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.