Sunday, April 6, 2014

Random pictures

Sheep!  I found myself taking so many pictures of sheep.  They were everywhere we went. 
Here they are on the road next to our rented cottage.

Newborn lamb nursing.  On one of our hikes up the hill, we got to watch a teenage sheep farmer lure a mama sheep into his a truck by holding her bleating newborn lamb in front of her as he slowly led her to the road.  She followed the sounds of her baby until both were safe on the truck bed.  We asked him how old the lamb was, and he said about 20 minutes.
 It was an unusually cold spring, and the lad's father told us they risked losing lots of lambs born up in the mountains if they did not get them inside quickly after birth.

The only head shot of me from the trip. 
I just have to say that this is not a glam shot. 

Jim at the beach near Keel.  The sound of the waves on shore made me homesick for California.
One evening I bought fish from a local seafood market.  The woman who served me said her husband and father were both professional fisherman, and this was a same-day catch.  She recommended the Turbot and the Brill, species I had never heard of here in the States.  She said don't do anything fancy to prepare the fillets, just fry in butter.  Oh my, it was delicious!
Having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have always considered myself to be a judge of good seafood; I miss it dearly living in the Midwest.  And this was the best! 

Jim, Aaron and Ben with a random donkey
Stuffed suitcase!
Let it be known that I am not bringing sweaters back for everyone and their dog next time I travel internationally.  I've done it when I've been to Ecuador, Scotland, Peru and now Ireland.  DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH ROOM SWEATERS TAKE UP IN THE SUITCASE?  WELL, DO YOU?  A lot.  Irish wool sweaters are beautiful, but way overpriced at the tourist stores.  One sweater costs about $75.  Just get one at TJ Maxx next time.  We ended up buy like 6 sweaters for family (some had given us money ahead of time, we're not so much spendthrifts).  I think we paid the store owner's rent for the month.  I'll buy you all scarves or jewelry next time.
Cigarettes sold at the London, Heathrow Airport. 
I wish tobacco products in the U.S. would come with such prominent warnings.

Pictogram at the London, Heathrow Airport. 
As we walked by, Jim said, "Hey, that man has airplanes coming out of his head," 
Ben simply said, "Antler Man."


Coal Mine Museum and a Flat Tire

On the second day of our stay in Ireland, Saturday, the pouring rain put a damper on our plans for some hiking.  We decided to visit an old coal mine that was a 2-hour drive away, since Ben was studying geology at college and expressed an interest.  It was my turn to drive.  I gripped the steering wheel tensely as I tried to stay in the center of my lane on the narrow, winding Irish roads.  All three of my passengers complained about my driving-- they said I hugged the shoulder too tightly.  I was doing the best I could, but not adjusting well to driving on the left side of the road.  Funny, I had done it years ago in Scotland without much difficulty, but I suspect my eyesight wasn't that keen in 2013.  I finally got eyeglasses a month ago in March 2014 and can see roads and signs a lot better now.  No wonder the Irish rental car companies charge Americans such outrageous insurance costs.

And then there were the confounded Roundabouts!  In Ireland there are very few normal left turns at intersections.  Instead there are these circular roads with spoke roads coming out.  You drive around in this circle until you see the road you want and then you take a risk and follow the spoke.  Roundabouts are actually more efficient than timed traffic lights common in the US, and certainly genius compared to Michigan Lefts.  Even so, I was quite white-knuckled driving around them, always worried that I'd take the wrong spoke or that I'd turn into the wrong lane to see traffic barreling down at me.  It's easy for an American to become flustered with roundabouts.

Well, we got into the town of Boyle, and with all the traffic and roundabouts and I hit a curb rather hard, which pissed me off because I did not want fulfill the stereotype of the "woman driver" with my male heckling passengers.  I just knew what they were really thinking.  My passengers scolded me for hugging the edge of the road too tightly of course, but I continued on driving and eventually got us to the Arigna Mining Experience

After lunch at the coffee shop we took the tour, guided by a retired miner --  a real subject matter expert.  The mine began operations in the 1700's and finally closed its doors in 1990.  I regret we probably came across as ignorant, arrogant Americans.  The truth was, Jim, Ben and I hardly understood a word our guide said.  Prior to coming there, we had believed we were somewhat proficient at deciphering Irish dialects, but the Roscommon Coal Miner accent was too unfamiliar.  I suspect it would be a similar experience if an Irishman learned New York City speech and then was transported to a Mississippi Bayou. 

14 year-old Aaron however, understood it all.  You see, prior to going to Ireland I had advised him to watch some Irish videos on YouTube so that he could become familiar with the accent.  He took my advice to heart and apparently had become proficient at Irish speech.  I should have done the same, and spent some time on Irish Youtube instead of watching reruns of Deep Space Nine on Netflix.  Chief O'Brien's speech did me no good at Arigna.

Despite the language barrier, we learned one thing for sure:  You drill 18 meters in one direction and then 18 meters in the other.  Our guide repeated that phrase several times, very slowly, as if that was the key to understanding the entire mining operation.  We nodded politely every time he said it.  Despite the Tower of Babel experience, we had a lot of fun on the tour (we love rocks and caves in the Bakaitis family!)

When we arrive back to the car we notice that the front drivers-side tire is low.  Thanks to me hitting the curb back there in Boyle.  We head back to the town and put air in the tire.  However, by the time we get there, the tire is flat.  Really, really flat.  We try filling it with air, but it won't hold.  Rain is pouring down and the temperature is dropping as dusk approaches. 

We find no spare tire in the trunk. Instead, there is this tire repair kit thing that blows air and latex into the tire. "Here," Jim says, handing me a compactly folded piece of paper, "would you please read the instructions and tell me how this thing works?"

After getting our tire inflated and treated with latex, we find out that the only tire vendor in town closes at 5pm on Saturday.  It is now 5:30. The only thing to do is to try to make it back to our cottage on Achill Isle.  We bow our heads as a family and offer a prayer that the tire will carry us home.  At first the prayer seems to go unheard, as the air doesn't stay long.  We call Enterprise Car Rental, who advises us to drive to Knock airport where, they say, we can exchange our rental car.  We arrive at Knock airport only to find that all of the car rental booths are closed.

It is now very dark and wet, our tire is flat again, and there are no hotels in sight.  We are in the middle of nowhere.  I am contemplating how it's going to be to spend a cold night in a car in the rural Irish Countryside, and what we are going to do the next morning.  I am not seeing the fun in this.

I am almost in tears by now.  I feel terrible.  "I am sorry," I say, "This is my fault.  I was a bad driver." (It takes a lot for me to admit I am a bad driver.  Ever!)

"Mom," says Ben, "None of us cares that we have a flat tire.  We're on vacation.  This is just another adventure.  It's just all the Tourist Experience... Don't worry. ..." 

"Yeah Mom," Aaron chimes in.  "It's OK.  We love you, Mom."  With that kind of optimism, my kids must be Irish.

We stop at a gas station, and Jim gets an inspiration to buy three cheap latex tire spray things.  He fills the tire up with more air and latex and we head off again towards our cottage.  He somehow knows the tire is sturdy enough to make it home.  We stop a few more times during our journey home to repeat the procedure.  Driving 40 mph (64 kph) or less the whole way, we arrive back to our cottage around 11pm.

Our prayer was answered, not by having the tire fixed, but by enlightening Jim's mind to know what to do.

The Deserted Village at Slievemore and the Old Keel Cemetery

For some reason I had it in my mind that this place was called the "abandoned village," but "deserted village" sounds so much more mysterious and lyrical.  In recent history, the stone cottages at Slievemore were used as summer homes so families could take their cattle up the mountain to graze.  (The proper term is ""Booleying".)  A few old-timers on the island can even remember when they were used for such.  However archeological evidence suggests that some of the structures up on the mountain have been there from at least the Medieval times. 

It was a very soothing to walk around the dismembered stone homes.  There is beauty as well as intelligence in piled up rocks.  There really is!


Our family likes to pick up rocks.  Through the years we've amassed quite a collection of geodes, petrified wood, small fossils such as trilobites, Native American arrowheads and stone tools.  It seems like we bring rocks home from any family outing.  So it was quite a delight to us to find an entire village make of rocks!  The photo ops were endless! 

Ben, Aaron and Jim in decapitated stone residence.
Ben is ready to pose for a magazine cover
The boys' patience soon ran thin with my requests for pictures...

So I resorted to photographing sheep.  At least they didn't run away.


Well, some of them did run away...

 So, I finally put down my cell phone camera and just enjoyed the serenity of the place.

And my husband's habit of bringing souvenir rocks home... Well, I don't want to tattle over the Internet or get the customs folks suspicious.  Let's just say that my mother-in-law's home now displays an interesting keepsake from the Island.
The Old Keel cemetery was full of familiar surnames we recognized from Jim's family tree - Corrigan, Kilbane, Mylott, Burke, and of course - CALVEY, his maternal grandmother's surname. 
There is a certain reverence one feels when walking through cemeteries.  There is a connection between the dead and living. 
Many of the tombstones in the Old Keel cemetery are disintegrated so badly that you can't decipher the names.   I think the tombstones of Jim's ancestors probably are among some of those.  The names and dates are all cataloged on the Internet though.  It is these old, unreadable stones that fascinated me most of all.  Not quite forgotten memorials.  As in the Deserted Village at Slievemore, stones remind us of the past.

We gained a gem of information about his great-great-great grandmother's surname.  John Richard Calvey (b.1844) was the guy that immigrated to Cleveland from Achill Isle in the 1860's.  Oral family tradition was that his mother's name was Maude McMannon.  However, Jim and I could find no evidence that any McMannons ever lived in the area: no McMannons in the cemetery, and none in the vital records.  But... we did find was the surname McManamon in abundance!  I took the liberty of changing Maude's surname to McManamon on Jim's digital family tree at  I hope that grandma Maude is smiling there on the other side, satisfied that we finally got her name right! 
When doing Family History work, sometimes you just have to be there, walk the roads your ancestors walked in order for things to finally make sense.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

What? No Shamrock shakes?

In the United States on St. Patrick's day, one can find green Guinness beer at the bar, green soda pop at the grocery store, a green river in Chicago, and of course green shakes at McDonald's.  Something about green liquids must make some of us feel like we're Irish. The citizens of Ireland however, need no such validation.

No shamrock shakes in Ireland

Instead of Shamrock Shakes during the month of March, we saw that McDonalds sells Easter McFlurries.  We never actually bought one because every time we drove by a McDonald's there was a long line at the drive-thru.  Some things are the same in both countries.

McDonald's in the States wouldn't dare use a Christian holiday like Easter for marketing; they might offend some of their agnostic or other non-Christian patrons.  But Ireland is very much a Christian nation, with about 85% of the nation identifying with Roman Catholicism. So they can use the word "Easter" without fear of driving away customers.

Easter McFlurry!

The blatant Christianity of Ireland is refreshing, and very much reflected in the personalities of the people.  They are very welcoming, helpful and friendly, and seem to practice the golden rule.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Hearts of the Children, the Celts, and a Poolside Conversation.

"Mom, I love your blog...but you need to put up some updates. Soon.  I want to see Ireland or anywhere else you've been.  It might not be a very exciting blog if you only post once every two years or so" my 25 year-old daughter Rachael messaged me last week.

You can tell your child has become an adult when she can scold her mother.  

Rachael is correct.  I should have posted more travelogues since the 2011 Peru trip.  In my defense, between 2011 and 2013 I also authored a second blog incognito.  I called it EarthStains. It was my place to share stories and jokes about my experiences as an adult Mormon adoptee, as well as some experiences of others in the adoption community.  In 24 months and 150 posts, EarthStains attracted over 54,000 page views and hundreds of comments. Not exactly viral, but enough for me to feel like I was heard.  Through blogging I swapped stories with other adult adoptees.  Our experiences can be so bizarre, yet so similar.  Themes emerge of identity, belonging, not belonging, bewilderment, secrets, loyalty and deja vu as we hop between relationship landmines. Keeping all those stories around finally wore me out.

So one day last April 2013, shortly after I returned from an Ireland trip, I felt tired  and  took the blog down.  My brain had gone toxic. I'd had enough.  I stopped writing.  It was time to do something else.

Now a year later, it's time to get back to writing a bit.  On Tour With Her will not be an adoption blog.  However, as I contemplate my trip to Ireland last spring, one more personal story about being an adoptee seems relevant.  Perhaps I should publish this one too. Just one more story.


It is a warm summer day in 1985.  I am 18 years old and weigh 118 pounds; I am wearing a pink and gray one-piece Calvin Klein swimsuit (one-piece because Mormons girls with standards don't wear bikinis); tanning beside a swimming pool in someone's Northern California backyard, sipping 7-Up in a can (7-Up because obedient Mormons don't drink the wine coolers offered to them).  A tall, intelligent, shirtless, well-formed young Irishman is lounging next to me, holding my hand, quizzing me. He's got the Dublin accent which, according to one poll, is the 6th sexiest accent in the world, so I don't mind the personal questions so much.  We've been entangled for, oh, 2 weeks; been all over first base, but not much farther (because single Mormons with fortitude don't go as far as second base). 

"Are families important to Mormons? Children?" he ventures.  Family is very important to us, I tell him.  Did you know that in America, it's only Mormons and Catholics that have large families anymore? Mormons have this thing called Temple sealings, where parents and children are joined together and stay together in families even after death.  I feel awkward talking about it.  I am not a very good evangelist in my CK swimsuit.

"I see marriage as a like a vocation," he's saying.  "What I mean by that is like how Priests in the Church make vows for life.  Do you understand?"  I don't really understand what he means.  I know nothing about Catholic vocations.  I say that Mormons marry in a Temple to be sealed together as an eternal family.  Temple marriage is a new and everlasting covenant; necessary for exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom.  He doesn't really understand what I mean. 

Why the talk of marriage and family?   I do worship the ground he walks on...  I'll love him 'till the day I die. .. But what's up?   Is he thinking immigration?  The Irish economy is depressed.  Tens of thousands of Irish citizens have made their residence in America in the past decade, many of them illegally.  An easy path to citizenship would be to marry an American.  A young man's got to weigh his options for the future.  Or maybe he is just that taken with me.  Or maybe he is trying to say he isn't ready consider this stuff yet.  I am probably reading too much in to this.  This talk is way over my head.  This is just casual chat after all.

Next question is one I've been asked many times before, a question I despise because I don't know the answer.  I hate not knowing so sometimes I lie.   "What country did your ancestors come from?"   Often when people ask about my nationality, I say I am Danish and English, my adoptive parents' ancestry.  But I am feeling quite close and trusting as his steady hand holds my hand and his blue eyes hold my eyes.  So I tell the truth. I want to tell  the truth, and I never could pass for Scandinavian anyways.  Mormons with character don't lie.

"I don't know," I say. "I am adopted.  My sister once said maybe I am Welsh because of the shape of my face."  Darn guessing games!  I shouldn't have told him what my sister said, it was silly.  Still, her conjecture is the most I've had to go on.  I break away from his gaze and look down.  "I don't know what I am.  Sometimes I think about finding my natural parents but I don't know if they would want to meet me."

As is his way, the Irishman changes the conversation back to happy optimism. "Well, if you're Welsh at least you're Celtic then," he teases.  He's made it clear that heritage is important to him.  The Irish are Celts of course.   If this guy holding my hand  is a Celt then the gods must be Celts (Wait, Mormons are monotheistic, but you know what mean.).  I want to be "at least Celtic."  

I return to college in September, my desire to know my first parents grows.  I meet a green-eyed, soft-spoken, analytical young man with a Detroit accent named Jim Bakaitis.  His skin is so fair that he is never in the sun without a shirt on.  He offers to find my original parents who gave me away.  I think this is an impossible feat, but Jim manages to accomplish it with one afternoon at the university library and one phone call.  Jim understands and supports my need for answers.  He gives me some  of my identity back.  This is the guy I will marry. In the temple.  In the New and Everlasting Covenant.

Oakland, California Temple
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

As it happens, Jim is a Celt -- both Irish and Welsh.  He is also Lithuanian and Polish.  I like to hear the pride in his voice when he talks of his ancestry.  His mother and aunts often speak of their Irish roots.

Even after meeting my original parents, it would be years before I'd feel secure enough to research their ancestry.  Whenever I considered it, I felt like I was betraying my adoptive parents.  There are some within my adoptive family and church community who disapprove of adoptees finding answers, even though church policies don't discourage it.  But as Malachi of old prophesied, the hearts of the children will turn to their fathers.  In the Spring of 2013 I began the task of mapping out my genetic family tree at last.  A trip to Ireland in March 2013 (which is what this blog post was supposed to be about before a story took it over) was the motivator.  I helped my husband learn his family history -- talking to old-timers, learning the history of Achill Isle where Jim's ancestors lived, thumbing through registers, poring over maps.  It was awesome! 

I am happy that we were able to show our two sons the land of their Irish ancestors.  The oldest son Benjamin is now serving a mission in Arizona for the Mormon Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).  He wrote Jim and I a letter telling us that he was grateful we took him to Ireland before his mission .  He shares his experiences in Ireland with others as he teaches them the importance of eternal families in Heavenly Father's plan for His children.

Ben (now Elder Bakaitis)
Remains of a deserted village on Achill Isle, Slievemore, Ireland.
He recently wrote to me that he has gotten taller on his mission, "I never wanted to be taller than 6 feet," he says, "It's harder to kiss girls when you're tall."  Yeah, he's part Irish.  He'll manage.

After returning home from Ireland and dumping the adoption blog, I have spent the past year earnestly researching my biological ancestry.  And guess what?  At least I am Celtic.  Hooray.  I own a scrap of Irish and Welsh, but am maybe 30% pure Scottish, another Celtic line.    There is a bit of divinity in me after all :)  I have traced other ancestral lines to Germany and England, some as far back as the 1600's.  It's not just about the DNA.  It's the stories.  I've collected a dozen fascinating stories about my natural ancestors.  These I share with my children, along with the inspiring stories my adoptive parents gave me about their ancestors. They are pearls of great price.  I have so many connections!

Tombstone of my paternal great-great-great-grandparents, Samuel Patton and Margaret McDonald.  Sam, Maggie and some of their children are buried in a tiny cemetery 20 miles from my home in Central Illinois.   Their grandparents were Scottish emigrants, I think.  I have dozens of ancestors buried very near my home here in Illinois.  I do not believe it is mere coincidence  that I happened to settle in here, more than a thousand miles from where I was born and raised.  I feel like these ancestors are calling to me.
1904 Marriage record of my maternal great-great grandparents, John Schaible and Mary Boehm.  They were married in Walvis Bay, German Southwest Africa, which is now modern day Namibia.  This microfilm image of Lutheran Church records was a great find at Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
During WWI the British took over the area and German civilians were forced out.  The Schaible family spent the remainder of the war in Johannesburg.  They came to America with their five children in 1921.

Ellis Island emigration record for John Schaible and Mary Boehm Schaible and their five children. 
The family settled in Michigan.