29 June 2014

Meandering

We left the house after lunch unsure of where we would go on our walk today, but when in doubt, there's always the river walk. It has been interesting to walk along there regularly and see how things change as time passes. Different plants become abundant for a time before others take their place. The river level changes and more plant life grows along the edge and from the bottom. The sky is always different, which means the river looks different each time as the reflections change. It was a pleasant walk starting from the walking lane leading down from Main St.
We meandered down the path, stopping to look at plants, trees, and reflections in the river.

When we got almost back to the spot where we could have climbed the hill back to Main St, we took a detour, climbing up the stone steps built into the wall and then walking up the hill to the track around the green. We had a view of the "mountains" in the distance.
We did a lap around the track, then stopped to watch the sheep in an adjoining field for a few minutes before walking back down the hill and carefully making our way down the stone steps to the path. We walked to the other end of the path, went across the bridge and back out to the noise and traffic of Main St. It was a lovely, mostly quiet 3 3/4 miles. It's always a bit jarring to come back into town after walking along the river--it is pretty amazing that we can be just a little bit down the hill from Main St when we begin our river walks and yet it is so quiet that you'd never know the town was so close. One thing I love about living here in Ballinrobe is that we are close to everything we need in town to make things convenient and to allow us to live without a vehicle. At the same time, we can walk for 5 minutes and be in the peace and quiet of a rural setting listening to the birds, cows, and sheep. When we get home, even when it's warm outside, the flat is always nice and cool. Small pleasures of everyday life for which I am grateful!

28 June 2014

Walking off the Stress

It’s been a stressful week. Eircom is trying to rip us off--again--and we’ve been trying to get answers since Wednesday with no luck. We were also trying to figure out the best way to get to Claremorris next week so I can register at the garda station there. We’ve been dealing with a bunch of misinformation around that and even wasted a day going to Galway last week because of it. With everything we’ve experienced, we now work under the assumption that back-up plans are needed for everything, because misinformation or incompetence is likely. On Wednesday I started getting a stress-related headache. By Wednesday night, it was a full blown migraine and in spite of me doing all the usual things to try and get rid of it, it hung around. It would ease up slightly for a time and then come roaring back. I woke up in the middle of last night and again this morning feeling like there was a guy with an ice pick behind my face. It was day 4 of the headache. I’d medicated as much as I could yesterday and was waiting for the time this morning when I could do so again. I took my pills and went to bed with a headband over my eyes. Within an hour, I was grateful to feel the pain go away. I got up and suggested to Bill that we might want to go for a walk while this pain-free window of opportunity was available, because I didn’t know if the pain would come back.

We headed out. First stop was the library, where Bill picked up a couple of DVDs. Then we walked on to Tesco. I really wanted a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich for lunch and I wanted some crisps (chips) to go with it. They sell some good tortilla crisps there, so we headed that way. We were walking by the coffee when we noticed they had some more bags of French roast--they lowered the price on the smaller bags, so it was a savings over buying the larger bag as we usually do. Two smaller bags equals one larger, so we bought a couple the other day when we were doing the weekly shop and picked up another couple today. When we got home, we saw that the cashier had accidentally charged us for 3 bags.

I was still feeling good after lunch, so off we went again. I’d noticed a road that went behind Tesco, so I suggested that we take care of the coffee issue and then see where the road leads. There’s no sidewalk, but it didn’t look like it would be a busy road.

They had one more bag of the coffee left, so rather than take money back, I just told the lady at the service desk that I’d take the bag of coffee, so that all worked out well and we have a good stash. This is a very good thing.
We went around to the back and started walking down a road with a few small houses on it. Some little girls were out playing and they greeted us. Then a teenage boy was behind us kicking his soccer ball. He fell into step alongside us and started chatting. “Out walking, are ye? You’re not from here, then?” I told him we’d moved here in April. “Oh, from America, then are ye? What part?” I told him Maine and he was quite sure that the film (pronounced fill-um here) Lake Placid was shot in Maine. Having no clue myself, I just smiled and nodded. Then he turned off into a driveway and told us to enjoy our walk.

Shortly after that we were on a country road surrounded by fields, trees, wildflowers, stone walls, cows, sheep, and horses. We passed some farms and a couple of abandoned buildings. Sadly, instead of the cooler temperatures, grey skies, and rain that was forecast for the weekend earlier in the week, we had sun and warmth. I was thankful for the breeze when it blew.


We passed some cows who seemed to be quite sure that we were bringing their supper. When they saw us coming toward them, they got up and all stood at the gate. It’s the second time this week we’ve had to disappoint a field of cows like that.

We turned off onto another road at one point and it was quite narrow. When two cars were trying to get down the same road in opposite directions, one backed up so the other could go by while we stood off to the side in an open area. We got to another road and started down it to see where it came out, but it too was quite narrow and the cars went speeding down that one. There was no safe place to get out of the way sometimes, so we turned back and retraced our steps to get back into town.

We walked for 6 miles today and it was nice to walk and look at the scenery. I do not feel so stressed anymore and my headache is still gone, for which I am grateful.

15 June 2014

Side Streets

Yesterday morning we went out for a walk. We went down one of the main roads we'd been down before, but this time we made it a point to take a stroll down the side streets just to see what is there. We hit a dead end every time, but we got to see some interesting things.

We came across this gym at the end of one of the side streets--we'd seen the signs in the past, but not the building. It seems so unlike gyms I have seen in the US, but there are so many old buildings around here and they are so sturdy. They do get reused. I hope the air circulation is good in there.
According to the sign, there's a lot happening inside, including indoor soccer (they use "soccer" instead of the usual "football" for some reason).

As we were heading back to the main road, we came across this tower behind the fire station. No idea what it once was.
It seems like these kinds of things are everywhere here--stone or concrete buildings with very thick walls which still stand with their roofs long gone and vegetation growing up from inside.

Back at the main road, we crossed the street and went in behind the building for the Ballinrobe Branch, Mayo County Council--it has a cool spiral staircase on the side:
Behind this building is what remains of the old workhouse, which now houses an upholstery shop, a photography studio, and a pie shop, which was, sadly, closed when we were there.
We took another right a bit further up the road and saw the signs for the "Men's Shed." Rose, the owner of the BnB we stayed at when we first arrived, told us about men's sheds before we moved to Ballinrobe. She said that they developed in order to help men make friends because they would often find themselves isolated and solitary. They take on various projects and stuff, I guess. We never did find out exactly where they meet. We came to a building that apparently is the home to a BMX bike club. There was a sign with an arrow pointing to the men's shed, and there was an actual little shed, but "little" is the important word there. If this is the shed where the men meet, then clearly not more than 2 of them meet at any one time!! There's no room for more than that. Or the shed could just be a place where stuff for the BMX bike track is stored and the men may have their "shed" elsewhere nearby--perhaps near the water towers that are the most visible landmark of the town as you come in from the south. We see them from our kitchen window and when it finally gets dark, which is after 11 these days, they are lit with a green light.
Shortly after this, we ran out of sidewalk on the main road and turned around to head back toward town. We stopped at SuperValu to stock up on some nectarines while they are on sale before heading home for lunch. According to Bill's pedometer, we took a 2 3/4 mile stroll up and down the little side streets off of Kilmaine Rd. It was grey and not too hot--quite a pleasant little walk!

11 June 2014

Just Wait Five Minutes

Yesterday morning Bill went to a doctor for his routine blood test. The office is right around the corner from where we live, and we got there a few minutes early. The doctor had told Bill on the phone to come in at 10:15 so he could draw blood before surgery (office) hours commence at 10:30. In spite of the fact that we were there before the doctor, there was already someone waiting outside when we arrived. The doctor has no nurses or receptionists--it's just himself doing everything, apparently. More people started arriving just after the doctor unlocked the door at a couple of minutes past 10. The waiting room is tiny--there is literally hardly any room to move around. There's an L-shaped bench along a couple of the walls and the door opens against the other. There is room for 6 people to sit if they are all smooshed together. Rather than taking up space that was needed for waiting patients, I opted to wait outside. I stood against the side of the building for a while, but the sun was out and I soon decided that I did not need to stand there with the heat radiating from the white walls of the building onto me, so I crossed the road and hung out on the little square. This part of town is called, "Cornmarket," because--you guessed it--people used to bring corn to market here and it would get weighed and stuff. Now the square contains a small building housing a barber shop, some planters with nice flowers, a few small trees, an information board, a couple of benches, a statue of some guy from the US Navy, a sculpture of a sheaf of wheat (why not an ear of corn, I do not know!), and a canoe that has been planted with flowers.

"Slainte" is a toast used when having some drinks--it means "health." The flowers were planted just a few weeks ago.

The little square sits at the corner of our street and the road that leads into town from the south. One one side are eateries and homes. Rosie's Takeaway, where we got our fish and chips a few weeks ago, is over there, and it seems that there are apartments above the places of business on the ground floor and what are called terraced houses interspersed with the businesses.

 There's also a short little one-way section of road on the other side, where there are shops, possibly homes, and the doctor's office. As I waited for Bill, I examined the flowers in the planter--I know nothing about flowers and what they're called, but I enjoy looking at the shapes and colors--there are some of both in the flowers here that I do not remember seeing in the past. When I looked up from the flowers, my eye was caught by the green cross that marks a pharmacy here. It would tell me the time and then the temperature. I was surprised when, at 10:20, it said it was 24C out. "Surely it's not that hot," I thought from my cool spot under a little tree (this would be about 75F and to me, yes, that is too hot). Then it dawned on me that the sun was right on it, so that's why it was reading so high. The dark clouds began to move in, and the sun was gone. By 10:23, it was 17 degrees. The clouds moved on by and the sun came out again. At 10:29, it was 22 and by 10:30, the temperature read 23. Bill emerged from the office across the street and I asked him to take a picture. You can see it in the top right hand corner.

In many of the places I have lived, people have jokingly said, "Don't like the weather? Wait 5 minutes and it'll change!" This puzzled me in every place except Maine, because that was the only place where it was kind of true, though on a longer timescale. Here it is true. We can be walking along comfortably and then the sun will come out and we will be roasting (me) or warm (Bill). Then it cools off again. It can be raining in front of the flat and not raining in back--or the other way around. It will bucket down and in a couple of minutes the sun will be out. This is good for both of us--when the sun is out, which is not my favorite thing, I know that at least clouds and possibly rain are not far off and when I'm happy that it's raining, Bill can remind himself that if he waits 5 minutes, it'll change!

09 June 2014

Still Figuring Stuff Out

Some guy just left after showing up to help us switch electricity providers so we can lower the bills. We haven't even gotten a first bill yet--that is supposed to come next week--but I have read in various places that the thing to do is to switch providers every year. They offer discounts for switching, so you sign up with one, then move to another to get their discounts. He showed up today and there seemed no reason not to go ahead and change. In the process of doing this, we learned where our meter is and how to read it and we have a key for it. Turns out that Electricity Supply Board only read the meters twice a year and they estimate the rest of the time. We can now opt to send an exact reading each month instead of getting the estimate. We also learned exactly when peak and off-peak hours are. We'll get the bill from Electric Ireland next week and then when we get a bill from these new people, we will see whether we do save anything. Not knowing how things operate here, and not being able to rely on my common sense ideas about how things work, it's always tricky to know what the best thing to do is, but we have 2 weeks to opt out.

This morning we had to go to the bank to pay the rent. We had to go through what we both thought was a ridiculous procedure in order to be able to access the bank website. You would think that this online banking stuff could have been done at the same time the account was created, but that's not how it works. It does seem that things must be done in the most inefficient way possible, so we each had to call separately, be asked questions, and be issued different log-in codes. Then we had to create PINs. Having done that and being authorized to use the website, Bill began the process of setting up a standing order so that the rent would be transferred from our account to the landlord's. Last month we went in with cash and deposited it, but they would rather you create a standing order so they can charge you the fee. The woman did it, but begrudgingly. He had to have an IBAN number created for the payee's account, which he did. He had to provide all of the necessary information--payee name, amount, date each month that the money should be moved, and any note he cared to add. Then they wanted to know whether he wanted the necessary security code sent to him via mobile phone or post!! He chose the mobile phone option and this is where he discovered that our phone was not registered with the bank. We gave it to the woman who set up the account. Bill gave it to the guy who set up his online banking account. I gave it to the guy who set up my online banking account. But they didn't have it. To register it, he would've had to start over, so he just clicked off "via post." Who the hell knows how long that will take. In the meantime, the standing order remains unfinished, so we took some cash to the bank again. I explained the situation to the woman behind the counter. Then I explained again--step-by-step--what Bill had done. Then she got it. I asked her if, when he finalizes the standing order, they will go ahead and transfer the money even though it will be after the 10th. She told me they will not--when the date is missed, it's missed and it'll begin next month. I have no idea why I bother asking these kinds of questions because as I listen to the answers, I find myself thinking, "Well, who knows whether this person knows what they are talking about." I am certainly learning to believe it when I see it here. It was suggested to us that a credit union would be a better way to go and when we go elsewhere, we will certainly look into that. I have no doubt that simply closing this account would be easier than trying to switch branches. On second thought, maybe I should not be so certain. If there is one thing I've learned it's that Bank of Ireland can make the simplest of tasks into the most convoluted process one can imagine.

On the way from the bank to Tesco, we passed the health food store on Main Street and went in. I'd looked in from the sidewalk in the past and it looked like they had all pills and candles and stuff. But Bill was running low on the Clif Bars he keeps in his backpack in case he gets hungry when we're out and about. No Clif Bars to be seen here, but we hoped to find something. Grocery stores have a couple of kinds of granola bars, but that's not what we were looking for, so the health food store was our last local option. They had a few different kinds of bars that looked promising and when we walked in the back, I found the food. They have organic jumbo oats for less than the grocery stores, so I picked up a bag of those. Here when something says "oats" or "porridge oats," which is what you see all over the place, it means this oat flake dust kind of stuff. It's not powdery like oat bran, but it's really small flakes which do make great, creamy porridge, which I love, but are not good for making the muesli-style stuff Bill likes in the summer or the toasted oats I like. I learned that jumbo oats are what I want for that and there was only one kind of those that I saw before today. I also found some herbs and spices in little bags instead of those jars--yay!--more herbs for less money and less packaging waste. I grabbed some oregano. I do miss the bulk buying I used to be able to do, especially for herbs and spices, but this is as close as I'm gonna get. We got a jar of pesto as well. I will miss making my own this summer and watching my freezer stash grow, as I have done in summers past, but with no food processor and no good supply of basil, the jar will have to do. I was thrilled to see a decent selection of teas--best I've seen since we've been here. And they had baked tofu, something I used to buy all the time in Oregon and Alaska and could never find in Maine. They had Italian, plain, and some kind of interesting kind with seeds and stuff in it. I picked up a few things, but will go back. I am always glad to be able to support a small, local business!

06 June 2014

Lough Mask

Ever since I discovered that there were lakes near Ballinrobe, I was on a search to discover how we might get there on foot, especially when we studied the large map that stands on the side of the road as you come into town from the south. It indicated a couple of different ways that one might get to different parts of Lough Mask on foot. One route was along the Robe River--the map showed a little walker icon near town and then a hiker closer to the lake, with a boat in between. The other way appears to be along a county road and has walker and hiker icons all the way along.

When we first discovered the Bower's Walk, I had hopes that it would lead all the way to the lake, but it didn't. Every road we tried seemed dangerous once the sidewalk ran out--narrow, no shoulders, stone walls right up against the road, and lots of traffic. Searching online yielded no results. Then, last week, we went for a walk down a road just to see what we would see, and a guy came out to talk to us. He told us that if we went to the end of that road and followed a trail through a forest, we'd come out at the lake.

Yesterday was a perfect day for exploration, so we packed our water bottles and lunches and set off over the river and through the woods to see if we could get to Lough Mask. There were a couple of different ways we could have gotten back to that road, but we chose to take the Bower's Walk again.  We were surprised not to see other people out walking there because it was a lovely day.  We came to the end and went back to the road we'd been on before.

Bower's Walk

the road that starts us on our way after leaving Bower's Walk

We reached the point where we expected to find a clear path into the woods, but we found a farm and the road curving sharply to the right, which didn't seem like the right way to go. We thought the road ended, but it doesn't--we will have to go around that rightward curve some day and see where that leads, but yesterday we were just puzzled. The guy we talked to last week had mentioned a couple of gates and there they were, but the open one was clearly part of a farm, and the other one, which was closed, had a "Beware of the Bull" sign on it. Fortunately, there was a guy there working, so we asked him if there was a trail to the lake around. He chuckled and said, "You'll have to open a few gates.  You go through a farm." Bill asked if he thought it'd be OK for us to do that and he replied, "Yeah, I'll let you. I don't mind. Just close the gates behind you."  Then he went on with his instructions, "You'll see a couple of places going right. Don't ever go right. Just go straight ahead on the path. It's a good 2 miles, but it's a nice walk." We thanked him and proceeded through gate number one. We went through 3 gates and found ourselves on a trail with stone walls on either side. There were cows to the left and a gloriously large collection of sheep spread out in a few different fields to the right. After a few minutes, we had empty fields on either side. Then we came to another gate. We had to push a bit to get it open, because ivy had grown up and the gate was wedged in pretty well, but we got it open and entered the forest. It was amazing.

gate 2
gate 3



the cows relaxing
the sheep grazing
a sheep holiday home?
 There were no sounds but the occasional snap of a twig under our feet and the birds calling overhead. Sometimes there was the flapping of wings as a bunch of birds took off over our heads. The foliage was so dense that we never saw them, we just heard them. We stopped more than once to just look at what was around us. It was like being in a magnificent art gallery. The stone wall continued, but it was covered in moss, as were rocks and trees. The shapes were incredible and the many shades of green, brown, and grey provided a limited palette, but a beautiful effect. The moss was growing over everything and the undulating shapes of downed trees and rocks covered in the green moss was striking. Feathery ferns provided a contrast in texture and color to the spongy looking moss. It was breathtaking.


moss covered rocks

moss covering

We walked on through a clearing and back into the woods. In the clearing, we saw a woman with two dogs ahead, so we thought we might be getting close, since she must've entered the path from a different direction than we did. She was soon out of sight and we kept on going until we came to a T-shaped intersection. It was no longer possible to take the path forward--we had to go left or right. I asked Bill which way he wanted to go and he pointed left, so on we went. We could see the lake through the trees to our right and as we went around each curve, we wondered if we were there yet. After what seemed like a long time, we came to an opening in the trees and there we were. The lake was a bit further back in the direction we'd come and in between that and where we were standing was a landscape like nothing I'd ever seen before. There was a floor of pitted rocks and big rocks sitting on the surface. Sadly, people clearly use the spot as a party place--there was plastic garbage strewn about and evidence of fires. Someone had hauled in tire rims to use as fire pits--a couple of them were stacked off to the side and one still had charred wood piled up in it. Obviously it's not a place I'd care to go on a summer night, but on a Thursday afternoon, there was no one else there.

partying zone
Lough Mask " our the prize for the day"
 We carefully made our way through the party zone and toward the lake, being mindful of the rocks that were sticking up and the uneven terrain of the rock floor. Then we were there, on the edge of Lough Mask. Finally. It had taken two hours and about 5 miles of walking to get there, but we were there--and it was well worth the walk. I sat on a rock. The woman and her dogs appeared suddenly and the dogs stuck their heads into my backpack. "They're looking for your sandwich," she said. "You're too late," I told the doggies, "I just ate it!" She got the dogs away from my backpack and they went to the lake for a minute and then they were all gone and we were there alone. There were no houses around, except those we could see across the lake. There were no cars and no boats. There was no sound except for the water sloshing around the rocks and the birds calling.

"mountains"
 I sat on the rock and looked at the birds, the rocks, the water, the "mountains" (this is optimistic--they are hills, but people here call them mountains), the clouds, and the trees. I listened to the sounds of the place. I felt like I was wrapped in a shawl of peace and I felt the way I imagine some people feel in a church. I was filled with awe and wonder just sitting there in that spot. I felt like I belonged there somehow--connected. That rarely happens to me. I always feel apart from what is going on around me, but sitting there yesterday I felt rooted to that spot and like I was exactly where I needed to be.

We sat for a while and I thought of the people I know who would love the spot, too. The clouds moved across the sky white and fluffy to dark and menacing. The Partry Mountains across the lake changed color as the light changed. The water rippled against the rocks. The birds swooped down to the water looking for food. The swans drifted into the grass and occasionally talked to one another. The breeze blew. The smell of seaweed came and went. We sat on our rocks.

searching for food
I knew that we had a 2 hour walk home, but I put off leaving. In the end, we stayed only for an hour, but it was a truly beautiful hour. We agreed that the next time, we will leave earlier than our 11 am departure time so we can stay longer. At 2, we began to make our way back through the woods and over the river. We decided to go home via the riverwalk again and this time there were a few people using the path. I felt a little bit disoriented when we walked up Bower's Lane and onto Main Street with the cars and noise. It was good to get home, though, and put my feet up. I slept well last night.


05 June 2014

Good Sunny Spells

We are having some "good sunny spells," as they say. Yesterday was a mix of clouds and sun and so far this morning is all sun. Bill is enjoying this. I am actually not finding it to be too bad. Yes, there has been sun and it's warm when we're out in it, but it hasn't been too warm--nice breeze blowing and last night it was a bit chilly, even, with a bit of an edge to the cool air. I love that! I am also pleased that the forecast--at least so far--calls for the rain to return midday tomorrow. I am aware that this may well change between now and then as the weather and the forecast often changes.

We headed out yesterday early afternoon to go to the post office. On the way, we stopped at a charity shop to look for a large bowl. I was given some sourdough starter over the weekend and have been feeding it daily. Large containers are not easy to come by here, so I had it in a bowl that I found in the cabinet when we got here. I needed something larger, though. I didn't really expect to find one in the charity shop, since they usually have mostly clothes and books. I walked out empty-handed, but it was worth checking.

After dropping the mail in the box, we stopped at the library so Bill could have a photocopy made. I had to take a look at the cart of new books and I found one I'd been looking for ever since I heard the author on a podcast a few weeks ago. Then we made our way to Euroworld, where I did find the large bowl I was looking for as well as a baking sheet small enough to fit into my small oven. We decided to walk down Convent Road to see how far we could get before the sidewalk ran out. On the way, we stopped into the other charity shop, where I was delighted to find this book:
After that, we walked along Convent Road, looking at the colors all around in people's yards and watching the sky change. The clouds appear to move quickly across the sky and they are varying shades of grey, from almost black dark greys to fluffy whites. As the clouds move across the sky, the quality of the light changes, too, and makes everything on the ground look different. We got to a spot that had a lot of greenery and I noticed just how many shades of green there were in just those few square feet.
A bit further on, we ran out of sidewalk. This is a pretty well-traveled road, so we decided not to go on. Before we turned back, though, I stopped and spent a minute looking at the field across the street--green fields, stone walls, sheep in the distance, and the clouds in the sky.
On the way back, we decided to take a left into an area of cookie cutter houses. The sidewalk quickly ran out there, too, but as it looked like the road was not used very often, we decided to keep going. I wondered aloud whether the small country lane would lead us back to the road on which we live. It did. We passed a few houses and some cows in fields, went around curves, and passed the sign that said "Beware of Bull." At that point, I was pretty sure I knew where we were and sure enough, after a few more steps, we found ourselves on the sidewalk down the street from our flat.

It was a lovely afternoon. I found a couple of books, got my large bowl, so my sourdough starter has room to grow, and I quite enjoyed walking around looking at the flowers, the animals, the fields, and the ever-changing sky. I was reminded again of how wonderful it is to just slow down and live at a calm and peaceful pace, just observing what is right here, right now.



04 June 2014

Light

One thing I've noticed here is the quality of the light. I am sure Bill notices it more than I do, being a photographer who is always seeing things I don't, but even I pay attention here. There are times that I will sit and look out the window, watching how the light moves and highlights different things. It gets dark now around 11, and between 10 and 10:30, the light gets really interesting. The sky is always different with "good sunny spells" as they say in the weather reports, giving way to clouds, grey skies, possibly rain or sprinkles, and then sun again. The colors really pop. Of course, the predominant color is green--but there are so many shades of green here. When the green is a background for flowers, they really pop, too.