Writing now rotated

On the 4th floor, giving and taking advice

Maura Mulligan, right, presenting a donation raised by Nollaig Na mBan to Sr. Joann Sambs of the Dwelling Place of NY. PHOTO BY MARGARET MCCARTHY

By Maura Mulligan

I’ve been accused of acting like a teacher even when I’m not teaching. Well, as the saying goes: “You can never get out of teaching. It’s like the Mafia. You know too much.” I’ll throw out a bit of instruction to people like me in the high- risk category and also share a few of my own experiences in the hopes that you who are reading this will know that you are not alone. Even if you’re not over 70, you have my permission to read this piece.

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Lesson one: Make a schedule for yourself every morning. When you follow it and check off items as you go through your day, you gain a feeling of accomplishment. It’s helpful to stay focused on something other than gloom and doom. I also find that going to the trouble of cooking and eating healthfully helps keep me positive. I’ve been enjoying my own baking ever since St. Patrick’s Day when I baked a soda bread and pretended that it was okay to celebrate being alone on the big day. Paul Keating shared his mother’s recipe on Facebook. When I started to use it, I realized it was the same simple recipe that my dear Mam used every day back in the 1940s and ‘50s in our thatched cottage in East Mayo. Thank you, Paul, for sharing it. I in turn sent it on to my niece Susan in London adding that I used a little yogurt with the milk because the local supermarket was out of buttermilk. Here it is:

Irish Soda Bread

4 cups flour

2 tsp. Baking soda

1 tsp. Baking powder

1 tsp. Salt

3/4 cup sugar

6 T. Butter (3/4 stick)

1 1/2 cups raisins

2 cups buttermilk

Mix first 5 ingredients in large bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender or use your hands until butter is mixed well. Add raisins and buttermilk and mix with hands until wet and sticky. Knead adding flour if necessary. Place in cast iron skillet or any round baking pan and shape into round loaf. Make a cross with serrated knife across top of bread. Bake at 350 for 55-65 min (checking the middle until toothpick is clean). [Recipe used by Mary Keating nee Murray and Rita Mulligan nee Connell.]

Soda bread by the columnist.

Yesterday, I realized that the communal laundry room in the basement might not be the safest place to wash clothes right now. What to do when one’s apartment doesn’t have a built-in washing machine? Well, what did they do in the old days? Yes, wash by hand. But what about sheets and towels you ask? I know. Sin scéal eile! The bathtub might work? I thought of that too but then my 78-year-old back said: “Hold on a minute.” So, a bucket of water on a chair was the answer – a flash back to Mam with her galvanized washtub and drying clothes on the backs of chairs in front of a roaring fire. Here on the fourth floor, I lined up a few kitchen chairs with old newspapers under them. Today, the washing is dry, and I’ll have fresh sheets tonight.

Maura Mulligan writing at home.


It goes without saying that if we are to fight this battle and win it, we must make sure we’re following the experts’ advice about hand washing, staying indoors except for trips to the grocery store for necessities and of course, walking for exercise while maintaining social distancing. Although everyone (not just seniors) need to stay abreast of what’s happening every day we do not need to watch depressing news constantly. We should pay attention to medical experts like Dr. Fauci but then turn off the blasted TV and do something else like some extra tidying up each day. Seniors especially tend to have too much “stuff,” so this is a good time to de-clutter. My biggest challenge in the tidying up department is getting the bags of clutter down four flights of stairs, (which in the end, becomes five flights because the trash area is in the basement). Francesca, my kindly neighbor offered to help but although she’s more than 20 years my junior, she’s coughing and sneezing, so I take my time with the trash business and just text her to stay in contact.

Speaking of staying connected, if you live alone, be sure to text and call your family and friends. I do a group text every day with friends I’ve known since the 1960s and also make a point of calling someone on the phone, a family member, friend, member of my Nollaig Na mBan team or a colleague. Besides the social aspect of chatting with someone, you need to use your voice so those muscles stay in shape. Sing a song while you clean a cupboard. You’re not alone. I still haven’t got round to the cupboards or the junk drawer. If you have internet, try a language course on Duolingo. Then you’ll know what the neighbors are saying if you live in a multi-cultural dwelling like mine.

WhatsApp is great for staying connected with family and friends anywhere, especially overseas. Like Facetime, you see the caller and feel assured that each other is okay. I frequently do video calling with my sister Bridie and nieces in London as well as friends in Mayo, Dublin, Galway and Clare. If you don’t have WhatsApp on your phone, it’s not difficult to download.

In spite of all the social distancing rules, I had a short visit with one of my dance students last week. Kim insisted on driving a distance to bring me a couple of jars of my favorite St. Dalfour Orange Marmalade and Blueberry jam. She had cabin fever and “needed a break from the house” she said. We stood outside six feet apart admiring signs of spring on the Boulevard’s dogwood trees and the sun’s gleam on the Hudson River. This week, in spite of my liking for French jam, I would discourage her visit because of the latest update on sheltering in place.

I’m grateful for kind people like David, an Irish language student I taught several years ago at the New York Irish Center in Long Island City. He checks on me through messenger on Facebook – wants to make sure I’m ceart go leór (okay). Students have asked if I’ll teach a dance and or Gaeilge class online. Well, I’m not the techiest person in New Jersey but if I can figure out how to do it, I will. In gratitude for each new day, I plan to dance a few steps moving from the living room to the kitchen.

As we move forward, pray along with me for all the kind people out there who check on us seniors. Remember especially the health care workers who are on the front line of this war - people like Noreen and Lauren who are nurses and willingly carry out their duty each day. Others like cousin Eileen who along with her husband, Frank and sons, Francis and Brian have the job of sourcing staff and planning for the future staff shortage in the hospitals where they work.

Let’s remember to make that schedule and follow it. I promise it will be helpful to check off what we get accomplished every day as we keep on keeping on.

Maura Mulligan teaches Irish language at the New York Irish Center, Long Island City, and Céilí Dancing in Manhattan. She is author of the memoir “Call of the Lark.”