BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Monday, July 26, 2010

Tripping over the tourists

Living near downtown Victoria, and spending much of my time in downtown Victoria, I felt pretty assured that I was used to tourists. There wasn't a day that went by without being asked to give directions to Craigdarroch Castle, or Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory or somewhere. But my exposure to tourists in quaint Victoria was ever so limited.

Having spent a sunny Saturday in Dublin, I now understand why Parisians treat anyone non-Parisian with disdain (I have to use a Paris metaphor because the Irish are always impeccably cheerful, despite the rain, fog, economy, unemployment, tourists, etc. I have theories about this stemming from the fact that everyone has at least 5 siblings, I even have a friend who is #9 of 12. I postulate that if you come from a large family, you learn to get along with people out of sheer necessity. It is an unfortunate side effect of having only 1 or 2 children that makes parents turn their children into over achieving super stars. Between attending art classes, tennis lessons and violin recitals, we are depriving our children of the ability to learn how to be regular people. It requires "unstructured play time" with other children to learn how to be friendly or suffer the consequences of being friendless.)

Back to Paris, it is not a factor of my stumbling French trying to order a Cafe au lait, nor the fact that I could possibly get lost on my way to Notre Dame that makes Parisians sigh at my "Gauche-ness"... but the fact that there are far too many people in line for that Cafe au lait and too many other tourists on their way to Notre Dame. I learned in April to give up on going to Temple Bar as the hoards of tourist made the streets impassible with a buggy (stroller). However this weekend everywhere in Dublin 2 and 1 was inundated with tourists. Huge tour groups clogged the intersections, making them impassible. There was a huge line-up at the cafe in Avoca (though the non-tourists know that there's always seating at the deli in the basement... but I'm still indignant as I was so looking forward to sitting at the cafe). We were hassled by the vendors and performers that were fishing for tourists. And what is up with those stupid viking tour buses where everyone is yelling "argh" at the top of their lungs, adding to the cacophony of the city.

At least Maynooth is mostly tourist free. However, in the summer, the campus is turned over to English Language students, so we do have large groups of Italian or Spanish teenagers milling about town. At least they keep the accordion player employed. On a bright note, the weather is supposedly going to improve, and next weekend we are going to join every other Irish family, and have a long weekend holiday.

Meanwhile I have created an arsenal of rainy day activities:
-help with washing up (washing the dishes -he's surprisingly good)
-help with hanging up the washing (laundry -again he's surprisingly good)
-(sub note, it took me a bit to figure out how to buy soaps, as dishwashing soap is called washing up liquid, and laundry detergent as it's called washing powder. I still haven't figured out Bio and Non-bio, but I'm sure I will google it soon... like now)
-make Guck (2 parts corn flour (corn starch) 1 part water)
-build a fort
-make cookies

Does anyone else have some neat ideas? Camera will be fixed soon (I hope!)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Donadea between the showers

The rain in Ireland can be very persistant. At the moment, it is continuing for the second week straight. I'm becoming a bit worried about my laundry, which has been hung up indoors for neigh on two days and is definitely still damp. (We do have a "dryer", but it is a combo washer/dryer and although you could ascribe washing features to it... despite the fact that all our whites are slowly turning grey, it would be best to describe the dryer as more of a fluffer. -in the laundry sense for anyone with a dirty mind.)

This weekend started out with grandiose plans to cycle to Newbridge, which were scaled back as soon as the downpours started. The rather dry Saturday, that was predicted, did eventually roll around in the afternoon. So we took the opportunity to go to explore Donadea Forest Park.

Donadea was a historical castle estate that was turned over to a forestry company to log and manage as a park. The "forest" was decidely the most trees that we have seen in one place since coming to Ireland. We felt very much that Canadian urge to sling our packs on our backs and canoe out to a campsite. But it really didn't feel very woodsy, more Stanley Park, than Algonquin Park. But I shouldn't be too much of a forest snob, since I do come from the land of the Boreal forest. And it did have the distinct benefit, in that I didn't have to worry about grizzly's (eyeing us from across a lake), black bears (eating out of Brad's parents garden), coyotes (taking my mother's cat from their house in the heart of Vancouver), wolves (my friend in grade two apparently had one as a pet...?), poisonous snakes (in our dining room at Palgrave) or cougars (another funny Serhat story... he thought the signs refering to cougar sightings posted at SFU, were refering to women, as he'd never heard of the animal before. He thought we were joking when we told him the truth.) It is a badge of a Canadian to have lost a pet to a wild animal at somepoint, we just hope not to be one of the ones having to defend our children from a cougar.

Donadea boasts of a huge castle ruin with lovely walled gardens (a castle seems a fair exchange for bears), a church, many walks and a quaint cafe. It also has a "small lake", which I would probably consider to be more of a rushy swamp that could become a pond if someone hired a muskrat for a summer. The ducks are well domesticated. Nikolai was thrilled that they would come right up to his knees to beg for food no matter how many times he chased them away. The park also has a sizeable 9/11 memorial to the Fire Department and Police, as a tribute to Sean Tallon.

Our favorite part would have to be gathering food from the hedgerows around the park. Unfortunately I was wearing shorts, and my legs ended up the worse for the wear from many encounters with Stinging Nettle. At least I knew what a Dock Leaf looked like (as a thank you Ashling, I've included the recipe that you requested below. It really only takes 20 min, but makes like 20 burgers so definitely worth the effort!) Next time I go foraging in the hedgerows I'll wear pants... and maybe gloves too!

The picture is courtesy of Deda (Brad's dad) and is taken from the balcony at their home.

Here's a recipe for "Nut Burgers" (or shape as a ball to have with pasta. I renamed it for the web, since nut burger sounds a lot more appealing than our usual nut ball) from Vegetarian Cookery by Rose Elliot with minor edits by moi:

2 onions, chopped
4 oz butter (margarine)
2 tsp mixed dried herbs
2 tsp flour (can be gluten free)
300 ml of water
2 tsp veggie stock powder
2 tblp soy sauce
2 tsp yeast extract
450g mixed nuts and seeds roughly ground (we like walnuts with sunflower seed, but I think anything would do)
225g breadcrumbs (plus more for coating -can be GF if desired)
black pepper to taste

Fry onions in butter until browning. Add dried herbs and flour, cook for 1-2 min. Stir in the remaining ingrediants, then allow to cool before shaping. Shape, then coat in breadcrumbs. I typically freeze before cooking as they tend to stay in shape better. You can either fry the burgers or bake in the oven until hot a slightly chrispy.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Delving into Philosophy: The Grass is Never Greener

I think it's part of human nature (or rather evolutionary nature... which we are no doubt a part of) to keep struggling for more. More Money. More Success. More Freedom 55. And marketing has capitalized on this primitive urge for More by insinuating that if we bought Toyota Prius, some Maybeline make-up and destination holiday that we will definitely have More fun, More success and More happiness.

This is the curse of humanity... to ever struggle to achieve the intangeble happiness, which will always remain just out of reach. Ah but there's the rub, for nothing can ever help us achieve the peaceful existance that we so desire. The perfect car, the perfect house, the promotion, the money, the friends, the family, etc. will never ever make you happy or satisfied beyond a short heroin-style quick fix. Sigh and sadness at the lost of my Grimm happily ever after.

This week was dismal, with cold grey skies, homesickness (everyone else is taking vacations to see their families), and a 31st birthday that is only notable in that it is one of those prime number birthdays. My mood was suitably darkened to match rain that lashed down outside my window. However, I do know the secret... and all of my excuses for a stormy mood are simply that, empty excuses to explain away the feelings that were in fact wrought by hormonal cycling (I'll leave it to you to imagine what I mean!).

I have been in a long battle with my instinctual urge to explain my every mood by assuming that it was due to something outside of myself. (Oh if work was better, if I hadn't had that argument, if my life were different, if I was Queen of the World). Research has shown many times that happiness and sadness are not based on life events (winning the lottery versus a death) but rather on our own internal set-point.

Try making a mood diary. I did it in conjunction with my doctor to sort out my really crazy menstral cycling (I even passed out on a city bus once). What I discovered was a monthly cycle of super happy highs and pretty crappy lows. But best of all is I learned to pay no heed to those underlying tones of the day, because although this week may be grey, at least I know that the only thing I can do about it is smile and move on. (Did you know that smiling actually makes you happy? Fake it till you make it!)

For all the men out there who don't believe that they would have a monthly cycle... I say balderdash! You have a day-night sleep rhythm, I bet you use the facilities at the same time everyday and feel hungry at the same time everyday... and if your own daily rhythm isn't enough to convince you that you to have hormonal cycles: read up about chronobiology.

As for that co-worker down the hall who seems to be much happier than you? Well, they've probably joined the Happiness Project! Hey, what can it hurt? You may even recalibrate your Happiness Set Point.

Ahh well, at least I'm pretty certain that everything from the Irish made Avoca would make me happy... even if only for an hour or two. ;-)


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Adventuring with a Toddler

While preparing for our trip, I trolled the web for advice regarding traveling with a toddler. There was all the usual stuff about plane flights, baby proofing hotel rooms, etc. but nothing about more off-the-beaten track style traveling. We basically wanted to take Nikolai on a backpacking style trip. The few websites that I found were blogs of people who'd taken their kids somewhere more adventurous, but they were all positives. As in "it's really easy" and "everywhere you go people love kids".

I would have to say that our experience in Turkey maintained both of these truths. However, I do want to blog some advice that I would have found helpful.

1. In general I think that naturally relaxed, easy-going children would probably make for better travelers. Nikolai has always been that sort of relaxed kind of kid. But travelling still makes him a bit more tense and crabby (though he did cut those last two molars during the course of our trip, so maybe it wasn't the traveling that made him cranky). Which leads to point number 2...

2. Parents have to be totally flexible and focused on ensuring that their child's needs are being met. Our whole day rotated around Nikolai's random sleep pattern (usually quite regular at home), his food needs and his need to have "unstructured play time".

3. You should definitely learn the following words in what ever language you are travelling in: Hello (Merhaba) -this is a good one to teach your child as well-, Thank you (the politest form in Turkish is Teshicur-lar), and I'm sorry (Pardone).

Here's some Turkey specific advice:

4. I didn't see much evidence of many children in Turkey (though I am coming from Ireland, so perhaps my view of the number of children that ought to be milling about is tainted by that). It is probably because urban areas have a low birth rate, and because everyone hides them away indoors, or at daycares (creche) during the day. Of note, maternity leave is only 8 weeks, but despite that breastfeeding rates are high. I even witnessed a fully covered Muslim woman breastfeed her toddler in public without covering up (although, arguably, the robes did a good enough job for her).

5. In general EVERYONE is very overprotective of children. The first time we went to a playground we had most of the other parents on-edge because Nikolai was climbing monkey bars, going on swings, sliding down slides etc. People also feel that they could interfere with Nikolai's playing on our behalf (making me feel like a naughty parent). Even older children were stopping Nikolai from using the playground equipment once it became clear that we weren't going to do it. This overprotectiveness extended beyond the playground, to any stairs or railings that we were around. We ate at an outdoor patio one night and had at least two waiters concerned that Nikolai would fall under the railing (he would have had to work to squeeze into that gap) and at one point another patron got up and pulled him away from the railing.
This was very difficult for us, because Nikolai is a decent climber, he can climb rope ladders and is very competent with stairs. We also needed to let him have time to run around, climb and play... Thus I spent a chunk of time feeling like a naughty mommy, as people frequently interfered to protect Nikolai from our negligent parenting. Perhaps I should have also learned the phrase "please don't worry".

5. People in Turkey have an overly enthusiastic and affectionate relationship with children. Having known Serhat and his mother Umid for many years now, I was pretty certain that they would be very affectionate with Nikolai. I had somewhat prepared him for that, by talking all about Serhat, and teaching him to say "Merhaba Serhat", etc. What I wasn't prepared for was that EVERYONE loves children. And many people feel like they can pinch your child's arm, cheek, leg, whatever is available (I'm talking about at least 3 or 4 pinches an hour when we're in public; I'm talking about absolutely random people walking by us on the street; and I'm talking about everyone from young teenage boys to old grandmas). Perhaps I should have also learned the phrase "please don't touch my son".

The enthusiastic relationship with children is expanded if you have had any sort of personal interaction. Food sellers would nearly always give Nikolai a treat as we left their restaurant or shop (and boy was he protective of those treats! It was like wrestling with a tiger to get him to share a bite of the interesting looking pistachio cookie, or apple nut tart. Even if Nikolai was full up from dinner, he'd hold on to that cookie with a death grip in the knowledge that the cookie had, in fact, been given directly to him.) A few people (including the security guard outside of Serhat's work - what do you say to someone with a gun?) would even pick Nikolai up professing in Turkish "mashala, mashala".

At first Nikolai and his newly formed two year old sense of self, was very uncomfortable with all of this. If anything he certainly envisioned himself as the master of his world, rather than just a cuddly cat, there for other peoples entertainment. However, by the end he was resigned, and generally ignored any attempts at winning his attention, unless, of course, they were holding out a cookie.

The hardest thing about traveling with a toddler was that Nikolai stopped sleeping in any normal routine. Basically he went down to sleeping only 8 hours a night (so we all went to bed at the same time) and taking a random assortment of naps throughout the day. This definitely made for some cranky moments, but nothing we could do would encourage him to fall asleep before 10:30 at night, or sleep later than 7am. Luckily 10:30 pm is about average bedtime for Turkish children, so the playgrounds remained pretty full until at least 9:30 pm.

The best part about traveling with a toddler is that he quickly learned to communicate with the locals. Our first playground experience was awkward, to say the least. Nikolai managed to freak all the parents and older children out with his playground skills, and Nikolai was very upset and worried that no one understood him. About halfway through the trip, he figured out that clowning around would get the other children to pay attention to him and laugh at him. Our last playground experience involved Nikolai interacting with nearly all the children in the park. He even managed to get older children to play with him on the seesaw, and pushed him around on somebodies trike. The surprising turn of affairs is that Nikolai has taken up babbling nonsensically. I'm betting he's using Turkish phonemes, as it's that big language development period. And we are still playing the talking in gibberish game.

The picture is of Nikolai and Brad on the top bunk of the overnight train. Nikolai had no problems sleeping on the overnight train, and having all the roaming around space of train was definitely preferable to traveling by bus, or perhaps even by car!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy Birthday Two You

Although I still have one Turkey travel post in the wings, I decided it was time (if not slightly overdue) to wish my new full-time career a happy second anniversary (by full-time I mean 24/7, with no over time perks. And now that my role as a source of milk is diminishing, Papa has turned into the superhero because he leaves for work every morning on his bike... it's gotten so bad that he insists on reading the My Mom is Fantastic book, as My Papa is Fantastic. I'm not at all bitter...). To celebrate this rather mundane accomplishment, I decided to throw myself a party and invite a few of my friends to join us.

The headcount comprised 7 mammies, 2 daddies, 7 toddlers, 2 babies and 1 papa (Nikolai has recently started dropping the Mama in favor of the more Irish Mammy)... in retrospect, I'm not exactly sure what I was thinking. In Ireland the weather is notorious for being beautiful and sunny in April, May, and by mid-June autumn generally returns (please note, for those of you who are thinking of visiting next year). This is definitely true today, as RTE notes "Today's weather: Very windy with outbreaks of rain, heavy in places. Highest temperatures 17 to 21 degrees." Imagine 7 toddlers hyped up on ice cream cone cakes (yours truely), Krispie buns (an Irish party must, comprised of Rice Krispies covered in melted chocolate -thank you Ashling), and a beautiful rolled trifle (thank you Lorraine) bouncing around my living room while the adults try to balance their teas as they jostle for space on the couches.

Thankfully the weather listened to my week-long iteration of a sundance and provided 3 hours of rain-free, partly sunny, and at least 22 degree weather, phew! The party was held in our decently sized garden (yard) with the hyped up kids bouncing on Nikolai's cot (crib) and double bed (came with the room) in full view of the adults relaxing in the yard (if this is confusing check out the floor plan of our slightly tospy-turvy house). It was a fully fantastic time, with only a few fights (Michael and Nikolai jostling over the new toys) and a few bumps (falling off the runner bike, flipping over the rocking horse). Even all the healthy food got eaten, and for that I must thank my Joy of Cooking (if you can only bring 1 cookbook to the Island it should at least be an encyclopedia of cooking). We even served up some of the first radishes our guests have ever tasted (surprising, but I guess it's not an Irish vegetable)!

Our camera is broken, so pictures were taken by Jess and Aisling. In the picture above, Brad and I are trying to light a candle for every cupcake, and failing due to the wind. Instead we lit the candles one by one for each kid; and they were amazingly patient while waiting for their turn!

I've included a recipe for the robin's egg blue play dough below. (Brad figures the goodie bags are the only reason any of the children actually left, so making the triple batch of play dough was definitely worth it!) The recipe is courtesy of my Mom, but I think she took it off of someone else's website, so true credit for this very superior play dough can not be given. Likely it's not a trade secret or anything, just one of those lost skills from the 1950s.

1 c. flour
1/2 c. salt
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 c. water
2 tbsp. mineral oil (liquid paraffin in Ireland)
1 tsp. food coloring

Combine all ingredients, except water and oil, in a saucepan. Gradually stir in 1 cup water mixed with oil, add food coloring. Cook over medium to high heat, stirring constantly until a ball forms. Remove from heat, place dough on table and knead until smooth.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Tapestry of Life

On the whole we found that our trip to Turkey was been a time of reflection on the tapestry of our life. This stemmed primarily from the dominant feeling throughout our trip of returning to Canada. This is likely because Serhat is our friend from Vancouver, and this was our first time traveling away from Ireland.

When travelling, people often ask about where you are from. In general we have been saying Canada, which follows with the questions of "where in Canada..." and usually a statement about "my sister (brother, friend, niece, etc.) lives in Toronto". This also leads to feelings of being a Vancouverite. A few times people wondered why we would take a toddler on a 10 day trip from Vancouver to Istanbul... and in explaining, I was brought back to being from Ireland.

In the grand scheme of things, we have only just arrived in Ireland... 6 months this week. And now I understand how being from anywhere is a hard thing to define in this modern jet-set world. It all depends on whether the person wants to know where you were born and raised, or where you have been recently living. When traveling, people generally want to know where you are from so that they can create a stereotype about who you are (polite Canadian stoners; loud enthusiastic Americans; and friendly tippling Irish). As a person who was born and raised a Canadian, I probably fit most of the Canadian stereotypes (eh), but as a person who is living abroad, I know that my views of the world and mannerisms are slowly shifting to meet those of the Irish culture. And with Nikolai having spent the last quarter of his life in Ireland, he is much more an Irish boy rather than a Canadian one.

The other reflective part of the trip was the memories of our previous trip to Turkey... at 26 we were "less established" as adults. Brad was a student, and I was an underemployed free spirit, and most importantly we were childless. Last time we arrived in Turkey, we were on our tandem bike with only 2 sets of panniers to carry all our luggage. We stayed up late, toured the night club scene, spent our days doing all the touristy stuff, and we were generally footloose and fancy free.

This trip was ever so much different. To start with, our luggage has expanded to include most of a household... including a stroller (buggy), car seat, portable cot, two suitcases and a diaper bag. Phew! (To be fair, one suitcase was full of gifts, but still!) Our days were defined by Nikolai's schedule, and featured more playgrounds and fewer museums. Our nights involved early bedtime so that we could get enough sleep before our lark of a child woke us up dawn with the morning call to prayer.

Becoming a parent resulted in a huge shift in personality and lifestyle. This trip only served to highlight our parent-ness, and now I know that we are no longer awesome, but, surprisingly, I'm just fine with that.

The picture is of us in Sirence, eh. Happy Canada Day, eh.