31 July 2014

Stucco, I Think

Every town and village we've been to so far (admittedly not a large number, but a few) look pretty similar to Ballinrobe. Oranmore was different on the outskirts, and Galway is bigger, but the variations are mostly in size and layout in each town. Some have more streets than others, but the homes on those streets and the businesses on Main St all seem to be pretty much the same construction and design that doesn't vary much.

As we were walking around one day, we noticed how these buildings are constructed when we passed this place:
Stepping back onto the sidewalk, we can see this ahead:
It would appear that these places are constructed using stone or brick and then covered with stucco. I looked up what stucco is made of and how it's used just to make sure I was not misunderstanding what stucco is, and this does seem to fit the definition, although I am no expert in construction!! The other day while out for a walk, we saw this outer coating being reapplied:
People paint these places all sorts of colors. They are easily repainted and easily pressure washed.

Sometimes, they just let nature take over!
Obviously, these houses are built to last. Even when the roofs are long gone, the houses stand.
Many buildings, abandoned or not, have vegetation growing out of them somewhere, as does the library (which used to be an old church).
Stuff grows everywhere here--out of buildings, through cracks in concrete, in gutters, and pretty much everywhere. The plants have the run of the place. I kind of like that!

25 July 2014


Yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far, or so they said on the radio. Today is once again the hottest day so far. I hope that is the last hottest day we have this year! It was supposed to get to around 80 F. Not as bad as the summers I've been used to since we left Alaska a decade ago, but not my cup of iced mint tea, either. Since neither of us wanted to be out in the hottest part of the day, we went out to walk right after breakfast. We opted for a walk along the river both days. We had nowhere else in particular that we wanted to go and it is such a lovely walk--scenic and quiet. No matter how many times I take that walk, I never tire of it and there is always something new that I notice for the first time. Today was no exception.

I never noticed before that there is a tree growing right out  from the wall.
A closer look showed that the roots have moved the stone aside in an effort to reach the light.
It isn't only trees growing out from the walls.

Further along the path, we saw what looks like fireweed. There was just one little patch of it that I saw, but it brought back memories of summers in Fairbanks. We lived on a 3 acre plot in the woods and we had lots of fireweed growing there. It starts blooming from the bottom and gradually blooms up the spike as summer progresses. When it's flowering near the top of the spike, you know summer is almost over. There was fireweed in Maine, too, and every time I see it, I feel a little tug and I am reminded of a time when summer was not something simply to be endured, but was pleasant enough, in a certain way, and although it was intense with constant daylight, it was also short. When it comes to summer, short is good.
We stopped at the falls as we always do and we notice how it's changed. Now there is more vegetation and more rocks visible than there were a couple of months ago when we first started walking this path. The water level is lower. Today we saw some ducks paddling down towards a little island. Some of them swam toward the island and got out of the water (if you look closely, you can see one at the edge of the island). I thought they were going to sit in the sun.
But they ended up walking across the island and getting back into the water on the other side, swimming around it and meeting up with the ducks that had stayed in the water to continue on their journey.
The sheep are pretty smart--they were all resting up against a stone wall and in the shade underneath the tree in their field.

In the shade was the place to be. By the time we turned around to go back, it was getting unpleasantly hot and the shady stretches of the path were most welcome. Even though I was very uncomfortable and very ready to be at home, I could still appreciate my surroundings.
We also discovered that some of the blackberries are just starting to turn color.

Aside from our flat, this path by the river is my favorite place in town.

22 July 2014

A Car-Free Life

We went out for a walk the other day. No surprise there! We knew all along that we were not going to get a vehicle when we moved here and in spite of the fact that a couple of people suggested that we will change our minds, I don't see that happening for a number of reasons.

There are many practical reasons not to have a car. We'd have to buy one, for starters, and wonder what kinds of problems we'd be dealing with. The last vehicle we had in the US was Old Red, our 24-year-old Ford Ranger, which took us up and down the west coast, from Oregon to Mexico and from Oregon to Alaska and then back again. Then it transported us from Oregon to Maine. It's been a long time since we had to go car shopping and I see no reason to start now. I don't even like cars or driving. In addition to the purchase price, it would cost a fair bit in time and money just to drive the thing--maintenance, repairs, registration, inspections, taxes, insurance, parking--I cannot imagine how frustrating it would be to deal with the bureaucracy involved with car ownership here. All of that for what? Bill has even said that he would not want to drive here. That is something, since he likes driving. I hated driving, even in a traffic-free place like Fairbanks, so it's no surprise that I would be extremely anxious if I had to be on the roads with the drivers I see here. I get enough of an adrenaline surge just trying to cross the street!

Beyond those practical considerations, though, is my own personal sense of ethics. I understood over a decade ago that car culture wasn't sustainable and in fact does a lot of damage to the planet. In the US it is harder to live a car-free life, though there are certain forward-thinking places where it is more possble. These are mostly urban areas and I am not an urban person, so I wanted to see whether I could do it in a non-urban setting. And I have done it for the past 10 years. Let me be clear that I never thought, nor am I suggesting, that everyone should live as I have chosen to live. I do think that everyone should live a thoughtful life according to their own sense of ethics as far as it is possible, but everyone will end up in a different place. I am talking about what works FOR ME. I think that at some point, change will be forced on communities and the people in them, and we are already seeing some of that happening, but everyone needs to do the best they can wherever they are. For me, in my situation as someone without small children, who hated driving anyway, who prefers a minimalist lifestyle, and who chooses not to live a hectic, busy life anymore, eliminating a vehicle was something that made a lot of sense. We began by getting rid of the second car in Fairbanks. It needed brakes or something and I told Bill that I didn't want to get it fixed and keep paying to insure, register, and drive it. We gave it to some friends of ours. We still had the truck, which did not have an automatic transmission. I never learned to drive anything other than an automatic, so I could have learned or simply stopped driving. I happily chose the latter. When we moved to southern Oregon a few years later, I opted for a state ID instead of a driver's license. That was a decade ago and I have never regretted it. Even Bill was converted when we parked the truck for a couple of years and walked everywhere. As a photographer, this changed his whole way of seeing and looking. He was still a little nervous about the idea of being completely without a vehicle, but one of the reasons I wanted to move to Europe was the better public transport options which make it even easier to be car-free.

There have been a few times here when it would have been more convenient to hop in a car and go somewhere, but those are particular and one-off experiences. Overall, it's much cheaper and easier to call a cab or take a bus when we need or want to go somewhere farther than walking distance. Next month we'll be visiting Letterkenny for a few days and will be taking Burke's Bus to Galway and then Bus Eireann from there to Letterkenny. It will cost us 85 euro altogether, for both of us, round trip. I doubt we could drive it for less money and it will be far less hassle to get on a comfortable bus and let someone else navigate the narrow roads.

Beyond the practical considerations, though, we find that a walking lifestyle is very appealing and satisfying in other ways as well. We get to slow down and observe our surroundings in a way that we would not do in a car. Because we walk all the time, we allow for the time it will take to get somewhere, which automatically slows us down. The more we pay attention to what is around us, the more we notice the little things. When we leave Baillinrobe in the spring, we will have seen some of the surrounding area from bus windows--much like we would have if we had a car. But we will know some places here in town very, very well from having walked by them so many times and observing how they change as time passes. Our car-free experience is much different than it would be if we were automatically jumping in the car to go to Tesco or something. When we are out and about we can decide to go down one road or another just to see what's there, so we are seeing spots we never would if we were driving from point A to point B. We notice little things. The other day we were walking in a small neighborhood and saw how each entryway had a narrow vertical space on the side. This person has their planter there, but another house had firewood neatly stacked all the way to the top.
We noticed black and white flags all over town, and managed to figure out (by studying shop windows and signs on posts) that this is something to do with rugby. Now we know that the RFC we see in news stories and stuff refers to a rugby football club.
I enjoy looking at all of the beautiful foliage and flowers blooming in front gardens all over town. I have no idea what most of these plants are called, but I enjoy watching as they come and go at different times.
I quite like the flowering bush in the back in the photo above. I have no idea what it is, but it is quite striking. The foliage has small reddish veins and I like the flowers even before they have bloomed. I've discovered that I am partial to spiky plants!

For longer trips, there are good bus services here. Bus Eireann goes all over the country and into Northern Ireland. There are companies offering regional bus services as well. These services are well-used, which is good to see. There is also a national train system.

In every town we have visited and here in Ballinrobe, there are people walking around. This was one thing we liked about Brunswick, too. Some people park their vehicles and walk around to do their errands--they have to "pay and display," even at the library!  Many just walk though and either don;t have a car or they leave it at home.

It's wonderful to be here and to discover that in this way at least, what I hoped would happen has in fact come to pass. We have been vehicle free for about 4 months now and have not had a problem. We've been able to do exactly what we want to do--explore our current home up close and personal and still go elsewhere when we want to do so.

I've been trying for years to craft a life that is, as much as possible, in line with who I am and what I believe. I have become much more mindful and thoughtful about how I live and what I do. Walking is a part of that life practice. This life is still a work in progress, of course, but it is a happy thing indeed when a plan comes together :-)

20 July 2014

Blackberry Summer (or Fall)

We took a walk along the river yesterday. It was nice to be out there again after 2 1/2 weeks. My allergies kicked up a couple of week ago. It started with a burning throat and then the cough came and stuck around. As is usual when this happens, I was getting no more than 3 hours of broken sleep each night because I would doze off and then wake up having a coughing fit. I took myself off to the spare room and closed the door so Bill could get some sleep. In the day I would sit and cough. Movement led to more coughing, as did being outside with the pollen or mold or whatever the trigger was, so I wasn't going out for walks. I found myself wondering what the river walk looked like now--it's been changing as time passes--so I was glad to be out there again yesterday.

 Lots of the grasses were turning brown. Some kinds of flowers had bloomed and those blooms were spent and apparently not coming back. I guess their season has passed. The last time I walked along the river, yellow wildflowers dominated. Yesterday the thistles were in full bloom, the clover was still flowering and small purple flowers dominated, with just a few small yellow ones scattered here and there.

The blackberry bushes now have actual berries on them. These are small, hard, and green, but we will keep an eye on their progress. They are still in heavy bloom as well, so it seems that there may be quite a lot of them. I assume that people come out and pick them regularly as they ripen, but there are blackberry bushes everywhere around town, so I'm hoping that we will be able to get some. I am not sure when that happens around here, but since we are out and about all the time, we'll be able to monitor the situation.

A little further on, we saw the cows having a drink from the river.
We've been stopping regularly at the same spot where there is a constructed waterfall in order to observe the changes there. Lots of vegetation has grown up and the water level has gone down, so rocks and islands are visible in the river past the fall where they weren't before. Less water is flowing down the fall, too, so now the shape of it can be seen. It's an interesting shape, with the stair step effect. The birds like it, too--gives them a place to perch and survey the territory!

One of these birds was there looking one way when we walked by the first time and on the way back there was a different bird looking in the opposite direction.

When we reached the bridge by the old barrack ruin, we heard a "baaaa." and looked up and across the river to see some sheep in the field above the stone wall.
My cough has eased up with only a few bouts of coughing throughout the day now and those are not as fierce as they were--for which I am grateful. It feels good to be able to go out and walk around again. I've missed it--especially the walks along the river. I will be curious to see how things continue to change with the seasons.

07 July 2014


One thing I love here is the ever changing sky. This is what it looked like over Ballinrobe this morning.
Clouds, rainbow, sunshine--it's all here and it changes rapidly. Each day is a little different and usually each hour is different, too!

Wherever you find yourself today, don't forget to look up :-)

04 July 2014

How I Cook and Shop in Ireland

I've been writing the Craftivist in the Kitchen blog for a few years now. I started it in Maine to document my experiences when we joined a CSA for the first time and that continued over three CSA seasons. During that time I began my volunteer work at Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program and I wrote about what I learned and did there. Food issues of all kinds have always been an interest of mine and the blog ended up covering a lot of issues and topics, but it remains primarily about empowering people to cook real food simply on a small budget of time and money. It's not a foodie blog in the typical sense of these things--as I say in the blurb at the top of my blog, I am a simple cook. I do not do swirly sauces or fussy presentations. I have nothing against this kind of food culture; it simply isn't my thing. As someone who has experienced the health impacts of eating a lot of processed foods and the resulting improvements when I switched to real food, I know how much good food means to a good quality of life. I am also someone who lives on a small budget and who likes to cook, but doesn't really want to spend hours every single day cooking. The blog talks about how I cook and shop for real food without going broke and without spending all day in the kitchen. It's very practical and there's a page with links to the blog posts with recipes. The blog was started in Maine, but now that we're in Ireland and I am shopping and cooking here, that's naturally become the focus. I've had to make some adjustments in how I do the grocery shopping and the cooking and my ongoing journey with food and cooking is documented there, so if that's an interest, click on the link above and have a look around!

01 July 2014

Electric Bill

So, the electric bill that we were supposed to get on "approximately" June 17 came today. We were wondering how much it would be because everyone tells us that electricity is very expensive here. The bill covers 2 months and is for 95 euro, which is currently about $130. This means we will pay about the same amount as we did in Maine on average, but we use much less electricity here, I am sure. We have not had to have fans running here, the appliances are all smaller and more basic, so I imagine they use a fair bit less, and we use as much as possible during the off-peak hours overnight/early morning. The water heater is set up that way and I try to get laundry and any breakfast cooking done before off-peak hours end. The fridge runs off and on throughout the day, but not nearly as often as the one in Maine did; I do use the stove and sometimes the oven for cooking and baking during the day; we've had the computers plugged in; and sometimes charge the phone and my Nook. Because it stays light out until 11 pm, we hardly use any lights, except for in the bathroom, because there are no windows in there. There’s no “ghost usage" because every outlet and appliance has a switch, so the electricity gets turned off when something isn’t in use. I used to forget to turn off these switches sometimes when we first got here, but it’s becoming a habit now and I rarely forget anymore.

Plus, in Maine there were 3 adults with computers, using lights, and taking showers--now there are 2 of us. So, based on this, it does appear that electricity is expensive here. We thought it was extremely expensive in Maine, too. However, we are happy with the bill because we'd budgeted 100 euro per month for electricity and were hoping it wouldn't be more than that. It will be more than it is now in winter when we use the electric heat, but that is also set up to come on during off-peak hours and to store the heat to be slowly released during the day. I do not expect to use all of the heaters we have here--there are two in the kitchen/sitting room and I am sure one will do. There's one in the hallway, which I see no reason to use. There's one in each bedroom, but we will not turn on the one in the spare room unless we need to use that room. We don't sleep well if our bedroom is too hot, so I am not quite sure how we will handle the off peak thing there--just keep it set low, I guess. The bathroom has a different kind of heater that we can just turn on when we shower or something, I suppose. Every room has a door, so I expect that we will be using them--if we close the doors, we can close off the room and hallway that we don't want to heat and we can keep the heat in the rooms that we are heating. I imagine that it will feel cold outside at times over the winter because it'll be damp and probably windy, but the ambient temperature outside will be pretty mild, so we will probably not have to worry about frozen pipes or anything like that. It will certainly not be the kind of winter we are used to, so I do not expect to need the heat on for that long anyway. Even in Maine, we turned it on around Thanksgiving most years (not until Christmas week one year) and by March it was usually turned off again. This last winter was an exception--we didn't turn it on until Thanksgiving week, but we had it on until shortly before we left--and it snowed a couple of days before we left. My last real winter was actually quite a good one--we had some good cold spells and a lot of snow. I don’t expect to see that again. If I ever see it here, I can expect that things will be chaotic and problematic. I have a feeling that they would not be set up here for that kind of thing!