Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Santa



This year was the biggest year for Santa in our house. It is as if the 7 almost 8 year old believes even more fervently than ever before in order to keep it true. Of course the kids talk in the yard. They ask questions, wondering: how could a bike really fit through the chimney….and how does the alarm not go off when Santa creeps in….and why does my guitar say, 'made in China'?

To all of these questions we answer, it's magic. And Santa has elves in China. I was kicking myself for not taking off that little gold sticker! The magic part is real to me. Only if you believe will Santa come to see you. I even believe in him when I am sneaking upstairs holding my breath, to retrieve the hidden crocodile in my closet. It is Santa's magic that keeps them asleep, keeps them from hearing the Elmo cry out, "Elmo needs a hug!" and muffles the deafening sound of that horrible thick plastic they like to ensconce toys in these days.

So, they believe because we believe and none of us want this beautiful bubble of childhood to burst.

At the park on the Sunday then, you can imagine my horror as a woman we were talking to wielded a sharp bubble bursting pin. She didn't mean to, but her comments made me want to grab Sofia by the arm and start running, singing la,la,la,la,laaaaa at the top of my lungs to distract her. Of course that would have been silly so instead I screwed up my eyes at the lady then opened them wide, then gave her a creepy smile and a subtle jerk of the head in my innocent daughter's direction.

The whole thing was simply a misunderstanding. The lady in question is from Slovakia and what I didn't know but found out on Sunday, is that in Slovakia they believe that Jesus himself delivers the toys to children on Christmas Eve. She was telling us this interesting bit of anthropological trivia, never thinking that it could call into question our Santa belief. After my bizarre motioning and grimacing she realized and started backtracking.

"Different places believe different things but Santa still brings our Christmas presents." And that was that--bubble intact, floating along iridescent and pure—for at least another year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nollaig Shona!



We went into 'town' today. That's what everyone in Ireland, excepting perhaps those in Cork, call Dublin. Knowing our days are numbered here makes us more eager to actually do the things we've always meant to do. The truth of the matter is that today was most likely our last day in town. The lights were all up, it was freezing cold and crisp, a boys' choir sang Gloria in Excelsis Deo beautifully, and the festive buzz and anticipation were palpable.

We took the green train, Dublin Area Rapid Transit or DART. It takes about 40 minutes to get there but the views are beautiful as the train curves around the coast, hugging the hillsides of Dalkey and Killiney with the Dublin harbor and Howth in view; even cutting through Lansdowne Road stadium which is currently being transformed into a stunning steel and glass structure which to me, vaguely resembles a rugby ball.

Getting off at Pearse Street station with its lovely enclosed platforms, we headed straight for Grafton Street. Walking past Trinity College we jostled for space with the rest of the merrymakers and shoppers; kids, buggy and baby making our way.


Every storefront shouts, 50% or 70% off everything! The recession has brought sales back to Ireland for the first time in the years we've been here. We weren't there to buy anything though, just to spend the day. As everyone knows, you have to feed the kids before anything else or you're asking for trouble so we made our way to O'Neill's pub for a carvery lunch. It was just what we needed and wanted for the day….a big plate of beef sliced off a huge roast with two kinds of potatoes (mashed and roasted), brussel sprouts, roast veg (parsnips, carrots, turnip) all slathered with dark brown gravy. Plus a black, frothy Guinness to sip with such a feast—perfection.

We then took to the streets and ambled around, people watching. Buxom Molly Malone and her wheelbarrow had to be visited for the final time and Stephen's Green's ducks paddled around in icy water, some slipping and sliding on the frozen-over parts.
The lights along Grafton Street were in the shape of huge chandeliers, glittering every few feet overhead. And the rain held off except for the smallest drizzle so we ducked into Café en Seine for a hot chocolate.
The kids were fantastic and had a terrific day. So did the grown-ups. A quick stop at the Newsagent for red Santa hats and we were back on the DART headed south.



Happy Christmas. Nollaig Shona.
Only two more sleeps!



Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Postman Always Rings

…..but not on the phone. He calls to the door when he delivers one of the packages--usually from my mother.

Of course in all this time we have developed a relationship. Not of the sordid kind, but of the friendly, looking out for us, waiting until I'm home from the school run to deliver parcels kind. We've been here for nearly 5 years so that's a lot of care packages from family in Texas. He also drives a taxi in the off hours so we've hired him to take us to the airport and out to dinner too. He brings the kids birthday chocolate and Christmas sweeties and has stopped by for tea. This Christmas since the kids can read he's taking off all the customs stickers so they won't know what presents are hidden inside. We all shout and run for the door when we see his green van…Eugene's here!

My friends all think it's a bit odd but I am glad for this personal touch. When we moved house last year his route changed so he still delivers to us. And when I'm out jogging I can count on a honk and wave from my friendly (friend) postman.

After all, life is the relationships and experiences you have. I am glad to know that someone is out there watching my back and caring about my homesickness. I think it's a bit of what's missing in the world today. So, cheers to the friendly people of an Post. Happy Christmas and thank you for delivering all those packages.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Potato Man




Co. Wexford, just below our county, is nationally known for its potatoes and strawberries. In the summer when strawberries are at their peak of juicy sweetness, highways and country roads alike have white vans posted along them selling green baskets bursting with red heart shaped berries.

All year round, potatoes can be had from the same white vans. Wexford farmers travel the 50 km through Co. Wicklow to deliver the iconic staple of the Irish dinner table.

There's a man who brings his into our estate some mornings, delivering orders or hoping to fill an urgent need for a bag of spuds. Last week the bell rang. I answered to find himself standing on my stoop….'you ok for potatoes?' He was in his sixties, around 5'10, and wearing nice brown trousers with a jumper and jacket, hands rough and nose bulbous all topped by a tweed cap. 'Yes sir, thank you, I'm fine for potatoes.' Nothing to it, he smiled and headed back out to the van with Wexford Potatoes and his mobile phone number embellished on the side.

Try your hand, take the chance. That's Ireland.



Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sunrise

This morning I forced myself to jog. The dark mornings and afternoons have left me with a very short window. I decided to get up and get going rather than languish with my cup of coffee and excuses.

Everyone knows that you'll never regret going. And this was the case one thousand times over this morning. Rather than do my regular route, I decided to head down to the promenade. I haven't run by the sea in ages because it's not as satisfying to have to double back and cover the same ground 3+ times. But this morning I was rewarded with the most beautiful sunrise I've ever seen.

As I headed south towards the jutting crag of Bray Head I wished for a camera. Instead, I had to memorize the view as I saw it. There's a part in Before Sunrise, one of my favorite romantic movies, where Ethan Hawke looks at Julie Delpy and says, "Let me take a picture." He didn't have a camera either.

A swath of coral sky was sandwiched between the parallel of the horizon and a bank of lilac clouds. From my vantage point the patch of sky only reached up a few feet from the sea before being topped by clouds. And just at the bottom of the clouds, the sun; its bottom half bright orange, hung suspended barely skimming the sea. For a second I imagined it was setting. It continued to rise into the purple clouds and I watched it until the smallest sliver disappeared leaving only deep coral in its wake.

As I turned back north the sea and sun were mostly at my back. When I reached the end and headed toward home and south again, the sun was entirely hidden by clouds. If I'd waited even 5 minutes I would have missed it. What was left of the sunrise was pink sky with violet rays slanting through to the sea like one of Titian's paintings.

That will be as much of the sun as I will likely see today. The clouds seem to have covered all of the sky like a blanket, turning the day grey. I'm glad I have my picture.


 

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

There’s a Mouse in the House


As a little girl we had only a couple of incidents with mice. We lived in an old Victorian house with alcoves, fireplaces in bedrooms, and pecan trees—a bit creepy really—so mice and worse were to be expected. Thankfully, our assortment of cats kept us virtually free from pests so my dealings with mice were limited.

Until now.

I don't know if it's the no snakes thing, the fields and mountains nearby, or the rubbish (see previous post) but I've had more to do with mice in my four and a half years here than in the previous couple of decades. On the morning of my 35th birthday I was awakened by a scratch, scritch, scratch coming from somewhere in the bedroom. Paul stomped around, throwing things here and there and the little grey culprit leapt out of one of Paul's shoes and fled under the bed. AHHHHHH! There followed much screaming, yelping, and jumping up and down on the bed in toe curling terror.

We took care of that first one and many more of his kin. It turns out to be a gruesome business, made worse because mice are actually kinda cute in a cartoon, storybook way….think Goodnight Moon, although we were saying 'goodnight little mouse' in a much different way. We got wise and began to expect the little buggers to visit when the days got shorter and colder…the small cracks and spaces in our old wooden floors were just too tempting an invitation of warmth for them to pass up. And so it began, every autumn.

When we moved to a newer house with proper wooden floors, no gaps or holes, we believed our mouse killing days were over. Not so fast.

For two weeks we have been dancing with this one little dark grey mouse. The first time I saw him Paul was away, Sofia and I were up late watching Hannah Montana….I screamed, as you do and rang him in Germany or Amsterdam or wherever he was, "There's a mouse in the house!!" I'm sure he appreciated being taken from his business dinner to hear this bit of news from home.

The next morning, Sofia told Rowan about the mouse. He's the man of the house when Paul's away and takes his role very seriously. In skateboard pyjamas and Ben10 socks my son began stomp, stomp, stomping—bam, bam, bam all over the living room singing, "I'm the man of the house and I'm not afraid of a mouse!"

We finally caught him this past weekend, having given up on the steel wool in his hidey hole and the useless sonar sound plug-in thing that only mice can hear; our mouse must have been hearing impaired. Paul bought some 'humane' traps and placed them strategically. We went for a long walk and when we returned…..stomp, stomp, bam, bam—one of the traps had a little grey fuzzy mouse sticking out the back of it. Fascinated, the kids wouldn't stop looking at it, making Paul show them for ages before they'd let him dispose of it. The mixture of remorse and elation at our successful catching of the mouse lasted the rest of the day. "Poor little mouse….we caught him…. he wasn't even that big….he went into the trap so fast….and he was so fuzzy and cute……oh, Daddy why did you have to catch him?"


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Oh! Christmas Tree

We got our Christmas tree today. And just in the nick of time if you believe Mitchell at the green grocer. We have always waited until the 15th or so to get the tree but the kids were too excited to wait another minute. So, all bundled up, all in the car, work gloves and twine at the ready, inspired by last night's viewing of Christmas Vacation we headed to Get Fresh to procure our tree.

We used to live right around the corner from Get Fresh so frequented it for all our fruit and veg. Since we've moved to the new house I only get over there on the rare occasion or for special things like the tradition of buying our tree from Cormac. Cormac owns Get Fresh and we've known him from our first weeks here in Ireland. One of the first times I met him, I was chatting to a baby Rowan…something like, you're the most handsome man, I love you! Cormac, not hard on the eyes in a rugged Irish way, looked up stunned for a minute suspecting me of chatting him up. As is my usual skill of making a situation more uncomfortable I said, Oh, I'm talking to my son. Not trying to get fresh…..forgetting or maybe subliminally influenced by the name of the shop, Get Fresh. He chuckled and gave me a smile and from then on we were locals. Names were exchanged and greetings were offered every time I set foot near the leeks and parsnips. One of Rowan's first real words was 'Cormac' and now he's in the same class as Cormac's neice…..that's why people in this town look over their shoulder before a bit of gossip. It's very small.

Every year we buy our tree from Cormac. There's nowhere else we would go.

Back to today. We looked over the strangely meager offering of Christmas trees all bundled up like giants' wigs in enormous hairnets. How to tell which is best when you can't see them freed from their bindings? We had a few opened up to have a better look, they sprung out, boughs extending, needles flying. We chose the third one. Not too tall, not too full, the perfect Charlie Brown Christmas pine.

As we looked and chatted, Mitchell told us we were lucky to have come early this year. We were good not to have waited because apparently there is a shortage of trees this year--something to do with a seven year cycle. Next week there may not be a tree to spare!

It's such dire straits for Christmas trees in Ireland that the delivery driver from the little farm in the Wicklow mountains requested a gardai escort into town for fear of being hijacked for his bounty of decorative pines. Imagine the festive bandits; lying in wait for the Christmas tree truck to pass…..pouncing with ski masks, work gloves and twine to abscond with Ireland's last crop of Christmas cheer.

I'm waiting for the public service announcement: Don't buy rogue trees! Verify your supplier before you even think about twinkly lights and baubles…….there's trouble about!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Favorite Pub


Another thing I'll miss about Ireland is the pub.

My favorite is Duff's. The owner, Frank Duff, was/is a cyclist and the pub is filled with old fashioned bicycles, awards, and various cycling accoutrement. The Tour de France of 1998 went through the main street so he has signs from it and various other cycling races hanging on the walls and from the ceiling.

As any proper Irish pub should, it has comfy chairs grouped around tables, a bar with high stools that winds around to the back of the pub, and Guinness on draught. It feels like you are sitting in your living room, chatting with your friends but with a friendly person bringing you drinks, peanuts, and the ubiquitous and fragrant packet of cheese and onion crisps.

Anyone who's been to Ireland knows the pub is not just a tourist gag. If you find the real one in any town you've found the pulse. It is rare to see anyone obviously hammered….not like when you're at the nightclub variety of pub. People just sit, have a drink or few, and chat. When it's a great night of laughter and fun they call it good craic, pronounced crack. Not the drug or what's visible at the top of plumber's jeans, just good fun, verbal sparring and quick wit.

In a good Irish pub you'll find the following on any given night: older men gathered around the bar talking to the bartender, groups of older men and women sitting around tables, the younger set mixed in with those of us who are comfortably parked in our late 30s and early 40s, and the couple whispering quietly. This jumble of ages and people is what makes the pub so great. Its purpose is to bring us together, even on the dark, cold nights of an Irish winter. The best pub wards off the loneliness that can creep up on long nights and keeps the community connected.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Go raibh maith agat


There are certain foodstuffs that you can't find in Ireland. Most are of the processed or convenience variety but also southern things we Texans take for granted—chipotle peppers, pickle relish, decent bbq sauce, tomatillo salsa, cream corn, and cornbread. The cornbread is key here because I need it to make my mother's cornbread dressing. Thanksgiving cannot happen without the dressing, as everyone knows. Mother usually sends me boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix but we both forgot it this year. No problem, I thought. I knew I'd had it at someone's house once, didn't I? Now all I had to do was find it. I rang a few shops and was rewarded when I tried SuperQuinn. "Oh, yes. We have it….yes, in a square, yes I will hold them for you." So far, so perfect.

It was with this happy cornbread acquisition song in my heart that I arrived at SuperQuinn on Friday morning. In I went to collect the golden ingredient for the Thanksgiving table's best supporting star. It all fell apart when the girl brought out three loaves of multi-seed bread. Not a square, not golden yellow, not cornbread! I tried to remain calm, suggesting maybe she'd brought the wrong bread over to me….surely this wasn't the cornbread that had been put on hold for me. "But that's not cornbread", said I. "Oh, yes it is. This is cornbread" said the Lithuanian bakery girl. Please! Don't argue cornbread with a Texan. I know from cornbread and I will not be fooled.

It was with this that Sofia and I left SuperQuinn. Me practically in tears, she embarrassed by her American mother's stuttered protests to the Lithuanian baker. "It's okay Mommy. What's the big deal about cornbread anyway?" Oh, dear. I have got to get this girl back to Texas and straight away! What's the big deal???!!! Thanksgiving cannot go on! I am ashamed to admit that on the way home in the car, I cried. I gave in, I gave up, I was beaten by the lack of cornbread.

And then I got home and Paul, as usual, talked me off the ledge and I did what I knew I would do. I figured it out. I rang a friend to ask if she knew where I could find it. No. I googled it and found that corn meal or maize is called polenta in Europe. It seems so simple and logical that I can't believe I never realized it before. All this time I had been doing without corn muffins with my chili when all I had to do was go to the health shop, buy some polenta and whip up a batch of golden bread.

On the way home from the health shop I was listening to the radio (I seem to do that a lot don't I?) and had a dose of reality. There were floods in the west of the country, people's homes were ruined, and anymore rain would spell more disaster. This was a genuine problem. Not as easily solved as googling the origin of maize. I felt terrible for being so dramatic about such a small thing in the midst of real suffering. Snapped back to earth, I came home, counted my blessings, and got on with it.

I worked away making it all and it has never been easier or more fluid. By Saturday afternoon when our neighbors arrived to celebrate with us I had it all done, cool as a cucumber. Thanksgiving went on. And what a lot to be thankful for—a warm, dry house, more than enough food, a loving family, terrific neighbors, every day ahead to make the most of and to make cornbread out of polenta. I am thankful to Ireland for all these life lessons.





Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgivings 3 & 4


One clue that I'm pregnant is that I lose all ability to cook. It's weird but I can't make anything come out right even when I do the same things and follow (kind of) the recipe. This was what happened the Thanksgiving of 2007. I was very newly pregnant with Leo but didn't know it yet. I should have figured it out by the way my food tasted.

We had our neighbors over with their three girls. They'd never had a Thanksgiving dinner before so we wanted to share it with them. They said they enjoyed the food but they are nice. I do know that we all had a great time and everyone came up with something thoughtful to say when we went around the table with what we're thankful for that year. They are like family…they were our first friends here and helped us figure out a lot of the perplexing details in the beginning. I'm still thankful that we shared that day together. It makes it so much nicer to have someone over for the meal…it means that we can sit and linger over the dinner while the kids hop up and watch a Christmas movie.

Since the kids are in school on the day I have made pumpkin popovers for their classes to try. No one eats pumpkin in that way here…it's always savory, usually soup. And of course they don't learn about Thanksgiving at all. It seems important to give our kids an understanding of their American heritage. That year Sofia was in Sr. Infants which would be equivalent to Kindergarten at home. I took the popovers in to her teacher and she asked me to come back and say a few words about the holiday and what it means. I was delighted to do so and hoped not to embarrass my little girl. I printed out some turkeys and a prayer of thanks for them to color in and gave a little talk about Thanksgiving and how it is a celebration of coming together and appreciating our abundance. When I was done I asked them to tell me what they were thankful for. They all raised their hands and said things like, I'm thankful for my lunch and I'm thankful for my little sister. Sofia raised her hand and said, "I'm thankful for you." What more could you ever ask from a Thanksgiving?

Last year my mother came and we actually had Thanksgiving on the day. We took the kids out of school for the Thursday and Friday and enjoyed the presence of family.

Leo was a new baby and I was mostly wrecked. Mom and I cooked together and we had a wonderful meal but the best part was simply having her here. She held the baby, played with the big kids, and made me rest. When she left I cried--exhaustion and nursing hormones contributing to make the tears last most of the day. The next week we bought tickets home for Easter.

Tomorrow we have our final Thanksgiving in Ireland. Just finished the pecan cheesecake, dressing, prepping the turkey and green rice…

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Second Thanksgiving


The turkey. I used to always go to my local butchers, owned by Molloy brothers although the name of the butcher is Hayes….see previous posts for how this is common. On our second Thanksgiving I went in the week before to order my turkey. The thing is, the Molloy brothers only sell Irish turkeys and none of the turkeys named O'Grady, Butler or Ahern were fat enough yet. They still had a few weeks to enjoy life before sitting on Christmas tables all over Co. Wicklow.

It was this that sent me to the grocery store to find a fresh turkey, which I suppose came from the UK or somewhere and was not as fat as the Irish Christmas yokes. I got my bird in the end and it was fine if not Irish. The real problem was the ham. And it continues to be a problem for me still. They don't have beautiful spiral sliced HEB cooked hams with their pouch of glaze here. I love those hams. They are my favorite part of the Thanksgiving table and are perfect with green rice (broccoli-cheese rice), sweet potatoes, and ambrosia. I'm not a big fan of turkey so these things are Thanksgiving to me.

Before anyone says, 'wait, we have lovely hams and bacon here' I must tell you that yes, you do but they are just not the same. I don't like having to boil my ham, drain the water, wrap it in foil, cook it in the oven, apply the glaze halfway through and then finish cooking. It isn't spiral cut and it isn't what I think of as a ham.

We stayed here that second year and celebrated the day on Saturday rather than Thursday which has become our custom. Thanksgiving Thursday might be my loneliest day in Ireland. No one knows it's meant to be a special day…it's just a regular old Thursday. The kids go to school, Paul goes to work, I buy up all the potatoes, cream of mushroom soup, canned green beans, and cranberry sauce and no one seems to notice. Saturday is the day we feast. And by feast, I mean we sit at the table for 20 minutes and say what we're thankful for and then go back to watching football and Christmas movies.

It's more the day, the preparations, the atmosphere of celebration and rituals that make Thanksgiving so great. And we have been able to recreate that here on the Saturday after thanks to care packages with cornbread mix, French's fried onions, canned pumpkin, and Cheez-Whiz. We do miss you all, knowing that you're at the mall, going to the movies, and eating turkey, cranberry, and dressing sandwiches on white bread while you watch college football.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Day of Action

Today all Irish public workers were on strike. Although a more positive spin was put on it by calling it a squeaky clean, gung ho, 'day of action'. The issue, as is the case with most of these things, is heated. Those who called for today's picket lines did so because they believe that with all the cutbacks in government due to the recession, their salaries and pensions are carrying more of the burden than others. I am mostly ignorant of the differing views so cannot make any assertions but I can tell you what I heard on the radio and how the day of action affected me.

Public workers here are the same as at home, think postal workers and other government officials who have extreme job security and a nice pension at the end of your duty to your country and government. So far, so good.

From my miniscule knowledge the problems are these: 1) higher level officials of the government are not taking the same pay and pension cuts as the lower level people such as teachers, public health nurses, and the like 2) private workers who are losing their jobs due to the recession, while given huge 'redundancy' packages relative to the US, are not protected or compensated in the way the public workers and so they wonder, why complain??? at least you still have a job 3) is the same argument across the world and time eternal, it is why revolutions happen and it is this: why are the little people having to pay the bill for the 'fat cats' who got us into this mess in the first place (or something to that effect as I've heard ad nausea on both sides of the Atlantic since this whole thing blew up).

Now to how it altered my day…I can speak freely and from the heart here. My kids were home from school today and thankfully I don't have a job to get to and babysitters to arrange. You should know that it rained non-stop 100% of the day. You should also know that swine flu, or H1N1 as the politically correct US prefers to call it, is on the 'rampage' here at the moment and vaccinations are only being meted out in waves of most necessary first and anyway the public health clinics who do the shots were on strike.

Taking all these things into account you can understand why the following occurred today: the one and only, state-of-the-art, American style shopping mall was jammers. I went there because I couldn't go to the park or the seafront and I didn't want to expose my kids to wall-to-wall swine flu free for all at some play jungle. There are probably five to seven thousand parking spaces underground at this mall. At 12:30 this afternoon the entire red car park was full. The adjoining green car park was practically full but that did not stop us from sitting in an underground, ventilated traffic jam praying for a free space. My first thought was, recession? Someone should tell all these people. But then I realized that everyone was here for the same reasons as me. There was nowhere else to go.

We were all there with our kids in tow, prepared to slog through the mall instead of sit another day inside the four walls of the house while the kids bounced on the sofas and drove us demented. Better to release them onto the public and catch a break for a couple of hours. It was mayhem but the kids loved it. They took a notepad and wrote down their wish lists as we made our way through the enticing Christmas displays. They whinged because they wanted ice cream but for the most part they were actually quite exceptional. We got some family Christmas shopping done, long lists taken down, and killed 3 hours.

On the way home, the radio news told me that they are planning another 'day of action' for next Thursday. The kids are already off next Friday for an inservice day so that makes it a looooong weekend. Pray for better weather, at least no rain, and I can handle it. But I am totally fecked if it is lashing from the heavens and there's nowhere else to go but Dundrum.





Monday, November 23, 2009

The First Thanksgiving




Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that it isn't too commercialized, doesn't include buying gifts, and most of all that it is a day off to think about and appreciate our abundance and blessings. I love cooking all the basics, knowing most of them by heart…the smell of onions cooking away in butter, making cornbread and biscuits just to crumble them up for my mother's delicious dressing, and using more cream of mushroom soup and cheez-whiz than any other time of the year. The traditional sides at our Thanksgiving table are mostly carbs and mostly salty. I never noticed just how salty until we moved here and I stopped using canned soups and processed cheese except for once a year.

But that's getting ahead of myself.

Our first Thanksgiving here we spent in London. The kids were very young so school wasn't an issue as it is now. We flew off to London and saw all the sights--favorites being Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London. It was bitter cold and we got caught in a surprise rain shower in the middle of St James Park that sent us running for a black taxi. Sofia stopped traffic in her pink wool coat and Rowan was still at the difficult at restaurants age yet still managed to charm the waitress. Paul and I saw Guys and Dolls with Ewan McGregor as Sky Masterson in the West End on Thanksgiving Day. During intermission we toasted a couple from New York who were enjoying a Thanksgiving away from home as well and gave thanks for a very American production in the heart of London.

Of course when we came home that Saturday we still had to have the feast. I threw together a reasonable meal of turkey, ham and all the accoutrement. We watched Home for the Holidays before the kids got up as is our early morning tradition and I spent about 5 hours in the kitchen and 20 minutes at the table.

Paul suggested I write a post for each Thanksgiving spent here so look for Thanksgiving 2006 next.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Love thy Neighbor

Revenge is sweet. And funny. I know it sounds horrible and may shock some but I get a guilty pleasure when the pendulum swings. God forgive me.

The neighbors from the old house are the main reason we moved to the new house. They were in their mid-20s and had parties that began at 4 am and ended at noon the next day. They would play the same Beth Ditto and Rihanna songs over and over and whoop!; clacking and pounding through the wee hours. We were cool about it at first….glass houses, right? But after a couple of years it got old right along with me and Paul.

It became unbearable and precipitated the move when Leo was born. As you can imagine having a newborn and nightclub neighbors don't mix. I should point out that we tried many things to get it to stop. We asked them nicely, we asked the gardai (cops) to help us, we tried her mother, her uncle, her aunt. Nothing helped. Actually, it only made matters worse to know that nothing we did, none of our pleading, complaining, smartarsed commentary, or logged calls to the gardai station made any difference.

Now to the revenge part. I used to lay awake consoling a whimpering Leo while being driven demented by the incessant base line of pop favorites and say to myself: 'one day she will have a baby and think how could I have done that to that poor woman?!' Well, that day has come and sooner than I would have expected. She's pregnant and the partying days are behind them.

My new neighbors are all fabulous, bar one. We live in an estate, which just means it's a neighborhood of houses all connected with only one entrance and exit. It's lovely and there are kids on the road for ours to play with—they ride their bikes and scooters, play ball, invent their own chasing games and generally have a good time. There's just the one old crone who has made it clear that she isn't fond of kids playing in the road. Nor is she a fan of people who rent properties in her estate.

And in the way of karma, she's been served her cold dish. It is in the form of a teenage boy who…wait for it…plays the drums!!! He plays in the garage which shares a wall with her sitting room and every time I hear him I have to smile. And sometimes giggle. I may even buy him a small present.


 


 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gutted

Last night's World Cup Qualifying Match between Ireland and France was always going to be close. I listened to radio commentary yesterday prior to the match and everyone said how it would go to extra time, be down to penalty points, be to the wire. These predictions weren't far off but no one would have believed that France would win the coveted place in next summer's World Cup with a contentious goal.

Before you think that I'm some bizarre football fan, which I'm not, I will say that I usually don't give a hill of beans and am very good at tuning out the constant drone of every sport imaginable as Paul sits in front of the idiot box every weekend. I do thoroughly enjoy rugby and tennis but that's the extent of my sports on tele watching. As far as football (soccer) goes, it's my least favorite sport with its young, overly paid thugs and their nightclub parties complete with young women hired to be eye candy.

But I have to say that the drama and excitement of the World Cup draws me in. It may be to do with the fact that we spent our honeymoon in France when it hosted the 1998 tournament. Or the fact that it is something different when you're playing for an allegiance to your nation rather than the club with the highest salaries. And this year with the imminent move to France and my obvious feelings about Ireland, I was even more interested in which of the two countries would be going through than I would be normally. I was strangely torn between them and a part of me has to admit rooting for France just for the excitement of a 'local' team to support from my new home next summer.

So it was with this mild interest that I paid attention to the radio pre-game and switched back and forth from Edward and Twilight to the match. I went to bed at 1-0 for Ireland near the end of the match. When I spoke to Paul this morning, he's been away, I asked about the final score thinking that Ireland had probably pulled it out and were heading to South Africa.

As you probably know, that was not the case. Nor was the win without controversy. Thierry Henry admits to handling the ball while setting it up to his teammate for the winning goal in extra time. There is no instant replay in football and American football fans cannot conceive of a game where a winning touchdown was allowed to stand because the referee wasn't able to see an illegal play. But that's just what happened last night. There is public outcry for a rematch. Politicians are calling it disgraceful and every Irish radio program has devoted air time to the questionable qualifier winning goal.

The Irish don't really like to make a fuss. Nor are they terribly good at standing up for themselves. Ancient history. But it seems that this time they're not going to take it lying down. I wonder what will happen. Up Ireland!

http://www.rte.ie/sport/soccer/2009/1119/france_republic.html

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I’ve got a gra for ye


The thing I love about life is that you can always learn something new. New experiences, eye openers, and changes in my world view give me a buzz. While I was away in Geneva this past weekend I learned some things and was reminded of a few too.

I have a gra for travel, for being in new places, for learning new things. Some have a gra for someone, others a gra for chocolate cake, and some a gra for the past. Translated literally, gra means love in Irish. It also encompasses the romantic, ardent and desperate side of love--that of yearning, longing, and fervent desires.

Find your gra and hopefully you can satisfy it, achieve it, marry it.

I also learned about an English 80s band called Imagination. It was a 'one hit wonder' of a band as far as I can tell. The American equivalent being Tommy Tutone's "867-5309/Jenny" or A-Ha "Take On Me". The Imagination song is "Just an Illusion" in case you're interested. The funny thing about it is that the lead singer, Leee John, was spotted by my Geneva friends at a bar in France. We went to the bar ourselves on Saturday night and the Imagination album was on repeat. Sadly, Leee was only there in spirit.

I saw the jet d'eau on Lake Geneva, practiced some French, had the best lunch imaginable, and was impressed by Kirsten and her new life. Being in a new place requires that you see it not just cross it off your list of to dos. That's why you need someone who's living it to guide you and to share a bit of their daily life. Isn't that the point of this blog--to shed some light on the inane and every day?

Note: gra is meant to have a fada or ' over the a but I can't do it here and you pronounce it with a slight w sound, grawh.





Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Are you married?

In the past week I have been flirted with by two men—both Irish and both well into their 70s. As I stood in line at the grocery store with Leo in his perpetual perch in the buggy, the man behind me decided to chat me up. He was about 75, big and burly with a reddish, whiskery face and bushy eyebrows. His first question was "Are you married?" That's one way to start a conversation. Next was, "where in the States are you from?", rapidly followed by "deep in the heart of Texas". People have notions about things. Ireland is all sheep, Guinness, and rain. Texas is all snakes, tequila, and desert. Of course neither are more than generalizations of places that are many things plus those.

Back to Mr. Whiskers—he laughed and told me how he was supposed to play in a pub in Dallas once but didn't go; he remembered the name of the pub, McSomething's. As I paid and struggled to cram my purchases in the bottom of my buggy while Leo howled I thought, "Oh, yea, I'm one appealing mama." Right.

My other flirty septuagenarian is someone I've seen daily for the past 4 years. He never smiled or acknowledged me or the kids until about 6 months ago. This coincided with the sporting of a bright new button up shirt he wears with a tie, suit jacket and brown trousers. He walks somewhere every morning with a carrier bag and huffs his way along at a brisk pace.

So, he started saying good morning. That turned into a regular thing and in the past few weeks I've gotten the brightest, fullest smile you've ever seen. It really cheers me right up because it is so genuine.

And then on Sunday as I passed him on the way back home with my newspaper, we engaged in the regular greeting/weather commentary. Something like: Good morning. Good morning. Lovely mornin'. Yes it is. We're right to get out and enjoy it while we can. And then, the ultimate. One of the sweetest things any 'stranger' has ever said to me….."It's always a lovely morning when I see you", accompanied by his bright, boyish smile. Seriously. It almost made me cry. I guess it's not really flirty in the true sense, more like kind and innocently lovely.


 


 

Updates

An update on my post The King. Our local paper shared the news that he's won an award for best entertainer in Ireland. Congratulations!

Plus, I got my email update from babycenter.com yesterday and the topic was "becoming a young American". It was about teaching citizenship, social consciousness, and civic duty. I couldn't help thinking of my post about how the kids are Americans but with Irish experiences and how that's shaped them. I think we can be patriotic from afar, almost more so because the distance makes you idealize things. The land of conveniences and plenty looks pretty good when you're paying 20 euro for an organic chicken and hoofing it through sideways rain to go to the bank or post office.

In fairness, the grass is always greener.

We sing the National Anthem and America, the Beautiful at the top of our lungs in the car and always change the original God Save the Queen when watching football games. (sorry to any British I'm offending) Someone asked Rowan if he were to play rugby would he play for Ireland, America, or France. His immediate answer was America. That's a good place to start.


 


 


 

Friday, November 6, 2009

Me Lads and Lass

My kids are Americans but they have learned to be Irish. They were one and three when we moved here so it's to be expected. We talk about America, we visit and family visit us, and we get special packages of Cheetos, candy corn, Target dollar spot goodies, and Cap'n Crunch. These things are reminders of where they're from but what's real is where they are.

They use words like torch, jumper, biscuits, and jelly. That's flashlight, sweater, cookies, and Jell-O to you and me. They make fun of me for the way I talk. The long aaaaaas and one syllable words made into two…..bayundstayund and hayund. You'd think I stepped off the set of True Blood when in reality my accent is much more subtle since being here.

The other day Rowan came into the kitchen and said, "What's for dinner, so?" and he told Sofia to "cop onto herself". They also speak Irish. Real Irish, as far as I can tell, although I wouldn't know. There's a poem about a cat chasing a mouse and they know how to ask to go to the toilet, very cute but not very useful anywhere but here and only useful here for SAT equivalents. Sofia does a great impression of anyone speaking with an Irish accent. "I went to the shops wit' me ma." And we all say 'h' with a pronounced 'hah', haych. One of our favorite expressions is Janey Mac or Janey Maccers!!! It's like saying, "Holy Cow!!"

They go to public school which is Catholic so they pray to Holy God and Rowan thinks heaven is a pub. They also know more about Mary than I ever did. Sofia was Mary in her school Christmas play and Rowan was Joseph in his. It's funny because Leo was born here but he will be the least Irish of the three. We'll leave before he learns all the Irish ways. Although he did the bum shuffle instead of crawling so my friends joke that he's learning how to be Irish already.

They don't go through drive thrus, they play football not soccer, they skip not jump rope, and they walk to school in the rain. I would not change a thing. I hope that even if they can't remember most of these experiences when they're older they'll have an open mind and be curious about the world. Of course it could all go pear shaped and they could refuse to travel ever again. They'll probably want to come back here.


 


 


 

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Shepherd’s Pie

500 g mince lamb (ground lamb)

A couple of carrots, chopped

One onion, chopped

tomato paste

1 tin chopped tomatoes

Salt & pepper

Shhhh secret ingredient-- 1 tsp ground cinnamon

Frozen peas

Potatoes, mashed with butter and cream

Cheddar cheese, grated


Brown mince and drain excess grease. Remove from pan and cook carrots and onion until soft. Add cooked mince back to pan and squirt in one tablespoon of tomato paste. Season with salt & pepper and add cinnamon. Stir to combine and then add chopped tomatoes. Simmer away until you're nearly ready. While all this is happening you should be boiling your potatoes and then mashing them into creamy deliciousness with butter (preferable Kerrygold, buy it at Central Market) and cream. Throw in frozen peas at the end until they're bright green without the frozen look. Put it all in an ovenproof dish and cover with the potatoes and grated cheddar cheese.

Bake for 25 or so minutes at 350F, 190C, GM6. Cheese should be bubbly and brown.

Serve immediately with brown bread and butter, green salad, and Guinness or a red.

Note: if you use beef rather than lamb it's not shepherd's pie anymore, it's cottage pie. Cows used to live in cottages with their owners and sheep need shepherds.

Monday, November 2, 2009

In Hot Water, Revisited---Happy St Patrick's Day


The American/Irish comedian Des Bishop cannot be bested in his explanation of both the immersion tank and hot press. I will not attempt to compete and suggest anyone interested in living in Ireland have a look at his routine.


I will though tell you my own view of this strangest bit of Irish domestic life.


When we moved here in July of 2005 our lovely relocation agent met us at the house we'd rented and gave us a quick tour. She showed us the boiler and clucked about how good it was that we had a tumble dryer in the shed, made sure there was a clothes line, and above all showed us the: da, da, dum….Immersion Tank. 

It was in a cabinet or 'press' in the bathroom just over the tub and resembled an ancient piece of moonshine equipment wrapped in yellow insulation. It had two switches attached to it. 

One said 'SINK', the other 'BATH'. 
She went through a quick and mostly incomprehensible explanation about how you turn it to 'BATH' an hour or so before you want to bathe or shower and then you have to remember to turn it off again after.

And if you want hot water to wash dishes or clothes you have to turn it to 'SINK' but be sure not to leave it too long because it just wastes heat. Okay. Turn it on before, off after, halfway during….what?!

American hot water heaters are in a broom closet and you really never see them unless they break, the pilot light goes out, or you want to sweep. 

We don't turn them off and on and we certainly don't have conversations about how we need to get home because tonight is bath night and we have to get the immersion tank turned on. 

You want a bath, you turn on the faucet and the bath fills up…..with hot water.

The press that the immersion tank resides in is called the hot press. Hot enough to finish drying the clothes that won't dry on the line in the damp Irish weather. A friend dries the clothes on the line, finishes them in the dryer, folds them and puts them in the hot press and then puts them away in drawers. 
The hot press is valuable space in any Irish home. In an ignorant act of blasphemy, I just threw all our towels and extra razors and soap up there along with the scale and other detritus I didn't want laying around. I have to say the towels were always nice and warm after being in there even if they were crunchy from hanging on the line.

A very ingenious way around this whole immersion tank minefield is the electric shower. 

Electricity and water might not sound ingenious to you but somehow, very carefully I'm sure, it works. There is a switch in the ceiling with a cord that you pull, very similar to the 'emergency somebody help me nurse alert' in hospital bathrooms. 
When you pull it, on comes the electricity in this little hairdryer looking box inside the shower (again, I know) with on/off switches and temperature and water pressure controls.

I can't imagine going for anything less than 'high' for pressure as it is more of an American low but nonetheless, the choice is yours. Once you get it going, you have hot water for days. Stick the kids in there and you've conquered an hour of playtime and they come out pruney and squeaky clean.


Sadly, baths are not good. I have not managed to fill up the bath at either of my Irish houses because the hot water runs out before it gets even a quarter of the way full. Last night I tried to make up the difference with the electric shower but it took forever and wasn't really hot enough. I even added two kettles full of water and achieved a bit above tepid. Really. 


What a waste of heat and water; two of the ten Irish commandments broken in one single act.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Locked



When you're drunk you're 'locked'. And when you go out 'on the piss' you're having a 'session'.


Wednesday night I was all of the above. It started out very innocently with a grown-up dinner at 8. A reasonable few glasses of wine sipped with the 3 course meal of mushroom and leek soup and sea bass with tomato salsa followed by Toblerone cheesecake. See, grown-up. Something happened to me between the cheesecake and the bill. A session switch clicked in my head and I was on my second wind.


We stayed in the restaurant until they asked us to go downstairs to the pub. We stayed in the pub until they asked us to go outside to the late night bar. And we stayed there until they turned on all the lights and they asked us to go home.


I have always wondered where the expression locked comes from and I think I've gotten to the bottom of it. We used to have lock-ins at the skating rink where we would stay all night skating and playing games like who can make the best mummy with a roll of toilet paper. And the church youth groups have lock-ins to raise money for charities or church trips. A very different kettle of fish.


When we were in the pub portion of our evening they locked the front doors. This was common practice back in the days when pubs were mostly for men and rules were easily bent. The doors were locked, the few remaining regulars ensconced inside drinking the early morning hours away. Locked.


To leave the pub we had to follow a circuitous path behind some men of a certain age through a tiny Alice in Wonderland door and into the makeshift outdoor bar. This area is usually part of the restaurant but there must be some elastic regulation regarding where people can drink until late (or early) so they've industriously come up with a plan. So really it's the opposite of a lock-in now.


One more expression solved. I am getting such an education. You're welcome.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Autumn

Autumn is my favorite season in Ireland. You'd think that I would prefer the sunnier, longer days of summer but I just feel disappointed when it isn't as warm as 30+ years of Texas summers taught me it should be.

In the autumn it is windy and fresh and you can smell peat burning in fireplaces….a smell that is Ireland's own in its earthy smokiness. The leaves change and are blown off the trees in showers of yellow and wine by sudden gusts of fresh wind. Walking to school this past week we were pelted by nearly an entire tree's worth of leaves.

The wind makes everyone giddy, especially the kids. You can feel their energy go haywire as the wind whips them into a gleeful frenzy. Hair blows around heads in crazy swirls, eyes water and noses run, and giggles and screams compete with the whipping wind. It is a terrific feeling. I imagine they feel as though they could jump into a gust and fly to school. Or maybe that's just how I feel!

One of the strangest things about living so far above the equator is the huge variance in length of days. In spring and summer the days get gradually longer, peaking to more than 20 hours of sun on the summer solstice. The nights don't get fully pitch black until after 2am and the dawn begins to break by 5 in the morning. Of course it isn't full on bright sun at midnight, but it is twilight bright. When my stepdad Joe visited one summer he joked that he was getting a 2 for 1 vacation because the days lasted so long.

There are two sides to every story and this sunlight thing isn't an exception. As you would imagine fall and winter are on the opposite end of the sunlight spectrum. It starts gradually. The night starts to come sooner and before you know it what was a 7 o'clock dusk has become 5 o'clock. Then the time changes and it is dusk at four. Paul is always amazed at how low in the sky the sun is at its noontime peak. We went to Seattle once in October and were freaked out by this same thing never thinking that we would move here and come to love these early nights.

I love early darkness because it forces us to slow down and come inside. We have a proper sit down dinner together with the slow chat that's not possible in fast-paced summer when the kids are on the road riding bikes until after 7. I make things that take all day to cook but only a half hour to prepare and we drink red wine or Guinness and indulge in brown bread and proper butter. You cannot drink Guinness when it's warm outside, (warm being relative of course) unless you're on holiday and have been caught in a sudden shower and forced into the nearest pub.

Here I sit, warm in my fleece pullover and fuzzy socks, watching the wind bend the trees, and looking forward to a night in with the curtains drawn, all of us cozied up together.




Friday, October 16, 2009

The King


Elvis is alive and well. I pass him every morning on my way home from the school run. It's old Elvis and he spends the day at the coffee shop on the Main Street, smoking. He has lamb chop sideburns and wears big, gold, dark-tinted sunglasses. 

I'm sure his nights are spent sweating through sparklebilly jumpsuits and crooning his heart out. I have no idea where he performs but I'd love to know. He seems nice enough and offers up a grunty greeting as we pass one another. 

Sinead O'Connor used to live here and you'd see her playing with her kids in the park. She never spoke and seemed terribly shy. She moved because 'Bray is full of weirdos'.
Bono lived in the Martello tower. A true tower built in 1800s to protect the then British empire. A line of them were built along the Eastern coast of Ireland and Western coast of England and Wales. Some of them are still tourist attractions, others are privately owned and have been renovated into residences. He even wrote a song about Bray's promenade. He lives north of here now but you can still spot him in the local pub, always wearing his signature sunglasses. 

Booker prize winner, Anne Enright lives near the park. She is known for updating her kitchen with the winnings her book, The Gathering, earned her. 

And Jonathan Rhys-Myers was made to stay here during the filming of this last installment of The Tudors so he'd be close to the studio and allegedly not get into any trouble. I wonder if he ever spent an evening at The Koo, a dance club where propositions are very direct and to the point. 

Back to Elvis. He's the real celebrity here. He is out among the regular folk, walking around, saying hello, patronizing local business and spending his evenings entertaining.

Should I offer him a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Home

Going through Passport Control at Dublin airport Tuesday night I headed to the Non-EU passports line with my blue US passport and my Garda identity card open and ready for stamps and viewing. The immigration officer on duty was smiling and chatty (they usually are which is nice) and asked how was my trip. "I'm glad to be home" was my immediate response. It took me by surprise because when I'm in Ireland I always think of Texas as 'home'.

It's strange to straddle home and away…one leg in Ireland and the other stretched way across the Atlantic and most of the States. It can make you feel unmoored and wonder, where is home really? It is also liberating. Being far away from what you are to others allows you to find out who you are for yourself.

Homesickness usually happens around holidays or when someone is sick or when you feel like an outsider all of a sudden. But worse than that is when you wonder if you even want to go back. I was thumbing through a magazine this week that highlighted Austin and felt weird when I realized that I didn't know either of the places mentioned. Now I'm an outsider in my own town.

You can miss a place, a restaurant, a town; but those things are transient. Seeing Abby and Kristin gave me a shot of happiness and reminded me that distance doesn't matter a bit. It's the people that matter and they will always be there.

Just after the "I'm glad to be home" came "I'm excited to see my family". People again. My people. The five of us are my home. Half of our things are in boxes in my mother's attic and the other half are in boxes here, behind the playroom sofa and under the stairs. This house is nice but it's not mine at all. It feels like a corporate let with its patterned sofas, ugly art, and nondescript paint colors. It is home solely because it is where we are.

With the move to France we are about to be even more upside down but we are the one sure thing. After this we'll see. Maybe the bricks and mortar will be in France. Or maybe we'll find our way back to the States. It doesn't really matter as long as we have each other.

I am glad to be home.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Paul, my Pillar

A flu by any other name would smell as bad. It isn't confirmed but the baby and I have been undercut by something suspiciously porcine. Or it could have been just the regular stomach flu. Who knows?! What isn't up for debate is that we were/are sick.

The timing is impeccable and I am very thankful that I will be brave enough to soldier on for my long weekend in Florence with Texas' best girlfriends, Kristin and Abby. At least that is the plan. Today isn't as horrible as yesterday and I have until Thursday morning to recover. Of course, my main concern now is who is going to pick up the pieces if (pray not) Paul is felled.

I will not be here to let him sit in the shower floor crying and shivering as scalding hot water rains down. I will not be here to let him lie in a puddle with the hot water bottle, covers tucked up to the neck and sleep for hours on end. I will not be here to dress, feed, make lunches, take to school, tend to Leo, pick up from school, do homework, feed, bathe, entertain and finally, blissfully put the kids to bed. What will happen? We don't have grandparents to come to the rescue. Luckily, we do have friends. He will have to ask for help and I will feel even more guilty as I swan around Florence free from all the above.

Please, please let Paul stay well. At least until I get home. Then it can all come unraveled and I will be able to handle it. He wouldn't entertain the idea of me not going because what would happen if I stayed and he didn't get sick? He would have to go around drinking from my teacups and powerade bottles to ensure it if I stayed. And that wouldn't be good for anyone. No, I can't cancel.

Not least of all for the fact that we had a crisis with the flight tickets for one of the Texans this morning. We all rallied and came up with a solution so we could be there together. I don't want to miss this trip. I feel like a 2 year-old stomping my foot and clenching my fists against anything ruining my fun. We've been planning for 5 months and we will all be there.

Clerical errors and pandemics be damned! I have a date with David.


 


 

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Small Stuff




Paul is at home. In Austin. And we are all four still here. In Ireland.



I am sad.



This morning I came downstairs to make my coffee and just wish that I had my Krups coffee maker set on a timer with the welcoming good morning sound of coffee brewing away. Instead I have to, in my sleepy stupor, do as I have done for 4 years now and:

  • fill up the electric kettle with fresh water
  • pop it on to make the boiling start
  • monitor its progress because this kettle is crap and always pops up before it's finished
  • fill the once quaint French press coffee maker with grounds—heaping tablespoons full
  • wait for it…..
  • pour boiling water over grounds, stir and press
  • finally enjoy a cup of coffee; but only two because that's all you can make at one time.
Don't sweat the small stuff, right? But you know what? It's always the small stuff that breaks you. It's the cumulative small stuff, stacked one on top of the other that finally tumble and AHHHH!!! I lose it!

Like John Travolta said in Pulp Fiction, 'it's the little differences'. Electric kettles, crappy dryers, no school bus, no school hot lunch, no drive-thru pharmacy or fast food or bank, needing a euro for a grocery cart, xenophobic neighbor, expensive marshmallows and no Velveeta!

Ok, the coffee has kicked in. I feel better. Paul is still in Austin but I guess he is sad like he says. It's his birthday tomorrow and he'll be alone, he has to sit in meetings all day, he's jetlagged. But, he does get to eat some Tex-Mex, go through the Wendy's drive thru if he likes, feel the warm fall air through the open car window and get his free birthday pitcher of beer at the Crown.






Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Eurotrash

Trash is cash here in Ireland. If you want to make some big bucks privatize garbage (rubbish) collection. When we moved here there seemed to be only one company monopolizing the rubbish cash cow…Green Star which is inexplicably all done up in purple. It was really confusing to me at first and I'm sure we were totally fleeced because we didn't understand the logistics of it. Everyone said to get a wheelie bin but we didn't really know what that meant or how to do it. Sounds silly now but it was all so new!

In Texas you pay the city to take your garbage away and with that they provide you with a really big wheelie bin (garbage can) and a blue plastic recycling box for all your bottles, cans and paper. The fee is on your general utilities bill and you barely even notice it at all….or at least I didn't. When I was growing up in East Texas you could drive yourself out to the dump and get rid of your trash. You would just throw all the black Hefty bags right in the back of the pickup and be on your way. We used to ride back there in the bed of the truck to keep it from blowing around and I'm sure kids still do.

Here, if you don't have a contract that includes a wheelie bin you have to buy these purple sacks from the 'news agent' for 6 euro a pop and cram all your crap in. And then you have to buy a clear one of these for recycling at around 4 euro. Our first week here we had 4 purple sacks out on the path come trash day. One of our neighbors asked how we could have so much rubbish and said we must be rich to be able to afford it. I know now that I would think the same thing. 24 euro a week for Greenstar rubbish sacks adds up to a lot of green….hey maybe that explains the name.

Now might be the appropriate time to mention the litter. It is a problem here and it doesn't take a genius to discover why…it is free to ditch your shite. Even better if you can cram it into someone's wheelie bin on rubbish day, or just fill up black bags and leave them next to someone's purple ones and maybe they'll get picked up too. Not a chance….mice will though.

When the mice showed their appreciation for our plastic rubbish bags we got wise. By that time, a couple of new companies came onto the scene with competitive pricing. One of them is called Eurowaste, which always makes me chuckle and to which the title of this post eludes, and another is Access. We chose the latter and they delivered one big black bin for our rubbish and one big green one for the recycling. No glass though, we still secret all our wine bottles away in a plastic tub and Paul takes them to the bottle bank when it gets too embarrassing.

The lovely people at Access come every Wednesday and happily remove our refuse and recycling to someplace unknown. Thank goodness for them. I heard that all the recycling from Europe is actually dumped in a landfill in China and not recycled at all but I hope that isn't true. I haven't been washing out all those shampoo and yogurt containers for nothing. And it does make me feel a bit sad when I think of the dump days and all that used up junk buried underground all over the world.

Just think of all that money. Greenstar thanks you.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Irish Sea



The promenade and sea were what first lured Paul and me here when we were house hunting 4+ years ago. We sat on one of its stone benches with their curlicue iron backs and imagined a life here. We have had more than we expected and have come to know and love being on the prom in all its seasons. One of our running jokes is George Costanza's 'the sea was angry that day' from Seinfeld. And my beloved Kristin had to eat crow for making fun of my use of the word 'sea' when she realized it is actually a sea and I wasn't being pretentious in calling it one.

I live 2 minutes from the promenade and can see the parallel of the horizon, sparkling green/grey water churning with foam or still and smooth as glass, from my bedroom window. It is ever-changing but constantly beautiful. And has the bizarre power to make me feel ok even on the saddest, most homesick, windblown and cold day.

The sea is Bray's natural Eastern border and Bray Head stands proudly at the Southern end of the mile long promenade. The Wicklow Mountains to the West form a jagged necklace surrounding the town as it lies beside the water.

In the summer it's warm and crowded with people from all over coming to enjoy the festival and carnival rides. They sit on grass up against the benches that form the promenade wall to shelter from the wind while sunning themselves. And they spread towels on the stony sand and plunge into the cold water, laughing and shouting to one another. It can be too busy at times and most people who live here try to stay away. Brown paper bags with the detritus of fish and chips litter the path and overflow from the black metal rubbish bins while magpies and black crows feast. Ice cream blobs and worse splatter the pavement. The town council's cleanup crew push past with their mobile wheelie bins sweeping and tidying as they go only to have to face it all again the next morning.

Autumn brings a slower pace and less of a crowd but the many Spanish and Italian students here to study English troll the promenade in clusters of skinny jeans, scarves, and Converse; most probably freezing in the fresh Irish air. Days grow shorter and the sun hangs lower in the sky while the sea moves through shades of grey. The locals return to walking their dogs, enjoying their exercise, and stopping for a chat or morning greeting. It might be my favorite of all times at the sea…not the buzz of summer or the bitter cold and dark of winter.

By 4 o'clock on a winter afternoon it is darker than dusk. The night sensor lights, very modern in their Victorian surroundings, come on to shed a bit of brightness onto the committed walkers, layered in fleece and windbreakers against the cold. The sea can barely be seen but you can hear it churning and crashing against the stones and boulders on the shore. It used to come right up to the promenade railings with their red balls atop blackish-blue posts, but they brought in loads of stones to hold it back and prevent flooding and erosion. There is a wild restlessness to the sea in winter. Maybe it is only me, wishing for warmth, feeling confined and cold in the freezing wind of this island.

Spring comes very slowly. I long for it and find this to be the hardest time of year. The St Patrick's festival plants itself along the prom and for two weeks surrounding March 17th, people flock back to ride the Crazy Mouse, the carousel, and inexplicably a water raft roller coaster where you are guaranteed to get soaked and frozen in 30F degree temperatures.

The kids love to climb around on the huge boulders jutting out into the water. They call it 'bouldering'. It is interesting to see how they've become more accomplished as they've aged. They jump from rock to rock singing and shouting, reveling in the freedom they feel unleashed on the boulders, water spraying up like the opening scene in Grease. We will miss it so much, all of us. It is the most accessible place, free to everyone, refreshing, beautiful and constant in its changeable permanence.

























You Betcha!


 

There are betting shops on nearly every corner, with people standing around outside smoking and palming tickets. It's Nicely, Nicely and friends in Guys and Dolls with their wagers and high hopes, without the bowler hats and wingtips. Their shop windows boast odds and payouts and whatever other promises that if you bet with them you will hit pay dirt. You can walk right in and put your hard-earned or hardly earned, whichever the case may be, euro down on a horse, a football team, a cyclist, you name it. Gambling is big business here and in England just as it is at home with the exception of being readily accessible no matter where you are…not just in Vegas, on Indian reservations, or on boats floating in the Mississippi.

Paddy Power is a big one and you may laugh at the name, but believe it or not Paddy is a real person. He wears fancy suits with colorful ties and has a slick hairdo. His last name is indeed Power. He was destined to own a large chain of betting shops across the Republic and UK. Another ironically named betting outlet is Ladbrokes. I don't know if you actually pronounce it lad broke but I think you do. It's all in the name fellas…..it does what it says on the tin.

There are also gambling halls, called Amusements where the women usually go. You don't really see many women in the betting shops so fair's fair…they have the amusements. I think there are slot machines in there and definitely games tables. All I really know is there are at least two in this small town and if you look carefully on the ground as you pass them in the evening or early morning you're nearly guaranteed to find a bob or two. We found a 20 after dinner and I found a fiver the other morning on my jog. 25 euro in 2 weeks with no money down….now that's a payout.


 

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Peanut Butter


The Irish don't get peanut butter. They find it revolting at worst and strange at best. Who could imagine childhood without a pb&j in your lunchbox?

Yesterday, I made Rowan a peanut butter and honey sandwich cut neatly into little squares and smushed like only I can smush (it's a gift). He ate it all but said that everyone at his table looked at it and said 'EWWW!'. Good on him for eating it anyway I say. But come on, really? Ewww?! First of all, how can you even tell what it is when it's all smushed and neatly squared and second of all it's not like it was pureed broccoli and peas with hummus on pita for God's sake!

Guess you could add peanut butter into the Marmite and liver debate. There's just all different kinds of people out there and we have to accept those differences no matter how strange they are for not liking peanut butter. Sorry, Annabel an any other offended peanutbutteraphobes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What the feck?

It may surprise you to know that 'feck' isn't a bad word. Certainly not like its country cousin with the 'u'. It's a nuance of language here that a word can be made appropriate for general conversation just by changing a letter. One of the first times I heard feck was when a friend, a very serious and exemplary mother by all standards, used it in conversation with the kids within earshot. She would never have said you know what instead as that would be improper. Shite is another example of this. Add the 'e' and you can say it all day long.

There's also a national obsession with talking about fairness. You hear constant refrains of 'in fairness', ' to be fair', 'fair play to ya'. Usually the first two are given as excuses when someone is complaining about something or to soften the blow when things don't go your way. For example, a certain airline loses your luggage after a missed connection and a day at the airport with 3 kids and when you complain….'in fairness we all travel and have had this happen' or 'to be fair, you're not the only ones this happened to'. This is very unhelpful as it makes no difference whether someone else's luggage was lost last week because I have no clean knickers right now! You'll get 'fair play to ya' when you've done something well or succeeded at something surprising; like if you complained about your lost luggage and they upgraded you to business class for the long-haul flight. (Unfortunately that's not what happened).

One of my favorites is 'come here'. Let me explain. When (usually) women are talking and there's something needing emphasis or to change topics or to subtly break off from the conversation they say come here. The first few times I heard it I thought I was supposed to step closer. "But I'm standing right next to you now." I would think. 'Come here' is often accompanied by 'and wait 'til I tell ya'. This means gossip and it's probably going to be good. The 'come here' when it's time to keep walking or hang up the phone is like this, "So, come here, where're ya off ta?" or "So, come here, I'll see you at half two".

So, come here, here's a list of some Irishisms and their meanings. Please feel free to amend or add your own as I'm sure not to remember them all.

Yer man/woman—that guy/lady

Ye—ya'll or you guys

Eejit—idiot

Fillum—film/movie

Cop onto yourself—get a grip

Twig—figure something out

Straightaway—right now

Footpath—sidewalk

Make strange—stranger anxiety, for babies

Bold—naughty

Rubber—eraser

Rub out—erase

Thanks a million/mill—thanks

Messages—groceries

Plasters—band-aids

Suncream—sunscreen

Wagon—a bi*ch


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Generosity, Not Luck


 

The Irish have a world-wide reputation for many things. The famine, the troubles, drinking, and luck are all well known. But the truest generalization I can make about the Irish I know is that they are generous.

Any of my friends would give me their last onion if I needed one for my dinner just as quickly as they would buy me an impromptu coffee if I didn't bring my purse on the school run. Equally, they offer to do favors without blinking an eye. There is an understanding that we are all there for each other. The idea is that what you give will always come back to you. Instant karma. The worst thing you can be here is 'mean' or cheap.

We first realized it when we threw a Halloween party. We said, bring the kids and we'll have chili and hot dogs, plus games and candy and all the American stuff that goes with Halloween. Every couple brought either a bottle of wine or beer. It was incredible. We had like 5 bottles of wine at the end of the evening and that was with drinking it during the party. Others brought bags of treat sized candy in addition to the booze. That's when it dawned on me: you don't go anywhere without bringing something. It sounds strange to me even thinking that's a new idea because it's been so ingrained since being here.

Of course at home when there's a party we offer to bring something or to help with the food…don't we? I really can't remember but surely we do right? It is really lovely how when you're invited to someone's house for tea or a coffee morning everyone brings something. Usually biscuits (cookies), sometimes flowers and even crisps (chips) if there are going to be kids around. It is just what's done. No one would ever dream of showing up at a house empty handed. And if it's a Friday afternoon during the summer someone will bring wine, but don't let that get out.

I could never give enough examples to convey the generosity I have received here. There is a generosity of time, spirit, money, love and laughter that cannot be matched. I can say that I have received many gifts here; none as valuable as the lesson on how to give.

So, thank you. For lunch today, for sharing school collections, for texts, for tea, for cakes, for laughter and above all, for friendship.


 

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dirty Laundry


 

Would you consider hanging your laundry or 'washing' out on a line to dry? Why not? Texas has the perfect weather for drying washing. Sheets, knickers, and vests would be dry in no time almost any day of the year. Why, because we just don't. There are things called dryers for that sort of thing….nice manmade machines that roll the clothes around in a heated drum and toss out all the wrinkles and damp. Don't be silly!

One of my first nights out with new friends provided me with an insight into what a spoiled life I actually had with my tumble dryer over in TX. And quite frankly, how wasteful it was. One friend said her Dad came over while she had the tumble dryer on and made her come out with him and look at the electric meter, oh how it spins! Think of all that money wasted on drying clothes when you have a perfectly nice day for hanging out the washing. Another said she'd never had a tumble dryer. Ever. She has 3 small children. Just think of that, not forgetting of course that Ireland isn't known for having the sunniest, driest weather. She has one now but really it isn't so odd that she didn't. They don't really use them over here.

The second most popular topic of polite conversation is the washing. If you've hung yours out yet, what a good day it is for hanging washing, better get the washing in the weather's changing.

In the old house we had a tumble dryer. It just didn't really work very well. It wasn't like the ones I was used to with the filter poking out of a vent in the side of the house for the steam to escape through. Instead it had a tray in the bottom, not unlike one of those freezer trays filled with water or that strange blue stuff that you put in a cooler, where all the water from the clothes would go. I always wondered how the water got there. Anyway, this water thing would fill up periodically and have to be taken out of the dryer and emptied. I'd stand out in the cold in my robe and flip-flops pouring used clothes water into the bushes. And for all that, the clothes still wouldn't get totally dry. Not that nice fluffy bury-your-face-in-the -towels dry. This contributes to bitterness.

Another option is to hang your clothes all over the house on drying racks and in the hot press. What's a hot press? A press is a cabinet and it's the hot one because it has the immersion tank in it. An immersion tank being the hot water heater. More on that another day. So, in the winter and early spring when most days are cold and wet and not fine days for hanging the washing, one must decorate the house with it. Our kitchen eating area used to be the drying area, not very good feng shui I found out because that was our money corner and it is not good to have your money corner cluttered.

With all of that I do have to admit that I loved hanging out all of Paul and Rowan's white undershirts in a perfect row along the clothesline. It made me feel very organized to see them all lined up like sails or bunting at a picnic. And sheets are especially nice dried on a line. But I would never iron them. My neighbor asked me one day if I was always ironing because of how often I washed the sheets. "What?!?" , I asked, stunned, "iron the sheets?" I'd never heard of such a thing. I send work shirts to the cleaners so I don't have to iron them for crying out loud. No way, never, not a chance will you ever catch me ironing sheets!

I have to admit my horrible, lazy secret here. In the new house we have a perfectly lovely, carbon bigfoot print, meter spinning like Christmas Vacation tumble dryer and I use it with reckless abandon. Sweet, sweet joys of life.

Thursday, September 10, 2009