BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Holiday Season

Well, as the official end of Christmas (and etc.) is today, we now move into a more chaotic schedule. With Claire moving her stuff into storage over the next two days, Brad will be lifting. And reception guest arrivals, mean dinners, playdates and catch up time galore.

How does one keep an excitable toddler from going rabid and biting the ankles of the endless new people he supposedly "knows"? I am hoping that a good dose of "Mama Zen", the occasional chocolate bribe, and a healthy dose of "training pants" (versus underwear) may fit the bill. But we'll have to see, because even Christmas day was all too much for Nikolai's two-year-old sensibilities. As he told Uncle Peter, upon being presented a gift, "I already opened lots of presents today at Grammy's" and so that one remained unopened.

The photo was taken at the Vancouver Christmas Market. A bit overpriced... but then again these sorts of things always are. At least the photo was free! (As you can see, someone needs to work on their "fake smile")

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Vancouver through new lenses

To give context to my observations on Vancouver, I must first describe my experiences in Ireland. Everyone loves the Irish, whether at home or overseas. This is because the Irish are polite and kind, almost to a fault (I'm sure my Irish friends are shaking their heads at this... but imagine how rude I must come across much of the time!) I've blogged before about how, in general (this whole blog will be generalizations) the Irish would never complain. But the politeness in the culture extends beyond that. For example, you wouldn't be given your bill in a restaurant, because it would be "rude" to suggest that you should leave (it took us a few restaurant outings to figure that out! Waiting at an empty table for our bill was a wee bit awkward).

Once you have a personal connection of any kind with a person, they are like your BFF (hence why pubs are so much fun). Thus, the support network of people who would help one out if needed would extend to most of your acquaintances. For example, our friend Steffi delivered her baby prematurely, and so they spent a month going to the hospital in Dublin. Their friends made up a rota and left a meal outside their door every day. The meals did not come with any names attached so that Steffi (et al.) wouldn't feel obligated to thank everyone.

Thus, in general, strangers wouldn't talk to you, for if they were to do so... then you would have more of a connection and an obligation to be kind and friendly. For example, when the mums from the toddler group all went out for an xmas drink, we were approached in the pub by a fairly tipsy man (think effusive complements and endless ballads). But we weren't able to get rid of him, because no one wanted to be rude. So after about 15 minutes, we just decided to ignore him (which was the rudest you could be in that type of situation) and he eventually moved on.

Now on to VANCOUVER. A world class city, in a world class province. So self assured that the licence plates (I kid you not) proudly state: "The Best Place on Earth". There are mountains, an ocean, skyscrapers and culture. The city is a multicultural melting pot (40% of Vancouverites were born outside of Canada), a sustainable city (Eco Density was trademarked courtesy of city hall). So politically correct is Vancouver, that the previous mayor, Sam Sullivan, was quadriplegic and Caucasian, yet fully fluent in Cantonese, and the current mayor, Gregor Robertson's claim to fame is his "Happy Planet" juice company and the fact that he's an avid cyclist.

As an illustration of Vancouver's entitlement, on Saturday, we did a shop at our two closest grocers and tasted the samples of the season. They included:
- chocolate truffles (local, and your choice of 10 flavors)
- panettone made into french toast, served with whip cream and maple syrup
- brie, with nuts and cranberries served on rice crackers
- matcha green tea with cocoa
- manuka honey chocolate bars
- plus the usual meat bits (not sampled, so not described)

And the city steeps it's people with this sense of wealth and self being. The hipsters, the yuppies, the granola, the boomers and all the ethnic groups are celebrated and bolstered in this city. So, what we have noticed the most in Vancouver is that strangers talk to you! They smile at Nikolai, complement him on his coat, his talking, they tell us how to get off the bus with a stroller (buggy), that Nikolai should be walking as it's better for his health. All of this is delivered with a sense of self esteem that suggests that their opinions should be expressed, yet without an obligated friendliness; for in this city you can have an encounter and then disappear into the crowd.

No pictures of Vancouver as it's rain, rain, raining, so we stole one off the interweb...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Traveling toddlers don't need sleep

On the trip out to Ireland, Nikolai was only 18 months.  He slept much of the flight, freaked out in the Dublin airport and slept once we finally got to 11 Carton Square. I figured our way back (29 months) would pretty much be the same or better (as he now sleeps through the night, verbally communicates feelings, etc.)

I always knew that Nikolai was a partier... but this was extreme. He slept only 2 hours on the 9 1/2 hour flight. That would be fine if the flight had occurred during the day, as two hours is sort of a typical nap length. But this was an evening flight, with our plane landing at 2:30 am Maynooth time. So then I figured he'd fall asleep in the 1/2 hour car ride back to Grammy's... or after we arrived... or some time before 9:30 pm local time. He then woke up at 1:30 am demanding his dinner. Luckily he went back to sleep after 3 hours of play... for another few hours.

This lack of sleep was making Brad and I a tad grumpy... but not Mr. Nikolai. The next night was actually worse (hard to imagine that it was possible) with a wake up at 3:30 am... and no return to sleep. We did get to listen to several renditions of Twinkle Star, Hey Baby (not my choice of music, but a regular appearance at the Library story time) and travel related stories.

This morning we got to sleep until 4:30 am, so things are looking up! And my brain is finally together enough to blog.

We know we're back in Vancouver because:

- there's so much variety in the stores that we are at a loss when trying to shop

- the fruit is surprisingly bland (not sure why this would be... but sooo true. Perhaps it's less local? Would the Okanagan and California be further than France and Spain?)

- the cars are sooo polite! (ie. they stop at crosswalks and stop signs and don't park on the sidewalk)

- bikes are everywhere

Other comments:

- Nikolai was fed fruit cocktail as his dessert on the plane (see picture above)... and he was probably the only person waxing ecstatic over how good the food was.

- the view is breath taking (even Nikolai is in awe of the mountains)

- inflation in Canada coupled with deflation in Ireland makes us groan when grocery shopping. When we moved to Ireland everything was sooo much more expensive... but this doesn't seem to be true anymore.

- today is the first day we feel awake (though still under slept... but 6 hours is better than less), which is good because we're off to talk to the event coordinator at Season in the Park.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Farmleigh and Mind Control

The snow started melting on Thursday... and so yesterday we went to Farmleigh. It was nice: a good (although over-priced) food market, choral singers and Santy (as they refer to him over here) made a few appearances. Nikolai played shy the first time Santy came out, but the second time I had to take him away, as he wouldn't let Santi talk to any other children. Farmleigh is the house where all the visiting dignitaries stay. It was nicely decorated for Christmas, and pictures of its visitors dot the environs (including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton).

As we walked through the park on our way back to the train station, the sky was a bright clear blue, and full of contrails. Now, I know of the scientific explanation for contrails... but Brad told me that there's also a conspiracy theory suggesting the contrail are actually mind numbing chemicals being released from airplanes to ensure submissiveness. And though I'm not a believer in things that are less then rational... it seems somehow fitting at the moment.

The budget faithfully came out on Wednesday... and it came not with a roar but with a mew. Everyone is resigned, sad, and stoic; rather than angry, indignant or shouting with the lungs of a country that staged the 1916 Rising.

I blame the media... which, in Ireland, has never been critical enough... and certainly delivers more of the "party line" rather than analytical information. Also, there's a surprising number of people in my life who willfully choose to know nothing about the IMF, the budget, or the bank bailouts. The only hope now is that the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) has promised to bring the bailout to a vote in the Dail (Parliament). But in order for the Irish not to once again be relegated to a position of European servitude, people need to get angry and get loud.

Some "fun" bailout facts:
-The Irish government won't even be able to pay the interest off on the bailout in the next few years
-The total bailout amount is €85 billion. A ridiculous amount for a population of just €4.5 million to pay back.
-The Irish Government is also putting €17.5 billion into the bank bailout, drawing from it's cash reserves and the pension fund.

Given that the average Irish person is not really living it up to the tune of €85 billion, one has to wonder where all the money is?? As it turns out, the Irish bank bonds are held by a number of other countries... is it irony or just plain feudalism that is resulting in the Irish population receding back into "hard times" so that the rest of the Europe (and perhaps the global economy) can be paid out?

Regardless, the pressure is on... with the threats of Portugal, Spain and Italy going bankrupt "if Ireland is not bailed out" and the Euro failing "if Ireland is not bailed out". Regardless, I would question whether the country should payoff the bill for the banks... but in a country that has a history of indentured servitude, it is only the foreigners that wonder at the lack of anger. To paraphrase a German friend "the Irish are overly polite, and would never complain about anything. Perhaps this results from a feudal history, where to complain of suffering could result in being killed."

Whether it's mind control in the contrails, or a culture of smiling in the face of adversity, it is rare to hear a truly angry complaint. Even my punk rock friends were disparaging of angry protests as "there's no point in creating that much negative energy in a time when we need to keep positive."

Monday, December 06, 2010

I'm dreaming of a green christmas

Well, I was hoping to be blogging about our trip to Farmleigh (cancelled) or any of the other exciting seasonal activities that we were set to be doing. However, the snow, freezing frost and ice have closed down much of the country. So instead I'll be telling tales of snow.

Tales of snow in Ireland mainly involves a Canadian incredulousness at the lack of ability to deal with the snow on the part of the Irish. This weekend Brad had to help a number of neighbours push their car out on the ice field that is Dillon's Row. At least two of these cars involved multiple people sitting in the car, with at least one of them being a young man. We are definitely incredulous that two people would simply spin their wheels for 5 minutes without one of them hoping out to actually push the car.

And we are also incredulous at the military's efforts towards snow "removal". These efforts involved a small truck loaded with a salt/sand mix, 12 soldiers, 12 garden shovels, and a fire-bragde style distribution line for the salt/sand (one would have thought that wheelbarrows are common enough to be put to use in the winter). What we don't understand is why everyone insists on putting the sand down on the snow!? It just makes for a powdery/slushy mix of snow that eventually gets packed down into ice. With 12 soldiers and 12 shovels, actual snow removal (ie. shoveling the snow off the pathways into a pile along the side) would have been the most effective way of dealing with the snow.

Brad pointed out yesterday that our snowy landscape is completely lacking in the piles of snow that would normally dominate a winter landscape in Canada. To the Irish, the only conceivable method of snow removal is for it to melt (usually snow lasts less than a day in Ireland)... however, with the current persistence of the snow, the only way to get snow to melt is with salt... as such, there's tons of compacted snow around, which, over time, has turned into ice with a dusting of salt on top.

So with all of our normal activities cancelled, and the University under a complete lock down for 4 days (Brad normally gets 24-hour key card access, but for his safety, the university locked out the key card access), we've spent some time sledding. However, the hardest part about the cold weather is our woefully cold house. I noticed that Dunnes sold out of most of those adult-sized fleece sleepsuits last week. So clearly, we're not the only ones suffering from the cold.

On a very exciting upside, Claire is being transferred to the London office with Tourism Canada! Clearly she missed us too much. Perhaps I should buy one of those sleepsuits for her, as London has been suffering from the cold too. Let's just hope the weather improves soon, as we leave for Vancouver next week, and the airport closes for just the smallest amounts of snow.

However, the snow can't help but make me smile, with its beauty, the silence, and its pervasive pull on the heartstrings of my youth. Tonight, as I walked home on the empty streets of Maynooth under a thick snow of heavy, plump flakes, for a few moments I was reminded of my younger self, spending several months each winter under a blanket of snow so thick that you could imagine the palace of snow that you could (and would!) build for your imagination.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Does It Have To Be So Cold In Ireland?

Snow, snow everywhere. My two homes (Vancouver and Maynooth) are both suffering under the weight of unseasonably snowy winters. And I feel absolutely exhausted from explaining that "I am not used to this weather... Vancouver is mild" simply because I AM CANADIAN. Besides, Brad and I both exhibit much more "snow sense" than our Irish peers, having both grown up in snowy climes.

However, there is one thing that marks us apart in our struggle with the weather... the Irish continue to be cold when outside, whereas we continue to be cold when inside. I was complaining of the cold at Nikolai's music class yesterday and everyone else was surprised, as they found the room to be quite warm! Whereas I was quite fine trudging through the snow to get there... and most of the others' were barely able to make it.

I have my theories...

1. In Canada people would heat to 21 C indoors, or maybe 20 C if you're "environmentally friendly". So the room heated to 18C was cold... to me!

2. The Irish wear layers... all the time (not just when camping, or skiing). This keeps them comfortably warm all the time. We have been wearing vests (undershirts) since the summer (how else can you wear a t-shirt in the summer?), and just today I invested in long-sleeve shirts to be worn under my sweaters. (Aisling showed up yesterday in a short-sleeved sweater, perfectly warm... with 3 layers underneath). They're even selling those footed polar fleece sleepsuits for adults now... big display rack right at the front of Dunnes... I looked at them with interest... but then couldn't bring myself to buy a pair, and went for a heated blanket instead (still a Canadian at heart!)

3. Winter gear in Ireland is non-existent. No snow tires (or even all-seasons for that fact), no snow shovels, no really warm coats, mitts, hats (just poly)... which is why everyone is cold outside. We're wearing warm wool coats, purchased in Canada, with those Olympic red mitts and wool hats. So we're quite toasty when outside! Of note, the news today actually told people to clean off their windshields with a kettle of boiling water... so the Zamboni practice is being advertised by the press.

Now a delicious pudding for a cold day... Spotted Dick Pudding (very British, not so Irish):

Mix together:
300g self-rising flour
pinch of salt
150 g of grated vegetable suet, or butter
150 g granulated sweetener
300 g dried fruit (mixed currents and citrus peel are traditional)
zest of 1 orange

Add and mix to a smooth consistency:
3 eggs (or egg replacer)
3/4 cup milk

If you have a pudding basin, and know how to make a steamed pudding, then ignore the following instructions. Otherwise:

Grease a 3 L mixing bowl (glass, ceramic or metal).
Cover with foil or parchment paper.
Place in a large stock pot on top of a tea towel (prevents the bowl from resting on the bottom of the pot). Fill stock pot with water 3/4 of the way up the bowl. Bring to a boil and steam for 1.5 hours.

Turn out onto a plate, and serve immediately with custard, cream, yogurt, etc.

SOOO delicious. Something to warm you up on a cold day! Didn't get around to taking the picture until we'd eaten most of it....

Saturday, November 27, 2010

More to say

While it may be Thanksgiving in the USA, we woke up to snow. In a land without plows or all season tyres, we once again witnessed our neighbours carrying kettles of boiling water out to melt the snow off their cars. I had to stop Brad from saying anything (even though we now know the neighbours... it wouldn't be polite).

Despite the inclement weather, people did gather to protest. 50,000 strong in Dublin today. It seems that some economists think that the Irish bailout (essentially a bailout of the banks) will be much more beneficial for the Germans (and other Eurobanks that invested in the Irish bank bonds) than it will be for Ireland. I tried to find a concise article to back this up and found this blog; this long article; and this protest blog; plus a host of UK based articles which generally resolve with Ireland ditching the Euro and rejoining the Sterling (the Irish only had an independent Punt from 1979 to 1999, so rejoining the Sterling would be a bit of a shift, but not too drastic).

This has been a crazy week blog-wise... but Ireland is a country in crisis, and this is a blog about my Irish life. Ditching the banks would be the best thing to do for the general population... but I don't think that the leadership is able to represent the average person and stand up to intense Euro- and investor-pressure. My bet... is that the budget will fail and all this will be postponed until after an election. Maybe bad for the Eurozone, but sooo much better for the Irish population.

And another snowy picture.

So it's cold here too...

Just thought I'd advertise that Ireland is cold too.  I've been reading about the -20degC stuff hitting the Interior in the past week,and although being un-seasonal, I was feeling very un-Canadian cycling around Co. Kildare.  But it's gotten chilly in the last few days in Eire, and we had our first bit of snow of the winter this morning.  Tossed on a picture of the Sisters next door, who look very regal in the light dusting IMO.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

More of the same

Well, the austerity measures are out, and things are grim. RTE this morning interviewed an American journalist to figure out what the world thinks... and to paraphrase "the cuts announced are so deep that it is inconceivable for Americans to imagine the losses in the public sector, and the tax increases". Remember, when looking at the numbers of jobs cut, etc. that this is a nation of only 4 million people.

Luckily, Irish families are large, and the support networks within families are strong. So it will probably be families that will provide for the losses in social services.

Brad's team lost the final game in the NUIM Engineering football championship, in overtime penalty kicks.  Very close, but there's always next year!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The sky opened up and swallowed them whole

Well, it's all that anyone can talk about today... and is certainly front page news elsewhere. No one is happy... and it is the loss of sovereignty that comes across as most painful aspect to all of this. It is not a great way to start the Christmas shopping season, as everyone feels like saving their money for the rainy days that are befalling the country. However, to take a rather Irish view of it all "ahhh, well... these are dark times, dark times... liers and cheats the lot... but... ahhh... let's focus on the good news".

And the good news would be that Brad's football (soccer) team remains undefeated as they enter in the final game of the playoffs. It's his first year playing, ever, and he's joined the NUIM Engineering staff team. They've beat all the student teams, which must be slightly hard on that student ego... to be beaten by your lecturer. (They even let Brad get some field time... his long legs are rather good at taking the ball away from the opponents... we just wont talk about what happens after he has possession...)

The picture... speaks for itself.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunshine and Candy Canes

Now that everyone across the water is worried about us being too cold (thanks for the wool long underwear, Baba and Deda!) and worried about the economy, let me paint a brighter picture.

The weather in Ireland is far "nicer" (by most traditional standards of evaluation) than what most of you in Canada will be living with right now. We don't have snow... shouldn't have any all winter... and we have frosts only about once a week. As for the pervasive Irish rain... well Vancouver is much, much rainier. In fact we've had gorgeous sunny, playground weather days all week (and most of last week... and predicted for much of the coming week). Nearly weekly I have to explain that in Vancouver it doesn't really snow (although apparently it did last night!) and they have around 300% more rainfall.

But it is colder in Ireland because of the mild climate. Thus no heating, insulation, etc. We've all bought new wool jumpers (sweaters) since living in Ireland... and are planning on packing our summer clothes for our xmas trip to Vancouver. (My parents' heating to 21 C will seem absolutely balmy to us, and we're a tad afraid of loosing our thick Irish skin. I truly think t-shirts and shorts will be the answer.)

And my second candy cane involves our last shopping trip to Dublin before we fly out (the next few weekends are for fun with friends, not for shopping). So grab a cuppa (black tea) and settle into my short story involving a cafe.

Now, a few months ago whilst walking around in Dublin, Brad spotted Bono (with his entourage) sitting on the patio of a cafe. Brad made me tour around the block again so that I could covertly get a look too. And while that was thoroughly embarrassing, it was also pretty interesting. Even when sitting having a cup of coffee, Bono looks just like he always looks... he must be permanently attached to those sunglasses. Fast forward to this weekend, when Brad and I tentatively stuck our heads into the Cafe en Seine to see if Bono was inside. Only to discover an opulent, art-deco masterpiece in the form of an affordable cafe/restaurant. So we sat down and had a tea (€2 would be a fairly typical price) and hot chocolate (€2.90, also typical) next to some movie producers talking about their next film. We would have felt out of place if I hadn't recently finished sewing Nikolai's winter coat (see pic above). I figure having a well-dressed toddler is the only accessory one needs, so we all looked pretty spiffy indeed.

The last candy cane actually belongs to Brad, who got to cycle to the Hill of Tara today. Apparently it's just a few mounds of unknown purpose... but he brought us home a clump of mud in his cleat as a souvenir. (Always good to remember the fam).

The picture is of Nikolai going out for a ride. The pattern was Simplicity 2526, with fabric from Murphey Sheehy's.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The IMF and the Famine: a replay in Ireland's history

Well, this week has been an exciting one in Irish politics. Basically, the weighty force of our EU "bosses" seem to be forcing Ireland to take a monetary loan. All this is well documented in the news, but a rough timeline for those overseas who may not follow Irish politics so closely:

-Monday, the various EU countries announce the media that Ireland will be taking a loan.

-Tuesday, the Irish government via the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) held a press conference stating that they are not taking a loan.

-Thursday, the IMF arrives in Ireland for an "assessment".

But there are several things to consider:

1. This relatively new republic (compared to the opulent Greece) has a much less luxurious form of socialism when compared to other EU countries. Beyond that, the government already cut EVERY public sector worker's pay cheque by around 10% last February, and has been slashing the budget for a while. Austerity measures are hardly going to help out here.

2. The public outcry to the spending cuts have hardly been a mew when compared to Greece and France. Yet the cuts have ALREADY gone fairly deep.

3. Unfortunately, the debt is nearly entirely related to taking on the banks' bad debt... which seemed pretty bad at the outset, but has since grown. Basically, the banks are accused of outright lying about the extent of their problems until after the bailouts started. And even today, the extent of the problems are unknown, as no one trusts or believes the banks. (Could the state sue the fraudulent bankers?)

Regardless, our EU neighbours have ganged up on Ireland and sent the IMF over to "have a look". Naturally, it is the loss of sovereignty that frightens the Irish the most. The IMF is not elected... and their decisions are non-negotiable. (The ultimate "said" goal of the IMF is to have the loan repaid as fast as possible... however, this is generally a business focused solution that does not take into context the social requirements of the culture).

Now to link the IMF to the Irish Famine... this may appear tenuous at first, but it is related to the loss of sovereignty in both circumstances. My linkages between them is 3-fold:

1. In Celbridge there is a monument to the Workhouse cemetery... which details how the potato blight caused the Irish famine.

2. I took an Anthropology class in undergrad (college) that linked the IMF (and World Bank) to Third World famine.

3. Argentina.

The Irish Famine:
The famine came about because the Irish were required to grow potatoes in order to get money from the British, with which they bought food. Any of the Irish who had their own farms did not suffer from the famine. They were able to grow all sorts of things (including peaches, kiwis, tomatoes... it's not all cabbage and carrots), so the potato blight didn't cause them to starve. However, the indentured Irish were required to grow potatoes for their food, and thus they starved during the blight. Enter the workhouse... out of the purest kindness... the British took all the starving families and let them live in the workhouse for food (the other alternative was Kilmainham Gaol). The conditions in the workhouses were hardly good and the life expectancy was only about 30 years... hence the cemetery.

The IMF:
When giving loans the IMF stipulates non-negotiable requirements "to ensure pay back". And in third world countries those requirements often mean growing coffee, chocolate, etc. rather than self-feeding crops. Without fairtrade pricing, these crops are put on the open market, and a surplus arises from the fact that the whole of Africa was converted into growing coffee... so you can buy your coffee at a "reasonable" price. It's basically imperialism all over again (over again... because most of the countries that the IMF has bailed out were previously the fodder of imperialist countries).

Photo: Worker's homes near Liberty Market in Dublin.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The blustery day

Today we are hiding indoors with a windstorm warning. It's been rather windy, rainy and stormy all week, with flood warnings all over the place. This is not surprising, given that I'm living on a small island (twice the size of Vancouver Island, or just slightly larger than West Virgina, for a US comparison) tacked out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, rather like an apostrophe on the edge of mainland Europe. The flooding is often related to extremely high tides, and is generally unpleasant to discuss as it often involves septic and sewage flooding.

Despite the shelter that our friendly neighbourhood wall provides, I can hear the howling of today's windstorm beating against our house. But with winds steady at 120 km/hour (gusts up to 140 km/hour) it would be hard not to feel the breeze. The landscape is used to such winds, so although trees and branches may fall, it will hardly equal the disaster of the Vancouver wind storm in 2007.

From my cosy vantage point I am going to cuddle up with a mug of steamy warm tea to spend my afternoon cooking yummy food and pondering a few more Irishisms.

The Press:

At the toddler group the toys are stored in a repurposed cleaning closet referred to as "the press".

Now that the days are growing short (only 8 hours of daylight) and the weather's turned cold, I've taken to drying my clothes indoors. But it is humid... oh so humid... even on a sunshiny day it will take a load of laundry at least 2 days to dry indoors. So now my laundry rack is in use 24/7, and I'm not embarrassed to have my knickers (underwear) and vests (undershirts) hanging out for all to see, as it is all the rage over here to have your laundry hanging out for everyone to see. (In Canada it would certainly be a faux pas (not done) to have laundry drying in your kitchen-living room-hallway. Only delicates would be hung dry... and then usually in a laundry room, or in your bedroom away from visitors prying eyes).

Anyways, back to "the press"... an advantage that most of my friends have over me is a "hot press". A "hot press" is a closet where your hot water heater is located. It's typically built like a pantry with rows of shelves, and is used to finish drying the slightly damp, folded laundry. We do have a hot press... but it's incredibly dirty, without shelves, and at the moment our hot water heater leaks... so not terribly dry either. So from all this I can infer that "press" means storage closet!

The delf:
From participating in everyday conversations with the locals, I'm also guessing that "the delf" means either dirty dishes or a dirty mess to be cleaned up (in particular reference to the kitchen).

**I'm just practicing my skills as an anthropologist... so anyone who might know better, please correct me if I'm wrong.**

Les au revoirs:
Lastly, and most weather related, are the Irish goodbyes. On the phone I've received a barrage of byes (for the sake of precision, here is my direct representation with the speed of delivery being represented by the gaps: "byebyebyebyebye... bye... bye"). My Canadian core found this to be rather rude when I first encountered it, but I have since learned that I am not being railroaded off the phone... but rather just goodbye-d in a typical fashion.

Other typical goodbyes are definitely more related to the weather in this dark, damp, windy clime: "take care", "mind yourself", and "safe home". As the weather is certainly conspiring against our general well-being, we do need to take care on a daily basis.

Now a recipe for a blustery day, Greek inspired baked beans (loved these when travelling, but couldn't find a recipe on returning home so I made this one up). This may seem a bit time consuming... but you can stick them in your oven in the morning and come back to them at dinner. How better to heat your house on a tempestuous day?!:
Soak overnight 1 lbs dried Lima beans (or Butterbeans)
Heat oven to 250 F (125 C).
Place a cast iron Dutch oven (or metal equivalent) over medium heat and fry 1 cup finely diced onions in oil until soft, about 5 minutes.
Stir in 1/2 cup tomato paste, and 2 tbsp sugar. Add drained beans, and 4 cups of liquid (mix of wine, broth and water) to the Dutch oven and bring to a boil over high heat. Add in a handful chopped flat leaf parsley, 1/2 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp black pepper and 2 tsp salt (or to taste).

Give them a stir and cover with the lid. Place the Dutch oven in the oven for 6 to 8 hours, or until the beans are tender. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, then serve it up with bread, colcanon, and your favorite veggies!

The photo is through an arrow slit at the moat in the well fortified Trim Castle.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The season of the dead and fire

Like most "pagan" holidays, Halloween has been adopted into more modern celebration and ideologically less "pagan" holidays. (Other famous co-opting of pagan holidays would include turning the winter solstice festivals into various religious festivals, and the celebrations around the coming of spring). It seems natural with the change of Fall into Winter to celebrate the dead, which is so apparent as all the plants wither into hibernation and seeping cold penetrates through the endless fog. Halloween, in it's essential heart, is an expression of fear of the death of crops and the coming struggle to survive winter's barren larder. Thanksgiving has a similar heart, but it has been spun into a more optimistic celebration of harvest and summer's end.

In Ireland, the Catholic Church celebrates All Souls Day around the first of November. All Souls Day involves a series of Masses to remember those that have died in the past year. Beyond simply involving an extra-long Mass at the local Catholic Church, organizations will also have Mass for the dead. As one of the graduate students in Brad's office passed away earlier this year, the Hamilton Institute will join NUIM in a mass for the dead on November 9th. The local GAA club will also be holding a Remembrance Mass.

Remembrance Day, which is primarily celebrated in the British Commonwealth to remember those that have died in war, takes place on November 11th, as it marks the official end of World War I. And the choice a bleak November day probably aided in the maintaining the date of November 11. It would be hard to have a somber thoughtful day, if the bank holiday was at the end of June. Of note, Remembrance Day is a date which divides those in Ireland, as it is associated with British Troops, so even though the Irish fought in WWI... they would have been fighting for the British.

The British do not celebrate Halloween (at least they didn't when I lived there as a nanny). So, I'm sure it was a slight bit of Halloween envy that assisted in the creation of Guy Fawkes Day. Guy Fawkes Day is very Halloween-ish in feel. It's a children and teen based celebration involving treats, fireworks and a big bonfire (no costumes or carving... but that might constitute a Halloween copyright infringement). Guy Fawkes was caught on November 5th a long-time-ago sitting under the Parliament buildings with a big stash of explosives. He was caught, hung and the Parliament was saved! So let's celebrate! It makes perfect logical sense (though perhaps it's a bit deranged if you think about it too much) why the bonfire involves burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes. However, bonfire night also often involves burning an effigy of the Pope (perhaps it is more a full-blown Halloween jealousy that bolsters the popularity of Guy Fawkes Day). Though rest assured everyone... in modern day the burning of the Pope's effigy is more just a celebration of a "quirky tradition" than an expression of anger towards the Pope. So relieved to know that religious tensions wont be celebrated by such a quirky tradition.

Well that sums up my round up of the Season of the Dead holidays from this side of the ocean. I don't really have a good photo to celebrate the dead... but bread rhymes with dead... so the pic is of Brad's bread. The void of rustic bakeries in town has inspired Brad to practice.

His favorite recipe at the moment can be found here.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Istanbul of late

As some of you may remember we have a good friend Serhat living in Istanbul. We also know that Serhat loves Taksim, and he loves to eat a long leisurely breakfast out on Sunday mornings. So upon hearing of the bombing in Taksim Square we immediately sent off a note.

Serhat and Gozde were in Taksim eating breakfast at 9am on Sunday. They heard the bomb blast, saw the police arriving, and quickly left the area. Thankfully they are fine. But as Serhat put it, he'd like to say his "deepest-hardest-biggest swearing" ever to the people responsible (can't even swear in an e-mail to people with children. Gotta love Serhat for that.)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Hallowe'en!

Nikolai had the whole "Trick or Treat" routine down right away. In general, it was a much different experience from Canada. I don't know whether it's the location or what... but there have been very few kids. Also, most of the houses aren't handing out treats... and there is relatively little decorating (in fact no one even answered the door at the most decorated house that we went too!) But it has been a great chance to meet our neighbours. And the treats that he brought home will be fun for Brad and I to eat ;-).

The other interesting thing is... that although we only went to a handful of house (about 10) two of them handed out plastic baggies of loose candy. An absolute no-no from my childhood. But Brad's taking it for the team and eating them anyways. I know the houses that handed them out, and perhaps it indicates, along with the few children that came by (20 ish), that Halloween is more of a neighbourhood based event than the all-out candy grab that I remember from my childhood (well not my childhood, we weren't allowed to use pillow cases or plastic bags to collect our loot... in fact we had the smallest little pumpkins to fill).

My mother sent the costume... and those are our pumpkins!

Friday, October 29, 2010


Hallowe'en officially is a holiday that originated in Ireland; however, at a recent dinner party (a fairly typical 2 pm on Sunday thing) we learned that in general people feel like Hallowe'en actually belongs to the USA.

Certainly there are many aspects of Hallowe'en that originate in Ireland... but in general the consumer sport that has become Hallowe'en has only just immigrated from America in the past few years. In fact a few of the guests had NEVER even carved a pumpkin before!

So, here's a brief telling of what I learned about Hallowe'en during that dinner party (with no Internet searching... so this is by word of mouth alone).

Everyone certainly trick'o'treated as children... well everyone that is, except Deirdre, who grew up in Belfast in the 70s (as she put it... they had enough fireworks without Hallowe'en). However, Deirdre (and everyone else) certainly participated in dressing up (homemade costumes, of course), playing various party games (bobbing for apples) and carving Jack O'Lanterns.

Now, if you've been paying attention you probably have realized the discrepancy in my information... Jack O'Lantern (Irish sounding name if you think about it) but no pumpkins... Well they carved really large turnips. Apparently it's a LOT harder than a pumpkin, and many spoons would be wasted by the effort. There's a story about Jack O'Lantern wandering around in the night with his carved turnip, but I don't know the punchline.

Anyways, in Ireland tricks are still part of the treating, so Nikolai may find himself being asked to do a trick in order to get his treat (perhaps he can show them how good he is at twirling until he's dizzy). Fireworks and egging abounds. But most of all Hallowe'en falls somewhere on a week of a national holiday (last Monday in October is a bank holiday, but all schools from preschool up to NUIM are closed for the week) so the festivities carry on all week.

And if you were to go to the local farmers market last weekend and try to buy kale (our fav) you may have been surprised to find that they'd all sold out. Colcannon (recipe below) and Barm Brack (regular tea brack is made for everyday, but barm brack is made with fortune telling charms) are traditional All Hallows E'en fare.

1. Make mashed potatoes with 1lbs of floury potatoes, 2 oz butter, 150 ml of cream or milk.
2. Shred, then steam until cooked 1/2 head of cabbage (or the more traditional kale)
3. Finely chop 6 spring onions (or the more traditional leek)
4. Mix together and season to taste! A yummy way to get your toddler to eat their greens.

The pic is from the playground in Kinsale; Brad practicing with different camera features. You'll just have to wait until after Hallowe'en to see what our ghoul dresses up as!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jammin' and playing the Tourist

This past weekend included a bank holiday, so we decided to spend one day of our weekend being tourists... and learned some rather important lessons... primarily that the kid-friendly Natural History Museum is Not Nikolai Friendly. Given the reviews of a "newly-renovated, perfect for children" museum, I would have expected something a little less macabre. It was basically thousands of animals, stuffed and placed in rather Gothic glass display cases. Rather Gothic in the sense that they probably purchased the display cases (and the animals too) circa 1901... so while the renovation may have dusted all the animals off... they didn't modernize with interactive displays. We had to leave with a fearful toddler in less than 5 minutes (checked out both floors, and they both feature the same medieval science lab look).

Our other tourist adventure was to go to the Guinness Storehouse. The tour typically costs €15, €13 if you know enough to buy tickets in advance online. But thankfully ours were free... otherwise I would have felt royally ripped off. The Guinness Factory is about as authentic as Disneyland... and it's a very comparable experience; tons of people, overly graphic displays with fairly obvious content. The only difference was that instead of children, the hoards of people were 20ish females and males of all ages. There certainly was a big queue for the most interesting part... retro ad campaigns... however, in general I don't think they've really updated their ad campaigns since 1800's... so they pretty much look just like you'd expect (my goodness my Guinness). The few redeeming factors are that you get a free beer at the rotating bar at the very top of the factory (nice view, but there's barely any room to stand, let alone sit amongst the hoards of gullible tourists --naturally ourselves included). But Brad knew better (from his work lunch), so we took our beers to the restaurant on the floor below and enjoyed the fab food. Unfortunately, you cannot get to the restaurant without paying for a tour, unless you're attending a special event. Too bad, because I really loved the lentil terrine. Kudos to Guinness though... what better way to create brand loyalty then to have people pay to tour your giant ad campaign!

The funfair down at the harbour field in Maynooth was small from our adult viewpoint; however, the tea cups were far more excitement than Nikolai could handle... so we'll try again next year. At just €2 a ride, it wasn't a big waste of money. Besides, isn't forcing a ride to stop, so that you can pull your crying toddler off early, one of those badges of parenthood that everyone must earn?

The other excitement of the weekend was that Aisling and I made marmalade jam... using the little wax paper disks! My first time making preserves... without actually preserving! If we all get stomach poisoning then I know what to blame. However, Ashling (different spelling, as she's a different person) said that her mum has always made jam that way... and everyone in her large family seems to be doing just fine... so I'm sure we'll survive!

The jam is veggie friendly and can be made with low sugar (or honey in our case). I recommend Pomona's if you don't feel like making a jam with 50% sugar.

Friday, October 22, 2010

As winter sets in

This week the cold arrived, with temperatures down to 2 C overnight, and daily highs of 10 C. Now, as a Canadian, I realize that's hardly something to complain about. Coming from a land where the national past time is to brag and boast about extreme weather ("-34 C yesterday... -50 C if you count the windchill"), one could hardly be impressed about a near miss of that freezing mark. And even though we've lived in Lotus Land for the past few years, Brad and I both have a lot of extreme cold under our belts (a short stint in a Yellowknife winter for one thing). Despite all this, I think we both can honestly say that we've never been colder.

Now, those of you who've been reading for a while may remember my bitter moaning earlier this year about the cost of heating (€250 for January), and you may remember my moaning about the lack of insulation. So I can hardly spend a blog complaining of the fact that there is nothing between our floating floorboards and the cement slab below, or the fact that our chimney lacks a damper (a foil balloon is doing the trick), or the fact that we have no less than 7 open holes in exterior walls of our home that qualify as "fresh-air-vents". Rather, today's topic is about the, not-so-famous, Irish love of cold.

I have a number of examples to illustrate my thesis: that the Irish truly don't feel the cold and, in fact, they often embrace it!

-When Claire came in September, she spent much of her time freezing cold... while our student spent an equal amount of time feeling too hot.

-Sundresses and t-shirts appear as soon as temperatures breach 15 C.

-Brad's office mate leaves their window open year round, to ensure fresh air (requiring Brad to wear two sweaters around the office).

The examples are endless. However, at this week's Toddler Group, complaints of the cold (a favored Canadian past-time) finally broke through. And universally, everyone agreed that this week, they finally had to turn their heating on (I bit my tongue and failed to mention that our daily heating habit started at the beginning of October, when temperatures first went down to 5 C). Mind you, everyone only heats for about 1 hour in the morning... with some people, perhaps, heating for another hour in the evening, if it's really cold. We practice this strategy as well, since we like to spend less than €100 per month on heating; however, the past few nights Nikolai has been waking up a lot... I assume it's from the cold... since turning on the heat tends to solve the problem (we do have him in a vest (undershirt), pj's, thermal socks, under a cotton quilt, and under a wool duvet, so it's not like he's being neglected... it's just that 2 C outside means about 5 C inside... thanks to the 2 vents in Nikolai's room. We also have tried to stuff them up with plastic bags... but it's not the same as actually having insulation).

So I took my issue to my friends... and have found out that:

1. Sleeping in cold air is good for children, as it prevents asthma (this is likely true in Ireland, because sleeping in a warm, well insulated house would most likely also mean a house infested with the very pervasive black mold. We have it, despite our good ventilation, in the bathrooms and around the front door.)

2. Irish children wear snowsuits to bed. (Not exactly snowsuits, but polar fleece full body suits ...feet and everything... that are worn over the pyjama's and under their blankets. At the moment we're trying a little more heating... but we may end up investing in a snowsuit before winter's out.)

3. If Nikolai can't handle the cold at night, then perhaps we're heating too much during the day.

So now that you have read the body of evidence for my theory that the Irish love cold; let me tell you my hypotheses as to why this is the case:

I. (Roman numerals this time, since it is a pseudo-scientific theory). There is no such thing as a real summer, so in order to believe that 20 C is a heat-wave, the you have to believe that 15 C is warm.

II. In order to not spend 1/10 of one's income on heating, one must learn to love the cold... and wear wool.

III. As mentioned previously, insulation = black mold = persistent coughs.

IV. A number of older homes still need to burn fuel to heat. Bog peat fires = nasty smoke = international condemnation for the destruction of bog = persistent coughs.

V. (Brad gets credit for this theory... derived last weekend, when a cycling buddy showed up for their ride in shorts and a windbreaker, despite the frost) In Ireland cold seldom kills, so they don't need to worry about the cold... as it's nothing more than a minor discomfort; whereas, Canadians (and anyone who's suffered from frost bite) have a culture of fearing the cold.

Well regardless what the reason is... I am going to have to thicken up my skins, as I have spent most of this week trying to get warm... even when the heaters are on. Anyways, it's a long weekend for us and the fun fair has come to town, so I'm off to ride the tea cups!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Back to the everyday

At the moment our everyday existence is very busy. And as Nikolai's naps are becoming shorter and shorter, it is becoming difficult to find time to blog! So what is it that fills our time?

Well, as some of you know, we are planning a wedding reception for January 2nd. I am constantly in shock over how much work it is to actually plan a reception! I had assumed that because we're not having a service in a church (or similar location), or bridesmaids, or really much beyond a receptionŠ± that it would be simple and easy to plan. As is a theme with most of my life's lessons... nothing is ever as easy as it seems. Kudos to everyone who organized a big wedding! (My only excuse is the 8 hour time delay between my current location and that of the wedding reception).

But to be fair, the reception is only able to suck up MY excess time. Brad has taken to working in the evenings with his excess time. This might seem like a workaholic maneuver, but I think he enjoys sitting on the couch, listening to music, sipping a pint or a glass of whiskey (a pint obviously refers to beer, not whiskey), ... so I don't feel too sorry for him. I think he's getting in shape for the spring, when he will be teaching a third-year course (and will need to prepare for all the lectures outside of his research position time).

I think the truth behind our lack of free time lies in our many affiliations. As I've already mentioned, I've taken over the Maynooth Toddler Group. This didn't seem like much when I originally volunteered... but I soon realized the true extent of the workload (grants, insurance, parental education, on top of the weekly drop in). I'm now in the process of (hopefully) organizing a team of people to run the Toddler Group. My other affiliations include the Dublin Food Co-op where I volunteer once a month stocking shelves. The Dublin Co-op is a volunteer run co-op that provides 100% organic and 100% vegetarian fare. It's a bit Off The Beaten Path, but we get most of our groceries there and really stockpile whenever we can get a car ride. I've also joined the Castle Keep Art Group, so that I could be assured of at least some time to paint every week.

Brad's affiliations include his weekly Sunday Cycle, which apparently will continue throughout the winter... provided they don't get any of that freak snow from last year. He plays football (soccer) on the engineering pick-up league once or twice a week, and he's the secretary for Transition Towns Maynooth. Now, Transition Towns Maynooth (TTM from here on out) is something that I joined... figuring I'd find like-minded people to befriend. Then I sent Brad to a meeting in my stead... and he proved a better fit for the bureaucratic and rather boring planning sessions. TT's is a movement that started in the UK... and is a town-by-town initiative to look at ways of making the town more self-sufficient in the future. It stems from the whole Peak Oil viewpoint as a basis for future planning. The Maynooth group is mainly academics and so far its initiatives have focused on: planting fruit trees, getting access to local farm products (hence the lamb adventure), and local food evenings.

I was asked about joining the local musical society's production of Godspell as a chorus member... and while I'm pretty tempted... I also like my sanity.

Although our initial goal in joining these activities was to meet people (in lieu of having any pre-established family/friends), participating has added so much to our existence that this will likely become one habit that we will take with us, wherever we move next. So if you're at home on a Wednesday night, with nothing to do but watch tele (tv)... then why not look for a group to join?! I understand the feeling of exhaustion that follows a day of running around after a very busy toddler (or two). I'd surely fall asleep sitting on the couch, but getting out is so liberating that I usually come home much more energized than when I left!

I've included a pic of Nikolai's completed kitchen, at my mother's bequest. (While most of the design was mine, Brad gets credit for drilling all the holes and knitting the dishcloth.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The ebb and flow

This week has ended with the funeral of my dear friend's father. And although I didn't really know him, in the witnessing of mourning I too, am filled with sadness. It seems impossible to fill a blog with the details of our small Irish life in the face of woe. But out of respect, how am I to write of the final mass,? or the infamous Irish wake, lasting days, requiring so much energy from the immediate family to face a house continuously filled to the brim with visitors? An Irish funeral may be a community event... but it is not for tourists. I shall leave my blog for another day.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Canadian Thanksgiving and How to Save the World by Thinking

So to continue from my previous post on "The Current Economic Crisis", I am going to share my not-so-original idea.

At the start of the naughties everyone became fairly greedy, and it is our collective greed that has resulted in our current downfall. Admittedly two-thirds of the responsibility for the greed fall in the hands of: the investors, the banks and the law-makers; however, that leaves at least a third of the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of ordinary citizens. A good number of us took on loans and mortgages that were more that we ought to have, and most of us participated in the capitalist spending spree that fostered such a hyped up market place. Anyways, as I mentioned before, all the protesting in the world can hardly bring back the over-inflated economy... so we should all just relax and accept the deflating balloon (well, if you're a family with both adults made redundant you might not be so relaxed... but anyone with at least one employed adult can hopefully make ends meet and that's all we really need -remember it is thanksgiving in Canada-).

Voting has always been one form of expressing our voice... and while I'm a believer in our right to vote... I think that politics is a sticky place with a few very loud and obvious issues, and a great number of behind the scenes bureaucratic dealings that are more related to loud lobby groups than the voters.

The other area where I can firmly express my voice is with my pocket book. I read the local paper on the train yesterday and found a number of articles focusing on the same general theme, businesses (and charities) are trying to figure out how to best compete for their share in the shrunken market place. One article was promoting "staying in with your friends and donating the money saved to charity" --leading one to wonder about the financial health of the entertainment sector--, another article was discussing "how small businesses can attract more customers" (definitely worrisome as I have already witnessed the demise of a few small businesses in Maynooth, and we certainly do have our share of vacant storefronts).

I think the problem is that in a deflating economy there is generally less money to go around. You either have money to go on holidays, or go out every weekend, or buy yourself a new wardrobe... you just can't afford all three. Anyways, to bring it all to a point... my plan is to CHOOSE who I buy from and what products to buy.

This may sound silly as we always choose what we buy... but our choices are usually based on who has the best price, the best advertising or the best packaging. Instead I plan on spending my money on businesses and products that I wish to support. The idea of buying with intention is hardly novel. The Buy Irish is already a very loud campaign, and every shop is pleased to tell you which products were Irish made. And from the more extreme groups comes the Buy Nothing Day, and the Buy Nothing Christmas campaigns (don't worry everyone I've been collecting Irish goodies all year, so yew'll still be getting prezzies from us!).

However, my idea is meant to be simpler than that. For example, I could buy a loaf of packaged Batch Loaf for cheap at Tescos (a Walmart equivalent), and my money would be supporting the major corporations of Tescos; along with giant agricultural conglomerate farms; pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer companies (pointing a finger at you Monsanto, but I have to give you credit for painting such an eerily wholesome picture on your website); and a sweatshop factory where the packaging was made. As an alternative I could spend €0.10 more at the bakery on Main Street, or €0.90 more at the organic baker at the farmer's market on Saturday.

Tescos may be cheaper... but shopping there hardly supports the cluster of small businesses along Main Street. Because this blog entry is already long enough, I'm not going to continue into a discussion of the benefits of small businesses in maintaining a vibrant community... as I'm sure most people who've ever been to Europe are aware of, the charm of European cities are that they have maintained a heart of small businesses.

So for this Canadian Thanksgiving we will be familyless and Turkey/Tofurky-less... but it is hardly a homesick and somber affair. A gathering of good friends, good food, good drink, and a trio of only slightly naughty toddlers, will prevail on a Thanksgiving where we are truly thankful for the sun shining on our present, past and future.

If the new economy is going to be a deflated version of the old economy, then shop with intention and cast your vote as to what that economy is going to look like.

I've included two pictures to lighten up the blog a bit... above is on the train to Cork, and below is at Ross Castle... proving that Claire is a good photographer after all (we'll ignore all the photos with people's heads cut off for the moment)!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Killarney National Park and AIB

Well, the bailout of AIB is definitely the topic du jour on the minds of everyone in Ireland, so I'm going to co-opt this travel blog with my thoughts on the economic crisis. Since it will definitely define much of my working life (only the rosiest coloured lenses could pretend otherwise).

Anyways, some frivolities to start with. From Cork, we took a bus to Killarney and had another fab time eating, shopping and visiting OPW sites. Killarney is the gateway to Killarney National Park, and has been a tourist destination for quite a while. Most of the land in the park was bought up for development by a group of US businessmen, but when it came down to actually developing the land, one of the men had a change of heart: he bought out the other two investors and donated it to the OPW. As such, Killarney National Park contains no less than 3 OPW sites. We toured Ross Castle (did you know that people used to store their clothes above the loo so that the wafting ammonia could disinfect their clothes and kill all the bugs?), Muckross house (we saw the chambers where Queen Victoria stayed), and Muckross traditional farms (complete with peat fires burning in the small stone farmhouses). To get around the park, we rented bikes from one of the many O'Sullivans (O'Sullivans seem to run much of Killarney, and besides renting bikes, we would recommend you try the O'Sullivan's Deli if you happen to be in the hood.)

The weather held out for the most part until our train trip back. But what could be cosier than a 4 hour train ride with the rain pelting down outside? And sadly enough, the day after getting back to Maynooth, Jet-set-Claire flew off to spend a few days with friends in London (...and to participate in a training workshop/conference for her job...).

The transition between topics comes with a reference to the book, Generation X, which Claire borrowed from the library and read during her visit. In general, she found it all too negative and depressing. I've picked it up in her absence for a re-read, and find it all too pertinent and timely. The young student, living with us now, doesn't have a hope in hell of being able to find a job that actually can use his double major of English and History. He will certainly be stuck in the realms of a "McJob" for at least a few years post graduation.

And this problem doesn't just apply to Ireland (though perhaps the Irish are the best at admitting to the financial woes, as they have already been here many times throughout their history), for the Macleans magazine that landed through my letter slot two weeks ago boasted the cover story of "Third World America". While Canadians may sit smugly in their still highly over inflated (price-wise) homes, and our banks have yet to be nationalized in a way that is clearly becoming a worldwide trend (c'mon Canada, if everyone else is doing it, why can't we?) we shouldn't forget if the elephant next door sneezes we're still bound to catch a cold.

The latest (and continuing) bail out of the Anglo Irish Bank has roused a fervor over here, as it is going to require higher taxes, pay cuts and a dip into the welfare fund to sort this all out. But really, unless you can find a time machine to start your protests circa the year 2000, you can smash all the cement trucks in the world into the Dail (Parliament) and it will hardly make a difference, as there is NO GOOD SOLUTION. As upsetting as this all is... I have brainstormed a means of self expression and activism that will at least appease my restless soul (and it may even help out in a small way).

However, this blog post has grown long enough, and an explaination of my grassroots functional protest would make this blog far too long. So for now I leave you with a picture of Claire Brad and Nikolai cycling to Muckcross house.

Saint Arthur's Day

Claire's trip coincided with the "worldwide" Arthur Guinness day celebrations. The actual date of Arthur Guinness's birthday is, in fact, unknown; however, in 1991 the Guinness company chose the date of September 28th apparently to end speculations about the birth date... September 28th also often happens to fall on the first week of term for most Irish Universities... so it would certainly be an apt time to enlist the young drinkers in a "worldwide toast". ~~was anyone across the pond even aware of the celebration?~~

Now Claire, an intrepid Canadian, added the Saint to the beginning of her Arthur's Day explanation, when telling all her colleagues and friends about her trip, prior to leaving Canada. And her intrepid Canadian friends all nodded and accepted Arthur Guinness' saintliness, as most of us are not really aware of any other saints beyond Saint Nicolas and Saint Patrick. Claire only realized her mistake after arriving at a pub for the Arthur's Day celebrations.

Now those of you who know Claire, know that she is quite a connector (and I'm a veritable maven, so if any salesmen out there want to join our team we can definitely change the world) and is able to maintain quite a large roster of contacts. So it should hardly come to anyone as a surprise to know that she has a friend who is a Ph.D. student at NUIM (whom actually introduced Brad into his cycling crew... despite not actually being a part of Brad's cycling crew. His other claim to fame was that he got to go to the Fifa World Cup in South Africa as Captain Morgan's Team Ireland). So, although I took her out with my friends to Brady's for a celebration, she also got to go to the Roost and Mantra with her own friend. Which made our 8 AM departure for Cork the next morning a wee bit rough for Claire... but she is the trooper of the year so she made it.

The train was great and I LOVE IARNOD EIREANN. Such statements often garner looks of disdain from anyone local... but that's because they haven't tried to take a train trip in Canada. (Our trip on Via Rail to Jasper was only 4 hours late, which, from what I've been told, is a relatively small delay.)

Cork is a nice town, with all the typical nice town things... shopping, sights, food, a really great food co-op. Our hotel (billed as a B&B, but we decided that if you have over 20 rooms and a front desk, then you're a hotel) provided lovely large rooms and a great breakfast that comprised eggs from the chickens running in the yard, apples from their orchard, and likely other treats courtesy of their enormous veggie patch. They also get two thumbs up for the solar water heating system. Our tour of Cork included a trip to the Butter museum, which was free as we were there on a Friday, but would otherwise have not been worth the money spent. The famed English market was also overblown in our estimation (perhaps it was because there was a large proportion of butchers, or because we grew up next to Granville Island which has spoiled us for such pleasures).

From Cork we took what was meant to be a quick day trip to Kinsale, but we ended up skipping the Blarney Stone altogether in favor of taking a long walk to Charles Fort (another OPW site worth noting). Kinsale is also worth noting for it's lovely boat filled harbour, loads of high-end funky-artsy shopping and fish and chips. Unfortunately, Desmond Castle, located in the centre of town, was closed due to government cut backs (sigh, a sad blog on AIB may be required).

The photo (one that Brad took) is of Kinsale.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Life according to Claire

As Claire was our first visitor since we've settled into normal Maynooth life, she was the best person to give her impressions of our life. In short:
- we don't have accents... Nikolai might... hard to tell through all the toddler speak
- Maynooth is much nicer then she imagined (it was Party Central 'round town as it was the start-of-term AND the Sidney circus came to town -- but though their posters featured kangaroos, they only seemed to have ponies and alpacas)
- our house was much nicer then she imagined (I think the thought of living next to a cemetery may have given our place a pallor, but the nuns are actually quite friendly).

But most of all Claire especially loved anything and everything to do with the OPW (Office of the Public Works). And it's not because she's secretly into utilities, or municipal politics... but because the OPW runs a huge number of historical sites. And they do a very good job of it!

So what did we do? Well, we picked up Claire at the airport, packed her jet-lagged, only-2-hours-of-sleep self into the rental car, and drove across Dublin, through the Wicklow mountains, and to Powerscourt. There, we dragged her into the Avoca cafe for some lunch and shopping. Then we traipsed around the golf course (despite all the no children signage). And her only complaint was that it was freezing cold. 'Eye that it was. Then we all got packed up in the car again, for a more scenic and heroic drive through the mountains (heroic in that the roads are barely one car wide, really windy and windy... yes I mean to use both pronunciations). I got car sick, and Claire won the trooper of the year award.

The second day of car driving adventures involved a trip to Trim, where Claire purchased her OPW card, and Nikolai practiced his patience on a tour of the tower castle (which we'd skipped during our first visit).

The next few days were spent touring about Dublin, with Nikolai in tow. We did a big red bus tour (got tickets through a City Deals offer), the Irish National Museum at Collins Barracks (featured historical clothing, furniture and artifacts with a very patient Nikolai) and a general show of the whole city. On her own, Claire went to the Kilmainham Gaol (OPW site, and very recommended) and Dublinia (not very recommended). We also went to Castletown, an OPW site in neighbouring Celbridge (highly recommended). The house was barely altered over time; it once was in the ownership of the Guinness family, and also hosted Mick Jagger, so it's definitely a site for everyone... whether your interest lies in 17th century architecture, beer, or 1960's rock. Nikolai, apparently, is not much of a fan of 17th century architecture, or any of the ilk. And his performance on the tour is best exemplified by the reactions of a couple that we met on that tour, who subsequently ignored us when we ran into them on a subsequent tour.

I think we'll leave it here for now... but stay tuned for Claire's rockin' St. Arthur's Day night out and our trip to the south coast.

The picture above is of the throngs of students at Trinity College during first week. As it turns out, Claire and I are both rather poor photographers... and I debated posting one of our many bad photos... but decided that the cross faces might not accurately depict our joyous mood... thank goodness Brad was around to wield the power of the pink camera during our trip to Cork. Well, actually... I've decided to include the ultimate bad photo that Claire took of our poor, struggling family as we braced ourselves against the winds and try to make our way to safety. I just hope you find it as funny as I do.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rushing through the days

The time has been flying, and I have much to tell. Claire's time was fab, the student is (to quote his references) perfect. And now that she's leaving I have so much catching up to do, with very little time as we are quite booked up, day and night through the weekend. Phew! I hope to get a blog in as I am so very much behind.

Here's us jumping in front of Muckross house... and yes we bought matching hats from the Muckross weavers.