Sunday, June 28, 2015

Adventures in Ireland- Trip 11 Final Recap

Thursday June 25th
Upon returning home from Dublin, I went back to Gene's and the boys, Gene, Oliver and Dave, were all milling about doing this and that. The plan for dinner was for Dave to cook some fish and for us to eat whatever potatoes were leftover from Gene's "snack" he was currently having, along with some salad.

I walked into the kitchen to see him standing next to a pot of boiling water picking potatoes out while they were finishing up cooking. Next he'd take his fork to smash the potato, give them a good sprinkling of salt and then take his fork to the brick of butter and put a piping hot forkful of buttery, salty, potatoes into his mouth. Dave and I just looked on and shook our heads. But as Gene says, "A day without potatoes isn't a day." And when he realized he didn't have any potatoes on Wednesday, apparently he needed to remedy that ASAP.

The boys all went into their separate corners- Gene to nap, Dave to tidy up and Oliver to continue practicing fly fishing. I used the opportunity to do some yoga in my room. Which felt so great. Looking out the window and seeing the sheep in the field helped make it an even more peaceful passage of time. And it reminded me that I really like yoga. Steve's been on my case forever to go back and take some proper yoga classes, and this may have been just the experience I needed to reignite that desire within myself.

We all came back around dinnertime to meet up for our last meal. From Monday - Thursday, we'd all been eating our dinners together and it was always so nice. We'd all take turns doing the shopping. Dave and Gene would take turns doing the cooking. I'd always set the table and wash the dishes. And then we'd meet up in the pub.

When the agreed upon dinnertime came around, Dave was nowhere to be found. Gene was napping, so he didn't notice. But both Oliver and I were wondering where Dave went. Before too long he walked through the door announcing in his thick Cockney English accent "The fish went bad so I went out and bought these beef fillets." He quickly cooked the steaks and passed them out. Quick note about this. I've found it's nearly impossible to get your meat cooked to order in Ireland- or at least cooked to order in Gene's kitchen. Last week when we ate steak, I asked for mine medium rare. I know it registered with Gene, but by the time it ended up on my plate, it was well done. So tonight I thought I'd try and see if Dave could deliver a medium rare steak. It turned out, not so much. But it was great because while I was plating salad, Oliver exclaimed in disgust "Dad. There's blood coming out of my steak. Gross. I can't eat this." I happily saved the day and switched my steak with his, "bloody juices" and all. I can assure you it wasn't under cooked. In my expert opinion, I'd say it was medium- maybe even closer to medium well.

After eating, Oliver and Gene went fly fishing for a bit (Oliver had been begging Gene for two days and finally wore him down). When I was done cleaning the kitchen, I met Dave over at the pub.

Stripey Mike came in to say goodbye, which was really sweet. And Damien was in tending to the bar. More of the regulars came in- Aidan, Padraig, Pat, Huey, his lovely wife Marie- and we just sat around talking and having a very quiet night. Gene and Oliver came back after a few hours, wet (from the rain that started probably right around the same time they got the boat in the water) and cold, prompting Gene to make a round of hot whiskeys. I had been abstaining from drinking for the night so far, but I couldn't resist a hot whiskey!

For probably an hour, we all just sat around talking and drinking with everyone laughing at different stories and jokes they were telling, not to mention taking the piss out of one another. I was pulling pints and making hot whiskeys while Gene sat around with everyone laughing, listening and chatting. It was a comfortable moment with me behind the bar looking on affectionately at the scene unfolding before my eyes, feeling completely content for where I was and who I was with.

I love how the Thatch can transform from this magical place with music and dancing, packed from one end to the other and then the next night it's quiet with just a few people huddled around. There's a sense of family and familiarity. It's so much more than a bar, but where people go to complete their day, to feel better, to connect with their friends and to be in good company. And I'm so glad that I've come to witness all facets of the pub and the people who come to it.

It was "early" (2:00 a.m.) after Gene and I closed down the pub and went off to bed.

Friday June 26th
During my last full day in Ireland I was really feeling torn about being ready to go home and wanting to stay. But I tried so hard to put all those kinds of thoughts out of my head and truly enjoy the day.

I got up early to pull my stuff together and repack so that I didn't have to do that later in the night. Which proved to be really, really smart, because Gene and I were gone for much more of the day than we had anticipated.

We did our usual morning routine (and by morning I mean around 11:00 a.m.) where I pulled together breakfast while Gene made coffee and Percy came up for a visit. Having put off writing out my postcards, I did that while Gene read the paper and Percy did the crossword puzzle. It was a perfectly lovely last morning together. And made me realize that I need to be better about starting my mornings in a civilized manner like that, instead of rushing to get to my desk and eating my breakfast while I check emails.

Afterwards, Gene and I decided we'd go to the sea, Gene saying that he needed a two-hour walk on the beach for some fresh air. I thought that two hours sounded like a bit much to me, but that was the plan. We decided to go to Enniscrone, a beach town south of Sligo (and Easkey, a well-known surf spot that I've been to with Steve and for Steve a few times) that I'd never been to before, making me happy to go somewhere new to me in Ireland again.

I found myself getting a little knot in my stomach wondering how we were going to fit everything in- that same kind of feeling I get back home when I'm unnecessarily stressing about timing and scheduling and getting every little and big thing done that I have to do. And I hated it. I need to trust that everything will work out and not worry about the what ifs. I also need to figure out how to not cram everything on my to do list into an unrealistic timeline. Feeling these feelings again make the reality of going home and getting back to "my real life" more real than I wanted to confront. So I shoved those ones aside too, and tried to concentrate on doing that every time they came up throughout the day. I've learned a lot from Gene, but one of the most important things is to not plan so much. Amazing things happen when you leave yourself open to the unknown possibility of what's on the unplanned horizon.

Speaking of. Instead of starting our walk right away, we stopped for some of the best seafood chowder I've ever had. Sitting on the same side of the table looking out at the ocean, we sat in mostly companionable silence and admired the beach we were about to walk along.

With our bellies full and feeling warmed up from the inside out, Gene and I left the car parked where it was and went down to the beach for what really did turn out to be a two hour walk on the sand and directly along the coast line. It was beautiful out- sunny with some cloud coverage- with a few people on the beach with us. We watched a bird catch and eat a fish and fend off other birds trying to steal from him. And we talked, I listened to jokes (not appropriate to share here) and just enjoyed each other's company and the afternoon/evening.

Tired from our two hour walk, we got back in the car and realized that we wouldn't have time for the seaweed bath. Gene said we could either get dinner or get a seaweed bath, but that the timing would likely get him too stressed out rushing to get back to the pub if we tried both. It was reassuring to hear that Gene actually stresses out about time. At this point, it was nearly 6:30 p.m. Luckily Percy was feeling stronger and better and had told us that morning that he'd be up at the pub tonight. That took enough pressure off of us to not have to rush right on back.

With the seaweed bath saved for another time, we went to the Beach Bar (Steve and I hit this place during our honeymoon and I stayed there one night on a previous solo trip in Ireland) to grab a delicious and perfect last dinner in Ireland.

When we got outside to leave, we had beautiful views of the countryside around us and I had to take some photos. Even though I've been here before and likely have some of the same photos, I realized for the first time that I was looking at Benbulben (which I've take photos of frequently) and Knocknarea (which I've hiked twice, once on this trip with Molly). 

We returned back to Gene's just around 8:30 p.m. and Percy was in fine form pulling pints and chatting with the customers who were already inside. That gave me and Gene time to do some chores- watering the flowers (me), taking clothes off the line and putting sheets up (us), making the beds for Gene's next guests (me), vacuuming (Gene) and pulling my stuff and myself together. It was nearly 10:00 p.m. before I finally got into the pub and was greeted by a few of the regulars- Malachy, Alo, Pat, Padraig, Frank and Aidan. I was a little anxious thinking about the day ahead. A few days earlier I had made the decision to leave really early in the morning on Saturday and go straight to the Dublin airport. That seemed like a great idea then, but now that I had just a few hours before I had to get on the road, drive two hours and spend about 14 hours traveling in total, that wasn't seeming like such a smart idea. I didn't know when or if I was going to sleep that night. And I also didn't know if I should have a drink or not. I ended up having one pint courtesy of Malachy and stopped after that. (Smart move.)

Practicing shoving all my anxiety to the side, I focused on enjoying my last night at the Thatch. It was fun with all the lads there. And Gene was off in the corner by the fireplace playing music for an hour or so. It was funny because Alo and Pat were giving me shit saying that Gene was playing all these sad songs because I was leaving. We all just laughed and continued talking with Gene playing music in the background.

Throughout the past two weeks, and especially while Molly was around, we would do plank competitions in the pub or basically wherever. Not many of the boys knew what a plank was, so Gene would randomly ask us to do a plank to show someone new coming into the pub. So it was hysterical when I had a plank competition with some of the boys tonight. I'm happy to say that there aren't any photos (that I know of), but I kinda wish I had some proof that this happened. Only Padraig and Frank participated. Alo attempted to do a warrior three pose, claiming that it was really easy when I was doing it. When I tried to correct his posture, I think he got the idea that it was a little harder than he thought.

My favorite moment of the night came about when Alo told Gene that he saw him at the gas station earlier this week. Gene assured Alo that it wasn't him. And so this back and forth went on until I chimed in and told Gene that we did in fact go to the gas station before going out on the boat. I remember this so distinctly because Gene was so irritated because some "arsehole" parked his tractor making it impossible for Gene to easily pull out of the gas station. "What kind of f*cking eejit would just leave his tractor there blocking everyone?" In fact, Gene had gone into the store to see if he could figure out whose tractor it was and came back out with someone (who I later learned was maybe named Nonnie?) to help him get out of the gas station. The only way Gene could do it was by slowly driving around the tractor and going through the freaking car wash with Nonnie helping navigate. I remember laughing at the time this happened thinking "Only with Gene!"

Turns out that arsehole/f*cking eejit was Alo! He was eating lunch and had no intention of getting up to move his tractor because he thought Gene was just being funny and giving him a hard time carrying on inside the store wondering whose tractor was parked outside. I just about died watching this conversation unfold. Gene realizing that Alo was the one parking there. Alo realizing that Gene was actually irritated by where he parked his tractor. The two of them going back and forth was enough to make me nearly wet my pants. I sat back and watched them trade barbs and defend their actions and laughed all the while knowing that this conversation would be staying with me for a long time (and slightly bummed that I didn't have my iPhone around to record it).

I prolonged the night for as long as I could. I didn't want to say goodbye to the Thatch or to any of the boys. I wanted to stay in the moment for as long as I could. Both Gene and Alo said the place wouldn't be the same without me, Alo sweetly saying that there's a light that I bring to the pub. As much as I wanted this to go on forever, around 2:00 a.m., Gene called it a night and we walked out the door. I said my silent goodbye to the pub and all the amazing memories I made in the past two weeks and walked into Gene's house to consider whether I was going to sleep or not after pulling all my stuff together.

By the time I was entirely packed and changed into my travel/potential sleep clothes and wrote Gene a thank you note that I left at the kitchen table, it was nearly 3:00 a.m. I didn't dare going to sleep for fear that I wouldn't actually wake up and I'd miss my flight. So I didn't.

Saturday June 27th
Although I insisted on him not, Gene set his alarm so he could say goodbye and make sure I didn't sleep through my alarm at 4:22 a.m. I didn't actually sleep, but I did get up when I heard Gene's alarm go off. It took me about two minutes to get myself out of bed and ready to walk out the door. I won the battle of Gene not carrying my suitcase to the car, so I said goodbye to him at the front door, gave him a very tight hug, thanking him for everything over the past two weeks, and walked to the car without looking back.

With a lump in my throat and tears shining my eyes, I got into the car and drove to the Dublin airport.

The drive wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be considering I hadn't slept in nearly 24 hours. And dropping the rental car off was a breeze. Before I knew it, I was at my gate with plenty of time to spare. I didn't dare sleep, although I was that person doing the sleeping head bob and snap, for fear of missing the flight. So it wasn't until my butt was in the seat on the Dublin to London flight that I let my eyes close and I slept all the way through and woke up just in time for our landing in London.

The London Heathrow airport is gigantic and I got in an easy two miles getting from one plane to the next. And because I was successful in only doing carry-on for this trip, it was a bit of a bitch to have to travel so far and so quickly with awkward luggage. I managed though, and got to my gate about 20 minutes before boarding.

Once on my Los Angeles-bound flight, I tried to sleep but mostly worked, catching up on the 200 emails I received while on vacation. It didn't take long to realize vacation is over! While very much looking forward to seeing Steve, Clancy and Katie, I was really feeling the post-trip blues pretty intensely on the flight. And landing in Los Angeles didn't help matters. See the photo below to see what it was like taking off from Dublin and landing in Los Angeles.

Sunday June 28th
My post-vacation blues are legit. And it seems stronger than I've experienced before. Yesterday I was reminded of the kinds of things I didn't have to hear or worry about or see while staying out in the country at Gene's. Like the little kids who live directly above us who are constantly running and jumping and screaming. Like being able to see into the people's apartment who live across from our bedroom. Like traffic not caused by sheep or cows or from being stuck behind a tractor. Like strip malls and impatient drivers everywhere. Like congestion and smog.

I'm finding myself easily annoyed and irritated, but I know that has to do with desperately needing sleep and settling back into my real life. And yet, I'm feeling the pull something fierce.I know I've been fortunate enough to go to Ireland ELEVEN times. And I've been going back once a year (and one year it was twice) since 2008, but I really never know for sure when I'll be back or where life may take me. And with Percy getting older in age, and life in general being totally unpredictable, I feel an extra sadness leaving this time around. 

I keep reminding myself that the life I live in Ireland for two weeks each year is not sustainable beyond that. It just isn't. It's a little sliver of time in my life where I do crazy things like drink a lot and stay up later than any night I can remember in LA. It's a time where I surrender control and happily play the role of passenger and hanger-on as Gene goes about his day, accomplishing his tasks or joining him for adventures. I moonlight as a bartender. I don't pick up after anyone. I don't have to take anyone out- sorry Clancy! I don't have to be in charge of anything. I don't have to be on conference calls or at my computer constantly checking email. I spend more time outdoors than indoors. I do chores that remind me of being back home in New Hampshire- things like sweeping the road and watering the flowers and taking clothing on/off the clothing line. The pace is way slowed down. I hear cows and sheep making noises all day. I'm surrounded by, and constantly in, nature. I can walk outside and not be around a single other person- or animal- if I don't want to.

Of course I realize I'm so fortunate to live where I live. My loves are here. My life is here. This is where I'm supposed to be. In time, hopefully sooner rather than later, my post-Ireland funk will be over with and I can be back to myself. Because part of me feels like my post-vacation blues takes away from the gratitude I feel at having a place and having people in that place that make me feel so welcomed and so, so happy. I guess what I'm struggling with is that pull that I feel and the imbalance of being so unbelievably happy in a place that is so far away and one that I can't get to as frequently as I wish. As hard as I try to gain perspective about the reality of, as Katie said, this life that I have here in LA makes the time I have in Ireland possible, I just can't.

Steve has been very understanding with my post-Ireland funk, continuing the streak of being a wonderful husband who lets me run off for two weeks each year to another country without him. (For the record, he's always asked/invited, and always declines.) He's being gentle with me and being very understanding of my current mood. Which helps a lot. But I just wish I could hurry up and be content with where I am at this moment and not long for another place filled with other people.

In the meantime, I'm going to continue to repeat to myself all the things I can't do in Ireland that I can do here. And focus on the many things that I do/see/eat/experience that I love and makes me happy about where I live. I know I'll get through, I always do. But I think I'll need to be a little more patient with myself than I thought I'd need to be as I readjust to my real life. (Which again, I want to reiterate that I know is nothing to be sad over!)

Speaking of real life, thank you, Santa Monica, for putting on this show tonight to help me find my Santa Monica love all over again.

And thank you to Ireland and Gene and Percy, and all my favorites from the Thatch, to my Irish family, to Molly and to anyone else who helped make this a most memorable trip. Each year I feel like I've left a part of myself and a part of my heart in Ireland. And I think it's safe to say that this year, I may have left the biggest piece of my self and my heart behind.

I will be back. I may not know when. But I can take comfort today in knowing that I have a second home that will always be waiting for me whenever I can make the trip.


Alyssa June 29, 2015 at 7:56 PM  

What a beautiful blog post! How wonderful to have a place you so strongly identify with as a second home. <3 Sending you love for re-entry into "real" life, it can definitely be rough!

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