November snow at Glencree

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!