Thoughts on the Titanic Friday, Apr 13 2012 

I find it interesting to compare Irish and American reports about the Titanic as the centennial of its short-lived history is noted.  Everything I had heard or read about the Titanic was from the point of view of American writers, and almost every story mentioned the unsinkable Molly Brown.

Having spent a week in Cobh, Ireland, we have been given a different perspective.  Cobh was the last stop of the Titanic before it headed out into the open sea to its tragic fate in the Atlantic.  The Titanic didn’t enter the bay because its arrogant owners didn’t want to take the time for it to dock, so it remained outside and the “tenders” ferried the mail and 110 passengers out to it anchored outside the bay.   Cobh was known as Queenstown when the Titanic left, and the last sight they saw as they left their home was the beautiful Cathedral of St. Colman where they had attended Mass and received Holy Communion only hours before.  (The steeple wasn’t on the church yet, however).    They were seeking a better life in the United States and would cross in Steerage.  We in America have only bad descriptions of steerage, but for the day, the steerage section on the Titanic was quite a step up from that in other ships.  It wasn’t the Ritz, but many of the people were amazed at how nice it was.  Many of their ancestors had been sent away from Ireland on prison ships to other parts of the world, only to die en route because of disease and shipwreck, not to mention the wretched conditions aboard.

Many of those on the Titanic were escaping poverty and so the ship seemed a hopeful way out, and they knew it wouldn’t take weeks like in other ships, so anything would be tolerable.  They were going third class, but that didn’t  matter—it was their ticket to prosperity, or so they thought.

The people of Cobh pulled out all the stops to prepare for the centennial.  We were there the week before it all began, so we got to experience the hustle and bustle of people preparing for something important.  The sidewalks were cleaned of the gum.  In Ireland, gum is everywhere on the cobblestone and brick sidewalks, and they have gum-removal trucks to deal with the problem.  It took days to clean it all up.

They built a grandstand which would protect the” important” people who would arrive for the commemoration.  Statues were painted; stores all had Titanic displays in their windows and the Titanic memorabilia was for sale everywhere.  We saw a mural take shape on a concrete wall and met the artist and his volunteers who worked to create a memorial which would be visible from Cobh Bay.   A large ship, the Balmoral arrived in time to imitate the path of the Titanic.  People with deep pockets had bought up all the tickets as soon as the voyage was announced.  I am not sure I would want to tempt fate like that!  There was not a room to be had at any price in Cobh if one hadn’t booked months in advance.

The commemoration which took place in Cobh was more of a memorial to those who died and a recognition of the thousands of lives which were affected by the loss of family members in such a terrible accident.  It was a ceremony befitting people who haven’t forgotten their own.  The grandstand, park and streets were filled with people.  It is good to see that 100 years have not erased the memory of loved ones.

The Titanic stands for many things.  Pride gone awry—remember she was “unsinkable”; Hope for desperate people—those many poor people were seeking a better life—not out of greed, but in many cases out of desperation; progress—she was made to the most update specifications of the day.  I had read before that the reason there weren’t enough lifeboats was because the powers-that-be were unconcerned about the lower classes.  While that may have a kernel of truth to it, the real reason is that the government regulations and the industry regulations didn’t require more than enough for about a third of the passengers—primarily due to the hubris that the boat was unsinkable.

The Titanic was built for the wealthy.  It carried the well-heeled Americans and Europeans who had the means to amuse themselves by cruising on the latest and greatest ship.  But for me, the real story is of Irish emigration.  The Irish have had a very oppressed life for centuries, under the heavy thumb of the Brits.  They have suffered slavery, deprivation and famine.  The Titanic represented a way out of the misery.  Theirs is the human-interest story that needs to be told in America.


Using a shower Monday, Apr 9 2012 

Traveling is an adventure and I say “vive la difference.”  I learn as I travel that I can’t assume things will be like they are back home, and often, they are very different.

Bathing is one thing that you wouldn’t think would be so different, but it can be.

We stayed at a delightful “self-catering” apartment in Cobh, County Cork, Ireland.  It is in the basement of an old Victorian house which has been retro-fitted for modern needs.  In Ireland, as in the rest of Europe, the electricity is 220, so safety measures abound with everything that involves electrical appliances.  And because electricity and oil are so expensive, extensive measures are taken to insure that no power is wasted and that the user is safe.

At our apartment, the use of the shower was not intuitive, and we had to have a tutorial to make it work.

First, the power had to be turned on from outside the bathroom.  Again, because of the 220, there are no switches or plugs inside the bathroom, so forget standing at the mirror to do your hair or shave.  The plug for the hair dryer is outside the door.  So, there were three switches outside the bathroom door:  The first, to turn on the light:  The second to direct power to the bath instead of the kitchen sink:  The third switch actually turned on the power to something in the bathroom I couldn’t identify.

The next step is to enter the bathroom and pull the string on another power switch which is on the ceiling.

Then you climb into the bathtub and find the flash heater which has two dials.  The one on the left is to turn on the actual flash heater.  The one on the right is to work the actual water temperature, which because it is straight out of the flash heater, can be almost boiling temperature.  After all that, you shower.  There isn’t a lot of water pressure, so it takes awhile.

I had forgotten from previous trips that soap and wash cloths are not provided.  I had a little bar of soap in my cosmetic bag which came in handy for bathing, but between my husband and me, we used that up very quickly.  I finally bought a bottle of shampoo which we used for hair-washing and bathing.  You learn to make do and store up memories for future stories!

Observing youth Thursday, Apr 5 2012 

Dear Reader,

I am about to write about youth as I see them generally, but not specifically.  I know many fine young people who don’t fit into the mold I am going to describe–many in my family, church and community.

We are observers of people everywhere we go and like people-watching just about better than anything.  No matter how many we see, no two are alike.  Or am I wrong about that?

We have come to the conclusion that young people—say those between 15 and 25, are mostly alike, no matter where we go in the world.  Understanding that there are exceptions, here is where I am going with this.

In the United States, Canada, Russia, Germany and Ireland (and probably everywhere else as well), the young people wear a uniform, which if imposed from above, would cause utter rebellion in their ranks.   That uniform is torn jeans, tank or tee-shirts and some variation on the athletic shoe or sandal).  There is more variation in the shoes than in the tops and bottoms.  The hair is rarely styled in anything but a mess, and the piercings and tattoos are ubiquitous.   How has this happened?  Has some Hollywierd type decreed this  the uniform, or has some fashion designer set the trend, or have the public schools made this mandatory dress? What has happened?

We are in Ireland right now and are struck by the hospitable nature of the Irish people.  Those above 25 are generally the first to greet us on the street, to offer help if we appear lost, and to offer a smile in passing.  If we have asked directions, they watch to make sure we head in the right direction.   It is truly remarkable how friendly these people are.   But……the youth are plugged in to their MP3s, they are sullen and surly, and they don’t respond if we speak first.  Not only that, they are clueless about their surroundings and can’t give directions to the next corner.   They don’t seem to be at all connected to the Irish culture which is their birthright.  Rather, like the youth we have encountered in other parts, theirs is the culture of youth—dictated by their music and their pop heroes.  Their world is very small, though it is universal and known only to them.   They demand much of their parents and country, while expecting to give nothing back.  The high schools are a wreck and really just holding-pens for them for a few hours a day.  They riot when the government tries to reign in the spending because their plan is to be on the dole rather than to contribute to the well-being of the country by doing honest work.  They have abandoned the religion of their parents and seem to be aimless.

What has happened?  The world-youth-culture has taken over.  The hard work and values of the family and nation have been superseded by the culture of narcissism.  The future is tenuous for all of us, but particularly so if left in the hands of these young people.  It is time for parents to really examine how they are raising their children, and to do all they can to minimize the impacts of the culture on them before it is too late.

It is sad to think that Ireland could lose all the charm of its people in one generation more, but it will if some change doesn’t come about.  Ditto for the rest of the world.  This culture of youth is unproductive and uninteresting.  Perhaps hard times ahead will wake us all up!

Walking with St. Declan Tuesday, Apr 3 2012 

The Camino de Santiago holds great fascination for me and I would like to do it.  I have reservations about trying it “at my age” though I know that many people who are a lot older than I am have done it.  If I could only see past the hostels that most people stay in……

We did a mini camino today called St. Declan’s Walk.  When I say “mini” I do mean mini because it is only 3.3 miles long on a peninsula in Southern Ireland.  We started out at the Cliff House Hotel which is a luxury place overlooking the water.  It was windy, cold and threatening rain, so we decided to fortify ourselves with some hot coffee before going.  We had a wonderful waiter from Poland named Ariel, who brought us our coffee and a “jelly” which I think was made of quince.  It was lovely.  He then mentioned that the chef was preparing something for us in the kitchen and it would be right out.  Well finally a little plate of freshly made chocolate short-breads appeared.  I guess you don’t just go into a world-class hotel and order coffee!  Anyway, we enjoyed the coffee, quince and short-breads and a visit with Ariel; then we headed out for our walk.  (Not a very penitential way to begin a pilgrimage, I must admit).

Anyway, in single-file, the three of us headed out on the walk along the cliff, coming to the ruins from the 400s and a well.  We prayed the rosary for our family and friends and then the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for our deceased parents, grandparents, ancestors and other loved ones.  It was lovely to be able to walk holy ground with our loved ones in the forefront of our minds and hearts.  Along the way were ruins of places important in the life of St. Declan and other faithful Christians throughout the centuries, and always the water of the Atlantic to our left.  The breeze was cool, the mist in the air invigorating and the temperature kept us moving.  We ended our mini camino at the church where a beautiful tower remains standing–testament to the building skills of those 8th century monks who needed a place to find refuge from the Vikings.  I feel such a kinship with the Christians of Ireland who have always had a hard time against their detractors.

I can’t wait for the next such opportunity to connect with our spiritual ancestors.  Since this is only read by you Image


dear Family and friends, please be assured of our prayers for you during this time.

Till next time….

Buying local Sunday, Dec 18 2011 

I have made a commitment to buying local whenever I can and to supporting American business whenever possible.  I try to avoid buying Chinese, though I often fall short because I can’t find American or European made products.  So much of what is in the stores is produced in countries which are theoretically enemies of America.

Recently I have had two experiences which have backfired.   I found an alternative American source for a product we sell to replace an item that we discovered was being made in China.  We contracted for the product to be made with our company logo and felt good about “buying American.”   We told the manufacturer that he was chosen because he is American and we wanted to support American business.  And then the products came–many of them were defective.  He gave us all kinds of excuses and said that the defects are not serious enough to do them over.    He also told me that we are the only customers who have ever complained about the quality.  They were, in fact so bad that we couldn’t sell many of them.  His attitude was just plain awful and the fact that we chose him because his business is American didn’t faze him.  In fact he got just plain rude when I told him the quality was inferior to the Chinese ones we were replacing.   We won’t be doing business with him anymore.

The second instance was with a local business.  I mean real local.  I live in the country and chose a jeweler who is nearby to fix a ring.  The fix didn’t last so I returned the ring to the jeweler.  When I went to pick it up, she tried to charge me again for the repair.  I told her that I wasn’t expecting to have to pay again for a repair that had just been done in her establishment, and her response as she waved the back of her hand at me was “OK, just take it.”   I can’t put her tone of voice in writing, but trust me, it wasn’t friendly.  I won’t be doing business with her again.

Is business so good that small companies as well as American manufacturers can treat their customers so poorly?  Or is this part of the loss of civility we are all experiencing in today’s post-modern America?  I am puzzled by it.

I will continue to buy local and American when I can, but I won’t support businesses that treat customers with contempt.  Those enterprises deserve to fail.  After all, who provides their paychecks but their customers?

Maintaining friendships Tuesday, Jun 8 2010 

Friendships are not always permanent.  That is a sad fact of life, particularly in this mobile society we are part of.  The friends from our youth are seldom the friends of our early adult life, and the friends made as we are settling into being adults are not always the friends we will have 20 years later.

I have thought a lot about this over the years and lamented the fact that we lost touch with some people we thought would be “forever” friends.  I am in the middle of a huge project, going through literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of slides that we took when we were first married.  It is such a fun project, and when I finish our slides, I have thousands of my Dad’s slides to pick through.  I am converting all these slides to digital format so that some day, it will be easy to look at old pictures.

Some of the slides are of people we expected to know forever–our clique, if you will, from various bases where we were stationed.  Alas, we now only keep up with two of those couples and one priest from the past.  The interesting thing to me is that they were friends from our very first assignment, so our friendship goes back 40 years.

So as I go through the pictures, I linger awhile with these people from the past and offer a quick prayer that all is well with them, wherever they are.

We recently took a trip to Europe, the primary purpose of which was to visit some dear friends.  Even though they are now living permanently so far away, I pray that we will always be friends and hold each other close in our hearts.  We saw lots of beautiful churches, medieval cities, countryside, etc., but the highlight of the trip was our time spent over coffee and food, or hiking in the countryside together, just catching up and enjoying the shared company.  It was also an opportunity to experience life in Austria from the inside, so to speak.  Andy and Susi, you are superb hosts and we are grateful for the time we had together.

Enjoying Schnaps and a day hike.

Parade of Chicken Coops Sunday, May 16 2010 

I’m sure most of you have heard of “Parade of  Homes” tours  where you can visit numerous homes all expensively decorated for showing off.    It is kind of fun to see how “the other half” lives, and sometimes you can get ideas for fixing up your own home.

Today, we took a different kind of tour.   We were a bit overdressed, having come from church, but nobody seemed to mind. 

We are toying with the idea of having chickens so this caught my attention.

This is the egg box–so convenient for collecting the eggs in the morning after the hens have laid them for your breakfast

This was a very nice coop which was made out of a dog kennel and run.  Inside the high fence is the house in which the hens roost for the night, (aptly named the hen house)!

It was very orderly and even provided this cute little stairway to the nest!

Everywhere we went the city chicken farmers spoke about the problems with foxes–some even have bears and other wildlife to contend with.  Yes, I said CITY chicken farmers.  This was a tour inside Colorado Springs where people are allowed to have 10 chickens but no roosters.  Seems it’s OK to be waken by barking dogs but not OK to be waken by roosters.

The owner of this coop had to create a safe haven inside his coop for his chickens after an evil fox killed 5 of his chickens on Easter morning.   Foxes can stoop pretty low, or climb pretty high to get carry-out chicken,  so they present the biggest challenge to chicken farmers, even in the city.

While we didn’t pick up any ideas for decorating our home on this tour, we did get some ideas for creating our own coop, should we finally decide to do it.

Where in the World is MJR? Friday, Oct 23 2009 

Since Mike is galavanting around Europe, I thought I’d post his whereabouts–that is, if I can find him…I know that at 8:30 this a.m. he was headed for Scotland.  College is so tough!


Kirking the Tartans Wednesday, Sep 16 2009 

The Long’s Peak Scottish Highland Festival is a weekend of celebration of Scottish/Irish culture.  There are athletic events, dance competitions, music, free-flowing Guinness and scotch, pipe bands, a parade, clan booths and everywhere there are men and women in kilts.  The variety of woven fabric seen on the kilts is dazzling.  Each fabric is unique to a particular clan, and people-in-the-know are pretty good at identifying the clan of others by the kilt.

The tartan, as the woven fabric is called, has played a significant role the dress codes of the Highlanders as well as in their battle dress.  In earlier times, it was central to the identity of the family, or clan, and was worn proudly by the men.  The tartan consists of yards and yards of fabric which is pleated into the kilt.  In the 1700s, the clans would wear their kilts to battle, following their band of pipes and would be a formidable foe not only to other Scots, but to the English as well.

Following attempts by the Duke of Cumberland to put down all Jacobite resistance among the highlanders, The Act of Proscription of 1746 was passed.  This was an attempt to assimilate the Scots into the English fold and to destroy their Scottish identity.

By this Act, “Any persons within Scotland, whether man or boy (excepting officers and soldiers in his majesty’s service), who should wear the plaid, philibeg, trews, shoulder belts, or any part of the Highland garb, or should use for great coats, tartans, or parti-coloured plaid, or stuffs, should, without the alternative of a fine, be imprisoned for the first conviction for six months, without bail, and on the second conviction be transported for seven years”.

The use of the bagpipes was also forbidden in the proscription.

This onerous law was repealed in 1782 and read:

 “Listen Men. This is bringing before all the Sons of the Gael, the King and Parliament of Britain have forever abolished the act against the Highland Dress; which came down to the Clans from the beginning of the world to the year 1746. This must bring great joy to every Highland Heart. You are no longer bound down to the unmanly dress of the Lowlander. This is declaring to every Man, young and old, simple and gentle, that they may after this put on and wear the Truis, the Little Kilt, the Coat, and the Striped Hose, as also the Belted Plaid, without fear of the Law of the Realm or the spite of the enemies.”

The Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans was conceived by Dr. Peter Marshall, who was the first Chaplain of the US Senate as a commemoration of these events of the 1700s.  It is still held at Washington, D.C.’s historic National Cathedral; with its sermon being delivered by the Presiding, or Senior Minister of the Washington, D.C. Catholic Archdiocese; or by a special guest speaker, primarily one of Scottish and/or Scottish-American background.

The Kirkin (churching or blessing) of the tartans is a moving ceremony.  It celebrates the end of proscription and the freedom to “show the colors” of the clan tartans.  This particular kirking was held outside.  Led by bagpipers, the knights of The Imperial Constantinian Military Order of Saint George, clad in white capes, processed onto the field followed by the clans, with their tartan flags held down at their sides.  After a rousing “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes, the national anthems of the various countries represented were played.  Then, a brief history of the proscription was read, and as the name of each clan was called, the clan flag was quietly raised.  When all the flags were raised, they were blessed by the chaplain with the following prayer:

On behalf of all Scots away from Scotland, and in the name of all the Scottish Clansfolk that are here represented, we present these Tartans before Almighty God in appreciation of our Heritage; and we ask His Blessings upon these, His humble servants.

O Lord, Thou hast promised that in all places where Thou recordest Thine Holy Name, Thou wilt meet with Thy servants, and bless them; fulfill now Thy Promise, and make us joyful in our prayer, so that our Worship, being offered in the name of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, and by the guidance of Thy Holy Spirit, may be acceptable unto You, and profitable unto ourselves.

Bless, we pray, these Tartans — that they may be unto us and unto all people a token of the faith of our Fathers; and a sign of our service unto You.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The priest who offered the benediction ended by saying “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.”

After the blessing, all the flags were raised and there was a loud cheer.  More music, and then the final prayer was read.  The clans and knights were led off the field by the pipers as they had entered.

The Kirking was solemn, dignified, and full of meaning.  It was a good reminder to us all, that freedom should never be taken for granted.  At all times in history, people have been oppressed, and just as the Jews celebrate their freedom annually during the Seder, and as Americans celebrate their freedom every 4th of July, the American Scots celebrate the freedom of their ancestors with the Kirking of the Tartan.

Kirking the Tartan 2

Larry and Fran

What is a gala and how do you dress for one? Monday, Jul 13 2009 

This year our diocese is celebrating 25 years of existence.  It is also celebrating the 50th anniversary of  the ordination of our first Bishop.  We went to the gala which was a free event held at the Broadmoor Hotel, which is not exactly in the low-rent district.

Mass, concelebrated by several bishops from the region, preceded the dinner.  Bishop Hanifen was the homilist, so when he had a chance to speak at the dinner, he just cracked a couple of jokes and that was it.  

Tiramisu--yum We had chicken Wellington followed by tiramisu.  Being the Broadmoor, it was beautifully presented.  The Wellington was a bit on the tough and soggy side, but hey, they had to make if for hundreds of people and beggars can’t be choosers, right!




Since this was a “gala” I decided to dress up.  What I learned was that everybody has a different definition of what a gala is and how to dress for it.  My husband wore a sport coat, and due to an unfortunate miscommunication, our son ended up without a coat.  He likes to dress up for occasions like this, so he was dismayed to learn that his coat had been taken out of the car.  Anyway, some of the women were in capris and sleeveless blouses and some of the guys were in open neck collars.  Thankfully, nobody thought jeans and t-shirts were appropriate for this quarter-century celebration of the diocese.  But who hit the nail on the head and dressed appropriately for this type of occasion?  I felt over dressed, while Mike felt under dressed.  Crazy world we live in.

Larry & Fran at gala   Larry & Mike at Gala

Because we live in a “do-your-own-thing” world anymore, nobody really knows how to dress for various occasions.  What is “casual” or “semi-formal” or even “formal?”  What is a gala anyway? 

The evening was lovely, no matter how people dressed, and good wishes were flying for our first bishop and all the people of the diocese.  But the nagging question for me is “If I am invited to a gala at the White House, will I dress the same way that I dresssed for this gala, and if so, will I be under dressed?”

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