November snow at Glencree

Friday, December 3, 2010

Snowbound adventure

The road outside Glencree on day 3
Notice the wall of snow next to Pat - Day 6

Here's the stats: 8 days (and counting),
5 people, 2 cats and no way in or out of Glencree.

 One week of being snowbound, with the white stuff continuing to fall by the buckets full.  White Christmas came a little early this year and seems to want to stick around!

Shoveled out to knee deep and by the afternoon
 it was filled again
Its one thing to be stuck somewhere when you can just enjoy the "Snow Day"... I used to live for those when I was teaching school.  Its a completely different thing when you are stuck on a mountain and one of your daily routines becomes digging your way out of your house.  The first three days we were indoors most of the time; reading and watching movies.  The last several days we have had to do a bit more "save the Centre" work.

Pat's cat "Little"
Even the cats are braving the cold for a bit of exercise.  If only they could use a shovel.

The 5 of us have been able to stay warm and keep fed, but the perishables are starting to go.  The veggies are done except for the ever present Irish potato and the milk & breads are getting pretty funky.  We do have plenty of protein -which is needed to keep us going; combating the chill when working outside.  I have a whole new appreciation for those people who live in winter climates.  However their communities have things like snowblowers and road clearing machines so life does not come to a screeching halt.  In Ireland... we done been halted!

 The beauty IS astounding but the straits can be dire.  Proper planning and preparation are key and being able to entertain yourself essential, otherwise you might loose your mind.    The daily calls I get from the CEO David , are really about checking my sanity.  "Leslie are you doing alright, are you feeling ok?", he will ask.  He too is snowbound at his home an hour away.  I'm doing well but I do understand the concern, as some of the younger contingent are starting to act like caged squirrels.  

Yesterday after digging out the front gate that was piled with snow, I built a snow fort.  Yep... Ross would have been proud!  I checked on it this morning and it has at least 10 inches of new snow inside it.  No Ross I didn't put a roof on it.  If these storms continue I may have to.  You never know I may need to move into it if the natives get too restless :)

Winter life is an adventure!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The gift of Thanksgiving


In our family Thanksgiving is HUGE. Ever since I can remember, this day above most, we would gather our nearest and dearest around a large table. 

Young and old alike would share a meal and reflect on how blessed we are. When Rob and I were engaged, we took over the tradition by cooking for

 both of our families; Spero's and White's in one big feast! Ever since, we (Rob and Leslie) have carried the family tradition - no matter where we had moved. One great Thanksgiving memory took place in Kodiak Alaska, when Rob was station there in 1985. We BBQ'd the turkey as was my families tradition but with the Spero flair... upside down. This was actual wonderful as the bird had to be on the coals so long because of the snow that we were worried about the white meat retain moisture. Retain it did and our 1st Thanksgiving away from our families was a success. A new tradition had begun as well. With the absence of parents & siblings present, we gathered our "family" of friends; that year it was the Hoyt and Marcotte families.  This still continues all these years later. Our children; now grown, have always known that Thanksgiving would not be the same without the Caulley's (Dana and Blake's twins were the new addition this year), Swedberg's arriving for dessert, Lui-kwan's when in town, Aunt Jenny and assorted grandparents. 

Over the years the Spero home has had between 12 to 28 people gathered together to count our blessings.  Some years we've had a kid or two missing (away at college) or a grandparent unable to make it. This year however was the first time I was missing.

I knew this was going to be incredibly difficult for me. So what's a mom to do when she's in Ireland during a special American holiday?  Bring the American holiday to the Irish.  This was an incredible undertaking that included no recipes, three cooking spaces, shared time with the Armoury Cafe kitchen  and teaching my housemates about stuffed mushrooms, baked sweet potatoes and a 100 year old recipe for chestnut and sausage  stuffing.   Menu done, invitations sent to the Glencree family, table decorations settled and the 29lb. bird on its way!  Not everyone could come but we had 19 members of the "family" gathered for what were for many a 1st Thanksgiving. We were quite the international crowd.  Gosha and  Samuel from Poland, Jean from Taiwan, Magali and Nury from Mexico, Ranjan from Sri Lanka, Edgar from Brazil, Nicky from South Africa along with Ian, Jim and 2 different Murphy's families representing Ireland. Thanksgiving in Ireland was a grand success and I was a bit less lost. To top off the evening... the snow fell!

When it snows in the Wicklow Mountains... you better settle in.

Glencree is situated on top of a the mountain and in an absolutely gorgeous place.  Gorgeous that is unless you want to leave after it snows.  The snow is also beautiful and if you had a 4wheel drive, chain, sleds or skis you could enjoy it all the more.  However... Ireland is void of all of that and so you are relegated to travel on foot.  Which means ladies and gentlemen, we are Centre bound.  No one out and no one in until the roads are cleared.  And here's the rub; no snow equipment on the Emerald Isle either.  

So far so good - thank God we have Thanksgiving left overs and the power has stayed on so we have heat.  Internet has been off and on but we have plenty of books to read and some old movies to watch.  

Being stuck on a mountain can certain occupy space in your brain that would otherwise be thinking of being home; surviving being stranded without turning into the Donner Party, comes to mind.  Life certain is full of adventure.

I am hoping that there is a bit of a break in the weather.  Not only to get food and supplies but to get to the airport on the 22nd of December for my trip home.  That's less than a month away and YES I am counting the days!

Until the next time... stay warm, cherish your friends and family, while always remembering how grateful we are to be in each others lives.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Peace Awards, BIG tips and the Women's programme

First things first... a warning about tipping when you are exhausted... don't!

A short story about going out to the famous Johnny Fox's (at least here in Ireland) and listening to the local singer Ben Murphy.  Ben is a nice older man who sings tradition Irish songs on Monday & Wednesday nights.  He chats with the customers and generally makes people feel welcome.  After listening to Ben and having a nice time with Ranjan & his Norwegian family who were visiting I thought I would tip the singer - always good to do in harder economic times.

Some background required: Ranjan is another volunteer and we put our 25 euros a week food money together to make it stretch.  This particular evening Ranjan was holding the money.
So I asked Ranjan for a bit of money to buy a CD from Ben and give him a "wee tip".  Ranjan gave me the money; first a 10 and then a 5.  I promptly put the money in my pocket as not to lose it.  When we went to leave  I went up to Ben and thank him for the fun music and banter, asked to buy a CD and placed the money on his CD table.  He thanked me and then our band of merry makers left the building for Glencree.

Two days later when Ranjan's family had left and he and I were discussing grocery shopping, I told Ranjan he didn't have to wait for me as he had the food money and he could go if he had the opportunity. We usually shop together.  Ranjan then informed me that I had the money.  Here's the exchange;  Me, "No - you have the money". Ranjan, "No, I gave you the 50 euros at Johnny Fox". Me, "please tell me that was a five not a fifty, because I gave that bill to Ben Murphy".  Yep... I gave our entire food allotment for the week to Ben as a tip.  Murphy's law - pun intended.  Important safety tips:  1 - DO NOT handle money when you are tired and 2- Look at the bills when someone hands you money.

On the upside I know Ben must have gone home to his wife and said "someone really likes my music".  Good Karma, out of a costly evening.  See Ranjan I told you I would share the story in my blog!

US Ambassador Rooney & his wife 
November 11th Glencree hosted it's annual Peace Awards at the Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin.  This is a big event for Glencree honoring a person or people who continue working for Peace.  This years recipients were First Minister Peter Robinson and Duty First Minister Martin MCGuinness from Northern Ireland.  

These were controversial choices but hold great significance to the work being done to move forward after the conflict. I was asked to be the official photographer for this black tie event. As you can imagine there were dignitaries from several Embassy's there and many people from the business sector who support the on-going work of Glencree. Security was high but everything went off without a hitch.
That was last Thursday night and Friday - The Women's Programme participants arrive.

I love the women programme but it is a non-stop 3 day adventure.  This weekends group were from Ballybean and the Shankhill areas of Belfast. Strong women who have been through s much but have not been tainted or become bitter by they trials... just the opposite.  These are some of the most generous women I have ever met.  It is always a pleasure to work with them and - as the Irish say - always good Craic.

There was also a birthday party for one of the gals on Saturday night.  I have never seen party decorations set up so quickly (balloon hats and all) and the food... delish!  Love these women!

My balloon tiara they made for me

Sunday as we were finishing up the women weekend the German Remembrance Event was being.  I was the photographer again and the women all came to the event before heading back to Belfast.  Glencree has a large connection to the German people and was the home for Operation Shamrock after WWII; housing children left injured, starving and abandoned. There is also the German Cemetery at Glencree for soldiers who lost their lives and came to rest on Irelands shores, even though Ireland was not involve in the war.  It is a somber event but also one filled with hope as we talk about the fall of the Berlin wall and the unification of German.   The remembrance begins at the small St Mary's church then walk to the Graveyard to lay wreaths, followed by a reception and seminar.  Always celebrating peace... it's a good thing!   

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Where did a month go?

Wow... I don't know about you but somehow I thought I was only a week behind and apparently I'm a month in the rears... yikes, time flies.  OK so I've been a bit busy these last 4 weeks.  I'll try to do a catch up.

Bray women for Equality tea
with the woman from the
local Muslim community 
Mid Oct. - What a wonderful afternoon; meeting all these wonderfully diverse women.  I was very grateful to my friend Ann who invited me to this Tea.  Great conversation, sharing culture & stories and even some singing and dancing!  Got to love it.

A dark and drier October morning... The day began with a 7am trip to Dublin Immigration to get my visa extension and if that 5 hours wasn't fun enough, the rest of the days was a hoot!

Just when you think you have it all under control... you put the wrong fuel in the car.  Yes I did; a first for me but I'm sure that will be the last.  Who knew there was a fuel rescue guy... thanks Ray for getting the van back on it feet and me on back on the road for my drive of shame.

Donkey business... Yep we have had a Donkey visiting us here at Glencree. He greets me at the front door. He visits me down in the kitchen (at the back door of course), he rolls around on the front lawn at the centre; he's awesome. The guy seems to like it here. People to hang out with, lots to see and tons of grass to eat. It's pretty much animal paradise. Just watch your step... donkey dung is free of charge.

Oct 25 - 27 - Northern Ireland: What an incredible history.  
We bagan by meeting up with Ms. Phil (Dir. of the Woman's Programme here at Glencree) who was going to take us on a whirlwind tour of the Belfast Peace Wall and introduce us t many of the people who lived through "The Troubles".  We went to the Shankhill and Ballybean areas where most of the bombings occurred.  We saw many areas where segregation still exists between Catholics and Protestants. Many people continue to deal with the civil rights issues that was/is the conflict in Northern Ireland.  

The Woman's centre's and the Peace centre's that we visited were a true testiment to the commitement these people have to there communities. In the midst of the ashes childcare buildings and education centres rose up - the Phoenix resides in Belfast.   

During our three day trip we also went to the Giants Causeway, Carrickfergus Castle, the Bushmills Distillery and the famous Crown Bar (the furnishings are from the Britannia (sister ship of the Titanic) that never went to sea after the fate of Titanic.   

After sampling some fine spirits (hot 12 yr. old whiskey is awesome) we headed for Derry (LondonDerry for those Loyalists).  The town with 2 names is the place of the Blood Sunday riots that ignited the IRA and sent new IRA recruitment through the roof.  The struggles there are still palpable.  The air is heavy in Derry and the people continue to work for equal rights.

That take me to the end of October and the November blog entry will have to wait until tomorrow.  I promise I won't let so much time go by between entries - I heard you M :)

Until tomorrow... peace!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Autumn breezes

 Autumn has come to the Wicklow mountains!

The colors are incredible and the bite in the morning air lets you know straight away that a new day has begun.

The animals of the mountains are out and about as well.  Deer, rabbit, squirrels, Foxes, Badgers and Hedgehogs can be seen often and right in my own backyard!  Those Donkeys next door are no longer the most exotic 4 legged creatures on Glencree property.
Purple Heather

When I'm not watching the wonders of wildlife or the awe inspiring changing of season; I'm observing people, patterns, attitudes and aptitudes.  It is amazing what you can "see when you listen".
In the beginning of last week we had a group of young people here at Glencree from several different Secondary (read High) school.  They came for a program centered on issues of leadership, transition and (Eastside Catholic people wait for it...)  finding their Destiny.  Ah... this felt like a bit of home!  I have been missing the run-up to fall Destiny but this was a great reminder that kids everywhere need that kind of experience.  Now to be fair, this wasn't ECHS's Destiny, but it was a great place for young people to come together to share, learn, reflect, gather, process and grow.  Good work Eamon and Yasser... good work indeed.

group photo's are the same world round

Group hug for the Team leader

Now for something a bit different: 
An invitation to the 50th Anniversary of Statehood of Nigeria to be held at the Residence of the Nigerian Ambassador to Ireland.  Cool... but what to wear?

Always wanted to walk
the red carpet
Delegate from Eastern Nigeria
Leslie, Ian & Phil with new friends from Nigeria

We did walked the red carpet and all.  After being checked in by the security and greeting secretary, we were introduced and welcomed by Her Excellency Dr. Mrs. Kemafo Nonyerem Chikwe and her husband.  The official picture was taken and we were then directed out to the 16 tents filled with tasty Nigerian food, music, traditional dancers and wonderful conversation. I would guess there must have been 400 people in attendance from dozens of countries.  Very nice evening.


I know there are lots of bits I'm forgetting to share; like having to clean more than a dozen rooms & change over 40 beds in one day. Or hand washing 100's of dishes in the restaurant kitchen by myself after breakfast & dinner two days in a row because the industrial size dishwasher broke. "Help, we need a volunteer stat"!  How about shlepping furniture from one room to another  (on different floors, on different sides of the building) to accommodate an incoming groups desire for "comfy chairs".  Yep... I do it all.  Just like my fellow International volunteers. We do whatever Glencree needs us to do and we do it with a song in our hearts and smiles on our faces.  Then we fall face first onto our beds. Thankfully we wake up the next morning to a new crisp autumn day.   


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Grease traps, Fuzzy wigs & the Archbishop

Pat, Jim & house mate Ranjan save the day!
Sounds like the making of a wild reality show and by all rights it is, because I'm living this roller coaster of a life.

Perseverance is a character trait to be admired, unless it  gets you elbow deep into a backed up grease trap in the plumbing system.  Let me back up a bit - yes… pun intended!  Our kitchen sink has not been draining properly.  Apparently this has been going on for quite some time and no one has made any real effort to rectify the situation.  Standing, greasy water in the sink; ALL day! Oh no, this was not going to work for me.  So I did what any self respecting woman would do.  I bought the Irish equivalent to Drano, "Mr. Muscle" and with do diligence; waited for it to work it's magic. To no avail.  I asked for help. I was told, "Buy some Mr. Muscle, it works great".  Finally I started asking the local gents (that have coffee here at the cafe everyday) what I might do and they said, "lets have a look!"  Three hours, two whiskeys and several buckets of God knows what latter... my sink ran-ith over.  I am so grateful to these kind gentlemen who took the time and were willing to hang in there with me; through the thick until we got to the thin.

-------------------------------------  Earlier this week  ----------------------------------

Dromantine Centre
I had the opportunity to go to Northern Ireland (yep, I crossed the boarder) for a conference; "An Integrated Approach to Peace Building".  it was held at the Dromantine Retreat and Conference Centre.  An estate that dates back to the middle ages.  The Society of African Missions has had the property since the early 20th c.

This was a small conference, giving the participants plenty of opportunity for conversation and sharing.  I was seated at dinner and lunch with the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin and Rev Dr. Norman Hamilton OBE (weren't they lucky) and we had some interesting talks on:
1. The future leadership roles in the Catholic Church by women
2. The healing process that is needed for the entire faith community after such hurt and betrayals have been committed
3. What does real leadership look like in a time of recession?  
I have to say these topic were not always brought up by me.  These were surprisingly open, candid speaking men and I truly appreciated their willingness to put up with "the American".  I found them absolutely lovely.

--------------------------------------   Monday Madness   ---------------------------------

"Leslie, you've got the film crew Monday." "Ok", I say.  "They will be here at half six (that's 6:30am) and will be working until half eight (8:30pm)".  "I'll have details for you soon - maybe Sunday... sorry"

So... this is how it goes sometimes.  Be ready for whatever may come.  Monday it came in the way of Savage Eye a TV show that was filming three segments in one day.  Three different locations (bog, cave & forest) which are within 2 miles of Glencree, three different time period and a ridiculous amount of costumes (think kilts), makeup, wigs and gear.  Fun day but I was running like crazy; part PA, part Tea and sandwiches, all questions all the time... No worries - I got it; was my usual response. I do work with actor in my other life, do I not? Below is a write up about them.  

From the Irish Film & Television Network
Dave McSavage Gives Ireland 'The Savage Eye' 

Shooting is underway on the set of the second series of the IFTA nominated comedy series, ‘The Savage Eye’. Shooting in and around Dublin and Wicklow for the next five weeks and directed by Kieron J. Walsh (Raw), the series will see the return of Dave McSavage (Dental Breakdown) alongside his co-writer John Colleary (Touching People) and his fellow impressionists Pat McDonnell (Father Ted) and Dermot McMurrow (Emily’s Song).
Each week ‘The Savage Eye’ explores one subject in its entirety using vox pops from members of the public to inspire the comedy sketches and unflinching rants from numerous fictional characters.

Produced by Katie Holly (One Hundred Mornings), the show’s director of photography is Patrick Jordan (Croke Park Lives). Audiences can catch the new season of the show when it starts transmission on RTÉ Two on November 15th.

Can't sign off without a mention about my dear friend Andrew Rekdahl.  He has been in the struggle of his life and is "defying gravity" (he will love the musical reference).  Andrew you are a beast and I'm so happy to report you are doing so well.  I know the road to recovery is still long but you are doing it with the strength of ten men! I'm so proud of you and so grateful you are getting better day by day.

 I told you it has been a roller coaster this week.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Yes ma'am… I can drive on the left side of the road!

Life in the fast lane :0

Ok so I'm parked in this picture
I have to say it's not as scary as I was imagining a bait  the 2 way mountain roads built for Goats!  As I sit on the right with gear shift on my left; I watch/pass the on-coming traffic with the ease of a veteran Irish driver.  Well maybe one that has had a Guinness of two. The roads twist, they turn, they have large buses that pass you going 60k and hour. Driving here in the Wicklow Valley is not for the faint of heart.  Gorgeous and deadly.  That being said… I love having the freedom to get in the car and see the larger Irish world outside of Glencree.  This is a very special place!

                           ------------------ * ------------------

Today at Glencree I greeted 38 US University students coming to learn more about "the trouble times" in Northern Ireland. They came from schools on the east coast and were wonderful to talk with.  Their program is 3 months long and they are studying at the business school in Dublin.  Economics & conflict… you can't get much more current than that.
                           ------------------ * ------------------

This past weekend I moved into my new abode and out of the attic!  The view is not as spectacular but the room is twice the size and I don't have to pay respects to the "Lady in the white dress" ghost as I head for the bathroom.  You heard it here folks… Glencree is alive and well, living with the dead!  Or so the stories go :)   The Lady in the white dress was a young woman who was in love with an officer here when this was a Military barracks.  Her father was the Commander and sent the object of his daughters affection off to war and his death.  The young woman is said to have died of a broken heart and wanders the hall here as a sad memorial to her lost love.  

Some people have said they hear young boys crying in the night.  It is reported that when this was a Boy's Reformatory (read youth prison)  the boys were mistreated and some refuse to leave the place; even after death.  Thankfully I have not heard or seen any of the previously mentioned phenomena.  

There is a Grotto to the Virgin Mary  here at Glencree as well.  This I have seen and it is a lovely peaceful place along side a river.  The story goes that there were two separate visits from Mary there and people have made pilgrimages to the Grotto ever since (decades).  It is said that Mary was very clear on what she wanted to happen here on this mountain.  "Create a place for peace and healing", she said, to the people she appeared to.  Glencree is that place.                          

                            ------------------ * ------------------

Ross & I circa 1988
I have to mention one more thing before I finish off this post.  Arriving in Ireland in August meant I would miss my son's birthday and with the time difference it made it impossible to speak to him.  Ross' birth changed my world and every year it is not only a celebration for him but a reminder of what a blessing my children are to me.  I have had no more important job in my life than loving and caring for my two wonderful children.  I am truly blessed and want to give extra thanks every year on the birth of my life's work.  Happy birthday Ross… I couldn't be more proud of the man you have become. I love you.