Sunday, July 26, 2009

July 2009

Sonya's Big Heart
We always knew that our dog Sonya had a big heart, metaphorically speaking, but this year she developed a big heart in the physical sense as well, and this was not a good thing. She developed a deep cough in May and after going through the antiobiotics administered by the vet with no improvement, we had her in for x-rays and found that she has an enlarged left ventricle.

Poor puppy - first Lyme disease, then total blindness and now heart disease. Fortunately it is treatable and she has been on a diuretic and a new medication that reduces the swelling of her heart. The cough has lessened considerably, she shed a lot of the water weight that was making her sore, and she has more energy these days. In the video at the top of the page she's taking her daily walk/trot - not too bad for an old blind dog.

Playin' Tunes
For the first week of July we spent every evening at the Willie Clancy trad festival in Milltown Malbay, near the sea. Bill got to play his flute at lots of different sessions while I minded the pints of Guinness.

For me, the highlight of Willie Clancy week was meeting Tom Hanway, an American banjo player who now lives in County Longford with his Irish wife Denise. I walked into one of the Milltown pubs and Tom was there playing Irish tunes but in bluegrass style. When Tom took a break from playing, I introduced myself and told him that I also play 5-string banjo (the Irish banjo only has 4 strings - no drone string). Tom replied, "I've had enough of playing trad - let's sit outside somewhere and play some American tunes!" And that's what we did for the next 3 nights.

At the end of Willie Week we invited Tom and Denise to come and stay at the cottage for the night before heading back to Longford. We played tunes late into the night.....

......and the next morning we played, appropriately, a tune called "Whiskey Before Breakfast". It turned out to be a very wet Monday so we continued to trade tunes back and forth all day before Tom and Denise had to head home where Daisy the cat was waiting for them.

Tom has played and recorded with some bluegrass heavyweights, including Tony Trischka, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and Vassar Clements. Check out Tom's website at Tom

Galway City

A few weeks later Tom and Denise were housesitting for friends in Galway, about an hour away. We went up to stay with them and see Tom play at one of his gigs. We were playing tunes in the backyard and Tom suggested we do some busking on the streets of Galway. Bill and I had never busked before, but it was really fun once we got used to the crowds walking by, some stopping to listen, take our photos, and occasionally toss some coins into the case.

The busy streets of Galway's pedestrian area.

Soundcheck before Tom's gig with the Molly Hicks at the Crane Bar, Galway.

A couple of wonderfully kitschy gardens in Galway. A rolling ceramic puppy, Kermit the Frog.......

....and a plethora of gnomes!


This was a fun landscaping project we worked on in July, transforming this boring square of grass.......

.....into a raised bed for flowers and salad greens, a wee path, and (out of sight on the left side) a recessed space for rubbish bins and a bicycle.

Bill shelling out a heap of broad beans (aka fava beans) for the freezer.

We participated in a multicultural event in Ennis as the American representatives. We made samples of "American" food - corn bread and Hoppin' John, a black-eyed pea stew that is traditionally eaten on New Year's Day for good luck through the coming year.

And of course we made our annual pilgrimage to the Burren to see the orchids in bloom, this time with our friends Rachel and Bernard.

Burren Orchids.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

June 2009

Our new neighbor. The only thing stopping this big boy from getting into our veg garden is a 3' tall wooden fence. Fortunately he still thinks the grass is greener on his side of the fence.

Mountshannon Festival
At the beginning of June the weather was quite hot for about a week. It was up in the mid to high 80's - the hottest weather we've ever experienced in Ireland. Lots of pale Irish skin exposed to the sun, and actual beads of sweat - what a novelty.

The hot weather coincided with the Mountshannon Music and Arts Festival. Mountshannon is a small town on the shores of Lough Derg in East Clare, and one of the events was a free boat ride to Holy Island for Irish music and a children's performance.

It's called Holy Island because this was an important monastic site in the middle ages. There is an intact round tower and the ruins of five churches on the tiny island, the oldest church dating back to the 7th century.

Now the only inhabitants of the island are Holy Cows.

The island was a fantastic setting for a live performance of traditional music on harp and box accordian.

Back on the mainland, there was live music under the tent and lots of people out catching rays.

I tried to hide from the sun while Bill turned into a unicorn.

Some friends of ours performed in the tent. Adam (fiddler on the left) and Jon (banjo player with the neon red shirt) are both Americans who moved here for the music scene.

There were displays by not-for-profit organizations, and hands-on activities for the kids. East Clare is home to a lot of alternative-type folks (mostly blow-ins like ourselves) and seeing the yurts, tie-dye shirts and bearded men reminded me a lot of Ithaca.

Playing Music
Bill played at a mighty session at a friend's outdoor party. There were about 20 musicians and the music went into the wee hours.

We met a piper when he hired us to do some gardening work. We hit it off and invited him to come back to our cottage for dinner and tunes. Andy plays the uillean pipes, the Irish version of bagpipes, but much nicer sounding than bagpipes and not so blaring.

Andy even learned to play some old-timey banjo tunes on the pipes. 'Cluck Old Hen' sounds amazing on the pipes and Andy was even doing some cool chicken sounds!

Voting the Old-Fashioned Way
I got to vote in the local and EU parliament elections. It was wonderfully low-tech - just a paper ballot, a pencil and a ballot box!

Stuffing my ballot into the box - no hanging chads here! The election workers thought we were funny for wanting to take a picture of this.

Solstice Party
We celebrated the longest day of the year with an outdoor party for about 35 friends and neighbors. Sunset on June 21 was at 10:30 pm, but with a long dusk it was light until almost midnight. (The further north you go the longer the dusk, whereas at the equator is gets dark very quickly once the sun has set.)

After-dinner chat and drinks. Later we played music and sang songs.

These little French-Irish boys toasted marshmallows for the first time ever and loved it.

Gardens and Landscaping
Our flower gardens looked fantastic in June. I started loads of annuals from seed this spring, including 300 orange and yellow nasturtiums, which really thrive in the cool, moist climate.

The veg garden in June. It's been a really nice summer - quite a bit of heat and sun, but not too dry. So much better than the deluge of 2008! In June we were harvesting peas, broad beans, mixed salad greens, spinach, kale, and our first tomato from the polytunnel.

And lots and lots of strawberries from a patch we started just last spring. Most of this batch ended up in the freezer, to be made into strawberry jam when we get a rainy indoor day.

Our favorite landscaping job in June was the transformation of this town plot of just grass and weeds.......

.....into this landscaped garden with trees, shrubs, perennials and a new brick path. We will be putting in a small pond and stream later this summer.

Sadly, we won't make it home for the Grassroots Festival this month. We're super busy with a lot going on this coming week and weekend - including a job interview for a horticulture position that I really want, so keep your fingers crossed for me this Thursday!

We also want to save our travel funds to fly our daughter Monica here this fall, and to take a trip ourselves in the fall to some European destination. But we'll be at Grassroots in spirit, so do some wild dancing for us!!