Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving in CT, 2009


We tried frying the turkey this year...

 My Edinburgh TopShop Heels :)

Trees behind Mom's House



 Mom's Mashed Potatoes!






 Leftover Turkey Soup in the evening...

My finishing touch for the soup :)


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Matter Matters

 Cloisters, Iona Abbey

I have always considered myself a spiritual person instead of a religious person.  Matter Matters and my time on Iona ended up being something I had been searching for without knowing it. 

To prepare for the week I purchased two of J. Philip Newell's books: Sounds of the Eternal: A Celtic Psalter and Listening for the Heartbeat of GodI began this whole journey by using the prayers in Sounds of the Eternal as my morning and evening meditation time. This is something I continue to do since my return to New York.

Both of these were quite a revelation for someone who has been searching for a form of faith and worship that felt more in tune with who I am for years. Celtic Spirituality really speaks to me...and I'm very eager to learn more.

The tone of the week was really refreshing. There was nothing age specific...I feel it's something anyone in a similar head and heart space would benefit from greatly.

The combination of Philip's sessions at the hotel, Neil's outdoor activities, and the Iona landscape made for a perfect combination.  Reconnecting body and spirit...something I have been yearning for. I know a lot of people would love to experience this. We definitely spent the week "Listening for the Heartbeat of God..." and on Iona, it was very easy to hear.

As I look through my notes, everything I have written down shows the importance of and need for connection, relationships and love. Living in a city like New York, it's very easy to start feeling isolated after a while...even in the midst of all those people.  You ironically lose a sense of community.  Matter Matters gave me a sense of what I've been missing and I will be forever grateful.

The Cloisters, Iona Abbey

Between the Columns (cloisters)

Celtic Cross

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The St. Columba Hotel

I can't talk about the retreat week and not mention the hotel because it was such a big part of the experience.

The St. Columba Hotel is a wonderful place to stay and get away from it all.  It felt like a home instead of just a hotel. If we were hanging out in the lounge late at night we'd simply be asked to shut off the lights when we were through...and we could line up our wet shoes on the hearth to dry after a day of walking through wet grass.

The rooms were very comfortable with adjustable heat and hot showers! The first trip I made to Scotland, I stayed in hostels and would rate them well depending on whether or not there were hot showers.  :) 

NO TVs! A definite plus since when I vacation, I want to get away from TV too... Free WiFi and internet access for guests was a really nice bonus. Thankfully, I was able to post some blogs! Pretty much everything I needed, such as laundry service, was there so I never felt stressed out about anything. Sigh.

There was also a level of  trust in the hotel that I've not experienced before, because although they gave out keys, we never locked our doors.  Something unheard of where I come from!

Oh, and the food...THE FOOD!  I saved most of our menus...being the cooking blogger that I am. Some personal favorites were cullen skink, grilled salmon, honey and cider roast loin of pork, garden beetroot & orange soup (the hotel has its own organic garden...swoon), the bread, Scones, breakfast Fry-Ups...Nom Nom Nom...

And last but not least, the management and staff were excellent. They were very friendly and helpful.  The whole place has a youthful, peaceful, laid back feel and the efforts at being green and using local produce and products was so nice to see (right down to the soap and shampoo in the bathrooms).

So, thanks for everything guys!


(There are more photos of the hotel and grounds in an earlier post "Wednesday on Iona")

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pilgrimage Day

Thursday, 10/29, was pilgrimage day...

We spent a wonderful day hiking over Iona... new friends helping one another and two lovely dogs bounding about.  It was glorious. 

I started the morning with my third and final swim...impressing the hell out of myself on many different levels...then we were off!

We covered a lot of ground, both physically and spiritually.  Throughout the walk we stopped to listen to a piece of scripture or to sing an Alleluia (in harmony, which I loved).

We did Tai Chi and drank from the well of eternal youth (one of my new friends told me I wasn't allowed to drink because I'm too young already :)

It was a day of choosing our steps carefully, yet boldly...helping each other out (sometimes stepping in each other's footprints for steady footing), hearing the squish of our feet in the moist earth and the tide filtering musically through the many stones on the seashore; of climbing hills and slippery slopes...approaching a crossroads and choosing a way...letting go of certain things while holding on to others...

It was beautiful.



Happy Feet

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Life Run

Tuesday, 10/27, started with my first dip in the water at 7:00am and then later, a "Life Run" (which I described earlier as a "Spiritual Amazing Race").  It was a wonderful, solitary, tour of parts of the island. We weren't just exploring Iona though, we were exploring our souls.

The rain was coming down, but it didn't matter. We all made our way from spot to spot with our journals...opening little envelopes to find out our writing tasks before running off to our next post. I can't tell you how meditative I found the whole morning.  I have a clear memory of hearing my breath mixing with the wind as I left "The Bay at the Back of the Ocean."  Some new understanding had been reached within my heart.  It was very magical.

I didn't take my camera with me, amazingly.  I found that I really just wanted to be completely present and part of the elements. All the images of that day are special and just for me and my new friends...who were all working together in spirit if not physically so.  Another favorite memory I have is coming upon my new friend Bev as she was just going under the water and applauding her as she emerged.  Team building at its best.

The race ended with another "swim."  I feel very grateful for the different energies I was able to experience over the 3 different dips.  Tuesday morning it was just me, Philip and I was "one of the guys" and there was a definite sense of "Let's Do This Thing!" In the afternoon I went with three of my new lady it was more like, "Wheee!" The third dip was on Thursday morning with Neil and my friend it was a balance...not sure there was a lot of "whee!" in the air but the expectation was different since we'd all done it already.  In some ways it was harder without the rain to sort of ease me into being all wet again...but the sense of achievement was always there.

What a way to spend a day.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Taking the Plunge...

I found myself in the middle of, quite possibly, one of the loveliest groups of people I have ever met. The best situations tend to be the most random, don't they? Here we were a bunch of strangers who immediately bonded and became friends, it was extraordinary!

Another important thing to note, is that I was the youngest attendee by quite a few years and yet I never felt that way...I was an equal. I suppose it should have occurred to me to ask what the age range would be since the magazine my Mom put on my bed was AARP...but nah...

This age split turned out to be one of the many gifts of the week. I floated around between everyone and learned so much about love and trust and relationships (not what I thought the week would bring, that's for sure).

Iona effortlessly stripped away all unnecessary layers and it was all me. I was shown how letting go is actually easy when you're in the right place and how simple things can be when you look to the heart of life. I took three dips in The Sound of Iona...simply because I knew that I had to. I mean, how many chances does one get to go for an Autumnal swim in Scotland (hopefully I'll get many more in the future!) I had decided that I wasn't going to let fear make my decisions for me, especially if the bigger part of me wants to do it. I'm so glad I did! Now, whenever I wonder if I'm capable of something, I'll feel the rain on my face and the cold water enveloping then releasing me to a warmer place.


Monday, November 9, 2009

The Seeds for Iona...

I've been trying to wrap my head around my time on Iona...and I've come to the conclusion that I'm going to have to break it all down into a few different blogs.

It was such a deeply personal journey...and since this isn't my journal...I'm trying to separate the two.

First of all, I need to give a big shout out to my Mom for putting the magazine article about John Philip Newell's workshop/retreat weeks on my bed shortly after my last visit to Scotland. I had put my wish out to the Universe to return to Scotland as soon as possible and to have it be some sort of group activity...and Boom! an article about Iona, and Philip, turned up on my childhood bed (with another about Edinburgh on the reverse side). I said, "What's this?" and Mom responded..."It's about Scotland."

Indeed, it was.

I took the website info down and found out when the next Iona week would be. This particular week was titled, Matter Matters: A Celtic Perspective Led by John Philip Newell and Neil Harvey. I researched Iona very little in the process. All I really knew of Iona was that it was beautiful...and the songs by Mike Scott and The Waterboys :)

Matter Matters had the following description:

"Iona has been described as a thin place, in which the veil between heaven and earth is translucent. Here we see more readily the glory of creation in the Celtic world. ‘Matter Matters’ will be a physically rigorous week of reflection and exercise, of pilgrimage hikes and community sharing led by John Philip Newell along with Neil Harvey, in which we renew our spiritual commitment to matter, whether that be the matter of the human body, the matter of creation, or the matter of the body politic and how we relate as nations."

After debating in my head, and checking with my boss, I contacted the St. Columba Hotel to reserve a space. Then I set about saving money and buying supplies. The fact that I'd be going alone and being with a big group of strangers didn't even phase me, when in the past that would have been enough to make me count it out immediately.

A short while before I was to fly out I got an e-mail from the hotel about the started off with the above description and the following:

"Each day will begin and end together with the rhythm of prayer and meditation, either at the Abbey or elsewhere on the island. After breakfast the mornings will be given to teaching and sharing with John Philip and on Tuesday to an outdoor activity with Neil . On the Thursday we will walk the island pilgrimage route together, so sturdy footwear and waterproof clothing are essential for the week! Wholesome breakfasts and evening meals, with provision from the organic gardens of the hotel, will be an important part of our shared community life. Lunches and afternoon hours will be free for solitude and rest."

Sounds pretty good so far, right?

Indeed, it was.

I set out for Scotland on October 22nd...arrived and had a wonderful day in Edinburgh on the 23rd, and was off to Iona the morning of the 24th. The day's travels went so smoothly...I even met a new friend who was also bound for Iona and we kept each other company.

When we finally arrived on Iona that evening, I walked towards a man wearing an orange rain jacket to ask where the St. Columba Hotel was. It turned out to be John Philip Newell.

My week had begun.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Last Supper

On my final night in Edinburgh (this trip, anyway) I made dinner! Yes, it was a Lion's Share dinner for two in Scotland. I'm hoping next time I can organize and do a more intentional one and invite others...wouldn't that be fun!?

I sort of felt like I'd given myself a "Top Chef" sort of assignment when, accidentally, I went shopping at "Iceland" which is mostly frozen food with a bit of produce thrown in for a side. I think I did pretty well, all things considered...

Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Rosemary, Onion, Garlic, Olive Oil, and Red Wine

Pears, Grapes & Bleu Cheese

A little whole grain garlic roll on the side??? Yes, Please!

Then, Christina and I went out for a pint. Thank You SO much, Christina!!!

Now, I'm back in New York...ready to move forward with everything I've learned...and to finally write that Iona stay tuned!


Friday, November 6, 2009

Thursday in Edinburgh: Part 3

As soon as I finished posting "Thursday in Edinburgh: Part 2" I began "Part 3" of my day. (and please forgive the myriad of fonts I have going on here...I have no idea how I managed that).

I walked over to The Grassmarket to meet my friends at a cafe called, "The Lot." It was really nice and chill, and my friends were knitting! So I settled in with a very large bottle of Williams Black Ale...and a snack of olives. It was delicious!

After some wonderful conversation we headed for the bus and down to a bar and cafe called "Roseleaf."

I love this place! I was amusing my friend Christina because everything about it filled me with glee...from the home made Ginger Beer cocktail served in teapot and the discovery of cake forks! I'd never seen such a thing! Needless to say the food blogger in me took over and my camera was out (if I looked like a silly tourist so be it!)

Ginger Beer w/Rum

Cullen Skink

Cake Fork!

Apple Cupcake

It was a wonderful penultimate day and evening in Edinburgh. Now, as I write this, it's Friday night and I'm extremely sad to be leaving early in the morning. My only consolation is that I know I'll be back...there's really no question about that because I love it too much.

Today we traveled over to The Sheep Heid Inn for lunch. I had wanted to go last visit but never made it. The Sheep Heid is the oldest Public House in Scotland (according to "The Local's Guide to Edinburgh"). It's very cozy and laid back. We enjoyed some beer and sausages and mustard mash with red wine gravy, then went down to the bar area for some tea. At one point a woman came in with her adorable West Highland Terrier and I was just delighted.

The Sheep Heid

After tea we walked back around and over the Arthur's Seat I got to spend a few more moments out there which I cherish :)

I'm about to head back out to the cash machine and market for dinner fixings. I'm quite excited over cooking something while to make???

I'll report back, of course.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thursday in Edinburgh: Part 2

So...I found myself walking around the hills all afternoon...meditating on an obliging rock...almost falling down the side of the you do... :)

My trousers (I am in Britain, after all) are filthy. Mud has joined the salt water stains left from my "Swims" on Iona. They look gorgeous ;)

I found a real sense of bliss up there...and I noticed how everyone seems to stand on the edges and spread their arms out wide...welcoming the world. I did this too, along with running down paths furiously clicking away with my camera. I find, however, that there is no way for me to accurately show you all just how breath-takingly beautiful it is here. But I'll keep trying :) Every time I turn around, gorgeousness hits me in the face and I keep exclaiming, "Come On!!! It can't be real!"

Oh...but it is...

They keep following me!

My meditation rock of choice for the day

At the Top

Leaving my mark :) (The Lion was already there...)


Now...I'm off for a pint. Knitting was canceled. I"ll just have to make the best of it ;)