, Jamaica, which until now, we've always said was the most beautiful we've ever seen. Buye had the same beautiful Caribbean blue water, so clear and warm, like a giant bath. The beach was packed with families celebrating everything--birthdays, Mother's Day, anniversaries... People were setting up grills, tables, tents, and staying for hours. So much fun to people watch!
Today we went to the Nature Preserve nearby and saw the salt flats, which are a great place to see birds, and also fit into the history of Puerto Rico--the salt was something exported during the 17th century.
I'm working my way through my History of Puerto Rico book. Just finished the American and French Revolutions. It's fascinating.
Tomorrow we're going to do a day trip to San German, which is nearby, and figures prominently in the history I've read so far--it's the second oldest city in Puerto Rico (after San Juan), and it's entire city center has been designated on the National Historic Registry because of the architecture.
May 5, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is beautiful. Everyone has been incredibly friendly, both the tourists and the locals. It seems everywhere we go, people strike up a conversation. We arrived last Saturday, in the evening. On our first evening here, the hotel staff mentioned a great little hidden beach behind the capitol. We've picked up empanadas or sandwiches and coffee each day and headed over there to start. The water here is warm enough to swim, which has been great, but you really have to watch out for the rip tide. Then we've been wandering the walled city. The forts and the path around the walls are great walks. The architecture really feels like a Spanish city. Haven't made it to the rest of San Juan yet, and most likely that will come later in the month. Today we're picking up our car and heading to the opposite side of the island, to the area of Cabo Rojo, where we'll be for the next 2 weeks.
On the plane ride here, we sat next to a member of the Coast Guard who's been stationed here for the past few years. She shared that Cabo Rojo has amazing cliffs and a great lighthouse. Looking forward to some hikes and with the car we'll do some day trips.
We found a wonderful book store and the staff there helped us choose some books on Puerto Rican history, which I've started. Once again, so much to learn...
That's it for now.
April 27, 2021 Later that same day
More on Six Degrees of Separation for places--as David and I walked through New Orleans today (after having a wonderful breakfast with Mikey Panner, our friend Nancy's daughter--so nice to see her!), we remembered more connections between places:
The Ireland connection carried through to South Carolina. When we were in Columbia, SC, we came across a monument to the Irish who built the canal there. And there's a connection to New Orleans as well. The Irish have always been attracted to New Orleans because it was Catholic, and French rather than English, many Irish immigrated through New Orleans. Particularly during the Potato Famine, including my great-grandmother Olive's parents. The Irish are recognized for building the canal here too.
The Huguenots have turned up in some form in every place we've been so far... I don't know much about them other than they were French. But they've come up as we've read about history in Ireland, Boston, South Carolina and here. One of the funnier ways the Huguenots keep coming up is related to the Spanish Moss that grows on the trees throughout the South. It's not moss, it's an air plant. And it's not Spanish. The Huguenots named it Spanish Moss because it reminded them of the Spanish settlers beards, and it looked like moss to them. At least that's what we heard/read on every tour in South Carolina!
More to come on the Huguenots...
April 21, 2021 Good morning NOLA, farewell Charleston
This morning we woke up in a beautiful apartment in New Orleans. We're right on a cable car line, and can hear it outside the window, which is pretty fun. The apartment is an ultra chic loft, which is also pretty fun. Looking forward to wandering today. David and I were trying to remember, but we think it's been over 15 years since we were here last.
Yesterday we said goodbye to Charleston. We spent Saturday wandering the city one more time, including walking along the Battery. On the plane I was reading a book about the American criminal justice system and the author talked a lot about the history of lynching in America, including South Carolina. He talked about proposals to put memorials in cities like Charleston to reflect more of the history of enslavement in the city. There is so much history reflected throughout South Carolina, with a lot of signage. And we did a number of tours and heard our history of enslavement and the aftermath described in different ways. Some did it well, some not so well. I agree with the author that more history about enslavement, and all that came after should be added to many of the sites. And if it's to work, it seems as though it would be most successful in raising our general awareness and understanding about our collective history if put signage throughout the country, not just in one or two cities or states.
I also realized there's been a strange thread through our trip so far, of six degrees of separation by place--we started in Ireland, then went to Boston, arguably one of the most Irish cities in America. Also a location with tremendous history on view. Boston was the site for the formation of the 54th regiment, the first all Black regiment formed to fight on the Civil War. And we made it to Charleston, where, as I walked along the Battery, I found a memorial to the regiment. They fought in battles against Charleston.
I also continue to be amazed at how much more there is to learn...gotta get busy!
April 25, 2021 Reflections to date
Sara is home in Denver, living with Kate. We were sad to see her go yesterday, and happy for the two of them to get to spend these next few months together, on their own.
Yesterday we relaxed and reflected on our time together and talked about takeaways and what we've learned. We agreed each of us would blog today, so you may see some duplications in what we say, but you'll get each of our perspectives. Here are my takeaways, four months into this adventure:
On the general state of things:
Coming back to the US caused me some culture shock as I've been reminded how much work we still have to do to on our education, health and judicial systems. And we really do need to find away to deal with guns. And yet, we keep meeting nice people everywhere. South Carolina has been a wonderful surprise and made me rethink my stereotypes about the South.
I don't need as much stuff as I have. While I thought I had done a pretty good job of packing, after not using some of the stuff I brought, I mailed it home. And tomorrow I'm mailing more home. It's made me start to think about what we'll do with all our stuff when we get home--we now have a storage unit we'll have to go through...not sure all the items there will be making it back into our house.
I do need art supplies. I've enjoyed what I brought and had fun making art with Sara. Even David has done some drawing activities.
Technology--don't need much. I can read on a Kindle, but I still like a book. The Kindle is definitely easier for traveling and I appreciate that I can get library books on it. But in Murrells Inlet we found a great used bookstore and bought some used paperbacks to take to the beach. Holding a real book is nice. I will leave these for futures readers as I finish them. My phone and computer have been essential though.
There are a few kitchen items I've added to my suitcase along the way, which make cooking easier (see below).
Games--we've enjoyed playing games together, every day. Cribbage, Double Solitaire and Backgammon we brought. And on the way we discovered Yahtzee and Boggle.
On Houses and Home
Turns out it's true that home isn't about the place, but the people. We've stayed in all sorts of houses on this trip, and we've been pretty comfortable in all of them, and perfectly happy because we've been together. There are some things make that make houses more comfortable--Sara and I agree a bathtub is great for a soak after a long hike, or really at the end of any day.
And we've been more adventurous in kitchens that are laid out well. Also, we discovered there are a few key items all kitchens need--a can opener, a whisk, some tongs, a rubber spatula and a grater (not all kitchens we've stayed in have had these items. We finally bought a spatula and grater and have been carrying them with us). Key spices too--smoked paprika and chili powder are essentials for us.
On Each Other
As we talked about this one yesterday, Sara shared that we've become better communicators with each other. I was impressed with this. She's a 16 year old who has spent the last four months doing school, running with her team, speech and debate and dance, all remotely, while traveling with her parents. She spent the last four months with us 24/7. And really, it's only been us. How many other 16 year olds would have willingly gone on this sort of trip? And she is as sweet and caring as ever after all that time alone with her parents.
On my privilege
Without a doubt, this whole experience is a privilege. I own it and I appreciate it.
So what comes next? Well, I look forward to hearing about Kate and Sara's adventures together. David and I are headed to New Orleans for a few days, and then to Puerto Rico. We'll be there until early June. Then we have a few more weeks still to figure out. Any suggestions? Send them our way.
April 23, 2021 History abounds
Charleston has so much history to take in. We've been touring some of the sites. Two homes of plantation owners, managed by the Historic Charleston Foundation--the Nathanial Russell House and the Aiken-Rhett House. We toured them on separate days, which I found better. It would be too much all in day, and they aren't in really that near each other. It was really worth seeing both, not only for the history, but also for the approach to maintaining and sharing them. The Nathanial Russell house is an example of a house which is being restored to the extent possible, and the Aiken-Rhett house is being preserved. So the Nathanial Russell House gives one a sense of what the house looked like when the family lived there, whereas the Aiken-Rhett house looks like the family left and what happened sense is all there. It's a fascinating way to think about the history of buildings and things when contrasted.
The Aiken-Rhett house has one of the most complete compounds as well, which includes all of the living quarters for the enslaved people who lived and worked there. I appreciated that they give that portion of the tour as much time and importance as the main building, and share, to the extent possible, what happened to the people who lived there following emancipation. They Foundation has an app, so the tours you do are self guided, with the app providing background, which means no signs to read everywhere. I like that approach as well.
We also went to Ft. Sumter, which was the starting point for the Civil War. We took a ferry ride there and a Park Ranger gives a brief presentation on the history and then everyone walks around. I was surprised how small it is--it's a manmade island, first built for the War of 1812. Today is Sara's last full day with us before she goes home, so she's mitching from school (using my Irish slang there) and we're going kayaking this morning...more later!
April 20, 2021 cont. What I've learned about Cemeteries and Graveyards
Some time back I shared that we've seen and visited quite a few burial grounds on our adventure. They have always been fascinating to me. Not sure where that comes from, but I do remember walking through a big park with little hills with my pop when I was a kid, and thinking all the grass and little hills were so nice. I asked my pop what the little hills were and he shared people were buried there, and the park was actually a place was to come to remember them.
When we were in Ireland, there were so many burial sites everywhere. Sara said at one point that if there were a zombie apocalypse, the Irish would be in a world of hurt, because the zombies would be right in the middle of all of the towns!
Boston has so many cemeteries everywhere as well, including the beautiful Forest Hills Cemetery, which reminded me of Pere Lachaise in Paris--it was so large it was like it's own city. And you can imagine the number of burial grounds we've seen in South Carolina, with the history here.
So, what have I learned? Well, first I've learned the difference between a cemetery and graveyard. A cemetery is a stand alone burial ground and a graveyard is connected to a church (I was told to think of it as the church's yard). Cemeteries were apparently planned as sites for reflection and relaxation for people, and their locations and layouts were designed to allow people people access to nature. Many times, in cities, these sites may have been somewhat like parks, and people would bring picnics and spend an afternoon of contemplation in the tranquil environments.
Personally, in addition to the general sense of peace and tranquility I experience in these sites, I find the artwork on the burial markers interesting. I will continue to include visits to them on my travels.
April 2o, 2021 Charleston/Mt. Pleasant
We're in Charleston now, actually staying across the bridge from downtown in the lovely Mt. Pleasant. We drove from Murrells Inlet on Saturday, making some stops along the way. Made it to Pawleys Island (note to Patrice--we did find some of the cool shells, but not totally intact.)
Also stopped in Georgetown, the third oldest town in South Carolina (after Charleston and Beaufort). It stood out to me because it has the state's first AME Church, and also a very large Jewish Cemetery (which happens to be the burial ground from three of the city's mayor's from the 1800's), both of which made Georgetown seem like it may have been a fairly progressive city at some point.
We also took a detour to visit a plantation that's a national park now. The descriptions throughout were really well done and informative while being open and honest about the brutality of the site's history. It was a strange site--both beautiful and haunting.
Mt. Pleasant really is pleasant. There's a cute old town and a waterfront area with restaurants and boardwalks. We've rented bikes for the week and yesterday we rode into Charleston, over the Ravenal bridge, then all through the city. It's another great city on the water. The architecture and all the old trees make it feel like a movie set.
This is Sara's last week with us, before she heads home to finish the school year in person. I'm going to miss her. And I'm excited for her and Kate, who will be living together in an apartment on their own. I know they are going to have fun.
April 15, 2021 Columbia and University of South Carolina
We spent a few days on a short road trip inland. The coach at USC reached out to Sara to discuss running there (yep, she's being recruited!), and because we're in the area, we figured we might as well check it out. Sara planned the trip, start to finish. We started out from Murrells Inlet and drove to Florence, where they have a beautiful walking trail built on a former railroad track. The walk was a nice way to break up the drive. Afterwards, we stopped at a pick your own strawberries farm and got a nice snack. Then to Columbia. Columbia is a small city, and while it's old, it doesn't have that many old buildings. The city was mostly burned down during the Civil War, when Sherman entered. They had cotton bales everywhere, and the cotton caught fire and quickly spread. Sara found a great AirBnB that was in an historic building from the 1800s. It was originally built in the black business area, as an insurance business. Now it's a restaurant/bar on the first level, offices on the second, and three rentals on the third. We had a great view of the city from it, and it was close to everything we were there to do, so we could walk. They have a great signage throughout the city about its history through the Civil War and the Civil Rights era, which made walking really interesting.
The University is beautiful, really lush trees and flowers everywhere. It's quite big and spread out across the downtown area. We did't do a scheduled tour, but the visitor's office was really helpful and gave us a map and suggested we walk on our own, saying we'd get into more places not on the tour, and they were right! Over the two days, saw everything we wanted to. We met a student who runs track. She showed Sara the Track and Field buildings (indoor track, residence, dining hall), and talked about team culture, etc. At the dance school, we lucked out and ran into the head of the school, who gave Sara a tour of the facilities and talked about their program. And we were able to get info on the Engineering program as well.
Tuesday night, Sara got us tickets to the USC Baseball game, with the seats on the Berm. We sat on a grassy hill, eating peanuts and hotdogs, watching USC win. In the morning, we ran on this beautiful river path the coach told Sara about, had a great lunch at a Southern restaurant (grits and collard greens for me!) and then visited the art museum before heading back.
The Art Museum also helped us understand why the USC mascot is a Gamecock. Thomas Sumter was a brigadier general in the South Carolina militia during the revolution, as well as a planter and politician. He was nicknamed the "Carolina Gamecock" for continuing to fight and stay committed to cause against British soldiers after they burned down his house during the war. Fort Sumter is named after him as well.
Who knows, we may end up Gamecock in the family...
April 12, 2021 Rice History
We spent a nice weekend doing some touring in the area. We visited Brookfield Gardens, a fantastic botanical and sculpture gardens on the land of four former rice plantations. Brookfield is huge, and the flowers and trees were spectacular. The azaleas are in bloom, and they had so many different colors. Also lots of birds. And the gardens have a substantial sculpture collection throughout. In addition, Brookfield shares he history of the plantations and the workers who were enslaved there and how the rice was produced. It was operated as a plantation from the 1700s until shortly after the Civil War, when rice production collapsed in South Carolina (wasn't feasible without free labor).
The land was acquired by a very wealthy family from New York (the Huntingtons) in 1930, and turned into a state park and the gardens. We took a boat tour at the gardens to learn more about how rice farming worked with the tidal marsh, and the overall history of the plantation. The tour guide was great. Learning about how the rice was farmed was very interesting, as well as the overall history of the plantation. During the tour, the guide talked about Sandy Island, a small island only accessible via boat, which was acquired by families who'd lived there during the plantation times, and were able to acquire it following emancipation. The guide recommended a tour of Sandy Island offered by a company run by one of the residents. So we did that yesterday (ToursdeSandyIsland). We weren't sure what to expect--sort of weird to be a white family with our privilege going to visit a small town of black people, descendants of people who were enslaved. But it was worthwhile. We met Capt. Rommy at the Sandy Island dock. He was born and raised on the island, taking the boat across to catch the school bus, which the kids today still do. He left the island for years, serving in the air force, and when he retired, he realized how much he missed the area. He returned, started the tour business and has being doing it since. Originally, there were about 3500 people living on Sandy Island. Today there are less than 50. All of them are related to Capt. Rommy in some way. When we got to the island, he first took us to the little general store, run by his mom. They have some artifacts and tools there from the rice plantation days which he showed and explained. We bought a cookbook of his mom's recipes, and looked at some books written by his uncle on Gullah language and life on Sandy Island and Gullah history in the Low Country. Then we had a brief tour of the area. There are few different neighborhoods on the island, each a different family line. There is some building going on, including Capt. Rommy, and his cousin, both of whom are who new homes. He drove us to a few sites--the original school house, which was used until the early 1960s (teachers came to the island rather than the kids going to the mainland). It's since been turned into a community center and library, and the church. It was a nice complement to the gardens and I was glad we did them back to back.
April 9, 2021 More South Carolina
I shared that one of my goals while we're in South Carolina is to check my own prejudices about the South. Still working through them. What I've experienced so far--the notion of Southern hospitality seems quite true, although we've had limited experience so far. All of the people we've come into contact with--shopkeepers, the healthcare workers where we got our vaccines, the workers at our condo site, the people who run the small fish shops we've stopped at, anglers on the boardwalk, are incredibly friendly and happy to share info, chat, etc. They all seem utterly baffled when they hear we're from Colorado.
And apparently there are a lot of gun owners (another stereotype of mine), because there are stores and restaurants everywhere with signs saying no guns allowed, no concealed weapons allowed, etc. Sara and I were walking yesterday and she said, do you really need to tell people not to bring guns to dinner? isn't that just expected? But apparently, they do need to tell people...
There are a lot of firework stores. Literally three within a 5 minute radius of where we are. And we saw more on our drive here from Myrtle Beach. I'm used to only thinking about fireworks on July 4th, yet people are buying them all the time, because the stores are open and have people going in. And we hear people setting them off at the beach each night. Not too loud or anything, just different than I'm used to.
There are lots of American flags--on shoes, on bathing suits, on cars/trucks, and always nearby on the beach. There's a guy who brings a big wagon of stuff each day to the beach, including a large umbrella stand base into which we puts a huge flag pole and then raises the American flag and a smaller, homemade four square flag with all his sports teams. Kind of funny. I expected to see some Confederate flags, but so far the only image of it I've seen was in a store on a bag for sale, and no one was buying it at the time.
We've had some great Southern food--boiled peanuts, tomato pie, crab cakes, red snapper and spiced shrimp. Looking forward to trying some Carolina barbecue. I'm also eyeing the caramel cake that one of the small roadside food shops we've been going to sells...
April 7, 2021 South Carolina
I've been settling into South Carolina. It's taken me a few days to write again, in part because I'm still processing our experiences in Boston and have been wanting to write a final post about them. I've decided that will come later.
We are in the South Carolina Lowcountry, in an historic fishing town called Murrells Inlet. Today it's known as the seafood capital of South Carolina. There are fresh fish/seafood stands all over, and people sea fishing everywhere. The beach is beautiful. We're still settling in to a beach lifestyle, after being in Boston, where we were right in the city, but also where it was still cold! We've spent the last two days in bathing suits and shorts on the beach--a surprise for us.
In addition to seafood and the beach, the town is known for pirates-- Blackbeard, among others, and some ghosts. It started as a port, first shipping rice and indigo to Britain. Later, cotton. Pirates came here to steal the ship cargo, but also because the marsh provided good hiding spots, and helped get the barnacles off of their ships. It, and the rest of the Lowcountry region have a big role in the history of enslaved people in the US. I've learned the Lowcountry has been designated an historic region for the preservation of the culture and heritage of the Gullah Geechee people, descendants of the enslaved people in this region, many of whom still live here. Lots to learn there.
I've always had a lot of preconceived notions and prejudices about the South and Southerners, and have never really had much interest in traveling to many southern states because of that. I think this time here will be eye-opening for me.
April 1, 2021 Rambling Thoughts
Yesterday we visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The inner courtyard and garden were a gardener's delight. The flowers were in full bloom, riotous colors everywhere. There were beautiful orange nasturtiums hanging down from the upper windows, trailing all around the garden. Later I read that the nasturtiums are a Boston sign of spring, and had just been installed on Monday. They only last 2-3 weeks, so were pretty lucky to get to see them.
The museum itself is interesting. Gardner had it built as a museum, with her residence on the fourth floor, after her husband died. It houses their art collection. The building is like a castle, with lots of architectural items brought from Europe. It got me to thinking about some other sites in the US like it--There's the Hearst Castle in California and Vizcaya in Miami. All three are these enormous castle-like buildings, built in the late 1800s-early 1900s by incredibly wealthy people to house their art collections. What struck me yesterday is that all three are based on European architecture and all have pieces from Europe in the architecture. Whole floors, walls, giant heavy doors, fountains, etc. Sort of odd. The Cloisters in New York is another example--the cloisters were purchased in France and brought over to New York. The wealth that it took to move these buildings across the world could have been used to provide so much for people who need education, medical attention, housing, food.
Our time in Boston is winding down. I mentioned that we've had some culture shock being back in the US. Cities in general haven't fared well during Covid, based on what I've seen. Denver was rough when we left. My parents in Oregon have shared that Portland is struggling. And in Boston, we see a lot of people clearly struggling to get by day to day. More so than we saw in Ireland. That combined with the recent mass-shootings (which are unheard of in most other places) are heavily on my mind.
In Boston, there is a set number of liquor licenses for restaurants. As we all know, restaurants make a lot of their revenue from liquor sales. Restaurants that don't have liquor licenses don't do as well financially. In Boston, the neighborhoods which tend to be higher income, and have more white people in them, also have more of the liquor licenses. So restaurants in neighborhoods like Roxbury, which has been an historically black neighborhood in Boston, don't do as well financially. Which affects how many people they can hire. And so on.
That's it for the moment.
March 29, 2021
What a week we've had! So much great stuff to see and do. We took a yeast bread making class at the Cambridge Culinary School, and learned about enriched and non enriched bread doughs, proper proofing methods, different flours. And made 15 loaves of French bread and 24 cinnamon rolls. The week before Passover, lol! We rented bikes and rode along the Charles River both sides (Boston and Cambridge), had a picnic, checked out the USS Constitution. The bike paths are really well laid out through the city and it's very easy to navigate riding everywhere.
The Institute for Contemporary Art reopened, so we went Friday night. It sits right on the harbor, and is all glass. The view is beautiful. The exhibits were very much reflective of Covid. Made me think about the role of museums. Also interesting to consider contemporary art museum and permanent collections. I don't think the MCA or BMoCA have permanent collections, but ICA does, and they mixed permanent pieces in with the others to create some interesting exhibits.
We're continuing to go to the movies to see all of the best film nominations. Wednesday at 4 is our sweet spot--there's a theater that's a 10 minute walk from our apartment, right on Boston Common. It's a huge theater, so has lots of movies, and every time it's been us and one other person. Literally like having the theater to ourselves! This week we saw Judas and the Black Messiah. Really well done. Lots of history to remember. It's made me start to rewatch Eyes on the Prize as well, which I haven't seen in years (it's on Kanopy for anyone who's interested) .
We had a lovely Passover Seder with Kate and David's nephews, Justin and Adam (and their families), via zoom. It was nice to see everyone. Also interesting that it's the second year we've done the Seder via zoom. One of the nice outcomes of Covid is learning how to do those things via zoom and continuing it into the future.
Yesterday we took a day trip to Salem. Thanks to Samantha J for the recommendation! It was a rainy, cold day, but we persevered and had a great time. There's an open air museum called Punto Urban Art Museum that has over 40 murals painted in a 3 block radius by artists from all over the world, and the Salem neighborhood. We made it there before the rain really started. It is really fantastic. Then we walked through the town. The memorial to the Salem Witch Trials is very nicely done. We had a great lunch on the water (lobster rolls and lobster mac and cheese) and then spent the afternoon at the Peabody Essex Museum. It's an impressive museum for a city that size. They had a very detailed exhibit on the history of the Witch Trials. So many written records from the court proceedings! It's amazing what has been preserved.
I like being in a city where public transportation is so easy. I like not having a car and being able to do things like a day trip to another town/city without much forethought. I wish we had more of that in Denver.
March 24, 2021
Being away from the US for so long, and coming back, we have experienced some culture shock. Unfortunately, the recent mass shootings in Atlanta and now Boulder, is one of the areas causing it for me. It's scary.
March 22, 2021 A day in Providence
Yesterday we took the train to Providence, RI. I'd never been to Rhode Island before. When I worked at CHFA, there was someone I got to know who worked at the RI HFA. She lived in Providence and always shared what a pretty city it is. She was right--the central area around the river, and where Brown University and RISD are, is charming. Very hilly and lots of intriguing architecture. We arrived very early and walked across the city to the zoo. It was a strange walk--google maps doesn't always send you on the prettiest way to go. We started out downtown, along the river. It was early Sunday morning, so not much going on yet. We enjoyed the architecture, lots of murals around town. As we were walking, buildings thinned out. Soon we were in some weird industrial areas, and then some rougher areas--there were clumps of homes, but also areas where homes had been taken down for surface parking lots that appeared abandoned now (COVID?). Then under a highway and over another one. It took us about an hour to walk. We ended up in the Roger Williams Park, which is 450 acres of public park known as the People's Park in Provincetown. It was another amazing commitment to green space by a community. It has the zoo, the nature museum, a music center and stage, a carousel center, beautiful gardens throughout. It was really a fantastic place to spend the first half of the day. We went to the zoo, which was small but enjoyable. They had lanterns shaped like animals throughout the zoo. More lanterns than animals! We decided it must be like the Denver Zoo lights, but we weren't sure. Then we walked to the Japanese Garden and had a picnic. We didn't walk want to walk back into town, so we took a Lyft. Our driver was a great tour guide and took us to a fun street by Brown, so we walked around there, then worked our way down to the river, and through downtown. Finally, we wandered over to Federal Hill, the Italian area. The main street that runs through Federal Hill seemed to be an area where people cruise, at least on Sunday evenings. Some had fancy cars I envision cruising but others were out in their mini vans and sedans. Lots of loud music and some motorcycles. It felt like a very American experience. We walked the length of it and did some people watching and car watching. We had an early dinner and then took the train home. It was a long, fun day.
March 19, 2021
We continue to explore The Emerald Necklace, the group of parks and greenways running around Boston, designed by Olmstead. Today we rode the T over to the Harvard Arboretum. It's a huge wooded area with all kinds of paths, gardens, and hills going through it. Really a pretty place to walk. It's right near the Forest Hills Cemetery I mentioned in a previous post. We went there next. Absolutely amazing. It reminded me of Pere LaChaise in Paris in terms of size and age, but it was much more wooded. I wanted to go there because the cemetery has an art program where it selects contemporary artists to build sculptures that are placed throughout the cemetery, along with the grave markers and headstones. It makes for a nice place to stroll.
This week we went to the movies again. Wednesday afternoon seems to be a sweet spot--we were once again 3 of the 5 people in the theater. We're working our way through the nominations for Best Picture. We saw Promising Young Woman. Not for the feint of heart, but a powerful movie in a very dark, and somewhat funny way. I don't want to give too much away, so I'll leave it at that. We also streamed The Trial of the Chicago Seven. Lots of history to share with Sara in it. Sacha Baren Cohen was great as Abbie Hoffman.
Hard to believe we've been here two weeks already. Definitely feeling settled and enjoying the city.
March 16, 2021
Today we were in Southie aka South Boston, which is distinct from the South End (I didn't understand that at first). It's a very residential area. The styles of the housing was very interesting. Lots of narrow, tall homes, both brick and wood siding. Some really new apartments. There's one Main Street that seems to run through it with shops and restaurants. And Candle Pin Bowling, which we played. The bowling alley was straight out of the fifties. I was much better at it than I am at regular bowling. It has smaller balls, and the pins are very tall and narrow (like candle sticks). You get three balls each turn. And we were the only people there at 3pm on a Tuesday. Sooo fun!
March 15, 2021
News from Denver is that y'all had the 4th biggest storm in history. Wow! I hope our trees are okay. Kate is staying home today--glad she will be warm and safe. I hope everyone else is too!
As I read The Boston Globe this morning, I saw that Norton Juster passed away. He is one the author of one of my all time favorite books, The Phantom Tollbooth. My dad read it to me when I was a kid, then I read it again on my own, then I read it to both of my kids. It was illustrated by Jules Feiffer, another favorite of mine and, until I read the obituary, I didn't realize that Juster and Feiffer were roommates at the time The Phantom Tollbooth was written. The book is a great story about one boy's boredom and how he overcomes it. It has wonderful plays on words, double meanings, as well as some math and geography, and a great Watch Dog named Tock (who has a clock in him--a Watch Dog). No matter your age, if you haven't read it, I encourage you to. I plan to read it again.
Reading the obituary also reminded time of an excellent documentary I watched on Kanopy while we were in Ireland, called Obit. It's about the obituary department at the NYTImes. How they write them, how they decide where they will be placed in the paper, how they get the info, and confirm it. What happens when there's a mistake. Fascinating stuff.
And that leads me back to my cemetery project here in Boston. I hope to get some time to wander the cemeteries this week. Yesterday we went by the Copp's Hill Cemetery, but it was locked, so we could only peek through the fence. I've since learned they all have different visiting hours, so I need to plan accordingly.
Today we're headed to the science museum. It's freezing here and will be all day. David and Sara are both out running, but I think the walk to the museum will be enough for me in this cold...
March 14, 2021
Sara and I are getting our granola making game down. Our plan is to start a small batch company--Oats for GOATs. We will have some sweet and savory granola types. So we've been messing around with recipe ideas and today we made two--a savory Mole Granola and a sweet Mediterranean Granola. We're pretty happy with both. We need some taste testers so if you're reading this and are interested in being a tester, please go to the Say Hi page and let us know and we will send you some to try...
March 10, 2021
Oh I do love a city. Boston has been great so far. It's incredibly walkable and also has an excellent public transportation system. Yesterday we walked a portion of the Emerald Necklace Greenway that runs through Boston (from downtown to Brookline and Forest Hills). It's a huge greenway system designed by Frederick Law Olmstead in the late 1800's, and it has been protected even as the city has grown. We went to the farthest end, Franklin Park, walking along the Southwest Corridor Park, which is another greenway and bike path running through the city (it also has an interesting history). Franklin Park is huge! It has hiking trails, bikepaths, historic sites, lovely wooded areas. We all were saying we wish there were more parks like it right in Denver, that you could get to easily via public transportation. Franklin Park is right next to Forest Hills Cemetery, which is also huge. I plan to head back over there to do some more exploring.
Lots of cemeteries here--they're some of the oldest of European descended Americans in the country. What's interesting to me is where they are, and how the city has grown around them. I found an article in The Atlantic that said cemeteries were sort of parks for many years in the early history of the country, and that's part of why they are where they are. Some of the cemeteries even have public sculpture programs (including Forest Hills). More to come...
On Monday, we went to the movies--saw Nomadland. I predict another Oscar for Frances McDormand. She was amazing and the movie was beautiful. The landscape scenes of the American West were fantastic. It's also a touching story. It was crazy to be back in a movie theater. Including us, there were four people in the theater (felt a bit sorry for the other guy--we walked in right before it started. He probably thought he was going to be alone!). I love movies, and I have always preferred seeing them in the theater. It was great to be back in that setting!
March 7, 2021 Dumplings
Starting to get settled here, in our new situation. We're continuing our exploration of food, recipes and cooking. We've decided we want to keep trying different cooking classes--our apartment is in Chinatown, so as we were looking at options, we chose a dumpling class. We've always loved Dim Sum, and we thought we might learn some of the many types of dumplings you find there. Interestingly, the class was not in Chinatown, but in Cambridge--right by the huge H Mart, which was a bonus when the class ended.
The class was more a fun get together than a true make everything from scratch situation. The format was fun in that as we made each type of dumpling, we ate them while hot and then moved on to the next type. The couple who taught it were interesting--he's originally from her and she is originally from Taiwan. They used to own some dumpling restaurants, but that is on hold during Covid, so they are doing the classes out of their B&B. It was a fun day, but I think I'll need to do some more research on how to make different fillings myself, building on the online class Kate and I took last fall.
March 2, 2021 Last Day in Ireland
Well, today is our last full day in Ireland. Happily, we have all tested negative for Covid, so tomorrow morning we head to the airport to being our journey to our next destination. I am ready for hiccups along the way--we couldn't check in online because we need to show our covid tests before we can get boarding passes, so we'll be doing all of that at the airport. Who knows where we'll end up--that's the adventure part of this journey!
Ireland has been amazing, even during these unusual times. We've always had a great time here, and spending almost three months here has been fantastic. I appreciated that we had the opportunity to stay in a very remote area, in some cities and also in a town.
Yesterday we took the bus to the airport to get our Covid tests and the bus went through a lot of interesting Dublin neighborhoods, so today we walked back through some of those areas. Ultimately we ended up at the Botanic Gardens, which is more like a park. And it was open! It's free, and while we couldn't go through the greenhouse areas, everything else was open. Lots was starting to bloom.
Dublin is a great city, very walkable and filled with parks. The Liffey has lovely bridges, each a different design and look, which is fun. And great running and biking paths everywhere. Phoenix Park is one of the biggest parks in Europe. To give you a sense of how large, here are herds of deer in the woods there (and there are multiple wooded areas), and the American Ambassador's residence is in it. We biked all around it on Sunday and we've been doing some runs there.
Now Sara is taking her last online dance class from here, and we're doing the final packing. Then our last Fish and Chips...
Next post will be from wherever we land.
February 28, 2021 Dublin
I woke up yesterday feeling not great--a bit of a cold. But not something you want when you are traveling during a pandemic and getting ready to fly. I stayed in most of the day. Sara and David brought be some soup and cold medicine and I watched a lot of movies. Feeling better today.
We did get out in the afternoon to walk around some. We got caught in the Covid lockdown protest happening. It was a different vibe than protests in the US. It seemed very peaceful and calm where we were, but we saw later that there were some altercations with the police. It's so interesting here to watch the police. They do not have the same power energy that I always feel coming from American police officers. They are quite calm, and always nice, respectful as they interact with people. We've been stopped by them multiple times when driving, and I'm nervous every time, but they are always very friendly and just have a few questions. Watching them with the protesters yesterday, I got that same feeling. I think the lack of weapons all around creates a different energy.
February 24, 2021 Jerusalema Challenge, part 2
So, earlier this month we posted about the Jerusalema Dance Challenge taking the world by storm (although it's unclear to us if it's happening in the US). Well, we've done our Jerusalema Dance, and it's posted on our home page. Check it out, and now we challenge you--learn the dance and post it. Have fun!
February 24, 2021 Potato Accordion Books
I've written some about the series of Potato Books Sara and I have been working on. Well, we finished them! There are 7, each a different type of potato. We made potato prints from the actual potatoes, hand painted paper to mimic the potato skins, and included information on the origin of the type, facts, descriptions, along with a recipe for each. What a fun collaboration to do with Sara, and we actually learned a lot about potatoes in Ireland. Not surprisingly, potatoes are a big deal here--the Irish consumption of potatoes isn't as high as it used to be, but it's still a major part of the diet here. The potato section in the grocery store is a whole wall, and there are always many different kinds on the wall. Interestingly, they don't really sell individual potatoes, just different sizes of bags--I guess they figure you are never going to need just one potato... As a result, trying the different kinds of potatoes for the books meant we bought and ate a lot of potatoes!
February 21, 2021 Bere Island
We just finished another amazing hike, this time around Bere Island, the island we've been looking at across the bay since we arrived in Castletownbere. It was fantastic. We took the ferry across the Bay and walked almost 9 miles around the island. While we know it can't be true, it felt somewhat like 9 miles uphill, so we're pretty wiped out now, but it was sooo worth it! We made it to the lighthouse, saw a standing stone (good story goes with this one--the legend is the stone was thrown on the island by some giants who wanted to get the attention of the Witch of Beara, but it missed. It did, however, end up in the exact center of the island. How the heck did Bronze-Aged humans know where the exact center of the island is?!), the Martello towers, a very large cross, and a lot of sheep.
I can't adequately describe the beauty of the hikes we've been on in the Beara Peninsula. Each one has been incredibly unique, even though they all have included stunning views of cliffs and water and waves and...sheep. I have a gazillion pictures of sheep that I'm starting to weed through. Part of the allure is the color on them at this time of year. It's strange and beautiful to see these electric colors on sheep that are in such remote landscapes. And part of the allure is how calm and peaceful they are, just hanging out, eating grass.
We've really been able to enjoy this area in a special way, in part because we've been here for a month, so we've been able to do so many different walks and hikes, and also because it's so quiet--when we hike, we see only other locals, and not very many at that. So we find ourselves in these areas that feel as though we've landed on a different planet.
February 14, 2021 What I learned about sheep
Today I met the farmer who keeps his sheep right across the road from the house we're renting. He introduced himself and said "I bet you've never heard that name before." He was right, I'm not sure I actually got it even when he said it. Tedsomething. His Irish accent was pretty strong. He was very accommodating of all of my questions and let me watch him feed the sheep. The sheep were so funny. They were way out in the field, we couldn't even see them. He had a bag of Sheep Nuggets. He started shaking it and the ewes all came running. Interestingly, not the ram. He said he must not be interested today.
I've noticed some have tails and some don't. He said they are all born with tails, and some farmers cut the off, but not always. He told me taking care of sheep is a lot of work and there isn't always enough time to do everything...lol.
Most of his sheep aren't painted because he keeps them in his field and doesn't let them go up into the hills. I noticed a few do have the paint, and he said he just bought those from another farmer.
He also said they will start lambing any day, so I'm hoping we get to see some lambs while we're here--he seemed to think it would be possible. But he also shared he keeps the lambs inside some because apparently there are lots of foxes around here, and they go after the lambs. He shared many of his sheep are going to have 2-3 lambs. I asked how he can tell, and he said by how big they are (they all look the same to me--they have so much wool on them right now!).
The sheep won't be shorn until May or June, so we won't get to see that.
I really appreciated his patience with me.
February 13, 2021 Gorse Fires
During one of our drives to a hike this week, we saw fires everywhere. It was really disconcerting. At first, we saw the smoke on a hill and thought uh-oh, forest fire... But as we continued we saw more of them. And no emergency vehicles. So we assumed it was some sort of controlled burn, but it they were so close, we could see the flames from our car, and they were very near homes. I did some research and learned they are called gorse fires. Controlled burns farmers light to promote new growth over the coming months for their livestock. They are only allowed until February 28, as lots of birds and other animals start to nest after that, and the law doesn't want their habitats disturbed. So farmers have to choose times when it's dry enough before that date to do the burns. In some dry years, the fires can get out of control. It was really strange seeing so many fires so close to us and so many homes, particularly coming from Colorado. I tried to get some pictures, but they don't really show it well.
The weather this week has been very erratic. Some beautiful sunny times, but lots of rain and tremendous wind as well. Our routine now includes a lovely peat/wood fire every afternoon into the evening to combat the cold. We continue to enjoy this house and area. The big field/yard in between us and the ocean is filled with daffodils that are just starting to bloom. And Sara and I found some primroses, which we candied based on the method we learned in our Ballymaloe cooking classes.
I've been reading a lot. When we first got ready to leave there was a list of books I was interested in, none of which was available at the library, so I put holds on many of them. They've all come in at the same time... I've delayed some of them, but can't bear to delay all of them, so I'm just trying to keep up. Just finished a great collection of short stories by Stuart Neville. Lots of weird crime/ghost stories, based in Northern Ireland. Now I'm reading The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Catching up on Le Carre.
Also working on my 100 days of artist books. Trying to figure out how to decorate paper to look like potato skins for the accordion book set Sara and I are making on Irish potatoes...
February 9, 2021 Stormy Weather
The weather has been very stormy the past two days. We have a great view of the ocean from the sunroom in our house. The water is very rough. Today we can't see anything across the water, it's so foggy. And there have been occasional gusts of blowing snow/sleet. Definitely the most winter like weather we've seen so far.
Yesterday was a pajama day for me, after our big hike up Hungry Hill on Sunday. David's blog about the hike gives all the details--it was tough and I was sore afterwards. So I worked on my artist books and did some embroidery and read. I've just finished two Irish mysteries, by a relatively new author, Olivia Kiernan. Some of my friends will know that when we travel, I always seek out mysteries set in the places we're traveling as part of my reading. These two mysteries were interesting to me in that they were pretty dark and had quite a few murders each. It was noteworthy, because since we've been here I've noticed in the papers and news that crime is pretty low and any crime anywhere in the Republic is reported all over. So the books really seem very fictional. Still, they were fun reads.
I'm also working my way through various lists of best books of 2020. I just finished Deacon King Kong by James McBride. It was wonderful. It was funny, poignant, had some strong social messages and fantastic character development. And I started Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu. The way it's written (almost like a movie script) is very clever and engaging.
Our cooking adventures continue. We signed up for online courses through Ballymaloe Cooking School, a famous cooking school in Co Cork. Each Tuesday we do a live cooking class, making dinner together with the class, then eating it. Lots of interesting recipes and new techniques. The subscription also has demos we can watch, so we've done a few of those as well. Sara and David have been trying all the different bread recipes and approaches.
February 5, 2021 Posset
We've been going on some amazing walks/hikes along the Beara Peninsula. There are marked trails everywhere. Sometimes they go through private land, and there are ladders helping you over the walls and fences. We have found ourselves walking with sheep and scrambling up rocks, following the posts that lead the way, sometimes doubting we really are on a trail until we see the next post. it's so beautiful.
Yesterday I made a Lemon Posset. It's a very simple cream dessert. I'd never heard of it before it came up in an Ballymaloe cooking session we watched. Apparently it is mentioned in Shakespeare--
"Yet be cheerful knight: thou shalt eat a posset to-night at my house;
Where I will desire thee to laugh at my wife."
Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 5, Scene 5
but it didn't ring a bell with me. It's incredibly simple. Just heavy cream simmered with some sugar and then you add lemon juice. The juice doesn't curdle the milk, but as it cools, it becomes a pudding. We had it for dessert last night. Definitely will make it again. I added a picture to the photo page.
February 2, 2021 Jerusalema
This video was released today by the Irish Gardai (police), in response to a dance challenge by the Swiss police, to provide some happiness during Covid. It made us smile so much, we went down a rabbit hole on the Jerusalema dance craze. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yj23_Z6UECk
Also, today is St. Brigid's Day. She is the patron saint of bees, cows and all dairy products, which might make her my favorite saint (didn't really have one until now...). People celebrate the day by making a special cross to put over their crops and animals to keep them safe. I figured out how to make one out of paper.
And she's one of the patron saints of Ireland, along with Patrick and Columcille. Nice that they have a female Saint who is so important.
February 1, 2021 Beara Peninsula
We are at the edge of the earth now, staying on the remote Beara Peninsula. The closest town is Castletownbere, about 5 miles away. It's beautiful here and I can completely understand where stories of fairies and leprechauns came from. They are all around here. So much of the landscape in Ireland is around water, which is so very different from Colorado and New Mexico, the only places I've lived. Yesterday Sara and I walked down to the ocean several times throughout the day, watching the tide levels change. Makes me want to learn more about how the tides work--if the tide is rising in Ireland, is it going down on the coast on the other side of the Atlantic? I've come to really enjoy the water. It will be interesting to see what it's like when we end up in a spot not right by a river of the ocean.
We finally found lots of Irish sheep too. On previous trips we'd seen a lot, but this time, we hadn't really seen any until we got to the western part of the country. They are painted blue and red, so the farmers can identify their own sheep and also to note which will have lambs in the spring, so that those ewes can be separated to different fields. Right now they are so incredibly wooly. Lots of good yarn material...
Yesterday the 100 days of art project kicked off. I'm going to try it (I did start yesterday, but every day for 100 days seems long!). 100 days of making artist books. Those pics will be on my Instagram at count_basye.
January 25, 2021
I love the city of Cork. It's got some grit, which always makes a city more interesting to me. With so much shut down, it's not the same experience we would normally have when exploring a new city, and yet I'm still really enjoying it. It's a very walkable city, with the Lee River running through it. The Lee splits at one point, and then rejoins, creating the City Centre on an island, and then the city south of the river as well as to the north. There's great urban art everywhere, which is fulfilling my lack of museums and galleries to check out. There are some really nice public art mural projects and also some that are volunteer/independently done. I've been on the hunt to find as much of it as possible.
The layout of the city is meandering and many streets are very narrow and dark, with small houses built close together. It's in those areas you can really tell it's a very old city. One street has brass plaques in every 20-30 feet apart, marking the original narrow passages that used to be there, and the types of shops one would find down the streets. There are hills everywhere, so lots of staircases to climb, always trying to find a new view from above.
We rented bikes for a few days and went riding in every direction. It's not long before you get out of town and find yourself on some beautiful greenways by the water. And we also pushed our bikes to the top of the longest street in Ireland--Blarney Street, which is at the top of huge hill--and then rode them down. Great fun.
The English Market is one of the oldest open air markets still operating in Europe, and it's here in Cork. It's fantastic. We've been almost every day, one, because it's open, and two, because it's fun to wander through and watch the fishmonger filleting a giant monkfish, or talk to the cheesemonger about what the best local cheese is. There are a myriad of butchers, bakers, veggies, etc. David has wondered how people decide which butcher to buy from. I say we should just try them all.
January 19, 2021
On Sunday we moved from Kinsale to Cork. It's not very far distance wise, but the city is quite different from the seaside town. We spent yesterday exploring, and it's fun to have new things to discover.
The area we're in seems to be in the middle of a lot of schools (universities, colleges), and we're very close to the city center. We're behind the St. Fin Barre Cathedral and Elizabeth Fort, both historic sites in Cork, which I'm learning is actually a very old city. The river has great walking and biking paths along it. And there's a lot of street art--check out photos on our photo page. Also, in keeping with our food theme, there's an English Market here, which is a big indoor open air market that we visited yesterday. Amazing butchers, fish mongers, all sorts of cheeses, veggies, bakeries, chocolate...There's also a great natural food co-op right around the corner from our place. So we will continue with walking and cooking while we're here.
The news here has been dominated by the release of a government report on the tragedies of the mother and baby homes that were run by the Catholic Church for many years. Worth a read.
January 12, 2021
It's been difficult watching what's been going on in the US from here. It's maddening and also makes me very sad. At the same time, it's interesting to watch it through the media here (Irish news, the BBC, Irish Times and the Guardian have been my main sources). For instance, David and I watched the news last night. To give you a sense of where US news falls in importance, the newscaster gave a brief update on the introduction of the Articles of Impeachment in the US and then cut to a story of a pregnant dog who'd been stolen, but was happily reunited with its family. Unfortunately the puppies had already been delivered and sold...
My cohort has already written about our fun zoom dinner with Margie and Alana, so I'll share only that it was so great, we're repeating it this Saturday. And we're trying an online cooking class at the Ballymaloe Cookery School this evening. Potato Soup with Chorizo and Parsley Pesto, Cheddar Herb Scones, Chocolate Mousse with Salted Caramel are on the menu.
We're continuing our walks--yesterday we went to Old Head, which really does seem like it's at the edge of the earth. The wind was tough, but the. landscape gorgeous. At many points during the walk, we were the only people out, so it really did feel as though we were alone on an alien planet.
We move to our new house in Cork this weekend, so more places to explore (within the restrictions).
And so much reading. I've finished several mysteries (Tara French's The Searcher, Snow, by John Banville, and Even the Dead, Banville writing as Benjamin Black, The Little Drummer Girl, in honor of Le Carre's passing), Hamnet, How the Irish Saved Civilization. Our current family read is The Glorious Heresies, by Lisa Mcinerney, which I'm enjoying. Banville and McInerney are both Irish and use lots of great Irish vocabulary I have to look up. We finished our last family read, City of Bohane, which had great made up vocabulary. I'm also working through Ireland, The Autobiography, which is a collection of writings (letters, articles, advertisements, etc), which tells 100 years of Irish history through the perspective of those living it. It's a wonderful way to learn history, and slow going because I have to do a lot of research on what the writings are referencing. Actually really fun.
And Sara and I are working on our potato art project together. There are more than 20 different types of potatoes in Ireland, and that's just a tiny amount of all the types available worldwide. As a food source, it is the third most important (after rice and wheat) and actually more nutritious on its own than either of rice or wheat). We've made a maquette for our project and are beginning to figure out what the finished collection will share.
January 6, 2021
We got up and out much earlier today than normal--the farmer's market was in town, and we've learned that it's a great way to support the local farmers and small shops, so we wanted to go. We met Margie and Alana (who we've been doing Zoom things with as well as occasional outside events). It was nice--great bread, veggies, and a Black Pudding Burrito from Brendan's Burritos, a food stand there (see pictures). I was skeptical--those of you who know me well know I'm a bit of a Mexican food snob given my New Mexican roots, but it was good. Definitely not traditional, but very tasty.
Today I'm a bit on pins and needles, waiting to hear what happens in the US with the Georgia election and also the electoral college certification. If you're reading all the blogs, then you may have seen on David's that we're trying to read news here (meaning we let our NYTimes subscription go, and we're reading The Irish Times and The Guardian instead). It has been really interesting to see the US political situation through a different lens. We Americans don't always come out looking so good is all I will say on that...
Fingers crossed everyone makes it safely through today in DC and that the Georgia results get wrapped up!
And now for something completely different--
I'm starting a project on Irish potatoes. There are a bunch of different kinds--colors, shapes, what they're used for...I'm learning about how floury certain potatoes are, and why that's a good thing. Some potatoes are marketed as "balls of flour", meaning when you boil them (with skins on), the skins burst and the potatoes start to fluff up. Very different from waxy potatoes. So, I've started buying the different kinds and testing them out to learn about the taste, texture, etc.
January 1, 2021
We made it through 2020! Happy new year to all our friends and family, near and far.
This week we completed our shelter in place time here in Ireland, and now the whole country is in Level 5 lockdown. Yesterday was the last day non-essential shops were open, and gyms, hairdressers, museums, etc, are closed. All food stores are open, and restaurants are open for take-away. So we don't imagine it will be much different than what we've been doing, which has been great.
Yesterday we walked over to the Kinsale dock to visit Margie and Alana. Took the dogs for walk by James Fort, then sat outside and had tea, socially distanced. The weather has been unexpectedly sunny. Sometimes it's cold and windy, but still sunny, which makes getting out each day a pleasure.
Then we walked into town, visited the local butcher, the wine store and the bakery and got supplies for a great dinner--steak, potatoes, beet salad, followed by salted caramel profiteroles. The good eating continues...
Our family read is City of Bohane, a crazy book about gang fights in 2053 Ireland. The author has done a great job of creating a whole new slang vocabulary for the characters and his descriptions of the clothes each character is wearing are really excellent.
We also binge watched Bridgerton on Netflix. Like Downton Abbey, only sexier. Had to fast forward through some parts with Sara, but still fun.
And we've been playing loads of games--Scrabble, Downton Abbey Clue (!), Backgammon, Cribbage, Chinese Checkers, Double Solitaire.
Last night at dinner we talked about our intentions for 2021. I realized I'm so happy to get through 2020, I haven't really spent much time thinking about that.... so, more to come.
December 25, 2020
Happy Christmas! We went on our daily run through town today and its as incredibly quiet, as everyone seems to be settling in for the new Covid restrictions. Yesterday was the last day all shops were open and everyone was out, doing their last minute shopping. Last night we went back through town and down by the water when it was dark to look at all of the lights. We're continuing to settle in to a fairly quiet routine--get up late, have coffee and a snack, go for a run or a walk, come home, get dressed, have lunch, read, do art, play games...
We've been doing a family book club which has been really nice. We just finished John Banville's Snow, which was a pretty dark murder mystery set in 1950s Wexford, Ireland. Really good.
I've relished having the time to cook and experiment with so many new foods. Our friend Margie told us about an online food ordering site called NeighborFood, which allows us to buy from local farmers and shops, with a one stop pick up or delivery. We've been trying lots of different foods on the site, like Cooleeney Cheese, which is this amazing meltable cheese we had over roasted cauliflower, or Smoked Crown of Chicken, which we had with pasta and butternut squash one night and creamed over baked potatoes another. We made traditional Irish breakfast, with Black Pudding. We baked Monkfish with fresh kale and a Bergamot Lemon.
December 20, 2020
Today is winter solstice and it got light late and dark early. But in between it was a glorious day! Very little rain and blue skies. We took advantage of the weather and walked to Charles Fort along the Scilly Path (pronounced 'silly'). What a beautiful path and the water was amazing. The Fort was open. We had a picnic and watched a giant murder of crows flying all around. Apparently there were Jack Sparrows in the area which makes the cross go crazy (according the employee at the Fort).
Then we came home to do some paper marbling. We also made up a new recipe for Irish Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies. Sara will post the recipe soon. They are delicious!
December 18, 2020
The humidity here is amazing. My hands aren't chapped for the first time in months. I've taken to one cup of coffee in the morning and then tea all day. And I think I've figured out the unusual stove and oven. The cooktop is a Siemens Electric, which you can only put things on when you want to cook--putting anything on the surface sets off all sorts off dinging and requires you to press buttons.
The oven is an Electrolux Fan oven, with a grill option (it also defrosts?). I've had to read the manuals for both to figure out how to do anything...But I have plenty of time!
David made it yesterday. Yay!
December 15, 2020, from Kinsale, Ireland
The start to our time away took an unexpected turn when Jack Wexler, David's father, passed away Friday evening. Jack was a great man, and always up for adventure himself. In fact, he and Betty (David's mother) had come to Ireland with us about 15 years ago. He loved Kinsale.
David switched his flight to go to Florida while Sara and I traveled alone to Ireland. With Covid, the service will be very small. And thanks to Zoom, we will be able to join remotely this evening.
We had a moment at the Irish Passport Control where they wanted to know why we were traveling now, and then asked us to step out of the line... but it all worked out, and we made it to our new home last night.
Our friend Margie was just leaving when we arrived--she had come to turn on the lights and leave a lovely welcome package with flowers, wine, and things to do while we settle in for the mandated 14 day self-isolations.
So this this it--I have absolutely nothing I have to do for the first time in ???.
We're packing the house up in preparation to rent it while we're gone.