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:

The surprise

About a week and a half ago, I got up at the butt crack of dawn and got on one of these:

Then I went to Amster-amster-shh-shh-shh*

Twenty hours, a taxi, two planes, and a bus after leaving David fast asleep in bed, I arrived a few thousand miles west to drive on the right, sneak around town, and put on a play:

We did This is Your Life for my mom’s BD and I got to surprise her!

Only my brother and his wife (and their dog) were in on it and we had a great time surprising the rest of the family. Then I had to hurry back home and get back to work with some serious jet lag. But it was fun! I just don’t want to do it every weekend.

*Anyone who was in Mr. Short’s music class in the eighties at Nuner elementary will be able to sing along. Also, the Amsterdam airport is fabulous. This trip also marked the end of the line for my aging backpack which has been around since high school. I finally replaced it but I kind of miss it!