Ireland Trekking

Whew! We crammed a lot into one day. The Rock of Cashel, Blarney Castle, and Gougan Barra. I slept good that first night of the tour at Gougan Barra hotel. Gougan Barra is situated in the Shehy Mountains which I thought was pretty cool considering my wife’s maiden name was Sheehy. From there we drove to the town of Bantry, on Bantry Bay and saw Bantry house and garden. And from there it was on to Glengarriff. It is also located on Bantry Bay in Southeast County Cork. At Glengarriff we took a boat to Garnish Island, or Illnacullin in Irish.

Bantry House

Garnish Island

Garnish Island is a 37 acre rock in Bantry Bay that was transformed into massive Italian gardens. Tons of top soils, stone and trees, and plants all had to be carried over on boats. It was actually pretty amazing. On the way there we found seals basking in the sun on small rocks jutting out of the bay.

We drove through the Caha Mountains and the scenery is just amazing. The entire Southwest of Ireland is all mountains and rocky Atlantic coast. At the town of Kenmare we found the Kenmare Stone Circle. We were told that there are 180 stone circles all over Ireland. There are a lot of theories but no one seems to know exactly what they were for. More than likely they were for religious purposes as they predate Christianity by a couple thousand years. The one we saw at Kenmare is estimated to be 4500 years old. Not only was Ann raised Catholic but she was very much interested in and attuned to a spiritual side that could only have come from her ancient history as an Irish woman. The Kenmare stone circle would have found her meditating in the middle of it. I left the rest of her ashes that I brought with me under the alter stone.

Alter stone at Kenmare

We stayed in Kenmare that night and had a feast at our hotel while listening to traditional Irish music (Trad). You can find Trad all over Ireland, probably more for the tourists than the locals.

One of the things I noticed about the smaller towns I visited was how clean they were. No trash in the gutters, no broken signs or crappy abandoned buildings or houses. Clean and tidy. And though everyone drove as if their butts were on fire, I didn’t see and banged up cars. The only American vehicles I saw were Fords and Harley Davidson motorcycles. All other cars were either Asian or European. I even saw cars from the Czech Republic and Romania.

It is interesting that when you travel outside the U.S. you find that people are much more, “worldly” than Americans seem to be. I’ve known many people who knew almost nothing about U.S. government, or current events or even our own history. They are concerned about their immediate lives and families and not much else. With the small amount of travel I have done I find Europeans are much different. They seem to know much more about their own history and what’s going on in the world around them. And they seem to care. They have an opinion on everything and are willing to discuss and even argue their point of view, over a pint of course. It’s refreshing. The U.S. is isolated geographically from every country except Mexico and Canada and a lot of people think of Canada as just another state. This could be part of the problem. We have a tendency to think of the rest of the world as so far away that they don’t really concern us. In Europe, many other countries are just a couple hours away and many people know more than one language. The concerns of other countries are much more close and immediate and in that respect are their concerns also. I wish more people could travel. It really helps open your eyes to what is happening in the world. Well in the next article, I’m on to Killarney National Park.


Headin’ South

Ireland is a small country. It is 35,595 square miles. Compare that to Minnesota, in the U.S. where I live: 86,936 square miles. Which makes Ireland 2 1/2 times smaller than Minnesota. Ireland’s population in 2016 (the latest stats I could find) was 6,572,728 compared to Minnesota at 5,679,718 in 2018 which makes their population density almost three times higher than Minnesota. Dublin was crowded with 1.7 million people in the city and surrounding area but the smaller towns I visited only seemed crowded because of all the tourists. If I were to live there, I would defiantly find a country town. That being said, I think other countries are fine to visit but I like where I live and therefore, I will always come back home.

The history of Ireland is inextricably tangled up with Great Britain. My first tour driver told the story of how some English Royals were invited to an Irish wedding. They liked Ireland so much that they stayed for 800 years. Needless to say, the Irish were not happy about it. There is so much history to tell that I’m not going to get into it because I’m not a historian, and there is a multitude of really good books on the subject. To give you an example of the tenacity of the Irish, I heard this story: When Queen Victoria died in 1901 it was ordered that the Irish paint every door in the country black as a sign of loyalty to the crown and of mourning. The Irish of course were having none of it and painted their doors with the brightest colors they could find. It kind of gives you a hint of how relations went between the two countries. As I said in my post, “To Dublin,” The Irish won their independence in 1921. As with any negotiation, they had to make compromises, but they won their freedom.

When I decided to go to Ireland I had to come up with a way to make the most of my time there. I am interested in history, both of people and Natural History so I wanted to see as much of both as possible. I wasn’t sure about driving, and I didn’t want to rely on buses or trains. So I decided on taking a tour. I was a little apprehensive about spending an entire week with a group of people because I’m on the anti-social side but it turned out fine. The group I was with were all very nice, laid back people and I made some new friends. I chose a company called Vagabond Tours. They were highly rated and they are a small group tour company. There were 15 in my group. That’s as big as I’d want it to be.

My people

I arrived in Dublin on a Saturday morning and my tour left on the following Monday so I had two days to explore the city and then I was headin’ south. We were picked up at the Grand Canal Hotel, (which is where I was staying) loaded up the coach and headed out. The countryside south of Dublin is relatively flattish land with farms of crops, horses, cows, and sheep. The motorway is equivalent to freeways in the U.S. According to the Irish, they drive on the correct side of the road, which is the left. With a little practice I think it could be easy to get used to. Our first stop on the tour was at the Rock Of Cashel. It is a castle dating from the 1100’s and was the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster. In 1101, the King of Munster, Muirchertach Ua Briain, (Murtough O’Brien, whom I have traced my lineage to) donated the fortress to the church.

The Rock of Cashel

From there we visited Blarney Castle. If you have heard of the Blarney Stone, this is where it is. There is a legend that says if you kiss the Blarney Stone you will receive the gift of gab. I did not kiss it. The castle and grounds are very beautiful and very commercialized. You can’t blame them I guess. They’re making a lot of money off tourism and it’s helping the economy greatly.

Blarney Castle

At the end of a long days ride, we arrived at Gougan Barra. It is an ancient monastic site built by Saint Finbarr. The area is just stunning. It rests in a valley with a lake and mountains all around. And sheep. Always sheep. There are three spellings for Gougan Barra. The one I have used is the Irish spelling. The other is Gougane Barra which is English. And then there is Ghuagan Barra which is the spelling for the Ghuagan Barra Forest Park, or Pairc Fhoraoise. Confusing, right. Every public sign in Ireland has both Irish and English spellings on them.

Here are my favorite photos of Gougan Barra

It was a beautiful, peaceful place. I easily could have spent days there. As soon as I saw it I decided to leave some of Ann’s ashes there. I left them at the alter stone on the monastic settlement behind the little church building. I’m sure she would have loved it there. Ann was raised Catholic and even though she no longer participated, It was still a part of who she was. Here’s to Saint Finbarr!

To Dublin


If you read my post, “Across the Sea,” then you know the reasons why I visited Ireland. My flight consisted of flying to Amsterdam, switching planes and then flying to Dublin. It’s always interesting when you fly over 400 miles further than you wanted to go and then board another plane to fly back to your destination. We reached Amsterdam without incident which, if you fly at all you will know is a great relief. I had a one hour and fifty five minute layover. When the flight crew announced they were ready to board we were all ushered onto a bus. Odd, but not unheard of. The bus left the terminal, and continued leaving the terminal. We rode past houses. And then farms. And open fields. Some time later I saw a plane up ahead on the tarmac. As we got closer, the plane got smaller. “Oh cute,” I thought. “A little planelet.” Well that small plane was where we were heading. It turns out it wasn’t really small, it held about 50 people. But compared to the giant jet I had traversed the Atlantic ocean on, it was small. We boarded and got settled and, didn’t go anywhere. Finally,one on the flight crew came on the intercom and in a nonchalant, sing song voice said, “You may be wondering why we haven’t left yet. It seems we can’t find our pilot. We’re pretty sure he knows he’s supposed to be here but we can’t reach him by phone. But don’t worry, he’ll show up eventually. He always does.”

This was not a confidence booster. Myriad thoughts ran through my little brain. Is he a drunk? Irresponsible? Is he lost? As I sat there reviewing all the poor decisions I had made in my life, flying to Ireland was creeping ever so slowly to the top of the list. Eventually he did show up and proved to be a good pilot. We landed safely in Dublin. I didn’t see any of the flight crew crossing themselves and that helped a lot. Getting through security at Dublin airport was a breeze except they took my shaving cream. In today’s world of AK 47’s and shoe bombs, shaving cream seems pretty tame. I’m not at all sure how I could kill someone with that but apparently terrorists are pretty inventive.


So there I was, in Dublin, Ireland for the first time in my life. I found a bus heading toward the city center and climbed aboard. It was just a short walk to my hotel from the last stop. Dublin, with a population of about 1.7 million people is defiantly a cosmopolitan city. Many immigrants have come to Ireland in recent years to help make Dublin a colorful, busy, attractive place. There are restaurants serving every kind of food you can imagine, and shops of every kind. Buses, trains and taxi’s will take you anywhere you wish to go at any hour. There has been a resurgence of interest in the Irish language in the last decades resulting in every public sign containing both English and Irish. I have always heard the language referred to as Gaelic however I learned that is wrong. Gaelic is the culture, Irish is the language. I have been interested in Ireland’s history and have read much about the uprisings and the fight for independence, so I went to see some important sites, especially places concerned with the Easter Rising of 1916. One of these sites was the General Post Office, which is still in use today. It was here that The Irish Volunteers captured the building and used it as their headquarters. In front of the building, Padraig Pearse read the Proclamation of Independence. The rising was unsuccessful but the execution of many of the leaders by the British helped turn the tide of opinion against them (the British) and by December, 1921 The Irish Republic won its independence.

General Post Office and the Spire

In the middle of O’Connell street, right across from the General Post Office (GPO) is the Dublin Spire. It is a monument built on the site of the former Nelson’s Pillar, a monument to a British Naval officer, which was blown up in 1966. The Spire is 9.8 feet wide at the base and 390 feet tall, and is needle shaped. It was commissioned as part of a redesign of the street and chosen in an international contest. Those who don’t like the Spire complain that it has little architectural or cultural connection to the city. In my humble opinion, they’re right. While I was there I noticed a member of the Garda (police) standing near the GPO. So I asked him about the Spire. I asked what the significance of the Spire was. What did it represent? He said, “Well it’s a really tall thing, isn’t it.” It wasn’t a question. “But isn’t there any meaning to it?” I asked. “Well after all, You’ve got to have a really tall thing haven’t you,” he said. That wasn’t a question either. Irish humor is interesting.

As well as the GPO I saw lots of other places in Dublin. The Temple Bar, Dublin Castle, the Ha’Penny bridge, and Trinity College among others. It was a fun weekend and I feel like I walked 500 miles. All up hill. I just about got killed a few times, what with them all driving on the left side of the road. Not only that but electric cars are popular there. Dubliners call them silent death because they don’t make any noise as they run over you. There is much that I did and saw that I could write about but it would make this article way too long. As far as big cities go, I liked Dublin. Facebook and Google like it too. Those companies and others are buying whole office buildings and setting up shop in Dublin. Apparently they get a good tax deal. (If you want to know things, ask a cab driver.) Oh, and it seems Dubliners have an affection for green tinted glass. It’s on buildings everywhere. Next, I’ll tell you of my adventures in the country.

A Leaving

The bitterness of his reproach
for what she gave but wasn’t wanted
lies on her skin, a filth
that washing will not remove

The heat that rises
from the foulness of his disdain
The prickles of sweat
as she turns from him

Having given what he
needed to hear
was all she could do

The sound of his house
key hitting the table
where she drops it,
the dull metallic
discordant note
of cheap metal

Across The Sea

What have I been doing for the last ten days, you ask? Or maybe you haven’t. More than likely, you haven’t given a single thought to what I’ve been up to. I’ll tell you anyway. I flew over 7400 miles in four airplanes. I rode over 1000 kilometers in a small coach bus. I hung out with 15 other people for 10 days. And I walked what feels like 500 miles, all up hill. I saw some beautiful beaches, some wonderful mountains, and a hell of a lot of sheep. I learned some history and heard some great music. I met some great people. I went to Ireland. I went there for two reasons. I’ve always wanted to go, and I wanted to take my wife’s ashes there. My wife’s maiden name was Sheehy. That’s a name that is unique to only one place on Earth. Ireland. Her great, great grandfather came to the U. S. with three brothers some time during the 1800’s from County Limerick, Ireland. She always wanted to go, but never found a way. I left her ashes in two places, both of which she would’ve approved of. I feel really good about that.

As I walked through places in Ireland, I felt her spirit. I felt her love and laughter. When Ann was dying of cancer I told her I would take her ashes to Ireland. I told her that the Sheehy’s would have come home then. She put her arms around me and said, “I am home”. It made me cry, as it’s doing right now. It is important to me that I did this. It is a fulfillment, an ending, in a way, of something that I felt was right. Her ashes should reside in the land of her ancestors. In life, Ann felt her Irishness. She was German also, but she always felt a closeness with her Irish roots. And she was a redhead. (I’m told that the red hair hair came to Ireland with the Vikings. More on that later.) So this was important to me, and I pulled it off. Everything worked right. That doesn’t always happen, and I had this silent nagging in my head that said something will go wrong, you won’t be able to do this right. But it worked, and for that I am grateful.

The two places I left her ashes would have been meaningful to her. The first was a little place called Guagan Barra. (Goo-gone Bar-ah) It is the 6th century ruins of the monastic settlement of Saint Finbarr. Ann was raise Catholic, and even though she wasn’t a part of the church any longer, it was still a part of her. This was an absolutely beautiful location on a little spit of land on a lake surrounded by mountains. She would have been in awe of this place. I know I was.

Guagan Barra

The second place was under the alter stone of a Standing Stone Circle. Even though Ann was raised Catholic she had a spiritual side that took a left turn somewhere along the way grabbed hold of her pagan Irish roots. She was very interested in Ancient Ireland, it’s people and their spiritual beliefs. She probably could’ve sat in the middle of that stone circle for a long time, communing with those who went before her.

Alter stone at Kenmare stone circle.

I’ll write more soon about the trip, the people I met and places I went. I just wanted you to know why I went. Not the least of which is that I just wanted to see Ireland too. I have Irish ancestors also. Names like Brown, Daily, Byrne, and O’Brien grace my genealogy chart. I’ve traced them back to the 1300’s and my mother always remembered her grandparents speaking in an Irish brogue. So now you know why I went, not that I would need an excuse, It’s Ireland after all. Who wouldn’t want to go there?

Comfort Zone

Whether we like to admit it or not, we all have a comfort zone. A place in our minds where we feel comfortable, where we feel in control. Where we believe we know what’s going to happen and how we’re going to handle it. We all have that, and we all like it. There are people who thrive in chaos. People who are at their best when everything around them is falling apart and they still somehow seem to figure things out and make things work. For them, chaos is their comfort zone. A hospital is a good place to find people like that. Emergency medical technicians are like that. Army Sargent’s are like that. What it all boils down to is control. We like to believe that we have control. Over ourselves, our kids, situations, etc. Control usually means we are familiar with our surroundings, familiar with how others do things, and just plain familiar with whatever we encounter. Then we think, there won’t be any surprises that we don’t know how to deal with. That’s our comfort zone, and we want to be there.

I never really liked high school. I was kind of a quiet kid, I didn’t do sports, I didn’t join anything. I always wanted to be somewhere else and yet I breezed through most of my classes. I had maybe two or three friends. When I graduated I walked away and never looked back. Never, is a funny word. You’ve heard the expression, “Never say Never.” It was a smart person who made that up. They knew what they were talking about. A few years ago I started to get curious about my classmates. I hadn’t seen most of them for many years and truthfully, I’d forgotten many of them. When I found a Facebook group for my class, I joined. A step out of the comfort zone. A few months ago I started seeing posts for my 45th class reunion. (Yes, I’m that old.) One of the people on the committee said that they wanted people to join the planning committee. So I joined. A leap out of the comfort zone. I’m glad I did it. It’s fun catching up with people you haven’t seen in many years. None of us had any idea what we were in for when we left that school building for the last time and so it seems I had more in common with my classmates than I realized. Getting out of your comfort zone can be fun.

Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” I believe that, but it can be very troublesome for many folks. I knew a woman who said it really bothered her husband to hear people speaking a different language. Standing in the grocery line and listening to someone speaking Spanish or Somali really upset him. “You don’t know what they’re saying. They could be talking badly about you,” he would tell her. For him, this was way outside his comfort zone. Travel, especially to foreign countries, helps with that. Seeing how other people live, hearing other languages and experiencing new and different things helps broaden the comfort zone. I’ve traveled a lot within the United States but never to a country that has a different language. I plan to do that in the near future.

I think it’s good to be uncomfortable. Many people will avoid an uncomfortable situation at all costs. It gives you a prickly feeling. Makes you sweat a little, makes you uncertain. I think these things are good. They serve to open your mind, and heart to bigger and better things. The truth is, there is no such thing as control. I think I’ve written about this before. If we believe we have control of a situation, we’re fooling ourselves. Like the person who says, “My dog would never do that,” or “My child would never say that.” That’s believing you have control, and it’s false. We lie to ourselves in order to believe that we have control because we don’t want to be outside our comfort zone. When I was a kid I did all kinds of things my parents didn’t know about. But I never heard them say, “Our son would never do that.” They knew better. Maybe that’s how I came to realize that there’s no such thing as control. I knew my parents trusted me and yet I was out doing all kinds of things I should’ve gotten a beating for. So if they imagined they had control of me, I knew they didn’t. Now apply that logic to everything in your life. Control? What control?

So I recommend getting out of your comfort zone. Go do some things you’ve never done. When you hear people speaking a different language, listen to them. They’re not talking about you. You’re not that interesting. They’re probably talking about the same kind of things you talk about. Go to a different country where they use different money. Then you can figure out how their money relates to yours and if you’re getting the right change. Trying to figure out the bus routes in Edinburgh Scotland was a real treat. Yes they speak English, but their accent makes it hard to understand sometimes. It was fun. I’m going to Ireland soon. They have an area I will be going to that is called “Gaeltacht” where a large share of the population speaks the Irish language. I can’t wait to hear it and I’ll be leaving my comfort zone at home.

Walking In The Woods

Walking in the woods, especially when it’s quiet and there’s no one around is one of my favorite things to do. In my area there are a few different places one can go to do that. Today, I was at Big Woods State Park at Nerstrand, Minnesota. Big Woods sits on 2882 acres of Platteville Limestone deposited almost 500 million years ago. Once covered in Spruce forest the climate warmed at the end of the last ice age and produce Oak forest and prairie. 400 to 500 years ago the climate cooled a little and Big Woods became a hardwood forest. Established in 1945, Big Woods State Park is one of the very few places where the Dwarf Trout Lily grows in the entire world. Many other species of flowers and plants grow there as well. A half mile downhill from the visitor center on Prairie Creek is the Hidden Falls. It’s beautiful and noisy when there is Spring runoff but during hot dry Summers it can be reduced to a trickle.

Imagine hundreds of miles of forest! That’s what this area was once like. A person could walk for weeks and never come to the end of the woods. It must have been amazing. I take my camera when I go to shoot wild flowers and other interesting stuff. I didn’t see any deer today but I did see lots of birds and squirrels. And not a single person on the trail. The temperature was only about 45 F when I went and I think people like it a little warmer. The South side trails are closed due to mud but the North side is all open. Some of those trails are muddy in spots as I found, but I got through.

Also in Rice county we have the River Bend Nature Center. It’s located on the Southeast side of Faribault, Minnesota and has 743 acres of woods and prairie. 10 miles of trails will give you a great workout. The center is on the Straight River and a few trails lead to the rivers edge. We also have the Cannon Wilderness park which has 850 acres of wooded river land. Situated on the Cannon river which flows to the Mississippi, the Wilderness park has primitive campsites, hiking and horse trails, picnic shelters, a canoe and kayak launch site and restrooms. The park is closed at the moment due to tornado damage last summer. The Rice county park system includes lots of other spots for hiking, picnicking, and other recreation.

Rice county (where all these parks are) is only 516 square miles and has over 20 lakes! Lots of fishing, boating, and swimming opportunities. (This sounds like a commercial.) Low rolling hills and lots of farm land keeps us rural and that’s the way we like it. I love getting out of town and going to the parks. Fresh air and exercise keeps me from having to buy larger pants.

Treasure From Dirt

I dug a hole in my front yard last summer. My brother had given me a clump of ornamental grass, the ten foot tall kind with fluffy white plumes on top, you know the type. I’m trying to plant as many bushes and trees and shrubs in my yard as I can to help eliminate the lawn. I think an empty space around your house with grass growing is a terrible idea. We have been duped into thinking we need to have a flawless lawn, a lawn to be the envy of the neighborhood, to be sought after, to be worshiped. And we spend hours and gobs of money on fertilizers and herbicides to get it that way. And more hours cutting and trimming the damn stuff. Not only is it a disaster for the environment and detrimental to bees and other productive insects, an empty lawn is just plain boring. So I got some ornamental grass. Nice stuff. And I dug a hole for it.

The hole was about the size of a five gallon pail, laid on its side. As I was digging I noticed stuff in the dirt. Here’s what I found: a silver plated spoon, a large rusty hinge, four rusty nails and a piece of pottery with a white finished side that says, “China” and has a unicorn on it. After some research I found that the pottery piece is probably Ironstone from an English company. All in a hole about the size of a five gallon pail. I immediately wanted to dig up the rest of the yard to see what else I could find. After some consideration I realized how much work that would be and wondered how much it cost to rent a backhoe.

I didn’t rent a backhoe or dig any further. But it was fun to find stuff. I can see the allure of archeology. And owning a metal detector. It’s digging up history. Someone owned the plate that the pottery chip came from. Someone used that silver plated spoon. Who were they? What were they like? And how did those things come to be lost? All questions I can’t answer but would love to know more about. As far as my lawn goes, I’m going to talk to city hall and see what the laws are about letting it grow wild. I’d like to plant wildflowers and just let it grow naturally. I’m not sure I can do that but I’ll find out. Oh and the ornamental grass? It didn’t grow.

A Love/Hate Relationship

Once a year the local Hospital Auxiliary has a used book sale. They take over the town ice arena and for five days put on a book sale of immense proportions. Every inch of the hockey area floor is covered in tables of books. Close to 70,000 by this years estimate. They raise close to a million dollars for the hospital, which is city owned. I love this sale. I am a bibliophile by anyone’s description and I go to the sale several times to scour the tables for treasures. Most are priced at a dollar or two which makes it easy to come home with a box of them. This year is no different. What is different this year is that I am finding I’m allergic to old books. I’ve lived most of my life without having allergy problems but as I age I find that changing. Old books often smell of mildew and other smells I can’t describe. I love the smell of paper, of sticking my nose into the pages of breathing deeply in. It is a smell of age, of life and love, a smell of wisdom and knowledge. I love it. But this year, it doesn’t love me back.

There’s a revolt going on in my head. Ever since I brought the first of my finds into the house my sinuses have been in chaos. That’s it, they said. We’re not taking it any more. This is too much and we’re fighting back. And fight back they have. My head has been blocked up like someone filled it with cement. And then all at once it decides to soften up and leave. Sneezing, blowing and running like an open tap on a sink, with watery, itchy eyes. And then, miraculously, it stops and plugs up again. I’m trying to decide which torture is worse. What fresh hell is this, I wonder when I sense a change up there. And then it attacks, like a defeated army giving one last heroic surge before they die. Except they don’t die. They fall back and rally again. And again.

This is particularly disheartening because I love old books. I have books on a huge variety of subjects and learning for the sake of learning has become a big hobby over the years. Politics, religion, philosophy, travel, geography, I love it all. I can’t get enough. But the books are killing me. Turning me into a quivering mass of dull headed tissue unable to move. As I write this there seems to be a truce taking place. The armies are quiet for the moment as if they’re in negotiation or something. Either that or they’re plotting the next big foray maybe with new found weapons of destruction. I’ll take it, whatever it is, but I’m afraid of what comes next. Who knows, maybe they’ll decide the war is won and they’ll slink off to wherever snot goes when it’s not trying to kill you. One can only hope.

This years finds are mostly philosophy. Plato, Karl Marx, Montaigne and the like. There’s one called, “The Sex Lives Of Cannibals” by J. Martin Troost, which is not actually about cannibals or they’re love lives. And one about classical music. If I continue to breathe, they should keep me busy for quite a while. As it stands, this is the outcome I’m hoping for.


My wife Ann who died of cancer in 2017, was a happy person. She had depression and anxiety throughout her life and endured much suffering because of that. And yet she was happy. I have known others who have had depression and anxiety but I can’t speak for them. I only know what I’ve experienced myself. I know that Ann was happy against all odds, against debilitating depression. Against fear inducing anxiety. Even dying from cancer didn’t take away from the happiness she felt. It was obvious to those who knew her that she didn’t want cancer, didn’t want to die so young. But throughout the whole ordeal of CT scans, MRI’s, biopsies, PET scans, lab work, chemo, and radiation she maintained a calmness, a ready acceptance of what was next. Knowing she was going to die from this, didn’t change her attitude. She would be happy.

It wasn’t always like that for her. She suffered for years being unhappy. Family issues, a failed marriage, and many other things caused her much grief. Somewhere along the way she realized that happiness, true, lasting happiness doesn’t come from outside of yourself. Owning things, having money, friends, family, situations, none of these things brings lasting happiness. They bring you a high. Like taking drugs gets you high. But like drugs, the high you get from a new car, or from praise, or from having money doesn’t last. It wears off and leaves a hole where it once was. It leaves you wanting more. This is something she came to know. Something she embraced. If she wanted to be happy, she’d have to do it herself.

The self help industry, for an industry is what it is, is huge. It’s a billion dollar industry. Books, magazines, DVD’s, websites, You Tube videos, all there to tell you how to improve, how to be happy. Most of them however, are only telling you how to get high. Choose this diet, get the sculpted body you’ve always craved, buy this new car, wear this make up and look twenty years younger, believe in this religion, buy my book for the secret to wealth and fame, etc, etc. Not that any of these things are bad, in and of themselves, but what they are selling you is a high. Diets are healthy. I could stand to lose some weight. More than a few pounds, actually. But it won’t make me happy. I can be just as miserable weighing twenty pounds less. So why do we seek these temporary highs? Because many of us don’t know where else to look for happiness.

We make the mistake of thinking that happiness comes with achievement. If I could just lose twenty pounds I’d be happy. If I could just get that job promotion, I’d be happy. If I could just get that new car, that face lift, that new hair style. Then I’d be happy. Some of us spend our lives seeking that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow thinking we’ll be happy when we find it. If I could just win that lottery my troubles would be over. All we end up doing however is trading one set of troubles for another. We prove to ourselves every day, that these things will not make us happy and yet we keep running after them like a hamster in a wheel. Someone once said that the simplest explanation is usually the right one. And yet we don’t believe it. Happiness has eluded us for so long that we feel the answer has to be complicated. And so we run, and seek, while holding the answer to what we seek in our hands, and not seeing it.

We need to realize that only we can make ourselves happy. All by ourselves. Ann decided she was going to be happy, even though she was dying of cancer. Each day she was happy for one more day of life. One more day to be with her friends and family, one more day to enjoy a sunrise, or a good conversation. She was happy just to be. This is a lesson all of us should learn. To be happy simply to exist.

One of my granddaughters has been to Honduras a couple times for mission trips. They spent time at an orphanage with the children there. These are kids who have lost their families, their homes, basically everything they had. And they are some of the happiest children she has ever met. They are happy just to be alive, just to be. They have no material goods, no parents, none of the things that the rest of the world values. And yet they are happy. How do children know the secret to happiness? They haven’t yet been indoctrinated by what the world sells as happiness. They haven’t been told that they shouldn’t be happy. They haven’t come to believe that their inner joy is not enough.

But it is enough. Our inner joy, even though it is attacked by depression or anxiety is still there. Ann found it. Even though the world tells us that we can’t be happy unless we are striving after something, our inner joy is still there. We just have to realize that it is and find it. And it doesn’t cost a thing. We have to realize that the things we find value in, if they are external, are not valuable. The things that are valuable, like love, happiness, and joy are things we already have. We need to find them.

Car Alarms

I’m going to put this right out there. Car alarms are worse than useless. Being worse than useless is pretty bad. I’ve had experience with car alarms, as most of us probably have, and I can tell you they are the most annoying thing ever invented. Most if not all new cars now have alarms on them. I did a little research and I’ve found that they are not an actual safety feature. Which means that you can legally disconnect them. In fact there are many You Tube videos showing you how to do that. But just wait. Someone, sitting behind a desk, somewhere in a big office building with nothing to do except look for things to do will one day decide that an alarm on your car is a safety feature and it will become illegal to disconnect it. Why? Money. That’s why. If they can make money off it, they will. Just like the air pressure sensors in your tires. You know, the little sensors that tell you on your dash board how much tire pressure you have. Did you know they are considered a safety feature? Oh yes they are. Which means that whenever you buy new tires you also have to put in a new sensor because they are almost always bad. And they cost $50 to $75 dollars each. Mmm Hmm.

Have you ever been in a parking lot when a car alarm goes off? I did an experiment once. I stood by my car and push the alarm button on my key. Or at least it’s called a key. You know, the giant black thing they give you when you buy a car now days with buttons all over it and a key sticking out of the end? Yeah, that thing. The thing that’s too big to fit in your pocket. I pushed the alarm button, and waited. While I was waiting I looked around. No one came to my rescue. No one helped, no one came to see if I was in distress, or if I was being killed or robbed. Not even one person turned their head to look in my direction. Even though the button on my key thing says PANIC, in large, unfriendly letters, no one panicked. Why? Because no one cared about what was happening. Now this says a lot about human nature, which I won’t get into, which is odd for me because I love to talk Philosophy, but I’m staying on topic here. No one came.

Car alarms are worse than useless because they are the most irritating sound in the world. I Googled, “the most irritating sound in the world” and found videos from the movie, “Dumb and Dumber.” The Jim Carrey character asks the other character (Jeff Daniels) if he wants to hear the most irritating sound in the world. Then he makes the sound. I have to admit, the sound he made was pretty irritating but car alarms are worse. Just about every time one goes off, the owner of the car is nowhere to be found. Which means the alarm just keep going with that incessant beeping for what seems like forever. Eventually, the alarms quit on their own, I’m told. The car manufacturers probably did a little research of their own to determine how long it would take for you to be robbed or killed and then timed the alarms to shut off shortly after that. I mean, once you’re robbed or dead, there’s no more reason for the alarm right? No sense wasting the battery on someone who’s dead.

The second most annoying thing ever invented is the thing that makes your horn beep when ever you use the lock/unlock feature on your key thing. You have to work early in the morning. You go out and unlock your car and BEEP!!! you wake up the whole neighborhood. I mean, why not, right? If you have to get up before God, why not everyone else? I disconnected that stupid little thing. Ha! Power to the people! I shake my fist at car manufacturers. I’m taking back my life, I say. I disconnected your stupid little gadget! Let them just try to make it a safety feature. Let them try.

Oh boy, A New Book!

I bought a book yesterday. That’s nothing unusual in my life as I have done that probably thousands of times. I can’t even imagine the amount of money I have spent on books but it’s money well spent as far as I’m concerned. I have learned more from reading than from any other source or activity ever. This book, with it’s irreverent title (see above) caught my eye. The first sentence inside the dust jacket says: “For decades we’ve been told that positive thinking is the key to a happy, rich life. But those days are over.” I had to buy it! It goes on to say, “-that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade but on learning to better stomach lemons.” Just from reading that much I knew this was going to be a good book.

Now I’ve only read as far as chapter four so I can’t give a complete review of the book but what I can say is that it reaffirms what I’ve believed for most of my life. That in order to be a whole person you have to accept the bad with the good. Humans are capable of the most selfless acts of compassion and the most heinous horrors imaginable. That basically means that most of us are somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. Concentrating on the positive all the time while hiding from the negative leaves a big part of our selves flapping in the wind like a ragged, dirty flag. The author says that pain and suffering are tools that can and should be used to teach us what not to do and how not to be. And they are just as important, sometimes more important than all the good, happy things about ourselves. And if we don’t embrace the ugliness inside of us all, we cannot be whole (my words). We only have so much that we can care about (the author uses the term, “give a #@%!”), and we will exhaust ourselves if we don’t choose the important things to give a #@%! about and discard the rest.

In the early Seventies when I was a teenager I read a book called, “Manchild In The Promised Land” by Claude Brown. It is the autobiographical story of the author’s life growing up in Harlem New York amid poverty, drugs, and violence. As a teen growing up in an average, white mid-western town I had no idea of life outside my bubble. This book opened my eyes to a larger world and basically showed how the author embraced his childhood as a major part of who he was. All the ugliness, crime, violence, drugs, etc, helped to make him a whole person. (As an adult, he became a lawyer.) The point is, our lives are not all laughter, and roses and happiness. There’s a lot of dirt mixed in. A lot of trash and just plain shit in there as well. And it all has helped to make us who we are.

The Buddha said that life is filled with suffering. And if you follow Buddhism’s Eight Fold Path, you can find a way out of suffering and reach enlightenment. Buddhism says that desire, clinging to desires or things, causes suffering. The way out of suffering is to rid yourself of those desires. But isn’t the desire to reach enlightenment simply another desire? In the Subtle Art Of Not Giving A #@%!, the author suggests that pain and suffering are tools we can use to become better people. Concentrating on the positive all the time and hiding from the negative keeps us from being whole. We need to find better ways of dealing with the negative aspects of ourselves and life in general because the negative is not going away. As the authors says, instead of trying to turn lemons into lemonade, we need to find better ways of stomaching the lemons.

I have been blessed with never needing or wanting a “self help” book, and this book defiantly falls into that category. But if you can get past the fact that the author uses the F word about a hundred times in the first chapter, You may like it. When you feel differently than just about everyone you know, it’s great to find a book or another person who lets you know that there are others out there who feel the same, it can be profound.

On The Importance Of Remembering That All People Are Important, All The Time

Recently, our president and some Republican congress people have tried to use the fact that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a bartender and waitress, to imply that her work as a congress woman can’t be taken seriously. It’s meant to be demeaning. To say that certain people who hold certain jobs are “lesser than” others. All this has done for them is to reveal the ugly classism they partake in. They couldn’t be more wrong in my not so humble opinion and as usual, I’ll tell you why.

When you really want that after work drink, after a hard, stressful day of doing what you do, a bartender becomes an important person. When you have to use a public restroom, a janitor becomes an important person, making sure the restroom is clean. When you need someone to pet sit for your dog because you’ve been called away suddenly, the pet sitter suddenly becomes an important person. At those moments, those people become important to you. You become thankful for the jobs they do. Jobs that you may have never done. Jobs that you wouldn’t want to do. But think about this. For the two minutes it takes for a bartender or a barista to make your drink, that person is important to you. But that mixologist makes many drinks every day. That person wiping the spilled drinks off the bar is an important person to many people, not just you, throughout the day. The janitor who keeps the restrooms clean is as important to me as they are to you when we both need to use that restroom. Whether they think about it or not, all those who use a clean restroom find the janitor to be an important person.

The point is this: All people are important to many different people for many different reasons every day of their lives. This makes us all important. As soon as you leave the coffee shop with that drink you love so much, mixed by the only barista who gets it just right, that same person is now mixing another drink for another person who appreciates the work they’re doing also. That barista is an important person, all day long. When they go home at the end of their shift, they’re important to their family. They’re important to their dog or cat. They are important. To think of someone as “lesser than” because you feel that your job or position is way more important than theirs shows a complete lack of empathy and compassion and a hugely inflated ego. Try using a filthy public restroom sometime and see just how important a janitor becomes.

Realizing that all people are important, not just for you but for others as well, opens up your heart to a much more compassionate way of seeing the world. Knowing that a janitor or a former bartender or a plumber can think and feel the same as you can, even if you’re the CEO of a large company or a congressperson makes you more human. We’re all on this planet together, all trying to make our way, in our own way and we need each others help. Looking down on someone for who or what they are creates division and harm. So try to remember that when you deal with others. We are all important.

Making Things

In my last two posts I let you all know I’ve decided to hand make paper. I like making things. I’ve made jewelry, small wood boxes, stories, poetry, etc. Now I’ve made paper. Hand crafting things you want or need has been happening since humans were on the earth. Early humans had to make everything they needed themselves. Tools, utensils, weapons, everything. It’s only since the modern manufacturing age and mass population expansion that we have come to rely on others making things for us. Now, making things by hand has become a craft because you don’t need to make your own things anymore. But I like to make things. When I decided to make paper I bought a paper making kit to get started. So I used the kit and it’s been fun but I decided I want to make my own paper making tools. The kit I bought contained a mold and deckle (see my previous posts for an explanation) that made stationary size (5 1/2 X 8 1/2 inch) paper. You can buy larger ones for bigger sheets but I decided to make one. Here’s a photo of the framework:

I used Maple for the wood because it’d heavy and dense and won’t warp very easily. The corner pieces and screws are brass so they won’t rust. When my father died I inherited his woodworking shop so I have a table saw, band saw, and drill press among other tools. I’ve been doing woodworking for years so making this frame wasn’t hard to do. Now I’ve made some wood slats out of plywood to fasten the screen onto the mold.

The whole thing is getting a couple coats of polyurethane to protect it from the water. When the poly dries on the slats I’ll attach the screen and it will be ready to go. This one is 8 1/2 X 11 inches, the same as typing paper. There are other tools I can make for use in paper making which I’ll get to eventually. But hey, I’m retired so I don’t have to do it all today!

Paper Making Journey

If you read my last post you’ll know I have decided to learn to make paper. I’m a writer so it goes without saying I guess, that I love books and by association, I love paper. I’ve always been fascinated by hand crafted papers but never really knew how they were created. My first step into this new world is to read books! I have begun to do just that with the three books I bought. (See my previous post) Creating paper is really interesting and there are a few different ways to make it whether you are using recycled paper or plant material. You can even make paper out of old denim jeans!

So I’m getting familiar with how paper is made. There are several paper makers who have Instagram accounts and they post lots of pictures of their processes. So I’m reading my books and scrolling through Instagram and looking up websites. Next I’ll need some equipment to get started. Basic paper making can be done rather inexpensively which is always a good thing. Hobbies are great but a lot of times they are expensive. By what I’ve discovered I should be able to make my first papers with a rather small investment. My books cost about $33 dollars (I bought two of them used) and some very basic equipment should be about $60 dollars. Since I have access to wood working equipment I can make frames for different size papers pretty cheaply. And I already have some things I’ll need like a blender and plastic tubs for water, etc.

So here I go! Who knows, maybe I won’t like it much and I’ll chalk it up to experience at the very least. I’ve always been fascinated by how things are made. Call it, insatiable curiosity. You know what they say about cats and curiosity but hey, I’m not a cat.