Westport Ireland in Pictures

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On the west coast of Ireland, north of Connemara and Galway, sits Westport. We heard there were a few decent pubs there, and decided it was the perfect spot to spend the night on the way to Sligo. Never did we imagine that a winter storm and “treacherous” roads would keep us there and very happily, I may add, for two and a half days. I emphasize the word treacherous because it was highlighted in each sentence we heard from an Irishman this trip. Everything in sight was covered in ice and snow, with not a shovel or rock salt in sight. It certainly made travel a bit more difficult but it kept us around long enough to enjoy a place we dream about living in.

Our first great experience began with Joe and Bridget at the Broadlands B&B.  Because the roads were (I won’t use it again) dangerous, it took us quite a while longer to arrive at their doorstep.  Still, despite our late arrival, Joe greeted us with the warmest hospitality, and offered to drop us into town so we could be rid of our car and walk home after a few pints.  He gave us a tour of which pubs were great and which were ok, in addition to some history of Westport itself, which by the way is the “Tidiest Town in Ireland”.  He even invited us to join him and his wife to a ceili, but with my husband’s bad foot, we regrettably declined.  I still wish we had experienced real hometown Irish dancing, but in its place we found cold stout, un-tourist-like bars and beautiful Irish sessions.

If you are unfamiliar with a session or seisiún, it consists of Irish musicians that park themselves in the corner of a pub.  They play with whatever musicians come in that night, with an array of instruments and songs that range from old Irish traditional ballads, to covers of modern songs.  They play for themselves as much as they play for the people, often in a formed circle.  Just musicians, their instruments, pints and a little wooden table amongst them.

We liked Westport so much, that we decided we would be more than glad to let the icy roads keep us an extra night. Joe and Bridget didn’t mind and our bellies welcomed their amazing Irish breakfast.  I could tell you about Westport for days, but it deserves another post one day and I will share these photos with you in the meantime.

Slainte!

Enact the Fifteen Minute Rule

Call your girlfriends. (Photo courtesy of tucsoncitizen.com)

One of my greatest friends made a suggestion not too long ago and unfortunately, it took me a while to let it sink in, and to realize how beneficial it is.  I wanted to share it with you.

Regardless of how busy your week is, take 15 minutes to call the people who are important to you.

Sounds obvious right?  My oldest and still my closest friends are, for the most part, scattered around the country.  With different careers, relationships and social lives, it’s nearly impossible to keep up on the day to day things that matter.  I hate it.  It’s embarrassing to not know a heck of a lot about people you love and care about.

The thing is, I always felt that if I made a call, the inevitable would happen; we’d tell the most recent random story, we’d laugh a ton, ask about each other’s families, jobs, significant others, reminisce about an old story, etc. and before you know it, two hours has passed.  Which, on a slow night is great and I can hang up the phone with a huge smile and say to myself, “After all these years, we still click”.  And we do, too much, over text and emails and not enough real conversation.

If we all said, “Listen, I have 15 minutes to get to point B, I wanted to check in and see how you are”, we’d talk more often and be more in tune.  Since none of us are sitting at home bored, I don’t think it’ll be offensive because we are all just as busy.

Call me old fashioned but the sound of friends’ laughter beats an “LOL” any day.  And imagine this, telling your friends how excited you are about their news instead of “Like”-ing it on Facebook.  Who knew.

What Is Fair Trade USA?

I encourage you to take a moment to take a look at http://sprawlingroots.com/ and http://sprawlingroots.wordpress.com .  They are a reputable “green” non-profit with big ideas that I stand by and write for.  This particular blog will be appearing on their website this week. Thank you for your support.

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I see the Fair Trade icon on my bag of coffee, cotton tote tag and on many organic food labels but what do Fair Trade standards actually encompass?

Fair Trade stamped items do a number of positive and noteworthy things for people and the environment. Using strict standards, the Fair Trade stamp of approval is issued to approved companies that exhibit “socially and environmental responsibility”.

The Mission Statement from Fair Trade USA is as follows:

  • Fair Trade USA enables sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, consumers, industry and the earth. We achieve our mission by certifying and promoting Fair Trade products

Companies that earn the stamp of approval must adhere to the following basic standards:

  • Fair prices
  • No GMO’s
  • No hazardous chemicals
  • No child labor

As green and responsible consumers, it’s our duty to consider these choices, for the good of the economy, the environment and even for ourselves. GMO’s and unnatural chemicals wreak havoc on our bodies, causing altered hormones and a build-up of free radicals. Chemicals are detrimental to the environment, penetrating solid earth and seeping into the water supply. Without regulation or elimination of these toxins, contaminated earth will continue to produce unsafe products for consumption for years to come.

I don’t think I need to explain why eliminating child labor is important. In conjunction, Fair Trade USA encourages children to continue their education while also educating adults on how to successfully operate a sustainable business, while growing financially and environmentally aware. Small and underprivileged farms are paired with corporations to ensure safe and socially respectable products, while forging business relationships that do a world of good for all involved.

If you’d like to learn more, please visit www.FairtradeUSA.org.

Tea Time Vs. Coffee Dash

Courtesy of AboutChamomile.com

The Boston Tea Party was a little different from the one I had this afternoon with my Aunt.  Tea Rooms celebrate a time long gone and tend to shy away from encouraging any hostility towards the British.  As a matter of fact, English Breakfast tea remains one of the most popular black tea options on any tea menu, no matter where you are seeking your (insert overcompensating English accent here) “spot o’ tea”.  These establishments are typically Victorian in nature and somewhat gaudy, but in a way that isn’t worthy of an eye roll, but instead a “This is adorable” response.

Tea really could have been an American thing too.  We could have stopped work at 3pm in the afternoon and enjoyed a little tea time ourselves, had American Colonists remained satisfied with bowing down and paying taxes to British Royalty.  Instead, we began to import coffee.  In our American live to work society today, coffee time could be considered the mad rush to wait in line or drive-thru at a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts to get a cream and sugar coffee concoction and guzzle on the way to the office.  Not quite a break at all, now is it?

Americans spend somewhere around 18 million dollars in coffee sales each year, as opposed to the approximately 7 million we spend on tea.  We do enjoy our caffeine, but both of these also present health benefits if, like everything else, used in moderation.

The list of tea’s health benefits seem to grow regularly and include the following:

  • Aid in a healthier immune system
  • Fights free radicals with antioxidants
  • Assists in fresher breath and cleaner teeth
  • Calorie-free (until you add your sugar, cream and/or honey of course)
  • Herbal varieties tout specific health benefits from stomach issues to lower cholesterol
    • Example: peppermint tea for an upset stomach
  • Less caffeine than coffee but its theanine increases mental alertness
  • Flavonoids protect the heart and may reduce certain cancers

Coffee is not without its own health benefits, though the news makes it difficult to maintain a good read on whether or not it does more harm or good.  Either way, this is what coffee is said to be responsible for the possible prevention of:

  • Type 2 diabetes (Found in both regular and decaf varieties)
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Dementia
  • Certain Cancers
  • Heart problems
  • Strokes
  • Liver disease

Whatever option you choose, recycle your Styrofoam cup and give yourself the opportunity to enjoy an elegant cup of something to warm yourself this winter.  After all, the relaxation alone could lead to the biggest health benefit you could use right about now, mental stability.

References:

President Tyler’s Grandkids

10th President, John Tyler

When you have the opportunity, please read this article.

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0112/72021.html

If you haven’t heard about this story in the news this week, it will blow your mind. President John Tyler’s grandchildren are alive. Yes, he was the 10th President of the United States of America. He was born in 1790 and became President in 1840. Somewhere, there are two elderly gentlemen who could affectionately call him Gramps. Though they never met, the idea that so much time spans between generations is fascinating.

Forget hearing about your grandparents talk about walking to school or the Great Depression. These guys can talk about how the grandfather was President 20 years before the first shot fired in the American Civil War.

Things these grandkids can say, just peak your interest:

  • “My grandfather was President 34 Presidents ago.”
  • “My Grandpa saw President George Washington’s wooden teeth….in person…in George’s mouth…while he was alive!”

“Good old Gramps was born before… (Enter outrageous option here):

  • 37 states came into existence.
  • The Bill of Rights was ratified.
  • The invention of the cotton gin.
  • The Whiskey Rebellion.
  • The Louisiana Purchase
  • President Washington was elected for his second term

“Grandpa was a full grown adult when… (Add historical event here, which you still find startling):

  • The War of 1812 began.
  • The Star Spangled Banner was written.
  • Tomatoes were discovered to be non-poisonous.
  • The census of 1820 showed 9.6 million people…total.
  • Ulysses S. Grant is born. (Grandpa is already 32 years old.)

Maybe it’s because I love history and ancestry, but if this doesn’t make you say “woah”, I’m not sure what will.

Daydreaming Rock Star

Let me (Mae) out!

Branching off my post earlier, I started thinking about the little daydreams that go through my mind on a regular basis. I wonder if I’m alone.  I have them mostly while driving, but they pretty much take place anywhere. I’m usually a natural rock star in my mind. My Red Hot Chili Pepper tattoos give me the false hope to continue dreaming about it maybe.

Music can be infectious; it seeps into the soul if you’re lucky enough to feel it. There are people who like music and there are people who live music and can let it stir parts of us that typically doesn’t get woken. I’ve always envied anyone who can get up on a stage and just play. Hell, I’d be proud of myself for strumming a tune for my husband without faltering over the strings due to nerves. The idea of letting loose with a bunch of friends while creating sound sounds so simple and so appealing.

I’ve often dreamed of becoming a closet musician, secretly plugging away at my musician skills like a mad scientist. Most of the time it’s guitar based, but depending on what I’m listening to, it can be piano, bass, drums, violin or even banjo. The idea of being consumed by talent and fearlessly showcasing my inner spirit is fascinating. My dreams usually take place in a small dive bar or club, and there are a few friends around but mostly strangers, and I join a band on stage, letting Mae out, without fear and without faltering.  It’s exhilarating.

The more time that passes and the more that responsibility rips Mae out of me, the more I daydream about things like this. I think maybe it reflects my distaste for the mundane and typical personality I represent, as opposed to the fun and outgoing character I was.  I realize we need to grow up and go through stages, but maybe it’s not so bad to jump back into the mosh pit now and then.  Don’t worry; I’ll leave my leather pants in the attic.

Wishful Thinking Musician

I’ve always wanted to be a musician.  Having always been passionate about music, it just seemed natural.  I took piano lessons when I was about 10, which lasted only a short time.  My teacher had these unnecessarily long fingernails that caused you hear more click-clack than piano.  I also didn’t really try.  I had aspirations to practice and to progress, but it really didn’t happen.  I hate to even admit it, but my mind gets really flustered when I look at sheets of music.  I used to think it was because I was a kid and couldn’t wrap my brain around the notes, but I still struggle.

I bought my first guitar when I was 15.  It was a Fender Strat, Sunburst coloring.  John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers had a vintage version of it and I just had to have it.  I taught myself some tabs and even faked my way through some songs.  My boyfriend even asked me to teach him and I did…the one song I felt confident about.  By the way, he quickly grasped the instrument and became a pretty great guitarist and wrote his own music.  Meanwhile, my guitar started to gather dust.  Sure I picked it up now and then, but simply had no idea where the hell to go next with it.

The guitar sat for almost 10 years.

This past spring, we had a yard sale.  I’d toyed around with selling my guitar but didn’t have the heart to part with it.  A father and son came up, beeline to my little table and asked if I had any guitars or instruments to sell.  My heart sank.  “I was thinking about selling my Strat”, I said.  He was very interested and I went into the house to get it.  The deal was made and he offered me what I’d have sold it for.  “Give it a good home” I told him.  Then I instantly burst into tears.

Why was I so attached to this?  Was it because it defined a part of my youth?  I have to admit, I looked pretty good with my sassy short and spikey hair, eyebrow ring and tight jeans.  It fit me and I fit it.  It travelled with me to California and back regularly.  It was a big investment at the time and it was gone.

Needless to say, I’ve decided to truly learn to read music and play guitar.  I even took lessons, which unfortunately ended due to the tragic zucchini slicing accident of September 2011.  My left ring finger tip was never the same again.  I exaggerate, it took a longtime, but it is fine now.  And I have full intentions of dusting off my newest acoustic and not waiting 10 years to strum again.

Were Colonial Politics Any Different?

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Tonight, I watched the State of the Union Address, rather, #SOTU in the Twitter age. Hell, if Twitter will get our country talking about politics and something other than a Kardashian, I’m all for social media.

When I watch Democrats and Republicans, so divided, I wonder what our Founding Fathers would think. They too had drastically divided ideas about what our Nation should be, but I wonder if it ever felt like this. Would the Continental Congress drag progression out so far that the Declaration of Independence would have dried and curled up without a smattering of ink?

Did colonials speak freely or did politically correct conversation exist even then? Did they tack leaflets to their carriages condemning Democrats or the Whigs?

We know that the relationship between Benjamin Franklin and his son, the Governor of New Jersey, was severed on the argument of Independence versus Loyalty. We know that Colonial Americans had strong feelings and aspirations; a feeling of new patriotism with dreams for a future of forward thinking.

Today, will Americans truly voice their opinions, without fear of social slander, without ridicule for their beliefs? Will we fight for what we believe in?

Watching tonight, both the President and the Republican response, the American political atmosphere simply feels stalled.  I’d love to be naive sometimes, jump on a bandwagon and feel giddy with optimism because this speech touted positivity and aspirations. It just doesn’t feel as though it’s a matter of the country growing and progressing any longer, but simply a halfhearted attempt to stop slipping backward. It’s like trying to grasp pedaling your bicycle as a kid; you lose your footing and the pedals just keep swinging up and smacking into your shins.

As the wife of a Veteran and the youngest in long line of many, I wish nothing more than success and Democracy for this country, which so many fought and died for. The first step is getting people to pay attention to more than the formulated celebrity facade the politicians use to sway opinions.  It’s not a popularity contest, it’s our future. It sounds dramatic because it is.

By the way, I take it back; I hope I’m never so naive that I stop questioning what is best for our country.

Time Is Not Always On Our Side

No one likes to listen to a whiner; particularly in January.

“Wahhh, I’m having trouble keeping my new goals!”

There are so many people who are out of work, starving and struggling for a normal existence.  All I really need is sleep and time.  I suppose at times like these, they are just as much a luxury as diamonds.  Who am I to ask for more?

Still, there are days I truly understand why writers and artists end up single and starving.  Creativity simply takes time, some days more than others, and time is so valuable.  I struggle with how to divide it and how to decide if I can take any of newly discovered free time for myself or when I’m supposed to share it.  Sharing makes me happy, but it can also be draining.

Sometimes I don’t mind writing my daily blog two hours after the day actually ends, even when I find myself waking up on the couch at 1AM, still needing to compose thoughts and words, only to wake up in 4.5 hours.  Today I mind, and today I feel like I have nothing left to give.  Even though it is late and certainly not earth shattering, at least I kept my goal.

I still didn’t make those damned Christmas cookies though…*

*Post-Christmas Cookie baking took a backseat to sharing my time with Grandmom on Saturday, forgive me?

Let it Snow…

My husband shovels for us and I shovel for the elderly, just like Dad used to when I was a kid. I’m glad he taught me to be conscientious of the world around us. He never accepted anything but a “thank you” from the widowed older ladies who were on a tight budget. Sometimes they gave me a cookie or two, since I followed Dad around with my little shovel and an Antarctica-style snowsuit that rivaled that of A Christmas Story.

The reward for hard work, was always sledding at the “Big Hill”. Dad made his own path to the park, even when nothing was plowed yet. Nothing was going to stop sled-time.  We have so many fond memories and laughs from those days. Still, I never understood why people tried to walk up the hill in the same spot that people sled down.  Dodging climbers always made the adventure slightly scary but exciting. So was making sure you didn’t sail too fast to run through the hay bales and into the lake.