Happy Halloween

I’m thankful it’s not political season here. We are able to watch NBC nightly news and Daily Show on TV, though we don’t see them every day. Mostly we hear on Facebook that it’s time to vote again. I admit it didn’t even occur to me to figure out absentee voting. Anyway, we don’t have any political ads to tire of, and I can’t believe it’s been two years since the US Presidential election.

I saw some humorous signs from the Rally to Restore Sanity at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tbddc/5129948306/in/photostream/

I haven’t carved our pumpkin yet, and David says he’s getting candy for trick-or-treaters at the store now, at 5:30 on Halloween night. I had just planned to keep the light off! Halloween seems pretty popular here, with lots of decorations and everyone talking about parades and parties and fireworks. I have been incredibly lazy this weekend and barely got out of the house. Our biggest excursion was to the pub yesterday, the only way I could get David to join Walter and me on a walk.

An hour later the candy is gone. We’ve already fallen back with the clocks so the kids are panning for candy in the dark. It’s keeping Walter busy barking at the doorbell! David became crazy razor blade man and gave out apples when he ran out of candy. This place might be the 1950s but I hope they don’t still eat strangers’ apples.

Things that pissed me right the F off this week

I started this post several weeks back and thought I’d resurrect it.

All this travel means so many pretty pictures and not enough rants on my blog! That’s like going against my own philosophy. I’m afraid I’ll become extra boring if I’m not staying true to my roots. Or I’m growing older, I guess.

Pretty much all of these items were posted by US friends on Facebook. Either I don’t have enough acquaintances here to be close enough to be pissed off, or Americans really are self-centered and annoying.

home parties
fireworks killing dogs
going to the circus
purpose breeding your dog
whining about how much you hate moving (not you, TMC!)
right wing insistence on radical Islam’s focus
UK TV (it’s so American)

I guess I’m done now.

I thought of something else Ireland doesn’t have: big bags of potato chips. They only sell big bags full of single-serve bags of potato chips. Useless!

I’m trying to decide if I should do NaBloPoMo this year. I will never post a real post every day but I have a bajillion pictures and could do one a day pretty easily.

Someone at work made fun of me for saying awesome a few weeks back, even mimicking me with an American accent. So I tried not to say it so often (I didn’t realize I said it at all), and then our taxi driver made fun of me for saying awesome this weekend in Belfast. I looked it up and have said it 22 times on the blog. That’s not too much over four+ years, is it?

Finally feeling better after having a nasty upper respiratory thing last week, though the cough is lingering. I’ve been frustrated by lack of cold medicine here–all they do is take acetaminophen and suffer. You can get codeine OTC but not cold and flu treatment. I saw empty blister packs for something orange called DayNurse at another sick person’s desk and got excited that it might be like DayQuil, but it was just the same pain reliever crap. Anyway, I learned two new words for being sick: dosed and smothered. “Oh, you must be smothered!”

I also heard someone use the term away for slates, which I picked up at corkslang.com but had never heard in person before! It’s something like being content or everything’s hunky dory (the more common phrase is “happy days”).

A peace wall in Belfast. Our taxi driver was a little strange and looked like he might have been in Flock of Seagulls. I think he said the walls, gates, and checkpoints are currently scheduled to come down in 18 more years. The gates are still closed at night. I took the name “Peace Wall” to sound rather hopeful, but really I think it’s just acknowledging that the only reason there’s peace is because of the wall.

Dublin thinks I’m a butthead

After being told we needed more evidence of our relationship to let David stay in Ireland, who officially ran past his passport stamp in mid-August, we had to come up with items of proof at least four years old (rather than the two years we were originally instructed). We took copies of emails from 2005 to the immigration Garda (police officer) last month in Bandon, who stamped them with her official mark and wrote on them that they were evidence of our relationship, but we still had to send the evidence to the Dublin offices.

What were the emails about? Oh, I helped him with a tangent when his calculator application wasn’t working, and he called me a butthead in one of them, and various other quotidian remarks. But they looked really stupid when we had to submit them to a government immigration agency!

I was also able to request cell phone records showing that I called his number, but my cell company had been bought out in the meantime and I had to arrange manual retrieval of the old records which were then mailed to my home in Indy and then we had to get them here. I mailed all this stuff to Dublin with our case numbers and cover letters. THEN I found out from our relocation company who talked to the immigration Garda that the government immigration offices were on a ‘go slow’ order, which is like a strike where you show up for work but don’t do a whole lot.

Magically, yesterday we received David’s permission to remain letter, so he can go get a real stamp from the Garda and now we can actually travel. It has been really annoying not to be able to book any flights with him! It’s too late to plan something for the upcoming long weekend but at least we can plan the rest of the year.

In the meantime, we bought a car, I’m home sick, and David is chasing Walter through the house with a pumpkin.

On Sunday I went to the Butter Museum in Cork, which turned out to be as dumb as it sounds. But I couldn’t live here and not go to a place called a Butter Museum, could I? It was created about 15 years ago and since there apparently haven’t been any amazing butter developments, the exhibits haven’t been updated. The general documentary opened very seriously with “Ireland owes much to butter,” which is true since they’ve been shipping butter out of Cork for centuries, but the film didn’t really talk about that. Then I saw a bizarre marketing documentary from the sixties when they started shipping Irish butter abroad in the modern era, developing a brand appealing to housewives by talking about the pretty girls and happy cows in Ireland and that “the cheddar cheese that comes from Ireland matures to the sound of harps.”

I’ll save you the €4 admission:

Butter found in a bog. They’re not sure if it was put there to be preserved for the off season or as a pagan ritual.

A cow marks the butter exchange building, big business back in the day

This part of Cork is known as Shandon. You can ring the bells in the church for a small fee

Waterford and Hook Head

Kathleen, David and I visited Waterford city in County Waterford a couple months ago. The city is the oldest in Ireland and seems to have been routinely attacked over the centuries due to its coastal location near other parts of Europe. Of course the Vikings just seemed to attack everyone no matter where they went, and then Britain would follow up later, so maybe that wasn’t so unique among Irish towns. We also ventured into County Wexford to visit Hook Head.

1. The wool merchant

2-5. Waterford Crystal has been around awhile, but these days the big factory in Waterford town is shut down and they’ve built a tourist showcase plant instead. This change is so new that my guide book and GPS still wanted us to go to the old factory.

Waterford Crystal as a brand is still made elsewhere (like the Czech Republic), but as our guide, a former crystal cutter from the old plant told us, when the Waterford factory shut down, everyone lost pensions and retirement funds along with their jobs and benefits. He didn’t seem cut out for leading tours but maybe he gets to take turns with the other guys showing how the craft is kept alive. The little seahorse is the emblem for Waterford Crystal and has a shamrock shape in the tail.

6-8. Reginald’s Tower (note the toilet pic) is the “oldest urban civic building in Ireland, and the oldest monument to retain its Viking name. To this day, it remains Waterford’s most recognisable landmark. It is believed to be the first building in Ireland to use mortar.” (still the Wikipedia link) How does one divvy up the urban civic buildings from those that aren’t? Anyway the restoration was well done and on our way in we saw our guide from the crystal place out on the street.

9. We liked the banana peel sign at the ferry crossing from Passage East to Ballyhack. The ferry saves 55 km of driving!

10-12. Watch out for the freak waves and blow holes around Hook Head. The phrase “By Hook or by Crook” apparently refers to Cromwell taking Waterford either by this direction or the town of Crook nearby. The lighthouse is the oldest in Ireland.

13. Templetown, of Knights Templar fame, though the structures are newer

Skellig Michael

We stayed in a B&B in Caherciveen and then took a boat out to Skellig Michael on a Sunday morning in September. The number of visitors is limited at this fascinating island, and all the boats travel together. It’s a rough crossing. We felt ill but other people on the boat actually lost their Full Irish breakfasts. The Atlantic was rough enough that they weren’t sure the boats could go out until just before departure time. We often couldn’t see the other boats due to the big rolling waves.

I’ll quote Wikipedia because it’s hard to describe this site.

Skellig Michael (from Sceilig Mhichíl in the Irish language, meaning Michael’s rock), also known as Great Skellig, is a steep rocky island in the Atlantic Ocean about 9 miles (12 kilometres) from the coast of County Kerry, Ireland. It is the larger of the two Skellig Islands. After probably being founded in the 7th century, for 600 years the island was a centre of monastic life for Irish Christian monks. The Gaelic monastery, which is situated almost at the summit of the 230-metre-high rock became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is one of Europe’s better known but least accessible monasteries.

Since the extreme remoteness of Skellig Michael has until recently discouraged visitors, the site is exceptionally well preserved. The very spartan conditions inside the monastery illustrate the ascetic lifestyle practiced by early Irish Christians. The monks lived in stone ‘beehive’ huts (clochans), perched above nearly vertical cliff walls.

They aren’t kidding about how steep it is; there are 600 steps up the rocky cliffs, built by the monks centuries ago, and last year two people died at the site. There are now safety talks but no railings.

1. We left from Portmagee, known for Ireland’s runner-up Top Toilet in 2002!
2. A seal pokes out of the water
3. The boat dog, Nini, wants to get the seal!
4-13 are of Skellig Michael itself. Note all the stone stairs (6, 9, 13) and the beehive hut living quarters (7, 8). Do you know what 11 shows? A lot of wild bunny poo!
14. A view of Small Skellig, the other island, which is a bird sanctuary only, so no human visitors. All that white on the crags: birds. Skellig Michael is also a bird sanctuary, but alas, we were a little late for puffin season. David offended the guide when he asked what the big deal was with everyone loving puffins. She basically said she wasn’t going to waste her time telling him since he had that attitude. 🙂

The ride back was fortunately not as rough. We did not eat our packed lunches at the island since we weren’t feeling great from the morning trip and we took our fake Dramamine (it’s a prescription here)! This was an exceptional place to experience and just seemed such a drastic, effective way to ignore the world. I always find the sound of the crashing ocean focuses my thoughts inward. I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad to live amongst bunnies and puffins.

Things Ireland doesn’t have

Inspired by our observations and frustrations, a few being exaggerations. May have multiple installments. Co-authored with David.

1. Mountain Dew
2. salted food
3. snakes
4. lightning bugs
5. Kosher salt
6. swimming pools
7. thunder/lightning (very rare), tornadoes
8. canned pumpkin
9. monkey shoes Five Fingers
10. garbage disposals
11. thermostats
12. enough room to drive down the damn road
13. Half & Half
14. electric coffee mills
15. Ivory bath soap
16. any actually useful OTC medicine in the pharmacy or grocery, including Benadryl, melatonin, and Dramamine
17. boxed macaroni and cheese
18. lemonade
19. hot sunny days (a “scorcher” is anything above 70 F)
20. fast food
21. drive thrus
22. cities (I guess there are two)
23. Starbucks infestations
24. poison ivy
25. taco sauce
26. Mexican restaurants
27. Walmart, Costco, mega-shopping in general
28. ales
29. weather forecasting
30. washer fluid
31. factory farmed cows
32. skunks
33. pay at the pump
34. light bulbs that make any sense
35. fountain drinks at gas stations
36. fortune cookies
37. big bags of potato chips

Work finished kicking my arse for the week (one in which I had to ask for the hilariously pronounced ARRS form more than once), last week’s visitors returned to the States, and this week’s visitors arrived today. Yesterday was the company’s Day of Service; we get some time off to volunteer around town. Back in Indy they closed I-70 downtown and 8500 of my coworkers planted trees and flowers along the interstate. Somehow I ended up on my knees painting a dingy bathroom baseboard at a nursing home, which would have been fine but I was all by myself breathing high-VOC paint for hours and now I’m sore from crawling on the floor. Being by myself was ok since I was in a hell of a mood anyway, and I did feel more positive about life afterward, but I’m not sure how much of that was due to paint fumes. I did find it strange that back home, most employees participate, but here the site attitude was different and people thought it was kind of amazing I volunteered to help out in a country that wasn’t my own. Plus we stopped for a tea break!

An action shot from Connemara last weekend:

Happy 60th BD to Mom!

I know it’s not nice to say people are old, or even to divulge exactly how old, but today is my mom’s 60th birthday and 1. I don’t think she’s old and 2. everyone should know it and tell her Happy Birthday!

My mom and I have scarily similar personalities (and hair, for that matter). We enjoy things the same way, worry about things the same way, shy away from spotlights the same way, and focus on our introverted passions in the same way. I think anyone who can spend a lifetime doing what they love has it all figured out–I need her to teach me that one a little better.

Mom was always the soft touch when we were in trouble, always let us spend the night with our friends or bring people over to the house, always got up early to fix us breakfast and get us off to school (even though we are equally not morning people–I truly understand this accomplishment), and took me to school when I then missed the bus anyway. I even liked being sick because she’d fix grilled cheese, tomato soup, and 7Up. I liked when I had dentist appointments because instead of rushing me back to school, we’d go have lunch at Wendy’s and read the antique ads on the tabletops. She organized great family vacations and made the awesomest Halloween costumes–usually when we only made up our minds about a day before! She even sewed us a fort made out of fabric for the trees in the backyard.

I’m sure the more important, lasting skills she and Dad taught us were reading at early ages and how to treat everyone fairly, not to mention the importance of a healthy family dinner eaten together. They were also so supportive of everything we did which built our confidence automatically. It’s strange to reflect on these things now because they sure didn’t seem like big deals to me as a kid.

Anyway, thanks, Mom, for being a great mom and have a happy birthday! We love you. Now I’m going to embarrass you with pictures from your trip in June (and thanks to Margel for taking some funny ones!).

1. Looking lovely at Cahir castle
2. Uh oh, there’s about to be a rough boat ride on the Atlantic…
3. Not looking so lovely after the boat.
4. A town called Quilty!
5. At Slea Head
6. Aww, poor 18th century American prisoner
7. At Dunbeg stone fort
8. Climbing Ballycarberry castle
9. Inishmore, Aran Islands: gray day at Dún Aonghasa
10. Not the porticullis!
11. Hanging out in Kilmalkedar Church
12. Riding the dolpin in Dingle
13. Ice cream! Killarney, amongst the hen parties

Castles and forts worth repeating

Earlier this month, David and I and our friend Kathleen trekked out to Kerry for a Skellig Michael experience. That part will be in a later post, but while we were out there along the Ring of Kerry (my third time on at least part of it!), we stayed and saw a few things in the Caherciveen area, a town on the northern part of the Iveragh Peninsula.

1. I made a wrong turn heading to Portmagee and Valentia Island, but we saw a double rainbow out there!
2-4. Ballycarberry Castle is the best ‘ruined’ castle I’ve found. Mom and Margel and I visited it in June (and I haven’t posted those pictures yet!), and it was just as abandoned and crumbly this time but the greenery had been cleared (or trampled) so it was more accessible. This time we climbed way up inside it. Most castles in this condition have been blocked for safety, but this one is explorable. David and Kathleen are in #3 and I’m in #4 testing the 16th century construction.
5-6. Cahergall stone fort is across a couple fields from the castle. Part of this has been reconstructed, and the stairs are built into the interior wall. Some tourists showed up and ripped a HUGE fart. That’s my story about this fort. “It is likely that somebody of importance lived here about 1,000 years ago,” per the sign.
7. We shared the path to the next fort with several cows.
8. Leacanabuile stone fort from the 9th or 10th century is a hill away from the first one, perhaps the mother-in-law fort? I had been to this one in June too. No farting Europeans this time.
9. David and Kathleen evaluate the menu at a pub in Caherciveen.
10. This Off Licence (liquor store or ‘offie’) is also an art gallery.
11. On the way home through Killorglin, I snapped a picture of King Puck the goat.

Who loves ya baby

David shaved his head a few nights ago. I had to help. I think this is going to be higher maintenance than the short cuts with clippers we have been doing for the last year or two. He brought his fancy clippers here but they aren’t behaving quite right, so he decided to dispense with all the hair I guess.

So which famous bald guy is he? He asked if he looked like Bruce Willis but the eyebrows put him more in a Telly Savalas-You Don’t Know Jack-Patrick Stewart-Mr. Clean-Andre Agassi category. At least he doesn’t look like Sloth from Goonies, one of the pictures that came up in a Google images search for famous bald guys!

We finally got a response from the immigration department, and now they want more evidence (back in time) of our relationship to allow him to stay. Time to dig out the old hard drives to see if we can come up with what they want; my purging philosophy means I probably don’t have copies of plane tickets from trips we took together six years ago and even my email has changed. Even harder is that we left anything old and paperwork-y back in the US! It’s frustrating because we’re here spending money and paying taxes (my ability to be here and work is not in question), we’re not trying to get him a work permit, and my employer has supplied a letter in support of his being here with me. We already gave all the evidence that he’s on my insurance and we both have income/bank accounts to support ourselves. Once again, sneaking in would be easier! Harder to do in an island country, I suppose.

By the way, my friend Kathleen has a blog now that she’s here working as well. We’ve been taking some trips together so you might hear about our days in Waterford and Clonakilty faster from her!

Sea kayaking

Two weekends ago, David and I did an all day sea kayaking course. Our group picnicked on Sandycove island which got smaller and smaller as the tide came in, saw a seal poking its head out in the harbor because boats mean fishermen feeding them, and explored caves in the cliff walls from Kinsale Harbo(u)r down to the Old Head Pier. Neither of us fell in! Can’t say the same for some other guy who was adjusting his shirt one moment and slipping into the sea the next. I was INCREDIBLY exhausted the next day; not sure what was up with that but it made work a challenge.

Wildlife was mostly cormorants, jellyfish, and mussels, plus all the seagulls. Anyway the kayaking was fun but I opted out of course day 2, while David and our friend Kathleen did that this past Monday. They had to practice getting back in after intentionally falling out of the boat, and it doesn’t sound like the water was particularly comfortable even with a wet suit!

Flashback: I found a disposable 35mm camera at a petrol station (€12!) and used it during kayaking, then found a place in town that actually develops fillum. (That’s film but we can’t get over the way it’s pronounced here.) Fortunately the processing was cheaper than the camera itself. The pictures aren’t the quality I’m used to with my digital, but the risk of drowning a good camera was too high to try for snazzy photos. Also, I didn’t think paying a fortune for a special case to take my camera underwater was worth it.

And now, time to reminisce about working nights at Qualex… are they even still in business? [nope!] On busy summer nights we’d develop, print, cut, and package 40,000 rolls of film. The slowest night still had 15,000, the amount of film used by northern Indiana, southern Michigan, and a few remote MI towns that flew in their orders! The couriers would drive to every pharmacy, grocery, and photo shop within a couple hours and that’s how all your next-day and two-day processing happened. Didn’t matter if you took it to Target or Kroger: same place made it into prints.

At the time I couldn’t predict there wouldn’t be a market for any of it just a few years later. Those nights in factories make me appreciate where I am now! I did enjoy that kind of work, though.

Here you go, scanned fillum photos!