Category Archives: Travel


Today’s post comes from Jacque.

The trip to Ireland is a week and a half behind me now, which allows the fog to clear as routine life, my real life, resumes.  As I reflect on the trip the highlights are emerging from the distance of time and place.  One of the highlights is the County Down Museum for which there was no admission fee, a small facility located in the building that lodged the county gaol and gallows during the 19th Century.  Two wings of it display artifacts of the area reaching back to pre-Christian times.

The part that interested me, though,  was the exhibit about the gaol, especially the display about the women, arrested for “crimes,” then sentenced to life in Australia.  I have included the pictures of the narratives, telling of the women, children, and families transported for crimes. You will see that their crimes were crimes of poverty and survival, often preceded by the husbands and fathers of a family being arrested and sent off to Australia.  That left a desperate family with no financial support.


Down a narrow hall from the main exhibits was a reproduced gaol cell holding women and children, including the one pallet to be used as a bed and shared by all in the cell.  It was cold and dank and surely cleaner than the ones used 200 years ago.  I looked at it and shuddered.  I have seen exhibits similar to this before.  What made this one so meaningful to me, what set this apart significantly, was the display of nineteenth century bonnets re-created in the styles of the time.



The arrays of bonnets, embellished and decorated with scraps of fabric, embroidered hearts, lace, and ribbons were so lovely.  Representing these women without being creepy, I found the bonnets to be the perfect symbol of the lives of these women.   The beauty of this has stayed with me.  I keep returning to the picture of the bonnets to show others, to look at and study, to savor.    I find it a pleasing, perfect memory.  Ideal.


What ideal symbol have you encountered?


Ship Ahoy!

Today’s post comes from  Steve Grooms

When I was a boy the most romantic and impressive form of transportation was the train. I grew up listening to the lonely nighttime screams of passing trains. A kid in my school was so involved with trains that he memorized data on all the train travel in Iowa. You could ask him any kind of question about trains. He’d barely pause before reciting details of train schedules.

I’ve never had that kind of mind. I’m a “big picture” guy, not a detail guy, someone more attuned to forests than to individual trees.

The closest I ever came to developing an esoteric interest was when I fell in love with a hand-carved carousel built a century ago. I was smitten to the point of reading a lot of background knowledge about carousels. It is a topic I can talk about at length. But in the end, I could not work up enough interest to become an expert about all the various makers of carousels in the country. A true lover of carousels would be fascinated by obscure little carousels that just look garish and cheap to me. My deepest affections were for one splendid carousel, not the whole category.

This comes to mind because my daughter is in the early stage of becoming immersed in a new interest for our family: ship watching. My son-in-law grew up in a lovely old home on the US bank of the St. Clair River. The St. Clair is deep enough to host the biggest ships sailing the Great Lakes. The river is, in fact, the only connection between the upper lakes (Superior and Michigan) and lower lakes. Any ship traveling far in the Great Lakes must pass close to John’s home, “close” meaning about a hundred yards. Now that our family lives in Port Huron, Molly has become fascinated with the ships we see here.

The photo heading this column is one I took in late September. The ship is the Federal Seto, a particularly lengthy “saltie.” It is owned by a shipping company based in Montreal. Since I took its portrait the Federal Seto steamed through Lake St. Clair, passed through Lake Erie, and then through Lake Ontario. After running the length of the St. Lawrence Seaway, today the ship has just entered the Atlantic Ocean on its way Rouen, France.

The major distinction between different bulk freighters on the Great Lakes is between “salties” and “lakers.” Salties are shorter than lakers and have higher sides. They move freely from lake to lake but also across oceans. Lakers, many of which are about a thousand feet long, cannot fit in the locks that connect the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes. They work hard but always within the Great Lakes. In addition to being shorter and taller than lakers, salties are younger. The salty water of oceans is extremely corrosive, so salties rarely live longer than 20 years. By contrast, because lakers are not subjected to all that salt they can live many decades, even longer than a century.

Ship watching is popular hobby in this area, and there are many resources. Web sites track the movements of these ships. Many museums educate visitors about the shipping trade. There are books on ship watching, and newsletters. If you want to know the precise location and sailing plans for individual ships, “there is an app” for that. There are, in fact, several apps for smart phones that track these majestic ships at all times.

I was surprised by my daughter’s surge of interest in shipping. She has always had an active mind, but this is the first time she has immersed herself in a topic like this. Molly knows a great deal about Great Lakes ship traffic. She has favorite boats that she tracks with interest. She is highly excited by the fact a new ship being built in Europe will soon join the fleets of freighters already working the Great Lakes, and she will be sure to be on the porch of her mother-in-law’s home the first time it travels the St. Clair River.

Have you ever developed a fascination with an esoteric topic?

In Search of My Irish

Today’s post comes to us from Jacque.

By the time you read this, I will be in Ireland. I could not get my head around how to tell one of these stories. It is cruel and overwhelming and unbelievable. It stopped me cold when I started to write it.

The group I am travelling with is a group of polymer clay artists who have been the students of our teacher from Jordan, MN, Maureen Carlson. She has for years had a teaching studio where people came to learn from all over the world.  One of those students is an Irish priest Father John.  Maureen closed her studio nearly 2 years ago to semi-retire.  He cut a deal with Maureen—let me come over for lessons one more time, and then the next year you can bring a group to the retreat center I run in Ireland for another 5 day lesson.  She said SOLD!  I was invited to attend.  I said yes.

Weirdly, this retreat center is located in the Irish county where my ancestors emigrated from in 1841 to Canada, County Down. That is my mother’s side.  You can the read the story of my great grandfather at this link:

That story is stereotypical. The Newells wanted a better life.  They emigrated to Canada, then Iowa to homestead and did very well.  I hope to travel to see the old stone house the Newells lived in on the sea.  It is still there, 25 miles from the retreat center

The story I found in on my father’s side knocked my socks off. I had no idea.  This is located in the county north of Down, in Antrim where Belfast is located.  I understand the Irish hatred of British after this one.  Sorry this is so long.  Here we go:

“The year was 1548 and it was in Ireland and it was time to pay Taxes to England . Ever year England would send a small army of tax collectors to Ireland to collect taxes, The people of Ireland had very little money and never enough to pay taxes to England . The tax collectors had been given the right from their King Edward V to take any thing of value to pay the taxes owed. It was the practice of King Edward and Mary Tudor to take Children in payment of the taxes. The children were taken to England to be trained as domestic servants and bonded labors.

This small village called Antrim, in the Ulster Province and of the MacDonald Clan was no different than any other village in Ireland everyone had to pay taxes one way or another, And this is where my story begins, Young children ages 12 years and older that looked in good health were taken from the family clans as payment for the taxes.From the time that the tax collectors picked the first children until they had over 100 children to go back to England it would take lest a week to 10 days. The children would be put into carts and wagons and most of the time their hands were tied to the racks on the carts to keep them from running away.

One young boy that came from Antrim was called James Antrim. His last name was from where he came from. He was being trained as a cord winder and rope maker. James Antrim was a hard worker and he learned well he also learned to read and write that would help him to get ahead in life. He lived and took his training at the family mansion of Sir Thomas Wyatt . During the five years of training young James Antrim had a hard time at first until his hands and arms got stronger, then he was as good a rope maker as there was.

It was on a spring day on a weekend that James went to the market with three men that he came to see for the first time a young lass with red hair , James had to know more about this young women. James found out that she was a cook’s helper at this master’s house and that her name was Colleen O’Shay . This was the first time that he seen his wife to be. The servant’s Masters was willing to let their servants have relationship with other household master’s  servants.  With the hopes that it would lead to a marriage. This way the servants children would be under the master ‘s care and they would become servants also and it would be cheaper than going to Ireland and bringing back young children to train .

Our ancestors were two of these servants that were married and two of their children came to Salem , Massachusetts, America in 1635. they were Thomas Antram and his wife Jane Batter, . And Thomas sent two of his sons John and James back to England in 1679 to bring friends and to raise funds to buy land in New Jersey. Our Ancestors were early America Pioneers.”

I hope that in our 5 days of touring we get to the Antrim area, as well. I want to know more about this practice of taking children for taxes.  It is guaranteed to create hard feelings that last for hundreds of years. It makes me think about how much I hate taxes sometimes.  Several times, while I owned my practice, I had to reach down deep to pay my taxes, but never did I have to make this kind of sacrifice—a 12 year old child.  I cannot come up with a question for discussion for this one.

What would you suggest as a question?

State Fair 2017

As you all know, I adore the Minnesota State Fair. This year I was able to attend three times: opening day on my own and twice with Young Adult.  Some new things this year: a thorough exploration of the West End area, Macaroni & Cheese Curds, llamas and alpacas in the very back of the horse barn.  And the traditionals as well: Hawaiian Shave ice, bunny whispering, butter heads.  After three years of lusting after them, YA and I caved this year and purchased a big set of Thin Bins, collapsible containers with color-coded lids. We also went home with some t-shirts, assorted bags and cookies.

Even though it is essentially the same parade day after day, it is one of my favorite parts of the fair. I love seeing the different marching bands, the dairy princesses and the art cars.

On reflection though, one of my favorite things about the Fair is the people watching – and the unbelievable “variety” there is in the folks of Minnesota (and Iowa/Wisconsin/Dakota visitors). Lots of different family types, from extended families in matching shirts to young families with their jam-packed strollers.  An amazing array of clothing and shoes – why would you wear bright white tennies to the fair?  Or high-heeled shoes?  Lots of shoppers (YA and I included) getting fancy scissors, wine pouches, shark teeth – this list could go on and on.

So now the fair is finished for another year and I’m already looking forward to next year. If my feet and my pocket book can handle it, maybe I’ll go four times!

Where is your favorite people-watching locale?

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

For the first time in several years I took a vacation that lasted more than three days. I renewed my passport and flew to a country I had never been to before, in a part of the world I had never been to either: Leon, Nicaragua. While still technically in the Northern Hemisphere, it sure felt far South to this Minnesota girl. It was hot. Humid and hot. And wonderful. Would I go back again if given a chance? You bet. I missed the entire Atlantic side of the country. And Leon, the city and state where I spent the bulk of my time, is worth a second trip. There are places I want to revisit and explore more of, history to be absorbed (more on that in another post), and more tasty little mamon chinos that need to be eaten.

There is one part of the trip I do not need to repeat. It was great to have done it once, but once was enough: climbing the volcano.

Nicaragua is divided by a mountain range, which includes a string of active volcanoes. One of the volcanoes has its natural steam harnessed for energy. And one you can climb. If you’re foolish enough. And you have a guide. We had a guide. And I didn’t look at how I had to get down once I was up. So up I went.

Did I mention the guide moved like a bi-pedal Nicaraguan mountain goat?

Cerra Negro (“black hill”) erupted last in the 1990s. It spewed ash and pumice for miles – a bit like Mount St. Helens in Washington. Driving through the countryside to get to the park it was easy to think that the farmland was covered in rich, black dirt – until you realized that wasn’t dirt, that was pumice left behind by Cerra Negro. No humans died when it erupted, but plants and farm animals did. Hundreds of people had to evacuate because the surrounding area wasn’t livable. The fauna is coming back, but Cerra Negro itself remains a big black hill with virtually no trees or vegetation of any sort. The locals advise that you start climbing early – that lack of vegetation means you are clambering up a pile of black rocks in full sun. As you get closer to the top you start to get a nice breeze, but that becomes a steady wind that can blow your hat off (and threaten smaller people with toppling over). Did I mention there isn’t a true path? You just have to keep following the route of your native mountain goat guide over the rocks…Good thing he was willing to take breaks on the way up.

As you climb, and once you are at the top, the views are spectacular. It’s lush green in most every direction. The crater of the volcano has its own rust-colored beauty, but it’s not as photogenic as the next hill over. It’s good to stand at the top and recognize you just climbed a volcano. It makes a person feel accomplished. If you are my daughter, this makes you want to do cartwheels and handstands. If you are me, you fret that your child will go tumbling down the steep side of the volcano as she does handstands and cartwheels.

Then you need to go back down. Down is a different route. Down is down through pebble-y pumice that is a bit like deep sand (except it’s far more likely to scrape you). Down is steep, steep like a ski jump that you don’t see part of until you’re on it. Down means leaning back because if you stay upright or lean forward you will fall headfirst down 2400 feet of pumice covered volcano. The guide advised leaning back and going down at a trot. That worked well for Daughter who has no fear of heights (and actually enjoys them). I was less speedy, less graceful, and far more willing after a near panic attack to forgo dignity – scooting and crab-walking down, allowing all fours and my backside to hug the mountainside.

A fair amount of Cerra Negro arrived at the bottom with me in my pockets and shoes (I found yet more in those shoes weeks later back in Minnesota while walking around at the state fair). Up took just over an hour and a half, down took Darling Daughter about 10 minutes and me, um, more than 10 minutes. But I went up, and now I was down, And I can say I climbed a volcano on my summer vacation.

When have you done something even though you were scared?