Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Your prayers on my behalf were answered. The sun did indeed come out after two weeks of that chilling rain. Saturday morning it sprang on us little frozen mousies like a hungry cat, and believe me, we thawed out fast and scurried for cover. It was, to say the least, an abrupt change.

I’m still not over my cold (my virus went viral and is now hiding out in my ears, having just exited both eyes), but I knew I HAD to grab my share of the vitamin D before the natives bagged it all for themselves. I set out on a short walk, just to get refreshed, and returned six hours later. How could that happen? I thought graham crackers were what I missed most from home, but I was wrong. It was hot, sticky sunshine that flutters your lashes and tingles your skin. It was glorious!

I overheard comments as I walked along. Two ladies passed on the street with this quick exchange: “How are ye?” “Roastin”!  According to the weather man, it was 76 degrees. “Too warm,” protested another. People were standing by their doors fanning themselves as if about to swoon. I guess Florida wouldn’t be their first choice retirement destination. To be fair, MOST of the folks here were ELATED with the weather. Linda and her fam spent Sunday at the beach.

I went my usual route by the river but took a fork I've never taken before and followed my ears to a small waterfall next to the path. I eventually caught back up to the main trail and followed the river back to the road. I was keenly aware of the chirping of birds, every gurgle in the water. The breeze that had last week been ferociously slapping my face was now gently stroking it as if to kiss and make up. I gladly accepted its apology.

I think this throwing myself into intense fiddle practice is having fringe benefits. I am more sensitive to sounds. I wrote last week about the traffic noises outside my window that I interpreted as surf lapping the beach below. I’m sensing meaning and interpretation in what I hear around me. Everything has rhythm and tone and tempo and mood. I read on a friend’s blog that a fiddle teacher once told him to “lie out on the grass and just listen, eyes shut, to the sounds: dogs, cats, cattle, tractor, insects, wind, cars in the distance.” Doing so would enhance his ability to recognize tunes and their structure. I get it. 

On my way home, I stopped for a latte (what a surprise!) Two ladies were sitting outside chatting and, because theirs was the only space out of direct sun, I took a chair right by them. I was quickly assimilated into the conversation and noticed one of them had a heavy French accent. They were both B&B keepers, not to be confused with beekeepers of course, but they were nonetheless “abuzz” with talk of the season and how business was progressing. The French woman was concerned that people seemed taken aback by her accent when they made reservations. I guess when you stay in Ireland you expect Irish hospitality, not French. I wonder if she’s thought of faking an Irish brogue. Probably not.

My friend, Kristen, sent me a link to one of the best little video documentaries I’ve seen in a while (https://www.livegodspeed.org/watchgodspeed/). It was about an American pastor who was sent to Scotland to oversee a rural parish there. Basically, he returned home a few years later a changed man because he learned something that apparently they don’t teach in seminary: to listen, to travel God speed instead of culture speed

More profound than any sermon he could preach or message he could convey was the heart of Christ he expressed to the community by walking through neighborhoods, introducing himself, and just listening to what people had to say. Tuning in, slowing down, questioning, concentrating, attending to the details……. he could be a great fiddler someday! "God speed" to us all.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The View From My Window

So all my adventures came to a grinding halt at the end of last week (not that I’ve been climbing mountains or anything) when I came down with a bad cold. I’m surprised it waited so long to rear its ugly viral head since it’s been raining and cold here every single day for two weeks. One day I went walking and was bombarded by three separate showers, each with sunny spells in between. I took refuge under a tree, under a store overhang, and (best, of course) in a coffee shop.

Whoever makes these weather forecasts should be put in jail for causing so much suffering and misery among the Floridians among us. The natives just take it in stride and offer to bring me chicken soup or whatever.

Rain on the patio, ghost in the bucket
It’s not all bad, being home bound for a few days. I have found some creative and productive ways to spend my time…starting with cooking. I’m not the greatest fan of Irish recipes, but Irish meat and produce are the best. I don’t know what they do or don’t do to their chickens here, but I think you could dip a nugget in cement and bake it in a kiln and it would still come out tender. So I’ve made chicken and broccoli casserole and also beef stroganoff (with luscious Irish sour cream) and been greatly comforted, to say the least. 

Thank you, Ursy, for serving me this AMAZING array of Irish food.
I have discovered that many Irish people have never tasted a buttermilk biscuit. Can you believe that? Never tasted a biscuit! (The word “biscuit” here means cookie, as in “If you eat your dinner, you can have a biscuit later.”) 

Of course, many Americans have never savored that Irish staple known as the scone. Southern Americans think "scone" is just a word that comes up in conversation as in, “Looks like it’S cone rain agin. I declare, beats all!”

So I’ve been making batches and letting the natives try real biscuits. The white flour here is as light as White Lily, but I haven’t found any crisco so I’m using Irish butter instead. I actually think I’ll stick with the butter from now on. And if you add a little sugar and maybe a few berries, and cut it into a triangle shape, guess what you get? Yep, a scone! Who knew?

Biscuits like Mama used to make
Paul, accordion player extraordinaire, taught me three new jigs and two new reels yesterday afternoon, so I have lots of practicing to do today. I’ve also used this indoor time to catch up on my reading. I reread Love Wins by Rob Bell, a controversial book that renews my faith each time I pick it up and assures me that God is not horrified by my questions and doubts (or my honest expressing of them), but His patience is immense and His great love for us something like “from everlasting to everlasting” which sounds like a long time. If you read this short book, I’d like to discuss it with you. Send me an email.

I bowed out of a good trad session last night due to still feeling a little puny. I snuggled under the covers with Book 10 in the Poldark series and (spoiler alert!) sighed in disgruntlement as it looks like Clowance is getting back together with that “cad”, as my mother would say. Great period romance by Graham Winston (or is it Winston Graham? I always get that confused) set in 19th century Cornwall, with beautiful descriptions of the coast (and tin mining, for those of you who have that hobby).

My room here on the second floor overlooks the street below and I have imagined the sound of cars whizzing past is actually the ocean surf pounding the beach of my Gothic hideaway. I wonder if passersby see me staring out at them from time to time and imagine I’m someone’s mad wife chained in the attic. (Did I mention I also watched a Jane Eyre DVD this weekend?)

I’m feeling better today, will be in again tonight and, hopefully, ready for the weekly craic at the Monk’s pub tomorrow night. Pray for sunshine in Ireland once again. 

Btw, I taped the street sounds from my bedroom. Listen here. Don’t you hear the surf? Of course you do!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Starts and Stops

I have two fiddle practice cd’s at home produced by a distinguished Irish fiddler named Matt Cranitch. I don’t remember where I got them. I think some sympathetic friend or impatient session-mate gave them to me. I listen to them often, tunes played cleanly and deliberately, to internalize the rhythms and improve my technique.

I was just gobsmacked (been waiting a month to use that word) to discover that Matt, along with accordion player, Jackie Daly, was holding a workshop nearby for aspiring trad players. Sign me up!

Me and Matt
It was a great day with about a dozen musicians (some of them children) gathered in a cozy room of the pub where I play and sing on Friday nights. I sat right in Matt’s face but he seemed okay with that. Matt and Jackie like to play in the Sliabh Luachra tradition which I find exceptionally melodic with an emphasis on polkas and slides. It’s all about timing. 

When the workshop was over I realized, not for the first time, that I may be missing something when it comes to developing a distinctive style. I had a little chat with old Matt and he recommended his own fiddle course which is condensed in a book and cd package. He just happened to have a set in his car and sold it to me on the spot (signed, of course).

So as I walk along the River Suir today, I think about how unSuir I am of so many things. Life seems to be a series of starts and stops. I start learning a bowing pattern, then stop and reconsider because I still sound so choppy. I’m doing something wrong but I can’t figure it out.  And more serious things like, I begin a relationship but then, for various reasons, it stops and I’m once again sitting down at the debriefing conference table in my brain, having a heart to heart with…well, my heart. Explaining to it one more time that all is in order and we’re good to go. It sneers at me slightly before limping out the door.

Thistle be a great day!

Starts and stops. I have been informed of SIX deaths in the past week. Three were elderly but still seemed untimely. The other three were down right tragic and left me sneering at God and asking if I will EVER understand what He’s thinking in putting us through this. 

There was a time when I knew Him like a book (literally), when He was as logical and predictable as this lazy river. Then the waterfall…. and I almost got washed away. Don’t worry, I’m drying out nicely. But I have friends who are treading water at the moment and I just pray they can stay afloat a little while longer. Where the hell are the life rafts???

I admit it. I'm obsessed with swans.
Weekly session at the Monk's pub
I should mention there were also two births this month and two more due this summer. Starts and stops. Everything changes, is renewed, faith gets a second chance. When grace is illuminated it somehow radiates hope where there should be none, and the warmth of it is comforting.

I googled help for my schizophrenic bowing dilemma. I bounced around until I found a good chat board on a trad website that seemed relevant. A couple of guys were talking my language and as I read down the page, saw that the more accomplished musician was making a strong recommendation……The Art of Traditional Fiddling and CD by Matt Cranitch. Really? I’m ready to roll.