BRAD     |     EMILLIE

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.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Chaos descends

Claire arrives tomorrow. Our lodger arrives on Sunday. (We have 3 double bed rooms so this does not pose a problem). We've got a car to pick up Claire and decided to maximize this rather infrequent event by buying. So we will pick up our bulk order at the co-op, and buy some storage solutions from Ikea. Phew! And for any future visitors... we won't be able to pick you up... as Brad's license is only good in Ireland for 1 year. He'll have to take an EU driving test if he wants to drive next year.

My son became famous this week, when he stuck his head through the banister in the pub at the GAA during playgroup. In the world of mummy Maynooth it doesn't take long for stories to travel. I'd heard that Lorraine was pregnant with twins from two different people before seeing her myself later that same week. (Her 2 year old daughter told Nikolai that they were having 5, no 7 babies!)

Back to Nikolai and his stuck head... it took 15 mummies, jars of Silcock's base (cream), margarine, etc. to figure out that, even though he got his head through, it wasn't going to come back out. Luckily he's fairly thin, and his body fit through, allowing us to rescue him from the other side. Phew! All anyone can say is "my he's brave", since Nikolai was rather stoic the whole time while we all tried desperately to get him out. (He did cry a bit when his ears got squashed during the attempts at pushing his head through).

The photo is of Nikolai's art from his art class (the only thing I have him enrolled in, and I think the photo speaks for itself as to why we don't do more art at home... the paint continues up his leg, and often also ends up on his face.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Croup and Sligo

To start with... THE CROUP. Ominous sounding to say the least... but actually it's just a cold that Brad brought home from work. Then Nikolai caught it, and I have since caught it. In children less than 6 years old, the "frog in your throat" style of cold, comes across as the croup. Since their windpipes are so small the congestion in the larynx results in raspy breathing and seal bark style coughs. Since colds are viral, there is nothing to be done for the croup except to wait it out... and humidify the environment. Since Ireland is currently suffering from rain storms reflected from the Atlantic Hurricanes, humidity is not a problem for us! We are all making our way through various levels of recovery and hope to be back to normal shortly.

Now, Sligo is place which is definitely not on a typical tourist circuit... but since it is the end point of our railway line, it does make it into our consciousness with regularity. This Sligo trip, however, rightfully belongs to Brad's intrepid cycling friend, Kieran. Kieran won a family train ticket to Dublin. Given that we basically live in Dublin, Iarnod Eireann exchanged that train pass with a pass to Sligo. Our part in the story comes into being when Kieran rang me up while I was in the playground offering (perhaps veering more towards insisting) the ticket to us. As he put it "his kids (all teens) would rather jump around home then spend 2 1/2 hours on the train to Sligo". Unfortunately, the tickets required that we leave on the Saturday of Lorraine's b-day party (fyi, it was a huge success, Nikolai can't wait for the sitter to come back) so I did try to decline. However, Kieran was not to be detered, and we became the proud owner of train tickets that we could not use. Luckily, all that was required was a trip to Connolly Station, some smiling and flaunting my accent, and I got the ticket bumped forward a week. Phew!

We set out on our journey after Brad got off work on Friday night. We brought a posh picnic dinner, bought beer off the trolley (not at all recommended... all the other passengers BYOB, so I'd do that if you would prefer your beer at all cold) and quite enjoyed the pastoral scenery that rolled past our windows. Nikolai naturally enjoys any event that involves eating for 2 1/2 hours, and we did have freshly made empanadas.

There is not much to see tourist-wise in Sligo beyond the ruins of the Abbey (definitely fun for Nikolai as they let you climb up, over, in, and around all the turrets etc.), but as a town, Sligo is fantastic! It has loads of charm, great restaurants, cafes, shops, etc. I bought some Dillisk off of a street vendor (I already had Irish Moss at home). We bought an Irish wool blanket at P. F. Dooney & Sons and generally found the prices were much better than what we're used to paying!

Best of all we found a bakery and... without meaning offence to anyone at the Elite Confectionery in Maynooth... it was the first real bakery that we have been to while in Ireland. The person who served us was so French that he refused to even acknowledge my "Parlez-vous Francais?", insisting "mais, non" before storming off to the ovens leaving us alone in the shop. (To be honest though, their dough lacked the flavour that arises from a properly fermented dough, and so they barely passed as a proper bakery in Brad's eyes).

Having spent a lovely morning in Sligo, we decided to take the train to Carrick-on-Shannon (to break our return trip up). We only spent 2 hours in Carrick-on-Shannon, but would like to go back. It is a lovely village that was basically designed for tourists. They have a great art gallery and a boat filled harbour (much to Nikolai's delight as he dreams almost nightly of being on a boat. Since his only nautical experience was on the Victoria bound ferry these dreams must stem his previous life as a fisherman).

So if you want a weekend away and don't need to follow the tourist path and kiss the Blarney stone, then head on down to Sligo for some easy enjoyment.

Below is my empanada recipe (and Brad's dahl recipe is in the comments of the last post) so we've got recipes all over. Now... I only had 15 minutes to pack for our trip and a sick toddler to boot, so I forgot our camera. Somehow, the cellphone camera is not quite the same... so I've included a picture of the steam engine that came through town yesterday. It's only €10 return to Dublin!! but all the rest of the trains for this year are booked up. I'm eager to take one of the many Santa trains, so if someone has spare tickets, think of me!

Dough: 2 cup flour, ½ cup butter, water based on need (approx. 1/3 cup). Refrigerate
Filling: Olive Oil, 1 onion, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper, 500g chard (finely diced). Saute. When cool add 1 lime of juice, ¾ cup Parmesan and ¼ cup of cheese.
Make into semi-circular pies. Glaze with egg and bake at 350 for 30 min.

(I also freeze them shaped, but before cooking for an instant party food).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Farmer Roger

Farmer Roger's farm lies directly between our house and Brad's office at the Hamilton Institute. Much to Nikolai's delight, we get to watch his sheep and cows grazing every time we leave the estate. Skipping across Roger's fields would be the best way to get to work; however, it is not an option for Brad, as the Rye river cuts his fields in two and there is no bridge. As such, it is Roger's tractors (one green and one blue) that one often sees rolling down the main street of Maynooth, and, much to Nikolai's delight, up past our estate.

For a few months now, we have been getting duck eggs from Roger via a very top secret drop off location that involves a fairly muddy walk in his lands on our side of the river (€2 left in a jar per 1/2 doz). As I collected yesterday, I left Nikolai dozing in his buggy at the side of the road while I took my 5 minute walk to fetch eggs... and reflected that THIS was definitely something one could never imagine doing in Vancouver... or Victoria for that matter; one's wallet and cellphone would definitely be at risk.

But Farmer Roger's story expands at the point when he offered Brad a half a lamb for €65 (one of the sheep we've been watching grow up on our doorstep since February). And I must warn everyone that, when Brad was offered that half a lamb, the less vegetarian side of Farmer Roger's story began to unfold.

Now, Brad has never really been a full vegetarian, but eating meat was something he would only do if the meat was local and ethically raised (two marks in Roger's favor). The only thing was, I wasn't going to have ANYTHING to do with cooking meat for Brad. So he was basically a vegetarian with a twice a year meat fix, when our parents splurged on something just for him. And it would have stayed this way if Nikolai hadn't turned out to be a voracious carnivore. His first taste of meat was sitting on Panda's lap at Great-Panda's wake. It was a resounding success, to say the least. Nikolai's always been a protein maniac. Most children love cookies, pasta, bread... not Nikolai, dahl and nuts are definitely his favorite food. He'd rather starve than eat Mac and Cheese for dinner (Interestingly, KD ...Kraft dinner... is not available in Ireland. In fact no one seems to understand macaroni and cheese as a dinner item at all.) Nikolai clearly didn't inherit my blood type A-... if there's anything at all to that theory, then he must be an O ;-).

Anyways, last year Brad decided that perhaps we ought to allow Nikolai the occasional taste of a free-range, organic, local chicken, as he so clearly craved the protein (he's been limited to once a month affair). And the amazing thing is that Nikolai loves that chicken dinner (and he does understand that it's an animal. Yummy peep peep!). In fact he'd probably eat half a chicken all by himself in a single sitting if given the chance. Well, to cut this all short, Brad has exchanged his once a month serving of chicken for a once a month serving of lamb.

Now, the only trick is that Brad had to help Farmer Roger butcher the lamb... and I decided that if Nikolai wants to eat meat... he should definitely UNDERSTAND what gave their life for his food. I came along just in case the whole thing turned out to be too much for Nikolai. It did not, Nikolai loved the farm. And he certainly didn't mind watching the lamb be chopped up. He loved the sow named Betsy, tired of her 9 little suckling piglets (they're a month old and have just started to eat apples, so in a week she'll be able to go for walks without them). He liked the chickens, chased around the ducks (apparently he doesn't take after Claire either), got close to the sheep, petted the two labs, poked his nose into every field, stall and corner of the farm, and got his "lightening shoes" thoroughly covered in farm guck.

It was Brad's adventure, ironically enough, that was probably more than he bargained for. Brad has a well developed sense of clean... and that sense of clean got thoroughly trampled on yesterday evening.

Roger and his son Gavin (who is probably the first person I've ever met that deserves to be discribed as strapping) both arrived on tractors in their rather dirty farm clothes. Then Roger held a bucket of water for Betsy (the piglets always tip it over), then he petted the dogs, and then he butchered the lamb. What was missing in that description? Well, anything that involved washing, or water, or perhaps the white butchers coat that Brad had figured into his imagination. I'm guessing that circa 1800 barn (complete with arrow slits) figured into Brad's purview, but he probably didn't foresee the unwashed hands. Ah well, he'll have to get over that as Brad is now the proud owner of 11 kg of lamb... enough to last him a meal a month until next year! (For any Maynoothians interested in this pursuit, I'm sure that the meat is safe to eat. As a BC'er we have an over developed sense of clean that has resulted in extreme abattoir regulations.)

I wished we'd brought our camera with us, as it was truly a very nice farm. Though perhaps next time we visit, I'll have Nikolai in his wellies (rain boots).

Today Nikolai has croup and we're off to Sligo, so perhaps another blog is in the works. No farm photos... but Nikolai eating dahl.

Friday, September 03, 2010

The sharing of media

A quick word on life in Eire before moving on to the topic du jour. The summer returned (as everyone promised it would) right when the children went back to school. August 30th. And I feel awful peachy about having bought a paddling pool at the end of season sale in August for €2. At the time I never thought we'd use it... but figured €2 was worth the gamble. And here we are 2 weeks later, and 5 full days of swimming weather.

The other exciting news is we've hired our first babysitter, ever. She's the daughter of one of Brad's cycling crew... and I do hope Nikolai goes to sleep for her. But if this works out it may be a dawn of a new era... one where we both get to go out at night! The event that has spurned this occasion on is a birthday party on the M.V. Cill Airne. Round number b-days are a very big deal here.

Now, I have two television based posts itching in the background. One is about the unfortunate side effects of tv culture... but negative posts don't seem to be too popular, so I'll start with a post on Canadian and Irish media.

On the music front... I don't have much to say. Canadian music is very much played 'round here. And while music sharing with a friend, Brad was recently introduced to some Canadian bands he'd never heard of! On the Irish front, Lisa Hannigan is from Leixlip (our very near neighbour) that indie music fans may enjoy (she has her very own YouTube Channel). Aisling's partner, Jamie, is in the unsigned Black Eagle Charm. The Irish teen pop phenomenon seems to centre around Jedward. And if I cared enough... I could have gone down to Tescos for an album signing last month. Jedward may be big enough to have their own chocolate easter egg... but they're not big enough to avoid signing autographs in a small town supermarket.

As for television... all things Canadiana would be best displayed in Corner Gas. The Canadian humour may be lost on the Irish, but the small town humour is always funny. Another Canadian show that would provide a fairly accurate view of the North is Ice Road Truckers.

Before moving to Ireland, my mother brought home a DVD series from the library that she had been informed was the Ultimate Must See Irish TV Show, Amongst Women, by someone who was definitely not well informed. Father Ted is most definitely the favored Irish TV show by anyone who is not overly religious. I think that the small town humour would appeal to everyone (I love the Fair in the first episode). But most of the humour centers around the Catholic Church, and given the fact that between us Brad and I have not been to more than a handful of services, under any denomenation, we don't really find the send up of the church that funny. Before watching this, you should know the background behind the housekeeper's endless offering of tea. Apparently, during the hard times everyone would still offer visitors tea, even if they didn't have any tea. So visitors were required to refuse the first two times; if offered tea a third time, then you would know that they actually had tea to offer.

Black Books is actually a British program, but the lead character is from Navan (another close neighbour), so I'm going to count it as an Irish program. A lot of the jokes are fairly simple, but I end up laughing my head off everytime... so I'd have to recommend the program.

And I have two more recommendations: the CBC program Being Erica, which I like because I can really relate to Erica (Brad like's it because of the minor hint to a sci-fi/fantasy, at least enough to get over the fact it is essentially a "chic show") and the British No Heroics, about not-so-super heros.

Lastly, two children's program recommendations. I love them both because they 1) promise not to be over stimulating, 2) gauged at a level that my 2 year old can honestly comprehend, 3) they don't seem to have any marketing attached to them, and 4) you can stream them on You Tube.

The RTE program, Fluffy Gardens features simple storylines, really bad cartooning, and an Irish narrator who's world-wide accents make me laugh.

The Canadian Four Square, well actually only the dancing portion, which features national ballet dancers teaching children how to dance. It's very repetitive, interactive, and the dancers are a pleasure to watch.

The picture is of Brad cycling through the Sally Gap, with the Glenmacnass in the background. I would have included a cute picture of Nikolai's nakid butt running around the garden, but Brad wouldn't let me. So instead we get a picture of Brad panting at the top of the pass ;-)

...and further media suggestions are more than welcome...