Archive | September, 2011

Caviar from the Farm

29 Sep

There is something about the mustard on this side of the Atlantic. It could be just me flashing back to a great mustard-eating experience in the 80’s when the McPherson clan from California attended the McPherson clan Gathering in Scotland. Or it could be something about the way the coold fresh air activates the taste buds, or the local water makes the mustard so much better. Or it could actually be that the mustard itself is of superior quality over here.

I suspect that it’s the mustard itself because I have discovered a whole grain mustard here with Guinness in it that brings me back to the days when Heidi and I used to spoon the Pommery mustard out onto anything that could serve as a delivery medium for it.

Mmmmmm.

Two great tastes in one!

The little tiny round mustard seeds in their Guinness-y mixture go extremely well on fresh Irish Brown Bread topped with that amazing white cheddar that they have here (probably another entry just about the cheese some other day).
The small grains of mustard roll around on the tongue and burst with flavor like little tiny caviar eggs.

So good.

The Sunny Southeast – Part 3:The Sunken Garden

27 Sep

While the castle and the cute cobblestone streets of Kilkenny are cool, one of the neatest treats of the weekend was the Sunken Garden at MaryK’s house.   The house is very old and although it is a short walk to the center of town, it sits on a site of about two acres.  The large house sits next to a huge hole in the ground of almost a full acre that was once a quarry. 

Exploring the Sunken Garden

How long was the quarry there before the house was built? I don’t know, but it makes the imagination start to whir thinking that maybe before it was an industrial-age engineering feat it was the source of a standing stone or two.  Some long-ago somebody got tired of the rock or tired of cutting it out of the ground and they built stairs down the twenty five foot depth of the quarry and terraced the edges and laid paths and fountains and ponds and trees and things that you couldn’t even see  anymore because a lot of it is mossy or overgrown. 

Ancient Celtic Ruins or Victorian Garden?

Walking around the garden with the girls made me want to be a kid again.  I could feel the sense of wonder and excitement that the kids felt in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” that here we were in a forgotten part of an old house that could hold secret places and undiscovered magic.  

The girls balanced their way from stone to stone down what looked to be a former streambed-like water-feature-gone-dry weaving down the side of the garden.

Moss growing on stones before they roll.

At the center of the Sunken Garden was a fountain set into a little pool-like depression which looked to be empty of water and covered with moss.  Scientific investigations were undertaken to determine if the surface of the pool bottom was solid or liquid.  Ultimately, stones dropped in proved that the bottom of the pool was indeed full of water albeit covered with plantlife.  A stick was procured to find the depth of the water which turned out to be only a couple of inches deep, but mucky enough to warrant great care to avoid falling in.

Scientists Probe the Green Stuff: Solid or Liquid?

Ultimately, the time spent in the garden was too short, and we never found a secret portal to another world although that doesn’t mean there wasn’t one there.

 

The Sunny Southeast – Part 2:The Weather

27 Sep

Saturday was indeed “a perfect day for a paddle” (if you were comfortable paddling a kayak), but it was also a perfect day for other things involving being outside in the sunshine, like going for a walk near ancient castles.  I note that this is probably the sunniest day I’ve had since I was in Ireland, and Chris tells me that here in Kilkenny we are in what is commanly known as “The Sunny Southeast”.  He tells me that there are twice as many sunny days in the southeasterly corner of Ireland than there are in the West where Ennis is.  I am suitably amazed. 

So after our watersports adventures, Chris and I join up with the girls back in Kilkenny and head down to Kilkenny Castle for a walk.  Here’s a picture of Tara and Grace who are looking at me like this because I made them stop running to pose for a picture and the gi-normous grassy fields were just perfect for running across because they were seemingly endless and amazing.

Can we please get back to running now?

What I found particularly interesting about this photo is that I have a recollection of the day as being perfectly sunny and here in the background there are ominous clouds that make it look like what we would call in California “a miserable stormy day”. 

As I get more and more used to the Irish weather I realize that there are always clounds around somewhere.  I mean *always*.  But the clouds move really fast across the sky like the way the fog rolls in over the hills in San Francisco so even though there are clouds in the sky at all times, the sunny-ness factor can be determined by the spaces in between them.  Thus a “perfectly sunny day” in Ireland will actually have a lot of clouds in it, but they will be well spaced out and moving quickly so it doesn’t really seem like anything is blocking the sun until you take a picture and freeze all the clouds in one place.

Look at this next picture and you will actually see shadows of Mary and MaryK and Chris on the ground that are caused by the sun beating down on them even though there are still clouds in the background of this photo too:

A Perfectly Sunny Day in Ireland

A great day, a great castle, great grass, a great walk, and a perfectly sunny day.

The Sunny Southeast – Part 1: Watersports

27 Sep

So last weekend we went away to visit Mary’s friend Mary in Kilkenny, County Kilkenny (I can see this is going to get confusing).  We arrived in the evening Friday – after sunset – so we didn’t get to see much of the town on the way in but the drive itself was gorgeous.  Grace says “Dad, they don’t say ‘gorgeous’ here, they say ‘gaaar-geous'”.  She can do a pretty good imitation of the Irish accent but hasn’t yet absorbed it in her everyday speach.

Anyway, when we woke up Saturday morning I looked out the window and it was a beautiful sunny day.  Chris says “Just perfect for a paddle”.  And it was.  Chris is Mary’s husband.  Not my Mary, but MaryK, who I guess is probably now MaryG since she married Chris, but I’ll call her MaryK still anyway since that’s how I know her. 

And when Chris says “Just perfect for a paddle” what he means is kayaking.  But it seems the Irish general population (or at least the ones I’ve been exposed to) do not differentiate between Kayaks and Canoes, and thus say things like “so we’ll drive down to the river for a little canoeing”.  

It may not seem significant, and frankly it didn’t seem significant to me since I’ve never been Kayaking before but I’ve been Canoeing before, and I’ve really enjoyed Canoeing.  But it’s a really significant difference once you’re actually sitting in said Kayak – not Canoe – on the water and you’ve never been in a Kayak before which is very very very different than a canoe. 

The significant difference is primarily in that when you are a hefty six-foot four wearing jeans and “wet gear” over it, and a life jacket, you really have to stuff yourself in the little opening and wedge your legs down the front section of the tiny  tippy little boat.  I’m actually pretty confortable in tiny tippy little boats usually, but it turns out that I’m only comfortable in the ones that….you can swim away from if you tip over.  I’ve never actually tipped over in a crew shell, or a Canoe or even the one other time I kayaked because that time, the Kayak in question was what I now know is called a “sit-on-top” kayak.  Opposed to the “wedge-inside” kayak.

So I wedge myself inside Chris’ kayak that we have painstakingly loaded on top of the car and driven down to a town twenty minutes away and then untied from the roof and put in the water and placed our lunches inside.  I say something like “boy this is really tippy” and Chris says “If you roll over, don’t panic, just hold your breath and reach your hands around to the bottom of the canoe which will be out of the water and bang on it until I come over to roll you upright again”.  (yes I think he did call it a canoe)   At this point, I’m stuffed inside the lifejacket and “wet gear” and then double stuffed inside the tippy kayak called a canoe and I’m thinking “I’m going to die here today aren’t I”. 

I didn’t drown.  No, in fact I decided that I’m old enough and brave enough to admit when I’m not enjoying something and before the stern edge of my boat was more than two inches off the concrete dock I said to Chris “I’m not really enjoying this – you go on, I’m staying here”.  Un-wedging myself was surprisingly less graceful than the wedging-in process and that is to say “surprising” in that you would have been surprised that any process could have been less graceful than my initial wedging.

Thus with only my shoes soggy, I ended my kayaking (canoeing) adventure in Ireland.

But not quite.  Turns out the town we were in is called Graiguenamanagh, which interestingly enough isn’t pronounced like it looks.  Pronounced “Craig-ne-man-a”, this town has a rowing club of the type I’m actually used to and pretty good at.  Several years ago when Chris and MaryK were getting married in Kilkenny, I was training really hard for the World Masters Rowing competition and I didn’t want a trip abroad to interrupt my training schedule so I found a rowing club near the wedding I could row with. 

Lo and behold, here I was back in Graiguenamanagh standing in front of the rowing club as Chris paddled his Canoe/Kayak down the river on his own.  I poked my head in and found to my amazement the the guy I rowed with Brian was in the club so I said hello.  He wasn’t all that amazed that I found him there since he said he was there pretty much every day because he runs the place, but I was still pretty amazed and it was good to catch up with him and he said if I got a job in Kilkenny he’d love to have me rowing with him again.

Needless to say I didn’t explain to Brian why I wasn’t in the empty kayak sitting by the water while my friend was paddling away downstream.

The Real Story…

22 Sep

You probably heard that Grace broke her arm shortly after arriving in Ireland.  (Socialized helth care rules!!!)

Grace tells Dad about the broken arm
This is a picture of Grace on the phone to me when I was still back in the states and she was very sad and missing me.  I was very sad too since I couldn’t be there to give her a big hug and tell her it was going to be ok and that I did the same thing to my arm etc. etc. 
In the end she was fine, and I got to Ireland in time to see the cast on her arm and actually be there when we removed the cast last night and Grace ran around with her arm “floating” in the air and screaming with ticklishness everytime she touched it since it had been covered for a month.  All very exciting.
But until today, the most any of us heard about what exactly happened leading up to the accident was simply that “Grace fell while she was roller skating”.  Later it emerged that Tara had been on a scooter that had stopped suddenly and Grace-on roller skates- crashed into her.
Thanks to Cathal Flannery, ace eyewitness, we now have a diagrammatic illustration of the sequence of events leading up to and immediately after the arm-breaking moment (Start reading at the arrow and continue counter-clockwise):

Not as bleak as you’d think…

21 Sep

Mary had a sort of dark-comedic moment down at the “Citizen’s Advice Bureau” in the first few days after she arrived.  Apparently this government office is sort of like the unemployment office at home or some sort of “help me out because I’ve hit bottom” type of government assistance bureau.  Of course, she has just arrived into the country after having lived abroad for the past 21 years and has a lot fo questions for these folks such as: what do I need to work legally here, what taxes will I have to pay, do I need to register the kids etc etc etc.  Seems like “Citizen’s Advice Bureau” should be the right place, so down she goes with her Dad.

She went to the information window and told the lady what her situation was: “I’ve just moved back to Ireland…blah blah blah”.  The “citizen’s advisor” lady behind the counter stopped Mary and with disbelief in her voice said “why would anyone come here now?”  She simply couldn’t believe that anyone in their right mind would move *to* Ireland at this point in it’s economic cycle, since everyone seemed to be leaving it for better pastures.  

There is a lot of that attitude going around.  People have told me over and over how bleak the jobs picture is here, and how bleak the weather is.  “It rains every day”, “it’s so dark in the winter”, “you’ll miss the Sunshine” etc etc ad infinitum.

But the weather here isn’t that bad really.  (and I can hear people now saying “wait until the dark of winter..”) Yes it does seem to rain every day, but only for ten minutes.  It’s not like it is at home where the rain comes and dumps for a week straight and never gets sunny.  Here the sun is blazing out and the wet grass and leaves sparkle and shine with a green that you just can’t imagine until you see it.  A few minutes later there is a torrential downpour, then sun, and a rainbow and everyone is fine.

Here’s a picture of the sun streaming in through the stained glass windows in the Ennis Cathedral where we went on Sunday and sat in the choir loft:

Sun pouring into the Cathedral
 

 * a note about the photo: Mary was actually in this picture but I had to crop her out because she didn’t look very good telling me to stop taking pictures in church.  Very funny moment actually….for me. 

Anyway, a couple of minutes later, Mary whispers to me to look outside the church and we can see water coming down from the clouds in some serious volume, and again by the time the service was done…sun.

So it would seem that the weather is not nearly as bleak as people would have you believe, and the jobs picture is likewise much more interesting than people let on.

I have a pattern that every morning I apply for three to four jobs and then I follow up on the previous applications and see if I can get someone on the phone or in person.  So far I’ve applied for 24 positions and met with one person face-to-face and I’ve been at it 8 working days.  I am thankful that there are so many interesting positions to apply for and I’m enjoying the process of imagining myself in a variety of different places.

We’ll see how this turns out.

Irish Cowgirls

17 Sep
Ennis is the largest town in County Clare, and in fact, it is the sixth largest in the country.  But despite it’s status as one of the urban centers of the country, it still has a very rural edge to it…actually, edge is probably the wrong word, the culture of Ennis is quite steeped with agri-culture.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays there is a livestock market at “The Marts” and the girls have gotten in the habit of stopping by on their way home from school in the afternoon.  I really don’t know if this is really a “habit” yet or not, but they had been once before I came, and went on both Tuesday and Thursday my first week here. 
“The Marts” consists of a huge barn with dozens of holding pens for the animals and an elevated catwalk for buyers to preview the beasts before they are auctioned off.
While Tara seems to enjoy the scene, it is Grace that takes it all very seriously and examines the cattle to pick out the best, liveliest, most interesting bovines.  She looks for spirit and virility as well as strength in the bulls, she looks for gentleness and obedience in the cows and she has a great disdain for lazy animals that just sit around doing nothing.
Previewing the cattle before the auction

After looking at the animals it is also fun to watch the actual auction.  This is held in a concrete arena with steep sides where you can sit and see the action…well at least the visible action like the cattle being brought in and prodded around so people can see them.  Sometimes they are sold individually, and sometimes in groups, but the real action is happening in a realm that is not accessible to ordinary people.

As if some of the deep Irish brogue weren’t already hard enough to understand, the auctioneer has all the affects of the best country auctioneers speaking at a machine-gun pace with singsong tones and indecipherable language.  The serious buyers lean up against the rails of the fence surrounding the arena and somehow, with some small tic, make their bids.

I have spent considerable effort to try and see anyone bidding and I can’t figure out how any of them do it except for one old gentleman that moves his walking stick out an inch or so when he bids.  Otherwise, the secret language between the bidders and the auctioneer is impossible to decipher…unless you’re Grace.

The first thing Grace does is head straight down to the arena and push her way in between the farmers who are bidding.  The first time she went down, there was some concern that she might have bought a load of cows byvirtue of trying to pet them as they came close.  She has now learned not to bid, but she still heads down to get the close up view in her school uniform in the middle of the hardest working men in the County.

I was so fascinated watching the ease with which Grace worked her way into the scene that I realized too late that I needed a picture of it.  Below is the only photo I was able to get and it shows Tara calling to Grace telling her not to buy any cows.

Grace finishes bidding

Grace is done bidding

 We may be a long way physically from our cattle ranching heritage in Arizona, but the girls seem pretty close to it in thei hearts.

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