Thursday, September 16, 2010

Miss Emerald Isle

Today is cleaning day. And to make it more fun for myself I like to turn on the music and dance like Hank Azaria in The Birdcage. Today as I swept and the Baby followed me around with the dustpan, the Chieftains began to play. And their resonant fiddles and Gaelic rhythm pulled me in, transported me to another place, blew sound through the tiny hollow left from leaving Ireland.

I did not expect to miss the small, green island so much. To be honest, I couldn't wait to leave the constant chill and grey skies. I longed for sun and warmth and now I've found them. I just didn't know how warm all my Irish friends made me....all the tea, laughter, talking, talking, talking.
Being taken back this morning made me remember what unique joy there is in rushing into a warm, dark, pub from the frigid cold of outside; shedding coats and scarves, warm greetings beckoning, cheeks flushed from the wind, sitting down to a pint of Guinness.

I love it here in France, no question, and there are things here that are just as lovely in their own way. We all know them and you've heard countless people rhapsodize about them. And this is because they're true.

But what is also true is the love of good friends, the common misery of braving cold, slicing rain, the richness and sadness of the music when it's sung and played genuinely in a small pub, and laughter that fills your eyes.

I'm homesick for you Ireland. Homesick. It's true.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

Happy Easter.

Today is Good Friday as most of you know. It's one of the few days we get off school in the States but most other places of business are open.

Not so in Ireland. It's the one day of the year that all pubs, off-license (liquor stores), and any restaurant that sells alcohol of any kind is closed. It's a 'dry' Holy Day.

I tell you this because I found it so odd and also because it shows you how seriously the Irish government, Irish Church, and correct me if I'm wrong, but most Irish in general, take Good Friday.

It is a day of mourning and redemption. Of being repentant and thankful. On my first Irish Good Friday, Paul was off work. We went out with some American friends to lunch and were astonished to find that every pub and restaurant were closed for business, even though it was a perfectly rare and gorgeous Friday in March. We ended up eating at a sandwich shop and twigged it when we tried to order wine with lunch. 'No drink on Good Friday.' So it was.

Turns out that particular Friday was the most drunk I ever was in Ireland. We went to the corner shop, bought all their limes and went to our friends' house for margaritas. Lethal. Sitting in the fading afternoon, overlooking Dalkey Island from floor to ceiling windows, the tequila went to our heads. The walk back to the train station, meandering down the hills at dusk, I imagined all the penitent souls peeking at our debauchery through lace covered windows.'Ya just don't drink on Good Friday, sure ya don't.'

It was because of this that I was shocked to hear that the Irish government were considering loosening the Good Friday rules on pubs this year. The reason is that a national rugby match, Munster v. Leinster for those of you who are interested,  is to be played tonight. Just think of all the money not spent, euros not pumped back into the struggling economy if the pubs were to be closed today. Looks like Limerick got an exemption for the day and this incredible move even made US news.

Is this a slippery slope? I only wish I could be in Ireland next week to hear the talk; on the news, radio, and streets of town.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Night Music

Les grenouilles have been treating us to an evening symphony.

It's been many years since I've lived far enough from people populated areas to enjoy nature's sounds. For being so quiet, it's really quite loud.

I love the songs of the birds, the neighing of the horse next door, have even gotten used to Monsieur Coq and his hourly reveille and now the frogs have begun their courtship rituals.

The sound is fantastic—a deep, throaty croaking, calling out to princesses everywhere, 'Donnez-moi un bisou!'

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rose Colored Glasses

When you're somewhere new there are so many things to figure out. Even in English it can be challenging to know the norms and customs of a place—which is the best grocery store, where's the post office, where do you find a bike rack for the car? Now put all this in French and it becomes even more challenging and, to me, more exciting and fun. Well, on a good day.

So, you create this filter to get through all the newness, just to manage the essentials and maybe have a bit of personal connection there too. The grocery store has been fairly straight forward. I know the context of the checkout situation. You smile, say hello, and frantically pack your groceries to avoid impatient tuts from those in line behind you. Same in Ireland. Then, you hear the total spent, here it's said at rapid speed but I'm trying to figure it out without looking, you pass over your cash or laser card, smile again and say goodbye. This is easy enough. Last week I even got the courage to ask for a carte de fidélité. It was so gratifying to be understood and to communicate. I am now a proud and loyal card carrying Carrefour customer.

La Poste had me totally intimidated. I don't know why except maybe for the memory of being on honeymoon and being cut in line a few times and then not being able to figure out how to get a stamp for my postcard. Post offices in general kind of freak me out…..make of this what you will.

Anyway, I had to mail some things and kept putting it off. The word for stamp, le timbre, kept eluding me. It doesn't have a similar root or sound to it like some other words. For example, ascenseur is elevator and that makes sense; you ascend, elevate, are lifted. So working up my nerve and having Sofia help me repeat, "Je voudrais un timbre, s'il vous plait', we headed in, Leo bumping up the stairs in the buggy and the two big kids under threat of something awful if they embarrassed me.

It turned out to be easier than I'd thought. There was a line with people sizing each other up, wondering who was the weakest and therefore most easily queue jumped. But there was also a very nice machine where you can weigh and appropriately stamp your post. I was staring at it, trying to decipher which region I needed when Sofia suggested, 'Mommy why don't you choose English?' Oh, how easy! It's usually this way with me. I worry over something, make it HUGE, nearly insurmountable and then poof! piece of cake.

We still have to buy the bike rack but I've navigated and found one at a shop called Feu Vert. Who can guess the English translation? It's a clever name for an auto/bike and sundry shop.

I am reminded daily why I went along with this particular adventure. Vive la différence!



Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ouverture Non Stop

The shops in France are closed on Sunday. I should have known this. It is romantic, a balm to the consumerism of Ireland and the US. People take time off for lunch and still believe in a day of rest. A slow and easy lifestyle is what we've dreamed of for years.

It's only that in our dreams we didn't arrive on Sunday afternoon with three hungry and tired children. We decided to give it a go and find somewhere for a quick take–away or maybe one shop open with bread and lunchmeat. We drove and drove, shops taunting us from behind closed shutters, kids complaining and tired.

Then, there it was. The sign of life we'd been searching for--an InterMarche proclaiming: Ouverture Non-Stop! As Paul turned into the strangely vacant parking lot our hearts fell. Again, closed shutters, no sign of life.

The ouverture non-stop carried a hidden message that we Americans didn't at first decipher. Of course it meant non-stop, but only between the hours of 8am to 8pm and only Monday through Saturday. Non-stop is something different here. The closed on Sunday is implied, understood.

So it was back to the house, which thankfully had dried pasta and jarred sauce in the cupboards from previous holiday makers. There was even a bottle of red wine. I whipped up a quick dinner like on one of those cooking shows where you have to make something in 15 minutes using only four ingredients. Et voila! Our first home cooked dinner in France was cheese tortellini with Sainsbury's basil and garlic pasta sauce.

Tomorrow is Sunday again and I'm ready for it. Cupboards and fridge stocked. This easy going way of life is for me after all.



Thursday, February 25, 2010

New Blog

I've started a new blog to cover our experience here in France. If you'd like to take a look it's just up and running at conjugatingirregularverbs. I will still add posts here periodically but most will be on the new French blog.

I'd like to incorporate a linked map of Ireland if anyone can give me advice on how to do it here.

So, onward and upward. I have boxes to unpack and kids to put to bed. Love to all my Irish friends. I miss you.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Our New Neighbor

There's a rooster next door to our new house in France. I would love to hear him crow as the sun rises, welcoming the day like the big red one on the Kellogg's cereal box. How quaint, how rustic not to be awakened by the incessant beep, beep of Paul's favorite torture device but by the rooster's call to action.
Unfortunately, this particular rooster's crowing is not limited to sunrise. Is this normal or have all the anthropomorphic kid movies and cartoons led me to believe a falsehood? Do all roosters crow whenever they get the urge?
Monsieur Coq sings his plaintive song at all hours. He's like the grandfather clock chiming the hour and half hour,increasing chimes to tell the time. At midnight, 2am, 4am, etc. he startles me from sleep, sounding for a moment like Leo's infant cry, stirring up cry-shock from those early days of constant feeds and no sleep.
Will his crowing become soothing to me as days pass? Will it fade into the background like so many things do-- the DART gliding by, magpies screeching, and the 3am revelers noisily returning from the pub.


Friday, February 12, 2010


Happy Chinese New Year!

Believe it or not, in our small town in Ireland there are red lanterns strung across the Main St. for the Chinese holiday. There will be a parade tomorrow too.
Would you ever have thought?

Paul and I have decided we can't leave without going on a pub crawl. Albeit, it will just be around Bray, but it's a pub crawl nonetheless. We'll take photos of all our favorite spots and mix the Guinness with bracing air between pubs. Wish us good craic. 7 days to go......

Thursday, February 11, 2010


It's been a mad couple of weeks around here and I haven't had the time to post. My notes are piling up but will have to take a backseat to the boxes that are also sitting in piles, four feet high, all over the house.

Our final day is next Thursday so this is officially the last week in Ireland. After nearly five years, it's all reduced to one week. Life is like that. My friends here can never be matched and their love and support is so greatly appreciated now.

So, more to come....when the dust settles I will have an onslaught of posts for you to read. Anyone?

And maybe even a new blog for the French phase of this shared adventure we call living!

Happy Birthday Sofia!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

St Patrick’s Enemies

There are no snakes in Ireland. Most people know this and the story of how St Patrick ran them off the island. It is a remarkable feature, somewhat making up for the day long rain shower or grey summer day. 
I grew up in East Texas. St Patrick never set foot in the piney woods and the marshy lands there are rife with snakes. When people think of Texas, it is the rattlesnake slipping through the harsh desert--tongue flicking, rattling tail a warning of his dangerous presence--that usually comes to mind. 
As a girl I was most afraid of the cotton-mouth or water moccasin that lived in the small pond on my Aunt Barb's farm. They're called cotton-mouths because when they open wide to hiss and show their fangs, inside is pure white, almost blue like fresh milk. Or cotton as the name suggests. 
There was a path around the pond overgrown with sugar cane, standing in crowded clumps on the banks, yielding sugary syrup when broken. We would play around the pond, chewing on the sweet reedy insides of the sugar cane, imagining ourselves as wild things, pirates, explorers of unchartered land. But always in the back of my mind were the long shiny snakes that would lie among the cane and then quickly slide into the murky water and swim around, heads sticking out of the water as their bodies trailed behind in a smooth swish.
Home from school one afternoon we encountered a fat rattlesnake sunning herself on our paving stones. She met a quick end thanks to my mother. And if you ever went for a walk in the woods, you took care when stepping over felled logs and sidestepped large rocks for fear of one of St Patrick's enemies being rudely awakened from a cozy nest underneath. 
All this is to say that when I first moved here I could not get used to the no snakes thing. When we would hike with the kids I'd always check the ground as we went. Sticks lying on the path would startle me and I continued to step wide over logs. Sitting on tree trunks for a picnic I would scan the area for any signs of rattling leaves. I'm finally, after nearly 5 years, used to it. And it's bliss. The only dangers here are stinging nettles and soggy shoes. 

So, number one on my list of 'things I will miss about Ireland' has to be no snakes. 

above photo: a hike with no worries

Friday, January 29, 2010

They Pull You Back In

We have been working on the move to France for nearly 9 months now. It's like a fourth child that continues to be late…late….late.

First we were going to go on temporary visas for 4 months until our permanent ones came in….that didn't happen. Then we had to renew the big kids' passports before we could get their permanent visa. Then Christmas came and understandably nothing happened. We planned on taking the ferry across in January but the ferry doesn't run in January. So, visas came through but we couldn't leave.

Paul has a work trip to the States that came up for February so we decided to wait until that's done. The big girl's birthday is early February so of course we have to do that here before we can leave. And finally, date picked for the big move. All systems go.


The announcement that Paul's team meeting would be, of all places, HERE IN IRELAND! It's never been here before. Instead of spending our first week figuring out our new French lives, the meeting is here.

So, one more week. Am I not supposed to leave Ireland? This is becoming strangely strange.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Perfect Cuppa

I've got a lot on my mind at the moment with the move getting closer. I am overwhelmed. Anyway, I thought a post might help to calm my nerves. And I got to thinking…..what would the Irish do?

When things get tough and you need to steady yourself, you can either a) have a stiff drink---not recommended on a Friday morning or b) have a cup of tea.

Admittedly, any British person would do the same as regards the tea but I'm talking about being in Ireland, so.

First of all, you should know that there is an art to making a proper pot of tea. Of course we do the single tea bag and boiling water double dunk here too but for those times when a good cuppa is in order you have to follow some rules.

Before anything else, you have to have good tea. Here it's okay to do bagged tea as long as it's Barry's. Next, you have to prepare the teapot. You can either fill it with very hot tap water or boil a kettle (everyone has electric kettles here) for this purpose. While the water warms the teapot you can boil your kettle full of water for the tea. Never boil the same kettle of water twice as the bubbles from the first boil do something very bad to the taste of the tea when reboiled. Then when your freshly boiled water is ready you empty the teapot of its warm contents, add your teabags and pour over boiling water. A quick stir and lid on for the tea to steep.

Some people like it weaker so they request the 'first pour'. Others don't mind and can drink it down to the last, burnt umber cup. If you sip slowly and yours gets too cool you can always ask for a 'hot drop' to warm and strengthen it up.

Of course there's the milk. To do it the old way, you pour warmed full-fat milk in the bottom of your cup and then top up with tea. This allows you to see how diluted it will be and make sure it's to your liking. Some take sugar, some don't.

Tea made, perhaps a warm scone with cream and jam, you relax. Ahhhh. The first sip of tea is heaven. It quenches thirst, warms your bones, and is a balm for windblown and frayed nerves. Of course the experience is enhanced by the wit, laughter and company of good friends.

Anyone for a cuppa? I feel better already.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Irish Crush

I'm a terrible one for crushes. I think guys are cute and I haven't lost my appreciation for them just because I've gotten older and have a wonderfully handsome husband. Mine are all unattainable, no one I know or will ever meet. Most of you know of my tearful appreciation of Brad Pitt induced by my first pregnancy. I don't think any of us could say we're too old or mature to eschew the fun giddiness of the crush. And if the New Moon audience's sighs of appreciation when Taylor Lautner revealed his impeccable pecs are anything to go by, I am certainly not alone. Although, for the record, I am an Edward girl.

I simply feel it wouldn't be fair to move here and not find an Irish hunk to crush on. Don't laugh but mine is the rugby player, Brian O'Driscoll. He embodies all things masculine and healthily Irish to me. His dimples, wavy hair and smiling eyes, coupled with playing what is to me the most manly sport, make him irresistible. A few years ago O2 had an ad campaign with Ireland's rugby players emerging from the sea on the sides of buses all over the Dublin area. Brian's larger-than-life image breaking through the waves, game face on, rugby ball firmly tucked under the arm did it for me.

Paul has his Irish crush as well. You didn't think I was selfish in this did you? Rachel Allen does it for him. She's a 'cookery program' host, author and teacher at Ballymaloe (pronounced Ballymaloooo) a well-known Irish bed & breakfast/cookery school in East Cork. I think I can speak for Paul when I say that he appreciates her beauty as well as her wrap dresses that sometimes reveal a bit of décolletage as she whips up a tasty weeknight dinner.

Anyone else have a crush? Fancy someone others may not find attractive, say Jeff Goldblum?


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Snow's Gone

All good things come to an end.....the snow is gone and the wind and heavy grey sky have taken its place. The kids got their magic carpet pulled from under them and were sent back to school today. It was 3 days later than it should have been but 2 days earlier than the Minister for Education promised last Friday. Though we were all happy to get up and out this morning, I think, and the baby and I have certainly enjoyed getting back into the regular routine. Nap taken, house tidied, soup made. Done and dusted.

In other news, the French Embassy will issue our visas tomorrow and as Monsieur Oooo La La (will I ever get used to the accent) told me on the phone, "You can leave for France at any time." Well, how do you like that?! Could it really be true?

Jamie Oliver's Sweet Potato & Chorizo Soup a la me

2 carrots
2 celery stalks
1 onion
sweet potatoes, a few
horseshoe of chorizo
tblsp curry powder
chicken or vegetable stock, organic

Chop carrot, celery and onion. Cook til soft in olive oil over medium heat. Add chunky cut, peeled sweet potatoes and cook until all softish. Add curry powder and chorizo, also in chunks. Add stock to cover and leave to cook over low until you're ready to serve.
Puree in batches if necessary and serve with crusty buttery bread and a sprinkle of parsley and sour cream if you like.

I got this from my friend Ciara and all 5 of us can't get enough of it. I think it's in the Ministry of Food cookbook but not sure. Of course I've done what I usually do and semi-memorized, adjusted, and bastardized Jamie's soup.

Above photo taken at the New Year's Day annual sea swim.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Never-Ending Christmas Holidays

Day 18 and counting.......
Schools nationwide are closed until next Thursday (day 23) due to snow and icy weather. This is the stuff kids' dreams are made of...who am I to complain? We'll just have to have some fun. Who knows, they may even learn something.

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.
Mark Twain

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Grit’s on a Ship

We've had snow and ice on top of snow and ice with more snow and ice predicted for the weekend. Schools were set to reopen today but were cancelled for today and tomorrow. It reminds me of Texas in the winter when the roads ice and everything shuts down. No one has chains or snow tires or any way to deal with the icing here either. And then there's the trouble with the 'grit'.

Today, the big kids and I decided to tackle the hill into our estate with cardboard sleds. I had them put their helmets, elbow, hand and knee pads on over layers of sweaters, coats and scarves. They were puffy but protected.
We met up with some other estate kids and watched as a taxi tried to make it back up the hill after delivering his passenger. He was in a regular car, small tires, not at all prepared for ice at an angle. As he headed up the hill he swerved and slid backwards. We all stood there watching, me telling the kids to stay clear, move back, get out of the way! Of course the boys didn't listen. Just stood there staring at the car. He managed to maneuver himself over white, crusty sidewalk and onto a grassy knoll. He got some purchase on his right back tire and whirred to clean it off, cutting a deep rut in the icy grass. With gusto, he sped off, bumping off the sidewalk and pushing it hell for leather up the hill. He got just about to the crest and petered out. The car rolled backward again.

I could just imagine what was going through his head in the solitude of that cab. What words he must have been stringing together. Insult added to injury to have a gaggle of kids and now others coming out of their warm houses to stand on stoops and watch the spectacle. He abandoned the taxi halfway up the hill.

To the grit problem. The reason the hill is so bad in an estate right in the middle of the town is because the council here and in every other town on the island ran out of grit. One of the lads standing around watching the taxi struggle told us. He was only about eleven years old but stood there leaning against the stop-signless stop sign post, legs casually crossed at the ankle, arms akimbo. He already had the Irish male shoulders, slightly curved in and he gestured with his chin as he spoke of the disgrace. "They've only enough grit to last through tomorrow. That's why they aren't using any here on this hill." "Oh, really?" say I. "We'll have to wait for it to arrive. It's coming from some other who-knows-where country on a cargo ship to Cork." I had to stifle my grin. This eleven year old kid had totally picked up his father's or uncle's mannerisms and was relaying the message like it was his own. And it was. He owned it with his shrug and his 'who-knows-where' and 'cargo ship to Cork' of all things.

Disgraceful, so it is.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Eyes of Texas

When you live far from family you have to keep them alive for your children. Kids have short memories and they need stoking. We talk about our family in Texas all the time. We talk on the phone with them, Skype, and try to visit in both directions.

The baby is now the same age Rowan was when we moved here. I look at Leo and remember taking Rowan away from his grandparents at such a young age. The night before we left Texas I had a panic attack. What are we doing? Why are we doing it? What are we leaving behind?

Rowan is now 5 and some change. I wonder if Leo will remember anything about Ireland. Probably not. He will only remember what we tell him. He will remember what we keep alive in his memory. Just as Rowan 'remembers' Texas. What is real to him is the love of his grandparents, aunt and uncle. So when he says, "Texas is the best" or "I want to go back to Texas", what he's really saying is, "My family is the best" and "I want to be near them again".

So it should come as no surprise that tonight he found a secret tunnel leading all the way to Grandmother's door. In reality he was cozied up on the sofa under his green covers, bum in the air. But to him it was a magic way to see her again. Sofia got in on the act and they both burrowed down together, giggling and whispering before coming back up again with news of snow in Texas. How they'd seen Aunt Kate and Georgia and then taken another tunnel down to Austin to see their friends.

So, I won't be surprised if when Leo is older he's talking of grandparents and imagining spending time with them. Unless we are back by then and he can actually see them in the flesh, get to know them on his own, and be squeezed and cuddled in person and not just in pretend through the computer screen when we all throw our arms out wide and kiss, kiss through the ether of Skype.


Oh, and Hook'em Horns!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy New Year

Start as you mean to go on.

It works in raising children, in doing a job, in a friendship; sometimes to your detriment if it turns out you've started doing it wrong. My goal is to start 2010 as I mean to go on. I want a year of peace and joy with a little excitement thrown in--say no to things that I don't really want to do, get up earlier, jog more, laugh for at least 15 minutes a day, not at all once, mind, hug and kiss my four people, and sure why not, move to France.

First I have to learn passable French and try to be the calm in the midst of all this change for my kids as we leave here and start again; all the newness.

But before I can do any of this I have to wrap up my feelings for Ireland. That was the major impetus for starting this blog. I can't believe how much I've had to say and yet how much remains unsaid. I don't know if I'll ever truly say goodbye to this place. It seems like I was always on the road to here; albeit blissfully unaware of the pull. It was good to have this last Christmas--this last connection to all these people that have meant so much to our experience here.

On a lighter, culinary note; a reminiscence about our first new years day here in 2006. In these four years there's been a sea change in what's available food wise. Since we've been here they've added Polish sections to nearly every grocery store, the organic products at Tesco aren't just bananas anymore but rice cakes, pasta sauce and sweet potatoes and the introduction of 'American' style pancake batter, boxed cake mixes, and Oreo cookies hasn't gone unnoticed.

Back up four years before this awakening. On new years day I always make a black-eyed pea soup that I like to call 'good luck soup'. It requires only a few things: carrots, onions, celery, sausage, and of course, black-eyed peas. I searched everywhere for the peas…dried or canned, they weren't to be found. At every shop I asked in my Texas, newly arrived, fresh off the boat accent, "Do you know if you have any black-eyed peas?" And every time I got a giggle, confusion, a look that said, is this girl having me on?. One perplexed clerk even asked his manager and came back with the answer, "Tell her to check the record shop"…..ha, ha, ha very funny, I get it. The Black-Eyed Peas.

Needless to say I didn't have my soup those first years. This and last though, I've found them. In the can at Tesco and dried at the health shop, only they're called black eye beans. I guess the American name for them would be just too funny; imagine Fergie grinding to 'My Humps' inside that little can.