In which I share some thoughts on leaving Ireland, and the children assure me they’re not sociopaths

It’s nine o clock on a Monday night, our last in Ireland. Even though we’ve got a few stops before getting back to Denver, this day feels like the end of the year we had planned. Ireland is giving us a proper Irish goodbye, with gray rainy weather and low cloudy skies. You’d think that packing up a life of six months with all of its attendant detritus would be overwhelming, but not really. Over the last few weeks, we’ve packed 4 duffle bags, one large, one medium, and one small, and one extra small rather like the bears of fairy tale, or perhaps like luggage matroyshka dolls, and have sent them across the ocean with those who have come to visit. What was left was clothing, some shoes, a few souvenirs, and lots of mugs, which we couldn’t really send home early as we needed them for our daily morning tea. At this point, we’ve managed to pack everything we are taking with us into our original travel backpacks, plus one additional small backpack for each of us and one extra medium sized duffle bag. 
Today was spent packing for a few hours, after which our friend Alena came by to cart away things which were staying behind, including those which she had kindly lent to us, like her bicycle and a corkscrew. We also packed grocery bags full with food that wouldn’t get eaten, though as for that we did pretty well and didn’t have mass quantities of food to give away. After she left, there wasn’t much to do until the last load of laundry finished drying so we piled into our rental car and Eric and the kids went swimming while I went to a coffeeshop to finish up the last blog post. Pizza for lunch, then a matinee showing of “Wonder Woman” (mostly liked, can’t say I loved) and then back home.
The kids took off on their bike (singular, yes, as the boy rides the bike and the girl rides standing on pegs that stick out from the back wheels) over to their friend V’s house a few blocks away, their last hour of being able to take off and simply yell “we’re going out!” that they’ll have for a while. They said goodbye and then left the bike there for V before walking over to their friend S’s house, who ended up trotting home with them. They all played a card game called Exploding Kittens, but not before first creating a Minecraft world in which one could actually make a kitten explode so that when a poor feline was decimated in the card game, they could recreate this in the pixellated world. I expressed my concerns about animal cruelty and it’s future bearing on sociopathy, however they seemed unfazed, and reassured me that no actual kittens were being harmed.  

I have trouble characterizing my feelings today, as it comes at the end of what feels like a fairly epic journey. Wistful, perhaps, comes closest, but not quite. I relate it to the feeling of having completed some big event in your life, and once it’s over, feeling a sort of empty space inside where you previously held the emotion you used in planning the event and then experiencing it. Even though I know the adventure isn’t entirely over, for in less than two months we’ll be moving to New Zealand, it’ll be different in that instead of bouncing around from place to place in a peripatetic existence, we’ll be more rooted in one place and well, I’ll be back at work. Something about the thought of that fills me with profound sadness. There are those who never like to really go anywhere, to remain settled and find comfort in that. I’ve always been the opposite, mostly happy when I’m moving hither and to.

In two months I’ll be back in a hospital seeing patients again. I wish I could say that I really, really missed working, that a year away has made me realize how aimless my life is without my vocation, and that I’m itching to get back to use my skills again. I would, however, be lying. I’ve quite enjoyed being away from the high-stress world of medicine and the headaches of hospital administration. This isn’t to say that I think I’ll be unhappy once working again, but just to say that life without it hasn’t been the doldrum plodding I’d feared.

Mostly I think I’m feeling the inexorable passing of time, in that I cannot believe all that has passed since we left home. Looking back, there are perhaps a few things I’d do differently, but sitting here it’s hard to say exactly what those would be. Friends, it’s been a full year, and I hope I can say the same after the next. 
-s

In which we have a few visitors from across the pond

The Era of the Visitors descended upon us. Because Irish weather can be utterly miserable before May, and because most of our friends are tethered to the school calendar in some way, everyone who wants to visit us is doing it now.
This is fantastic, though when we spend time with people on sunny days here I feel as if it’s a little unfair, as if they aren’t really understanding the doldrums of gloom that the weather can bring.
The first of the crew was Eric’s parents. The kids were so excited to see their grandparents!

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The first few days we took Cheryl and Dave into the city, where they saw the Book of Kells and then we went to visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which I hadn’t been in before. A Protestant Cathedral, it houses an altar, seats, a museum exhibition of the history of the cathedral, and a gift shop all within the main space. The overall effect is one of an overstuffed attic.
I was most impressed with the detailed needlepoint cushions that hang on the back of every chair, hand embroidered by people from all over the country.


We took a side trip to Cork, the second largest Irish town, and other than a stop at a pub that was putting on a traditional Cinco de Mayo burlesque show, we didn’t spend much time there. We drove down to Kinsale, which is really very pretty. A hike along the coast, a stop for lunch and then to the Charles Fort, a preserved stellate fort from the 1700s, and still used as an army garrison until 1922. Legend has it of a groom who, on his wedding day, was shot by his new father-in-law due to a bit of confused identities. The bride flung herself over the ramparts and is said to haunt the grounds still.

 

Cheryl and Dave went further west and north the next day, while we returned to Maynooth. Our friend Wren popped over from Chicago the next day, and as she is a huge Harry Potter fan as well, the kids very sweetly spent time preparing her room, complete with a breakfast menu titled “Espresso Patronum,” and hid a speaker in her closet to play the theme music as she entered. Wren and I and Eric wandered about Dublin while the kids were in school (yes, they’re still in school despite evidence to the contrary), and over the course of a few days going into Temple Bar, Christchurch, and Trinity University among others.

 

 
The weekend was for a quick getaway to Galway, but not before we welcomed our friends Tim and Amy to Dublin! They arrived exhausted as expected off the plane, but gamely met up with all of us for lunch and a pre-train beverage.

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First pint of Irish Guinness is always an occasion to be documented

Galway is a cute little town on the western coast of Ireland, known for the university, traditional music, and apparently quite a party town and home to many stag and hen parties (bachelor and bachelorette for those of ye from the states). The central part of Galway is little more than three or four cobblestoned streets, lined with shops, pubs and restaurants, and seems to be lively at any time of the day.


We happened upon a delicious tiny pie shop straight out of a movie set for a fantasy film, where perhaps cloaked characters might stop in for an ale and a meat pie before heading off on their journey. In the afternoon we made our way to a microbrewery in Salt Hill, and then to a Gaelic Football match. I personally find the most entertaining part of these matches to be how the audience screams at the players, the coach screams at the players, and the players scream at each other, all laden with expletives and a lot of passion.

 

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Back in Maynooth the next day, Tim and Amy joined us again and we had two rousing evenings of Dungeons and Dragons hosted by the boy, where much merriment was had though perhaps little progress in an actual game. A walk around the Maynooth campus and a stop in at the Russell Library, the old library housing the ancient manuscripts of the University. Tim took his time reading mathematics texts. I’m always enthralled by these old books, that each piece of them from the papers to the inks and quills and of course to the writing itself all had to be created by hand. The immense effort it took to produce one book rendered them precious objects, so different from the mass production of paper and words today, or even “ink” on a screen where words are cheap.

 

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Our last set of visitors before we leave this little country were our dear friends Rudy and Liza and their boys. We’ve all known each other for almost 8 years now, ever since our kids became friends at preschool and it turned out we lived up the street from one another, but what really seals the deal is Rudy’s ability to take anything innocuous and make it seem vulgar. Here in Ireland, this talent blossomed as he found himself free to create limericks, an art form that lends itself to crassness. As this is a family blog, I will not detail these limericks further, but buy me a pint at home and perhaps I’ll share. We also got to spend a night with David Hicks, who was in Ireland for a writer’s retreat and found the time to come out to Maynooth to see us for an evening after a long day of travel from the West of Ireland and before heading back to the states the next day.
Our two families went to Glendalough for a few days, a lake nestled in between two mountains and home to an ancient monastic site complete with a well preserved round tower.

 

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While they arrived on a sunny day, these were the visitors who finally got a glimpse of the Irish gloom. Readers, they could only tolerate it for 2 days before complaining of the desperation one feels being deprived of the sun. We fortified ourselves with pints of Guinness and a peat fire, spending the evenings catching up at the Air BnB. I got to spend so much time with Liza, and as it always is with the good friends in life, we fell into step with each other with little pause.
Side note : this Air BnB is apparently rented out as a yoga retreat, complete with a studio and outdoor meditation hut. It also had a copy of something called “The Transformation Game,” which you play to change your life. With instructions such as “pick three angel cards while you hold your spirit intention in your heart” and “if you have not been born naturally after your third die roll, you will have a spiritual caesarian and may enter your life loops at the top space,” this game was not for sarcastic heathens such as ourselves who left our healing crystals at home and instead mercilessly mocked it.

We’re off in a few days, our time spent saying our goodbyes and figuring out exactly how much we can pack into our bags. Most of our visiting friends have also been turned into luggage mules for us, hauling back duffle bags of various sizes with clothes, yarn, books and snow globes, leaving us with a much simpler job of getting our belongings out of the country.
More importantly, I’m just overwhelmed with the love that people have to come out and visit us when we’re abroad. It’s such an incredible feeling to know that there are people who care for you enough that they will board a plane and cross an ocean to spend time together, and I feel grateful to have all of them in my life.

-s

In which I feel a bit homesick, and later am told that we’re a pagan family

A few weeks ago I took a short trip back to America, to visit my sister and my brand new nephew!

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Look at this adorable family!

I thought he was pretty cute. Here he is in some of the handknits I’ve made for him, and there will be more.

Being with a newborn again makes me reflect on parenting in general, especially as my children start to begin the process of pulling away even more. Your baby is wholly dependent on you for care and often for food, and you are quite literally their whole world. You’re physically in contact with your baby for most of your waking hours, and often much of your sleeping hours as well.

 

Over the years that changes, to where the kids separate more, to feeding and toileting themselves, dressing themselves, and to now where there are large swaths of time where I have absolutely no clue exactly where they are or what they’re doing. At night, we still have snuggle time where I crawl into bed with the kids and we chat for a bit before I kiss them goodnight and they go to sleep. I sense, however, my time doing this is coming to a close especially for my older one. At some point it’ll feel weird and I don’t picture myself getting into my 16 year old’s bed to snuggle anymore, just maybe a kiss on the forehead if that. It’s bittersweet, to be sure, in that I’m happy for this independence and I certainly wouldn’t want it differently, but the difference is stark and made me nostalgic for those heady early days, where despite the sleep deprivation and difficulties, you had a tiny little being that only wanted to cuddle in your arms all day long.

 

Being back in the States was fantastic. It can get wearisome to always feel like a stranger, so to be in New York where I just understand how things WORK was such a relief. I was also lucky enough to have friends  who could travel to see me and got to spend time with them, and marvel on what good friends I have. This was soul-reviving, to be with people who I could just relax with instead of having to feel like I was “on,” and I’ll admit that I was feeling quite homesick after the journey.

 

Back in Ireland, I returned to spring break and a trip out west. First stop was to get the rental car from the airport. Eric had made the reservations and so went to pick up the car, but when he arrived, it turned out that his US Driver’s license had expired! Of all the details to overlook. So out I went to fetch the car, and did all the driving along the way. We did upgrade to an automatic transmission, which I was glad of after I nearly got into an accident on the way home in one of the roundabouts. Tricky things, those are.

 

As I sat down to write this blog post out, I looked through the pictures I took of the trip. For once, there just weren’t all that many. I wish I could tell you that this was due to some nobler purpose of being so involved in the moment that I couldn’t pull out my camera, but I feel the truth is simpler – I was feeling a bit travel weary on this trip. It’s a complicated moment in our time away, where I’m simultaneously itching to move again, bored with being in one place, and yet tired of feeling like we’re on a trip. That’s not to say that we didn’t enjoy this leg to see more of Ireland, but we couldn’t help but feel that we would have enjoyed it more from a warm beach, with an umbrella-garnished cocktail in one hand.

 

We started in Dingle, a peninsula on the southwest coast. We checked in to our hotel and started chatting with the proprietor about living in Maynooth and the kids being in Catholic schools, given that it was Easter weekend. She asked, “If you don’t mind, what religion do ye follow?” I didn’t mind at all, shrugged my shoulders and replied, “We’re really not religious, don’t follow anything in particular.” At which point the girl piped up and said loudly, “We’re Pagan!” as the boy nodded vigorously beside her. The hotel owner looked simultaneously shocked and entertained, I tried to correct the kids but they kept insisting that they were indeed pagan as they believed in the Norse gods, and Greek gods, and Hindu gods, and what have you. I suppose this summer we’ll be dancing around the Beltane fires at this rate.

A stop on the Slea Head drive around the coast

A favorite stop was the Dingle Brewery where we had a glass of Crean lager and chatted with Paudie, whom the girl informed “had a name that sounds like ‘bathroom’ in America.” Awesome. She’s making friends all over this island. Tom Crean is a local hero in Kerry, and rightfully a proper badass.  Known as a famous Arctic explorer, he took three separate trips to the South Pole in the early 1900s, was turned around each time, dealt with frostbite, starvation, team members dying, and at one point walked solo across the ice for 35 miles to save a colleague. After the last trip he returned to Kerry, settled down to raise three children and opened a pub. I’m happy to report that the lager brewed in his name is quite delicious, made from spring water near the brewery itself. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a glass of fresher tasting beer, and it made me appreciate lagers again after years of being an almost exclusive IPA drinker.

Enjoying a pint in a recreation of the arctic sailing vessels

Next was a drive northward to Westport, where we stopped in at the stunning Cliffs of Moher along the way. Also known as the Cliffs of Insanity from the Princess Bride, or the Horcrux cave site from Harry Potter, a sheer 600 foot drop from the edge to the ocean is carved out of rock. A signboard tells you of the types of birds that nest on the cliffs, and upon seeing this I yelped “PUFFINS!” so loudly that Eric jumped. Like daughter like mother, I suppose. Thankfully, we were well inland when this happened, else he might have had a long journey down. I was so excited to possibly see a puffin (puffins!) but alas, they had gone sea fishing in the afternoon and I was disappointed. You know you’re not in America when there’s nothing to block you from a cliff edge other than a few signs that warn “danger” in a half-hearted way.

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The next day the girl woke with a fever. Because I’m a medical parent, and I have little sympathy unless you have an obviously broken bone or an active hemorrhage, we popped a few ibuprofen into her, proceeded to rent bikes and took off on the Great Western Greenway. This is a 27 mile long trail from Westport to Achill island, with exit points along the way. We decided to go for the 19 mile section and take a shuttle back. It’s almost all entirely car-free, which is a rarity for cycling here and was utterly gorgeous. The mountain Croagh Patrick is in the distance, and all about you are peaceful rolling hills and grazing sheep, goats, and some curious cows. Around mile 15 of 19, the trail became almost entirely uphill, and the girl may have wept a bit at this point. We may have said things like “Come on, we just have to keep pedaling!” and she may have wailed back “Fine! Fine! Just leave me behind!! You don’t even care about me, DO YOU?!?!”  After about a mile of this, however, the trail again turned downhill, she hopped on and returned to her usual sanguine self.  I swear, I don’t know many adults who would have been able to do what she did, she is so, so tough.

 

Our last stop was to Donegal on the Northwest coast. Along the way, we stopped in at the Country Life Museum. I’ll be honest, I was expecting a dark room with a butter churn and walls covered in text, as I’ve seen in some other museums. This is however an incredible place. Displays about Irish rural life from prefamine to the 1960s bring to life what was clearly a very difficult existence. I felt like I was walking in a real life “These are the people in your neighborhood” song from Sesame Street.

Listening to school lessons, trying his hand at the butter churn (yes,there was one after all), and hand woven straw baskets


 We tried to hike up Slieve League the next day, but were stymied by fog. Another high cliff like those of Moher, there’s supposedly a gorgeous view up there but it was not to be for us. I looked for signs of puffins as well, and again they were not to be.

 
The Donegal Yarns workshop was a delight. Rooms filled with beautiful yarns and handwoven and handknitted scarves, sweaters and hats. Fun fact: most wool in Irish products does not come from sheep living here, and is imported from England, New Zealand and Australia. One Irish season is enough to turn the softest sheep’s wool into Brillo pads, and as such the wool is exported for upholstery. Most of the adorable lambs you see tottering about on the side of the road are fated to end up on your dinner plate in the next few weeks.

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Upstairs is the weaving room, where fabrics are created as they always were, on long hand looms with foot pedals, by one person at a time.  Behind that is the spinning room, where the dyed fleece comes in and is mixed into skeins for the weaving, and then the sewing room where the fabrics are made into their final product.
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Here he is in action, the rhythmic click clack of the loom with each shuttle pass taps out a cadence for him to follow. Unfortunately, the sound didn’t record so you’ll have to use your imagination.

On the way back home we visited the Corlea Trackway Museum, where an ancient 2000 year old wooden bog trackway has been preserved. No one knows what this road was for – there are many such roads along the spongy bogs, which were heavily trafficked as ways to cross over without sinking into the sludge, but this one remains pristine. It was a long road, and took months and many people to construct, and as such is a mystery as to why, after all that work, it remains unused.

 

We’re back in Maynooth now, and glad to be here. We pulled up in the rental car, I dropped Eric and the kids off to go and return it, and when I got back the kids were nowhere to be seen, having run off to join their friends somewhere in the green of the estate. I think I’ll have a glass of the Crean’s lager we brought back with us.

 

 

In which we spend some time in the North and walk in the footsteps of giants

Last Friday we, along with a bunch of Eric’s college students, boarded a bus to Belfast. Crossing the border into Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom and not politically part of Ireland, is somewhat underwhelming and mostly notable for the road signs changing into miles instead of kilometers. We made a few stops to check out sights along the way.

First stop was the Dark Hedges. Beech trees twist and arc overhead to create two colonnades along a small patch of road, an arboreal tunnel to welcome you to the Stuart estate. Charles Stuart first planted the trees in the 18th century for this reason, simply to impress visitors to his manse. It’s better known now as the escape route Arya Stark takes from King’s Landing on Game of Thrones. When backlit, the trees form an ethereal walkway, and I half expected to see fairies meandering past. 


Next stop was Carrick a Rede rope bridge. A tiny island sits just off the coast of mainland Ireland at the edge of a bay. Shoals of salmon used to swim by, and a small rope bridge allowed fishermen access the island so they could set their nets. Nowadays, salmon populations have plummeted and the bridge is no longer used for fishing, but solely for tourism. Walking across what is now a relatively stable wood slat bridge with secure ropes and netting on either side of you is harrowing enough, especially if you look down to see the surf crashing on the rocks. I can only imagine the fortitude of fisherman of yore, who used to scramble across a swaying bridge which had only one rope handrail, the other side a steep drop to the ocean, guiderope held in one hand and the other clutching their nets and lines. Many tourists have made it across but have found themselves unable to stomach the return journey, needing rescue by dinghy. 

True bravery on display

The little dock to the right is where they would save those who couldn’t cross twice, though it seems even more harrowing to me.


The last tourist stop was the Giant’s Causeway. The tour bus spit us out at the top of a cliff overlooking the beach. We walked a paved pathway that curved downwards, and saw … more cliffs and craggy beach. Pretty, sure, but hardly unique. What was the big deal?

The faces of the unimpressed


Walking further down, though, we soon saw the landscape change into well demarcated hexagonal columns that rose into hills as they came inland and then seemed to disappear into the surf. The kids took off to scamper among the formations, while I cautiously stepped around them because those things were slippery. Now, I could tell you that the geological origin is from ancient volcanic activity that breathed out the basalt columns, but where’s the fun in that? 

Irish legend tells a much different story. Fionn McCumaill (p. Finn McCool) is a mythic giant of the North Coast. Scotland is just across the water here, and the Scottish giant Benandonner threatened to attack Ireland. Fionn swore to protect his land, and threw chunks of the coast into the water to create a road, or causeway, to Scotland where he intended to fight Benandonner and save Ireland. On his way over though, he caught a glimpse of Benandonner, realized he is truly massive and Fionn hightailed it back to his house in Ireland. Benandonner meanwhie is still up for the challenge and followed Fionn back along the new road and headed to his house, asking to see him for the fight. Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, has realized what’s about to happen and cleverly dressed up Fionn as a baby. She greeted Benandonner at the door, and told him Fionn is currently out but would you mind holding his beautiful baby. Benandonner took one look at the “baby,” and thought in fright of how large the father must be to sire a baby of this size, and fled back to Scotland. As he ran back, he destroyed much of the causeway so that Fionn couldn’t chase him home. 

Look between the layers to see coins people have stuck in, left to decay in the saltwater air and melt into the stones themselves.


-s

In which I show you a bit of Maynooth, and make a small confession

It occurs to me that I haven’t taken you all on a trip around our tidy little town of Maynooth. That’s not just me calling it tidy, I’ll have you know, but all of Ireland, at least for 2016. 

Maynooth is situated on one of the branches of An Sli Mhor (pronounced ‘sleemore’), or “The Great Road,” created some thousands of years ago, and people settled at various points along the ways, one of them being Maynooth in what is now County Kildare.
It also is situated along the Royal Canal from Dublin, another important source of trade for many years from its creation in the 18th century. This now lives as a biking and hiking trail and Eric and I took a little ride last week to get to the Garda station to register with the police, as we were told to do. The canal way is a lovely path along water, with reeds and waterbirds along they way, who seem somewhat annoyed at the human interlopers of their homes.


In the Norman era, late 12th century, County Kildare was given to the FitzGerald family by the ruling Norman Richard “the Strongbow” Clare. The Fitzgeralds built a castle on the great road, strategically located for defense and promptly took up residence and rule of Ireland, largely ignored by their British overlords. They continued to buy up land around Maynooth and further to the south. Maynooth then, could have been considered the capital of Ireland for several centuries. In 1534, however, Thomas FitzGerald, also known as “Silken Thomas” for his lavish clothing, decided he’d had enough of even nominal British rule and rose up against Henry VIII, leading the English to storm and destroy Maynooth castle. For his efforts he was executed, and the Fitzgeralds moved out of Maynooth to a castle down the road and then to Carton House, a Palladian style estate built in the 1700s on the land acquired by the Fitzgeralds during their long rule. 

Castle Ruins, as seen from the main road


The main road in Maynooth is then capped by these structures, the ruined castle on one end and Carton house on the other. The castle is a tourist attraction, open in the spring, and Carton House is a hotel and golf course. 


The boat house on the grounds of Carton House, with a lovely golf course and nary a golf cart in sight


St. Patrick’s College/Maynooth University is a huge part of the town, and when school is in session the population of the town doubles from 15,000 to 30,000. St. Patrick’s College was established just beyond the castle as a Catholic seminary in 1795, so that young priests wouldn’t have to travel to France for an education and thus be swayed by the happenings of the French Revolution and get any pesky ideas about freedom. In the early 1900s, secular education was added. I’ll share more pictures of the campus in a different post, as I’ll be going to the old library next week. 
As for our Maynooth, it’s a modern small town. There’s a main street with restaurants, pubs, a bookshop and the library. There’s one main intersection running through, the north south road takes you out to our house. Here’s a series of photos showing the ride from one end of main street to our house!



And here I am on my bike, graciously loaned to me by our friend Alena. That’s about 20 pounds of groceries I’ve got loaded on, not atypical before we discovered grocery delivery service, thank goodness.


If it seems that I’m dressed for a nuclear winter, I am. The weather here has been cold and misty in a way that seeps into your bones. Rain comes with wind such that umbrellas are useless against the damp, flipping themselves inside out as if to commit seppuku in the face of their futility. Van Morrison sings much of water, whether it be “streets wet with rain,” “misty morning fog,” or “oh, the water” and it makes sense after being here, where so far the sun has been a reluctant friend. [confessional side note – this seems a good a place as any to finally admit that it wasn’t until I met Eric that I learned that Van Morrison was Irish. I had thought he was Dutch, in the vein of “Van Halen” or “Van Helsing.” You may now mock me for this. It is deserved.]

Living in the mist, as it were, I think often of the Ray Bradbury short story “All Summer in a Day.” [Click to read, it’s a short four pager.] I think I first read this in high school, and it’s stuck with me ever since, a haunting read. Set on Venus, where the sun shines for one hour every seven years, it focuses on a classroom of children who cruelly lock a student in the closet during this one hour, depriving her of her moment of sunlight. The children realize their horrific act, but no matter, the time has passed and won’t recur for another seven years. 

I’m told it’s not quite so infrequent here as that, though it feels it, and I await its appearance with bated breath. 
-s

In which the children become slightly feral

Living in Irish suburbia means that things have slowed somewhat. It’s not every day that we’re out and about seeing different things, eating different foods. Our lives resemble that which we have back home, where the kids go off to school in the morning, come home in the afternoon, we eat dinner at home, then have our evening routine.

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after school homework time

 

It’s been hard to write much partly because of that, and also because of being consumed by the political situation back home. I know I try to keep politics out of the blog, but it’s impossible when that is what dominates your life. It’s of course on all versions of social media, and even in Ireland is all over the news and in conversations you hear around you. Despite what seems terrifying on the news cycle with the new slew of executive orders, the fact is that most of our lives haven’t changed all that much from a day to day basis. Therein lies the danger of these things – it can be easy to ignore the issues especially if they don’t directly impact your life. I spent a week in New York, and other than the charged atmosphere, life proceeded largely unchanged from before the election happened. I shouldn’t be surprised, really. We’ve traveled to a few authoritarian states on our journey, and the reality is that there, too, life proceeds as typical on a day to day basis. But people are aware that there are limits to their freedom, and that speaking out can be a dangerous thing. We’re not there yet in the US, but I think it’s heading in that direction very quickly. I think that if you feel completely safe with this current government, then you’re okay with ignoring the suffering and difficulty of others because you don’t feel that you’re at risk at all, which to me is simply morally incomprehensible.

Back to blogging as usual over here. As I said above, I flew back to the States for a week to New York to visit my sister, Sapana, and attend her baby shower! She’s due in March with her first baby and I’m over the moon excited for her. She’s excited, too, though sometimes I think she feels as though she’s been handed a complicated IKEA cabinet to put together, with no instructions and just a shoddy allen wrench. Don’t we all feel this way with the first baby though? I’m sure the child will be fine, and to continue the weak analogy, will be assembled and functional at the end of it, though will have a bunch of spare bits and bobs left over. I usually end up taping these to the back of the piece with some masking tape, as if by osmosis they will provide whatever essential function they were meant for. This works for children too. The shower was so fun! Rakhee, Sapana’s sister in law, did a fabulous job arranging it. It was the best attended shower in the history of baby showers.

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I also met up with my friend Ulcca from Denver, who was in town for a work meeting and stayed an extra day so we could hang out, my friend Rebecca from medical school who lives in the suburbs, and even my in-laws drove up from Pennsylvania to see me, which was delightful. Both sides of expectant grandparents were of course in attendance. It was great to see my parents again! It’s been so long since we were all together and we all had a fun time being together. We’ve made a lot of friends along the way, but it was just wonderful to see and spend time with family and old friends, to feel that sense of comfort from other people. Texting and social media help while I’m far away, but they’re pale comparisons for actually being with people who are important to you.

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I was worried that it would feel odd to be back in the States, but well, I haven’t been away that long and it’s a known entity. I love New York City, and spent most of my time (when not with family) wandering around, going to shops, stocking up at Trader Joe’s, and just enjoying the atmosphere. I find New Yorkers to be friendly and helpful everywhere, if not a bit matter of fact.  There were people who offered help when I clearly needed it, and many with whom I chatted just around town. I also think I personally helped to save a New Yorker’s life. This was a checkout clerk at The Strand Bookstore, where I was buying a sloth enamel pin for the girl. As he completed my transaction, he gave a little shudder and said, “Sloths scare me, man. Those eyes…” I gave him a grave look and said that for the sake of his health, I would not tell my daughter about this apostasy, as she would find a way to track him down and cut him. Thus far, I have kept my promise. I hope that I will be recognized for my efforts, if only here.

The one exception to New York friendliness was an Uber pool ride I took while there. I slid into the back seat, and said hello to the other passenger. The car was silent, without music. The other rider next to me didn’t acknowledge my presence, nor did the driver, both women. With traffic, it was a long 30 minutes to my destination, and easily the quietest ride I’ve taken in six months. What was strange for me was that while I previously would have been quite happy with this, I’m not used to it anymore. I’ve become one of those people who likes to talk to strangers now, in a way that I never did before. Meeting different people and interacting with them has become something fun and enjoyable, not something to be avoided. I kept trying to think up different ways to chirp in and start a conversation, but the oppressive silence cowed me until the car spit me back out onto the welcomingly noisy streets of the East Village.

 

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Back to Ireland, where the children run amok…

One day a few weeks ago, the kids had returned home from school. Still in their uniforms, they were sitting at the kitchen table and working on their homework. The doorbell rang, and Eric and I looked at each other, as if to ask “Were you expecting someone?” I went to answer it and there stood a young girl and a very small boy. “Hi! Is E here?” she asked. My girl ran up and said happily, “This is my Bus friend, S! I invited her to come over to our house!” In came the friend and her little brother, handing me a crumpled piece of paper with her mother’s number on it. I texted to let the mom know that they’d arrived and to ask when we should walk her home. I thought that this was a one off situation until it’s now happened a few other times with other kids as well. My kids will invite a friend over without really telling us, the kid shows up with a crumpled piece of paper and a number, and then we send the kids home by themselves at the end of the play time.

For my friends outside of the States, this is something that absolutely would NEVER happen at home, at least not in Denver. The first time that a new friend comes over to play or goes to another, you arrange a time with the parents that works for them and you and where the kids aren’t involved with some after school activity or sports tournament. Then, if you haven’t met them before, you take the kid over (usually by car because it’s not easily walkable) and hang out for a little bit to make sure that they don’t seem like axe murderers. If you are a really good parent, you’ll be sure to ask if they have guns in the house and if they’re locked up. At a prescribed end time, you will come to pick up your child from the house. Future playdates, because they are always called playdates, are again arranged through the parents for specific times. Occasionally after you know someone, the kid will come over after school for a bit. If kids are out on their own, they usally have a cell phone leash so they can always be contacted. The only friends the kids have where these rules don’t apply are the neighbor friends from down the street, who are now close enough that they all run back and forth. Even then, though, usually it has to be cleared by one of us to make sure that they are not busy doing something.

The freedom of children here is revolutionary for the kids, and us. Despite how “free range” I’d like to think of myself as a parent, I was uncomfortable with this at first, but it’s easing up. The boy the other day went home with a new friend and then walked home by himself at the end of it. The other day, the girl had an afterschool activity, and Eric and were going to be in Dublin for the day. A plan was made: the boy was going to walk to the library, stay for an hour, then walk over to the girl’s school and they’d walk the one and a half miles home together. I suspected they would stop in at the candy shop along the way, and in this I was not wrong, however I underestimated as they also stopped in at the chip shop. It went off swimmingly, and the kids loved having the open space to do what they wish, asking if they can do this more frequently.

Yesterday we may have stretched things a bit far – the boy didn’t want to come to the pool with us, instead his friend V came by and they played outside in the morning. In the afternoon, he went over to V’s house to play a bit more, and I thought he’d be there for quite a while but left after an hour and came home. Eric, the girl and I were in town running errands, thinking that he was at V’s house. When I got home, I found that he was sitting at home with the lights off because he was afraid of robbers and thought we might have been parent-napped. I felt a bit bad, to be sure. Still, he said that he would definitely want to do something like that again, and now is more comfortable with it as well. Besides, I did point out that he could email us at any time, which hadn’t occurred to him.

I currently am not entirely sure where they are. They ran out of the house a bit ago to go play outside and perhaps see if some friends were home and could join them. I love that we can be somewhere where the kids can have their own life without us needing to hover or know exactly where they are at all times, and the growth opportunity it gives them.

-s

In which we move to the burbs…of Dublin

Lisbon reminded me of San Francisco, with its steep hills and angle bottom houses hugging each other in a line, the foggy mornings and misty bay. The Golden Gate bridge replica, built by the same architects to cross the bay, adds to the similarities. My favorite Lisbon detail was the tilework seen covering many of the building walls throughout the city. 

9 of my favorite tile patterns seen throughout the city

Tiles on the building, patterns in the cobblestones. Lisbon is a delight of visual decoration


Now, a true tourist trip to Lisbon should include a visit to the areas of Belen and Sintra, home to beautiful architecture, Unesco world heritage monasteries and a top class modern art gallery. But we were all travel weary, tired of sightseeing, and just didn’t have any motivation to hoof it out to the suburbs. So after the first day which Eric describes, we just wandered around the city for the rest of our time there.
There’s this cool food hall in Libson that has apparently been purchased by Time Out Magazine, where they have many different delicious food stalls surrounding a central dining area, brightly lit and with a large glass skylight overhead. I had pictured a nice walk down there, showing it to the family where we would ooh and ahh over the options, then sit down for a fun meal. What happened instead is that Eric does this thing where he chooses or forgets to eat a meal. This results in hungry Eric. Hungry Eric is a grumpy, snappy Eric who then makes poor food choices. We ended up eating pad thai, which wasn’t bad actually, but I was too annoyed to enjoy it properly. Sigh. 

We rambled our way up to the Duque Brewery, where Eric only consented to go inside if we called it “Du-kay,” not wanting to even hint at the evil University that shall not be named. Delicious beer and we made some delightful friends from Britain who were in Lisbon for New Year’s and I hope that we manage to meet up with them again too!


We’ve settled in Maynooth, Ireland now, about 40 minutes outside of Dublin. I feel like we left these dense urban landscapes and woke up in small town Oregon. The house is a roomy three bedroom duplex, and it feels like we can stretch out again, unpack and set up a house for living, not just staying.  It’s taken some doing to get the house put together, with a lot of time spent running errands and getting things like linens, dishes, and food. We couldn’t have done it without the help from the people at Maynooth University. 
You can tell a lot about what a country prioritizes by its grocery store, and Ireland is no different. I realized that I hate the first time I go into a new grocery store in any country. It’s disorienting to say the least, since nothing is in a familiar place. The kids were along for the first visit, and add to the mental chaos as every five minutes they chirp about something that’s caught their fancy (look! Harry Potter yogurt!), but has nothing to do with the red bell peppers I’m actually hunting for. 
Here’s the flour. Divided into cream flour, plain flour and strong flour. Strong flour? I think it means it’s got a higher gluten content but I’m not sure. I didn’t think I could handle it so I opted for the more compliant cream flour instead.


Wall of baked beans, revolting. Sorry to the Brits and Irish, it’s an acquired taste. Also “salad cream,” not sure what that is either. It’s NOT mayonnaise, since that’s on a different shelf. A wall of custard and a TON of prepackaged jello.  I couldn’t find any ricotta cheese, but if you want cheddar in all Irish varities, you’re covered. 


And of course, and ENTIRE freezer bin aisle is dedicated to potatoes of all types. 


So far our welcome has been warm and people are really friendly and helpful. I keep wanting them to talk as much as possible just so I can hear the Irish accent. They also really say things here like “You’re grand” for “that’s fine, don’t worry!” And my favorite “I’m only delighted” pronounced “I’m onie deloyted” and it is just so cute. I know, I know, I shouldn’t make broad sweeping generalizations and I know Ireland must have it’s share of rude and mean people too, but I haven’t met any yet. 
The kids have started school too, separate schools for boys and girls. They are so happy to be back in school again, and having homeschooled very lackadaisically for the last five months, I have confirmed that you have to be either slightly insane or a very different person from me to want to do that full time, so I’m only delighted too. (See how Irish I’m becoming??) They’re learning a bit of Irish in school, and come home with their newest words. The girl loves not having any boys at school, as she now doesn’t have to spend recess coming up with attack strategies to ward off the packs of chasers as she did at home.  The boy, however, misses the balancing energy of having girls in the school, and finds the place a bit rowdy. He’s learned that he is terrible at Gaelic football and also terrible at soccer, at least how it’s played here, where the ball is largely kept up in the air by skillful feet and hardly gets a chance to roll on the ground. I’m sure he’ll slowly amass a cadre of nerds and reestablish his D&D sessions here. The girl is also making friends in her class. I do have to say that I think she is in a class too low for her. The age cutoffs are done differently here, and the work she’s doing seems to be far too easy for her. The class above is full though, so we’ll just have to supplement on our own. 
I can’t believe how quickly it feels like the last five and a half months have passed, and that we’re at the midpoint of our year away. We’re all of us happy for the time we’ve had, and also to slow down for a while and catch our breath again too, with the new experience of small town suburban living, which will be its own adventure as well. 

-s