BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Today I could have blogged about some more interesting Irish facts that I have been collecting up, but instead the weather is dreary, and my mind has been filled with some rather dreary facts. Basically, I have been listening to RTE since we arrived in Ireland. And I have been living in a blissful world where bad news is skipped lithely over as we move on to our topic of the day: Eurovision song contest. Anyways, this week I decided that perhaps listening to BBC might help me keep up on current topics. And now I'd like to find a pile of sand and stick my head in it like an ostrich (do they really do that!?!)

The thing is, as soon as you turn on. and tune in, you realize that the world is mad. So mad in fact that it's quite likely the other sentient beings in the Universe have actually cordoned off this part of the galaxy to prevent our insanity from getting out. So now I am in that terrible conundrum of do I go back to my happy world of RTE, or do I listen to BBC and harden my shell to the likes of BP oil, North Korea and the continuing economic woes (oh, but they say that THIS quarter things are DEFINITELY going to start improving-- as if the consumers who drive the economy would actually BELIEVE that after having been told exactly that over the past two years. Thanks to Fabulous Fab for taking the hit, as if a 28 year old could be responsible for the decade of fiction that was eventually realized to be only a fraudulent version of reality.).

So where does 2012 fit in? No, I didn't go see the movie; poorly rated action flicks just aren't my cup of tea. However, I was invited to a talk on preparing ourselves for the 2012 energy shift. Thinking that it was all about developing renewable energy for the future, I was very excited. Upon googling the 2012 energy shift, I learned that we're either up for WWIII and the end of the world (where's that pile of sand!!!) or a dramatic shift of energy as we enter the Age of Aquarius (cue the music and naked dancing). And I would have left it all there if I hadn't starting listening to the blasted BBC radio this week. Here's hoping for the Age of Aquarius!!

And on that note, we will be going for a 2 week detox-cleansing diet in preparation for our trip to Turkey. Basically, Nikolai ended up with a yeast-infection diaper rash this week (well, he's had it for weeks, but I thought the rash was from teething. This week when it got much worse, I took him to Dr. C and got the real diagnosis... vinegar in the diaper load! I actually bought some disposables too, because keeping yeast out of cloth diapers can be a b***h), and Brad and I have been suffering from various illnesses all spring so we probably all need to clean out our system. I know illnesses are a part of life with a toddler, but I'd like to have us all healthy and smiley for our trip to Turkey. Then we don't have to worry about the number of Turkish Delights we're consuming. The picture above is meant to lighten the tone of this somewhat dreary blog post. Wouldn't it be nice if everyday involved sunshine, long grass and dandelions.

Friday, May 28, 2010

What is Brad up to nowadays...

Most anyone who is reading this knows that the job I took in Ireland is a post-doc. But exactly what is a post-doc, and what do they do? Generally speaking, a post-doc position is a research position taken on by a recently graduated doctoral student. The goal is to solidify the research skills that the student just acquired during graduate work, and to branch out into new areas and expand their knowledge. After a few years, the idea is to continue on to a full-time research position at a university ('post-doc for hire') or company, or try for a professor position. To be successful, the post-doc must carry out research and publish the findings in peer-reviewed journals and conferences; the length of an individuals publication list is now generally seen as the mark of a successful post-doc, although some employers may be a little more discerning. The day-to-day work can involve meetings with fellow researchers and organizational work with granting institutes (the folk who pay our wage), but generally, most of a post-docs day is spent mulling over problems. Once you've established that a problem is worthy of consideration and will add to your areas knowledge base, you solve and publish it (easier said than done... :) ).

My own post-doc work is with a group that is primarily interested in improving wireless LAN networks, specifically the 802.11 standard, or WiFi. Why should more research be done on a technology that I can get access to for $50 at the local shop? Well, that's part of the reason... it is now a ubiquitous part of many an urbanites life. The other part is that the basic mechanisms behind 802.11 can get a lot of improvement by tweaking parameters that are widely accessible. Since they are so common-place, the impact of improving these networks would be appreciated by millions. So far, the group has made some very cool findings (like that the 6 Mbps setting is actually worse performing than the 11Mbps in almost all cases, which is the opposite than what is logically assumed... generally a slower signal has a lower chance of getting an error). The work that I am personally focusing on involves methods of allocating channels amongst competing access points, with the presumption that they cannot communicate with one another. You can imagine this a very useful thing on Commercial Drive, where every cafe has it's own WLAN, and most are probably all using the same frequency, causing a lot of interference to one another.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Back in the saddle

The summer weather has arrived and life has returned to a place of sundresses and bare feet (if only temporarily). I have started on a few smaller cycle rides in the evening with Aisling, and yesterday we went on our first big ride. While my first ride in Feburary left me with a bit of a sour taste for cycling in Ireland, I have since recalibrated that view. Now the weather is sunny, the roads are mainly rolling hills that never get too difficult (at least compared to what we were used to in Vancouver), I know that I have to stay on the left side of the road, and I have discovered that most cars are in fact rather polite. I would now give Ireland two thumbs up for cycling. We were greeted by everyone we passed, and Ireland definitely ranks up there with Slovenia and Turkey for having friendly people.

Yesterday, we set out for Trim and took the direct route there in the morning, which was a 30km ride on more major roads. The traffic wasn't too bad, but I think our choice of time was related to that. In general the Irish are not early risers, and this would be even more true on a weekend (for example in Canada EVERYONE puts their children to bed at 7pm, making for an early wake up. Average bedtime in Ireland would probably be 8:30. I can just imagine the community health nurses clucking their tongue at that. And for the longest time I honestly believed that Nikolai would only get a full nights sleep if he was down by 7pm. Don't tell Sue Johnson, but he goes to bed at half eight every night now!).

Back to Trim, the primary reason for us to go to Trim was to explore the castle. This medievel castle is pretty well intact despite numerous seiges. It had quite the defenses, with numerous watch towers, and well fortified gates. You probably all have actually seen the castle, as it is where they filmed Braveheart. (It is an unfortunate side-effect of our trip, that Brad now wants to rewatch the movie. There goes another 3 hours of my life wasted.)

Trim has other sites of interest too, including a Monastary, many other historic buildings, a lovely walk on the river Dunboyne, and (mostly interesting for Brad) the site of Hamilton's childhood home.

We started by plopping our happy-go-lucky selves down in the shade of the castle for a picnic, then Nikolai peed on the castle (no disrepect meant by that, but he has a thing for peeing on walls, and now, much like a well trained cat, asks to go out whenever he has the need to go). The town of Trim itself left us with much to desire, well, mainly just one thing to desire... we wanted nothing more than to sit under an umbrella and sip cold drinks on an outdoor patio. I am quite aware that Ireland generally does not have the giant outdoor cafes that are found in much of mainland Europe, but most towns seem to have some outdoor seating. This was not to be found in any form in Trim. So some juice and icecream purchased at a Spar would have to suffice, and we found our selves again picnicing (and peeing) on the side of Trim castle.

For the return trip we followed our nose down some beautiful back roads, and found our way back home in just under 40km! A lovely day was had by all. FYI we also found out about the Heritage Ireland Pass. Free entrance to all Heritage Ireland Sites for a year! I wish we'd found out about this before our Easter tour!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

When you're almost two

This week I am going to indulge myself and spend some time whining. It's been a week where a definite whine is due. See, the problem is that I thought my sweet, social, agreeable toddler was going to stay that way forever. Like all of my parenting lessons, I had heard of the "terrible twos," but I naively put it aside as something that would never happen to us. (I treated all that advice around "enjoying" my sleep while I was pregnant in much the same way. I mean who could enjoy sleep when your back hurts so bad, and your hormones are making you raging hot? What I really needed to understand was that I was going be woken up at the crack of dawn EVERY morning for what seems to be the rest of my life, and thats on top of all the midnight adventures: water, potty, socks on, socks off, tuck in...)

Anyways, last Saturday we woke up to find that Nikolai had been replaced with a changeling. In public or at our playgroups, he is clinging to my lap refusing to say hello even to friends we see nearly everyday. At home, he's a wild beast, constantly checking exactly how serious we are about all the rules. And just try getting him to do anything; even as simple as putting his shoes on to go outside requires a full stratagem. Our bedtime routine, so firmly established at 11 months, now involves waterworks every step of the way. (I was amazed to learn that tears actually can shoot out vertically, and I thought only Muppet's could do that!) At first Brad and I were unsympathetic and generally disgruntled. After wasting most of last weekend fighting with Nikolai, we have re-centered our selves and have become sympathetic. I imagine it is very hard to wake up one morning and suddenly realize that you have free will. And even harder still when the people you love and trust the most are ticked off because you finally figured out the big secret that they knew all along, that you aren't required to listen to them.

The week was very trying, to say the least. But I think we have made clear headway on re-establishing certain rules (no drawing on the walls, no pooping on the floor) and expectations (we will put your shoes on, but you can zip your coat up). Friday night I went for a bike ride with my friend Aisling, and as we sailed down the empty roads, past farms, abandoned churches and into the sunset, I couldn't help but yell out "free at last, free at last, thank god almighty I'm free at last."

FYI we leave for Turkey in less than a month, to make the trip before our little sultan is truly two. I wonder how his sense of self will fare when we pack him into an overnight sleeper train to Cappadocia?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Imports and Exports

My friend Jess and her family have gone on a repatriation visit back to visit their family in Vernon BC. In their stead, we have adopted their frisky cat Thor. Unlike our previous cat-sitting experiences, which have mainly centered around apartment sized cats in Vancouver, Thor is a big cat. But I don't think he knows it. He is continuously squeezing himself into tiny spaces, leaping lithely onto the fireplace mantle and the bathroom sink, etc. His lack of awareness of his own power is very much to Nikolai's advantage. Nikolai has spent 87% of this week playing with Thor, which invariably has resulted in pulled tails and paws, sitting on Thor, pushing him around the house, etc. We're quick off the mark, more because we don't want Thor to end up hurt rather than the other way around. Nikolai was actually scratched by a different cat last weekend, which didn't seem to deter his enthusiasm for that cat. But unfortunately Thor is not the sort of cat to defend himself, and in fact he seems to relish playing with Nikolai.

Anyways, back to the topic du jour... on her way out Jess asked if there was anything I'd like them to bring back from Canada, anything that I've been missing. At the time I couldn't think of anything, but I've since thought of some ideas. So here is my list of a few things I'd import from Canada and things I'd export from Ireland.

From Canada:
$ Que Pasa tortilla chips. Only Tescos sells a plain corn chip and it only comes thick cut and heavily salted. Yummy, but I miss Que Pasa.

$ Tinkyada Rice Pasta. The plain rice pasta here is not much fun and most gluten free pasta has corn flour in it. No good for my Nikolai.

$ Borax. It's actually illegal as of June due to potential toxicity at really, really high levels. Levels so high in fact that it would be impossible to digest it without automatically vomiting. Regardless, I bought a bunch in a commando style manoeuvre off of the Internet before it's completely illegal. I can now buy a borax substitute, if I was interested.

$ Bulk food. Nowhere carries bulk, but most everyone has a tiny kitchen with a bar sized refrigerator (including freezer space) so everything comes in teeny tiny packages. Not very environmentally friendly.

From Ireland:
€ Underwear sized 18 months. They are readily available in every department store, grocery store, etc. and perfect for my diaper free toddler. In Canada Nikolai struggled with underwear that was too large. I went a bit nuts and bought him 14 pairs right after we first arrived. I'm definitely bringing back a suitcase full for the diaper free Vancouver families. The reason why small underwear is popular here is because kids get toilet trained young. Most of Nikolai's friends are in the process of being trained, and a few of the 2 year olds (and one 19 month old) are completely self reliant. Thanks to advertising campaigns from Pampers and the ilk, parents in North America are completely convinced that 3 or even age 4 is an acceptable age to train. The best part is that because early training is normal, so is taking your toddler to pee on the grass at the playground, or in a parking lot, etc. We have moved from being on the fringe to perfectly normal.

€ Yeast Extract. Not Marmite, but basic yeast extract is really good for vegetarian/vegan food. In Canada I could only find the main brand Marmite and Vegemite, both of which are very salty and require some getting used to. Basic yeast extract is great for adding depth to my veggie burgers, or a cheese sauce, etc.

Grow bags. Perfect for people like us who need temporary garden space. It's basically a bag of soil that you can plant directly into. It has holes to let the water out and is from a plastic stable enough to support the plants. We sprouted our lettuce in one, and are planning on growing zucchini in another.

In other news... Nikolai came down with Hand, Foot and Mouth disease this week, and today it seems as though Brad may be succumbing to it as well. Here's hoping I'm immune! The first picture is of my rock garden and sprouting pots. The shrubs are pretty small at the moment so when you look at the picture use your imagination to make them grow. The second photo is Nikolai over watering his fairly dead marigold in his garden.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

A travel log 3

Galway is a lovely, vibrant city. It has a large-ish student population, and quite the restaurant culture. Nikolai particularly enjoyed the street performers and the labyrinth of canals. In fact, we liked Galway city so much that we opted not to go explore the Aran Islands, but rather just stayed in the town for the two days.

The weather was beautiful so we shopped, explored the University, and hung out at Salthill. Some of Galway highlights would have to include:

My Dad smuggling rocks from the beach in my knitting bag (tucked under his arm due to the weight). He did this because my parents, ever industrious, had decided to landscape my yard. They focused on a sunny and pebbly patch that was next to the patio space in the large yard. Now I have a whimsical garden featuring an assortment of bushes and ground cover (actually purchased by Brad, when he felt pressure to buy some kind of plant when shopping at B&Q with Pat), a collection of rocks (lifted by my mom from several of our holiday destinations), and a few plotted plants. I must say that my garden looks pretty spiffy now, even though my Dad never managed to find that illusive Gnome to put in it! We've even allotted a portion of the garden as "Nikolai's Garden". Exactly how much of the garden belongs to Nikolai is constantly under negotiation as he frequently steels in when no one is look to claim one of the rocks as his own.

We had a great dinner at an authentic Irish restaurant, Riordans. This restaurant was so Irish that they didn't even have the pretensions of serving to a tourist. For example they didn't serve beer because they didn't have room to store the kegs. But it did provide what it was recommended for: large portions of Irish food. I don't think any of us finished our dinner. I wouldn't recommend it for vegetarians as they only have one, not very authentic, vegetarian dish (lasagna, served with steamed carrots, cabbage and chips). But I guess that makes it even more authentic!

-Lastly our bed and breakfast was fantastic, and we would recommend it to anyone. They serve up a full Irish breakfast (again meat focused), so my dad got to try black pudding and white pudding along with all the rest.

As previously noted on the way home from Galway we went to Clonmacnoise and Castlegar.

The picture is from NUI Galway, a different campus of the University Brad is at.