Friday, July 07, 2017

Travel to Thailand...(Part 2)

I have been meaning to get to the rest of our trip to Bangkok but have been so busy since we arrived home that it's been hard to find more than a few minutes at a time between other things to think through everything and get it all down. I have been typing a bit at a time and here it is....

Monday morning after breakfast, Father Joe took us on a tour of the Mercy Centre and told us all the wonderful things they are doing to help where they can in all aspects of life for their neighbors. Everything from providing work to disabled neighbors, meals to families with no money for food, law services, a woman's group with a thrift store, kindergartens for slums throughout Bangkok, etc... We peeked into classrooms where children were busy. Some children worked on donated computers playing English learning games, little ones played with toys, and others sat in a circle around their teacher learning. Many of them peeked at us, waving and smiling. 

I was impressed with their attention to their teachers and their focus to task from the youngest (2.5 year olds) to the oldest (6 year olds). We were taken across the street to the Janusz Korczak School where children who have recently arrived in Thailand with their parents from other countries or spent too much time on the streets so were not quite ready to go to the public or international schools were taught to read and write Thai and English. 

That afternoon, we took a walk with Ploy and Manow (beautiful young women who were often our guides in the city). They practiced their English with us and told us stories of everyday life in Bangkok. They walked us to a 7-11 so I could get a SIM card for my phone. Later, we were driven into the city to meet with Mick and his friend, Roy, also a new visitor to Thailand. 

The drive was an experience. The streets in the slum are very narrow, hardly wider than a driveway but with cars and motorcycles (lots of motorcycles) moving in both directions between people and dogs. Street vendors lined both sides of these "streets" with each located outside its owner's makeshift "house," usually 2 or 3, rarely 4 walls of found materials with a corrugated metal roof but almost always with a small beautifully decorated "temple" for their ancestors outside. 

Motorcycles are very popular in Bangkok. They get through traffic easily by zipping between cars until they are in front of the cars at a light. Many of the motorcycles are taxis themselves and sometimes an entire family will be on one with someone driving, a child in front, and someone (or two) else behind… often no helmets. 

Mick walked us to a delicious Thai restaurant where we tried numerous delicacies I hope to get to eat again someday. Often in Bangkok, Haley and I felt like we were on one of those reality TV shows where someone, in our case usually Mick or Ratana, gives you little bits of information but you don't know which will be helpful to make it to the next level. During dinner, Mick gave Haley and I the Thai phrases for "turn right, turn left, and go straight. Haley typed the phrases into her phone in case we needed them later.

After dinner, we walked around the streets of Bangkok with educational commentary by Mick. We stopped for awhile in an Australian bar where we listened to a Filipino cover band...Bangkok is an experience unlike anything we've ever experienced. Walking back to the main road to hail a cab, Mick bought us some fruit called durian saying we had to try it. We stuck it in the refrigerator planning to eat it at breakfast the next morning.

The first couple nights, Mick hailed the cab for us and talked with the driver to tell him where to take us Usually he told us to get in the back of the cab prior to telling the driver where to take us because taxi drivers in most parts of the city try to avoid driving in the Klong Toey slums...the streets are narrow, they think it is unsafe, and it's a little bit out of the way where they generally aren't going to get a fare out. Almost every night it took us 2-3 cabs before one agreed to take us. A taxi ride cost us, at most, 150 baht (which is about $5...very inexpensive) and usually 45-100 baht which was like nothing so I tipped the taxi drivers well who agreed to drive us. Once in a cab, I would bring up the Mercy Centre on GoogleMaps so I could make sure we were going the right way and that night, wouldn't you know, the taxi driver went right past the small street into the Klong Toey slums. He knew no English and was unable to read my Google map, so Haley and I used out recently gained knowledge of Thai directional phrases to get him back to where we needed to be then through the slum to the Mercy Centre. (Thanks to Mick, we made it!)

Tuesday morning after breakfast Father Joe walked with us to the kindergarten and into a large room. Children filed in and quietly sat on the floor. Father Joe introduced Haley and had them repeat her name then Haley played them some Irish music, sang simple songs, and taught them a song. They were eager to learn and enthusiastic. After the "lesson" they gathered around Haley trying to touch her hair, get a high five or fist bump, or give her a smile.

Later, we met Mick and Roy to go to Mick's friend, May's graduation from college which involved another crazy drive through Bangkok in a taxi. Roy pointed out the telephone/electric lines where  We met with her and her family for lunch in the college cafeteria (our colleges and universities should take some lessons from them on how to feed people…the food was delicious and inexpensive) then Roy took photos of the graduate with her family and friends. After the graduation, we went back to Mick’s apartment so he and Haley could rehearse for the next night’s gig at the Irish Ambassador’s residence.
Dinner that evening was at Dosa King, our new favorite vegetarian Indian restaurant. Oh goodness, Haley would crave food from Dosa King for the rest of the trip. 

Walking through the streets of Bangkok, every once in awhile, I would catch a whiff of a horrid nauseating smell that I attributed to sewer or something else really gross. When we got back to our hotel late at night, one of us opened our refrigerator to grab a bottle of water and that same smell hit us both immediately...the durian!! We had forgotten to take it to breakfast. Ugh!!! I packaged it up, wrapping it tightly into 2 plastic bags and we disposed of it but the smell lingered in the apartment and especially in the refrigerator.


Wednesday morning after breakfast, Father Joe sent us to the Janusz Korczak School to teach. Haley played them some tunes. She gave them each a friendship bracelet we had made prior to the trip then she and I each took a table, handed out the materials, and taught the kids how to make friendship bracelets for themselves. They were fast learners! It was a lot of fun and the kids enjoyed their newly made bracelets. Two boys at my table finished their bracelets quickly so together worked on the demo one I had started then gave it to me. 

For lunch, Ploy and Manow took us into the city in a taxi to a huge mall so we could experience shopping and eating lunch in a Thai food court. Haley and I had our first dish of mango and sticky rice...and it was all downhill from there because we then purchased the delicious dish for dessert whenever we could find it. We had fun window shopping with the girls and learning about Thai life and culture from them. We ate dinner with Father Joe and Ratana that evening and went to bed early.

Thursday morning we accompanied Father Joe to the Slaughterhouse slum area which made the Klong Toey slum seem "nice." The "streets" here were more like paths and still there were motorcycles (though no cars could fit), people, dogs, game cocks with chicks, and vendors selling food and wares. People smiled, bowed, and spoke to Father Joe and us as we made our way to the kindergarten. The homes were up on posts and the canal brought plastic trash up underneath but the people kept their homes as clean as they could. 

We heard singing as we neared the school. Children stood in a circle around teachers singing a song in English about greeting and telling someone your name. Smaller children sat on the floor in a sectioned off area coloring on paper and another group wrote letters while standing at long tables. 

After the school, Father Joe continued our tour of the area with a walk along the canal, which was probably some of the dirtiest water I have ever seen with so much plastic garbage, where he showed us a recently built cement barrier between the homes, a very narrow path, and the canal. He said children had fallen into the canal so the cement wall was built by the government. He showed us the old slaughterhouse that had been closed to make room for a semi truck parking area. The smell of slaughtered animals still hung in the air and rotted out homes that once housed the Christian immigrants who once worked slaughtering animals each night lined the walkways.

We then drove to a small temple. The beauty of the temples is astounding. Brilliant colors, design, and detail on every building. Father Joe took us to the river where we fed the fish. I have never seen so many fish in one spot at one time. They swam over each other in a huge swarm trying to get the pieces of bread Haley dropped into the water.

We drove back to the Centre where Ploy and Manow walked us to a local street vendor who had a small outdoor restaurant set up behind the Mercy Centre. We ate some delicious vegetarian fried rice...two plates full for the equivalent of less than $1. Then we walked to the main street to hail a cab for the short ride to another shopping area...sort of like our Walmart. We picked up a few things to help get rid of the lingering durian smell (baking soda for the refrigerator and air freshener for the room), shopped around, then stopped in a Starbucks and treated the girls to frappuccinos.

In the evening, a Mercy Centre van took us, Father Joe, and Ratana to pick up Mick and Roy. The traffic was horrible (motorcycles were driving up on the sidewalk to get through but in the van we were stuck)! It took us an extra two hours to get there then a bit longer to the Irish Ambassador’s residence in the penthouse of a large apartment building. The view of the city was incredible! Mick and Haley played some music for the intimate gathering of people there to celebrate a woman who had started an Irish woman’s group but was transferring away from Thailand.

Haley and Mick playing some tunes...

Mick was determined that we have a tour of some important tourist spots in Bangkok so he sent us with Roy on a tour on Friday. We had to get up very early in the morning to get into the city. We woke Mick and he took us to breakfast then put us all in a van for our tour. They drove us around the city, pointing out important sites and giving us historical background. We ended up at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Palace. 

All I can say is "Wow!" 

I have never seen such intricately designed buildings in so many different styles (Thai, Cambodian, etc...). Building after building filled the grounds, each more beautiful than the next. The guide told us which king had each built and pointed out interesting details. We were allowed into the building housing the Emerald Buddha (after removing our shoes...oh, the piles of shoes!) but only Thai residents were allowed close to him. Outside that building, Thai residents dressed in black lined up under a covered passage of another building and were led through gates to walk across the palace grounds to pay their respects to their beloved King who passed away last October. 

For the end of the tour, we were taken by van through the city and dropped off for a "free drink" at a jewelry factory...our drink meant we had to sit through a silly short movie about the wonders of gems in Thailand and jewelry making. The movie emptied out into a room filled with jewelers plying their craft then from there into a gigantic showroom of very, um, fancy jewelry. Our "family" (Haley, Roy, and I) were given our own "personal assistant" to aid our shopping. She was very nice until we told her we'd like to leave without purchasing anything. Back through the streets to Mick's apartment building then we took a tuk tuk ride to get dinner. If you have never been on a tuk tuk, it's an experience...a motorcycle built for five! Well, probably not five but we stuffed the four of us in. Mick knew to settle on an amount to pay prior to getting in and the driver, just as I read online he'd do, suggested taking us somewhere other than where we wanted to do.

We rode the tuk tuk to the above ground train and took it to the fancy mall for dinner at the food court. (Yes, Haley and I had more mango and sticky rice, of course.) Mick provided our next bit of important information by showing us how to use the train just in case we needed to know. He also got a kick out of our durian story...he might still be laughing about that.

Saturday morning started with Mass. The majority of the children at the Mercy Centre are Buddhist and are allowed to practice the religion of their parents but they are taught to respect all religions and about Jesus so they attend Mass on Saturday mornings. I was struck by the beauty of their voices singing Christian songs during the service. 

After church Haley and I walked over to Father Joe's where Ratana had our daily breakfast of massive amounts of various types of fruit waiting. She then told us the children would like to invite us to see their soccer game so we walked over to the concrete soccer field (think indoor soccer without the soft surface). Some children were playing soccer. Others, some big and some tiny, playing basketball. Some watched the soccer game and others rode bikes or jumped rope, climbed playground equipment, or played in small groups. Haley and I watched a bit then walked back through the buildings to a room where a group of children (some very young) were learning about to prevent transmission. They were playing games to aid the learning. It was a shocking dose of their reality. It seems so safe within the walls of the Mercy Centre but just outside the gates are the slums with the horrors of drug abuse, child abuse, child trafficking, etc... Some of the children have family outside and once they are teens it is even harder to keep them safe. 

Haley was quite taken by this little guy, Tax.

After class, a group of girls invited us to have lunch with them. They led us up to a covered, open area on the second floor where small charcoal cookers were set up. Groups of children sat around each cooker, sometimes with an adult and sometimes with a teen taking charge of the cooking. Broth was heated in a reservoir around the base of the circular cooker then noodles cooked in the broth. Vegetables and meats were spread on top of the raised middle to "grill" and each child used wooden sticks to pick up and turn the cooking foods. After the meal, they had ice-cream. 

We gave out friendship bracelets to the children while they cooked their meals and had a wonderful time talking with them. A group of older boy added their names to Haley's Facebook (easier than trying to type in their language) so they could remain "friends."

After lunch, we traveled by van then via overhead train with Ratana and Father Joe to the Rhythms of the Earth World Music Festival where the best of the orphanages' dancers and musicians performed their traditional Thai music and dance on stage. Their costumes were fabulous and their program was wonderful done. 

Haley was invited to play a tune at one point then she did some improvisation with Thai musicians she met a couple minutes prior to stepping on stage playing instruments she'd never seen before. We had mango and sticky rice for admission of guilt, maybe. 

Sunday morning, we got up really early, ate breakfast where Ratana gave us our important bit of information for the day (how to say where we needed to be to take the train) then walked out to the main street, hailed a cab completely on our own, navigated the overhead train system (BTS) and made our way to the Chatuchak Market on the complete other side of the city. We walked around the market purchasing souvenirs for family and friends. There is everything and anything you could imagine and even some things you could not possibly imagine at this market!

Roy called about an hour later and I was even able to tell him how to navigate the BTS and get to the market. I also gave him a place to meet us (not an easy feat as I was not exactly sure where we were in the huge market of over 15,000 vendors) but I used my instincts and he did eventually make it to us. We ate Thai food for lunch with him and during lunch showed him our purchases. He liked the wall hangings I had picked out so we decided to try to find that vendor again. Haley and I had been just wandering through the market when we came upon the wall hanging'd have to know this market to understand just how impossible a task this seemed but we managed to do it with a little luck and Haley's wonderful photographic memory.

The three of us then made our way back to the BTS and met Mick near the river to take a boat across to the Oriental Hotel, an absolutely amazingly fancy old hotel! We had a delicious dinner with...yes, the best mango and sticky rice yet for dessert!

On the way back, Mick and Roy needed to get off the BTS at an earlier stop than us, leaving Haley and I to get off the BTS, hail our own cab, and tell the driver where we needed to go. Father Joe had given us our most important bit of information our very first morning at breakfast...a business card with the Mercy Centre name and address in Thai on it. The first cab driver we flagged claimed he could not read the card or speak English. The second could read the card, didn't speak English, and didn't know where to go. I showed him GoogleMaps on my phone and gestured that we could get him there which we then proceeded to do with our Thai phrases.

We learned quite a few important Thai phrases during our trip such as those for hello, thank you, no, yes, a few food items, and our taxi directions. We also learned how to barter at the market.

Monday morning Father Joe had a very nice woman take us via taxi (at first she suggested going by motorcycle but I could not stomach the idea of Haley on one motorcycle and me on another driving through those streets like they do) to another Mercy kindergarten in a slum over near the river and the first temple we had visited to feed the fish. Haley had a lot of fun playing music games, singing songs, and fiddling for the beautiful, enthusiastic kids.

When we got back to the Mercy Centre, Ratana took us on our first songtaew ride...a very small pickup truck with a metal cover and bench seats built in the truck bed. Kind of like this amazing one Father Joe showed us only the one we rode in did not have the lights, sound system, or great colors. It was plain. We took the songtaew to the shopping center for a Japanese food lunch with Ratana.

That afternoon Haley and I made our way via taxi then BTS back to Dosa King, our favorite restaurant in Thailand. Haley had been craving the food since we ate there before. We then made our way back by BTS then taxi. It is so liberating to be able to get around by yourself in a strange city where most people do not speak your language!!

Our final day in Thailand, we ate breakfast with Ratana and Father Joe then met with Roy and Mick at Mick's apartment. Roy is actually makes documentaries and the entire trip he took photos and video of mostly Mick and Haley (but also snuck a little of me when I wasn't looking/dodging him). He was interviewing Mick when we arrived at the apartment then did an interview with Haley. I have no idea his plans for all the footage he shot and the interviews so we will have to wait and see.

We all went back to Dosa King for lunch. The flowers from our mango lassis made lovely earrings for Haley...

That evening we all (Father Joe, Ratana, Mick, Roy, and us, of course) went to an American restaurant where Mick had gotten a few ex-pats together for a small Irish session. The tunes were great fun and it was a fitting end to our adventures in Bangkok!

Haley and Mick enjoying some tunes together. 
Roy shooting more footage at the session.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Travel to Thailand (Part 1)....Flight and Arrival

Packing for our trip to Thailand was fun. We researched surviving long-haul flights, tourism in Bangkok, things to see, things to know, things to do, etc...and came up with a list of must have items for our trip.

For the planes, things we found useful:
-healthy snacks
-eye mask
-sleep aid
-face wipes
-ear plugs (very handy to block out the crying baby about 6 rows away)
-head rest pillow
-tooth brush and tooth paste
-books on iPad (Kindle app)
-lip moisturizer
-eye drops
-compression socks
-dry shampoo

In Thailand, things we've found useful
-anti-mosquito spray and bracelets
-water purification water bottles (we are using Grayl...pricey but using to drink and brush teeth)
-clothes freshening spray/wrinkle remover (Downey travel size)
-portable phone charger
-iPhone (purchased a SIM card here at 7-11 in Bangkok with data)
-easy to remove shoes (we take our shoes off to enter every home)
-electric converter/power source (we have one by Bestek that has 4 USB plugs and 3 regular outlet plugs)
-wipes (to clean feet before getting into bed at night)

We packed lightly as far as clothing goes.Thai people dress modestly so skirts, capris, and pants for bottom and t-shirts or dressier shirts (no tanks unless covered with a thin sweater or scarf) on top, a sweater that covers our elbows for the temples, and a nice or two dress for any occasion that calls for it.

We flew EVA airlines...the nicest planes and flight attendants ever. Bathrooms were equipped with face spray, hand lotion, eye masks, and ear plugs. Food was excellent (they pass out a little menu before the food comes around)...Haley and I had ordered vegetarian meals when we made our seat selections a week before flying so were served first. On the long leg of our flight (just over 15 hours), snack was served once we hit full altitude and a meal about 2.5-3 hours into the flight and then another snack and meal about 3 hours before landing.  Luckily the other seat in our row on the longest flight was empty as well so the two of us could stretch out and sleep most of the flight. Our short leg (3.45 hours) after a 3 hour layover in Taipei, had one meal and snack and we watched a movie through that flight.

We landed in Thailand at 12am. It took us over an hour to get through customs due to the long lines then we quickly found our luggage in baggage claim. We had a little difficulty figuring out where to go to find Ratana, our hostess who came to pick us up, but followed signs for "Meeting Point 1" and saw the sign she was holding with our names. The heat and humidity hit us the minute we stepped out of the airport to walk to the waiting van. I wondered how hot day must be if the middle of the night was that hot but Ratana said it was so humid because it had rained about an hour before we landed.

Our thirty minute drive through the city to the Mercy Centre was in the dark so not much to see but the outlines of buildings and other cars on the road. We arrived quickly at the Mercy Centre, bowed to the guard as he opened the gate, and Ratana showed us to our apartment. Walking up the three stories of ramps, we heard strange sounds of foreign frogs? (maybe). The air con was welcoming, the room clean and neat with everything we might need for our visit. Haley showered then we got into bed and tried to sleep.

The view from our apartment balcony.

We awoke to the sounds of happy children laughing and talking outside our door, the booming voice of what we learned a few days later was the egg seller as his truck passed by on the street, and motorcycles zooming past. We showered, dressed, then headed across the campus to Father Joe's house for breakfast, bowing and being bowed to by everyone we passed...sawadee ka. They bowed to us and each other in greeting. It was Sunday so quiet at the school children in the classrooms and many of the older children who live at the Mercy Centre with families were away visiting.

Breakfast consisted of croissants and a plate piled full of different kinds of fruit; blueberries, raspberries, apple, grapes, blackberries, pomelo, papaya, plum, and nectarines. Mick Moloney and Roy (a photographer/videographer who does various documentaries) came by and we all walked up to watch and listen as students took traditional Thai dance and music lessons. We learned the money raised by Mick Moloney and Donie Carroll's Mercy Centre fundraisers in NYC goes to purchase instruments and pay instructors to teach music and dance to the children. When Mick and Roy left we walked around the centre, taking in the sights of unfamiliar plant life, birds, and lizards. Haley practiced her violin a bit then, suffering the effects of jet lag, we took an afternoon nap

In the evening, we went back to Father Joe's home where they were celebrating the graduation from one of their students from the International high school program. We introduced ourselves to Father Joe, who had been away in the morning giving mass. There was so much delicious Thai food to try, new people to meet and speak with, and stories to hear. We talked quite a bit with the recent graduate, his friends, and with Ploy, a very nice 17 year old who lives at the Mercy Centre English house through the summer and studies at an International School in Norway during the school term. She was keen to practice her English by speaking with us. It was great fun!

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Catching Up...

Haley and I spent most of the month of April on a mini-tour of sorts. We had our first train travel experience with a trip to Charleston, SC where we stayed with our friend, Jim, who had worked to book Haley a few gigs. She enjoyed playing for a lovely crowd at Awendaw Green, a beautiful rustic outdoor "listening room," entertaining the members of the local Rotary club, and performing a fabulous house concert at Folly Beach.

In between performances, we took in as much of the city as possible including the market, a Magnolia Plantation, the Battery, the old neighborhoods and beautiful homes, the beach, and Angel Oak. We also had a nice morning kayak trip (our first) where Haley and I learned how to work together and go fast.

It was a whirlwind visit!

From Charleston, we rented a car and drove to Orlando. We spent a couple days with friends, more like family, who have watched Haley grow up year by year at Swannanoa Gathering. They have a lovely home and we enjoyed their beautiful day lily gardens and art throughout their home, an Irish session with more friends, a trip to the farmer's market where Haley picked up two fabulous dresses for $1 each, and hours and hours sitting around talking and getting to know each other better. It was a fun, relaxing few days.

That weekend we drove out to Ormond Beach for the Ormond Beach Celtic Festival. Our friend, Don, backed Haley for her sets and Haley joined Don and his partner Megan for their sets so they played most of the two festival days.

Daddy flew down the first night of the festival so he could be around to see the second day's performances and then we drove into Orlando to spend a fun four days at Universal Studios, the real reason for all our travel...Haley had said she'd like to see Harry Potter World so we looked for a festival nearby and luckily the festival organizers were keen to have her down to perform. Haley and I rode every roller coaster and fast ride 4-5 times and all the other rides as well. No crowds and beautiful weather! So much fun!

We spent the month of May enjoying life at home with a local gig here and there.

We also spent the last couple weeks preparing for our next adventure which begins tomorrow....THAILAND!! (I cannot believe we are going to Thailand!)  This trip is an unexpected byproduct of the CD Haley produced, Music for Mercy, with the proceeds going to support the Mercy Centre, an orphanage in Bangkok. Mick, one of the musicians who introduced Haley to the Mercy Centre, suggested Haley should visit the orphanage and meet the children. He worked some magic with Father Joe at the Mercy Centre and plans were here we go!
(I will try to not take months to tell that story.)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Life Lately...

We have been so busy I have neglected to blog. 

After Christmas, we had about six weeks off. We organized the house, Haley studied a lot for school, and we enjoyed some relaxing weekends. We eased back into our crazy life with six days in Kansas City, MO where Haley and Dylan had an official showcase at The Folk Alliance International Conference.

Haley and Dylan doing a private showcase in the wee hours of the morning.
The conference was definitely an experience. I got sick on Day 1, so it wasn't as fun for me as it might have been but the kids had a blast! They performed a great official showcase and four private showcases, saw old friends and met new friends, watched/listened to lots of music, played lots of music session-style, and barely slept...some private showcases were at 2am. The entire hotel was taken up by music. There were three floors with private showcases in each room and walls covered in poster advertisements of where people were performing. There were so many conference rooms for official showcases of every type of folk music available to listen to. 

March Madness began with the yearly gig at Cumberland County College where Haley, Dylan, and Corey performed. The following weekend Haley and I headed to NYC for a show on Broadway at Symphony Space with Mick Moloney and friends for A Celtic Appalachian Celebration. Haley spent the entire day working with the other musicians to put the show together then they performed that evening, receiving two standing ovations! The show received wonderful reviews and was fabulous! The next day we were back at Sacred Heart Church in Camden with Mick, Athena, Liz, and Billy for a fundraising concert.

Haley with 2016 NEA National Heritage Fellow, Billy McComisky

Here's what putting a show together looks like...

The view from backstage at Symphony Space.
 Last weekend, Haley had two at the Philadelphia Art Museum on St. Patrick's Day and the other at Cathedral Basilica in Newark, NJ. 

St. Patrick's Day at the Philadelphia Art Museum (*photo credit to Ray Banas)
This weekend we are slowing down a bit for a performance at a nursing home on Saturday and a packing event for Feed My Starving Children on Sunday.

Besides the many gigs of March, we have been busy...

-We are firming up plans for a three week "tour" in South Carolina and Florida next month. 
-The charity CD for the Mercy Centre Music for Mercy was released two weeks ago and Haley finished getting it up on CDBaby this week... check it out here. The CD is wonderful and I am so proud of all the work Haley and her friend, Patrick Finley, did on the project.
-Haley and I (as her chaperone) were invited by Mick and Father Joe to visit the Mercy Centre in June. Mick has performances planned with Haley at the Irish Embassy and university in Bangkok and she and I will be able to get to know the children who live at the Mercy Centre. We are very excited!!
-We have our summer camp schedule set and registrations are all finished.
-Haley has been working hard on her school courses and learning new classical pieces, happily practicing hours each day.
-I have been fighting a cough since the conference in February.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Making the World a Better Place...

Over two years ago while in Boston for a gig, we stayed with Brian and Lindsay O'Donovan. Brian had invited Haley and Dylan to perform an opener for a weekly live music show he hosts.

As I readied her breakfast that first morning, Haley read a newspaper clipping on the refrigerator about Lindsay and a music CD she had produced called Lullabies of Love. Lindsay had visited an orphanage in Africa, invited various Irish musicians to record a lullaby, then sold the CD and sent the proceeds to that orphanage. Haley immediately told me she'd like to do something like that but with young musicians.

The idea was tabled for a while as Haley, at the time, was working on recording her first solo CD but every once in awhile the next year or so, she'd write down ideas of who she'd like to approach about her idea and we talked about how to go about it. Last March, we were in Boston again and Haley and I talked to Lindsay about her idea and about how Lindsay had produced her own charity CD. After that talk, Haley started planning more seriously. She wrote out a list of young musicians (under 21 years old) from all over the United States, Canada, and Ireland who she has met through Irish music.

Then Haley had to decide on a charity to support with the CD. She wanted to make sure the project would appeal to young musicians from around the world so a more global than local charity and that the money she raised would go toward the children rather than covering high salaries for people in charge. Her first and final choice was The Mercy Centre in Bangkok, Thailand. For the past four years, Haley has been invited to participate in a fundraising concert in New York City for the Mercy Centre. Mick Moloney and Donie Carroll are two wonderful, generous Irish musicians who have supported and visited The Mercy Centre for years. Last year, Haley wanted to do a little more than perform in the concert so she sold her hand decorated mutes and donated the proceeds to the orphanage. The Mercy Center is a home for abused and neglected street kids many of whom have been born with the HIV virus. The Mercy Centre is everything for those who have nothing.

Once she had her list of musicians and charity chosen, Haley composed an introductory letter telling them about her idea and asking if they would be willing to donate a track.

The positive response was overwhelming!

She created a private Facebook page for the musicians to share information. She found a friend, Patrick Finley, who is not only a wonderful young fiddler but also has a gift for graphic design. She and Patrick spent many evenings messaging back and forth to come up with a cover design. Eventually, the tracks started coming in from the amazing young musicians along with bios and photos. Gabriel Donahue, a multitalented musician and generous soul, agreed to mix and master Haley's project so we met with him one evening to go over tracks.

Once all the tracks were submitted, Haley ordered them, sent the order and bios/photos to Patrick to create a pamphlet to go along with the CD, and developed an Indiegogo campaign to raise enough money to print the CDs (along with a bit extra to help pay the shipping costs to mail finished CDs to the participating musicians in Ireland to sell). Please click on the link above if you are interested in learning a bit more about the project.

I am so proud of all the musicians who participated in this charity project. In an age when people often lament the next generation,  on the Music for Mercy CD are over twenty six young musicians who have studied their individual instruments and practiced to a high standard then happily and enthusiastically put those talents to use helping young people in Thailand who are less fortunate than themselves.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Snowballs...and a New Year!

Haley's life often tends to bring to my mind the image of a snowball rolling downhill picking up more and more snow and speed as it goes. Years ago I panicked a little inside during those times but I have mellowed a bit with age/experience.

There is no guidebook, path, or even others' lives to follow with what Haley has decided she wants to do. Without specific plans guiding her on this musical journey, it seems luck, fate, or God is a determining factor. Events, experiences, and performances yield other, sometimes seemingly unrelated, experiences and performances, leading to even more...the momentum sometimes seems to build exponentially.

She has had some amazing experiences that seem accidental or driven by fate/God...being invited by Mairead to perform on Irish TV with Altan when we happened to attend an Altan concert we learned about from a friend at the last minute while Haley was at camp a couple summers ago...winning All Ireland Championships in both her events the year we had originally planned not to go to Ireland...winning the Junior Fiddler of Dooney the year we chose not to do the All Ireland due to money issues but decided to go to Sligo in October because I happened to click on a random link about SligoLive and learned about the competition a couple months before and flights were half as much as in August....or her participation in Studio2Stage when the producers agreed to give her a chance even though she was three years younger than their age cut-off.

Other events and experiences are quieter/more personal but no less important in her life...playing with certain musicians in sessions, meeting people who later become very important in her life, spending time with friends, or helping out at fundraisers for charities.

People we have met through music have become wonderful friends and huge influences in Haley's. life. I can't even name them all without being afraid of leaving someone out. Some have taught her directly, mentored her, influenced her musically in other ways, had faith in her, given her a chance to perform, played music with her, encouraged her to compose, influenced her as a person, etc.... They come into her life at just the right time and/or interact with her in just the right way.  I will be forever grateful to them all!

Living life somewhat "on the fly" is uncomfortable for me, the consummate planner, but I am learning to accept it as part of our lives. It takes a certain day by day approach and is teaching me to make the most of each day and enjoy life as it comes. I should have known when my oldest made his surprise entrance into the world six weeks early that being a parent meant learning to go with the flow.

Sometimes we can plan especially in the short-term. Decisions are made to participate in certain events, take lessons with a particular teacher, buy equipment, learn certain pieces/tunes, attend a camp, etc…  Behind each decision is the parental (maybe mother's) worry about making the "right" choices. Sometimes I lie awake at night second guessing decisions and choices for all my kids.

I have found the older Haley gets, the less "all important" I view each individual decision and the more she guides those choices. She seems to have a vision in her head of what she wants to do even if she doesn't have all the answers on how to get there yet. She is an amazing young lady, beautiful in every way that matters. She constantly surprises me. I am so proud of her!

In the past few months, we have had some big decisions to make in Haley's life. Everything from high school planning to "music career" oriented decisions. I pray for wisdom in helping guide Haley on her journey. A few of these opportunities are up in the air and I have no idea how any of them will turn out or what other opportunities the future holds. I will certainly share details once plans are finalized.

2017 looks to be an amazing year for this young lady....

Monday, December 05, 2016

Our first trip to England and Scotland...

Months ago while perusing Irish Music Magazine, Haley and I saw an advert for the Scots Fiddle Festival in Edinburgh. We were in the process of sending out inquiries to other fall festivals and Haley thought it would be fun to go to Scotland so she sent them some info.

We never thought we would hear anything back from them, between the two of us we'd sent piles of inquiries and only heard back from a small percentage...but a little while later a representative from the festival messaged saying they were interested. We did not agree straight away but made some inquiries to find a few other places to play while over, figured out an itinerary, and then decided to give it a go even if only to have a chance to see Scotland.

Haley and I flew over on a Thursday night flight. (Can I just say I love British Airways? The plane seats were so comfortable, the crew allowed us on early so we could stow Haley's fiddle in the overhead while there was room, and the flight arrived early at London Heathrow.)

After coming through customs and immigration, we quickly found our host (John Whelan's dad), Denis, who picked us up at the airport. He drove us home where his partner, Sally, cooked us up a breakfast fry then Haley and I took a nap...we don't sleep well on planes. We woke in time for supper then Denis took us into London to The Auld Triangle for a wonderful local session.

No better way to begin a trip than a good session!!!

We met some wonderful musicians and heard lots of great tunes! Everyone was so friendly and the music was amazing!

The next morning after receiving our instructions on public transportation, Haley and I rode into London on the train then mastered the tube system to get around and see the things we wanted to see. It was a chilly, drizzly day but we didn't let good English weather slow us down.

We started off at Piccadilly Circus then walked until we came upon the National Art Gallery where we walked around for a couple hours seeing works by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, and others. Amazing! We wished we had all day to see everything but we had a lot to get in. From the gallery, we walked to the Coliseum, Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, 

Phone booth at Piccadilly Circus

View from the top of the stairs at entrance to National Gallery

Van Gogh's Two Crabs...Daddy loves crabbing.

The Coliseum.

Buckingham Palace
We saw someone (possibly the mayor?) in a carriage with a mounted police escort heading to the palace then a parade of palace guards. Haley's phone died and with it our map. We made our way back to the subway and headed toward Big Ben. We found some food as it got dark then made our way to see Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. The architecture of the buildings is fabulous in that area of town!

The next morning we had to pick Dylan up at the airport then there was a session held for the kids at the CCE near Luton. At the session, we met some people we'd only "met" virtually prior to our trip including the man who once reviewed the kids' CD for Irish Music Magazine and the father of their accordion playing friend from Studio2Stage. The session was great and they had Haley and Dylan play a little set of tunes followed by food. It was a nice afternoon!

The next morning, we were up early. Denis drove us to the Luton airport where we picked up our rental car, a sporty little red Fiat. We drove first to see Stonehenge. I am fascinated by prehistoric structures. I like to imagine what life was like for the people of that time.

Our stop for the night was Bath. Haley is a Jane Austen fan and one of her "must see" places for the trip was Bath. What a fabulous town!! I will definitely get back there someday to experience and see more!

We didn't arrive in town until nearly dark so we checked into our perfect little B&B then took a walk into town to get our bearings and come up with a plan of attack for the next day. Anyplace we might want to visit was closed so we ate dinner at Sally Lunn's (on Sally Lunn buns, of course) then went back to the B&B.

The next morning, after an amazing breakfast, Haley got in a bit of practice, we packed up the car, then checked out before walking into town. We took a fascinating tour of the Roman baths (and tasted Roman bath water...yuck, warm mineral filled water that tasted like metal, visited the Jane Austen museum, walked around town a bit more, then went back to Sally Lunn's because we wanted to try a dessert bun (no room in our tummies the night before) before driving on through the Cottswalds to Painswick for the night. During that drive I saw a number of small towns I'd love to go back and take a closer look at. Painswick was a quaint little town. Our B&B hostess there made us dinner reservations at a nice pub and we spent a quiet evening.

Roman baths from the street level

Jane Austen museum

Bridge that was a whole street block complete with shops.

The next day was filled with driving (5 hours) from Painswick to Ravenglass in Cumbria where we had reservations to stay in the carriage house at Muncaster Castle for two nights.

Muncaster Castle probably has many visitors during the tourist months but this time of year it is rather isolated. Prior to our trip, we'd read it was haunted and when we arrived and very few people were around, we were spooking ourselves rather easily. Add to that a funny little experience and we spent our first night locked in our room with furniture moved in front of the door. 

Here's what happened... When we checked into the B&B (in the carriage house), we found out we were the only ones staying that night. We walked around a bit before dark then headed into the town of Ravenglass which also has some tourist attractions, but not this time of the year. We drove down a one lane road into town where the tide was out leaving boats in the muck around the inlet and there was not a car or person in sight. We found a large parking lot and were the only car parked in it. I parked in the middle, paid at the pay station, then put the ticket in my window before we walked two blocks to a pub we'd passed coming into town.

We entered the pub and the three people in there, the bartender, a man tending the fire, and someone drawing in the corner, just stared at us before the bartender eventually told us they were not yet serving food but we might find something to eat at the hotel on the next block. When we left the pub, Haley told us they only had a 2 of 5 health rating so she was glad they were not serving food. The hotel was also rather empty...three workers in the dining room and two men on computers. They agreed to cook for us even though it was early and we had a very nice meal. 

Walking back to our car, Dylan walked a bit ahead of Haley and I and disappeared around a line of trees near the parking area. I had a passing thought of what it might be like if he wasn't there when I rounded the corner but he was standing next to a car against a bus stop in one corner of the parking area. I quickly wondered why he was there then noticed our car was not in the middle of the lot where I had left it. Dylan said, "Why is our car here?" 

We were immediately freaked out. I gave him the key so he could back the car up and I could shine a light on it to check for damage. There was none. We could not figure out how a car in gear on a non- inclined parking area could have rolled forward and to the right, then come to a stop straight onto the bus stop without damage. We thought about ghosts and creepy townsfolk and scared ourselves before quickly getting into the car and driving back to lock ourselves in our room for the night. We decided to leave the next morning if anything else weird didn't and things looked better in the morning with people around working at the castle.

It was raining the next morning. We walked to the little restaurant and ate breakfast alone in it. We then took a walk around the grounds in the rain, visited the bird sanctuary to see the hawks and owls, had tea and cupcakes in the coffee shop, then watched an owl exhibition. Haley and Dylan practiced together for awhile then we walked some more, took a drive into town to conduct scientific studies and figure out how the car had moved the day before, then stopped at a little convenience store to pick up frozen pizza which we then cooked in the kitchen at the carriage house before some more practice and bed.

Haley loved the owl exhibition...owls are some of her favorite creatures and having them fly over our heads and scrabble around our feet was very fun. There was only one other family at the show because it was cold and rainy plus it's the off season. Our second night was much less eventful than our first and we rose early the next morning to head off to Edinburgh after breakfast...another five hour journey.

The drive was beautiful...snow covered mountains, sheep everywhere, little towns and farms!!! We arrived in Edinburgh in early afternoon. Dylan was tired from driving most of the way and rested in our B&B while Haley and I took a walk to stretch our legs, get our bearings, and figure out where we needed to be for sound check at the festival that evening. The concert was great! The people running the festival were extremely nice, the audience was full of fiddle enthusiasts, and Haley and Dylan played great to open the show. We enjoyed listening to the main act perform with great seats high up in the balcony. 

Drive through the snow.

Photo taken during their set by Eilidh Steel at Scots Fiddle Festival
Haley and Dylan during their set. Photo by Scots Fiddle Festival.

Haley and Dylan during their set. Photo by Scots Fiddle Festival.

The Queens Hall in Edinburgh...concert venue.
Here's a video of them playing that I took from the balcony...

After the concert, there was an after concert party in another venue called the Festival Club where various artists were asked up to play for about 20 min each. We walked over to listen and Haley and Dylan to played another short set for the audience there as well. It was a great night and we didn't get in until the early morning hours.

The next morning we got up and walked the Royal Mile, seeing shops and sights all the way up to Edinburgh Castle and meeting William Wallace for a photo op. We caught up with Dylan for lunch at the Elephant House where J.K. Rowling wrote much of the first Harry Potter book then went back to the festival so Haley could hear a performance of gypsy jazz.  Afterward we ate pies for supper at Deacon Brodies and walked back up to the castle to see it in the dark.

William Wallace showed Haley how to hold a sword.

Men in kilts were everywhere (due to a local rugby match) but  this guy played those bagpipes all day!!

On Sunday, Dylan wanted to sleep in a bit so Haley and I went to brunch at a cute place, South Pour, we'd noticed during our walks the day before...delicious. A wonderful Scottish fiddler, Catriona MacDonald happened to sit next to us with her family and after we'd talked for a bit, she recognized Haley. After breakfast we walked back to the festival to hear a talk that didn't happen because the man giving the talk was ill. There were various artisans and music shops with stalls set up in one room, a huge session going on in the middle of the room, and in another room a luthier was working on a new violin. He had a few of his violins set out for sale. Haley fell in love with one and played on it for awhile. She called Dylan to bring his guitar and play with her to see how it sounded and another fiddler joined them. Haley and Roger taught each other some tunes and fiddled around for almost two hours. Haley eventually decided she wanted to walk the other half of the Royal Mile to the Holyrood before dark so we took the walk then met Dylan back at South Pour for supper and went to the final concert of the festival that night.

Brunch at South Pour

Haley with Catriona MacDonald

Haley and Dyl jamming on a freshly made fiddle

Small jam session

Petting an owl

Holyrood Palace

Haley with Greyfrier's Bobby
We spent Monday driving from Edinburgh back to London. We made a stop off at Wallsend to see the end of Hadrian's Wall. There was a little museum which we walked through including an observatory to view the remains of the Roman fort at the end of the wall. Rain, fog, and traffic made for a difficult drive but we made it back to Denis' safely. 

Haley and Dylan had a gig in the basement bar at Green Note in London on Tuesday night. We took the train and tube into the city, walked around a bit, searched for someplace to eat, eventually found an open curry restaurant and went to the venue to eat our take-out. 

Dylan invited a new friend, Tad, to join them on bodhran. Green Note was a lovely little venue with an appreciative audience. The three of them sounded great.

The following day Denis took us on a tour of the Luton area. We then headed off to the Railway Tavern in London for an awesome session!!

Thanksgiving morning we woke early to get the airport for our holiday flight home!