I finished our wreath yesterday, just in time for the First Sunday in Advent celebration – which this year consisted of lighting a candle. My 16 and 18 year old daughters dutifully complimented my work, made 95 seconds of small talk and then retreated back to their rooms.
In earlier years, we would have had a longer ritual including aromatic tea, cookies, the sound of Bing or Dean or Frank softly singing Christmas carols in the background, and a reading of some short, moralistic, Christmas-themed story. That last part, to be honest, was never my daughters’ favorite and might explain their speedy departures now.
So . . . seeing as how I missed telling them a sappy story, I will force one on my blog audience . . .
A week ago, we just had friends visiting and we took them to the Christmas market that had enchanted us so much the first time we were there (when I bought my “alternative” crèche.) While we were there, I unhopefully walked up to the cashier and asked if anyone had found a missing Baby Jesus made of felt about the size of my thumb. I wasn’t expecting much as we traipsed over to the next room. In the corner where my crèche had been displayed there was now a bucket of stuffed sheep and cows. We took a closer look and . . .
I can hardly believe it myself, but here it is – mid-November, and I’ve already been bitten by the Christmas Spirit. This must be some kind of record. Partly it might be from waking up to this two days ago:
It also might be due to a Christmas market we went to the night before – a new one that is walking distance from my home. I wasn’t expecting much, but ended up being completely enchanted. A local woman had bought a 200 year old farmhouse from another part of the country, which was taken down and rebuilt here. She combined it with a more modern tract and horse stables, and filled it with antiques and artistic touches. The things for sale at the market were all handmade and so creatively displayed throughout the house. We meandered through the rooms and then had some hot mulled wine out in the courtyard.
I did not come home empty handed. I saw a little crèche made of felt and had to have it for my collection. I quickly peeked inside to make sure the rest of the figures were in there and then headed for the cashier. I probably should have inspected it more carefully.
When I got home, the first thing that I noticed was that there was no baby Jesus figure. I looked more closely – there were the donkeys and sheep, the angel and the three kings, there was Joseph and then . . . . there was this guy:
It seems I bought myself an alternative crèche – it’s not Joseph and Maria in the manger, but Joseph and Mario. (And I guess that explains the absence of the baby Jesus.)
I should probably go back to the Christmas market and ask about my missing figures but, to be honest, the heathen in me is getting fonder by the minute of my new crèche just the way it is. It makes my collection somehow more . . . diverse. More inclusive. Isn’t that in line with the Christmas spirit too?
Two of my activities today got me thinking about all the times I have lost jobs. Technically I have never been fired – at least in the sense of someone looking me in the eye and saying “You’re fired!” But that is only because two of my former bosses were simply too chicken to do so. One of them took 9/11 as an opportunity to quick give my class to someone else. (I had missed the start of the semester because I was stuck in the States waiting for a chance to fly back to Austria.) That new teacher ended up calling me to tell me the news. Never heard a peep from the boss about it.
About 10 years later I got fired by forwarded email from my boss’s boss instructing me to clear out my office and give back any of the Institute’s stuff I might have. The layoff itself did not come as a surprise to me, but the way it was done was galling. A particularly nice sendoff after 25 years of employment . . .
Today, a new twist on this form of email termination was born. I wrote an email to my boss requesting that the university course I have been teaching be cancelled. In other words, I basically fired myself. This was not the easiest thing to do because I always loved teaching this particular course. Unfortunately the whole program is winding down and the number of students has been dwindling for years. Last year I had to go and proactively look for students – corral a few warm bodies into my classroom to teach. This year I didn’t want to do that anymore.
So I am down to one job now. I would be feeling sorry for myself if not for three of our chickens who have had an even harder day. Remember those four chicks we got for the purpose of keeping our one incubator chick company? Well, all four of them turned out to be roosters. Three of them had to go and today was the day.
We grabbed them, stuffed them in a box, and my husband drove them to the local . . . Chicken Ender. A half hour later, he was back home with a bulging plastic bag.
Tomorrow one of the roosters is going into the oven and then comes the moment of truth. I am not convinced that I will really be able to eat him. My husband is determined to cultivate a realistic attitude about it all. He says if he can’t handle the fact that animals – even those he knew when alive – are killed and eaten, then he should become a vegetarian.
I, on the other hand, am considering turning the meal into a little ceremony. I will take a moment to remember and honor this rooster for his many contributions to our family enterprise. I will thank him for his good work and give him the thoughtful sendoff he so richly deserved.
But I never gave up my citizenship, so I now fall into the category of “Permanent Overseas Voter”. As I can only vote in federal elections, my ballot this year listed only the Senate and House races of my home State and district.
My elder daughter who became a citizen in July of 2017 and turned 18 in July of 2018 also voted. It was her first time (in a US election) and I think she found the whole process exciting, but also a bit . . . hinky.
We registered her online though a website called “VoteFromAbroad.Org where she had to supply surprisingly little information and no actual proof of identity or citizenship. Only two options were listed – a Social Security number or a State ID – and she has neither of those. But her registration went through even with those lines blank and the next day her Voter Certification arrived by email. We printed that, she signed it, I witnessed it, we attached a photocopy of her certificate of citizenship to it and mailed it off to the Election Commission in our home State. Apparently, that worked, because a week later, her new Voter Certificate and her absentee ballot arrived by email along with four pages of instructions.
We printed everything out, got four envelopes, black ink pens, and Scotch tape and laid it all out on the kitchen table.
First step: fill out the ballots.
“Wait!” my daughter said. “First tell me about these candidates so I can decide who to vote for.”
I sat back. I didn’t want to discourage her instinct to be an informed voter and independent thinker. On the other hand . . . if she ended up voting for a Republican candidate at this particular moment in history, I would take it as proof that I had failed as a mother.
“Honey, you understand that this is not a normal year or a normal election, don’t you? I mean . . . can I assume that you don’t want to support anyone who supports Trump? That you want people elected who will be a check on his power?” She nodded. “Then in this particular election we should both simply vote straight Democratic.” She understood the logic of that.
We filled in the circles by the name of the first openly lesbian U.S. Senator, now running for reelection. Then we filled in the circle by the name of lovely African American women who represents my (sister’s) district and will reliably vote against anything the Pwesident is for and vice versa. It is fairly clear that both of these women will win – with or without our votes. It was still nice to add our voices to the Resistance Choir. My only regret was that our voting status didn’t allow us to chime in on State government positions. So we couldn’t also fill in the circle by What’s His Name – the guy who hopefully will be taking down our current ridiculous Republican governor.
The whole time we were doing this, I did not look at her ballot or what she was doing. The instructions had been explicit about this being a no-no.
Steps Two through Eight:
We each signed and dated our Voter Certifications. We exchanged them and each signed and dated the Witness Statement for one another. We traded back and then each taped our certificates onto one of the envelopes. We put our ballots inside and sealed them. Then we put these envelopes into another envelope and addressed it to the Executive Director of the Election Commission. And then we mailed them off.
I have no idea when – or even if – these votes will be opened and counted. (And, no, I didn’t mention this fact to my daughter.)
BUT! . . .
If control of the House of Representatives ends up coming down to two absentee overseas votes from a certain district of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, well, then, I’ll just say . . .
I confess. Despite the amazing number of scandals and scandal-like outrages the pwesident has survived, I still harbor secret hopes that a great falling-humpty-dumpty plop or a mass emperor-has-no-clothes awakening could happen any day now. Or maybe something like what happens in that great old movie, “The Dead Zone”, when the evil candidate grabs a baby to shield himself from the bullets of an assassin. I keep waiting for the moment when we all shake off this haze we are in and realize what kind of man he is (if we don’t already).
On the other hand, I have also had a growing suspicion that such moments ARE occurring – it is just that there has been such a long and relentless string of them, we don’t recognize them for what they are. Yesterday’s twumptweet is just another example:
“Don has received notoriety for a brief meeting, that many politicians would have taken, but most importantly, and to the best of my knowledge, nothing happened after the meeting concluded.”
I don’t suppose many of you readers will believe me when I say that I really did try to take a break from American politics while on vacation this year. I limited my news inputs to scrolling through headlines, reading a few breaking news alerts and watching one or two MSNBC videos a day. But seeing as how this trip to Ireland included more political content and history lessons than the last one, it was sometimes difficult not to note the occasional parallel or be reminded of current atrocities while learning about past ones.
One of those moments came when we took up my sister’s suggestion to tour the Portumna Workhouse Center. As an added enticement, the center also had an exhibit of works by the Irish sculptor Kieran Touhy, who uses peat bog oak as his medium. This is wood that is found underground in the bogs and can be 1000s of years old. The show was called “Dark Shadows” and poignantly conveyed the same themes as the workhouse tour. I’ve scattered some of his works throughout this post.
For my fellow historically-challenged people, I’ll start with a little background information on the workhouse (aka “poorhouse”) system in Ireland . . .
Even before the Potato Famine years (1846-51), Ireland’s problems with poverty, hunger and homelessness were severe and getting worse. Eventually, the government had no option but to find ways of dealing with the problem. Unfortunately, they did not see it as a problem of an inequitable economic system in which increasing numbers of people could not maintain a viable existence no matter how hard they worked. No, those in power and the position to “do something” saw the problem as one of “surplus people”. How do we rid the countryside of them?
One way was to assist emigration to Australia or North America. Another policy led to the construction of “workhouses” throughout the country. People facing starvation who had run out of options could enter these places and work for food and a place to sleep. Unlike those people in English workhouses, this was not stopover on the way to somewhere else – an interim after which they could leave and find work outside again. No, in Ireland, these houses were essentially the end of the road.
After this system was ended in the 1920s, many of these buildings were torn down or re-purposed; the one in Portumna remained abandoned, but largely intact. Now it is slowing being restored and turned into a sort of museum/education center. While touring it, out guide delicately pointed out some misconceptions about the system – making it clear to us why this was “the most feared and hated institution ever established in Ireland” as well as the general situation in the country at that time. One of the most significant points was that even though the potato crop failed, the farms were producing plenty of other crops – but much of that food ended up being sold and shipped off to England while the home population continued to starve.
Here, now, are some of pictures from the inside of the workhouse:
The layout of the place was basically three rows of buildings around two courtyards. There were separate tracts for boys, girls, men, women, and nursing women with kids under 2 years old. The daily routines of the groups ensured that their paths didn’t cross in the courtyards or dining hall. The high windows ensured that they could not see the others when they were outside. The doors were locked in the evenings by the workhouse “managers”. So parents and kids could spend years just 50 or 100 yards apart from one another and never meet up.
At the end of the tour we ended up where we started and I looked again at the first display sign I had read on coming through the front door:
I asked our guide if the people who came here were all at the very end of their rope – desperate and with no more options. She answered yes.
“Can I ask you a personal question?” I said. She nodded.
“When you hear about what is going on at the southern border of the US right now – about families being separated – does it remind you of this place?” I gestured toward the sign.
“Well, I guess it does . . . although you always want to think that we learn from history and won’t repeat things like this . . .” Her voice trailed off and she looked off into the distance.
– – – – – – – –
Back in the car and our way to Dublin, I scrolled through the days breaking news headlines.
“Trump administration falls short on reunifications before deadline”
“Gov’t: 650 children are ‘ineligible” for reunification”
Today, two weeks later, as I write this, there are still hundreds of state-created orphans in the US whose future is up in the air. And the government has just announced plans to put new limits on legal immigration as the second prong in their plan to decrease the surplus population. To rid the country of riffraff.
Despite having devoured the first 3 books in the series, I cannot really be considered a true “Game of Thrones” fan. Reading to the end of the fourth book ended up feeling like work. I only managed it because of my neurotic need to finish any book I start. The fact is, I never really got over the Red Wedding chapter in Book 3 and I resent that sadist, R.R. Martin, to this day for putting me through it. When it comes to the TV series, I stopped watching somewhere in the first season. I just couldn’t stomach the (seemingly gratuitous) violence and cruelty.
So it wasn’t “The Game of Thrones” that led me to Northern Ireland, but once there, it was hard to escape the connection. There were all sorts of GoT packages on offer; whole sections of Tourist Information offices were devoted to it. Special maps were made, showing all the locations where scenes from the series had been filmed, like this one (notice all the film camera symbols):
Not surprisingly, a lot of the sites that we had chosen out of old guide books (that predated the show) overlapped with those on the GoT tours. And when they did, we slogged through these sites in a massive convoy of people.
At the Giant’s Causeway it seemed there wouldn’t be enough rocks to hold them all.
At the famous Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, there weren’t enough hours in the day to let all the people who wanted to cross over.
And at the Dark Hedges (Westeros’s “King’s Road”), well, we could hardly see the trees for the forest of tourists passing under them.
And now I have to confess to being a bit hyperbolic in what I wrote above. I still enjoyed all of the sites despite the many other tourists. They were cool and beautiful and worth visiting. Then again, when I look back at the trip as a whole, my absolute favorite moments were ones when we were almost alone in some gorgeous location – and that cannot be a coincidence.
First we got to the Mussenden Temple and the mansion ruins in Downhill Demesne before the ticket office opened and could explore the places almost completely on our own.
This was one of my favorite moments from the whole trip. Me and the sis being in the moment:
It was only after I got home from the trip that I started researching the connections between “Game of Thrones” and Ireland. It took me all of two minutes to find an article showing that the fictional country of Westeros is actually upside-down Ireland with some extras:
I suppose this all won’t be news to most GoT fans, but I thought it was incredibly neat. The article went on to say:
“Speaking at Comic Con two years ago, Martin revealed that not only was Co. Kerry perfectly redrawn, but the Fingers at the Vale of Arryn were, in fact, the Dingle Peninsula, and several other major Irish cities share their locations with famous Westeros landmarks: King’s Landing as Galway, Donegal Bay as the Sea of Dorne, Belfast as Old Town and Dublin as Casterly Rock . . . . With thanks to the success of the show, many fans are now traveling to the Northern Irish sets to see the amazing locations for themselves, resulting in the Dark Hedges in Co. Antrim, used as the King’s Road in the show, becoming one of the most photographed tourist attractions in the world.”
Despite the crowds, I think it is great thing that the popularity of GoT has been a boon for northern Irish tourism. For me, the opposite has occurred. While googling “ireland locations game thrones”, I ended up watching a whole bunch of YouTube videos – scenes from the series with backdrops I recognized. I really enjoyed them. I just might start watching the show again . . . . .