Sunday, March 17, 2013

☘ ☘ ☘ ☘ Happy St. Patrick's Day! ☘ ☘ ☘ 

For those of you who are new around here, St. Patrick's Day is kind of a big deal. Kind of a really big deal. On this blog, it is The Holiday of Coolness. At the Eden home, it is my birthday! It is also the day we ramp up our ordinarily enormous Irish pride to levels approaching lunacy. Everything we eat is green. Everything we wear is green. The house is filled with green, green, green. And this blog gets the same Irish makeover.

This year, St. Patrick's Day is even more fun. We had the amazing opportunity to spend Christmas in Ireland and came home even more in love with the culture, the history, the people. We're dying to go back.

So, in Holiday of Coolness tradition, here are some fantastic Irish Things I Love...

Traditional Music:
This video is of "The Irish Houseparty" a group I got to see perform in Dublin when I was there in December. Fantastic. Amazing. So, so, so much fun. I could spend an entire blogpost just on the joys of listening to live Irish music played by talented Irish musicians in a traditional Irish pub. This particular tune, "The Rocky Road to Dublin" features prominently in my next book, due out in August, set amongst a large group of Irish immigrants settled in the mid-19th Century American West. It's a fave!

Songs sung in the beautiful ancient Irish language:
This is the fantastic Mary Black, singing "Mo Ghile Mear" (My Gallant Darling). This song dates to the 18th century and is a lament for Bonnie Prince Charlie. For many centuries the Irish were forbidden to speak Gaelic, though strongholds remained in the more rural parts of the country. The language very nearly reached a point of extinction. After Ireland was granted its independence in 1922, Gaelic (which was always called simply "Irish" by those we spoke to in Ireland) became part of all children's education in Ireland and official place names, by law, included both the English and Irish names. This beautiful, rich language has been preserved for future generations and I, for one, am very pleased it has been.

Modern music:

Every year I post a song by The Script, one of my favorite groups of all time. These Dublin boys are pretty fantastic. This song, "Hall of Fame" from their most recent album, #3, is one of my go-to songs when I need something to pump me up and get me going. Fantastic, yeah?

Looking for more great Irish music? Do a Youtube, Spotify, Grooveshark, etc. search for any of the following: The High Kings, Cara Dillon, John Doherty, Michael McGoldrick, The Clancy Brothers, The Wolfe Tones, The Dubliners, Liam Clancy, Tommy Makem, The Irish Rovers.

Still not enough? Tune in to the live internet radio feed at and thank me later!

The People
Even as we wandered around Ireland completely lost and kind of nerdily in awe of the entire country, we were greeted on every side by the kindest, most friendly people you'd ever meet. Even complete strangers laugh and talk with you as though you were their best friend.

We spent an evening with the Ryan family in Tramore, enjoying "biscuits and games." (Biscuits means cookies, by the way.) Willie Ryan is, quite possibly, the funniest person I have ever, ever known. He told the most ridiculously hilarious, far-fetched stories but with a completely serious expression and tone. After three or four, he told our kids, by way of explanation, "I kissed the Blarney Stone in '74." And that, apparently, was all we really needed to know.

Want to hear just exactly what The Gift of the Gab means. Take a listen to this fine, fine example:

The History
Want to feel grateful for freedom and liberty? Spend a little time studying the last 400 years of Irish history. It is heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. My kids hear a lot of Irish music and poetry, and they quickly discovered a pattern. When we hear a song or poem about an Irish battle or uprising, their comments are generally something like, "The Irish lost that battle, huh?" And the answer is almost always, "Yes." And yet, the Irish didn't give up. That they maintained their culture and identity and determination to fight on is pretty amazing.

The Irish are often noted for being stubborn. I don't know if that stubbornness came about because of the centuries of oppression they endured or if their stubbornness came first, the reason they survived it all. Either way, I'm grateful to have inherited a good amount of that determination not to curl up and die in the face of adversity--it has served me well.

One of my favorite Irish poems, written by Seamus Heaney, recounts the Irish's tragic, brave stand against the British Army during the Battle of Vinegar Hill, part of the 1798 Rebellion.
Requiem for the Croppies
The pockets of our greatcoats full of barley...
No kitchens on the run, no striking camp...
We moved quick and sudden in our own country.
The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.
A people hardly marching... on the hike...
We found new tactics happening each day:
We'd cut through reins and rider with the pike
And stampede cattle into infantry,
Then retreat through hedges where cavalry must be thrown.
Until... on Vinegar Hill... the final conclave.
Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August... the barley grew up out of our grave.

-Seamus Heaney

The Food
Every year I post a recipe for a traditional Irish dish. This year it's Lamb Stew. We don't eat corned beef and cabbage for our St. Patrick's Day celebration. Our Irish ancestors were too poor to have ever afforded something as fine as beef. They would have lived on soda bread, colcannon, potatoes, and mutton and, on special occasions  lamb. So that's what we have to honor them. They were simple, humble, hardworking people, and I'm proud of that. That's what we celebrate and honor on St. Patrick's Day.

Irish Lamb Stew
1.5 lb lamb, cut to stew-sized pieces
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
1 lb potatoes, peeled, sliced
2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley and 1 tsp fresh chopped thyme (mixed together)
salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 325*. Fill a casserole dish with lamb, onions, and potatoes. Sprinkle with herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Pour in 2 cups of water. Put on casserole lid. Cook for 2-2.5 hours. Serves 4.

Irish Blessings
The Irish have the most fantastic mixture of wisdom and wit. While I would struggle to pick a favorite, I do always close out my annual Holiday of Coolness post with this gem...

May those who love us, love us.
And for those who don't love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if He can not turn their hearts,
May He turn their ankles,
So we may know them by their limping.

Happy Holiday of Coolness, everyone!
(And, in case you're curious, here are links to the HofC posts from 2012, 2011 & 2010)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I'm dropping in to say an enormous and heartfelt thank you for the many words of encouragement and love I have received in the last couple weeks. Things have been really tough, but I appreciate knowing I have support.

The tough stuff...
I am not a crier--I can count on a single hand the number of times I usually cry over the course of a year. But there has not been a single day since early January when I haven't found myself in tears. The pain never goes entirely away and there are moments throughout the day when the intensity and unrelenting nature of it is just a little too much. I wear arthritis gloves 24 hours a day to help with the swelling. I wear "accommodative" shoes (think orthopedic, but one level closer to regular-people shoes) to make walking less agonizing. There have been so many changes so quickly. I'm adjusting but it's been tough.

The good stuff...
I have a great family. No, a really great family. We had a family meeting a few weeks ago to discuss our new situation and how to make it work. The whole clan has really stepped up. They cook meals and haul laundry around. My husband has learned to instantly recognize my "I can't get this jar/box/door/bottle of medicine open" face and jumps in to help without needing to be asked. The kids go grocery shopping with me so they can push the cart and get things off shelves and carry the heavy bags to and from the car. My son even conceded defeat in an impromptu "awkward dance" competition we had recently. Let's face it, when your joints stick and pop and generally don't cooperate, "awkward" is the name of the game. We're finding our new normal as a family and it's gonna be fine. In fact, it's gonna be better than fine.

A few things I feel like I should mention...
  • I do know that RA gets better once the right treatments are found. I promise I know that. The fact that I am struggling right now with the constant, unrelenting pain I am in should in no way be seen as proof that I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel. A person can feel discouraged and overwhelmed and exhausted in the moment and still have a very optimistic and hopeful eye on the future. That's me. That's where I am. I look forward to the better days and am getting through the hard ones a day at a time.
  • I have had a few people ask how I type when I am dealing with debilitating stiffness, inflammation, and pain in my hands. The short answer: I don't. My computer has a built-in dictation program that I use to type emails, tweets, facebook updates, etc. I have a fancier, more accurate, more dynamic dictation program (one I researched quite extensively) to use for drafting manuscripts, doing edits, etc.
  • The support I've felt from everyone has been amazing. I can't thank you enough for the very tangible reminder that I am cared about and thought about. I appreciate that so many of you were respectful of my request to not be sent miracle cures or easy fixes or "if you'll only do this, you'll get better." I promise you that a heartfelt "I care about you" does more to help than anything else.
  • I debated including this on the list, but I'm gonna. I guess I'm just in that kind of mood. So here goes... Contrary to what a few people have written to tell me, bad things can and do happen to good people. Struggles and difficulties in life are not an inarguable sign that a person has done something to deserve the difficulties. If a person is plagued with illness all their life, if they aren't cured or the illness taken away, that doesn't mean they lack the willpower or the faith or the "goodness" to be cured. And that is all I mean to say about that.
So, thank you again. Thanks for enduring yet another long and rambling blog post all about me! I likely won't post again until my annual Holiday of Coolness post on March 17th. So... until then!


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