Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

A Pint of Plain, by Bill Barich

July 4, 2016 1 comment

I picked this book up while I was in Dublin in May this year with my husband. It was in a used bookshop that was going out of business so I thought I had to get something. What would be more apropos then to read a book about pubs while visiting Ireland. Actually, it was something I seriously hadn’t thought about prior to purchasing the book, visiting pubs, that is.

I’ve never been much of a drinker, except maybe by accident when I come across something really tasty and then take too much. But normally, drink is not first on my list. I’m very deliberate in that way.

In fact, our only purpose for visiting a pub when we were in Dublin was in search of some real Irish music. Ironically, this is one of the purposes that the author has when he first begins his research into what has happened to the Irish pubs and their reputation. He’s looking for authenticity and part of that approach is for him to locate somewhere that plays authentic music.

Barich certainly visits many pubs, both within Dublin and without. He does a decent job of describing the interiors, the food, the beer, the staff, etc. He also has a poetic style of writing. I suppose what I found lacking was any real organization in the book.

After reading the whole book, and it took time. I realized that we actually did a decent job of visiting the one pub that probably had as authentic an atmosphere as lucky tourists my get on their first try – and that was O’Donohues at 15 Merrion Row. Here’s a link to someone else’s youtube video of the live music.

Along the theme of music, Barich describes a collection of more than 1800 melodies that went into The Music of Ireland in 1903 and which is still commonly referred to as “The Book” for still being a definitive resource for musicians. Barich repeats a quote that describes traditional music:

Traditional music…connects the past to the present and closes a circle, and that’s the source of its powerful hold on an audience.

This is the best music link I could find on YouTube. Prepare for 40 luscious minutes of Irish music.

This must be true to some extent, because I have often felt myself held by traditional music, even when it is not my own, but I must say, having descended from four Irish relatives, the pull of Irish music holds me in a way that most other traditional music doesn’t. Is there some type of genetic memory that clings to us from generation?

My only regret, after reading the book, is that we didn’t visit the Brazen Head Pub, even though we walked right past it and it definitely looked inviting. We just didn’t take the leap!

Barich spends a few moments, in spatters throughout the book, referring to Oldenburg’s theory of third places (“great good places…that are at the heart of a community’s social vitality and the foundation of a functioning democracy”) and how pubs fit into the definition of “third places” – not home, the first place, nor work, the second place. A third place provides neutral ground that erases the distinction between a host and a guest… Anyway, there is a ton to read on that subject.

While in Ireland, I discovered that many Australians originated from Irish convict status, and I was able to confirm that none of my stock began in Australia this way – not that it would have meant anything if they had.

My Irish ancestors: My maternal grandfather descended from pure Irish stock on his mother’s side. Her father’s parents were Hugh Carolin 1808-1964 (Dublin) married Margaret Gilchrist 1805-1857. Her mother was Elizabeth Spillane 1808-1896 (Holycross, Tipperary). I don’t have information on whom she married. Based on the period that these people were alive, I am assuming that they fled Ireland during the potato famine.

Heading to Ireland, at a time, when Syrian refugees were and continue to pour out into the rest of the world, and rediscovering part of my family’s past had a certain serendipity to it. All of us have come from somewhere and many of us have immigrated at some point in our lives or our ancestors have. Would I be here, in the United States today, prospering, if my Irish relatives had not been able to escape Ireland’s potato famine…looking for food and life?

Categories: Books, Family, Ireland, Personal, Travel

Walk in a Relaxed Manner, by Joyce Rupp

April 28, 2015 Leave a comment

This is one of the few books out there that has been written about walking on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. If you haven’t heard of this pilgrimage, then you need to know about it. I won’t go into the history of the pilgrimage here, but suffice to say that hundreds of thousands of people have found themselves on this path for one reason or another. I walked part of it with my mother a few years ago. It haunted me for several years before that and has recently begun to haunt me again. Perhaps it is because I recently discovered the facebook page for American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC) and reading about people who are preparing for the walk or who are reminiscing about their walk has brought it all up again. In any event, my fiance and I are planning to walk it together next year and I am yearning for that experience.

Although this book, Walk in a Relaxed Manner, was published in 2005, it is still relevant. I’m not sure about the quality of the Refugios, in general, since my mom and I stayed mostly in pensions. The two refugios we stayed in were extremely different. The first, was small and privately run. The pilgrims were respectful and we were exhausted, it being our first night on the Camino. It was after that night that my mom insisted that we stay in pensions as she could not sleep with the snoring. The second refugio we stayed in was quite a bit further along and was an enormous publicly run establishment. It was broken down into bunk rooms of 4 beds, which mitigated the snore factor, but the bathrooms were fairly atrocious and I recall not wanting to put anything down anywhere. It was in that refugio, though, that we met one of the women we became long-term friends with, so I can’t dog it too much.

The wonderful thing about this book is that it brings back so many memories. The facts and circumstances are not exactly the same and I don’t remember where certain events took place in my walk (which towns or villages) specifically, but the experiences are similar.

One quote the author used in her 16th chapter, that touched me deeply, was this from Joan Halifax:

The secret of life, say the Utes, is in the shadows and not in the open sun; to see anything at all, you must look deeply into the shadow of a living thing.

In that same chapter, the author talked about her expectations and disappointment:

As I listened to Rachel speak of her dissatisfaction…my own Camino disappointments revealed themselves for what they were: mainly a result of my own ideas, values, and expectations. It became clear to me that no one set out to deliberately cause me undue discontent. I was the main cause of the frustrations I experienced…

I looked at the disappointments Tom and I had experienced, including the smaller ones, and how they were largely due to what we imagined or hoped would be.

The disappointments I experienced on the Camino led me to ask numerous questions: “Is it wrong to have ideals, goals, and hopes for what might be? Is it disastrous to have expectations and longings? Is it unreal to think that life’s situations might match my own values? Is it crazy to believe that things might turn out as one wishes?” My response to these: not at all. But when something does not match my desires, I have a choice. I can crab about the situation or see it in the light of unmet expectations. Attention to expectations can keep me from blaming and carrying anger around unnecessarily.

I’m not sure I need to say anything about this, except that for some time I have been contemplating expectations: mine and those of others. Sometimes, I can clearly see that expectations are nothing but a box and if I try to live to those expectations, I am placing myself in that box. If I can live with an openness to experiences, then I am free.

Coincidentally, there is a chapter dedicated to the idea of traveling lightly, this is meant literally and also figuratively. This idea resonates with something I have been trying to do in my life, lightening the physical load of “stuff” that I possess and lessening the emotional “stuff” that I carry around in my thoughts. Rupp quotes Carol Christ at the beginning of her chapter on this subject:

Every time each of us resists the urge to buy, we are taking one small step to change our world.

She goes on to say:

The day after I returned from walking the Camino I opened the door of my clothes closet and stood there stunned…for the first time in seven weeks I had to decide what I was going to wear….On the Camino…I had only one change of clothes….Seeing so much before me felt daunting. I had grown to love traveling lightly on the Camino. Now I found myself returning to a complex world, one fraught with consumerism, with the pressure to look good and live a certain way to be socially acceptable. I did not want to return to this way of life. I longed for the simplicity the Camino had taught me.

I remember this feeling too, when it came to making decisions. On the Camino, the decisions are fairly simple. When shopping for food, it comes down to how much you want to carry and how much space you have in your pack, so that one piece of fruit or a can of beans, can make an enormous difference.

Rupp goes on to say that:

Since [the Camino] I have observed how traveling lightly is not just about the amount of things we have, it is also how we allow those things to lead us away from what truly counts in daily life. These things tangle our attention and absorb our time, often creating more personal stress…This practice of having too much is often an unconscious way of distracting ourselves from what is happening at a deeper level of life. It deters us from entering into opportunities for greater meaning and fuller peace of mind and heart…Traveling lightly means divesting one’s self of inner stuff, as well. This, too, can bog us down and keep us from being focused on what really matters in life. Emphasizing or being overly concerned about reputation, status, looking good, knowing enough, having an admirable position can also deter us from walking on the road of life with a clear mind and a liberated heart.

I think I can say that this chapter was my favorite, because it resonates with what I am trying to do in my life. Trying to let go of the ego especially in regards to how it is massaged by attention related to material and financial wealth is very hard. I might hazard a guess that it is a daily effort and requires me to remind myself, that often, that I am not in need of whatever my ego thinks I need in order to feel ok.

Finally, I will end with a thought-provoking quote from C.G. Jung, that Rupp uses in one of her last chapters:

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.

Categories: Books, Personal, The Camino

The art of NOT being busy

December 17, 2014 Leave a comment

I just read this blog about being busy and the impact it has on our lives and how the author hypothesizes that we have become “human doings” instead of “human beings”. It reminded me of how hard I tried, when my children were young, not to over-commit them to extracurricular activities. And, how I tried to make family time our main activity. This was helped by the fact that I didn’t have much money, so we couldn’t afford to do everything we might have wanted to anyway. Even then, though, I struggled with the amount of mail I had to deal with, the email, the social commitments and the chores that made up the our lives. Still, there seemed to be less of it than there is now.

Sometimes, when I look around today. I think that one of the key the signs of status is showing that you are busy (with activities). In other words, having the time and money to be activity-driven is a sign of status. Other times, I just think we are so afraid of stillness, contemplation, looking inward and finding our creative center that we fill our time so we don’t have to do that.

My kids are adults now, but I still fight that activity-driven life. I fight that urge to fill every moment with something. I like having the flexibility of spontaneously going for a walk, or how about taking a day off from checking my email…that’s fun too. Could any of us, in this era of cell phone driven communication, bear to put turn those phones off for a day that was completely unscheduled and unstructured? What would happen? What if we could do that for one day each week, just let the day evolve…and see what happens…it’s a novel idea and I’m not sure even I could do it. But I think we would all be better for it.

Categories: Family, Personal

To my Grandmother-a poem

September 28, 2014 Leave a comment



I couldn’t write


your death


opened something


and I am deeply lost


Since then

I have been


Categories: Family, Personal, Poetry

February 1, 2004 (eight years later)

February 1, 2012 4 comments

Today is the anniversary of my dad’s death. He died suddenly, of a heart attack, during the night. He was a complicated, difficult, funny man.

What I miss most about him, is his laughter. He had a loud, raucous laugh that was infectious. And I miss the list-making. He was a master of list-making, or at least instructing me on how to make lists to deal with life’s most difficult situations. My dad’s most common response to any decision that had to be made or problem that had to be dealt with, was to make a list. There were pro/con lists, goal lists, to do lists. Maybe it was his way of taking a step back from the problem and dealing with the tangibles. Whatever it was, he made me into the list junkie that I am today.

On that day in 2004, as I held my dad’s body in my arms, his eyes open and staring blankly into the world, I stroked his hair and told him again and again how much I loved him. I told him not to be afraid. I told him it would be ok. He was warm and his hair was soft. All I could think about was that moment because it was the only moment. I couldn’t imagine my life without him.

He was iconic, “larger than life” most people told me, as the days began to flow after his death. He had more energy than any other human I have ever known. He once told me that his success in life was not due to the fact that he was smart, or smarter than anyone else. No, it was because he got up earlier than everyone else: around 4AM. By the time everyone else was getting up, my dad had figured out the day and had answers to many problems.

I didn’t know my dad as well as I wanted to. My parents divorced when I was 3 years old, and I only lived with him for about 5 years (2 of which were spent in boarding school). My dad broke many hearts. He loved women and was always searching for that “perfect” woman, the one that would make his life complete. There were affairs scattered throughout his life. In the end, I don’t know if he ever acknowledged how much pain he caused the women who loved him most, his daughters, his wives…He never talked to me about those things. My dad never wanted to talk about his life, or his decisions, at least not with me. His focus was always on everyone else.

My dad was a great athlete. He almost made it into the Olympics as a soccer player. There wasn’t a sport my dad couldn’t master. As a teenager, I spent many frustrated and angry hours shooting hoops in our alley (this was one of the times I was living with him), and my dad often joined me out there, teaching me how to hold the ball just so, showing off by shooting with his eyes closed and making it. One of my dad’s favorite board games was a basketball game we played together. I still have the game somewhere. My dad loved board games. He loved playing cribbage with one of his best friends. I have many memories of going over to their house and my dad would get stuck into a game of cribbage with his friend.

It’s strange the things you remember about a dead parent; the tender moments. You try to block out the painful moments. Ironically, it’s the tender moments that make you cry. Like how my dad used to take me shopping and buy me an outfit from head to toe. I still remember him walking into a department store and directing the salesperson to help me. Then, I would parade each outfit for him. These were the days before cell phones and computers, so it’s not like he had something to distract him while I was getting changed. He just sat there, waiting for me to appear, and re-appear. It didn’t happen that frequently. In fact, I can remember exactly three times that he took me shopping for clothes.

He picked my sister and me up every other weekend and asked how I was doing, then asked again, just to make sure the answer was consistent. Then, he’d disappear. And, my step-mom would take over the parenting. I didn’t have a happy childhood, by any stretch of the imagination. While my dad was making it big as a lawyer and owned 4 cars and a house in Cherry Hills (Colorado), my mom struggled to feed us–we were on food stamps. It seemed my dad was oblivious. The separate realities were not reconcilable. I struggled to move between my dad’s and my mom’s worlds. That never changed.

I wasn’t surprised by how many people showed up at my dad’s memorial service (about 400), after all, he was “larger than life.” What did surprise me was how few people I knew. It confirmed what I already knew about my dad—he considered his life as being separate from mine. My dad’s mom, all 5 of his siblings, and some of their children, came out to California for the memorial service and then met for breakfast the next morning. My siblings and I weren’t invited. We didn’t know about it until after the fact. Obviously, we were outsiders.

My dad was a complicated, difficult man, with a wonderful laugh. He had relationships with family and friends that I didn’t understand, because he didn’t want me to. I knew a tiny piece of my dad. Most of my memories revolve around the pain he caused my mother with his affairs, and the nasty letters he sent her blaming her for me being fat–when I was 8–(which I was not by any stretch of today’s standards). He had a cold and heartless side to him, that some people never saw. And he knew how to use words to hurt you.

My dad was a poet. He wrote thousands of poems. Words were his art and he passed that on to all of his children. He could recite Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride” and Emily Dickinson was his favorite poet. People called him a renaissance man. I remember him holding forth on philosophy, and the Enneagram (he was a firm believer in personality diagnosis). He was an “eight”.

The hardest thing in the world for my dad to do was to apologize. At least to me. In fact, I only remember him doing it once. Eventually, I suppose as a way to move forward, after everything we had been through, my dad wrote a poem to each of his children. It wasn’t the first poem he’d written to us, but it was the first time he’d written them at the same time and with a purpose—that of trying to bring us together. He did a lot of that, in his last years—trying to bring us together.

I didn’t know what losing my dad would be like. I think he told my brother that when he lost his dad (my grandfather was in his 60s when he died), that he felt lonely. When I ask other people, they say that too. When your dad dies, there is this loneliness that is always just there. Sometimes, it overwhelms, and other times it is just quietly there. On this anniversary of my dad’s death, I remember him for who he was: human and my dad.

Categories: Personal Tags:

Some kind of personal statement

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

I wanted to make some kind of personal statement – on this our week of Thanksgiving – when things are so wrong in so many ways. So much of what I write about is about the gaps we have that need to be fixed or filled. My own personal life reflects this image of gaps and holes, incompleteness and underlying sadness. What we are trying to do is look at the bright side, and what I mostly do is look at the bright side. I feel incredibly lucky to have been born in America when I did. I feel so lucky to have been born white (because we are still a racist country). Not so lucky to have been born female (because we are still a sexist country). But overall, I have been lucky in my life and that is what makes me happy. When I start to think about the rest of the world, and the holes in my life, that is when life sucks. So it is hard to celebrate Thanksgiving, knowing that there is no complete happiness, that in being grateful for what I have, I must acknowledge that I am missing things as well – and that so many do not have what I have – and I’m not talking about possessions here – so how to give thanks?

Recognition and compassion. We all suffer in some way. We all find happiness in some way. In this we are all alike, all connected…and I suppose in a strange way that is what I am thankful for; that I have made it this far, that others are making it and most people I know are trying to make things better…

Categories: Personal