Tea Time Thursday – Salisbury Tea

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​What stands out most vividly in our brief visit to Salisbury was the wacky tea shoppe that Kathy and I wandered into. There were so many things on the wall, it was hard to miss the tiny flowery wallpaper. There were small round table with two or three chairs. I think they were metal, like patio furniture rather than wood, and they were all white. I feel as though a doily factory exploded in this shoppe. People were there, chatting quietly, sipping tea, adding milk, dabbing creme onto scones, the click of the spoon hitting the tea cup unmistakable and nearly constant.

At the back of the shop was a counter where you got your order and behind the counter were three old women. Ancient would be more apt. They were all quite deaf or extraordinarily hard of hearing. Although they didn’t have one, it would not have surprised me one whit if they had one of those ear trumpets that you would put into your ear and had someone scream into.

They were shouting orders back and forth and repeating as necessary because of the hearing. It was very much like the Where’s the Beef commercials.

As Americans, we were already loud, but not quite loud enough for this place.

I’d like a tea with milk please.

What?

Tea. With milk, said a little louder.

What?

One more time.

She turned to the lady behind her, in the more kitcheny area and repeated my order.

What? came the reply from the back.

The first woman repeated it.

What?

A third woman back there repeated it even louder and was met with a silent nod as tea kettles were poured and prepared and given to us on a tray. We must have paid but I don’t actually remember paying. I also don’t recall if we got anything to eat with our tea.

We sat and sipped and listened in astonishment as our conversation was repeated with the customers who came after us. We grinned occasionally at the absurdity of it all.

It was so perfectly, stereotypically British that I would not have been surprised had Mrs. Slocum come out of the back complaining about her day.

I don’t remember what was upstairs – there was a little shop, but I do remember going up the narrow stairs and then coming back down relatively quickly. We slid past other customers coming in, back onto the narrow cobbled walkway, under the stone arch that had been there since before America was a nascent thought and back to the hostel; or more likely to the hostel for the first time after our very British sustenance. Tea cures all ills, and with its special powers we were able to walk the rest of the way to the hostel where we would stay the night and then continue west by train through the lush green countryside bordered by grey sky.

January in England. We made our own sunshine.

National Writing Day

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I wished I’d discovered this a week ago (or more) so I could have prepared properly, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t put a few thoughts out there to encourage writing, yours as well as mine.

Everything is a prompt. Everything is connected.

Example: How did I find out about National Writing Day?

Scrolling through Facebook, saw a post about Wales – three places to write in Wales on NWD. Google NWD 2018, find their website. It’s today! Go to the website. See offer to follow on instagram. Follow. Link in bio to download Write Away activity for today.

I share that with you here:

Click here to download Write Away! activity.

Enjoy!

And Write Away!

Travel – 15 Quick Tips When Visiting Belfast, NI

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Recently, an acquaintance of mine left for a trip to Ireland on a group tour. Her travels were taking her to Ireland as well as Belfast in the North and as far north as the Giants Causeway. She had been asking for advice, and I thought it would be helpful to share some of those tidbits here.

1. You will not receive a bag with your purchases. 

Not even at the grocery store. You will need to bring your own reusable bag or pay 5p to receive one. I did notice that there weren’t plastic bags swirling around the streets in the breeze.

2. Bring an umbrella and a lightweight jacket.

We visited in August, and we wore our jackets every day. It was colder than I expected. As for rain, it will rain every day. Sometimes it’s no more than a mist that you would feel at a waterfall, but we had at least two downpours, and without an umbrella, we would have been soaked to our skin.

As I joked with my brother-in-law: Ask yourself if you’re still in Ireland. If the answer is yes, then you need to bring your umbrella.

3. Across the street from City Hall in Belfast is a large information center with great pamphlets, maps, and a gift shop. If you can’t get to that one, try and find an information center before you start wandering around. They are very helpful. Visit Belfast Welcome Center.

4. Around the corner and down the road a tiny bit is Carroll’s, an Irish gift shop with clothes, magnets, mugs, candy, everything and anything at a price range that makes something affordable for everyone.

5. The candy selection is amazing.
Even if you find something similar to what we have in the States, the use of local water and milk in the candymaking makes it spectacular.

6. Toffee. Eat all the toffee.
We can’t get good British toffee in the States. It is my go-to when I can get it.

Also, eat all the cheddar. 

7. Visit Titanic Belfast. It is an incredible museum dedicated to the building of the Titanic. I think they did a really wonderful job balancing their pride for building the great ship and the respect for the lives lost in the disaster. They also have plenty of on-site parking at a reasonable price, a cafe, and a gift shop.

8. St. George’s Market.

9. Botanic Gardens. One word of warning, there is very little parking in this area.

10. Wear comfortable shoes. There will be a lot of walking regardless of your prime mode of transportation.

11. Download maps to your smartphone or prints them out. If you can’t do that, get them right away, especially street maps, if only to get your bearings. We tend to drive in circles the first couple of days.

12. Carry cash. The general consensus is £200 to start and then use an ATM as needed.

Visa and MasterCard are taken at most places. 

Notify your bank that you will be traveling and for how long, so they don’t freeze your cards when you need them. (This includes your Debit/ATM card as well.)

From personal experience, I would not recommend Discover. In the two weeks we were there, we found two places that took them. Not even the petrol stations did.

13. £ Stores. Poundland, Pound World, All for a £. The same as our dollar stores, but everything’s £1.

14. Petrol is in litres; road signs are in miles. I have no idea why. If you find out, please let me know.

15. Leave space in your case to bring things back without having to pay baggage fees.

Titanic Belfast. Museum. (c)2018

Finding Mary

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Finding Mary on my UK trip: Mary, Untier of Knots medal. Ballintoy, NI. Our Lady of Lourdes replica, Dublin. Mary, Mother of G-d, Dublin. Our Lady of Dublin, Dublin. Praying the rosary at Ballintoy, NI. Tiny Saints, Mary, the Blessed Mother. Mary statue at Cranfield Church, NI. Mary, Untier of Knots color charm. (c)2017-2018

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Travel – Caernarfon, North Wales

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Caernarfon was not a place I’d ever heard of before it was suggested that I visit the town. My friend lives near there, and offered it when I asked for recommendations for my 2009 trip. He mentioned the Castle and the Strait and the nearness to other Welsh attractions, and we could meet for lunch or dinner in nearby Bangor.

I picked Caernarfon from his recommendation before even reading up on it.

I’d be arriving on Monday morning and driving in. I’d stay at an international hostel. I had stayed at a youth hostel my first time in Wales (in 1987), but they had a maximum age of, I think it was 25. This hostel took all ages as well as families. I’d have to find my way around, but on Tuesday, I’d get to Bangor for our dinner.

So far, those were the only plans that I made.

I wasn’t exactly flying by the seat of my pants, and I would eventually have some sort of plan for the week, but it was nice to have a base for the first half of the week, and Caernarfon was perfect for that.

Caernarfon was wonderful in so many ways. I hadn’t planned on returning in 2017, but we did manage to pop in. I was happy to be able to show my family a place that I could kind of get my way around, and share my experiences with them, not to mention creating new ones with them.

Here are a few of my recommendations of places I visited in and around Caernarfon and a few on my list for next time. Please use the links to make your own travel plans. It is well worth the trip.

This and the above photo: Caernarfon Castle, taken in October 2009 in Caernarfon, Gwynedd, North Wales. (c)2009-2017

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Healing: Near and Far

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​One of the wonderful things about visiting a place steeped in saints is finding a new one; an unheard of one, at least unheard of by me. When I mentioned to our cousins about traveling to Wales to pilgrimage at my confirmation saint’s holy well, he immediately scoffed. “Ach, why ya goin’ there? We’ave one just up the road; that way, then left.”

When we returned from Wales, we indeed went right up the road and discovered a place of quiet beauty, spirituality pressing down from the clouds and whispering through the grass of the graveyard. Set between a field of sheep and a tremendous lake – Lough Neagh – and just below the ruins of an old church was the holy well of St. Olcan.

St. Olcan was a contemporary of St. Patrick. It is said that Patrick found Olcan as a baby with his deceased mother. He became a disciple of Patrick’s and founded the Armoy Monastery in Antrim, very near where his well stands today. After travels to Rome and Gaul, he was ordained by Patrick and became the first bishop in Ireland. Another story is that his mother was Patrick’sw sister, but of course, there’s no real way to verify that. Patrick did have a warm spot for Olcan, having taken him under his wing, becoming his mentor and in addition, gave to him some of the relics of Sts. Peter and Paul that had been in Armagh.

St. Olcan’s feast day is June 29, which corresponds with the pilgrimage to his shrine between May Eve and June 29 and the day that the water has risen so far that the amber pebbles overflow onto the land, making them easier to access. Pilgrims would come during that time for three consecutive days, walking the stations, bathing in the well, and praying for healing.

L-R: Holy water from St. Olcan’s well, two pebbles from the well and one stone from the Cranfield Church. (c)2017


Olcan blessed the well with healing properties.
The rising water brings the stones, and swallowing a pebble protects one from drowning, women in childbirth, and having them in homes protects them from fire and burglary.

I was told to bring a rag or some sort of cloth, dip it in the well, and wash the area on my body that needed healing. Then I was to tie the rag onto the tree (where there were dozens of other rags), and when it deteriorated, my affliction would be healed. While some holy wells are meant to drink, I’m not sure that this is one of those wells. Certainly, the directions do not include drinking or ingesting, and when I collected some for my ailment, it was brownish and had sediment floating in it. By contrast, the two other wells I visited were much cleaner and were meant to be drank.

He is also said to be buried at the church on the hill above the well. What’s left of the Cranfield Church is the ruins of a 13th century church, but that church was built and stands on the site of an earlier church.

Saint Olcan’s Well and Shrine on the shores of Lough Neagh adjacent to a sheep farm, just below the ruins of Cranfield Church. (c)2017


One of the things that amazed me about this church, and really many of the medieval buildings that I’ve visited is the sturdiness. Most are without roofs, and Cranfield was no exception, but the walls stood tall; sturdy. I am a toucher, and I ran my fingers along the cold stones, and leaned through window spaces and on walls to get just the right pictures at just the right angles, and I never felt unsafe.
Today, I was reminded of St. Olcan and his Holy Well when I attended my parish’s semi-annual  Anointing Mass. It was well attended. There is Scripture, music, a blessing and the anointing of the oil of the infirm and receving the Eucharist. There is also a community lunch. Today was turkey and mashed potatoes. I could eat turkey and mashed potatoes every day. I find the camaraderie and the fellowship of the meal as well as the coming together of our community just as healing as the prayers and the anointing.

Clockwise: From the anointing mass: Turkey luncheon, Music: I Know That My Redeemer Lives, Ornament table favor. (c)2017


Tomorrow, I will post pictures of St. Olcan’s well and the Cranfield Church. For now, take a few moments, and just be with your thoughts or no thoughts. Take a few breaths, and recharge. Don’t forget to exhale.

Tea

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​I love tea.

Not only do I love tea, I love the idea of tea.

It cures all ailments.

All ills made better.

Whether it’s taken like coffee – a caffeine pick me up – or a cup alongside a candle – for either prayer or writing time – or High Tea with finger sandwiches and mini pastries, it doesn’t matter to me.

I do draw the line at most herbal teas preferring my infusions to have actual tea leaves in them, and my preference is black tea rather than green, white or others.

I visited a group of friends a few years ago, and one was an immigrant from Wales. He brought me proper tea to wait on my bedside before I even got up for breakfast. While I was visiting, after my Welsh friend and his wife went to sleep, another friend put on the kettle to make us two cups of tea or hot chocolate or something that needed warm water. When the kettle whistled, we were a moment too slow, as my friend, while more or less still asleep or very groggy, came out of his bedroom, went straight to the kitchen without saying a word, turned off the kettle, and fixed the tea for us. Then he went back to bed. If there was ever any doubt if the British have tea in their veins, this settled it for me.

I am the kind of person who brings tea with me when I travel even to retreat weekends. I have loose leaf tins and an infuser that goes with me as well as investing in a travel tumbler with infusion attachment. It keeps my tea hot for a ridiculous amount of hours.

As I made my packing list for my last holiday to Ireland and Wales, I began to write “tea” under the space I left for food until I very quickly realized that to bring my own tea to Britain would not only be insulting, but redundant.

While my son needed ot buy an extra carry-on for his candy (truly, I am not exaggerating), I saved what little space I had for two large boxes of Welsh tea and two boxes of biscuits to go with them. I like candy as much as the next guy, but I do have my priorities.

38/52 – Pen-y-Pass, Thirty Years

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​Thirty years ago, 7 January to be precise, I arrived for the first time in Wales. This was a momentous event for several reasons, even if I didn’t realize all of them until years later. It was one of the most spontaneous things I’ve ever done, and had life given me different circumstances, I may have missed all that this gave me. Our trip could be divided into three parts – England, Wales, and Scotland. We had lots of time, and that still wasn’t enough. If I recall correctly, after London and about a week in England, we took the train from Wolverhampton to Llanddudno Junction, and then on to Betws-y-Coed, where we would need to walk or hitchhike about twelve miles to the hostel in Snowdonia. The hostel was in Pen-y-Pass, which is about the middle of the Pass of Llanberis. I know all of this now more than then. Then was thirty years ago, and I was following my college roommate wherever she was taking me with little complaint. It was not an easy trek, and although I am much more out of shape now, this most recent time (and the time before this one) I had a car to get around.

Since it was January on that first excursion, Pen-y-Pass was not very crowded. This really isn’t the season for hikers up and around the mountains of the Snowdon National Park. There were only a few of us at the hostel, but we made friends quickly, and ended up traveling together to Bangor and then eventually split up, the boys, Neil and Hugh, fifteen or so to our twenty were heading home to London, Gunnar, 20-something to West Germany, and Liz, 18 was traveling with us to Kendal in the Lake District, where she lived, and where we would be spending the night (at another hostel) before we traveled to the Scottish Highlands the day after. Gunnar was kind enough to add to my collection of money, remembering to stop me in the morning to hand me two German coins.

Youth Hostel at Pen-y-Pass, Snowdon National Park, North Wales. (c)1987-2017

In order to write this, I am re-reading my journal from those days, and I must admit – it is atrocious. It is very much “we did a, b, and c, and then this happened, etc.” I read my journal from 2009 as well, and it is not much better. At least I’m conscious of it as i try to journal from my summer visit a few weeks ago and I pray that my writing has improved.

“7pm

We are at Pen-y-Pass. We got here at around 4:30. We got two rides from Betws-y-Coed, and we walked a bit less than a mile (although it seemed like forever.) This is a beautiful region filled with mountains. Not like the Oneonta [where I went to college] mountains, though. There are less trees. These are huge stone slabs against the sky. We walked towards the sunset, so it looked really great. There are lots of sheep. The view up here is absolutely wonderful. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe it. I’m sitting next to a nice, warm fire. This is really a nice hostel. We’ve changed some plans: tomorrow, we go to Bangor; then Kendal, then Pitlochry for two days and finally Edinburgh.”

“8:50pm

[I drew a little diagram of the constellations I could see.]

Just got back from a night hike up the mountain. The moon was out, and the stars as well, of course. It wasn’t too cold. We saw some sheep and heard some streams.

Kathy [my college roommate] & I are going to go up again tomorrow morning.”

I believe this was a trail called the Miner’s Track.

Snowdon National Park at Pen-y-Pass, near the Miner’s Track, North Wales. (c)1987-2017

One of the amazing things my husband noticed on our trip simply confirmed what I had learned so long ago. Ireland has a lot of sheep. A lot. They don’t have nearly as many sheep as Wales. The Welsh sheep also have this knack for defying gravity. The can stand perfectly in any clump of grass, rocks, dirt, no matter how steep. They also seem to be like the Harry Potter Knight Bus, at least the ones we encountered on the roadways, in that they were there suddenly, but miraculously made themselves small enough to not get run over, or push your vehicle over a cliff. We were very grateful for that.

Our visit this time to Wales was for one simple reason: my pilgrimage to my saint’s holy well. Everything else was like icing on the cake, actually it was like the ice cream next to the cake since for me the icing is the best part. So the well would be the icing, and the rest of the visit was the ice cream.

I have always found many of the well loved places in Wales through other people’s suggestions for me. This time was no different. I had driven past my friend’s family home near Bangor on our way to the hotel in Dolwyddelan, and he suggested we go for ice cream in Beddgelert, so we did. Well worth the trip (and worthy of its own post).

In our driving around Wales, we discovered many things, and rediscovered several things from my second visit that I could share with my family. It’s funny because when I returned home in 2009 from my solo adventure, I did not want to share any of this with my family, but after bringing them this past August, I was really excited to share with them the very things that at first frightened me.

While we were there for just over forty-eight hours, we did quite a lot of driving. 

We ended up taking a quick break where ther were a lot of cars parked, both in the car park and on the roadway, and a phenomenal amount of walkers and hikers, all sporting various hiking equipment and gear. My family decided to stop here to take a couple of pictures and grab a couple of drinks for the rest of the drive to wherever we were going at that moment. By this point in our trip, I was exhausted, so I waited in the car.

I looked around from my vantage point, and thought things seemed familiar, but of course I told myself that I must be imagining it. I mean to someone who is not a hiker/mountain climber, one mountain is pretty much the same as any other. It was a grey sky, and slightly overcast; chilly and the sky was darkening into evening, but still, there was something about this place.

The road between Pen-y-Pass and Llanberis, North Wales. (c)1987-2017

I looked around some more, and as I stretched my neck and turned my head, a woman sitting on a picnic bench moved ever so slightly, and I could read the sign that had been directly behind her head: Pen-y-Pass.

PEN-Y-PASS.

I got very excited, but couldn’t leave the car – I hadn’t known where my family went, and I didn’t have keys to the car, but I was frantically trying to see more of my discovery.

When my son came back, I excitedly asked him if there was a youth hostel there, and when he said yes. I handed him my phone and asked him to take some pictures. He asked no questions and did as he was asked, and it was in looking at them on his return that I realized that it had literally been thirty years, and I was back.

Pen-y-Pass with 30 years of changes. North Wales. (c)2017


I was astonished. I had no plans to come back here or to bring my family despite this spot being so integral to my attachment to Wales so long ago. This was where on a cold, sunny hilltop in the Snowdon Mountains did I encounter that feeling that isn’t deja vu as much as it’s deja vu times a lifetime. It has been mysterious and has led me back twice more, and it can’t be explained to anyone who’s never experienced it themselves.

On that day thirty years ago, we set out on our hike. It was January in the UK, and I expected Wales to be the same as England. Gray, overcast, damp, misty, cloudy, etc. and so on.

It was not.

Oh, it was cold. Not as cold as the Cotswolds, but damn it was cold.

No clouds, though. Just a brilliant blue sky with the snow-capped mountains set as a backdrop against the sky. There were sheep – I still can’t figure out how they managed to stand at a 45 degree angle and not roll down the hills. We walked, we stopped, we walked. And I was home.

It really was unexplainable. I felt this incredible sense of awareness of every blade of grass, the sunlight reflecting on the water, the cold snowy smell, and just the feeling that I’d been there before. This is where I was meant to be. I was supposed to be there because I had been there before. It was overwhelming and unforgettable.

It remains so.

It’sf spiritual.

And holy.

And it drew me in, and has kept me searching, even when I wasn’t looking.

It was only two months ago (and thirty years ago), and still, I can feel what I felt both times.

In that most recent time, I had this incredible feeling come upon me. This was another time that seemingly unrelated moments connect as they have between 1987 and 2017, and I wonder how destiny works, but know that it does.

Champ – Bringing Back Some of Ireland with Me

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I had never heard of champ before asking about it in a quiet restaurant in Glenariff, Northern Ireland. It was listed as a choice of side dish alongside chips, crisps, and veggies. It turned out that it is a mashed potato dish with scallions and a few other things that I couldn’t hear her say.

Mashed potatoes?

In Ireland?

I’m there.

At first I thought it was colcannon, but champ originates in the North and is a Northern Irish dish, and it was delicious. 

It was also different than any of the country mashed I’ve gotten in the US (think Cracker Barrel with gravy) or any I’ve made myself. It wasn’t that I’d never thought of combining these ingredients together, but I was just used to the simplicity of mashed potatoes – butter, milk, salt, crushed under a masher until smooth – ish.

It wasn’t until I did a quick Google search that I saw how simple champ really is to make.

As for our masher, it is almost always at the bottom of the sink or at least it seems that way when I need to use it so I have a few alternative tools to use as mashing tricks.

Large forks are good mashers.

So are large spoons if applied with the right pressure.

And last, my most recent discovery, a copper one-cup measuring cup. This really did a great job.

For my version of champ, I washed, cut, and boiled about seven medium-sized potatoes. I did not peel them, but they can obviously be peeled if you prefer them that way. The ones we had at the restaurant were peeled. Their mash was a perfect creamy white.

After the draining and mashing, I added one stick of unsalted butter, about two tablespoons of salt, three scallions diced as finely as I could get them, and a scoop of sour cream. You could use more scallions if you like. I also didn’t use milk, but it could be added or used instead of the sour cream.

Just before the rest of dinner was ready, I added about 1/4 cup of shredded, sharp cheddar cheese. I used white to keep the color of the potatoes. The topmost photo was taken in bad lighting; I’ll have to correct that when I make them again.

Only the usual suspect (the picky eater) complained despite loving them abroad. Everyone else loved my rendition, and I’m sure they’ll make it into regular rotation.

AllRecipes has a recipe to follow if you like measurements. Usually, I do, but when I’m cooking (rather than baking) I like to gauge how it looks, feels, and tastes.