Thursday, September 1, 2016

2016 Photography Challenge: Monthly Themes. August = Summer Golden Hours

I've been traveling a lot for work- Michigan, Dallas and Minnesota- so I knew Steve and I would need to be intentional with our time together in the month of August. Because even when I was home, we had lots of plans (rehearsal dinner, wedding, Adele with friends- me, not Steve). And most importantly, Summer Steve turned back into School Steve in August.

A few nights ago, we went on a family walk in Palisades Park (what I like to call our backyard) and I brought my camera and set up my tripod and got some cute photos of Steve and Clancy and the sun as it was setting. But I ultimately liked this photo of Steve looking out at the ocean with the Santa Monica Pier in the background.



The lighting really was perfect and I love the peacefulness that was captured as Steve looked out to the ocean. This photo reminds me of how much I have to be grateful for including this man and this place we get to call home!

Check out Cyrena and Sarah's photos coming soon!

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

2016 Photography Challenge: Monthly Themes. July = Summer Fun

July was all about Summer Fun for Summer Steve and post-Ireland, I got to get in on some of the fun too. I also traveled a bit for work- one quick trip to Dallas and I spent six days in Valencia doing some event prep- but Summer Steve and I managed to find some fun together.

The photo I chose for my July Summer Fun theme is from our July 4th get together at my father-in-law's house in Pacific Palisades. We've been going there nearly every year for the 4th of July (since I came into the picture) because the view is incredible. While the traffic getting home from there is no fun, the fireworks display over the Pacific Ocean makes it well worth it.

I brought my tripod and fooled around with the various camera settings for nighttime photography and got such an epic photo that I'm so excited about:


While it's not crystal-clear, I'm so happy with how it came out and that you can see so many different fireworks going off in the background and the plane landing at LAX (that's the streak). I was hoping to take more photos of the fireworks, but- rookie mistake- I didn't have my back-up battery charged. Buzzkill!

Check out Cyrena (coming soon) and Sarah's photos:




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Friday, August 26, 2016

12 Years Later...



Dear Dad,

It's hard to believe that it's been 12 years since you died. I remember bits and pieces of that day clearly. But as it's been so long, other parts of it have certainly faded with the passage of time. Just as people said would happen. (I didn't believe them at the time since you were all I could think about.)

I remember when you died- just after 7:00 p.m. and not long after we withdrew all support and told you that it was okay to let go. I remember calling Amy to tell her you died and she said "Really?" And I still found time to joke and say, "No. I'm just kidding." And we laughed.

I remember how strange- and wrong- it felt to walk out of Dartmouth without you. Without even as much as a brochure of how to deal with the death of a loved one. I remember how awful it was to walk into 22 Winter Street knowing you would never, ever be there again. And how much it hurt every time we saw your things- yet how relieved we were that someone (George probably) did a sweep of the house and removed every single thing that would remind us of you being sick.

I feel like I've needed a father more in these past 12 years than I did ever before. And it hurts so badly to not have you to turn to or to help guide me when I need it. And while I've never really reached for the phone wanting to call you after you died (thank you for never actually answering the phone when you were alive, even when it was sitting right next to you, or for passing it directly to mom in those rare cases when you did pick it up), there have been so many moments over the past 12 years where I wished you had been here. For the good times, but more so for the hard times.

Over the past 12 years I've learned that the sadness and grief I experience on days like today are so hard to navigate. Some times this day passes easily. I can eat pizza and some Ben & Jerry's and think of you with a smile on my face (and a bit of shaking of my head, like many people who knew you) and be grateful for the time we had together. Those years are a gift. But then there are some years, like this one, where I just know it's going to hurt and the day will pass by with some pizza and some Ben & Jerry's. But there will also be a lot of tears and sadness and wishing for what will never be or never was. And that feels shitty. But I suppose that's a gift too. What people tell us, to help us feel better about the sadness, is that feeling this way makes us lucky because it means we had a real and special relationship with you. I get the sentiment, I really do. But...it still sucks. And you dying only six months after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer- at the young age of 55- will never feel or be okay.

I think this year is harder than others because one of the greatest (maybe the greatest) gifts you left behind, Clancy, is aging in ways I really wish he weren't. I've already made peace- begrudgingly- with the fact that we have way more time behind than ahead of us. But every day he seems to get more gray hair and move a little slower. At 13 1/2 I know that our time with him is limited. And this four-legged, big-hearted, lovable goofball you left behind that I've had the good fortune of calling mine since March of 2006, is a constant reminder of you. And I'm so sad to think of how that connection with you will change when Clancy's no longer here. I know, I know. I shouldn't get ahead of myself. But sometimes I just can't help it.

Our relationship was complicated. You weren't an easy man- even though you told us, repeatedly, that your middle name was "Flexible." But I don't think I'll ever get over knowing that our sense of "home" would leave when you died. Turns out you were the glue that kept us all together.

I miss you every day, Dad. And wherever you are, I hope you're smiling, laughing, telling great stories and looking down on all of us knowing that you are never far from our thoughts.

I love you,
Molly





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Sunday, July 10, 2016

2016 Photography Challenge: Monthly Themes. June = Travel

June is the only month in which there will be a departure from the theme of Molly & Steve Adventures. The reason being that I was in Ireland and Steve was home in Santa Monica. And there's no way I'm not sharing a photo from Ireland!

When we chose our themes for each month, I knew that June would be a photo from my annual trip to Ireland. If you haven't read about my trip and want to, my part one recap is up here. I'm working on part two...so standby for that. And if you want to know all about how I met Gene. You can read about that here. And then if you're still not sick of my Irish adventures, you can read more about my shenanigans with Gene over the years here.

So yeah. Ireland. Picking just one photo has been really, really hard. Which is why we're 10 days into the month and I'm just now doing this blog post. I saw so many beautiful things and took hundreds and hundreds of photos while I was back home in Ireland. But the photo I've chosen represents a lot to me.

First. Here's the photo:



It's taken from the top of Croagh Patrick. An insanely challenging hike I did by myself on my fourth day in Ireland. I had every intention of doing this hike with my friend Brittany, but she had to work. And while part of me figured "Eh. I don't have to still do this." I'm so glad I persevered and went ahead and did it regardless. I shared this in my first trip recap, but I tried to do this hike in 2008 and I turned around after 10 minutes. To know that I'm stronger physically and mentally eight years later is something I'm so, so proud of. And to be rewarded with such a beautiful view of Clew Bay with all the blues and greens of the ocean and the fields was such a cherry on top.

To me this photo equates to determination, strength and progress. And not only does it make me smile when I look at it, but I feel accomplished.

Now. I couldn't just pick just one photo. The second photo is also really representative of my trip to Ireland. It was the first time that I wasn't meeting someone over there or traveling over to Ireland with someone. I had plans to meet up with my friend Robin (hi Robin!) who lives in Galway. And that was wonderful- as always. And as mentioned earlier, I met up with my friend Brittany (who is living in Austin but working in Ireland temporarily). But other than that, my trip was my own.

I spent a LOT of time by myself. It's not something I do when I'm home in Santa Monica. I replenish my energy by being around other people and since I work from home alone (well, Clancy's there but...), I tend to crave being in the company of people whenever I can. But it was a really good experience for me to be more comfortable being on my own. I found that I loved not having a set plan and while there were places I wanted to explore far away from Gene's, I opted to chill and stick close to home vs. travel all over Ireland. Because I was on my own, I felt no pressure to do anything other than what I felt like each day. This photo is taken on my eighth or ninth day in Ireland when I went to do a hike I did during my New Year's Eve trip back in 2013.

To me this photo represents the solitude of a lot of my time in Ireland. Yet it also shows how beautiful it was and how you never know what's around the corner. I needed that reminder while I was there and I loved not having every inch of my trip planned. It opened me up to a lot of unexpected adventures that unfolded each day naturally.


And then I couldn't resist including this photo I took on the hike to Carrowkeel. It shows how totally happy I was in that moment with the wind whipping about, on my own, surrounded by so much beauty in a place that truly feels like another home to me.


Check out Cyrena and Sarah's photos!




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Monday, July 4, 2016

Adventures in Ireland- The Story of How I Met Gene (Part Two)

This is part two of a very long explanation of How I Met Gene. This is less about how I met him (you can read all about that here) and more about how our friendship progressed with each passing year, the adventures I've had with him and, most importantly, the lessons I've learned from having this hilarious, spontaneous, generous and kind man in my life.

November 2009

This is the trip where I dubbed The Thatch "my favorite place on Earth." So three visits is what it took. During this trip, Katie and I travelled with our friends Erica and Sawnia, who were unable to join the big birthday trip due to their event season. We stayed at a B&B on the opposite side of town. It wasn't far from The Thatch, but far enough that when you don't leave until after 3:00 a.m., there are no cabs to come back and fetch you. After a full night of drinking and being stranded with no ride, Gene had no choice but to take his car (which can only fit one person) with Katie to our B&B to get our car key from the room and then drive our rental car back to the pub. Yes. He left Erica, Sawnia and me alone in the pub for a good 20 - 30 minutes. Once back at the pub, we all got in the car and Gene drove us back to our B&B before he got into his car and went back to his place.

Here's what I wrote in my journal about this visit: "The Thatch is definitely my favorite place on Earth. I am at my happiest inside there. It was a little suspect at first because it was just Percy and the four of us. Gene showed up probably 30 minutes later and brought a round of Bushmills for all of us and we sat and talked for a while, before musicians showed up and then the night took off. Deasun, George and Jim played all sorts of instruments. Deasun taught us more dances. It was a lot of fun. I had Deasun show me how to play the button accordion which basically just amounted to me playing the scales. After the singing and dancing and music lessons, I played bartender which was great. Gene showed me how to make an Irish coffee and even how to use the cash register. I struggled with the drinks for the Frenchmen but all in all it worked out just fine. And it was a lot of fun. It was such a fun night and I love how generous everyone is who goes there. How amazing the musicians are. How gracious Gene is- what a wonderful performer he is. I love how authentic the experience is whenever I go there too- it really never disappoints. 

Jimmy, Gorgeous George & Deasun
Not the best picture of me, but it's the only one captured from my 2009 visit 
Already at home behind the bar!
And in case you're wondering, this is what the day after The Thatch looks like (well, for 2009 Molly at least- I've gotten a lot smarter since then): 

The car ride where I was nicknamed "The Bear"
After my 2009 trip I realized that when I did my annual Ireland vacation in the future, I needed to switch things up. It was always so wonderful that I'd spend the beginning of my trip at The Thatch. I knew I'd have a great time, but the let down upon leaving was pretty substantial. So starting in 2010 I made sure that both of my Wednesdays in Ireland were going to be spent at The Thatch.

2010

This is the year Amy got introduced to the Thatch. And the year that I started going to The Thatch twice during my time in Ireland. We met at the airport and started our Ireland adventure right away by taking the bus into the city, the train to Carrick-on-Shannon and a taxi to Evelyn's.

I loved having her there with me, having her experience this place that makes me so happy and having her meet Gene. She fit right in with her wellies and drinking Guinness.

Upon our arrival at Evelyn's, she let us know that Gene was having us over for dinner before the music started. It was so nice and generous of Gene to have us over and was another turn in our friendship. And also very Gene-like to do this.

It was another memorable night at the Thatch. From my journal: "The night at The Thatch was awesome as usual. We drank Guinness, red wine and Irish coffee. I danced, played the scales on the accordion and got to bartend. Which has been one of my favorite aspects of going to The Thatch. Gene even sent me a message today thanking me for helping out and complimenting me on making the Irish coffee so expertly, and also for running the bar and being able to engage people in conversation as well."

Amy looking swell in her wellies (Alo's quote) dancing with Stripey Mike
Molly & Gene in 2010
Because Gene had plans for the following Wednesday, I wasn't sure if I was going to go back to The Thatch. I wasn't sure if I was up for it without him, or what the experience would be like. But I did end up going and had such a great time. This was also when I first really got to speak to the "regulars". There was very little music so it was a great opportunity to actually talk to people and get to know more about Evelyn, Jim, Deasun, Percy, Stripey Mike, Padraig and Alo. From my journal: "When Gene and I were emailing, he said to not keep Percy out past his bedtime and that it was important that we let him close up shop around midnight once the music was done. Well that certainly didn't happen- oops. But Percy really seemed to be fine. Once Deasun left, I thought we'd all call it a night but Padraig, Stripey Mike and Alo kept going- and so did I. We kept drinking beer and mostly Irish coffee. I kept making some and even recorded Percy walking me through how to do it. I didn't leave The Thatch until 2:00 a.m. I woke up feeling fuzzy but had to get a move on it. Off I was for the airport in Dublin." 

2011

Right before leaving for Ireland crazy shit was going down in my life. A few months earlier, in July, I found out that I was a carrier for the breast cancer gene (BRCA2) and a couple of weeks before I got on a plane for Ireland, my sister-in-law had been murdered while getting her hair cut at a salon in Seal Beach. To say I really needed this trip would be an understatement.

My 2011 trip was a really good one because I spent a lot of time by myself, but also balanced that with spending more time getting to know my friends from here that I miss all year long. As much as I try to keep in touch with Gene throughout the year, it doesn't happen regularly, so being here is really the only time we communicate. And I felt like I got to know even more about the regulars, with me looking forward to seeing them and vice versa for my annual trip back to The Thatch.

During this trip I celebrated my birthday and Gene made sure to make it special for me. From my journal: "At one point (nearly 1:00 a.m.) Gene announced that it was my birthday and handed me a bouquet of red carnations. The pub broke out into song and then Gene made me give a speech, which I gladly did. I talked about how special The Thatch is, how I met Gene and how grateful I am that everyone was so welcome to me there. Later in the night Gene disappeared into the house and came back with a card that Lindsay mailed from New Hampshire to Gene for me, and a card from Percy too. It was incredibly sweet and thoughtful. As if it couldn't get any better, Gene said he wasn't the card type of guy, and then handed me a beautiful piece of Belleek pottery that used to be in his grandmother's home. It was the sweetest thing ever and I feel so incredibly grateful for his friendship and thoughtfulness. I will treasure it forever. I worked behind the bar, pulling pints and chatting up the locals- I loved it and was in heaven. At the end of the night it was me, Huey, Stripey Mike and Gene. And then just me, Stripey Mike and Gene. And then Just me and Gene. I didn't get back to Evelyn's until nearly 2:00 a.m. when Gene walked me home. 

Molly pulling her own pint at The Thatch in 2011 with Gene "supervising"
Gorgeous George and his luscious curls playing the flute at the Wednesday night music session
My super sweet cards from Lindsay and Percy and my flowers and Belleek from Gina for my 33rd birthday
2012

This is the year Gene converted the front half of his house into a B&B. So instead of staying at Evelyn's across the street, I stayed in the B&B part of the house and was now just a 15-second walk away from The Thatch. Which is as amazing as it sounds. It also meant that Gene and I had plenty of time together for adventures and I got to be part of Gene's morning routine, which involved Percy coming up to the house to visit, read the paper and talk about everything and nothing.

I remember walking through the door of The Thatch on my first day of this trip and recognizing how much it felt like coming home. Another turning point for this part of my life. It felt differently this year. I knew I was walking into a place where there would be familiar faces- faces that I missed throughout the year. I knew I was walking into a place where I'd have a good time and be surrounded by people who enjoyed my company. I knew that I'd leave with memories that would put a smile on my face. It's a wonderful feeling and one I haven't taken for granted a moment since.

Because I stayed at Gene's, our friendship deepened during this trip. I shared in the morning routine, which was my favorite because it meant sitting down to the table with Gene and Percy and watching them talk, bicker and enjoy each other's company. I loved being part of these simple moments and learning more about each of them.

Katie joined me partway through the trip this year, and I loved having her with me. Her last time at the pub was back in 2008 for the 30th birthday party. She fit right in with Gene and George loving her (obviously) and talking about politics and all sorts of other things.

While I didn't write much about this trip in my journal, here's a really funny recap of my attempt at thanking Gene for his hospitality and generosity by making dinner at his house for me, Katie, Gene and George.

Katie fitting right in with George & Gene 
Molly & Gene in 2012 (with Katie creeping into the photo) 
Getting serenaded by the man himself
2013- New Year's Eve

Due to the insane generosity of my friend Elisabeth, I found myself back at the Thatch only a couple of months after I had left. We were going on a New Year's Eve adventure and spending it in my very favorite place on Earth was an offer I couldn't- and didn't!- pass up.

During the New Year's Eve trip, we had a really nice few days at Gene's and did some really great exploring. Gene was so gracious to include all of us in his plans as if it were no big deal at all. From my journal "Yesterday, New Year's Day, was one of my favorite days in Ireland ever. Gene and his friend Teddy decided at some point after drinking that we should go to the beach for a walk. We were planning on Duvet Day, but I wasn't about to turn down that offer. One of the things that I love the most about hanging out with Gene is that he's up for anything and so wonderful about including me and my friends in what he's doing. On the way to the beach Gene had Teddy pull onto some small road and we ended up going for this beautiful hill walk up to these monolithic tombs/graves called Carrowkeel. It was such a great workout and it was just gorgeous- deadly :) I loved being outside. I loved being active. I loved seeing such a beautiful part of the country. We were hardly home for long before Gene suggested we go into town for dinner. After dinner Gene essentially begged us all to go and see a movie although most of us wanted to go home and chill the f out. In the end we saw Playing for Keeps and Gene f'n fell asleep for the first 1/2 an hour. Which was classic.

Today after getting the stew pulled together, Gene decided to go into town for a walk and it was, of course, an adventure. As soon as we parked, Gene got out and popped a paper bag (which I didn't know at the time), making it sound like a friggin' gun shot, and staggered around for a few steps until he stood up and started laughing. We then went on a one hour power walk through town where Gene buzzed through proclaiming that he had to walk fast in order for it to feel like he was getting exercise. We stopped for a pint at Glancy's before heading out to Gene's for dinner and then it was off to The Thatch. I didn't get to sleep until nearly 6:00 a.m. As soon as the crowd thinned out, Gene looked at me and said "Irish coffees Molly." It's one of my favorite things about being there and for Gene to like my coffees enough to let me/ask me to make them is a big compliment! When everyone left except for the two of us, Gene started playing music to calm himself down and I made us two more Irish coffees. 



Walking arm-in-arm with Gene down Carrowkeel
Gene with Rocco and Jay
Gene's stew and Teddy
2013- October

My three-week trip to Ireland this time around was filled with plenty of time at The Thatch, a side trip to Amsterdam and a most memorable visit with my niece Laura. I also spent time getting to know some of the people from The Thatch outside of the pub. And I got to meet up with one of my dad's best friends who happened to be staying at a castle right near Gene's.

What I loved about this trip, besides basically everything, was that I had all these adventures with Gene- I accompanied him to get his car serviced in a town two hours away which required us to walk TWELVE MILES around the town of Portumna while we wanted, he took me golfing for my very first time ever (Gene said I was a natural), I accompanied him golfing and we went on a few walks.

The trip feels less like a vacation (although it most certainly is that) but more like a trip home. After returning back to Gene's from adventuring with Robin, Gene said to Percy on the phone "Molly's home." It's nice that I'm not the only one who feels that way.

Here's a part of a journal entry that illustrates why I like being in Gene's company and why it's 100% unpredictable: "My favorite part of the day was when Gene got a call from a solicitor/telemarketer asking him if he showed sports at the pub. He replied by saying sometimes they do mouse catching. That they'll come under the door and whichever local catches it/them gets a prize. He continued by saying that they do the same with beetles. They chase them around the pub and see who can get the most He was laughing silently and pointing to the phone as he was giving this man a run for his money and I was laughing so hard. He continued by saying that they keep track of how many each person has gotten throughout the year. We write it down and keep a tally next to each person's name. And then the person who catches the most at the end of the year may win a gift voucher to one of the restaurants in town. Which we get donated. The town likes to get in on it you see. I don't know how he kept it up for so long (okay, yes I do) or how the telemarketer didn't hang that phone right on up!" 


Wednesday night magic at The Thatch
Strandhill beach walk 
Practice swings and sunsets in Ireland
Molly & Gene, 2013
2014

I returned to Ireland with my friend Elisabeth and our trip was quite memorable. My friend Jill also came to visit from Amsterdam. And this year I got even more involved in the community of Carrick-on-Shannon. Upon our arrival I went into town to volunteer with Tidy Towns- it was quite literally the first thing I did after getting to Gene's. Apart from helping clean up the town, my time with Gene this go around was spent going for walks, hanging out in Galway (the first time I actually hung out with Gene "socially" outside of The Thatch), eating ice cream, going dragon boat racing, sitting through the most painful play in the world (A Trip to Bountiful) and all the general fun that happens at The Thatch.

This trip reminded me that regardless of what I do with Gene, it will always be a memorable adventure. But when I leave I'm sad and I feel a pull- like there are two places that I want to be at once.

Here's a very funny snippet from my journal: "So by the end of the night it was just me, Gene and Derek- who kept talking about how impressed he was by all of us even though he was dragged down to have a drink with three American women. We literally closed down the pub in Galway and I was the last person to walk out. I told Gene and Derek that I'd get myself home but they insisted on all of us getting in the same cab. They dropped me off first and then continued on their way. It was such a sweet end to a very full and very fun day. Gene had so many nice things to say about me to Derek (not including the story of my 3-year old son named Wall- for the place he was conceived one night on the bridge wall coming home to Mrs. Boyd's after a night out at the pub **NOT TRUE READERS!!**). Like how much Percy loves me. how all the people at The Thatch have taken to me. And as they were dropping me off, Gene said "Molly's like a star in the sky. Like a bright and shining star." Which made me smile."

Volunteering for Tidy Towns with Gene approximately 20 minutes after getting to his house
Hanging out with Gene in Galway and drinking together not at The Thatch was a surreal- and fun- experience! 
Drag Boat Racing because of course
Molly & Gene- 2014

2015

My adventures with Gene continued this year and included the addition of Molly Goolman (otherwise known in Ireland as Molly 2 or Molly Slow). This time around we did things like volunteering with Tidy Towns (again), going for lots of walks, going out in Gene's boat, checking out a pub down the street from Gene, getting ice cream, cleaning the pub, doing inventory, fetching bar supplies and barrels of Guinness and the usual pub shenanigans.

My trips have become less planned. Instead of having structure to every single day, Gene's way of life is starting to rub off on me. I know that something will come about and the less I have planned, the more chance there is for unexpected fun to arise.

I've stopped drinking Guinness back at home, so the only time I have it is when I'm in Ireland. From my journal: "One funny thing that happened yesterday was when Gene and I had to go down the street to get a barrel of Guinness from another pub owner. Gene asked me to go with him and after Liam agreed to lend Gene a barrel, he told him that I was looking for a husband. There's just never a dull moment with Gene. He's as funny as always. On the way over to Ireland, I was thinking how I probably wouldn't come back next year. But now that I'm here, I just feel so happy and relaxed. Obviously I'm on vacation when I'm here, so that already puts me in a better place mentally. But there's something that happens to me in Ireland. I'm happier and am always smiling and I just feel at home and very content here. It helps that I keep coming back to a place I know with people I know too."
Volunteering for Tidy Towns with Molly Slow and Gene (classy!)
Just, ya know, going boating with Gene (before he fell asleep and I got us lost)

At Bracken's with Gene and the boys for some pints after closing down The Thatch
Molly & Gene- 2015

2016

When I solidify my plans to go back to Ireland, it feels like I'm going home. For the past two years, I've sent Gene and Percy letters once a month saying hello and filling them in on what's happening on my side of the world. Sometimes I hear back, most times I do not. Gene and I text every now and again throughout the year so I don't feel as disconnected as I had in years past.

I don't make any specific plans and for the first time ever, I spend every single night of my trip at Gene's. The generosity is overwhelming and I feel nothing but gratitude for having this house in Ireland where I am welcomed. I have keys to the house (still) and can get myself in and out as I need it. I go shopping in town and put groceries in the fridge. I do yoga in the backyard. I meet up with some friends for things like a bonfire, a farm tour and a BBQ happens on my last night- sort of as a going away thing (but also for the lottery).

Most people greet me with excitement saying "Molly's home!" "How long are you home for?" "When will you be home again? Not a full year again?"

My adventures with Gene consist of cleaning the pub together, doing chores around the house (laundry, hanging clothes on the line, making beds, cleaning the kitchen, getting a woman settled in the other room of the B&B), running errands for the pub, watering the flowers, working at the pub together (more of a necessity than in the past since Percy no longer comes into the pub). Mostly I'm given the space and time to let the stress and anxiety of work and real life leave my body.

I focus really hard on not being so sad about only have X days left that I miss out on having fun while I am there. And when I leave, I try not to focus on how sad I am that it's over, but rather on how totally grateful I am for having this place, this moment in time and these amazing people, especially Gene, in my life. 

A day ad a half after arriving to Gene's this was my first glimpse of him as he worked out a little flooding issue at the pub

Never ever a dull moment with Gene (be sure to read the mugs) and Teddy
Molly & Gene- 2016

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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Adventures in Ireland- The Story of How I Met Gene (Part One)

A few people have asked how/when I met Gene and it's too good of a story to bury in a long trip recap. So sit back, grab a pint (of whatever) and enjoy learning how I came to meet one of my most favorite people in this world.

16 years earlier, 2000

(My oldest sister) Kara and I decided to spend my spring break in Ireland. I was so excited to go as I had been raised to believe that being of Irish ancestry was the most important thing about myself. Kara and one of her best friends, Kelly, backpacked through Europe upon finishing college, so she planned the trip and did so around two things: first- getting to see her friend Jen, who she met while working on the Jersey Shore. (This waaaay pre-dated the reality T.V. show, FYI.) And second- seeing the Cliffs of Moher. When Kara had last been, they had been fogged in and she never got to see them since visibility was so poor. For this trip, if I remember correctly, Kara did all the planning and I essentially just showed up and drove us around the country when we weren't in Dublin.

During our night in Doolin, we stayed at a lovely B&B within walking distance to a couple of the three pubs that Doolin is so well-known for. We settled on McGann's and got there on the early side, not yet having been educated on how late things get going in Ireland, especially the traditional music. We settled at the bar for some drinks and food while we waited for the music to start. (We were only there approximately four hours early.)

While waiting, we chatted with the two men sitting next to us: Gene and ?arry (I didn't know if his name was Harry or Larry, so I just called him Arry all night. Turns out his name was Harry). They were longtime friends who were playing golf nearby in Lahinch. Gene owned a pub that he invited us to. After we happily accepted the invitation, we learned that the pub was three hours in the opposite direction of where we were going. My response was something along the lines of "We're American. Every inch of this trip is already planned and we can't deviate." Gene still tried to talk us into going, but I knew in my heart that it just wasn't going to happen.

We continued the conversation for a couple more hours until it came time for music and they couldn't find the local musician. Gene, as it turns out, was well-known by the pub owners and was asked if he'd stand in for the musician, Kevin, that had gone missing. Before we knew it, Gene returned with a handful of instruments and became the nightly entertainment. Kara and I had the time of our lives. At Gene's urging, we sat down next to where he was playing music and had a front row seat to one of the most magical nights of our lives. For over two hours, Gene played song after song, switching instruments and engaging the crowd by asking them to sing songs from where they were from. Below you can see Kara and I singing Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York."

This pre-dated iPhones so there's very little photographic evidence of what went down. But here are some photos from the first night I met Gene (forgive the redeye):

My very first picture with Gene 
Gene looks skeptical...who can blame him? 
Happily belting out "New York, New York"
My first time experiencing Gene getting lost in the music
The invite we received from Gene to come to Andersons Thatch Pub. My favorite part = "Ladies Very Welcome".
We had a wonderful and magical night. It was so much fun and I felt like we had hit the jackpot in meeting Gene and getting to talk with him and Harry. And then to be in the thick of the music was such a fun experience.

In looking back at my journal from this night, here's what I had to say: "It was, as Kara put it, a totally authentic Irish night. We got pissed in an Irish pub in a small town with the locals. Listened to some wonderful music. Drank a lot of beer. Took great pictures. Met people from all over the world. I was so happy. I was also so completely trashed. I thought Doolin was great. I had one of the funnest nights ever. And I can't wait to get the pictures back. Gene was absolutely adorable. I just had a fabulous time at McGann's and was definitely sad when it was time to leave."
I'd like to say that I knew this was the start of something really special. But I didn't. I had no clue how much this chance encounter would change and enhance my life over the course of the next 16+ years.

April 2006

A couple of weeks after our St. Patrick's Day Wedding, Steve and I headed to Ireland for our honeymoon. We had specific plans of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see. But one thing I knew for sure was that we were going to hit up Anderson's Thatch Pub on the only Wednesday night we were going to be in the country.

Our honeymoon got off to a rough start. Like a really rough start. Our luggage arrived one full day after we did. Steve got food poisoning the second we got off the plane (even after all these years, I maintain that's what you get for eating an egg salad wrap on the airplane) and was getting sick for hours. When he wasn't getting sick, he was sleeping, resting or taking it easy. I had to talk myself out of "this can't be a good sign for the marriage" kind of thoughts that were swarming through my head constantly.

After the luggage arrived and the food poisoning went away (for a few days at least!), I could focus on having a good time. My expectations were high for our Wednesday night plans. Remembering what Gene shared six years earlier, I knew that was the night to go to his pub. Our honeymoon plans were made around being in Carrick-on-Shannon that Wednesday night.

We showed up, unannounced, at 9:00 p.m. I still hadn't learned that things start later in Ireland (that wouldn't be for a few years more) and so we were the first ones in the pub and the man working the bar that night, Percy (who has since become a very dear friend of mine), had to unlock the door and let us in. I was disappointed that Gene wasn't there (knowing what I know now, this wouldn't phase me in the least and is precisely what I'd expect). When we asked Percy if Gene still owned the pub he said yes. When I asked him if Gene was going to be in that night, he said "I don't know. He's been off for a few days playing golf in Lahinch." My stomach dropped and I was trying hard to not be devastated at the thought that I may not get to see Gene again- or that he may not know that I was taking him up on his invitation six years later after it was extended.

Steve and I managed to have a perfectly wonderful time, even with the thought of Gene not being there hanging over our heads (mostly my head- Steve didn't have anything invested in this). Gene did show up at some point before the music started and was really surprised to . I shared a photo from when I met him in Doolin six years earlier, and while he didn't remember (nor did I expect him to), he was blown away that I actually showed up.

As predicted, we had the very best night of our honeymoon. Steve was my designated driver. The whole food poisoning thing was still playing a minor part in our honeymoon and so he was off the drink. Which was great news for me because I drank and drank and drank. I remember a few things vividly about that night:

  • The music was short, but oh so sweet. 
  • Only a few minutes into the night, I knew that this was going to be the location of our 30th birthday and told Gene as much. Given that I had just shown up six years after first meeting him, Gene totally believed me. 
  • We met a woman, Evelyn, who owned a B&B across the street and set plans in motion for staying at her B&B when we returned in 2008. We also met her daughter, Aileen, who was really fun to hang out with. 
  • After the music stopped, I went to the bathroom and when I came out there was no one left in the pub except for one other woman. When I asked her where everyone was, including my husband, she said "Gene needed help moving a boat. So all the lads are out back." It was well after midnight and I assure you there was no sunlight left for this task. While I may have thought this was crazy then, I most certainly do not now. 
  • I hit a drinking wall- I couldn't drink any more, but this man Jim (an older man in his late 60's/early 70's) wanted to keep buying me pints. When I said no thank you but that I'd take a water he said "I'll but you a pint, but I won't get you any water." He wasn't kidding.
  • When we left at 2:30 a.m., the place was still going and we were essentially shamed out of the pub for leaving so early. 
In looking back at my journal from that night, here's what I had to say: "Last night was a blast! We went to Anderson's Thatch Pub and had what I'm sure will be the best night of our honeymoon. When we got there- about 9:00 p.m. or so, there wasn't anyone else in the place and it didn't really show much promise. The bartender was adorable and friendly to us. Before long, the owner Gene showed up and I showed him the picture I had taken of us six years earlier. By about 10:30 p.m., a handful of musicians had shown up and the night really got started and I was well on my way to getting drunk. I couldn't have been happier. The entire night was fantastic. Gene's an amazing performer. He must have used four or five instruments. And he had a bunch of different people singling too- I was so happy with the night. We met all really nice people and by the end of the night- we finally left at 2:30 a.m.- I was drunk and very happy. It was exactly the kind of night I wanted to experience and I am so glad Steve was with me! It made it that much better."

Steve and Percy- the only ones inside the pub for quite a while... 
Back together again six years later! 
My first time meeting Percy- April, 2006
July 2008

Having no other way to communicate with Gene, I sent him a letter and photos from our honeymoon in the late spring/early summer of 2008. I told him how much fun Steve and I had when we were there two years earlier and broke the news that I wasn't kidding when I told him during our last trip that I would be spending my 30th birthday at his pub...if he'd still have us. At this point, there were 15 of us who were planning on traveling over from all corners of the U.S. and I didn't know if he was still up for this. Our birthday would fall on a Thursday, and while I know the music was on Wednesday, I was hoping we could just arrive on Thursday and have whatever celebration unfolded on that night. 

Part way through July, I received a response from Gene confirming we were on for our birthday celebration. He'd lined up a B&B that some of us could stay at and encouraged us to change our plans ever so slightly and plan on being there on Wednesday night. He was the expert, so we shifted things up by a day and set plans in motion for 16 of us to descend upon his pub in three months' time. 

Laying the groundwork for our 30th birthday by writing letters back and forth! This one is from July 10th, 2008
October 2008

For our epic 30th birthday celebration, Katie and I traveled to Ireland with a large group of friends from all over the country: Lynn (who was turning 30 one day after us), her husband Brad and mother Darlene, Meghan, Rob, their/our friends Emily, Keith and Kirstie, my friend Tif and her friend Laurie, Katie's friend Mackenzie (from Michigan) and Jigga and (her then husband) Anthony. Looking back on it, I can't believe that there were 15 of us who managed to make this happen.

It was such a special experience and one that I know I'll always look back on with a smile on my face. We had a great night celebrating with new and old friends, with great music, fun stories, dancing, lots of drinks in a pub that is unlike any other place in the world.

Here's what I wrote about in my journal "When I walked into the pub and saw Gene for the first time in two+ years, he said "Oh Molly, you're here! You're mad, but you're here!" Meghan took care of a bunch of stuff for us and talked with Gene so that there were some finger foods and a cake waiting for us. Gene went to great lengths to make the party an amazing night and an authentic Irish experience for us. He had decorated the place and made it even more warm and welcoming than it normally is. Gene arranged for a guy to come and play music and teach us how to do some Irish dancing. It was so much fun, and funny too. He was so personable and remembered all of our names. He did a remarkable job of ensuring we all had a great time. Gene also had a local, Jim, come up and tell some stories. And then they all played more music. By the end of the night I was getting sad thinking that it was going to be coming to an end. I'd been planning for this night for years. And it was just such a sad idea that it was going to be ending. I was hoping we'd have a similar experience like Steve and I had on our honeymoon where Gene would close the pub to the outside world and let us stay in and drink while he continued to sing and tell stories. But that didn't happen. Gene played one more song before we left and then we thanked him profusely for a wonderful night. He told me he'd make up a bed for me in the house if I came back through town and then we were gone."

The whole group (plus Gene and his then girlfriend Catherine) who traveled over for the 30th birthday celebration
Part of the talent that night- George on the flute and Deasun (pronounced Jess-soon) on the accordian
Playing one last song before we were on our merry way
Our birthday trip was so much fun and getting to share it with so many friends and two of my sisters was really special. I still didn't know how this place was going to become a part of who I was...that wouldn't happen for a few more years. But the bar had been set and I knew I found a place that made me really, really, really happy both times I had been there. I left feeling sad that my time at The Thatch and with Gene was already behind me, but I absolutely knew that I'd be back at some point.

*********************************************************************************

After our amazing birthday trip, I began going back to Ireland every year. (One year I even went twice!) I have had two to three weeks every year dedicated to checking out of my "real life" and escaping to a place that truly feels like a second home. While I've met so many amazing people through this chance encounter with Gene in a pub in Doolin way back in 2000, he is the central character in all of this. Without him, none of this would have happened.

Beginning in 2012, I started staying at Gene's and it allowed me to get to know him and Percy more. I got to help out more and spend more time with the both of them, Gene especially. And it allowed our friendship to go more from just hanging out at the pub to having fun adventures together. Going to Ireland was so exciting because I didn't know what in the world we'd get into- I just knew that it'd be unpredictable and fun. And that has never changed; in fact, I hope it never does!

I'm endlessly grateful to and for Gene and for whatever fate is responsible for our lives intersecting. Because of it, I have something so special and unique in my life in Ireland and in these amazing people who have become so important to me. While I always wish the distance wasn't so great and that I could make it back for more than just once a year, I try very hard to recognize how lucky I am to have something that feels so unmatched in every other aspect of my life.

I recognize that Vacation Molly- who is able to leave work, and worries, and real-life struggles behind- can bring the very best of herself to Ireland and it's a very big part of what makes the whole experience as ideal as it is while I'm there. But through Gene I've learned the importance of spontaneity, that it's okay to not plan everything in your life, to have more confidence in myself (thanks for throwing me in the deep end!), to find the sense of humor in everything you can, to stress less and play more and to just see where the day takes you. While there's a lot of frenetic energy going here, there and everywhere, he somehow has a very grounding presence in my life and I try to let that carry over into my "real life" when I'm not in Ireland.

If you have the time or the desire, here is part two. It's a continuation of how my friendship progressed with Gene each year after the 30th birthday bash. It's funny and fascinating to see how it's changed over the years and to read the various adventures I've had because of and with him.

Read more...

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