BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Hallowe'en!

Nikolai had the whole "Trick or Treat" routine down right away. In general, it was a much different experience from Canada. I don't know whether it's the location or what... but there have been very few kids. Also, most of the houses aren't handing out treats... and there is relatively little decorating (in fact no one even answered the door at the most decorated house that we went too!) But it has been a great chance to meet our neighbours. And the treats that he brought home will be fun for Brad and I to eat ;-).

The other interesting thing is... that although we only went to a handful of house (about 10) two of them handed out plastic baggies of loose candy. An absolute no-no from my childhood. But Brad's taking it for the team and eating them anyways. I know the houses that handed them out, and perhaps it indicates, along with the few children that came by (20 ish), that Halloween is more of a neighbourhood based event than the all-out candy grab that I remember from my childhood (well not my childhood, we weren't allowed to use pillow cases or plastic bags to collect our loot... in fact we had the smallest little pumpkins to fill).

My mother sent the costume... and those are our pumpkins!

Friday, October 29, 2010


Hallowe'en officially is a holiday that originated in Ireland; however, at a recent dinner party (a fairly typical 2 pm on Sunday thing) we learned that in general people feel like Hallowe'en actually belongs to the USA.

Certainly there are many aspects of Hallowe'en that originate in Ireland... but in general the consumer sport that has become Hallowe'en has only just immigrated from America in the past few years. In fact a few of the guests had NEVER even carved a pumpkin before!

So, here's a brief telling of what I learned about Hallowe'en during that dinner party (with no Internet searching... so this is by word of mouth alone).

Everyone certainly trick'o'treated as children... well everyone that is, except Deirdre, who grew up in Belfast in the 70s (as she put it... they had enough fireworks without Hallowe'en). However, Deirdre (and everyone else) certainly participated in dressing up (homemade costumes, of course), playing various party games (bobbing for apples) and carving Jack O'Lanterns.

Now, if you've been paying attention you probably have realized the discrepancy in my information... Jack O'Lantern (Irish sounding name if you think about it) but no pumpkins... Well they carved really large turnips. Apparently it's a LOT harder than a pumpkin, and many spoons would be wasted by the effort. There's a story about Jack O'Lantern wandering around in the night with his carved turnip, but I don't know the punchline.

Anyways, in Ireland tricks are still part of the treating, so Nikolai may find himself being asked to do a trick in order to get his treat (perhaps he can show them how good he is at twirling until he's dizzy). Fireworks and egging abounds. But most of all Hallowe'en falls somewhere on a week of a national holiday (last Monday in October is a bank holiday, but all schools from preschool up to NUIM are closed for the week) so the festivities carry on all week.

And if you were to go to the local farmers market last weekend and try to buy kale (our fav) you may have been surprised to find that they'd all sold out. Colcannon (recipe below) and Barm Brack (regular tea brack is made for everyday, but barm brack is made with fortune telling charms) are traditional All Hallows E'en fare.

1. Make mashed potatoes with 1lbs of floury potatoes, 2 oz butter, 150 ml of cream or milk.
2. Shred, then steam until cooked 1/2 head of cabbage (or the more traditional kale)
3. Finely chop 6 spring onions (or the more traditional leek)
4. Mix together and season to taste! A yummy way to get your toddler to eat their greens.

The pic is from the playground in Kinsale; Brad practicing with different camera features. You'll just have to wait until after Hallowe'en to see what our ghoul dresses up as!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jammin' and playing the Tourist

This past weekend included a bank holiday, so we decided to spend one day of our weekend being tourists... and learned some rather important lessons... primarily that the kid-friendly Natural History Museum is Not Nikolai Friendly. Given the reviews of a "newly-renovated, perfect for children" museum, I would have expected something a little less macabre. It was basically thousands of animals, stuffed and placed in rather Gothic glass display cases. Rather Gothic in the sense that they probably purchased the display cases (and the animals too) circa 1901... so while the renovation may have dusted all the animals off... they didn't modernize with interactive displays. We had to leave with a fearful toddler in less than 5 minutes (checked out both floors, and they both feature the same medieval science lab look).

Our other tourist adventure was to go to the Guinness Storehouse. The tour typically costs €15, €13 if you know enough to buy tickets in advance online. But thankfully ours were free... otherwise I would have felt royally ripped off. The Guinness Factory is about as authentic as Disneyland... and it's a very comparable experience; tons of people, overly graphic displays with fairly obvious content. The only difference was that instead of children, the hoards of people were 20ish females and males of all ages. There certainly was a big queue for the most interesting part... retro ad campaigns... however, in general I don't think they've really updated their ad campaigns since 1800's... so they pretty much look just like you'd expect (my goodness my Guinness). The few redeeming factors are that you get a free beer at the rotating bar at the very top of the factory (nice view, but there's barely any room to stand, let alone sit amongst the hoards of gullible tourists --naturally ourselves included). But Brad knew better (from his work lunch), so we took our beers to the restaurant on the floor below and enjoyed the fab food. Unfortunately, you cannot get to the restaurant without paying for a tour, unless you're attending a special event. Too bad, because I really loved the lentil terrine. Kudos to Guinness though... what better way to create brand loyalty then to have people pay to tour your giant ad campaign!

The funfair down at the harbour field in Maynooth was small from our adult viewpoint; however, the tea cups were far more excitement than Nikolai could handle... so we'll try again next year. At just €2 a ride, it wasn't a big waste of money. Besides, isn't forcing a ride to stop, so that you can pull your crying toddler off early, one of those badges of parenthood that everyone must earn?

The other excitement of the weekend was that Aisling and I made marmalade jam... using the little wax paper disks! My first time making preserves... without actually preserving! If we all get stomach poisoning then I know what to blame. However, Ashling (different spelling, as she's a different person) said that her mum has always made jam that way... and everyone in her large family seems to be doing just fine... so I'm sure we'll survive!

The jam is veggie friendly and can be made with low sugar (or honey in our case). I recommend Pomona's if you don't feel like making a jam with 50% sugar.

Friday, October 22, 2010

As winter sets in

This week the cold arrived, with temperatures down to 2 C overnight, and daily highs of 10 C. Now, as a Canadian, I realize that's hardly something to complain about. Coming from a land where the national past time is to brag and boast about extreme weather ("-34 C yesterday... -50 C if you count the windchill"), one could hardly be impressed about a near miss of that freezing mark. And even though we've lived in Lotus Land for the past few years, Brad and I both have a lot of extreme cold under our belts (a short stint in a Yellowknife winter for one thing). Despite all this, I think we both can honestly say that we've never been colder.

Now, those of you who've been reading for a while may remember my bitter moaning earlier this year about the cost of heating (€250 for January), and you may remember my moaning about the lack of insulation. So I can hardly spend a blog complaining of the fact that there is nothing between our floating floorboards and the cement slab below, or the fact that our chimney lacks a damper (a foil balloon is doing the trick), or the fact that we have no less than 7 open holes in exterior walls of our home that qualify as "fresh-air-vents". Rather, today's topic is about the, not-so-famous, Irish love of cold.

I have a number of examples to illustrate my thesis: that the Irish truly don't feel the cold and, in fact, they often embrace it!

-When Claire came in September, she spent much of her time freezing cold... while our student spent an equal amount of time feeling too hot.

-Sundresses and t-shirts appear as soon as temperatures breach 15 C.

-Brad's office mate leaves their window open year round, to ensure fresh air (requiring Brad to wear two sweaters around the office).

The examples are endless. However, at this week's Toddler Group, complaints of the cold (a favored Canadian past-time) finally broke through. And universally, everyone agreed that this week, they finally had to turn their heating on (I bit my tongue and failed to mention that our daily heating habit started at the beginning of October, when temperatures first went down to 5 C). Mind you, everyone only heats for about 1 hour in the morning... with some people, perhaps, heating for another hour in the evening, if it's really cold. We practice this strategy as well, since we like to spend less than €100 per month on heating; however, the past few nights Nikolai has been waking up a lot... I assume it's from the cold... since turning on the heat tends to solve the problem (we do have him in a vest (undershirt), pj's, thermal socks, under a cotton quilt, and under a wool duvet, so it's not like he's being neglected... it's just that 2 C outside means about 5 C inside... thanks to the 2 vents in Nikolai's room. We also have tried to stuff them up with plastic bags... but it's not the same as actually having insulation).

So I took my issue to my friends... and have found out that:

1. Sleeping in cold air is good for children, as it prevents asthma (this is likely true in Ireland, because sleeping in a warm, well insulated house would most likely also mean a house infested with the very pervasive black mold. We have it, despite our good ventilation, in the bathrooms and around the front door.)

2. Irish children wear snowsuits to bed. (Not exactly snowsuits, but polar fleece full body suits ...feet and everything... that are worn over the pyjama's and under their blankets. At the moment we're trying a little more heating... but we may end up investing in a snowsuit before winter's out.)

3. If Nikolai can't handle the cold at night, then perhaps we're heating too much during the day.

So now that you have read the body of evidence for my theory that the Irish love cold; let me tell you my hypotheses as to why this is the case:

I. (Roman numerals this time, since it is a pseudo-scientific theory). There is no such thing as a real summer, so in order to believe that 20 C is a heat-wave, the you have to believe that 15 C is warm.

II. In order to not spend 1/10 of one's income on heating, one must learn to love the cold... and wear wool.

III. As mentioned previously, insulation = black mold = persistent coughs.

IV. A number of older homes still need to burn fuel to heat. Bog peat fires = nasty smoke = international condemnation for the destruction of bog = persistent coughs.

V. (Brad gets credit for this theory... derived last weekend, when a cycling buddy showed up for their ride in shorts and a windbreaker, despite the frost) In Ireland cold seldom kills, so they don't need to worry about the cold... as it's nothing more than a minor discomfort; whereas, Canadians (and anyone who's suffered from frost bite) have a culture of fearing the cold.

Well regardless what the reason is... I am going to have to thicken up my skins, as I have spent most of this week trying to get warm... even when the heaters are on. Anyways, it's a long weekend for us and the fun fair has come to town, so I'm off to ride the tea cups!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Back to the everyday

At the moment our everyday existence is very busy. And as Nikolai's naps are becoming shorter and shorter, it is becoming difficult to find time to blog! So what is it that fills our time?

Well, as some of you know, we are planning a wedding reception for January 2nd. I am constantly in shock over how much work it is to actually plan a reception! I had assumed that because we're not having a service in a church (or similar location), or bridesmaids, or really much beyond a receptionŠ± that it would be simple and easy to plan. As is a theme with most of my life's lessons... nothing is ever as easy as it seems. Kudos to everyone who organized a big wedding! (My only excuse is the 8 hour time delay between my current location and that of the wedding reception).

But to be fair, the reception is only able to suck up MY excess time. Brad has taken to working in the evenings with his excess time. This might seem like a workaholic maneuver, but I think he enjoys sitting on the couch, listening to music, sipping a pint or a glass of whiskey (a pint obviously refers to beer, not whiskey), ... so I don't feel too sorry for him. I think he's getting in shape for the spring, when he will be teaching a third-year course (and will need to prepare for all the lectures outside of his research position time).

I think the truth behind our lack of free time lies in our many affiliations. As I've already mentioned, I've taken over the Maynooth Toddler Group. This didn't seem like much when I originally volunteered... but I soon realized the true extent of the workload (grants, insurance, parental education, on top of the weekly drop in). I'm now in the process of (hopefully) organizing a team of people to run the Toddler Group. My other affiliations include the Dublin Food Co-op where I volunteer once a month stocking shelves. The Dublin Co-op is a volunteer run co-op that provides 100% organic and 100% vegetarian fare. It's a bit Off The Beaten Path, but we get most of our groceries there and really stockpile whenever we can get a car ride. I've also joined the Castle Keep Art Group, so that I could be assured of at least some time to paint every week.

Brad's affiliations include his weekly Sunday Cycle, which apparently will continue throughout the winter... provided they don't get any of that freak snow from last year. He plays football (soccer) on the engineering pick-up league once or twice a week, and he's the secretary for Transition Towns Maynooth. Now, Transition Towns Maynooth (TTM from here on out) is something that I joined... figuring I'd find like-minded people to befriend. Then I sent Brad to a meeting in my stead... and he proved a better fit for the bureaucratic and rather boring planning sessions. TT's is a movement that started in the UK... and is a town-by-town initiative to look at ways of making the town more self-sufficient in the future. It stems from the whole Peak Oil viewpoint as a basis for future planning. The Maynooth group is mainly academics and so far its initiatives have focused on: planting fruit trees, getting access to local farm products (hence the lamb adventure), and local food evenings.

I was asked about joining the local musical society's production of Godspell as a chorus member... and while I'm pretty tempted... I also like my sanity.

Although our initial goal in joining these activities was to meet people (in lieu of having any pre-established family/friends), participating has added so much to our existence that this will likely become one habit that we will take with us, wherever we move next. So if you're at home on a Wednesday night, with nothing to do but watch tele (tv)... then why not look for a group to join?! I understand the feeling of exhaustion that follows a day of running around after a very busy toddler (or two). I'd surely fall asleep sitting on the couch, but getting out is so liberating that I usually come home much more energized than when I left!

I've included a pic of Nikolai's completed kitchen, at my mother's bequest. (While most of the design was mine, Brad gets credit for drilling all the holes and knitting the dishcloth.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The ebb and flow

This week has ended with the funeral of my dear friend's father. And although I didn't really know him, in the witnessing of mourning I too, am filled with sadness. It seems impossible to fill a blog with the details of our small Irish life in the face of woe. But out of respect, how am I to write of the final mass,? or the infamous Irish wake, lasting days, requiring so much energy from the immediate family to face a house continuously filled to the brim with visitors? An Irish funeral may be a community event... but it is not for tourists. I shall leave my blog for another day.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Canadian Thanksgiving and How to Save the World by Thinking

So to continue from my previous post on "The Current Economic Crisis", I am going to share my not-so-original idea.

At the start of the naughties everyone became fairly greedy, and it is our collective greed that has resulted in our current downfall. Admittedly two-thirds of the responsibility for the greed fall in the hands of: the investors, the banks and the law-makers; however, that leaves at least a third of the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of ordinary citizens. A good number of us took on loans and mortgages that were more that we ought to have, and most of us participated in the capitalist spending spree that fostered such a hyped up market place. Anyways, as I mentioned before, all the protesting in the world can hardly bring back the over-inflated economy... so we should all just relax and accept the deflating balloon (well, if you're a family with both adults made redundant you might not be so relaxed... but anyone with at least one employed adult can hopefully make ends meet and that's all we really need -remember it is thanksgiving in Canada-).

Voting has always been one form of expressing our voice... and while I'm a believer in our right to vote... I think that politics is a sticky place with a few very loud and obvious issues, and a great number of behind the scenes bureaucratic dealings that are more related to loud lobby groups than the voters.

The other area where I can firmly express my voice is with my pocket book. I read the local paper on the train yesterday and found a number of articles focusing on the same general theme, businesses (and charities) are trying to figure out how to best compete for their share in the shrunken market place. One article was promoting "staying in with your friends and donating the money saved to charity" --leading one to wonder about the financial health of the entertainment sector--, another article was discussing "how small businesses can attract more customers" (definitely worrisome as I have already witnessed the demise of a few small businesses in Maynooth, and we certainly do have our share of vacant storefronts).

I think the problem is that in a deflating economy there is generally less money to go around. You either have money to go on holidays, or go out every weekend, or buy yourself a new wardrobe... you just can't afford all three. Anyways, to bring it all to a point... my plan is to CHOOSE who I buy from and what products to buy.

This may sound silly as we always choose what we buy... but our choices are usually based on who has the best price, the best advertising or the best packaging. Instead I plan on spending my money on businesses and products that I wish to support. The idea of buying with intention is hardly novel. The Buy Irish is already a very loud campaign, and every shop is pleased to tell you which products were Irish made. And from the more extreme groups comes the Buy Nothing Day, and the Buy Nothing Christmas campaigns (don't worry everyone I've been collecting Irish goodies all year, so yew'll still be getting prezzies from us!).

However, my idea is meant to be simpler than that. For example, I could buy a loaf of packaged Batch Loaf for cheap at Tescos (a Walmart equivalent), and my money would be supporting the major corporations of Tescos; along with giant agricultural conglomerate farms; pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer companies (pointing a finger at you Monsanto, but I have to give you credit for painting such an eerily wholesome picture on your website); and a sweatshop factory where the packaging was made. As an alternative I could spend €0.10 more at the bakery on Main Street, or €0.90 more at the organic baker at the farmer's market on Saturday.

Tescos may be cheaper... but shopping there hardly supports the cluster of small businesses along Main Street. Because this blog entry is already long enough, I'm not going to continue into a discussion of the benefits of small businesses in maintaining a vibrant community... as I'm sure most people who've ever been to Europe are aware of, the charm of European cities are that they have maintained a heart of small businesses.

So for this Canadian Thanksgiving we will be familyless and Turkey/Tofurky-less... but it is hardly a homesick and somber affair. A gathering of good friends, good food, good drink, and a trio of only slightly naughty toddlers, will prevail on a Thanksgiving where we are truly thankful for the sun shining on our present, past and future.

If the new economy is going to be a deflated version of the old economy, then shop with intention and cast your vote as to what that economy is going to look like.

I've included two pictures to lighten up the blog a bit... above is on the train to Cork, and below is at Ross Castle... proving that Claire is a good photographer after all (we'll ignore all the photos with people's heads cut off for the moment)!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Killarney National Park and AIB

Well, the bailout of AIB is definitely the topic du jour on the minds of everyone in Ireland, so I'm going to co-opt this travel blog with my thoughts on the economic crisis. Since it will definitely define much of my working life (only the rosiest coloured lenses could pretend otherwise).

Anyways, some frivolities to start with. From Cork, we took a bus to Killarney and had another fab time eating, shopping and visiting OPW sites. Killarney is the gateway to Killarney National Park, and has been a tourist destination for quite a while. Most of the land in the park was bought up for development by a group of US businessmen, but when it came down to actually developing the land, one of the men had a change of heart: he bought out the other two investors and donated it to the OPW. As such, Killarney National Park contains no less than 3 OPW sites. We toured Ross Castle (did you know that people used to store their clothes above the loo so that the wafting ammonia could disinfect their clothes and kill all the bugs?), Muckross house (we saw the chambers where Queen Victoria stayed), and Muckross traditional farms (complete with peat fires burning in the small stone farmhouses). To get around the park, we rented bikes from one of the many O'Sullivans (O'Sullivans seem to run much of Killarney, and besides renting bikes, we would recommend you try the O'Sullivan's Deli if you happen to be in the hood.)

The weather held out for the most part until our train trip back. But what could be cosier than a 4 hour train ride with the rain pelting down outside? And sadly enough, the day after getting back to Maynooth, Jet-set-Claire flew off to spend a few days with friends in London (...and to participate in a training workshop/conference for her job...).

The transition between topics comes with a reference to the book, Generation X, which Claire borrowed from the library and read during her visit. In general, she found it all too negative and depressing. I've picked it up in her absence for a re-read, and find it all too pertinent and timely. The young student, living with us now, doesn't have a hope in hell of being able to find a job that actually can use his double major of English and History. He will certainly be stuck in the realms of a "McJob" for at least a few years post graduation.

And this problem doesn't just apply to Ireland (though perhaps the Irish are the best at admitting to the financial woes, as they have already been here many times throughout their history), for the Macleans magazine that landed through my letter slot two weeks ago boasted the cover story of "Third World America". While Canadians may sit smugly in their still highly over inflated (price-wise) homes, and our banks have yet to be nationalized in a way that is clearly becoming a worldwide trend (c'mon Canada, if everyone else is doing it, why can't we?) we shouldn't forget if the elephant next door sneezes we're still bound to catch a cold.

The latest (and continuing) bail out of the Anglo Irish Bank has roused a fervor over here, as it is going to require higher taxes, pay cuts and a dip into the welfare fund to sort this all out. But really, unless you can find a time machine to start your protests circa the year 2000, you can smash all the cement trucks in the world into the Dail (Parliament) and it will hardly make a difference, as there is NO GOOD SOLUTION. As upsetting as this all is... I have brainstormed a means of self expression and activism that will at least appease my restless soul (and it may even help out in a small way).

However, this blog post has grown long enough, and an explaination of my grassroots functional protest would make this blog far too long. So for now I leave you with a picture of Claire Brad and Nikolai cycling to Muckcross house.

Saint Arthur's Day

Claire's trip coincided with the "worldwide" Arthur Guinness day celebrations. The actual date of Arthur Guinness's birthday is, in fact, unknown; however, in 1991 the Guinness company chose the date of September 28th apparently to end speculations about the birth date... September 28th also often happens to fall on the first week of term for most Irish Universities... so it would certainly be an apt time to enlist the young drinkers in a "worldwide toast". ~~was anyone across the pond even aware of the celebration?~~

Now Claire, an intrepid Canadian, added the Saint to the beginning of her Arthur's Day explanation, when telling all her colleagues and friends about her trip, prior to leaving Canada. And her intrepid Canadian friends all nodded and accepted Arthur Guinness' saintliness, as most of us are not really aware of any other saints beyond Saint Nicolas and Saint Patrick. Claire only realized her mistake after arriving at a pub for the Arthur's Day celebrations.

Now those of you who know Claire, know that she is quite a connector (and I'm a veritable maven, so if any salesmen out there want to join our team we can definitely change the world) and is able to maintain quite a large roster of contacts. So it should hardly come to anyone as a surprise to know that she has a friend who is a Ph.D. student at NUIM (whom actually introduced Brad into his cycling crew... despite not actually being a part of Brad's cycling crew. His other claim to fame was that he got to go to the Fifa World Cup in South Africa as Captain Morgan's Team Ireland). So, although I took her out with my friends to Brady's for a celebration, she also got to go to the Roost and Mantra with her own friend. Which made our 8 AM departure for Cork the next morning a wee bit rough for Claire... but she is the trooper of the year so she made it.

The train was great and I LOVE IARNOD EIREANN. Such statements often garner looks of disdain from anyone local... but that's because they haven't tried to take a train trip in Canada. (Our trip on Via Rail to Jasper was only 4 hours late, which, from what I've been told, is a relatively small delay.)

Cork is a nice town, with all the typical nice town things... shopping, sights, food, a really great food co-op. Our hotel (billed as a B&B, but we decided that if you have over 20 rooms and a front desk, then you're a hotel) provided lovely large rooms and a great breakfast that comprised eggs from the chickens running in the yard, apples from their orchard, and likely other treats courtesy of their enormous veggie patch. They also get two thumbs up for the solar water heating system. Our tour of Cork included a trip to the Butter museum, which was free as we were there on a Friday, but would otherwise have not been worth the money spent. The famed English market was also overblown in our estimation (perhaps it was because there was a large proportion of butchers, or because we grew up next to Granville Island which has spoiled us for such pleasures).

From Cork we took what was meant to be a quick day trip to Kinsale, but we ended up skipping the Blarney Stone altogether in favor of taking a long walk to Charles Fort (another OPW site worth noting). Kinsale is also worth noting for it's lovely boat filled harbour, loads of high-end funky-artsy shopping and fish and chips. Unfortunately, Desmond Castle, located in the centre of town, was closed due to government cut backs (sigh, a sad blog on AIB may be required).

The photo (one that Brad took) is of Kinsale.