Thursday, December 22, 2011

'Tis The Season!

I realise I have a lot of nerve showing up here after 3 months of nothing.  You probably forgot that I even exist in this medium.  But here I am, timidly showing my blogger face again, asking you to forgive me for such a long absense.  :)  I'm sitting here on my day off watching my daughter watch the Grinch for the eleventy-billionth time this Christmas season. She LOVES it.  And it makes my heart happy to watch her get so excited.  Hardly a second goes by before she says "Oh WOW" "Oh Dee-yore" "Oh NO!".  She's so adorable I can't stand it!! :)

She just turned 2 and is such a big girl now - I can hardly believe it!  When you're expecting or are a brand new parent, you're constantly being told "enjoy every goes so fast!".  You think "yeah RIGHT - I will never sleep again...ever!"  But it's true.  It goes fast and I'm glad I savoured all the good and the bad moments of her being tiny.  Cause now she's over 3 feet tall and is definitely not my little baby any more!

Anyways...we've had a LOT of changes since I last posted.  A lot.  But I haven't had enough coffee yet this morning to get into all that so I thought, it being almost Christmas, I'd tell you a few of my favourite things of this season.  And then I promise I'll catch you up on what's been going on in the K household in the last few months.  Promise!

What I love about the Christmas Season...
  • Spending time with family (I'm missing my family so much this Christmas!)
  • Christmas Trees - REAL ones...can't beat that smell!
  • Gingerbread anything
  • My mother-in-law's incredible homemade Christmas cookies
  • Watching The Grinch and Rudolph The Rednosed Reindeer on repeat with C
  • Mulled Wine (best recipe ever)
  • My sibling's homemade egg nog (think you guys could FedEx me some?!)
  • Hanging the stockings
  • A roast turkey with all the trimmings on Christmas day
  • The Red Cups from you-know-where (yes...I'm a sucker)
  • My brother JJ's amazing Christmas breakfast
  • Christmas music....naturally
  • Mince pies - I ordered some 'specially
  • The Marks & Spencer food hall :)
  • Leaving mince pies and a glass of sherry out for Santa (we Irish don't mess around) ;)
  • White Christmas (the movie)...on repeat
  • Crying (again) at It's A Wonderful Life
  • Actually, (almost) any Christmas movie
  • Bundling up with a coat, scarf, hat and gloves for a walk on a crisp winter day
  • A white Christmas...or at least just dreaming of one
  • The Nutcracker
  • A Christmas Carol - the end is just the best!
  • Reading 'Twas The Night Before Christmas
  • Snuggling up in front of my parent's fire.  Missing that! 

I know this is a loooong list but what are your favourite things about Christmas?  I'd love to konw!

I doubt I'll be organised enough to blog again before the 25th, so let me take this time to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas - I'm hoping that your days are merry and bright (and may all your Christmases be white). 


Monday, September 12, 2011

10 Years Ago

From the peaceful haze of a departing slumber, a dull clanging outside my window shattered my dream and forced me awake 45 minutes before my alarm was to go off.  I lay in bed, willing my eyes open and cursing the construction workers who were busy outside, just a few meters from where I lay all  cozy in my bed.  The morning sun fought it's way through my blinds, painting golden lines on my beige wall.  I didn't have to look outside to know that the sky was perfectly blue, the pure white clouds fluffy and the sun out in all it's glory.  Later, my best friend at college told me that when she opened her blinds around the same time that morning, she told her roommate that it was "a perfect day".  

The low hum of the shower in the bathroom next door told me that my roommate was one step ahead of me on this Tuesday morning.  I glanced at my clock: 8:53AM.  We both had 10:05AM classes and the race for the shower was hers to win that day.  I could lay in bed, I thought, but something forced me to get up despite the extra time I had (a true feat, believe me).  I pulled on a CUA sweatshirt and lazily sauntered into the living room of our apartment.  Maybe some music would get me moving, I thought, as I reached for the clicker and turned on the tv.  I expected to see MTV (usually white noise in our apartment), but instead one of the national news networks filled the frame.  As I raised the clicker to change the channel, the news anchor's more-serious-than-usual tone made me pause to see what could have already happened on this early Tuesday morning.  I rubbed my eyes and forced myself to focus on what she was saying.  Suddenly the screen split and one of the World Trade Center towers filled the screen, a giant plume of smoke billowing from it's side.
My jaw dropped.  I immediately focused on the news anchors words - "it seems a plane has hit the North Tower of the WTC....looks like it was an accident....being investigated further....".   "Oh my God", I whispered.  Actually, I couldn't do anything but whisper - I had lost my voice earlier that week and literally couldn't speak.  In vain, I tried to shout through the bathroom door to tell Victoria that a plane had accidentally flown into the tower.  She had grown up in New Jersey on the doorstep of "The City" and the school her mother taught at afforded a clear view of the World Trade Center across the river. I eventually gave up my pathetic attempts to shout to Victoria and planted myself back in front of the news coverage.
I glanced at the clock on screen - 9:00AM.   I thought that I'd better start getting a move on or I'd miss class.  Five more minutes, I thought, and I'll start to get ready.  I flicked between MSNBC, ABC and CNN and settled on one channel who was showing a full screen shot of North tower, a column of smoke still pouring from it's side. The anchor was still unsure what caused this terrible accident, but assured viewers that we'd be updated as soon as they knew anything more conclusive.

Something entered the corner of the screen. A bird, I thought. But as it got closer I chided myself - it was clearly far too big to be a bird. It seemed to be flying toward the towers. Please let it be the Air Force or something like that, investigating the situation from the air.  Closer. Faster.  In the next second the unimaginable happened right in front of my eyes, in front of the eyes of millions I'd stunned viewers, all over the country and all over the world. That plane crashed into the side of the South tower and our lives and country were changed forever.  One minute we were witnessing a horrific 'accident', the next it seemed that no one felt safe.  Oh my God, was all I could say - both a prayer and an expression of total shock. I could hardly believe my eyes.  I can't recall the news anchors next words, only the horror in her voice as she, like the rest of us, realised that this great country we were living in had just come under attack. That a moment ago, we witnessed even more innocent people needlessly losing their lives. That in a matter of seconds everything had changed.

I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn't understand this.  Who did this?  Why did they do it?  Those questioned were probably asked millions of times that day and for these 10 years since.

Victoria was still in the shower.  This time I just went straight in and told her what happened.  She rushed to join me on the couch where we sat, glued to the screen.  I called my parents and whispered as loud as I could, telling them what happened.  There was no need - they were sitting in a cafe in Ireland, an ocean away, having lunch and watching it all unfold on the TV.  We said our goodbyes and I returned to watching the coverage.  

It was 9:25AM - the quickest shower I've ever taken (at this point going to class was still a possibility).  I sat back in front of the TV in time for more horrific news:  another plane had been hijacked and this time it hit the Pentagon.  Chills covered my entire body.  The Pentagon - a 25 minute drive from where I was sitting.  I felt my blood run cold.  Victoria and I looked at each other - fearful and wondering what the hell we should do.  The news anchors were now saying 'who knows how many more are out there'  and 'the capitol building could also be a target'.  The Capitol building was only 10 minutes away.  I felt afraid - I felt really afraid.  My family was on the other side of the ocean.  No matter how independent I was (and I was), in that moment I just wanted my parents, my family and Sue near.  We started receiving frantic phone calls - from my parents, my siblings, my friend in Galway.  But then all our phone lines went dead and we felt isolated and scared of what might be coming next.
The next 45 minutes felt like a day.  One by one, more horrendous events unfolded before our eyes:  the South Tower collapsed.  United flight 93 went down in Shanksville, PA.  The North Tower collapsed.  Countless lives perished in those towers as they crumbled, and there I was, (retrospectively) safe in my apartment watching it all through my tv screen.  I'm certain we all cried that morning - feeling a deep sadness for the loss of lives and fear of what was going to happen next.  We braced ourselves for news of an attack on the Capitol Building or the White House.  Thankfully that news never came.

I felt completely numb for the rest of the day - we all did.  Classes were cancelled and we had mass in the Basilica and a candlelight vigil on campus.  Many of my classmates were from New York, New Jersey or Connecticut with close ties to NYC.  That same best friend from college couldn't contact her brother, who worked in the building next door to the WTC.   One of our classmate's father was late to work that morning.  As he walked toward his office in the South tower he watched the first plane hit.  Thankfully he turned around and walked away.  Another classmate's father was not so lucky - he lost his life in the WTC that fateful morning.  It was so tragic.  

As the day went on, we learned of countless heroes who risked their lives, and in some cases lost their lives, in a quest to save others.  Stories of people like the passengers who courageously fought back against the hijackers on Flight 93, possibly sparing the lives of hundreds of others at whatever major site those terrorists had planned to attack with that plane.  Stories of others at Ground Zero who went back into the towers to try to help others escape - like Fr. Mychal Judge, who died as the South tower collapsed as he was administering last rights to those in the lobby of the North Tower.  True heroes, those people were.  As the day went on, it seemed that every news network created video montages of the day's events using Jeff Buckley's "Alleluia".  It was already an old favourite of mine but now it will forever remind me of that day.  

I don't think there is anyone who wasn't somehow affected by the events of September 11, 2001.  My own life was directly impacted through my husband, who joined and served 4 years in the US Army as a result of the attacks of September 11th.  During those years as an army wife, I came to a deeper understanding and respect for those truly courageous men and women who sacrifice so much so that we all might live freely.  I knew men who died for that right, and mourned with their families who were left behind - the ultimate sacrifice.

So on this day, 10 years later, I think back and pray for those souls who died so needlessly that morning.  I pray for those families who still walk through every day carrying the sorrow and loss of their loved one who never came home to them that night.  I pray for all the emergency service personnel who worked so hard and so selflessly that day - especially those lost their lives.  I pray for our all service men and women and their families - past and present - who are willing to sacrifice everything for our freedom.  How grateful I am to them for their courage and selflessness.

I will never, ever forget.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Hike, Lots of Rain, and an Air-Lift Rescue (no joke!).

I can hardly believe our big hike that we have been fundraising like for like crazy for the last 6 weeks is over!  (In case we aren't FB friends and you missed it, last weekend, two teams undertook a 22 and 10 mile hike in the Mourne Mountains to support the incredible Galway Hospice Foundation, in memory of our dear Sue - you can read all about it here).  It has been a very hectic couple of months since we set the wheels rolling on this, especially since during that time the Husband and I organised and executed a big move of all our things into storage and relocated to my sisters house, went on holidays, and (Sister and I) did a trial run of our walk last weekend. 

But Saturday August 13 came whether we were ready or not!  We were two groups - one group, consisting of my husband, his father, my brother, and three good friends, attempted the 22 mile hike of the Mourne Wall - a seriously challenging hike in good conditions, never mind the terrible conditions they faced last Saturday.  The met and set off at 6AM, prepared for 12+ hours of seriously hiking up peaks and down valleys.  
 Here we are all excited and ready to go!

The remaining 12 of us met at 11AM at the foot of Slieve Binnian, ready for our 10 mile hike to it's summit and back, then past the Blue Lough to overlook the reservoir and back, which, despite it's description, isn't at all an easy family walk - just ask my poor cousin.  But we'll get to that later.

So we were off!  When we checked the forecast the night before, it said sun sun sun from 6AM onward.  LIES!!!  We had rain 90% of the day.  It is Ireland in August, you know.

Allan, the horse-whisperer....
  And resident photographer.
This was early in our hike - thats the wall....obviously. :)
Behind those clouds there are about 4 peaks that you unfortunately can't see.  Thats where the 22-milers were to end their hike.

Almost at the top - it was like walking into a cloud.  Very low visibility and really wet.
Showing off the momentary view we had - and proving that I was, in fact, doing the hike too.
We made it to the top!  It really was like sitting in a cloud.  
Had mother nature been cooperating we would have been looking at this:
 And this:
 And this:
Aaaaaaaaand this:

 These were all taken when Sister and I did our practice hike the week before.

But instead, this was the best view we got - for about 30 seconds as a new set of clouds blew in:

But we were happy to finally be at the top...

And able to eat our lunches!
Sisters!  :)  Photo as we started the treck down. 
A glimpse of a rainbow as we neared the base of the mountain.

The Blue Lough...not looking so blue, thanks to those dark clouds!
Two more hikers (with 2 of our original group) come to meet us to do the last 5 miles! 
All of us (but one, who is behind the camera!
At the reservoir!  
We made it!

A group shot (between bites of ginger nut biscuits!)
And not long after this, disaster struck!  Just as we came back around the Blue Lough, we saw that my poor cousin had fallen and her ankle was in really bad shape.  She was such a good sport, hardly complained at all - if it were me, I would have been in fits of tears!!  She was more concerned that she had ruined it for us (which she hadn't).  So we waited and waited for help to come and tried to keep her as warm and as dry as possible.

And then things got really exciting:

My cousin might kill me for saying this, but we all got so excited when the helicopter came swooping in to our rescue.  Well, my cousin's rescue.
All of us girls kept dreaming talking about how if we were in Wales right now it could be Prince William coming to our rescue.
Some of us might have giggled like school girls when one of the coast guard dudes waved at us as they flew overhead.  But I can't comment on that for certain.
They must have circled about 5 times overhead, which we all found kinda exciting.  It was definitely an unexpected end to our day, one we'd have much rather not have happened, of course.  
The South Down Coast Guard were stars - and good sports, too, as we took their photo over.... 
and over.....
and over....

Given the unexpected events of the afternoon, we didn't get back in our cars until 8:00PM.  By that time we were all cold, wet and starving!  We headed to Diamonds Restaurant in nearby Warrenpoint where we had a much deserved celebratory dinner.  Reunited with our other team of hikers (those crazy 22-milers), we exchanged photos and stories of our crazy day.  Here are some photos from our other group of hikers as they completed 9 peaks before the terrible weather made it too dangerous for them to continue, forcing them to head home a little earlier than expected:

It was a brilliant day.  Many thanks to all of you who donated in Sue's memory to support the amazing Galway Hospice Foundation.  If you didn't get a chance to donate but would still like to, it's not too late! Any donation, no matter what the size, would be greatly appreciated.