A Life Well-Lived

As a stay-at-home mom for most of the years our children were growing up, I spent a good deal of time volunteering for their school system. When our last child graduated from high school in 2010, knowing that it was time to step aside, I was a bit out of sorts trying to figure out how I’d fill those volunteer hours.

As I considered my next volunteer gig, I chatted with my husband about various opportunities that I could pursue. While it’s great to help out the community as a whole, he said that I should consider making volunteering more personal and see if there was someone in our lives who could use my help.

My father-in-law, who had been widowed 11 years earlier, immediately came to mind. He lived in the house he had built with my mother-in-law a half century earlier where they raised their 12 children. Being a child of the Depression, Dad had a hard time letting go of things. The house hadn’t really been thoroughly gone through and decluttered in who knew how long. Consequently, there was more stuff packed into that two-story, five-plus bedroom home, than I could have imagined.

So, I made the offer to help Dad clear his house out. Being a bit of a hoarder, I wouldn’t say he jumped at the chance but was open to the concept. Enlisting the help of my mom, I made the commitment to go to Dad’s house every Tuesday morning from 8:00 until noon, for what I thought would be a couple of months, to work on the project.

And work, we did. The more we dug, the more we found. Sometimes it was easy, just going through stacks of paper but other times it was tough, both physically and psychologically. There was plenty of heavy lifting (thank goodness Dad was like the Energizer Bunny) but, from a psychological standpoint, it was difficult for Dad to let go of things. Part of this was the emotional attachment he had to various things but the bigger issue was the fact that every single thing in that house, in Dad’s mind, had value. While that may have been true, the value he placed on items didn’t always match up to what the marketplace would pay for them.

This project ended up taking a year to complete. We got to the point where we had gone through every square inch of the house and had given to the kids and grandkids, sold, recycled or thrown out just about anything that Dad had no use for anymore. The garage, which hadn’t had a car parked in it for 40 years, was another project that my husband, some of his work buddies and his siblings tackled a few years later.

While it was amazing to see the transformation of the house as we waded through piles of paper, clothing, housewares, toys, knickknacks, etc., the biggest transformation was actually in my relationship not only with Dad but with my own mom as well.

Most mornings when Mom and I got to Dad’s house, he’d be cooking up a kettle of his famous chocolate Cream of Wheat, which was a combo of plain Cream of Wheat, Nestle’s Quik, butter and milk. I don’t usually eat in the morning, but this was too yummy to pass up and eating with my mom and father-in-law was a nice way to start the day before the work commenced.

There’s nothing like spending hours next to a person, sorting through things, and conversing. While we had our share of light conversations, the deep ones crept in as well. I found out more about my father-in-law and my mom for that matter, than I ever could have imagined.

Dad shared how his mom had to sew his clothes when he was growing up on a farm in northeastern Wisconsin. She didn’t have a way to sew zippers into his pants and so he had buttoned-up flies. Being on the shorter and stockier side, he saw his share of bullying. One of the favorite misdeeds from the bullies was grabbing onto the fly of his pants and yanking so hard that all the buttons flew off.

He admitted that the bullying got so bad that he begged his mom to send him to another high school, and, surprisingly, since this was in the early ‘40s, his mom and step-dad actually allowed him to transfer schools.

Somehow, in his growing up years, Dad was led to believe that he wasn’t smart. I made it a point to tell him on a regular basis that he was one of the smartest men I’d ever met. He had such an ingenious mind; he could build or rig just about anything to solve any problem around his house or garage. On top of that, he had wonderful musical abilities as well.

According to Dad, someone in his life had, on more than one occasion, told him that he’d never amount to anything. For the rest of his life, Dad did everything in his power to prove that person wrong.

He did just that. On December 29, 2019, 21 years to the day after my mother-in-law died, Dad unexpectedly passed away as he was getting ready for Sunday morning Mass. In his 91 years, my father-in-law proved to be one of the most creative, industrious, energetic, passionate, faith-filled, and loving people I’ve ever met.

Miss you Dad. Glad I got to know you!

Catholic Schools Week

Catholic Schools Week was celebrated earlier this year. Thirty-five years ago, my husband and I started our family. From the moment we laid eyes on our little baby girl, we made a decision — we would do whatever it took for me to be a stay-at-home parent. Four years and two babies later (and another baby two years after that), another crucial decision was made — we’d send our children to Catholic schools, regardless of the cost.

From a completely objective view, my husband and I were probably the last people who should have been sending our children to private schools. After a downturn in the machining industry, John had taken a job with a start-up company and was barely making more than minimum wage when we started our family. It was hard enough making ends meet without adding in the cost of schooling for four children.

To be honest, John probably would have been fine sending our kids to a public school. He had attended public schools since he was in second grade and had turned out just fine. I had a few more years under my belt, having attended a Catholic school from first through eighth grade, but that experience was so impactful that I wanted our children to have that same experience as well.

I’m not sure how many couples would live the austere lifestyle that John and I did so I could continue to be a stay at home mom and we could send our kids to Catholic schools. It wasn’t always easy, but those were joyful days. I’d go back and live them all over again in an instant if I could.

My career was put on hold for 15 years until our youngest child started second grade. While John always worked full time days, I did various jobs around his work schedule so we didn’t have to hire babysitters — everything from being a Tupperware sales rep to selling plasma.

As far as money goes, we had a budget and we stuck to it. We were married eight years before we even had our first credit card and once we did get one, we paid it off every month religiously. Working with a Christian financial planner, we felt comfortable splitting our 10 per cent tithe between our church and the tuition bill.

We were thrifty, that’s for sure. We took one vacation each summer, staying with my brother and his family in Minneapolis and spending a day at the Mall of America. I invested in a hair clipper set so I could cut our son’s hair, the girls wore their hair long so very few haircuts for them. We had take-out food once a week, either from J.D.’s Drive-In where you could get six double cheeseburgers and a box of fries for under $10 or from Little Caesar’s where a large one-topping pizza was only $5. Most of the kids’ clothes were hand-me-downs purchased from friends who had older children, from the uniform sale at school, the occasional rummage sale or the neighborhood thrift store.

There were many a day that the featured meal for breakfast was oatmeal cooked on the stove and mac and cheese for lunch. That was back in the day when I was cooking three meals a day, all from scratch and usually with a homemade dessert as well.

It might be hard for couples now to imagine life with no cable TV, using cloth diapers, hanging clothes out on the line to conserve electricity, no date nights for mom and dad, and taking your kids to only one movie a year, usually the newest Christmas movie where we split one large popcorn and one large soda between the six of us. Once every two or three years, John and I got a weekend getaway which I earned by raising money for the Bowl for Life.

We taught our kids to live within their means as well. Each child got a stipend on payday twice a month (started at $15 and eventually went up to $20) and with that money they paid for their school supplies, clothing, entertainment with their friends, and gifts.

Thankfully, we qualified for tuition assistance, even if it meant mounds of paperwork to fill out to get it. One year we were even blessed by an anonymous person or couple in our parish who paid a year of tuition for our oldest daughter who was in middle school at the time.

For us, all the sacrifice has paid off. We have four wonderful young adult children, all in solid relationships and our married children each have three children of their own now. Our children are highly educated (Catholic undergrad and grad school — The Univeristy of Notre Dame, University of St. Thomas, St. Louis University, Marquette University), are working in their chosen fields, and, most importantly to us, they are still members of the Church. Can we say for sure that those decisions we made all those years ago brought about those positive outcomes? It’s hard to say, but I’d certainly like to think so. Our children have told us they appreciate the Catholic education they received. This beautiful cycle continues — all of our school-aged grandchildren are enrolled in Catholic schools now as well. The blessings keep coming and coming!

The Big Question

There seems to be a standard set of questions we get asked at various stages in our lives. When you’re a kid, the question is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In high school, it’s “Where are you going to go to college?” Once your schooling is done, the career questions start to pop up. After you’ve settled into a career the next big question is, “Are you dating anyone?” which in time turns to, “When are you going to get engaged?”

“When’s the big day?” is next on the agenda. Then after the wedding comes, “Are you starting a family soon?” Once the first baby arrives, then people ask if you’re having more or, if you have a couple children, “Are you done yet?”

After those momentous life occasions, you get a break until you turn 55 and then, like clockwork, the inevitable question comes, “When do you think you’ll retire?” Since I’ve already passed that milestone age, that question has been broached to me a number of times.

Some people seem to get offended by the retirement question, either thinking it implies that they’re getting old, or, like numerous people I know, they’ve just started a new career track and retirement is a long way off in their mind.

But, in reality, I don’t think there’s really anything at which to take offense. That question is typical small talk for Baby Boomers and those people in their lives. It’s as innocuous as asking, “What do you think of the weather we’re having lately?”

I personally can’t see myself ever completely retiring, since I have what I consider a dream career that’s a mix of writing books, articles and screenplays, proofreading, copy editing, photography, modeling, acting, and helping people obtain true health. I work from the comfort of my home office and I get to pick and choose which projects I want to work on.

Besides that, I was a late bloomer. I worked in the proofreading field after I got out of school, doing that the first four years of our marriage but, after we started our family, I took a 15-year hiatus to raise our four children. When our youngest child started second grade, I took a part-time job proofreading a series of local newspapers. Our office closed its doors shortly after 9/11 because of the instability of the economy. From there, I set out on my own as a freelance journalist and gradually expanded my business. Technically, I’ve only been at this career for 20 years — I’m relatively fresh.

That being said, I’m starting to notice that people all around me are choosing to retire, including friends, neighbors, and extended family members, so the subject has been on my mind lately. In 2019 my two older brothers (Irish twins) turned 60, and my oldest brother (the amazing comic book artist Gordon Purcell) told me that he’s now basically semi-retired and he’s OK with that.

Perhaps I’d give retirement more thought if my husband was retiring, but he’s enjoying what he’s doing so there are no imminent plans for him to hang it up. Maybe when he hits the 40-year mark in 2023, he’ll consider it, but he’s happy where he’s at for now.

As for me, I’ve got a full plate between promoting my Heaven Intended Civil War trilogy and my next series of books which is scheduled to be published later this year. I keep telling people, “You have to make hay while the sun’s shining — the sun’s shining bright on my career now so I’ll keep plugging away.” There are days when it’s a grind, but I have an overwhelming sense of feeling lucky and blessed that I have these opportunities. Besides, if you really love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work anyhow. It’s just one adventure after another.

Life at this moment is a bit of a juggling act as I’m not only putting in a good deal of hours with my career, but my parents are getting older, we’ve got children and grandchildren we want to spend time with, and we enjoy traveling and staying active.

As busy as the days are, I’m choosing to love every minute of every day, and I plan to make 2020 the best year yet. Hope you can say the same thing too. Here’s to a healthy, prosperous and beautiful new year for all of us!

 

 

Special Delivery…

For years I dreamt of becoming an OB nurse. After the birth of our third child I put my name on the wait list to study nursing at FVTC. By the time my name made it to the top of the list, we were expecting our fourth child so I decided against going back to school. On Monday, September 30, 2019, my dream came true and I got the chance to be a nurse/midwife for a day.

 

Our daughter-in-law Emily and son Nick were due to have baby #3 on October 11. This past Sunday after Mass, Emily was anxious to get home because she had a backache. It made me wonder if she would be going into labor soon because that was always how my labors started.

 

On Monday I got a text from Nick at 6:14 a.m. “Emily’s been up this morning since about three having contractions so just a heads up that we might need you at some point in the a.m.” Before heading to their house, I passed the word along to my husband and Nick’s three sisters. Sage advice from Nick’s oldest sister (mother of three) at 8:47 a.m. “How to know if it’s real labor: 1) if you can’t take a nap/sleep 2) if you can’t reprimand your kids during a contraction.”

 

Next message to the family from Nick at 8:49 a.m. “Things have slowed down.” Emily, who works from home, decided to take the morning off so I went back home and she and Nick took their son to preschool.

 

Message from Nick at 10:39 a.m.: “Emily just woke up from a 90-minute nap so we are taking that as a good sign.” A good sign because Nick was scheduled to be in DePere to shoot a commercial at 1:00. Emily decided to go back to work for the afternoon and I was scheduled to watch the kids after they went down for naps.

 

Next message to me from Nick came in at 11:43 a.m. “It sounds like she’s still having consistent contractions, they’re just spaced further apart. Is there any chance you could come over around 12:25-12:30 to help with naps? I’m just a little worried that the more she strains herself with the kids it might send her into labor.”

 

I drove over and helped get the kids down and then Emily went back downstairs to her office. When the kids got up from naps, I took them outside to play. At 3:16 Emily came up from her office. She was laying on the couch at 3:23 when the kids and I came back inside. Around 3:30 she told me she was definitely in labor so I called Nick.

 

Shortly after that Emily’s water broke and at 3:37 we called her obstetrician and were told to head to the hospital. My husband, who was on his way to the dentist office, called to check in on us at 3:40. I told him that I was taking Emily with the kids to the hospital and asked him to tell Nick to go straight there. The commercial shoot wrapped at 3:40 so Nick was heading back to town when John got a hold of him.

 

Meanwhile, Emily and I got the kids in the minivan, even over her preschooler’s objection about not having his shoes on. We jumped into the vehicle to start the 10-minute trip to the hospital. Emily told me to drive as fast as I could because she was in heavy labor. We pulled out of the driveway around 3:42 and at 3:44 I called 911. I asked Emily what the quickest route was to the hospital and she said the street with two roundabouts. As we approached that street, Emily told me to pull over. I rounded the corner by an elementary school and parked the van.

 

Emily crawled through the vehicle to the back while I was on the phone with the dispatcher. I asked Emily if she wanted me to go see if I could bring her into one of the nearby homes. She said no but asked me to come to the back of the van. I got out of the driver’s seat and opened the hatch and saw that Emily was laying down with her feet facing the front of the van.

 

All this time I was on the phone with the dispatcher who was asking me numerous questions that I didn’t have the answers for off the top of my head. How old is the patient? What is her address? How far apart are the contractions? I crawled into the back of the van and could see that the baby was crowning so I set the phone down so I could concentrate on the baby and Emily. I looked around and didn’t see any emergency lights, so I knew that it was up to me to help Emily deliver the baby.

 

At this point, I could see more of the baby’s hair as the head was being pushed out. Emily squeezed my hand and gave a push and the baby’s head came fully out. She took a breath and said something like, “The pain is gone now.” Surprisingly, I felt a sense of peace or “I’ve got this” once the head was out. I cradled the baby’s head in my hand and seeing that its color looked good, I talked to the baby and stroked its face while I waited for Emily to push it out the rest of the way.

 

At a quick glance, I was pretty sure it was a girl (even though most people, other than her big brother, had guessed it would be a boy). Once the baby was cradled in both my hands, she let out a cry, which I heard with a great sense of relief. I asked Emily what I should do with the baby and she said to lay it on her stomach. I did that and just then I saw the firetruck pull up. The paramedics hustled over to the van and the first one there brought a blanket to cover the baby with and then suctioned her mouth out.

 

Lifting the blanked, I confirmed that the baby was indeed a little girl and I asked Emily what her name was. “Margaret Nicole.” I stroked Margaret on the back and told her how much Grandma loved her and that I have loved her since the moment I knew that she existed.

 

The paramedics got a stretcher and loaded Emily and the baby onto it and took her to the ambulance. I turned my attention back to her big brother and big sister who had watched the whole event from their car seats without making a peep. At nearly 4 years old, her brother had a lot of questions, and being a fan of trucks, was interested in the firetruck and ambulance and why there was an “emergency.” Big sister, age 2, just kept saying “Baby” and “Mommy.”

 

After 10 minutes the ambulance left for the hospital and me and the kids did too. By the time I got them up to Emily’s room in the labor and delivery area, Nick was already there holding his precious new daughter. The birth time for Margaret Nicole, who weighted 6# 14 oz., was recorded as 3:52 p.m. I refer to Emily as a pioneer woman for being so stoic and brave and keeping her calm throughout this whole event.

 

The Memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels is observed by the Catholic Church every year on October 2, but I truly believe that Emily, Margaret and I had our guardian angels standing guard over us that day. St. Margaret is the patron saint of childbirth, so I’m sure she was with us that day as well.

 

People ask me if I was praying while Margaret was being delivered, but I was so focused on what needed to be done there was nothing else going through my mind. Thankfully, God knows our prayers even before we voice them, so I know He had everything under control.

 

Monday was one of the best days of my life but I’m retiring from my nursing career. It may have been short-lived but the lasting impact from that incredible day is the unbreakable bond I will always have with my amazing daughter-in-law Emily and our sixth grandchild, Margaret Nicole, who allowed me to be an active participant in of one of the most miraculous events any person can ever be a part of — bringing a precious new life into this world!

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 All Good Cheeseheads Go to Heaven

My husband John and I have been Beatles fans since we were kids back in the 1970s. That infatuation extended to Paul McCartney & Wings and then later to Paul McCartney as a solo act. When the Paul McCartney World Tour was announced in 1989, we knew that if he was performing anywhere in the Midwest, we were going to be there.

Luckily for us, McCartney scheduled shows at the Rosemont in Chicago for December 3, 4 and 5, 1989. As soon as you could get on the phone and try to order tickets, we were on it. There was one glitch — you had to pay for the tickets with a credit card. John and I were all of 28 and 27 years old at that point, with three children ages 4, 3 and 7 months, and as poor as church mice. We didn’t even have a credit card. Luckily, my dad was willing to put the tickets on his card so we got seats.

We felt so grateful to be able to actually see Paul McCartney perform live, even if he was just a speck on the stage since we were so far up in the stands. After all, he was 47 years old and it could have been his very last tour for all we knew.

Fast forward 30 years, and John and I now are the parents of four children, grandparents of six, and have built a comfortable life for ourselves. In the last three decades we saw Sir Paul in concert a total of six times (twice in Chicago, twice in Milwaukee, once in Minneapolis and once in Columbus, Ohio).

The concert in Columbus was so special for us because we got to attend with our three daughters and our son-in-law. Our son and his wife had the chance to see Paul live at a concert in Milwaukee the previous year, so that meant that all of our children got to experience the performance of a living legend.

Every concert we saw was amazing, no doubt about it. As life got even better for us, we were able to afford nicer seats. When the folks at Lambeau Field announced that the Paul McCartney Freshen Up Tour would be stopping there in June of 2019, I knew it was time to experience the ultimate rock show. John and I pulled the trigger Christmas of 2018 and purchased the VIP Hot Sound Package. I would finally be able to check off one of the top items on my bucket list — to be so close to the stage when Paul was performing that I could see him sweat!

Who cares that the tickets cost more than our first car! This was the chance of a lifetime! In the days leading up to the concert on June 12, I couldn’t even believe that we were actually going to be VIPs at Sir Paul’s concert, get to hang out in the VIP lounge, attend a private pre-concert concert, i.e., sound check with about 200 other McCartney ultra fans, be a guest at a vegetarian buffet that would rival any non-vegetarian food out there, and have seats front and center in row 8 for the concert!

The night turned out to be everything I hoped for and more. To start, it was the most beautiful summer weather Wisconsin has to offer, it was absolutely perfect! Add to that, there’s nothing nicer than being treated like a VIP! The sound check was outstanding, especially hearing the hard-rocking Drive My Car and watching Paul chum around with the rest of his mates in the band.

There is something to be said about the mystique of Lambeau Field. This was my husband’s perspective: “I imagined I was Aaron Rodgers looking up at a full stadium of people. Who gets to stand in the middle of Lambeau Field with the stands packed and experience the unbelievable energy in that historic stadium?”

One of our favorite things was talking to the other VIPs. We met a lady from Chicago who had seen the Beatles live twice, saw Paul McCartney & Wings in concert, yet had never seen Paul perform his solo act. There was a gentleman who has a hobby of traveling all over the world to be a VIP at Paul’s concerts, this was no. 35 for him. There were people of all ages hanging out with us that day. McCartney fans come in all ages, races and nationalities.

As for the concert itself, it was one big love fest! It didn’t matter what anyone’s background was, what their political stance was, what kind of life they lived outside those stadium walls. The attitude was, “If you’re a friend of Paul McCartney’s, you’re a friend of mine.” The camaraderie was palpable — there was such a magnetic energy that filled Lambeau Field that night.

Paul — we’re on a first-name basis now — knocked it out of the park! He sang for three hours with no breaks and covered everything from pre-Beatles songs to The Beatles, Paul McCartney & Wings, and his solo career which has spanned from the 1970s until today. My favorite songs from that night were: Maybe I’m Amazed, A Hard Day’s Night, Junior’s Farm, All My Loving, Let Me Roll It, Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five, From Me to You, Love Me Do, Blackbird, Lady Madonna, Band on the Run, Back in the U.S.S.R., Live and Let Die, Birthday, Helter Skelter, Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, and The End. His voice has certainly aged through the years but it was magical to the ears of the 60,000-plus people with their cell phones lit up, swaying back and forth in unison, and singing for all they were worth.

My concert life is now complete. Sure, I still plan to go to local concerts and maybe see some more well-known singers or bands in concert, but my ultimate wish list has been fulfilled thanks to Sir Paul. It’s a night that we and our tens of thousands of new BFFs will always remember.

 

Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” That song may be referring to Christmastime, but for some of the Church faithful, that sentiment describes Lent.

 

Maybe it’s just my personality, but I actually look forward to Lent each year. The competitive side of me relishes a challenge, and, every year I challenge myself to either give something up for Lent or add something meaningful to my life during Lent.

 

One of the things that I committed to do during Lent a couple years ago, I’m still doing. I chose to attend Mass two days a week and started going to Mass on Wednesday mornings. I’ve grown to enjoy the smaller, more intimate Mass, where you know most of the people in church. Receiving the body and blood of Christ one extra time each week has been such a blessing, it’s kind of a spiritual booster shot half way through the week.

 

It would be hard to quit going to that Mass since I am now the lector on Wednesday mornings, I take up the gifts, and I’m the back-up rosary leader when the ladies who normally lead it aren’t able to do so. People are depending on me to be there.

 

As someone trying to be the best version of herself, Lent is the ideal time to commit to doing things that will make me a better person. Most years I try to give something up in the food area, such as sugar, desserts, snacking, etc. Then, I also try to find something pro-active to do that will make the season more meaningful for me.

 

Recently, I was introduced to the concept of fasting, from a spiritual perspective, which is something that Jesus spoke of in the Gospels.

 

Mark 9:25-29 And when Jesus saw the multitude running together, he threatened the unclean spirit, saying to him: Deaf and dumb spirit, I command thee, go out of him; and enter not any more into him. And crying out, and greatly tearing him, he went out of him, and he became as dead, so that many said: He is dead. But Jesus taking him by the hand, lifted him up; and he arose. And when he was come into the house, his disciples secretly asked him: Why could not we cast him out? And he said to them: This kind can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”

 

(Note: for some reason that majority of Bible editions have omitted the word fasting from that text. It’s not easy to find the original passage.)

 

For the past year, I’ve been dabbling with fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, but hadn’t fully committed to it. Fasting can mean different things to different people, everything from only consuming water, or only bread and water, or just one large meal on a fast day. This year, for Lent, my husband and I chose to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays by consuming only fresh fruits and vegetables on those days.

 

Seeing that I’m not much of a fruit person and probably don’t eat as many vegetables as I should on a daily basis, this will be a decent challenge for me. Generally, during Lent, I’m pretty faithful sticking to my commitments. That extra guilt factor keeps me on track!

 

This year, I’m also committing to doing a couple extra things to boost my faith and spiritual life. I will pray the rosary every day (for a particular special intention) and do one random act of kindness every day (thanks to my friend Marge Steinhage Fenelon, award-winning author of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots: A Living Novena and Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace for the suggestion).

 

Day One, Ash Wednesday: so far so good. Keep me in your prayers that I can follow through with these commitments for the next six-and-a-half weeks! You’ll be in my prayers as well!

 

Welcome Home!

“Welcome home.” That seems like an odd greeting to hear in Ireland for someone who has lived her entire life in the United States, but that appears to be the sentiment amongst the Irish who consider their beautiful country to be home for anyone with Irish ancestry.

 

You wouldn’t have to dig too deep to find my Irish roots. My grandfather, John Purcell, was born outside Kilkenny City in Ireland in 1904. Sometime after WWI he immigrated to the United States, married a woman with Irish ancestry, and together they lived in the Bronx with their three sons before his untimely death from heart issues at the age of 39.

 

My husband and I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend two weeks in Ireland this summer. The first five full days were spent sightseeing off the beaten path with our amazing tour guides — my Uncle Frank and his wife Ellen. Frank is my godfather, and to be honest, until last fall, we really didn’t know each other much at all since we’ve never lived in the same state (or country, for that matter, as he has lived all over the world with his family). In October of 2017, John and I visited them at their home in Texas. We had the chance to spend hours together and realized we had much more in common than we could have imagined. Out of that visit came the invitation to come see Frank and Ellen at their summer home in Castlegregory, nested upon a hill overlooking the western coast of Ireland.

 

When we found great airfares to Ireland for this summer, we took advantage of that and booked our trip. On July 9, we flew from Chicago to London (FYI, 45 minutes is not a long enough layover to make a connecting international flight, which involves going through customs again, without sprinting through Heathrow Airport like crazy people), and from there to Shannon, Ireland.

 

We took a bus from the airport to Tralee, from where we were Ubered back to the house by my Uncle Frank. Their house has the look of an oversized quaint English cottage and the views from the front overlooking fields of sheep and cows grazing and the shore of the Atlantic Ocean were nothing short of spectacular. We watched the sun set every night, at nearly 11:00, and the sight never grew old.

 

Every day was an adventure when we were on the West Coast. The first full day at my uncle’s house, July 11, John and I enjoyed a walk along the beach, we got to eat fresh fish delivered to the door by the fish man, and took a tour of the surrounding area in my uncle’s SUV on crazy, winding roads that aren’t much bigger than one lane, have no shoulders and speed limits way too high (80 to 100 kph, roughly 50-62 mph). We found a lovely (the most popular word in Ireland) Marian grotto, we picked up a hitchhiker from France who was working on a farm in Ireland for the summer, we went to a couple of lakes tucked away in the mountains, and we finished the day solving the problems of the world over a couple pints for the guys and a delicious coconut liquor/coconut milk concoction for the ladies.

 

The next day we were treated to a tour of the Dingle Peninsula and got to see all sorts of villages and shops that aren’t included in the commercial bus tours. We even got to see where parts of the newest Star Wars movie were filmed, the location for the filming of Ryan’s Daughter, the house that the late Dolores O’Riordan from the Cranberries lived in, The South Pole Inn, and got to share a drink in a snug (private booth, back in the day reserved for women pub patrons) at The Colony Pub. We ended the night at Tomisin’s — the Cheers of Castlegregory, cheeky barmaids included.

 

That Friday we gave my Uncle Frank a day off of SUV tour driving and went on a bus trip to see the Ring of Kerry. The entire course was beautiful but our favorite spots were probably Ladies’ View in Killarney (the name stems from the admiration of the view given by Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting during their 1861 visit to Ireland) and a waterfall tucked along a hiking trail. Luckily, the water was flowing because, at that time, Ireland was in the ninth week of a drought, which was unfortunate for the farmers, but a blessing for us as we had fantastic weather the whole time we were in the country. Every day felt like a beautiful September day, which was even better because back home they were experiencing a heat wave.

 

On Saturday, July 14, John and I went to the beach to watch the Brandon Bay 10K/Half Marathon. When we found out they took last-minute sign ups, we gave them what Euro we had in our pockets, got shirts, an ended up racing. It’s Ireland’s only all beach 10K/Half Marathon. Assuming these divisions are legitimate…  John and I each took first place in our respective divisions (Wisconsin M, 55-59, and Wisconsin F, 55-59). We ended the day sore, tired and hungry but ready for a night out. After going to Mass (30 minutes in and out, these Irish priests don’t fool around) we had a wonderful meal at Tomisin’s cooked by the proprietor, who is a native of China. Chinese food at an Irish pub — it doesn’t get much more unique than that!

 

On Sunday, John and I made our farewells to my aunt and uncle and took a bus to Dublin. The city reminded us so much of London and Paris — it is a melting pot of people from all over the world. We stayed at a Travelodge (sparse but comfortable) that adjoined an Aldi grocery store. The prices for fresh food, bakery and European chocolate were unbelievably low. We stopped there about once a day. Our hotel was walking distance to Mother Reilly’s Bar & Restaurant, where we were able to eat and, later in the week, enjoy genuine Irish folk music up close and personal.

 

The next day we bought a two-day pass for a hop-on, hop-off bus so we could get the lay of the land and then go back to see all the spots that caught our eye. Some of the highlights were the Irish Whiskey Museum, Temple Bar, River Liffey, Phoenix Park, St. Patrick’s Cathedral (where we attended the evening prayer service), and St. Patrick’s Park.

 

Tuesday our stops included St. Stephen’s Green (where we enjoyed amazing, oversized donuts which were available on most every corner in the city), Trinity College, Guinness Storehouse (the tour includes a free pint), Kilmainham Gaol (which was featuring an exhibit on the life of Nelson Mandela who would have turned 100 in July), and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

 

We took another bus tour via Paddywagon Tours on Wednesday for a day trip to Northern Ireland. We traversed the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge (piece of cake after our rope bridge experience in Mexico last year), we had an excellent traditional lunch of Irish Stew and Brown Bread, we walked on the tree-lined drive from the Game of Thrones set, and we got to experience one of the wonders of the world — Giant’s Causeway, which is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption per Wikipedia. That was worth the trip alone! With the sunny, dry weather we were able to go to the edge of the columns that overlooked the ocean. The trip ended with an hour or so in Belfast. It’s an interesting city but I didn’t feel comfortable there considering the animosity that still brews between the Irish and the Northern Irish. Back in Dublin we did more walking (put in about 9 miles on foot per day) and had a great dinner at the Hairy Lemon.

 

On Thursday we started the day with Mass at Mary Immaculate – Refuge of Sinners, which was a few blocks from our hotel (17-minute Mass start to finish, definitely a record in my books). Lots more exploring of Dublin on foot but the highlight that day was seeing the religious art from the 1200s to the 1800s at the National Gallery of Ireland, in particular a Caravaggio (who is known for his depictions of the Blessed Mother) painting which was on loan to the museum. They had food tents set up in a park that day that included fare from around the world. We ended the night seeing the original Riverdance musical. The dancing, music and singing was unbelievable! It’s a production we’ll always remember.

 

Friday, July 20, saw us on a train to Kilkenny City, the city in which my grandfather was raised. It is such a charming place — it was well worth the trip to get there. Our first stop was the Smithwick’s Tour, which was fun and yes, ended with another round of pints. Afterwards, my cousin Walter picked us up to take us to the farm where our grandfather was born and raised in an area called Windgap. While there I got to meet his parents — my dad’s first cousin Kieran Purcell, who was a national champion hurler back in the day and now raises and trains champion race horses, and his wife JoJo. From there we went to the cemetery where my great-grandparents are buried and met the parish priest. Next to the church was an Old League House, which once served as a home for poor tenant farmers whose land had been confiscated during British occupation of Ireland, St. Kieran’s College, where my grandfather attended high school, Sweeney Todd Barbers, and Matt the Miller pub where we saw the band Wildfire perform one of the best early Beatles sets we’ve ever seen live.

 

The next morning we toured Kilkenny Castle which is a well-preserved castle that depicts life in medieval times. After that we were on a bus to Cork. On the way there we passed through Waterford which is famous for its crystal. In Cork we had the best food of our trip at Coqbull (Avocado BLT Rotisserie Chicken Salad — that chicken was amazing) and The Corn Store where I got the Rosemary & Honey Crème Brulee with Ginger Shortbread (Crème Brulee is a must for me when we travel abroad) and the Peanut Butter Cheesecake with Banana Fritters & Vanilla Ice Cream that John swears is the best dessert (next to my mom’s homemade strawberry rhubarb pie) he’s ever eaten in his life. The night ended with a bang as we were able to secure last-minute tickets to see The Wizard of Oz at the Cork Opera House. They did an awesome job — it was fun hearing their “American” accents.

 

July 22, John got to celebrate his birthday on a bus to Shannon. There’s not much more in that city than the airport, but we did find a nice walking trail around a lake. We were there less than 24 hours as the next day, which happened to be my birthday, we had a plane to catch back to the U.S. The cool thing was, because of the time zone changes as we flew, I got to celebrate my birthday for 30 hours instead of the typical 24, so that made my day extra special!

 

Those two weeks in Ireland were something John and I will always treasure. The Irish people, particularly on the West Coast, were some of the friendliest and most welcoming folks we’ve ever met. The historic sites were spectacular and the views of the ocean were breathtaking. Like Dorothy Gale says, “There’s no place like home.”