Saturday, March 30, 2024

Easter, a Moveable Holiday

Easter display outside our apt entry
Easter Sunday commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after being crucified by the Romans about 30 A.D. But, unlike holidays set on a specific date, this important Christian holiday is a movable feast which doesn't fall on the same predictable date every year. 

This also applies to its related religious days of Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Good Friday. None are fixed calendar dates, but are assigned according to a lunisolar calendar, which aligns the moon’s phases as well as the sun’s position in the sky. (Passover and other Jewish holidays also adhere to the lunisolar calendar.)

One thing is certain — Easter is always celebrated on the same day of the week, Sunday, and known as Easter Sunday or just Easter. 

Why does the date change; how is it determined? 
It hops around like the bunny associated with the holiday. In the Gregorian calendar, it's always observed on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25; but it can be observed between April 4 and May 8 in the Eastern Orthodox Church, many of which follow the Julian calendar.

It falls on the first Sunday after the full moon, also called the Paschal Full Moon, the first full moon of spring. It occurs on or shortly after the spring following the March or spring equinox. March 22 is the earliest Easter can occur in any year, April 25 is the latest. If the first spring full Moon falls on a Sunday, Easter will be observed the following Sunday.

The actual date of the spring equinox can differ by a day or two, but the spring equinox date used by the Catholic Church is always March 21. The astronomical date of the equinox can shift a day or two. In 2024, the astronomical date of the equinox was Tuesday, March 19. 

For those, who want to plan ahead, in 2025 Easter Sunday will fall on April 20.

Why are bunnies and eggs associated with Easter?
Our bunnies & eggs
What does a bunny have to do with a religious celebration? Quite frankly, nothing. The Bible doesn't mention a long-eared mammal bringing sweet treats to children. 

Some trace the bunny's arrival to the 1700s when German immigrants ,who settled in PA, transported the tradition of an egg-laying hare. Children made nests and the hare would lay colored eggs for Easter. As the custom spread, it expanded to include chocolate, other treats and gifts and decorated baskets replaced nests. 

Easter is the second best selling candy holiday in the U.S. beat out only by Halloween. It's believed that the end of Lent has helped popularize sales of Easter candy. That's because many Christians swear off sweets during this time. Easter marks the first day in over a month that they can indulge and they often do. 

Chocolate bunnies are the most commonly molded Easter chocolate. First handcrafted in the 1830s and 1840s, they became commonplace in the 1880s. We didn't buy chocolate bunnies this year. The brown bunny in the photo is from Dollar Tree; the white bunnies are washcloth creations given by a crafting friend.

Easter Egg Coloring: The custom of coloring eggs dates to ancient Middle East times when onion skins were used to color eggs. They were also decorated because of their importance. Many years ago during Lent, the time of fasting between Ash Wednesday and Easter, meat and also dairy products were given up and not eaten. It's believed that being able to eat eggs again was significant, they would be decorated to mark the end of fasting and then eaten in celebration.
We colored eggs as we do every Easter
Years ago during Lent, a time of fasting between Ash Wednesday and Easter, meat and dairy products were not eaten. It's believed that being able to eat eggs again was so important that they would be decorated to mark the end of fasting and then eaten in celebration. We always color eggs on the holiday, a long-standing tradition in our home and with the grands in their younger days. Unlike ourselves, the older ones have outgrown the tradition. 

1948's top musical film
Easter Parade: This tradition dates from the mid-1800s in NYC when society notables would attend Easter Sunday services at 5th Avenue churches, then stroll down the street after to show off their spring frocks and hats. Soon, onlookers started lining up along 5th Avenue to see the strollers. 

The tradition reached a peak in the mid 20th century and, in the 1948 film, Easter Parade, Fred Astaire and Judy Garland strolled along the avenue to the music of Irving Berlin. This film was the highest-grossing musical film of that year. We re-watch it every Easter. Our favorite scene is in the restaurant one with actor Jules Munshin air mixing a salad. It's a real classic.

Today, the parade tradition continues in NYC as 49th to 57th Streets are shut down to vehicular traffic on Easter. Other U.S. cities also host a parade including: Asheville (NC), Atlantic City (NJ), San Francisco (CA) .

A colorful egg collection, some bunnies and us
We're celebrating Easter at home in NH, as we did for Christmas, in keeping with a year of being home on major holidays. Previous years, we've travelled to visit family and friends on holidays. This year has been a relaxing change. We'll visit everyone later this year at non-holiday times.

Your Turn — Do you have any special 🐰 plans today?

Wishing all who celebrate a Happy 🐇 Easter
from Our Home to Yours

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Castling in Ireland

Last fall, we were in a group that traveled abroad on a Shades of Ireland tour, focused on that country. Befitting the trip name, the major portion of our travel was an 8-day motor coach (bus) tour through Ireland. A previous post highlighted one of the Ireland's most notable features, its green. colors. This one highlights a few castles; there's many more.

It's impossible to see all of Ireland's castles, but we managed a handful last fall. Did you know that there are more than 30,000 castles and ruins in this small nation, dating from the 12th to 16th centuries? 

The castles include any sort of fortifications, functioning and/or restored castles of any kind and while they remain standing, many are in ruins and serve as reminders of their importance in Irish history as defensive strongholds during wars and battles. 

Our castle count was  six: three were visited (Blarney, Kilkenny and Ross Castles), one hosted a medieval banquet (Bunratty Castle) and we stayed in one on our last night (Fitzgerald Castle). Our travel group photo was taken near another. This post doesn't necessarily follow in the order in which we visited each of these.
Blarney Castle, home of the Blarney Stone
Blarney Castle is possibly the best known Irish castle steeped in legend and mystery. Located in the countryside of County Cork, Cormac MacCarthy built the medieval castle over six centuries ago to protect the area against invaders. It replaced a stone building which had replaced a wooden building before it. 
Map of Blarney Castle & Gardens
While much of the structure is in partial ruins with no roof covering, some rooms are accessible. Beneath the main structure is a labyrinth of underground passages, built throughout the Middle Ages. Most are inaccessible to visitors today. 
The tall structure beside the castle is the watch tower, and while still standing it was not open to visitors. In its day, this freestanding fortification would have provided a high place for a guard to observe the surrounding area.
Inside the castle, it's a steep climb up some very narrow steps ending at battlements at the top of the castle and views of the surrounding countryside. As tempting as it was to ascend for the views, these passageways are quite confining, and I did not go up. However, Patrick made it to the top.

Kissing the Blarney Stone
At the top of the castle is the reason mosty come to visit this castle — to kiss a block of  limestone, not just any stone, but the world famous Blarney Stone. It carries the legend that whoever kisses it will be blessed with the gift of eloquence. 

Kissing the Blarney Stone is somewhat of an effort that requires leaning over backwards over a sheer drop to touch the stone with your lips. This is usually done with the help of someone. As uncomfortable as this seems now, it was life-threatening years ago with no safeguards of wrought-iron guide rails and protective crossbars. Back then, you would have been grasped by the ankles and dangled from the 90-foot tall castle. Now, doesn't that sound like an appealing visit? 

As with any popular sites, stories abound about the stone's origin. One involves Clíodhna, goddess of love and beauty and the patron of County Cork and Cormac MacCarthy, builder of the Castle. In the 15th century, MacCarthy was involved in a legal issue and appealed to Clíodhna. The legend goes that she told him to kiss the first stone he found on his way to court. After doing so, he pleaded his case with great eloquence and won, which led him to have the stone set into the tower of the castle.

Another story is that the stone was awarded to MacCarthy by Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, in 1314 as a reward for providing support in the Battle of Bannockburn, a battle between the army of Bruce and the army of King Edward II of England, during the First War of Scottish Independence. Legend holds that this was a piece of the Stone of Scone used in the coronation of Scottish kings.

In recent years, the stone has become famous for another reason. In 2009, it was named the most unhygienic tourist attraction. Researchers claimed the stone, smooched by upwards of 400,000 people a year, was the most germ-filled tourist site; no scientific evidence supports the claim. The stone is not alone in being declared germy; other popular listed sites are: Oscar
 Wilde’s Tomb, Paris; Karni Mata Temple, India; St. Mark’s Square, Venice; Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, CA; Gum Wall, Seattle, Washington.

No, we did not kiss the stone and, as noted earlier, I didn't climb up to see it. Given the acrobatics needed, it did not appeal to either of us; a few members of our group participated. Stone kissing halted during the pandemic and the site was shut down. At its June 2020 reopening, owner, Sir Charles Colthurst, who inherited the Blarney estate in 2003 and manages it full time, was the first to kiss the stone. It's sprayed with disinfectant through the day. Puckering up for a kiss requires waiting until it dries.
The castle grounds include lush gardens, spanning over 60 acres filled with natural rock formations and some poisonous plants, including wolfsbane, mandrake, ricinus, opium poppies and cannabis. Paths have signs pointing out various attractions like natural rock formations named Druid's Circle, Witch's Cave and the Wishing Steps. 
Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle has been standing for over 800 hundred years, dominating Kilkenny City and the South East of Ireland. Originally built in the 13th century by William Marshall, 4th  Earl of Pembroke, as a symbol of Norman control, Kilkenny Castle symbolized the fortunes of the powerful Butlers of Ormond for over 600 years.
The castle is located in Kilkenny, the Medieval Capital of Ireland. Before touring the fortress, we had hoped to take a walking tour of the city’s cobbled streets, but a steady rainfall the day we visited soon cancelled that plan. Instead, we had this train ride throughout town.
The castle was a symbol of Norman occupation and, in its original condition, formed an important element of the town's defenses with four large circular corner towers and a massive ditch. 

Inside, this fortress there's a grand library, drawing room, nursery, and 19th-century picture gallery showcasing the Butler family's art collection. The castle is surrounded by 50 acres of rolling parkland dotted with mature trees, a rose garden, and wildlife. 
Few buildings throughout Ireland have a longer history of continuous occupation than Kilkenny Castle which has been rebuilt, extended and adapted over a period of 800 years. The first castle was constructed in the Anglo-Norman period by Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare, and in 1192 was replaced by a stone structure. The Butler family bought the castle in 1391 and it became their seat for the next 500 years.

During the Irish Confederate Wars of the 1640s, the Protestant Butlers were on the side of King Charles I. Catholic rebels captured Kilkenny Castle, and it was besieged by Oliver Cromwell during his conquest of Ireland. Following his return from exile in 1661, Butler remodelled the medieval castle as a more modern chateau.

As you can imagine, keeping up a castle is quite costly and the Butler family struggled to raise the monies needed to keep it maintained. In 1904, James Butler, 21st Earl of Ormonde, welcomed King Edward VIII when he visited Ireland. When Butler died, huge amounts of death duties meant that the castle’s future was in jeopardy. It was besieged by the Irish Free State during the Irish Civil War in 1922, and severely damaged. 

The Butler family relocated to London in 1935 and abandoned the castle.  Most of its furnishing were put up for public auction.

In 1967, Arthur Butler, 6th Marquess of Ormonde sold the abandoned and deteriorating castle to the Castle Restoration Committee for a ceremonial £50 (just over 60 USD) for the people of Kilkenny. He also bought the land in front of the castle from the trustees so that it would never be built on.

The castle and grounds are now managed by the Office of Public Works, and the gardens and parkland are open to the public. It's become the city of Kilkenny's most popular tourist attraction and hosts visitors year round. 
Ross Castle
Ross Castle is a 15th-century tower house situated on the edge of Lough Leane, the largest of the three lakes of Killarney, in the Killarney National Park, County Kerry. The fortress was built in the 15th century by the Irish Chieftain (O’ Donoghue Ross) and is a typical example of the stronghold of an Irish Chieftain during the Middle Ages. The site overlooks the lake. It's reputed to be one of the last strongholds of significance to fall to the forces of Oliver Cromwell  in the 1650s.

To reach the castle, our group traveled through Killarney National Park in open two-wheeled one-horse carts called jaunting carsThis is one of the most popular things to do in Killarney and is mainly reserved as a tourist activity.

Jaunting Carts in Killarney
Built as a mode of personal travel in the 1800s to mid 20th century, the two or four-wheeled horse-drawn rigs carried up to 4 four people. Jaunting became a popular way to describe a pleasure trip by saying that someone was off on a jaunt.
Defenders of the castle knew of a prophecy that foretold the castle could only be taken by a ship. Unfortunately, the leader of Cromwell's force, who also knew of the prophecy, launched a large boat on the lake. Seeing it hastened the defender's surrender thus fulfilling the prophecy.

Legend also has it that Irish Chieftain O’Donoghue slumbers below the lake waters. Every seven years, on the first morning of May, he is said to rise on his magnificent white horse. According to more legend, if you catch a glimpse of him, you'll enjoy good fortune the rest of your life. 
While we didn't see O'Donoghue or his stallion, we took an enjoyable boat ride on Lough Leane. As threatening as those skies behind us looked, it didn't rain.

The castle is open to visitors from early spring to late fall and is one of Killarney’s main tourist attractions, popular during the summer months. It was not open the day of our visit. 
Bunratty Castle
Bunratty Castle is a  15th century that was built in by the Earl of Thomond and stands on the banks of the Rathy River. The Earl entertained lavishly and was famous for his hospitality. Keeping with this tradition of hospitality, the Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet was created in 1963, as a tourist attraction. For the past 61 years, banquets and entertainment have been provided twice nightly most of the year. These banquets are one of the oldest continual dining experiences in Ireland. Attendees have included international dignities, celebrities, U.S. Presidents and now our travel group.
The banquet was one of our tour options and we didn't get to see much of the castle exterior/interior, except for the entry and dining hall. We were greeted by the Earl's Butler who provided a short history of the castle. He was accompanied by the Ladies of the Castle who performed a  medieval madrigal. We were also given a sample of mead. (Mead is an alcoholic beverage consisting of three ingredients: fermented honey, water and yeast.  It's considered the earliest known alcoholic beverage; believed to predate wine by nearly 3,000 years. It is very sweet and somewhat of an acquired taste.)
This was a fun evening with members of our group being selected to preside at the head table as kings and their ladies. Royalty received the better seats and for everyone else, seating was bench-style along long oak tables and dining by candlelight to reflect the banqueting style of the medieval era.
Quite honestly, this was not the best meal on our trip. While we did not have to dine utensil-less, as might have been done in earlier days, the chicken dinner was uninspired.
After dinner entertainment consisted of a selection of Irish medieval and traditional songs instrumental music and step dancing.
King John's Castle or Limerick Castle is a commanding fortress perched on the banks of the River Shannon on King’s Island in Limerick. It was built on the orders of King John, brother of Richard the Lionheart and was completed around 1210. The castle was built on the boundary of the River Shannon to protect the city from the Gaelic kingdoms to the west and rebellion by Norman lords to the east and south.

The castle is one of the best-preserved Norman castles in Europe as its walls, towers and fortifications remain intact. It's also the most iconic building and visitor attraction in Limerick and served as a backdrop for a group photo. 
Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel
Fitzpatrick Castle was the last castle seen on our tour of Ireland and this one we stayed overnight. The original castle was built in 1740 by Colonel John Mapas. By 1755, it was acquired by Captain Maunsell, and then by a Colonel Loftus in 1770. By 1772, the colonel advertised the castle and its 150 acres for sale. During his time ithere, Colonel Loftus converted the barren stony soil to meadow and pasture and cut a road around the hill. In 1790, his successor, improved the estate further, spending the equivalent of nearly $4,000, quite in the late 18th century.

By 1840, a new owner, Robert Warren, enlarged the house renaming it Killiney Castle. He also donated land and most of the money for the building of Killiney Parish Church. Another owner, Mrs Chippendale Higgan, planted trees and shrubs that remain on the property today to provide a decorative setting for the castle. In the 20th century, Killiney Castle was used by the Black & Tans, the IRA and the Republicans in the Civil War before being burnt by Free State Troops. It was requisitioned by the Government during 1939-45 and used as billets for the army.
Killiney Castle changed hands again in the 1970s when the late Paddy and Eithne Fitzpatrick transformed it into a hotel renaming it (no surprise) Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel. Their daughter and her family own and maintain the hotel today. This stay was a wonderful way to end our tour of Ireland.

Our tour group's farewell dinner was held in the dining room. The next morning, some were leaving for Dublin Airport and flying home. Ourselves and a couple others would be heading to the airport and a flight to our next destination, Edinburgh, Scotland.

If you've come this far, Thanks as this was a very long post. There's more to come about our Ireland trip — cliffs, crystal and whiskey.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Friday Funnies

There was a feeding frenzy on the Nashua River last week; some folks were feeding the local waterfowl as we were talking a river walk. 
It was a free for all with Canada geese, Mallard ducks, and seagulls all coming in at once.

The sea gulls put on quite a display, which was almost like dancing in the air.
Not to be upstaged, these Canada geese splashed down for a water landing.
For a while, it was quite the animated show on the river, at least while there was food.
This Mallard duck couple preferred to remain on the river bank hoping for a handout which they did receive in time.

Enjoy Your Weekend, Everyone
A snowy start 🌨️ then rainy ☔️ on Saturday, temps in mid-40s
We heard a rumor that Spring 🌷🌺 arrived this week, not here.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Coming Clean

This is a very clean post all about an item that I most often buy on our travels.

It's easy to figure out what I'm talking about from this photo. The name says it all.

Time to confess that I'm a bit of a soap shopaholic.

I've been buying soap bars on our U.S. road trips for the past few years. Oddly enough, I didn't buy a single bar on our trips abroad last fall. There was no special reason, other than I had many still unused at home, including ones from the UK. The soaps in Amalfi, Italy, famous for the Italian lemon liquor, Limoncello, were all lemon scented. While I do like lemons, it's just not my favorite scent for soap.

The bar soaps are not bought as souvenirs but for personal use, it just may take a hile to use them, but I have choices.. It's been several years since I've bought an off-the-shelf bar in a retail store, and I have no idea of the cost savings or not.

Overall, the benefits of buying bar soap are that not only is it useful (as this post will show) but eventually it will be all gone. Of course, for myself that means more buys..

I recently purchased a couple more bars on our recent trip to North Conway, NH, which were added to others in my collection, here's ⬇︎ a few of them.
Besides being a consumable purchase, there's another benefit. Many of these soaps are very fragrant with lavender and pine among my favorites. When storing bars of soap that haven't been pre-packaged and are usually homemade, I wrap them lightly in tissue paper and place in dresser drawers. Some pine-scented bars are stored with linens. It's such a refreshing scent when the sheets are taken out for use. 
Some bars have, like the ones above, remain in their original wrappings, as I found them interesting to show where the soaps originated, also as I already have many unwrapped bars.

Speaking of unwrapped bars, there's an ongoing question: Should a bar soap be stored naked or does it last longer if unwrapped before storing? 
A friend once advised me to never store soap in a box, but to remove outer wrapping and let the bar breathe

The theory is that a naked soap bar continues to dry if air is it airs for 6-8 weeks to harden the ingredients, which makes it less likely to dissolve with use. I've never done a scientific test, but believe this is true. I do this with all of the bar soaps I use and they do last quite a while. 

There's also some other useful tips: keep bar soap in a cool place away from direct sun; use a soap dish with drainage; don’t keep bar soap on a metal surface; use a washcloth as it creates later using less soap overall.

Did you know that cooler showers save soap? 
Hotter water makes bar soap dissolve faster and requires more effort to make lather. A cool shower helps bar soap last longer by allowing it to maintain its shape and consistency for a longer time.

How long can soap be stored?
That depends on ingredients used in making the soap. Some commercial bar soaps include an expiration date. None of the ones I've bought over the years have such information. Many haven't even come in a box.

The average time to store bar soap is estimated to be a few years. It might lose fragrance, become discolored, and lather less, but is useable and safe. Scented soaps with an essential oil like rosemary or lavender oil can lose fragrance in 3-6 months, but the soap is still safe.

Can bacteria grow on bar soap?
Yes, bacteria can thrive on bar soap, but usually this doesn't stop the soap from
getting you clean; it won't make you sick.

Overall, the #1 rule for bar soap is — keep it dry. This is considered the biggest factor in maintaining the life of a soap bar. Also to allow proper drainage of water around it. The more drainage and air flow a soap bar is has the longer it will last remaining firm, less messy and easier to use. 

How to keep soap dry? — Store on a soap dish
Washboard style wooden soap dishes work great. The washboard surface elevates the bar so water drips off. I’ve used a teak wooden soap disk, similar to this one, for years; it hasn't warped or discolored. Some folks store soap in a cardboard box. Ideally, it should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place. Never store soap in an air-tight container.

You probably know that soap bars have lots of other household uses aside from than bathing, here's a few, several of which I've used often, maybe you as well.

Unstick a zipper - If a zipper is stuck, run a dry bar of soap over the teeth to make it glide easier. This is the tip I've used most often !

Fix sticky drawers and sliding doorsIf drawers or sliding doors won't open smoothly, rub a bar of soap on the drawer edges or along the grooves of the door tracks, the door will slide on the track again.

Make furniture assembly easierStarting screws into wood can be hard. Make it easier, coat the screw threads with bar soap. 

Loosen a stiff lock - If a door lock is stiff, drag the key over a dry bar of soap to coat the surface, insert the coated key in the lock, turn to make the lock easier to use.

Prevent foggy mirrors and glasses - When a mirror is fully dry, rub a bar of soap over the glass. Don't add water, just buff away streaks with a dry cloth. This also works well on eyeglasses and sunglasses.

Stop squeaks - No WD-40 handy? Rub a bar of soap along creaking or squeakly door hinges and floorboards. Test the squeak; reapply as needed.

Pinpoint a leakTo detect where a tire is leaking, dampen a bar of soap and rub over the area. The soapy film will create a bubble when air escapes. 

Remove tough stainsSome soaps are promoted specifically for stain removal, you can use bar soap to treat oily and muddy stains; use one with no added conditioners.

Make hands easier to cleanBefore digging in the garden or doing an auto repair, run fingernails over a bar of soap to prevent soil or grease from lodging under nails. Because the soap slivers stay put, you’ll generate suds when cleaning up.

Soften shoesIf shoes need softening, rub bar soap on the area that’s likely to create blisters; feel the leather soften up.

Remove wallpaperRather than spend hours removing, mix soapy water in a spray bottle and spritz. Wallpaper will start peeling, saving time and work.

Relieve Insect bitesItchy and painful insect bites are annoying. Use a bar of soap,  wet the soap, rub on the bite and the itchiness should stop.
Admittedly, I won't be using the road trip soap buys for these uses, and will use retail bought bars instead. We're going on a couple of upcoming road trips. I can foresee adding a few more soap bars to my collection.

Thanks for fellow blogger (Boud) here's something very helpful that you can do with unused hotel bar soaps or purchased soaps — donate them. We've done the same in the past, but no longer collect any travel bars, many lodgings now use refillable soap dispensers. (The same applies to toothpaste tubes that dentists often dispense.)

Your turn — What item do you buy most often on a trip?