BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Riding the Royal Canal

Two mornings this week we woke up to snow. The locals seem to have grown accustomed to the snow... and we ourselves embraced this snow. Nikolai crunched in the snow with his boots, ate a lot of snow ("it's yummy") and we made a snowman. However today Nikolai is expressing a lot of concern because the snowmas is "sick." We are glad for this because it's finally time to get back on a bike!

Last week I borrowed a bike from a mom I met at the playgroup (she's 8 months pregnant and has a 14 month old toddler, so not biking anywhere at the moment) and the bike seat we ordered arrived so we finally got out for a ride. --On a side note the bike seat came in a box 3 times larger than necessary so Nikolai also got a playhouse out of the deal.

Finally getting out for a ride though changed my mind's eye view of cycling in Ireland. Picture quiet country roads, rolling hills, warm sun beating down on our smiling faces. Replace that image with narrow streets, fast cars who aren't really all that interested in the cyclists on the side of the road and weather that was only warm enough to slightly melt the snowman. I think my main issue was that it was my first time with a bobbing Nikolai on the back of the bike (go, go go!) and riding on the wrong (left?) side of the road. So after 2 blocks of me being confused about which lane to be in we hopped onto the sidewalk bike lanes. Phew!

For the Baba's and Grandma's worried about little Kolya in traffic, Brad has been cycling with a crew for the past few weekends so he kept me on the left.

We went to check out the Royal Canal Way, which is lovely and paved in Maynooth. We headed in the Dublin direction and enjoyed the nice surface all the way until we hit the main Carton golf course enterence. After that it turned into a dirt (mud) path that my back wheel sank into under Nikolai's added weight. Ah well.... we'll try the other direction next time, it's supposed a bit better.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Some walls are better left unscaled

Friday night we had our first official honest-to-goodness, Maynooth born-and-raised family over for dinner. The children played well (as well as two terrible twos can), the talk was flowing and a generally good time was had by all. After exploring our rather odd house, the couple postulated about what was on the other side of our wall. The wall was definitely from the old Convent (converted into Dublin commuter apartments in recent years) and they postulated from the trees peaking over the fence that it was the convent cemetery on the other side.

I guess the punchline of this story was ruined by the inclusion of a photo. However, in this case a photo does provide 1,000 words. The next morning, Brad scaled the wall, camera in hand, to see what was on the other side. I would have to say that the results are fairly creepy.

Perhaps if I were a bit more goth I would be excited to live next to a cemetery. And if I were a normal, sane adult then I would be non-plused by living next to a cemetery. ~ as my dad put it "at least you know your neighbours will be quiet"~ However, I have higher than average schizotypy and being terrified of ghosts is my personal speciality. (As anyone who was in the theater while I watched the Sixth Sense knows about my over developed sense of fear). So I spent all day yesterday trying to figure out how I could break my lease and move out ASAP.

After a night spent in contemplation of the situation, I have decided that we don't have to move. Until this point, I actually thought it was Fairies that were randomly moving things around our apartment, given that we were in Ireland and all. Brad would argue that Nikolai has just started messing about in our personal affects. I guess both ideas are possible, however, it is now most probable that some of the sisters from the graveyard are coming over to clean up the house while we're out. Yes, our ghosts tidy up our house. You can see why I thought Fairies were more likely than a 19 month old. So considering that we have been here almost 2 months, and the only problem we've had with our neighbours is the occasional removal of the bookmarks from our books (nearly a daily problem), I figure I can live with our neighbours. Besides, Nikolai's room is between the wall and my room, so I figure he can protect me!

Friday, February 19, 2010


We got our gas bill last night and it was bad. Absolutely unbelievably bad. And it's not like we're living in a sauna, we aren't even heating half of the rooms! I think part of Nikolai's pottying success is because he doesn't want to get his pants and leggings wet. 250€ for 1.5 months. Can you believe it? I texted our landlord and called the gas company to double check that they actually read OUR meter. And try as I might I couldn't make the bill go away. So if you come to visit bring a sweater... and make sure it's wool!

The above photo features the wall and our courtyard... perhaps part of our heating problem? The insulation is nil and you can feel the cold wind blow across our floorboards. This weekend we're going to get something to seal up those cracks. While it might not do that much for us at least we'll FEEL like we're doing something!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We're very sad that to be missing the Olympics. The Irish don't generally participate in snow sports and thus don't really even know the winter Olympics are on. My theory is that the big take over by the Irish team of Doolin's pub in downtown Vancouver is more of a tourism bid than anything else. Notice on the official Ireland Olympic site that London 2012 features more prominantly than Vancouver 2010!

I had thought that the Olympics would be a way for me to feel city pride as everyone watched the panorama of my beautiful city, as a back drop to the biggest sporting event of the year. Apparently, Vancouver 2010 is only important to ex-pat Vancouverites, as is evidenced by the Irish newspapers. So instead the Olympics has turned into a major sore homesickness point for Brad and myself.

So we're watching things 3rd hand. It took us 3 days to finally find and watch the opening ceremonies. Unlike the Tyee, I really liked the technology used in the ceremonies. Apparently the Slam Poet Shane Koyczan has become an instant success. I thought his performance was OK, but I really enjoy The Fugitives' Barbara Adler, so if you're new to the Slam Poetry scene, you may want to check them out.

Well, Nikolai is about 10% Irish now, has made a number of friends, and he doesn't care one bit about the Olympics. He just wants his friends Michael and Eoin to come over and play.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

On Children

In Vancouver children are seen as a lifestyle choice. As such you are pretty much regarded in a similar light to someone who is pushing a poodle dressed up in a pink sweater around in one of those dog strollers. Some people (admittedly few) think your child is soooo cute, while the rest of the world feels inconvenienced because you've tried to do something silly like getting onto the bus with a stroller. In Vancouver, having children means that you have chosen to stop being a productive member of the economy, and have succumbed to your more primitive instinctual self by reproducing.

The population of Victoria is heavily weighted towards seniors, politicians and tourists. Generally people are pretty relaxed, friendly, the sun is always shining, etc... In Victoria, Nikolai became elevated to the position of a demi-god. He could completely ignore the store clerk, bus driver, random person on the street and they would spend all their time cooing, peak-a-booing (is that a verb?) just to coax a smile out of my reluctant son. If he proffered as much as a small smile, or a "hi" then everyone would be in awe of the smart baby.

In Maynooth (I can't promise to be speaking about Dublin here, and certainly not all of Ireland), the old Irish stereotypes seem to hold true. Children are a fact of life here, and all of Nikolai's cutest smiles, "Hellooo", "Bye bye", or preening usually doesn't get a response. I'm hoping this isn't too detrimental to Nikolai's self-esteem as he got use to being the little Sultan while in Victoria. This is probably because they have a high birth rate. Most of the mums in my toddler group (we're talking under 3 years old) either already have 2-3 children or are pregnant. Apparently having two under 2 is normal.

When I first arrived, I assumed that children were allowed to be loud, crying, destructive little creatures. This is because for the first 3 weeks Nikolai was a loud, tantruming, destructive little creature (I'm sure that it was because everything was too new, we were a mess, the country was in the middle of a National disaster, and he had Roseola). Anyways, during that period people kept telling me "don't worry about him screaming, we've all been through it", "he's a little boy, don't worry if he's throwing books around the library" etc. Once Nikolai settled down into the routine I looked at the other children around us. They were all polite, quiet and gentle beings... and I realized that I had mistaken the polite assurances of strangers to be the rules of the culture.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Yes, I'm a Luddite

When in Rome, do as the Romans do...

We've finally broken down and got a cellphone. We really were trying to keep our bills down and since having internet at home REQUIRED us to have a phone line (only ADSL available here) we were going to skip the cell and only use the home phone. (To be fair we're also keeping a VOIP phone in Canada, so it's not like we're total Luddites). Anyways, in our short time here I realized that I would NEVER make friends if I didn't have a cellphone.... well, that's not entirely true, I would make friends, they just wouldn't communicate with me.

People here don't ever phone, and seldom e-mail because texting is the prefered form of communication. I know that this is a trend that is world-wide... but it is MUCH stronger here than in Canada. For example, the local library is in need of updating as they still keep track of due dates using paper cards and an inkpad date stamp. However, for communicating with patrons... the library will only text. And the list of things Brad and I have missed out on simply because we didn't have a cellphone is long.

The thing that makes me a Luddite is that I didn't realize that the super computer that came free with our new phone plan actually could be categorized as a cellphone. I think that it's because most of the cellphones (well all the cellphones) I've seen so far in my life have had basic phone like features... such as buttons. I know some people with the new iPhone or a Blackberry. But to me those were something different. They were a daytimer/phone/mini computer that people generally pay extra for and, as such, they represent a status symbol (as in look at me -I'm important enough that I have to answer my Crackberry during dinner).

Our phone came free, and is the opposite of a status symbol because everyone, including the 16 year old cashier at Tesco's (the local superstore), has one. This phone is not just a phone... it is also an MP3 player, a camera and has more memory than the laptop I use in to write my undergrad thesis on. It also doesn't have keys, it's a touch screen with a stylus. It also has a built in GPS sensor (which could come in handy because the Irish re-name roads every 2 km). And it has an accelerometer, which means that if I hold the phone vertically it pretends to be a phone with a little screen and your usual key set up, but if I turn it horizontal it switches into a keyboard (good for texting). So maybe I am a Luddite for not realizing such things existed for the common masses... but it provides a little vibratory feedback when you touch the virtual "keys"... and it recognized my handwriting when in writing mode. I can't believe that we got this for free. We didn't even have to give them Nikolai's soul or anything... just an 18 month contract on the best phone deal I've ever seen. For 20€ (30$) we get 200 minutes and 200 texts, all incoming texts and calls are free, voicemail, caller ID, it's more than I could ever imagine using up in a month...

And our plan of doing as the Romans do..? in my first 24 hours I received 6 texts (not including those from our phone company), and we got 2 invites for tomorrow.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Galway Cycle

Our last major home-making purchase here is going to be a few bikes, one for Emillie and one for Nikolai (plus a front seat for Emillie's ride). I've been the lucky one so far in that I arrived with a bike. In fact, for the past 2 Sundays in a row, I've joined a group that is training for the Galway Cycle. The idea is to fund raise for a cause (this year it's breast cancer), and ride from Maynooth to Galway (on the West coast), which is about 200 km. I'm still humming and hawing over whether to join on the big event, but the training rides themselves are quite fun. One of the crew, Ivor, has his cell phone running a GPS app as we ride, which tracks us as we ride. He posts the resulting Google Map online (here's our first ride, for example).

Anyways, cycling around here is very accessible, and while the roads are narrow as every warns, you can usually find roads that are very seldomly travelled. I think the most danger comes from punctures (our crew of 13 had a total of 4 blown tires last Sunday!).

Sunday, February 07, 2010

I am finally going to blog about our new house. (As promised, Mom!)

We went from a fantastic view that included a waterfall, a dog walking park, the gorge waterway (complete with barges and the bay street bridge) to a view of a wall. It's a rather nice wall, with a full diverse ecosystem of moss and lichen species and ivy tumbling over the top. But still most of our windows literally face the wall. We figure it's a perfect house to practice a Naturalist lifestyle since you can leave all the curtains and blinds open and still be completely private.

Above is my, rather poor, attempt to draw the floor plan of the house. Nothing is to scale, and the relative scale between the rooms is also completely wrong... so take it in that manner. All the bedrooms have double beds (which are more like North American Queen-sized beds, but slightly longer and narrower), and a wardrobe, so Nikolai scored the biggest room so that we could fit his cot (crib) and storybook chair in the room. The trade-off is that he also has to have the laundry drying rack in his room, which is probably fine by him since hanging up clothes with the clothes pegs is his favorite activity.

FYI~: you can click on the image to make it large enough to read.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Work

I wanted to quickly blog about Brad's job (on his behalf, since he's too busy to blog). Anyways, I would have to say that Brad is really enjoying his position. He's only been there 3 weeks, but there is so much going on. He is part of 2 national projects that are very multi-disciplinary. I wont delve into the details about what he's working on... since I could hardly do it justice. However, he's already had two meeting-of-minds (one for each project). Last week he went to Waterford for a day, then he spent yesterday in Dublin. Apparently these meetings happen almost monthly... and usually involve a 2-day trip. I'm saving my pennies so I can join him on the trip to Cork!

The teams include researchers from campuses all over Ireland and are unique in that they include Psychologist, Philosophers (etc.) to help inform the Engineers and Mathematicians. I guess the cross-communication between the two types of brains can been laboursome... but I think that it's a very good idea! Perhaps if Microsoft employed a few more Psychologists I wouldn't be struggling with the "new and improved Windows 7" that came with our computer.

I think the highlight from these talks so far, for Brad, would be the lunch that he had yesterday at the Guinness brewery. Apparently it doesn't suffer from rip-off pricing. He expressly recommended that we go back so that I could try the lentil loaf and the Guinness mousse.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The cost of power

We've received our first electricity bill and it's a shocker. We knew that electricity was more expensive, we just never knew how MUCH more expensive it is.

We come from a land of cheap energy. When our hydro bills got adjusted to the new rating system consumers were upset by the cost increase... that small increase was nothing! We are now up to €0.141 per kWh (much more than the $0.06 to $0.08 we're use to paying).

It's true that all our appliances are designed for efficiency; our oven and refrigerator are VW van sized, our combo wash/dryer doesn't really dry so we now hang dry everything. And this is reflected in our usage: we only used 307 kWh last month in comparison to the 403 kWh that we typically used in Victoria (both of these usage rates don't include heating or hot water so it's a fair comparison. I'm afraid to find out what our gas bill is! Our 2 hot water tanks are heated by gas, then the hot water is pumped through the house radiators.).

Anyways, the Electricity Supply Board has two 'utilities' to help you reduce your power consumptions. They are pretty nifty, so I'm going to share them with you. This is a calculator that helps you figure out how much electricity each of your appliances use. This is a 3-D funhouse with advice on how to save power. So even though the cost of power may be cheap... it will still help you save money. If that's not a strong enough incentive think about it this way... what kind of power generation plant would you like in your community (nuclear, fuel burning, more dams, etc.)? --sorry about that dive into my granola (currently oatmeal) self--