Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thinking Outside the Big Box

Every year around this time, I start hearing the same complaints: 

"I've got people on my list who are so hard to shop for!"

"I'm sick of having only imported stuff to choose from. Nothing's made in America any more!"

This holiday season, I'm suggesting artists -- all friends of mine -- who offer unique items handmade/recorded/written by themselves ... in America. Everyone on this list has an online presence and an online ordering process that's simple and pretty painless.

In compiling this list, I've discovered that a lot of my friends sell their wares only at festivals/shows, so they're not listed here ... but I'll encourage you to shop your local holiday bazaar or street art fair. In either case -- whether you order online or shop the weekend street fair -- your recipient is almost guaranteed to be delighted with something unique. And I guarantee that my hard-working friends in the arts will be thrilled!

Here's my "starter" list, subject to change:

Brendan Nolan
Celtic Roar
Celtic Soul Craft
Cutthroat Shamrock
Groovy Marie
Infamous Welsh Cookie Company
Just Mine Creations
Key West Soap Co.
Lavender Sky Music
Marci's Chain Designs
Medicine Wind Music
Michael DeLalla
Mindy Simmons
Rathkeltair/Gypsies Ginger/Trevor Tanner
Scooter Muse/Jill Chambless
Sharyn McCrumb
Sleek Soap Studio
Stephan Mikes
Susan Sorrentino
Tamela D'Amico
With My Own Two Hands 

It's not meant to be a definitive list, by any means! And there simply aren't enough days to list all of the deserving folks who could appear on this list. But I hope it'll help you to "think outside the Big Box" this holiday season. Cheers!

And while we're at it ... one more "made in America" candidate ... Marcille Wallis!
www.marcillewallis.com

#ThinkingoutsidetheBigBox

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Remembering Jerry Lane

So many of my friends, and friends of Celtic Heritage, know of Jerry Lane through words in the header of the monthly email newsletter, referring to him as "caretaker extraordinaire." Those who were close to us knew him as "Uncle Jerry."

It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of "Uncle" Jerry Lane.

Jerry was born in Michigan City, Indiana on January 30, 1936. He was a lifelong fan of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, though whether it's because he was born into a proud Irish-American family or because he grew up fairly close to South Bend, I cannot say. He loved Irish music, and he could definitely carry a tune ... but the only times I ever really heard him sing, he was clowning around, bombastically interpreting "Danny Boy" or the "Mountains of Mourne" or some other song beloved by the Chicago Irish.

Greg and I first met Jerry when we'd go down to a local hangout to play trivia. His "handle" was "Moose" and for a long time we didn't know him by any other name. He was a good player, and seemed to know a lot about a weird variety of things -- well, of course; isn't that what you need, to be a good trivia player? After a while, we began to sit with him, and to converse between games. We learned that he was a salesman at a local used car lot, that he was single, and that he loved animals.

We were just starting to be away from home a lot, traveling to art/craft fairs and so forth, and Greg and I often remarked how wonderful it would be to have someone like Jerry, an independent and responsible individual, living with us, to look after things while we were away. One day, we offhandedly mentioned that to Jerry.

Some weeks, or perhaps months, later, we got a phone call from Jerry, asking us to meet him at his place of business. He was very secretive as to the purpose of the meeting, revealing only that it was a personal matter that he wished to discuss. When Greg and I got to his office, he wasted very little time in getting down to business: Remember the time we talked about him living with us? How serious were we about that? Did we want to explore that further?

Our only hesitation was Maggie, our chow mix, who only liked about six people in the entire world. How would Maggie react to sharing her space and her people with someone else? We invited Jerry to the house, to see how he and Maggie would get along. I don't remember exactly what happened, but I do remember there was blood. 

Jerry reacted with great compassion and understanding for a dog who was still carrying a lot of emotional baggage from her earliest days, and by the end of the visit, she actually let him pet her. But when he left the house, Greg and I looked at each other, shook our heads, and said, "Oh, well, so much for that!"

Eleven years later, Maggie would cross the Rainbow Bridge with Jerry Lane having pretty much gained the title of "Most Favorite Human." Almost two years after that, Jerry Lane would pass on, still bearing a scar from that fateful first meeting. Such is love.

Jerry did come to live with us, and we grew to be a family. He loved to cook, and what joy it was, after days of road food, to come home to a nice pot roast or meatloaf, good ol' comfort food! When it was your birthday, you got to choose your special dish ... mine was Venetian Shrimp and Scallops. When Greg first became ill and was hospitalized, Jerry made me come home from my bedside vigil for some fish 'n chips. He was constantly trying recipes from Rachael Ray or Paula Deen, and was not-so-secretly in love with Giada de Laurentiis.

He supervised the cooking for a number of our band parties, and even provided the hospitality for the first WNC Highlands Celtic Festival. The summer vegetable chili -- with bulgur wheat substituting for meat! -- that he prepared for that event was so yummy, many of the Highland athletes actually chose it over the pulled pork that also was offered. Matt Miller was so fond of Jerry's baked ziti, he wrote a dedication to it in the liner notes of the "Marcille Wallis & Friends Live!" CD.

Jerry loved nature, and enjoyed sitting out on our lanai, watching the activities of the birds and squirrels that visited our backyard. So sensitive had he become to the sounds of our local wildlife, that through him I was able to predict the strike of Hurricane Charley in the summer of 2004. Greg and I were up in Ohio/Pennsylvania at the time, and Jerry had been providing us with updates on the compact but powerful storm out in the Gulf. The morning of August 13, Jerry called to tell me that the storm would strike the Tampa Bay area later that day, so our home would be in the clear. "But you know, it's the darndest thing," he said, "None of my birds were out in the backyard this morning. It's dead silent here." And I knew right then, what the meteorologists did not: That the storm was headed for Charlotte Harbor, well south of Tampa Bay. It took some persuasion to get Jerry to leave the house and go to a friend's home, but he later thanked me for it. "Honey, I did time in the Air Force overseas, and thought I'd seen and heard it all, but I'll tell you, that hour or so as Charley passed over us was the most terrifying event of my entire life!"

Jerry Lane, who though fiercely proud of the work that Greg and I did, was never able to pronounce correctly the name of my instrument: he called it a "dulcenheimer." Jerry Lane, who insisted on calling Italians "Eye-talians." Jerry Lane, old-fashioned in his respect for women. Jerry Lane, who must've felt seasick with the rising and falling of his beloved Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Indians. Jerry Lane, who often masked a moment of sentimentality with "It makes me want to recite poetry!" followed by some over-dramatic rendition of a passage from Shakespeare. Jerry Lane, who though a life-long Republican, liked Barack Obama, often saying in his raspy tone, "The kid's doing a great job." 

Uncle Jerry had comforted me in the passing of my father in 2003 and the passing of my mother in 2006. Though I had other adult relatives still living in other states, Jerry was as close to a parental figure as I had, so when Greg and I married, Jerry's the one who escorted me down the aisle.




Jerry, when speaking directly to Greg, often called him "My Son." He took it pretty hard when Greg passed, as any parent would, since it feels like things aren't working in the natural order. He'd already suffered the emotional blow of us selling our house in 2014, in order to be closer to Tampa General Hospital for the sake of Greg's health. So when he threw himself more deeply into the activities of the Moose Lodge he'd joined, it was only a good thing. In the earlier part of this year, he was elected president of his lodge. What a wonderful achievement for a man who, only a few short years earlier, had lamented being unable to find a job that suited him -- yes, Jerry was that kind of guy. While others look forward to retirement, Jerry despised the very thought of it. 

Although Jerry's death was sudden, and a sudden blow, I am comforted by the fact that he went out on his own terms. He'd always feared a lingering illness, and he was spared that. He'd hated having nothing to fill his days; well, he didn't just have a job that one person had hired him for, he had a position that hundreds of people had elected him to. 

Goodbye Uncle Jerry. Thank you for all the years you lived with us and loved us and took care of us. Your Irish Eyes Are Smiling. "Caretaker Extraordinaire," Rest In Peace. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Greg Memorialized at South Shore Irish Festival



My heart is full of gratitude this morning, as I've just learned that Greg will be memorialized at the South Shore Irish Festival, September 12-13, in Marshfield, MA.

A while back, South Shore Irish announced that nominations were open for dedication of six tents to honor/remember individuals who had "a love for Irish Culture, Music, and just [an] all around mindset of what it means to be Irish." Friends, especially those who are members of the New World Celts, rallied behind Greg's nomination with emails, letters and Facebook posts.

Although Greg is best-known for his concert and festival production in Florida and North Carolina, he actively promoted the efforts of Shamrock Nation, a Massachusetts-based organization which was founded for the purpose of fostering Irish music and culture. 

The complete list of this year's honorees is as follows:

Edward 'The Tiger" Ahern 
Sean Gannon
Marguerite Maher Hart 
Jack Lee
John Mannion
Greg McGrath






Sunday, August 23, 2015

How Can I Keep From Singing

Tonight as I took Henry for his last walkie of the night, I took notice of this storm, way off in the distance. We stepped into a clearing, and video-recorded about five minutes of the spectacular light display.


Walking home, I began to think of the hymn, "How Can I Keep From Singing." There's even a line that says, "No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I'm clinging." It's all about perspective.

Full text of the hymn appears below.



My Life Flows On In Endless Song
Author: Robert Lowry

1 My life flows on in endless song;
above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.

Refrain:
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

2 Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing? [Refrain]

3 What though my joys and comforts die?
I know my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth. [Refrain]

4 The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing!
All things are mine since I am his!
How can I keep from singing? [Refrain]

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Road Trip! Part Four -- The Meandering Way Home

July 24

Henry and I left "our" tiny house and Belfast and headed down the coast toward Bremen to pick up Sue. First stop: a tiny grocery in Northport that's always open by 'way-too-early o'clock, for coffee, a breakfast sandwich, a blueberry muffin, and a jug of water. 

As if I needed a reminder, I got a small lesson in small-town behavior. There were no pre-made breakfast sandwiches that I liked in the case; the store manager noticed my look of disappointment, and offered to make me whatever I liked. Naturally, I accepted! While he was making my sandwich, he gave me an opinion on a brand of potato chips that earlier he'd observed me casually studying. OK, I wasn't the only customer in the store, but maybe I was the only out-of-towner and needed watching. Then he offered me a bowl of water for my dog. My dog, Henry, who was sitting in the car. I politely refused this offer, but not because I found it creepy. I already had a bowl of water for Henry, but yes, I found this creepy.

After my purchases had been rung up and paid for, another man, his smiling face somewhat weather-beaten, offered to help me get my purchases out to the car, an offer which was gladly accepted as balancing hot coffee with my other purchases was proving to be impossible. I thanked him, and as I drove away I suddenly no longer found the manager's behavior "creepy." Yeah, when you live in -- or visit -- a small town, people do tend to mind your business ... but that's not necessarily a bad thing. If they've sized you up to be a decent person, you've always got friends. And that is a good thing.

So Henry and I picked Sue up, then we all made our way down the coast -- because Sue was Jonesin' for one last lobster roll before leaving the state.   
Broad Bay Congregational Church, Waldoboro -- once upon a time, when Maine was still part of Massachusetts, the town was called Broad Bay.

The Little Brown Church, Round Pond -- nowadays, Round Pond is such a tiny little village, yet in the mid-1800s there were three shipyards operating.
  
Somewhere along the road from Round Pond to Damariscotta -- although I found this scene lovely, even lovelier to me is the fact that the land in the foreground is owned by the Nature Conservancy.

I would have to think long and hard about the last time I saw a Rexall drugstore. Oh, I know they're still around, but I'm pretty sure they're all gone from Florida. We had to go inside, because they advertised a soda fountain ...

... and they delivered. Here's Sue, waiting as the "soda jerk" (look it up if you're not familiar with the term; I'm not being rude) makes a couple of root beer floats for us. 

We found Sue's lobster roll, and clam chowder for me, at an open-air deck in Wiscasset. Then we started making our way to West Springfield, Massachusetts. First stop in West Springfield, the home of my very dear friends Melissa and John. Then on to Collins Tavern, "West Springfield's Best Kept Secret," where I enjoyed yet another bowl of clam chowder, and some haddock. I've written more about Collins in a post some years ago, so if you want to read more about this place click here.

July 25

I'd stayed up until 'way too late last night, visiting with Melissa! But it was a good time, and I enjoyed my all-too-brief time there. There are no photos from today, as we fought road construction and the usual traffic on our way down to Fairmont, WV and the home of Sue's friend Kitt Chapman. We ate chili and drank cherry moonshine, and once again talked well into the night.

July 26

Our route started with this unusual sign on the entrance ramp to I-79, which made me laugh:


And then we drove down to take the US 19 shortcut to I-77. This is the overlook that greets travelers from the north, a taste of what's to come along this very scenic highway:

We stopped at the visitor center for the New River Gorge Bridge. This bridge is amazing -- the second largest single span steel arch in the Western Hemisphere, and the highest vehicle-carrying bridge in the United States. Underneath the arch, it's 876 feet high -- that's one Washington Monument and two Statues of Liberty stacked one on top of each other, with about 20 feet clearance. That gorge is so deep that crossing it used to take 40 minutes, winding down to cross what is now the "old bridge" and then winding your way back up again. The new bridge reduces that travel time to less than a minute!
This is a view of the New River Gorge Bridge from one of the visitor overlooks

Looking down at the New River -- the old bridge stands toward the lower right corner of the photo

We then decided to drive down into the gorge, to cross the old bridge. It's something I always wanted to do, but as Greg and I were always traveling this stretch of road while pulling our trailer, we couldn't make this drive -- much too steep and windey for a trailer! We'd always said, "Some day ... "
Henry and me posing at a stop along the way down.

Trains still rumble along these tracks at the bottom of the gorge.

The "old bridge" -- yes, it's a wooden bridge.

This little beach on the New River is a popular place for swimmers, rafters, and kayakers.

After climbing back out of the gorge, we briefly visited Fayetteville -- "The Coolest Small Town in America" -- for a late lunch, before heading toward Marietta, GA in earnest. We knew we'd be arriving very late, but oh, the side trip into the gorge was so well worth it! 

July 27

We started the day at a cool, Henry-friendly breakfast place in Woodstock, GA, followed by a visit to the Chattahoochee River, and later dinner at another Henry-friendly restaurant in Marietta. As a last stop, we went to Marietta's famous Kentucky Fried Chicken, for a video of their iconic chicken -- incredibly tacky, but so tacky that it's incredibly cool!

video

But that wasn't all! We actually drove out into the country, as far from the bright light of Atlanta as we could reasonably get, to try to catch a glimpse of activity in either the Delta Aquariids or Alpha Capricornids meteor showers. I can't really claim to have seen anything from either of these; it seems I was always looking in the wrong direction when Sue managed to see something. Or maybe I'm just too nearsighted. However, both of us saw a spectacular meteorite entering the Earth's atmosphere.

And then back to Marietta, and to bed, to get up early the next morning for the trip back to Florida.

I'm so glad that Sue persuaded me to go on this trip! In some ways, it was bittersweet, as we traveled along many of the same roads that Greg and I had traveled in our long tours as Celtic Heritage. In a couple of ways, I fulfilled promises that Greg and I had made to each other. And I did something altogether new, in Henry's and my visit to Acadia National Park ... and perhaps found some inspiration as to returning to Maine next summer, perhaps as a performer again! 


Friday, July 31, 2015

Road Trip! Part Three -- In a Neat Little Town They Call Belfast

July 22 and 23

Henry and I spent these two days simply wandering around Belfast. Well, except for a trip that we made up to Searsport, so that I could have a seafood platter from Angler's. It was always a big favorite of Greg's and mine, and we laughed every time we saw its sign, or rather, the sign for the motel next door:



Other than that, Henry and I mostly walked around and sniffed things. Well, Henry sniffed things. I just took pictures. And we visited a bookstore. Henry was even allowed to come inside the bookstore with me! Belfast is a pretty dog-friendly town, and many of the shops keep a bowl of fresh water just outside the entry.

These first two photos are taken from the bridge crossing the Passagassawakeag River, looking down to the harbor and Belfast on the hill.




The rest of the pictures are in no particular order, and unless captioned there's nothing particularly "important" about them, except that I thought they were pretty. First, some photos taken around the historic neighborhood where we were staying:


My dream house











Also in the historic district is First Church, which I absolutely adore. First Church is a Congregational Church, founded in 1796, and it is the first church founded in Belfast. The building you see dates to 1818. When I think of New England, I think of the Congregational Church! And I must say that, despite the images that may be conjured up in your head of grim New England Puritans, First Church is -- like all modern Congregational Churches -- a very welcoming and inclusive church. And it features some of the most joyous, happiest worship services I've ever been blessed to attend.


Scenes from downtown







And last, a few scenes from along the harbor and the shipyard. Interestingly, though I'm sure shipbuilding, fishing, and other maritime trades have been important to the Belfast economy for centuries, until the 1940s the biggest employer was a large shoe factory which was built in the post-Civil War era, and which thrived as the town's economic mainstay until the chicken processing industry came in. Not sure when the chicken processing plant was phased out.









One last little photo of a t-shirt sold by a local vendor.


Don't be too surprised if next year, I'm posting from Belfast. Though I know I would not care for the harsh Maine winter at all, and wouldn't know how to properly prepare for winter, and wouldn't know how to deal with being completely snowed in -- well, let's just say I know better than to say I want to live here! But I wouldn't mind staying here for longer than a week at a time, and I may in fact try to work that out next summer.











Thursday, July 30, 2015

Road Trip! Part Two -- Mount Desert Island (Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor)

July 21

Henry and I took a trip out to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. I stopped, briefly, along the way to pick up a rain jacket and a flashlight at the LL Bean outlet in Ellsworth, then headed toward the park.

I must say, the park was so beautiful I was moved to tears! Here are a couple of the first scenes to greet me:


The town you see across Frenchman Bay is Bar Harbor.

  


My first goal was the Thunder Hole, which is an amazing phenomenon of nature, especially viewed as the water is moving toward high tide. As waves roll in, they enter a narrow inlet, at the end of which is a small cavern. When the rush of a wave arrives, air and water collide to sound very much like distant thunder. Apparently, a lot of other people had the same idea to arrive at high tide, and I wasn't able to get near enough to the Thunder Hole to witness and hear this phenomenon! So I parked the car just south of the Thunder Hole, hoping to find another vantage point from which to view the incoming tide ...

... and, despite my careful preparation when leaving the house, discovered that I had forgotten Henry's leash. There was no way in the world that I would deny my adventure-loving pet the opportunity to enjoy the Maine coast, so I did a thing that would be completely crazy with most dogs, but not with my well-behaved and gentle Henry-Dog: I used a saxophone lanyard as his lead! This next series of photos was taken from a rocky outcropping where we spent considerable time just listening to the crash of waves and the occasional cry of seagulls.




I think we both could've stayed out there forever! Henry seemed completely relaxed and happy. But not wishing to press our luck, we loaded up and headed into Bar Harbor for some sturdier dog gear, which was found at a place called ... get ready for it ... Bark Harbor.

After securing a proper leash, we decided to walk along the Bar Harbor Shore Path, for a different view of Frenchman Bay.




Then we took a spin in the car through the town, because town seemed overly crowded for us to have much fun walking. Beside, we were eager to get back out to the park.





Leaving Bar Harbor, we headed out toward Seal Harbor



before turning back in toward Cadillac Mountain. The day had been very foggy, but as we climbed toward the top of Cadillac Mountain, we climbed above the clouds for some pretty spectacular views. Though this grouping of photos has a number of very similar-looking scenes, I was fascinated by the landscape which shows evidence of long-ago glacial activity, so I've posted almost all of the photos taken before reaching the summit.














We spent a fair amount of time on the summit, though clouds interfered with seeing any great views or taking any great photos.



Coming back down, there were some more thrilling views:



Then we chose to go back toward Thunder Hole, simply because we'd enjoyed our time there so much.




But to go to the actual Thunder Hole overlook, I decided to leave Henry in the car. Although he is not the least bit disturbed by actual thunder, or other sudden loud noises like fireworks, I was afraid that, should he get spooked or a big wave washed on top of us, there could be tragic circumstances. Having been down there, I now know my instincts were correct. The walk was a bit slippery ... and what's a dog going to do with a handrail? I know he wanted to go, because he likes going everywhere with me. But ... just not safe for him.


This is the inlet that I'd described earlier. Water rushes through this inlet toward the cave, which is unseen but toward the lower right portion of the photo.

And this is the actual cave. I really would've liked to take a little video of what actually goes on, because even when it's not the high tide coming in, it's pretty dramatic stuff. However, every time I started getting some decent footage, someone came into earshot and started chatting. I was a bit disappointed -- I'd really rather listen to the sounds of nature than my own voice! -- but I recognize that everyone's not that way. Guaranteed, next visit I make to this park I will be at the Thunder Hole at a not-popular-for-tourists time, and get that recording! Poor little Henry will still have to wait in the car, as this place is barely safe for adults, let alone kids or dogs.

One last view of Frenchman Bay, before heading back toward Belfast.


What a spectacular day! I discovered a little something about myself, too. I have always loved the mountains, but I've always loved the sea as well. On the one day in my entire life that I had the opportunity to enjoy both, I actually chose to spend more time by the sea. That was a very interesting personal revelation.