Tuesday, September 29, 2009


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



Cop onto yourself—get a grip

Twig—figure something out

Straightaway—right now


Make strange—stranger anxiety, for babies



Rub out—erase

Thanks a million/mill—thanks




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

Weather Report

The weather is a constant topic of conversation around here. It has to be really as it is such a factor in our lives here on an island on the edge of the Atlantic. A day can be made or lost depending on the state of the weather. "Lovely day", "Blustery day", "Fresh mornin'", "Dreadful weather" are all common greetings as you pass people along the road. If it is a lovely, fresh day you'll hear constant refrains of 'long may it last' and 'please God' and if the weather is rotten the talk is always about how it's meant to be nice again next week. A weather report in the paper or on the radio can be comical. There was once one that said, and this is absolutely the truth, something like: "sun in the east, blustery across most of the country with a slight chance for thunderstorms and gale force winds, possible chance of sleet, hail or snow".

The amazing part about this weather obsession is how quickly we all forget. Today for instance is a gorgeous, sunny and warm day (highs are probably 62 degrees F) and no one remembers that it was raining nonstop on Sunday. We are all thankful for the moment when it comes to the weather. It is truly a case of enjoy the here and now because it could be lashing from the heavens again this afternoon. The kids go by the old saying, 'red skies at night, shepherds' delight. Red skies in the morning, shepherds' warning." And it really does seem to hold true. Same goes for a terrible day like last Sunday. It has never been more miserable, wet, dreadful as it is at that time and how can we live in such a country with such weather, etc. Then the blustery wind blows the rain clouds over to Wales or into the vast Atlantic and everything is rosy again.

To that point, there is a certain mania that comes with really good summer weather. It is so fleeting yet so absolutely perfect when it is the height of a good summer here that everyone goes a bit loopy. Running around in tank tops and sundresses, fleeing to the sea and jumping into the freezing water like it's the Caribbean, and mass purchasing of barbeque meats, beer, and suncream are common side effects of a good Irish summer. There is a wonderful camaraderie in the air along with the warmth; we are all happy and smiling and hopeful, long may it last.

You know that Waterboys song that goes, 'your love feels like high, high summer'? (If not, have a listen it's a really pretty song.) Well, it used to not make sense at all to me, being from Texas where summer temperatures can reach 100+F/40+C. How could high summer be good to compare to a beautiful love? It is oppressive and miserable and gives you the horrible crotch sweat…that's what I used to think. But now I get it. High summer in Ireland or Scotland where the Waterboys are from (I think) is one of the most gorgeous and perfect things on this Earth. It is green, beyond green, and everything is in hypersharp focus, filtered through the brightest, clearest sun. There is a soft breeze to keep you cool and endless blue sky over a glass smooth sea of deep blue and shades of gray and green.

You know it will be a fine day when you can smell the sea….a salty, sharpish, smell like your true love's sweet sweat in high summer.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Four years gone. How have my ideas of the world changed? Ireland has become simply where we live with everything that goes with that. We know people to stop for a chat on the street, we can find our way around our little town even understanding all the dual named places and what it means for something to be 'at the top of the hill', we have friends who we regularly meet for the kids to play, a coffee, a drink, dinner and a gripe session. It is where I live, what I do, and how I view life. I see things from two angles now; as an American in Ireland and as an American IN Ireland…where the American is blurred and I see home from a different perspective. It is odd how you learn things. It kind of seeps into your consciousness and changes your viewpoint without you realizing you're changing. Not that I've undergone some dramatic alteration, that would be overstating it, but I have begun to take things for normal that at first seemed different and new..…things that would seem quaint, mystifying, and strange if we were only visiting tourists.

I think back to those first exciting, confusing and lonely months here. In my mind I documented all the new details, trying to incorporate them into my life. Details like paying for parking at a parking box within a shopping center to go to the grocery store, using a euro coin to borrow a shopping cart or 'trolley' (the first time I did it there was an attendant at the trolleys who saw me coming, obviously out of my element and taking pity, simply rolled me a trolley freed from its chains, I naively thought was how it was always done), taking your own shopping bags for your groceries and SACKING your own groceries as the somewhat surly, definitely bored, person at the cash register sat (yes, sat…they have chairs here) not entirely patiently as I struggled to stow away my purchases with my cranky 3 and 1 year old embarrassing me by seeming so darn loud. And that was just the grocery store.

People walk an awful lot here and everything is measured in how many minutes it takes to walk from point a to point b. And there is usually a hill involved. So, if the shop (grocery store) is around 5 blocks away you'd be told, "the dunnes stores is just a 3 minute walk". Or for directions to the school you'd be told, "just through the town and up the hill". No one uses street names when giving directions either. It's place names and hills and minutes that serve as markers. Which is not very handy when you don't know the area. And everything seems to have more than one name. It's like they keep calling places by their previous names as well as by the new one, figuring it out is like peeling back layers of old paint. For example, there's a pub commonly known as Jackie's but the name on the outside is O'Driscoll's. No one calls it that so you have to sort of know. Best of luck.

In retrospect I can also see how I must have appeared to them. In the beginning I just kept smiling and trying to ingratiate myself with the people I would regularly see. The smiling was probably seen as weird. Why is this strange girl always smiling at us? was probably whispered among the older neighbors I would pass on my way out to the shops. Most of my neighbors were older and they would pass by with a nod of the head. When we got here I had a big red jogging stroller for Sofia and Rowan. One of the selling points of the town and location of our house was the proximity to the sea. And the mile long Victorian era promenade along it. It is perfect for a jog and that was the potential I saw when I first laid eyes on it. People are always walking along it, kids ride their small bikes on it even though the ground is painted periodically with 'no cycling' in big yellow letters, dogs run and chase and it is the center of the St Patrick's and summer festivals every year with amusements and rides erected for weeks on end. All of this yet no one really jogs, especially women. You have your occasional guy or two pounding by the walkers and you will sometimes see a woman jogging but it is definitely not the norm. And then there was me. With big red. And shorts! Taking up so much space plowing up and down the mile long promenade, smiling. Always smiling. My friends now who would see me back then like to joke about how I was so alien in my shorts with tanned, Texas sun legs, running along behind my big red stroller with the two kids.