Friday, August 31, 2007

other blogs not of this world

A regular reader of my blog (it was Mum again) commented to me the other day that she checked out Amity's blog and found that, lo and behold, she'd moved to Dominican Republic! Yes indeedy, the lovely Miss Amity is starting an international school in DR. It's called Academia Internacional de Cabrera. In fact, they've already started!

Furthermore, Athena is holding a photography raffle to benefit Amity's school!!! Ok, have I ever used three exclamation points on this blog? No, folks, I have not. That is how excited I am. Have a look at Athena's beatiful canvas prints. And I neglected to mention that she also now has a site dedicated to her gorgeous photography.

And I just need to take a second to brag that I have actually met in real life these two beautiful, talented ladies. Yup!

minnesota fair

I wasn't planning on taking photos this time because this is our third time going and the novelty is wearing off. But my mom said she wanted pictures, so here you go, Mum.

This year I tried three new things. I loved one, liked one more or less, and disliked one. Guess my reaction to each:

a) spaghetti and meatballs on a stick

b) deep-fried milky way bar

c) honey sunflower nut ice cream

My favorite place is always the Miracle of Birth center even though it's super crowded.

Bernie got her hair cut yesterday and it looks much better. I'll have to get a photo up when I find my battery charger.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

city mom, country mom

So which one are you?

This is for Mama Ava. We had a discussion a while back about today's safety-minded parents vs. the way we prefer to be. This article appeared in Down East magazine and had J and me laughing out loud. I found it on the web here.

This summer—which, like all our summers, my family and I spent in rural, coastal Maine—a woman with a llama showed up (invited) to a neighbor's house. The llama, a nasty-tempered thing, mule-kicked a 3-year-old in the chest, knocking her flat on her back. The parents, after calmly confirming their wailing child wasn't seriously hurt, grew cheerily circumspect. "Aw, it's good for her," said her father, brushing the incident aside.

"That," my husband remarked later, more flabbergasted than judgmental, "was amazing."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I dwell in Possibility--

A fairer House than Prose--

More numerous of Windows--

Superior--for Doors--

Of Chambers as the Cedars--

Impregnable of Eye--

And for an Everlasting Roof

The Gambrels of the Sky--

Of Visitors--the fairest--

For Occupation--This--

The spreading wide my narrow

Hands To gather Paradise--

~Emily Dickinson

All very well for Emily Dickinson, New England spinster and hermit. I'm sure I don't know everything about her life, but from my point of view it seems it was gently and quietly circumscribed. None of the hurries and rushes and multi-taskings of the modern. Neighborhood children and nieces and nephews dropped by occasionally to entertain or be entertained, but Emily didn't have to take anyone to lessons or appointments or cook their dinners or get them for heaven's sake to bed.

Did she have church responsibilities? Possibly, if she cared to. If she felt so inclined. She did have some meaningful and, I'm sure, satisfying friendships. She had lively correspondence with her friends. But were things expected of her? Were there dizzying demands on her time and resources? I know that she and her sister cared for their sick mother and Emily also had health problems. But there were servants to take care of many tasks.

She read and she wrote. She baked and she gardened. She stuck close to home and gathered her paradise.

I never cease to be fascinated by how people live. I am ever interested in the choices they make, how those choices are shaped, and what the results of those choices are.

I've had to ask myself lately, What is it I want to do? What are my priorities? What do I love best? What is my paradise and how will I gather it?

I've seen the results of studies claiming that the more choices we have, the less happy we are. Choice does not promote contentment, in fact it appears to have the opposite effect. The more things we have to choose amongst, the less happy we are with the choice we finally make. Also, the act of choosing becomes increasingly more stressful as the possibilities increase.

Dwelling in possibility can be excruciating. When I wake up in the morning, I truly don't know if I'm going to change the world or have one hell of a good time (E. B. White). Even worse, once I've decided one way or the other, how am I going to go about changing the world or having one hell of a good time? Of course it is ridiculous to even point out that there are infinite possibilities.

I don't know if my Mormon cosmos complicates or simplifies this. In our religion, choice is everything. We see mortal life as merely a tiny blip on the continuum of our existence, but the importance of the choices we make on earth have everlasting ramifications. In other words, this life is a test. Now, if I were not a Mormon I would find this fascinating: Mormons believe that we existed as spirits for who knows how long before our world was even created. We made choices in that premortal state. We do not remember any of this, of course. However, the manner that we chose to employ our time in pre-earth life is reflected to some extent in our mortal propensities, talents, or even genius.

For some reason I used to think that to be a "good member" of the Church I had to conform to a certain type. I had to somehow master all of the homemaking arts to perfection in order to qualify for eternal salvation. A proper Mormon woman was someone who lost herself in her family. She stays at home. She cooks, cleans, gardens, cans, and sews matchy-poo dresses for her five daughters and vests for her five sons. Obviously, she doesn't do much else. I thought that it didn't matter what my talents or interests were because all that really mattered was conforming to that ideal. Talents and interests (unless they ran in the homemaking direction) were something to be buried and forgotten.

I know that sounds silly, but that's what I thought! After travelling and seeing how Latter-day Saint women around the world work and live and gather paradise, I have realized that there are many valid choices and many ways to build Zion. We do seek to be a unified people in many ways, but conforming to that "ideal" is not one of them thank heavens. We are unified foremost in our desire to follow the Savior. We are also unified in our belief that the family is an eternal unit, and you should act in such a way toward your family that they will want to be with you in heaven.

I am trying to figure out what my role is in building Zion. What is my contribution? I have four children and no servants. Right now, because this morning I chose to write this post instead of do housework, my home is a disaster area. I live in a society where if you're not crazy busy you are considered lazy. Demands pull me every which way and I don't always know what the best choice is.

I want to be a good mother, wife, daughter, sister, etc. I care about maintaining these relationships because I do want these people in my life to want to be around me in the next! So yes, that is a top priority. But what next? I want to pass on my religious values to my children. I do believe they will be happier with this Faith than without it. I want to encourage my children to develop good habits so they will be happy. I want them to learn to be clean, hard working, and healthy. That's where things get complicated. How can I do all that without it completely taking over?

I know, I know. It all boils down to that ever-elusive balance. Has anyone managed to achieve that yet?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

more moors

july 31 sintra, moorish castle

The Moorish Castle, built 8th or 9th century AD, was the last thing we saw in Sintra. It was nearly as enchanting as Pena Park! Lots of climbing up and down, but the views were so worth it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

july 31 sintra, pena park

There is a large park that surrounds Pena Palace. I found the Park much more inspiring than the palace. I could have stayed there forever! It was the perfect kind of romantic garden you dream of, with enormous old trees, meandering paths and brooks, little stone buildings, statues here and there. J and I missed the kids horribly while we went through this park because we couldn't help thinking how much they would enjoy it! It seemed so conducive to creative play. In fact, I felt like twenty years had suddenly dropped from my age. I wanted to play hide and seek. I wanted J to build a fort for me. I wanted to make a little tunnel through the ferns. This park was one of my very favorite places on the whole trip.
See that little castle in the pond? It's a duck castle! Wouldn't it be so much better for children?
[Edit: I wish these photos were better. You'll have to take my word for it that this park was magical. It definitely doesn't come through in the photos. I make this note more for myself than for you, gentle readers. When I look back at these pictures years from now, they won't tell me how gorgeous it all was because they don't begin to capture it. Now at least I'll be able to say, "O.k., here I say it was better than the pictures. Sure. That's good." Many, many times on this trip I was wishing for Amity's or Athena's photography skills. Or at least one of their SLRs.]

july 31 sintra, pena national palace

This palace was built in the 19th century when they liked everything to be as romantic as possible. This "castle" is a mixture of Gothic, Moorish, Arabic, and Manualine styles. There were many rooms to tour inside, but it wasn't much fun because of the long, slow lines. The rooms were interesting, if not attractive. They were too elaborate and stuffed with stuff. It was Victorian age made over a la Portuguese.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

july 31 sintra, national palace

We went to Sintra, about 1/2 hr train ride from Lisbon. It's where the rich and noble built their summer homes.

Monday, August 20, 2007


This photo of Bernie does not depress me. It cheers me. Bernie always cheers me, which is why I posted the photo.
Because I need cheering. Be prepared: I'm going to whine.
A little over three years ago we bought this house. I had not planned on buying a home in this particular suburb, but since this house was located to close to where we were looking we decided to see it. I immediately fell in love with the house because it had beautiful, mature oak and elm trees in the front yard. Really lovely. We moved in the end of March. A few weeks later we realized something was very wrong. Two of the red oak never leafed out. We were devastated to learn that they had oak wilt and that the two other gorgeous red oak would probably get it too. We took those two oak down and then the two others the following year. It left a huge, ugly gap in the middle of our front yard. I hated it. I talked about moving. However, we still had two attractive white oaks, three graceful elms, and several scrawny burr oaks. We could not move and I gradually got used to our home's less-wooded look. Two years passed, taking us to this spring. One of the elms started to lose leaves. I delayed calling the city arborist. I feared the inevitable. One morning there was a knock at my door and a smiling but somber young man greeted me with, "I regret to inform you that I've had to mark one of your trees for removal. That tree has dutch elm disease."
I cried.
I tried to pretend that the other two elms, their branches intertwined with their diseased sister, would be fine. But it was not so. Within a few weeks they were showing signs of decline and while we were in Europe, they were also marked for removal.
I convinced myself that it was for the best. One of the elms reached far over our roof. The neighbors were always anxious about another, whose branches swept down over their garage. Just over a week ago we had a horizontal wind storm in the Twin Cities that took down innumerable trees. In some neighborhoods trees went through windows and crashed through roofs. The State Fair grounds lost a number of century-old Goliaths. The elms in my yard withstood it, but such a storm makes you lie awake praying that they don't come down on you. So I was fine with it. For safety's sake they would have to come down soon anyway. It was good that the trees were diseased because this way the city would haul them for free.
Thursday they took down the elms. When I walked out the door after they were done, my jaw dropped and tears sprang to my eyes. I had not realized how much elegance those trees lent our home. I was completely unprepared for the stark ugliness left by their removal. I didn't realize how unattractive my neighbor's house was.
I have an appointment at Bachman's for a landscaping consultation Wednesday. We'll put some new stuff in, but whatever. There's no way it's going to look as nice as it did. Not only have we lost some of our home's value, we've had to pay a lot to have the trees removed and now the landscaping will be expensive.
On Saturday I said to J, "We're moving to Maine." We're not moving to Maine. But I've been on Yes, it's come to that. That's how depressed I am. I did find the perfect Maine home, but that's not making me feel better.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

july 29 lisbon

We arrived in Lisbon on Monday and J had meetings for several hours. There was not a lot to see of Lisbon in the vicinity of our hotel, so I rested. It was nice to have a little break after our intensive time in Ireland. When J got back we went to see St. George's Castle which had some great views of the city.

What surprised me about Lisbon is that everyone there speaks English. Of course you would expect the people at a business hotel to speak English, but even the cleaning ladies? One man we asked about it attributed the country's English-speaking proficiency to the fact that their t.v. shows are not dubbed. It's all subtitles for the English shows. It's also a mandatory subject in school.

July 29 leaving Ireland

I had heard about Ireland's rainbows and I got to see several spectacular ones. There was one that I tried to take a photo of but it didn't turn out. It was a rainbow lining the horizon.

I took this photo from the window of our hotel near the Dublin airport.

Friday, August 17, 2007

july 29 more dingle peninsula

july 29 dingle peninsula beehive huts

I don't know why I didn't get a photo of the whole group of huts--there were several together at this site. They don't know when these were built, but possibly in the 12th century when the Normans drove the Celts off the good land.

july 29 dingle peninsula

view of Dingle from Connor Pass Many of the stone houses abandoned during the potato famine are being redone, many as summer homes. This abandoned cottage was turned into a little museum with information about how the people lived, what caused the famine, etc.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

private lives

We saw Noel Coward's "Private Lives" last night at the Guthrie. Here is a preview. Oh, it was funny. And very romantic. It's about a divorced couple who remarry other people and then find themselves on adjoining terraces on their respective honeymoons. Stephen Pelinski is my favorite Guthrie actor, and Veanne Cox was perfect as Amanda. Here they talk about the play as well as working in theater vs. television or movies.

I also got my first view of the fallen bridge. It's very close to the Guthrie and we could see it out the window. I felt a strange detachment when I saw it, like I wasn't really seeing it. Like it wasn't real. It made me uncomfortable so I stopped looking.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

july 29 dingle

Though it was late too bed the night before, we got up early this morning because it was sunny! No matter how sleepy I was, I knew this clear weather would not last and we'd best take advantage of it. Everyone in Dublin complained to us at length about the cold, rainy summer they've had. In the first photo I'm sitting on the deck of our B&B. I highly recommend Pax House. The views are gorgeous, as you can see. John, the host, is very attentive. And the breakfast was the best I had on the trip! Freshly made applesauce with toasted nuts, several kinds of fresh-from-the-oven, mouthwatering soda bread, various fruits and homemade spreads, croissants, J had a delicious omlette.

If you look to the left of me in the photo, you can just barely make out a grey lump in the background, close to that little straight. John said it was Lord Ventry's reading tower he built during the famine. He pointed out Lord Ventry's summer estate, to the right of me there but not in the photo. J and I walked down to the reading tower. Can you imagine owning a reading tower? My heaven will include reading towers. Though in heaven, I probably wouldn't be allowed to say, "I beg your pardon, starving peasants, but please don't clamour around whilst I read. This book is really too good, you know, and you are most distracting what with your sallow complexions and protruding bellies."

Dingle peninsula was where Ryan's Daughter and Far and Away were filmed.

Monday, August 13, 2007


'When Cassandra had attained her sixteenth year, she was lovely and amiable and chancing to fall in love with an elegant Bonnet her mother had just completed bespoke by the Countess of ___ she placed it on her gentle head and walked from her mother's shop to make her fortune.'
Jane Austen writes about the impulse to seize for yourself the possessions and pleasures of the world. London represented all that Jane's country values and country upbringing told her she should resist and deplore. But when she actually experienced 'the Metropolis'... dined in elegance in Orchard Street, went out in Eliza's carriage, was given treats by Eliza, Jane had no instinct to resist or condemn this way of life; on the contrary, she wanted it for herself.
~Jon Spence, Becoming Jane Austen

july 28 dingle pub music

We only had one night in Dingle. If I'd known how great it was, I would have skipped Kilkenny and Cashel and went straight for Dingle. Not that I didn't like Kilkenny and Cashel, but Dingle was without doubt our favorite place.
We got in Saturday evening after a long drive and we were so tired. To be truthful, I considered skipping the pubs. I knew they would be especially crowded on a Saturday and all I felt like doing was to curl up in bed. As probably everyone knows who is reading this, J and I don't even drink. However, after a delicious dinner (a fabulous Spanish stew, like shellfish paella without the rice) I decided we could not possibly skip the pub rounds on our only night in Dingle. I am so glad we didn't! We went to four different pubs, but spent the most time in the above, O'Flaherty's, and The Dingle Pub. The music was incredible. So much better than the recordings and even better than the Gaelic Storm concert I saw at last year's Minnesota Irish Fair. It's a really fun atmosphere. The trio at O'Flaherty's was more traditional and drew an older crowd, a mix of European and a few American tourists. The Dingle Pub was a very young, Irish crowd that night listening to the young, loud band.
It was late when I got home and I was exhausted but happy.

july 28 dingle

After touring Kilkenny Castle and walking for a bit around the town, we headed for Dingle peninsula on the west coast, a good five hour drive that was much longer for us because of the rain and because it was Saturday. The big red "L" on the back of a car stands for "learner," someone just learning to drive. Those of us who are used to driving on the correct side of the road can pick one up at any gas station and slap it on so that other drivers are wary of us. I did not drive in Ireland, but J didn't feel like it was a big deal. The narrow roads were a big deal, but not driving on the left.

In the first photo you can also see what we referred to as "those nasty hedges." They are untamed bushes on steroids that block out the gorgeous views.

Once on the peninsula, we saw sheep everywhere. There are more sheep than people. They are spray painted, I assume, to distinguish them from neighboring sheep. Dingle is in a Gaeltacht region, an area set aside to preserve traditional Irish culture. There is a lot of agriculture, Irish music, and Irish language. School children go there for summer language camps, and Irish people like to vacation there.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

july 28 kilkenny

After seeing the Rock of Cashel, we drove to Kilkenny where we were staying the night, which we figured would only be about a 1/2 hr drive. However, since we took rural roads, it took rather longer. The Irish highways are excellent, but if you get off the beaten path, be prepared for unmarked roads that are sometimes so narrow that only one car can pass at a time. The scenery was pretty, though not prettier than Maine. But Maine doesn't have the remains of Norman towers sticking up here, there, and everywhere.
The next morning we toured Kilkenny Castle, which was the seat of the Butler family. (The top picture is of the castle, but the second is just an inn I thought was pretty.) It was sold to the Irish government in the mid-20th century for £50. They had a lot of work restoring it to its Victorian splendor. What I liked best were all of the family portraits from over the centuries. I also liked the explanations of what was built first (the uncomfortable Norman tower, of course, where the "royals" slept on straw scattered on the flags) and what was added later as fortunes increased. It seems this was a very politically savvy family who always knew what side their bread was buttered on.