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.