Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Short Pants

Oh the warm weather! On Saturday summer arrived. It's staying the week and the lovely heat and sunshine makes our final days in Ireland all the sweeter. The last two Irish summers have been cold and wet so everyone is rejoicing in this summer spell, unearthing short pants and sandals and gathering at beaches and barbecues. Saturday was warm but foggy. The clear skies and sunshine moved in on Sunday. It was a bank holiday weekend, so there were loads of people in Ballycastle for the three day weekend. We went to Achill Island on Saturday. Our friends Andrea and Randy had tipped us off to take the road until it ends, as that would bring us to Keem Strand. Excellent advice, as the beach was one of the loveliest I've ever seen. I am sure that it must be on travel magazines' top ten beach lists: a fine sandy beach with blue green waters, a view of small rocky islands in the distance and spectacular landscape edging the beach - high green stubbly hills with brave grazing sheep scrambling about the steep terrain. There was no wind at all and so the light fog felt cozy. We rolled up our pants legs and played footsie with the waves, found sticks to draw pictures in the sand, watched scuba divers do their backwards walk into the water, built castles and climbed the rocks and hills in the name of befriending sheep. On the way home we passed a golf course packed with golfers - and sheep. We are sure there's a children's song waiting to be written: The Fore Baah Blues.

It's hard to think of leaving this place. I'm not sure if it's a blessing or a curse, but I've had loads of work to do for COA this week. I feel panicked that I don't have as much time to do all my favorite things in my final week but the busy pace has kept me from getting too sentimental. I will have the report I am writing done by Friday, giving me the weekend to move between packing, cleaning and reveling in our final two days in Ireland. We agree that we would like to come back. We can rent house and studio through the foundation if we'd like (at a discount; it would be about 40 euro/day) and we also met a man from Dublin who owns a beautiful house near the Bunatrahir beach that would be even cheaper to rent if we did a long term rental. It will be a few years before we might be able to come back, but it's nice to have in the back of our minds as we say our good-byes. Finn's excited to go home; he talks constantly about his best friend Henning, but he also wants to come here again. Today is his last proper school day. Tomorrow his class goes on a field trip to a small amusement park about 2 hours away and Friday his school is closed because it's election day and the school is used for voting. So this morning was his last day to don a uniform. I made cupcakes to send in with him so his class can have a special snack to mark the occasion. I'll do cupcakes (or queen cakes, as they are called here) for Corin's school on Friday.

So what's on the list of things we want to do before we depart: a final fish and chips meal (with a bottle of Lilt for me), a final walk on the back roads (the yellow wild iris are blooming), two more runs, as much time talking wit Brian in Polke's as we can manage, a final lunch at Mary's (where I've discovered that the chicken, cheese and pepper pannini is the way to go), and walks with the boys to buy treats at Brian's. And taking pictures, lots and lots of them, to capture the scenes that are now commonplace to me. I hope the weather is lovely that last night, as I'd like to sit out on the stone sculpture benches in the front yard and watch the view over the fields towards the water and share some wine with David (although he'll have a Guinness, I'm sure) until the midges drive us inside. It gets dark here at about 11 p.m. and I'm grateful to have the extra time to see this place.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Home on the Horizon

A quiet house this morning. I’m just back from dropping this kids at their schools and David has gone to Knock Airport to pickup a new car. We were without a car for five days thanks to a miscommunication between the Baker family and the Budget family. I’m glad we had a chance to experience this place sans car. The only moment of “Grr, I wish we had a car” was yesterday when Corin and I walked into town to pickup Finn from school. I tried to time our walk so that we wouldn’t get caught in the rain. The landscape is so open here (not many big trees in this part of Ireland and Ballycastle is in a shallow valley the pitches into the ocean) that you can see great distances. When I am running I can be two miles from the house and look over to see our cottage. On slow, tired days I imagine the boys are standing at the window cheering me on. Anyway, the broad perspective allows one to get a ‘coming attractions’ of the weather. So yesterday I watched the clouds- some shedding rain - and tried to place our walk between showers. Ack. No such luck. Halfway to Finn’s school the wind picked up and hard rain and sleet fell. Corin and I hunkered down next to a stone wall; I drew him close and then propped the umbrella next to us like a lean-to, keeping the water and ice at bay. We chanted the “Rain rain go away” song and in two minutes the storm had passed and we each had just a damp bit on the side of our pants. It’s hard to mind such moments; damp trousers are a small price to pay for getting to huddle in a hail storm with a two year old wearing a Tigger rain coat.

We find ourselves sliding towards our departure from Ireland. Less than two weeks to go. I feel a mixture of panic, regret and “alright, let’s just get on with it.” The panic comes from knowing that there’s so much more to see and do here – yet we’ll never get to it all. I am caught in the same choice one finds at a favorite restaurant; do you order what you always order, knowing that it’s delicious, or do you branch out and try something new? I am torn between wanting the days to be humdrum Irish days – the routine that I love of running in the morning, walking the boys to school, working or reading or writing for a few hours each morning, having lunch with David and Corin, walking to get Finn later in the day, stopping at Polke’s so that Finn can buy a treat, lazy afternoons to play with the boys, improvising dinner, more play with the kids, bedtime routine for the boys, then reading, tv and talking with David – and days of newness and adventure. Not having a car has helped make this choice, as we’ve stayed close to home. This weekend we plan to do some exploring and will go to Achill Island on Saturday if the weather cooperates. There’s an abandoned abbey in a cow pasture about 15 miles away that we also want to visit. In addition, we’ve arranged for a sitter to come on Friday evening and David and I have plans to go to Ballina for dinner and a walkabout. The next 12 days will be spent in this tug-o-war between reveling in the familiar and pushing myself to see a few more new things before I go. I find that I am more inclined to go with old favorites than to try new things. I suppose that’s a sign that I am really very happy over here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lacken Strand Races

On Sunday afternoon we drove to the nearby village of Lacken for their annual horse races. The races are held on the beach (a.k.a. ‘strand’ in Ireland), a wide stretch of sand between the green hills that edge the ocean. It was one of the most exciting, beautiful sights I have ever witnessed. When I was young I didn’t have much of a horse phase the way many girls do, but I certainly loved seeing The Black Stallion and reading Black Beauty and seeing a dozen horses thunder down the beach, framed by the horizon of cliffs and ocean, left me breathless. The boys were spellbound. David was in a photo-frenzy (a painting is being started this week). From what little I see in the States, horse racing is from the world of the highly controlled and manufactured and marketed. Racetracks seem like the sporting world’s version of a shopping mall, gambling is depressing, the horses are products of teams of vets, trainers, and p.r. agents, and the horses owners seems to get more attention than the people riding the animals. It tips far more towards regimented than primal on the spectrum. At Lacken Strand, it felt primal. I was looking the wrong way through the telescope and could see horse racing as it used to be, from the perspective of what it’s turned into. There was a gaggle of bookmakers (okay, I have to pause here just to let you know that when Misha visited in April she spent the first day loving Ireland because it had so many shops where one could buy handmade books . . . then it dawned on her what those stores were for) set up around tables in the field next to the beach. Each bookie kept track of odds on a chalkboard and pattered in auctioneer lingo, drawing bettors in. The cars and trailers that brought the jockeys and horses were parked right alongside the cars of the spectators. If you ran back to your car to grab a jacket you’d likely hear a horse kicking the sides of its trailer or see a jockey chatting up a girl while sharing a bag of crisps. The jockeys were young, from age 12 to early 20s, most in their mid-teens. Most were males, but there were a few females in the mix and one young woman of about 14 rode in nearly every one of the day’s 14 races; her jacket was hot pink with black polka dots so she was hard to miss. She rode a different horse in each of the races and she must be one heck of a rider to be able to manage such a feat. The jockeys were dressed in crisp pants that seemed to be made of tyvek for their otherworldly whiteness; their jackets were satin and boldly colored, purple bodice with yellow sleeves or royal blue bodice with white and green striped sleeves. There was no code that dictated that boys dress in muted tones while girls get the bright colors. Everyone got to shine.
The track is laid out in a half-mile loop in the sand, with simple stakes and thin rope cordoning off the spectators from the action. By the next day, after the stakes are removed and the tide rises and falls there will be no trace of the trample of hooves. An ambulance stays parked in the middle of the beach and it got called into action a couple of times. The horses are high strung and the mere act of getting to the starting line seemed dangerous. There are no gates to stuff the horses into for the big start. Instead the horses gather in one general area and scuffle and twist and try desperately just to get the heck out of the scrum, while the jockeys try to keep them under control. When the signal to start the race is given some horses are facing backwards, some jockeys are distracted by the fracas. It’s not a tidy start and some horses never seem to recover, remaining half a track back from the pack for the entire race. Some riders were thrown and there’s a mad rush to get them off the track before the horses come round again. You see parents run like hell across the sand to get to their kids. I have a vision of parents at grade school soccer games rushing to their injured offspring on the field, except the risks seem far greater and the panic is in everyone’s chest.

We stayed for five of the races. There’s about 20 minutes between each race, allowing time for the horses in the coming race to promenade around a ring so that potential bettors can study the options and place bets. There’s a sideshow of activities for kids, so we took our intermissions at the bouncy slide and the face painting booth. Finn introduced himself to the guy working the bouncy castle: “Hi. My name is Finn. I’m new to Ireland.” He left the races painted up as Spiderman. Corin was in line to be painted when the skies opened up and rain chased us to the car. Being the little brother can be lousy sometimes. The races continued in the rain; that seemed fitting.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Finn came home yesterday from school bursting with news: “Everyone in the class got a star today except for David. He didn’t get a star because he was [drop voice to horrified stage whisper here] bold.” I love hearing his language shift into the local lingo. Trash is now rubbish and check marks are ticks. One thing I hope he picks up is the word “craic”. It’s Irish for “good time” and it’s pronounced “crack”. I get to giggling when I hear it used. My favorite is when it’s used in the ad for the Volvo Round the World Ocean Race that’s going to be stopping over in Galway later this week. The voiceover announces, “There will be boats, music, food, games for the kids, and craic.” I usually turn to David and say “Honey, grab the kids, there serving up crack in Galway.”

Monday, May 18, 2009

Missing: The Irish Version

Missing: The Irish Version

First of all, sorry for being off-line for so long. My parents came to visit for 10 days and I didn’t post because I was too busy eating the amazing food they were serving up AND too shocked at watching my usually demure mom teach Finn how to trash talk while playing ‘Go Fish’. Also, I think the rain rain rain had made my brain mossy and the writing thoughts just weren’t flowing.

Lest you think the earlier entry entitled ‘Missing’ was positioning me as one of those whingy Americans who goes overseas and then complains because she can’t get her decaf nonfat latte and a decent cell phone signal, let me dedicate this entry to some of the things that I love about Ireland and that I will miss a lot upon returning to Maine.

Let’s see . . . there’s raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Oh wait, that’s not it. No, it’s the drying rack, commercial breaks, schemes, and the kitchen window.

Our cottage has a small washing machine; it does a half load at a time. The system for drying clothes is brilliant. The ceiling in the living room/dining room is two stories high so hanging over the dining room table is a drying rack. It’s connected to a pulley and so one raises and lowers it as needed. So smart because: 1) it tends to rain just about every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes, so drying clothing outside would be a frustrating clothes pin polka; 2) it places the clothes in the toastiest spot in the house; 3) the clothes are out of the way. Also, there is just something so damn satisfying about hoisting a load of clothes up to the rafters each morning to dry. Something else that’s brilliant about the system: it holds exactly one half load of clothes – no more, no less. The scale of this house is spot on.

We’ve been watching some TV over here. Sports (UEFA finals for soccer, Gaelic football, rugby), movies, US police dramas (I get a particular kick out of watching Without a Trace on the Irish language station; the show is in English but all of the ads are in Irish; and I have to out my husband right here and now re: his new found love of the show The Mentalist), and an occasional afternoon episode of Oprah (which is running several months behind, so I just got to relive Obama’s victory all over again – very nice). Shows do not run on the tidy hour and half hour schedule here. One station may have a movie starting at 9:10 pm while the next channel has the evening soap opera starting at 9:25. Nothing lines up; it’s all a hodge podge. And so commercials aren’t placed into shows in the same way. Sometimes a 42 minute show might only have two commercial breaks, each a minute long. I confess to watching American Idol for the first time ever. I started watching in back in the US this winter and Ireland has been the ideal place to watch the show. The week’s two shows (performance show and results show) are on back-to-back each Saturday and there are only a couple of commercial breaks. What would take 2 hours to watch back in the US is just over 90 minutes over here – none of the annoying drawn-out drama of suspensefully placed ads.

Over here civic projects are referred to as ‘schemes’. New school being built? It’s a school building scheme. Highway being re-routed? It’s a new roadway scheme. And, if you are lucky enough to live in Ballycastle (which we are) you are experiencing the magic of the “new sewerage scheme.” The word scheme imbues, for me, a level of excitement and intrigue to these projects. I know it’s just a plain old infrastructural improvement, but it sounds so much more cunning, doesn’t it? Hey – it’s been raining a lot here. A girl’s gotta find excitement where she can.

I love our kitchen here. Some things are less than ideal, like the drawer full of dull knives (brought back into service by my Dad, who brought his knife-sharpeners with him to Ireland; the man is magic) and the lack of appliances I use a lot back in the States. But I’m doing aok, mainly because I plan menus that don’t require a food processor or sturdy mixer or decent cooking pot. And I like the creativity that’s forced by working out of a small pantry cupboard and a small dorm-scale fridge. One thing I love about the kitchen are the tiny fridge and the window over the sink. In the US the sink is set under the cabinets and has a view of a bit of wall and a bit of cabinet. The lighting is dim and the color we’ve painted the kitchen could most accurately be described as dusty dung. I often end up in a foul mood while doing the dishes at home and I think it’s because I feel as if I am trapped in a box with only a dishpan and a scrubby brush for company. Here I look out a window while I do the dishes. Our tiny backyard is edged by a stone wall and on the other side of the wall is a grazing field for local livestock. Beyond that is more fields and at the edge of it all is the ocean. When we arrived there were two bulls in residence in the nearest field (Clarence and Louis). Three weeks ago they were moved and the field became the maternity ward for local cows. Six cows were brought in and within a week, four of the cows had given birth. The kitchen window is one part CBS Sunday Morning’s “We’ll leave you this week in this beautiful spot in nature . . .” and one part “Wild Kingdom”. I’ve joked with David about taking a photo from the window and putting it over the sink at home. Or maybe I could get him to paint something and laminate it . . .

I am reserving judgment on the Eurovision song contest. It started last week and it is the craziest thing I think I have ever seen on TV – Vegas amped up on steroids purchased in Eastern Europe and dressed up by Dita Van Teese in consultation with Cirque du Soliel and the Solid Gold Dancers. It’s taking place in Moscow this year and is mc’d by two manic Russian spokesmodels. The best part of watching is the RTE Irish commentator who talks over the show. Sadly Ireland didn’t make it past the first round (apparently not enough body paint or back up dancers on stilts) and so he’s free to just rip into the other acts. He’s snarky and often exasperated with the wacky performances, the perfect foil to the bizarre glitz of the show. My money is on the Ukraine; go to You Tube and watch their piece. Don’t do this at work unless your boss is okay with you watching nearly naked gladiators while on the clock.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New Pics

There are some new photos if you click on the photo icon to the right and go to the flickr page. For some reason they're not rotating into the gallery on the blog. Hmmm . . . No time to tech trouble shoot now. It's a beautiful day and David and I are headed from Galway to Westport, then home to rescue my parents from Finn and Corin. Or maybe it's the other way around . . .

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Twist ties. Heavy duty foil. Crushed tomatoes. A salty, crunchy snack other than potato chips. These are all things that cannot be found in our corner of Ireland. Rumor has it that there’s a Marks & Spencer in Dublin where such luxuries abound, but in Northwest Mayo we are, as my Grandma Mary would say, SOL. I’d brought some Q-tips over (or ear buds, as they’re known here), bound together in a twist tie. Believe me, that thing is like gold around the house. I’ve frisked the kids for it and I believe I would go through the trash to find it; thankfully it hasn’t come to that yet. I think of the drawer at home where the twist ties collect, mate, reproduce and plot their next move in world domination. I will be kinder to them upon my return to Maine.
As for the foil, I don’t usually need heavy duty foil. The standard stuff will do. But foil over here is thin and tears easily. One might as well not use it because as you wrap up something the foil rips and the whole point of wrapping it up is moot. I admire Ireland for banning stores from distributing free grocery bags to customers and think perhaps this is their subtle way of eliminating foil from everyday use. Nevertheless I am on a quest for heavier foil.
The lack of crushed tomatoes is pretty easy to deal with, thanks to the fact that there’s an immersion blender here in the house. I make a lot of soups with crushed tomatoes as a base and canned chopped tomatoes + blender = mighty fine soup base.
This country is MAD about crisps. There is an entire aisle of every grocery store devoted to potato chips (crisps). They are usually sold in mega-packs of anywhere from 12 – 40 small bags swooped up in one giant bag. The brands of choice around here are Walker’s, Sam Spudz and Tayto. The flavors are out of control. Standard flavors are cheese and onion, salt and vinegar, and plain. But very quickly you wade into some wild stuff such as Peking Duck, Chocolate - Chile, and my very personal favorite (for insane concept – not for taste) Cajun Squirrel. I am not making this up. I am certain that they would not have to resort to such wing nut flavors (and I am guessing that there probably is a “wing nut” flavor in development) if they would just branch out from crisps into other salt crunchy snacks: tortilla chips, pretzels, chex mix, soy crisps, fritos, etc. Let the creativity blossom in new shapes, textures, and grains. We did manage to find pretzels in an odd EU grocery depot called Lidl. What are pretzels called in Ireland? “Salt sticks”. You have to give them points for clarity.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Andrea Murrill, the artist who’s here from Minneapolis with her husband Randy and two year old Soren, is responsible. When we first met she asked if I’d join her for Bingo at the parish hall the following Monday. In a new country and open to any adventures, especially those that involve cash prizes and tea breaks, I agreed. The next Monday we took the last couple of chairs in a crowded hall and settled in for an evening of Bingo. We notices right away that the cards were laid out differently than they are in the States (or to be more specific, differently than they are in 1st grade classeooms in the States, as that was the last time we played genuine Bingo; I won’t count playing “BAKER” at our wedding rehearsal dinner). There are no letters lining the top of the card, no B,I,N,G, or O to use for orienteering. The caller simply calls out a number between 1 and 90. Sounds simple enough, but then you must factor in the Irish accent and the Bingo slang. We spent the first few cards a bit confused by eventually cottoned on. Neither of us won that first night. Andrea went back with Randy the following week and won 15 Euro (about $20). Last night I joined her, her mom and her friend visiting from Arizona and lo and behold, I won 15 Euro. I am proud to say that when I realized I won I called out “Check!” just like the locals (Andrea shouted out “BINGO!” when she won, earning lots of good-natured laughter from the hometown crew). Here’s a glossary of Irish Bingo slang, should you find yourself in need:
Cat’s Eye = 1
One Lone Duck = 2 (and everyone in the room does a single “quack”)
One Great Lady = 8 (‘cause it’s curvy – get it?)
Downing Street = 10
One Great Pair of Legs = 11 (and everyone whistles)
Unlucky for Some = 13
Key in the Door = 21 (I’m still trying to figure this one out)
A Pair of Ducks = 22 (and everyone in the room does a double “quack”)
Half the House = 45
Two Great Ladies = 88
Top of the House = 90

Monday, April 27, 2009

Stinky Pony

One of my favorite things about being here is walking. This is not the walking of hikes or purposeful power walks; this is the walking that I grew up with and had not done since moving to Maine. It’s the walking that comes from not having access to a car and needing to walk the kids to school; of having postcards to mail and needing to walk to the post office; of running out of milk and needing to walk to the store to buy more. We do have a car while here in Ireland but David is the only one who drives it. The combination of driving on the opposite side of the road and driving stick shift is daunting to me, especially with the kids in the car. So I have opted to not drive in Ireland. This means I spend a lot more time hoofing it from point A to point B. In Maine I walk in order to walk. The destination isn’t the purpose so much as the walking is. The same is true for the kids. I remember a year ago when Finn had a dentists’s appointing in Bar Harbor. We drove to Kids’ Corner, parked, dropped Corin off, and then Finn and I walked the three blocks to the dentist’s office. It was the first time we’d ever walked a few blocks in the name of an errand. Usually our walks are around Hancock Point or along the shore or on a carriage road in Acadia. In those three blocks we stopped and looked at people’s yards, greeted passers-by, analyzed litter, and looked in store windows. Certainly we stumble upon numerous marvels when we walk the shores of Frenchman and Taunton Bays, but for a city girl, the town walk feels comfortingly familiar and it’s a joy to be able to share the experience with the kids. In Ireland we’ve had ample opportunity to walk. This morning David was out early, so I walked both boys to school. Corin is due at 9:15 and Finn is due at 9:20. At 9 a.m. we don coats and hats, Finn shoulders his backpack, I tote a bag with Corin’s snack and diapers, and off we go. We dodge puddles, we balance our way across the cattle grate, we peek over the wall at the bulls, we stop and greet the local border collie (“MY BUDDY!” Corin exclaims whenever he sees him), we oooo at the passing tractors, we rush past the yard that has the pony (“Stinky pony” Finn always mutters), we play run/freeze games, I hold Corin’s hand, sometimes Finn holds Corin’s hand too, Corin tries to grab Finn’s hood, occasionally one of the boys stumbles and requires hugs, we marvel at how much litter there is in Ireland, we talk about the coming school day, the afternoon’s plans, the likelihood that we’ll walk into town in the evening for ice cream, and how it is that Superman can break a chain with his bare hands. I’m reminded of the walk that I took every school day for 9 years. It was with my brothers and usually my dad in the mornings and my mom in the afternoons, until I got old enough to make the trek with just my brothers or on my own. It must have been about 10 blocks and the daily pilgrimage had its sacred spots, like greeting Mr. Jones as he sat on his front porch or worked in his garden. Then there were the walks to the 7th Street Safeway or post office, early on with Mom holding our hands and later on on our own when a last minute ingredient was needed. There were the walks to and from babysitting gigs, soccer practice, church and friends’ houses. When high school started there were the walks to bus stops and subway stations. I spent so much of my youth walking and truth be told, I had no idea how much I was missing it until I got to Ballycastle. There’s a satisfaction in it. All I can think is that the part of me that thrills at a double play, celebrates buy one get one sales and revels in having my cake and eating it too finds great satisfaction in accomplishing a mission (get to school, get the stamps or the milk), while getting some exercise, while happening upon unexpected marvels, while participating in community, all by simply setting one foot in front of the other.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


David is putting the boys to bed tonight. I am wrung out, having just spent the post-dinner hour working with Finn on his homework. Each afternoon he comes home with worksheets in his backpack, our first round of tickets into the world of kids+homework. My guess is that it would be easier to guide Finn through his homework if a) he had more time to ease into the idea of homework, and b) the lessons were at his level of knowledge. But the kids are a bit further along on their knowledge of letters and numbers and so things don’t come as easily to him. In addition, he’s never had homework before so the daily dose feels excessive to him. We find we are walking a fine line as parents: we want to be relaxed about it and not have him feel anxious about the things he doesn’t know as easily as his classmates; we don’t want him to feel that learning is a burden or a bore. At the same time we want him to recognize that learning does take some work and focus; he can’t just blow it off. I have to admit I also feel some pressure to represent our country and our family and not totally shame either entity by having our son show up every day with school work that’s sloppy or undone. Yet again parenting throws challenges into the mix that I hadn’t even considered.

There was a moment today that I want to remember but I’m not sure my writing can capture it adequately. I was at home with Corin and David. It was after lunch and Corin was dancing on the couch, Richard Shindell’s souped up version of the song “Sitting On Top of the World” playing on the stereo. Corin called for me to dance with him and so I grabbed his hands and we danced and whooped it up. Then David called my attention to the scene out the window. Immediately behind our house is a large field where bulls graze. On the other side of that field is the town’s cemetery. And today someone from the town was being buried. As I shifted my focus from dancing to the window, I saw a hearse being driven down the road to the cemetery. It was followed by at least one hundred townspeople on foot, a slow procession to the cemetery. To be holding your two year old’s warm hands as he sings and jumps on the couch and to see a town walking to bury someone they know, they love, with only a pane of glass and a green field between you . . . that’s a moment of humility and gratitude and all I can do is wish that when I go there’s not only a town’s worth of people to walk me to my burial spot but also a mom and a child whooping it up, doing some serious shimmying nearby.

Sunday, April 19, 2009



It’s gorgeous here today. We’ve had two days of warm, sunny weather and I write this while sitting outside on the grass in front of our house. David is reading Jungle Book to the boys. We spent the morning in Sligo, a city about 90 minutes from here. Dan and Misha had been visiting since Thursday and proposed a day trip to Sligo; they will spend the night there tonight and then head towards Dublin and their flight home from there.

Sligo felt like other favorite European cities, in that it had a bustling, hip edge to it, but also had kept its sense of history. The city center was a cluster of winding streets, many of them only open to pedestrians. Pubs and shops lined the crooked streets . People were dressed smartly, shoes and glasses cooler than what are worn in the States – definitely besting what’s worn most days in Maine. We wandered around, window shopping, scoping out lunch places. While Dan, Finn, Corin and I played by the river, Misha and David sussed out a great restaurant for lunch. Down a jig-jog alley, the patisserie had tall windows that let in the day’s brilliant sunshine, cases filled with tartlets and croissants, and a menu that made us all – kids, vegetarians, foodies – happy. The boys had thin, crepe-like pancakes covered with powdered sugar and lemon juice. Also on the table were a chicken, emmenthaler and tomato chutney grilled wrap, eggs florentine served on a grilled baguette, a chunky tomato soup, a mushroom and aged cheddar tartlet, a roasted veggie and goat cheese wrap, and various cups and glasses of coffee, juice, smoothies and cocoa. There was not a scrap or a sip left on that table by the end of the meal. We wandered more after lunch, a brief stop at an art museum (David was hoping to see some of Jack Yeats’ drawings but the museum was being renovated and the temp space only had contemporary work on display) and then an hour at Sligo Abbey, a ruin that was once the home of the local Dominican brothers from 1250s – 1780s. It turns out that centuries-old ruins are the ideal places to take kids on sunny days. Having survived fires, ransacking, and the pressures of the Church of England, the old stone walls were indestructible in the hands of a 2 year old and 5 year old. The entire time we were in Sligo I felt a shifting sense of place: at times it felt like we were in Paris; at other times it felt like we were in Edinburgh.

I’m sure there’s more that I can say about Sligo but right now I am distracted by the show David is watching in TV. “Glas Vegas” is a variety show a la American Idol (but with more step dancing) but it’s in Irish (with English subtitles) and it’s a testament to the kindness (and perhaps blarney) of the Irish that the judges don’t find fault with anyone, no matter how awful they are (and there are some doozies).

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Flora and Fauna

The wild primrose have come into bloom. A pale greenish yellow blossom with a brighter yellow center, they cluster on the banks along the road. When we arrived last week the gorse was just coming on. I remember gorse from my hiking in southern England in 1992; if one saw its bush sans flowers one wouldn’t believe such a stubborn scratchy looking plant could every be host to such abundant bright yellow flowers. But the blooms cover the countryside in spring. Often they grow along fencelines and so the routing of stone walls that travel up and down hillsides gets a bright yellow highlighter this time of year. I can see the beginnings of wild irises in the muddy spots along the road. David says that just west of here all of the green and flowers disappear and the landscape is more desolate and brown. I haven’t ventured in that direction yet. My runs, walks, and trips to Ballina via car and bus keep me in this greening corner of County Mayo.

The cows, horses and sheep in the fields surrounding Ballycastle are thriving. I’ve reinforced the reputation as an odd bird (initally in place because I go for runs) by singing to the animals. There are two bulls that graze in the field behind our house; I watch them as I do dishes and sing Neil Diamond to them. “Solitary Man” seems to please them. The paddocks of cows seem to like Beyonce, esp. when I dedicate “All The Single Ladies” to them. Finally there’s this one field of sheep that I run by that has all white sheep except for one black lamb and, I know it’s mean of me, but I sing that lamb “Love Child”.

The town is both busier and slower as Easter Weekend arrives. It’s a vacation destination for many in more urban areas of Ireland, so some of the cottages have people in them for the holiday. Meanwhile the small retail community shuts down. David had to do an under the counter candy bar purchase today, as Polke’s was closed but David caught the store owner as he was heading out. He gave David the candy bar but wouldn’t take money for it today since it was Good Friday.

This morning we went to Andrea, Randy and Soren’s house. They live a couple of miles west of town. We had house envy, as their place is much bigger than ours, with huge windows and gorgeous views of the water. The downside of their place is that one can’t easily walk from there to town. Ultimately I am glad we are where we are, even if the house is tiny and with small windows that let in little light. The boys played and argued over toys, then we all went for a walk to a nearby cemetery. The boys stomped about while the grown-ups read gravestones and imagined histories. A sudden rain shower bracketed by double rainbows had us hurrying back to their house for lunch. We then took our guys back home; I tucked them in for naps while David headed to the arts center for an afternoon of painting.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Gettin' Windy With It

The wind has been fierce for the past couple of days. When we first arrived the weather was sunny but blustery and everyone spoke of the gorgeous spring weather we were having. I should have known that if 25 mph winds counted as gorgeous spring weather then we were going to be in for some mighty big gusts. Yesterday we drove to Lacken Bay, about 10 miles from our house, near the town of Killala. It’s a horseshoe shaped cove with a vast expanse of a fine sand beach. The boys had found pails and shovels in a closet here in the house and were eager dig and build kingdoms of sand. The wind seemed strong near our house and as we walked across Lacken Strand we experienced bone-shaking, teeth-whitening wind. We attempted cheerful play for about 20 minutes but realized we were being damn fools and so we packed up our bucket, shovels and grin and bear it attitudes and hustled back to the car.

Today the wind is even stronger. As I sit here in the house I feel like I’m on a boat, waves of wind crashing against the east wall of the house. The weather for the next few days is supposed to more of the same, with rain thrown in to spice things up. The upstairs bedroom has become a playroom for the boys since outside play isn’t so easy. They’ve dragged the mattresses off the beds, piled them up with pillows and blankets, and made it their fort/clubhouse/trampoline. If the weather stays rainy for days then my guess is that they’ll br dragging tables, chairs and the peat stove up there eventually.

In other news, Finn is intrigued by the swaps in names of things, crisps for chips, chips for fries, lorry for truck, etc. He’s decided that this means any word can be swapped for another and so each day contains several announcements along the lines of “Mom, you know what the word in Ireland is for “house”? “Tree!” and so on. Our brains are being rewired from driving and now from Finn’s Irish lexicon. I’ll come home turning in endless circles and babbling about needing to get back to my tree. Just pat me on the head and send me on my way.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

slow flickr

The flickr stream of images that should be in the sidebar of the blog seems to take forever to load so I will add a couple of pics here and try to fix the sidebar app.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

We Leave Off the Final ‘S’ for Super Lumpy

There used to be an annual list, printed on New Year’s Day I think, in the Washington Post’s Style section. It was a tally of what was in and what was out. As an insecure teenager, I loved the list. It seemed like I had the decoder ring to popularity. Nevermind that I didn’t understand or have access to many of the items listed (Absolut out, Grey Goose in; tennis bracelet out, diamond chokers in). I clipped the list, saved it and studied it. And as I am making my way into living an everyday life in Ireland I feel like I am developing a similar sort of list. Only this one is a “Love it. Hate it.” list. I feel guilty posting this, esp. so early in my stay, like an ungrateful guest. But I am betting that the love its outweigh the hate its. And hate is too strong of a word. More like “things I wish I could change but I can’t so I’ll just live with them”.

Here’s my first entry for the list:
Love It: The people. It is a cliché, I know. The people here are warm and lively. Maybe it’s part small town life and part Ireland, but people remember you days after meeting you, joke easily in conversation, are patiently kind to children (even jet-lagged annoying ones. Not that I’ve encountered any like that recently), and are gifted at being generous without leaving the receiver feeling either guilty or indebted. Every person we’ve met has been kind, from Brian Polke, owner of the small grocery store/pub at the foot of town (his family’s run the store since the 18th century) to Mary, owner of Mary’s Cottage Kitchen, the town’s one restaurant, who sensed our exhaustion at lunch on Tuesday (just after arriving in town) and said “Not to worry. I’ll just put a plate of some things together for you. Do the little ones like drinking chocolate? And books about tractors? Because there are some books over there in the corner.” I met up with her again this morning, me running into a ferocious headwind and an unexpected stinging cold rain, she driving to the restaurant. She stopped, offered me a lift, and when I declined she spent a minute asking about the boys and David despite her car inerior getting pelted by the rain. She told me that the restaurant wouldn’t be open for another hour but I could always come around back and she’d make me some tea to warm up after my run.

Hate It: The mattresses. There are six mattresses in our house, five on twin beds and one on a double bed. Every single one of them is smooshed and lumpy. I slept on a simple foam mattress until I got to college so I am not one to get all princess and the pea on you. The mattresses in this house are lousy and I have fantasies in the middle of the night about just springing for a new one or setting up an endowed fund for the Arts Foundation that brought us here, expressly for the purchase of new mattresses. The double bed in which David and I are sleeping has the added limitation of being short; it’s hemmed in by a curvy iron headboard and footboard, a retaining wall that won’t let my legs and feet extend to their natural length. The good news is that a glass of wine each night insures that I fall asleep quickly when I hit the hay. I start drinking the glass with supper and then finish it while sitting by the peat fire, reading and chatting with David. This is a nice routine so perhaps there is a posturpedic lining to this lumpy mattress afterall.

Friday, April 03, 2009

April 2nd

2 April 2009
Tea water is on and a plate of biscuits and fruit await us, so this will be quick. It’s 8:30 and the boys just went to bed. Their schedule has shifted a lot since arriving here. School for Finn and daycare (or child minding, as they call it) start at 9:15 a.m. so our usual 7 a.m. scramble remains back in Maine. For the second morning in a row I’ve gone for a run at 7 while the guys sleep in. I get back around 8 and rouse David and the boys and we eat breakfast and get dressed and head out the door at 9 for the ten minute walk to daycare/school.

Finn’s first day at school went well. He didn’t seem nervous walking in that first day and at day’s end was full of tales of misbehaving boys in his class; that boy loves the drama of the “bad guy”. He also roped several students in his class into playing spiderman at recess. He said that the girls were better at playing at it than the boys. The kids in his class have already tackled writing numbers and letters and so Finn is being thrown in the deep end. He came home with homework and I got my first taste of nudging my son through homework last night. More nudging was required this morning when it was time for Finn to wear his uniform to school today. He didn’t have to wear it yesterday because it was gym day. Today it was a regular school day and so the collared white shirt, red v-neck sweater, navy pants and navy and red striped tie were on deck. He grumbled his way through getting dressed but David told me that on the way home today Finn asked if he could wear his uniform tomorrow even though there’s no school tomorrow. School is on break for the next couple of weeks for Easter vacation.

Corin will be in daycare through next Thursday, then they go on break for a week and a day. So the bit of routine we’ve worked out these past couple of days will shift into some new version of a schedule. It’s easy to roll with it. The pace of this place is slower and things like no commute to work/school creates pockets of additional time. Corin’s in daycare for just 3 hours each morning, but it was enough time for me to work on some strategic planning for COA’s admissions efforts.

This morning’s run was nearly 6 miles, the longest I’ve run since last fall. David scouted painting locations yesterday and scoped out running routes for me too. Today I ran past several farms, greeting cows along the way with a curt “Ladies.”

I connected with a local woman who grows greens and herbs in her hoop houses and, come warmer temps, a broad variety of veggies in raised beds. Today she sold me a basket full of lettuce, arugula, tarragon, thyme, cilantro, parsley, scallions, chives and sage, with borage and calendula blossoms tucked in among the greenery. Her name is Ursula, a charmed name in my life these days.

OK, I have a date to eat dessert and have tea with David while we watch the Veronica Mars dvds we brought with us (thanks to Ann’s generosity). Sleep tight.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


1 April 2009

The boys are outside playing and David is out surveying the surrounding countryside for possible paintings. I’m sitting by the open front door writing this and keeping an ear and eye on the boys. It’s the first moment of calm since we arrived. Time to let the realization that we’re really here in Ireland sink in a little deeper.

Our trip from Maine to Ballycastle went as pretty well. We left Maine on Sunday afternoon, stayed at Tim and Carolyn’s in Boston on Sunday night and had the run of their house on Monday morning. We wanted to the boys to have as much time playing and running about as possible before they got on the plane. Monday afternoon we headed to Graham and Rainey’s for lunch and a quick walk to a neighborhood ice cream place. G & R are kindly keeping our car in their Roslindale driveway while we’re away and doubled their generosity by volunteering to drive us to the airport. We got to Logan in plenty of time for our 7 p.m. flight. After a family pic taken by Rainey and big hugs goodbye, we headed to our gate. There was a little island of Irish accents at the boarding area, the first sign of the changes to come.

The boys didn’t sleep much on the flight. The thrill of built in dvd players at every seat, the carts of drinks, and the bright lights of the plane kept them revved up well past their usual 7:30 bedtime. By 10:30 they finally drifted off, and David and I weren’t far behind. Two hours of head bobbing sleep and it was time to wake and prepare for landing. It was 6 a.m., Irish time. The excitement competed with the exhaustion and for the time being the excitement won out.

Luggage arrived safely, passport control and customs were a breeze, and car rental took a bit of time, but wasn’t too challenging. David and I were starting the see the effects of little sleep, as small decisions took the brain power usually reserved for Latin translations or calculus class. We had thought we’d stop at a B&B and have breakfast and sleep for a few hours but it became clear that the boys were too keyed up and such a stop would not be very restful. So we stopped for a quick breakfast in a creepy Dickensian hotel, then hit the road, a four hour drive to Ballycastle in front of us. The boys fell asleep and David attempted his conversion to driving on the left side of the road. He did remarkably well on day one, although I know his brain hurt from focusing so hard. Both of us found that in order to shift into driving on the left side we had to put our brains in “topsy turvy” mode and we tried to translate everything into its oposite. If directions said to turn “right” our instict was to turn left. If the car got too stuffy and warm I would turn the heat up now down. Yep, we were tired and the switch to driving on the opposite side inspired some oddball decisions and behavior. I’m grateful we got to our intended destination and didn’t end up in Istanbul.

We got to Ballycastle around 1 p.m.. We went straight to the Ballinglen Arts Foundation office, met with the program adminstrator, Una, and got a tour of the Foundation’s facilities. David’s studio is small, a white box of a room. It’s hard to see him doing much painting here, as it’s so different from the busy jumble sale of a studio back home. He thinks he’ll use it to do landscape paintings from photos on rainy days. We met a couple of the other artists – Patty, from Alberta, Canada; Andrea, from Minneapolis, MN. Andrea is here with her husband and 2 year old son, Soren. The staff think it’s a hoot that there are 2 two year olds with rhyming names here at the same time. It will be nice to have another family around and Andrea has already been helpful in giving us the scoop on a couple of activities and resources for kids. It’s nice that the artists come and go on staggered schedules, as there is this ability for those who’ve been here a few weeks to lend advice to the newbies.

After about an hour at the Una took us to our house arts center, Una took us to our house. It’s just at the edge of the tiny town – the sidewalk ends just a few more houses up the road. The house is small – what a change from our place in Maine. It’s white stucco over stone, walls about 4 feet thick. The door is painted dark green. It’s in a cluster of other homes the same size and color, each with a different colored door. The houses are arranged around a large grassy area that has a mysterious slate and concrete structure in the middle of it. The boys love playing on this structure. They also love the local boarder collie who comes to visit us frequently. Patty lives in the house nextdoor (purple door). The other houses sit empty, apparently summer vacation homes of people who live in eastern Ireland.

Back to the house tour: living room/dining with peat burning fireplace, teeny kitchen, three bedrooms (two on the first floor, one on the second floor. The boys have one room on the first floor and David and I have the other. The second will be saved for visitors. The size and look of the house unfortunately don’t lend themselves to being scenes for David’s paintings. He’s feeling a bit adrift in terms of what to paint, but hopefully the confusion will clear and inspiration will hit. Luckily the landscape is gorgeous and the coastal location creates dramatic weather patterns and unusual light. We are about as close to the ocean as we are at our house in Maine. Between us and the water are farms, fields and cows. The smell of burning peat, cow pastures and sea air will forever be imprinted on my mind. I’m guessing it’s not going to be part of Chanel’s next parfum series.

The boys are demanding a walk, so I’m going to end this soon. The other quick highlights are a wonderful long night of sleep, a run first thing this morning (taking me through town, through farmland, along the ocean and then back home), Finn’s first day of school (where there’s another Finn in his class and where the children learn Gaelic phrases along with their numbers and letters) and a trip to the large town of Ballina for groceries and library card. Have we really only been in Ballycastle a little over 24 hours? I think kids force a quick transition to being settled.

I hope you’re all well.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pack It In

Last minute details abound - and compete for attention. Today is my last day in the office. It's the boys last day at Kids' Corner. And David is at home crating his final painting for shipment to a gallery in New York City. The sense of finality is silly, as we'll be back in just over 10 weeks, but I'm feeling the sentimentality and wistfulness that comes from big transitions. And the song that just came up in the shuffle adds to the mood; I'm listening to a mix that Heather just made for me and because she is a witchy dj, she worked Patty Griffin's "Useless Desire" in at just the right moment. A song about the urge to say good-bye and move past the familiar, freedom and sadness mixed in equal amounts.
Dan and Misha are picking up the boys tomorrow morning so that David and I can focus on packing and do some housecleaning. I am betting they will return around lunchtime exhausted and ready for a nap (and yes, that prediction covers Finn, Corin, Dan and Misha). Tomorrow afternoon Jay, Ursula and Max are coming over and we're getting takeout from The Mexican Restaurant (seriously, that's what it's called). The weather is supposed to be splendid tomorrow so we'll get a long walk in at some point. Sunday we'll spend the morning at home and then after lunch we'll drive to Boston. We'll stay with Tim and Carolyn and the kids. On Monday we'll putter away the morning in Boston, then head to Graham and Rainey's for lunch. Graham has kindly agreed to drive us to the airport and keep our car in their driveway for the duration of our trip. They are generous souls, those two. I have a feeling that Sunday and Monday will be a lot of "hurry up and wait" and the limbo will make us a little nuts, but it gives us the space to run last minute errands and keeps the kids from having to go straight from 5 hour car trip to 6 hour plane trip, so it's what we've chosen to do. Our flight leaves at 7 p.m. on Monday. Please direct your "sleep sleep sleep" wishes 35,000 feet skyward on Monday evening, targeting the mantra at a rosy cheeked 5 year old and an impish 2 year old.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Still in Maine

I'm setting up the blog for Ireland today, grafting this onto the blog that I started a few years ago but upon which I never posted. My energy is spread across keeping the kiddos happy, keeping the household afloat, application reading, and prepping for the departure to Ireland. In other words I have little time to be prepping this blog; we'll make this the reason I took the easy way out and chose the greenest template for my blog. Cliche. Maybe Ireland has pulled off the most cunning marketing ploy of the past 4 centuries and when I get there I'll see the green brand is a ruse. The whole place is desert, sheep grazing the xeriscaped hillsides. If so, I will promptly change my template to a tan one in protest.