BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chickening out

With the sunny weather arriving we were getting broody and our nesting instinct kicked in, big time. Last night I was woken up to the sounds of a howling winter storm and was shocked off my perch and landed right back into reality. As such, we will not be getting chickens. As much as it seems like an easy and simple thing to do, that does not make it a good idea for us to do it! And to think that we'd spent yesterday ordering the birds and coop, etc off the Internet!

There are two basic problems... first is that the cost of set up (more than €250) would not justifiably be returned in number of eggs. Secondly, we want to travel, and are planning on spending 3 weeks back in Vancouver over the Christmas holidays... and asking someone to take care of our coop of non-laying birds for that length of time would be pushing the boundaries of Irish hospitality.

However, today (despite the forecast) is a brilliant and sunny day. Nikolai and I attended a fundraiser tea held by the Cancer Society at the Glenroyal hotel. And Brad and I have moved on to our next "hair-brained" idea. Details to follow as it manifests itself over the course of the summer ;-)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bits and Bobs

With the advent of Easter, and my parents impending arrival (they come on April 4th), I have been reflecting on how we really have become part of the Maynooth culture. We now readily participate in things that we would have previously found to be odd. It's been a long time since someone didn't understand what I was saying. And Brad was even asked by an old Irish Grandma if he was part Irish given that his accent was so mild!

Here's some advice on how to talk with a Hiberno-English accent. First of all, most vowels are softened, and are hardly pronounced. There is a lyrical style of talking with your tone raising at the beginning of a sentence and falling at the end. And much of what is said, is in fact not said, but "ummn"-ed in a meaningful way. If Nikolai is picking up an Irish accent, it is this unsaid intonation that he has readily adopted.

The "ummn"-ing in a meaningful way is likely related to the fact that Irish (Gaeltacht) doesn't actually have words for "yes" and "no". This was very problematic for us when we were arranging our move and after we'd first arrived as it was impossible to get an absolute "yes or no" answer regarding anything and everything. Coming from a land of strong affirmatives and negations we were flummoxed by our inability to receive confirmations regarding... the cab picking us, renting an apartment, etc. In fact this may be something else that Nikolai has picked up as he has recently stopped saying "yes" in favor of "it is".

Today, is a bright and sunny day. Diapers are hanging out on our clothesline drying and "freshening" in the sun. (This morning's weather was described by RTE as a warm sunny morning with a freshening north-east wind). Brad is hitching a ride out to the Orchard and B&Q with Pat to pick up gardening supplies. The sun is motivational, we want to get some lettuces and herbs into pots. We're going to scale back our gardening efforts while in Ireland and instead try our hand at some chickens. If all goes well, we will have 3 hens running about our yard in two weeks time.

And for something completely different... this is fabulous... there is a Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef on display at the Science Gallery at Trinity College. I'm not sure if it's going to tour the world, but well worth keeping an eye out for.

So if this little piece of a sunny day appeals, you're welcome visit, if it suits.

--"If it suits" means if you would like... but it's used a lot to pacify language in a way that is polite among women.--

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Taxes, taxes, taxes

The other day I went into the Citizen's Information Bureau to ask about whether we were allowed to have chickens (yes). The Citizen's Information Bureau is something special... it is an office in Maynooth where 3 people hang out waiting for you to arrive and ask questions about... well ANYTHING. Given the current economic crisis in Ireland, and the fact that you can have free access to information on the computers in the library... I imagine the office will not last much longer.
Anyways, when I went in on Thursday I got: the guide to living in Ireland (lots of good facts), advice on how to stop junk mail, chicken info, but I managed to stymie them with my questions on taxes. They just couldn't understand my question about when we would need to file our taxes.

Eventually I figured it out... in Ireland you don't have to file taxes. Basically, your employer deals with all that for you and takes the tax off your salary. This works because the tax system here is super simple. This leads into my ...stupid Canadian tax system rant... as we are filing our taxes today. I'd love some comments on my rant... perhaps some defenders of the Canada Revenue Agency, if only because then I'd be sure someone was in fact reading this blog.

Anyways, in Ireland there are simple tax brackets, with similar tax rates to Canada. Also, there are very few deductions (read: ways of manipulating the tax system). In fact literally the only deduction Brad is able to get is a renter's deduction. This is a fabulous deduction equal to 20% of our rent, or €200 monthly! The idea being that our landlords will be paying that €200 to the government as earnings on our rent, so we shouldn't be paying it too. It's also a powerful deduction because it directly benefits lower income people, as they are the most likely to be renting. It also prevents people from renting illegal suites, because they would want to benefit from the huge tax savings.

Most of the other "tax deductions" available to Canadians are in fact provided as "social benefits" in Ireland. IE. you get the money outside of the tax system, so it's not as though the benefits are lost, they just are directly provided to people who actually need them. After going through the ridiculous paperwork of our Canadian taxes today, I realized that it's basically a living history of various campaign promises and bribes to the voting public. It provides the general "appearances" of providing for the lower income families (we can't tax you very much if you are barely earning a living wage) while not directly providing services to low income families. I mean really, what is more beneficial: a tax deduction for using public transit for commuting at the end of the year (available to every tax payer equally), or providing low income commuters with cheaper transit passes at the time of purchase?

Given all the effort that Brad and I have made to "optimize" our RRSP contributions and figure out who should claim which taxable incomes and deductions, it is clear that our tax system benefits those who are good with a calculator, and completely fails to serve those who really from need the social benefits. --like what is up with the Children's Fitness Tax Credit?-- From this side of the pond it seems like a ridiculous circus... and I could go on with more examples, but I think I'll stop now.

Pic above, is Nikolai awaiting the St. Patrick's day parade.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day!

We went to the Maynooth Parade and it was reminiscent of my childhood in Erin. Not because of the Irish name of that small Ontario town, but rather because I always was in the very "homemade" Girl Guide float for the xmas parade (it usually featured a secular xmas scene on a hay bale covered wagon pulled by a tractor).

This year's winner of the best float was the Tidy Towns Committee (featured in the photo above). The parade also included numerous sports teams and social clubs. Two pipe bands, St. Mary's Bad, 3 sets of traditional Irish dancing groups, and an antique car and tractor parade.

After the parade we went to the local pub for a few pints of Guinness. And I learned a few interesting St. Patrick's day facts:

1. Saint Patrick became a saint because he rid Ireland of snakes. Maynooth celebrated this fact by having a reptile show in the mall after the parade. The grocery stores celebrate this fact by selling clover and snake gummies.
2. Apparently, Lent doesn't count on St. Patrick's Day, which means the pub is full of people who've given up the drink for Lent.
3. Only Americans (and thus I infer Canadians too) would call it St. Paddy's day.
4. Everyone dresses up for the day. This mostly takes the form of silly hats, face paint, etc., but they also wear living clumps of clover (special broaches are sold for this purpose).
5. I also learned the difference between a pub that serves Guinness and a pub that serves a good pint of Guinness. Good pints leave rings of foam in the glass as you drink... otherwise the Guinness has gone "sour".

Perhaps next year we'll brave the crowds in Dublin. Who's going to join us?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

St. Patrick's Day warm up

I thought that this week I'd be blogging about the fantastic time that we had at the St. Patrick's Day festival in Dublin yesterday. While we did go to the festival, we soon realized that it was basically 100% for tourists, and lacked any Irish interest or authenticity. On Wednesday, Maynooth will be having a celebration which we will be attending with our friends (who are actually Irish).

So we took Nikolai to the playground instead, checked out the TK Maxx (the Irish equivalent of Winners) and did our usual shop at the food co-op. But in honour of our St. Patrick's day venture, I have decided to blog about interesting or quirky things we have learned while in Ireland.

-"And the like" (i.e. Tescos' carries fruit, veg and the like. This expression is used at least once in every conversation, basically towards the end of the conversation to signal that you've finished talking about that topic.)
-"Yo'man" as in "Buddy" (i.e. I was at the pub with yo'man there. This is only used by males talking to males. Apparently the Canadian equivalent is Buddy, but being female I don't really use that term.)
-"isn't he bold" is used to refer to children who are being really badly behaved.
-"how long you here for?" means "how long have you been here?" (Took us a few weeks of confusing conversations before we figured that one out. Questions are generally asked and answered in a manner that we found confusing. Basically the answer to a question is assumed to be yes, unless specifically stated otherwise.).

General life:
-The Irish are BIG meat eaters... but despite being a coastal nation, fish are not really a traditional food, and the local stocks haven't been over-fished in recent history (like in Canada).

-It is OBLIGATORY to offer tea whenever anyone comes over (and tea means black tea only, I get a raised eyebrow if I turn it down... even if it's being offered at night!)

-If you don't have exact change on the bus you can get a receipt with the difference on it. You can take that receipt and get your change back at an office downtown.

-The Irish don't use measuring spoons. We haven't been able to find, nor buy measuring spoons yet (well, we did find them, but they were more € than we were willing to pay).

-In general, the culture feels way more "Canadian" and familiar than the British culture. Everyone is very friendly, helpful and nice.

-I think the reason why there are no secondhand stores here is that everything is passed along for free. We have been the recipients of a lot of toys, two full garbage bags of clothes for Nikolai, a bike for me, 3 bags of manure (for our garden), and a pile of wood (twice second-handed) to build a chicken coop.

-Backyard chickens are very popular here... so most likely we will get a few of our own. I'm feeling very settled in my Jane Austin-esque pastoral life.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Why I Love Maynooth

I love living in Maynooth. A long time ago the British Geraldine family decided to make Maynooth their home. There wasn't much in Maynooth at the time, but the Geraldines were influential enough to have a certain amount of infrastructure brought to the town. The Royal Canal was literally built just because Lord Fitzgerald wanted canal access to Dublin. There are the two estates, Maynooth Castle and Carton House (built to replace the Castle). But the grandest piece of infrastructure is St. Patrick's college (the seminary), which was and remains Maynooth's only real industry.

Maynooth exists in it's perfection because all the students from NUIM support the town financially and provide a certain vibrancy to the town. As a result Maynooth has everything one could possible want in a town. Naturally it has all the shopping, library, schools, (including two health food stores, bookstore) etc that a town needs. However, unlike many North American towns, all of these amenities exist along the main street and provide for a very "walkable" shopping experience. As a result there are buskers' out serenading the town with their accordions on every sunny day. We have a farmers' market on Saturdays, and there is a very active "Keep Maynooth Alive, Shop local" campaign. The student population assures a healthy number of pubs and one night club (built as a ball room in the 1780's).

Maynooth has a branch of the Gaelic Athletics Association, which provides recreation for adults and children alike, as well as professional level teams (Nikolai attends a playgroup there). All sorts of other types of recreation are provided for in the small footprint of this town. Brad has joined the cycling club, I'm taking pilates and Nikolai's been doing music and art classes. Maynooth has St. Mary's Band, the Musical society puts on plays, the library has a monthly movie theater night, the town produces it's own newsletter, and has a very active Tidy Town Association. Caught up in the trill of my new, retro 1950's life, I attended one meeting of the crafter's guild and realized I was far too young.

And though the students do break bottles and litter during their Saturday night parties, at least they are polite enough to stay out of the playground. What's more, they are all mature enough to use sidewalk chalk to leave drunken messages (rather than graffiti) and I never have to worry about needles. (The blight of Vancouver's beautiful playgrounds).

Oh, and about the pictures... not Maynooth! Yesterday we spent some time in the fishing village of Howth, just outside of Dublin. A quick and easy day trip that we will probably do with all our visitors.