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 d├ęcolletage 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.