Archive | December, 2011

The 12 Posts of Christmas No.5: Presents

31 Dec

Remarkably enough, even after returning home from Mass on Christmas morning, the girls were still capable of resisting the siren call of the Christmas Tree and the piles of presents underneath it. And when I say piles – plural – I do mean multiple piles.

In the expectant days leading up to Christmas, Tara complained “Daaaaaddd….the anticipation is kiiiilllling me!” I said “find something to do then”. So she organized all the presents under the tree into piles for each recipient so that each child could get better access to all their presents at once and not have to sift slowly through everyone elses. She could also tally which child had the most presents and lobby on behalf of the more sparsely be-gifted.

Santa's little organizer

Of course, resisting the presents under the tree after mass wasn’t all that difficult since Tara and Grace weren’t really given a chance to get near it. There were guests arriving to the house soon and everything had to be just perfect, and the dinner had to be cooked and the hallways vacuumed and the fires set in the fireplaces, and the sheets ironed on the beds, and the clutter de-cluttered, and the trash taken out, and the potatoes peeled, and etc etc etc, so mostly everyone was rushing around like crazy trying to get everything done before all the others arrived so that it would look like the perfectly tidy house and the perfectly combed children and the perfect 12 course dinner for 15 were just naturally ocurring phenomena.

It had also been determined that the children should wait to open their presents until all the other cousins were there so nobody felt left out. Well, almost. We let them open one gift earlier jsut to keep them sated temporarily.

It all starts so civilised

After much industrious activity around the house, Aine, Joey and their two little ones Kate and Michael finally arrived so we were one large step closer to opening presents, but we still had to wait for the crowd from Quin.

But when all the cousins were all finally in place, the unwrapping mayhem began. The only frame of reference I had for the unwrapping activity was some nature documentary of shark-diving when the sharks all tear at the meat in the water around the diving cage.

In case you don’t have enough connection to watch the video, I took a photo also.

Let the wild rumpus begin!

The 12 Posts of Christmas No.4: Presence

31 Dec

I titled this post “Presence” as an intentional pun on “Presents” (but I felt I might point it out in case you didn’t already notice it…”ya thick eejit”).

On Christmas Day we really felt the importance of “Presence” even more than “Presents”. You’re probably now thinking – “oh man, I thought this blog was about being in Ireland, not all this meta-psycha-mushy stuff”. But we were grateful for the people we had around us: Mary’s family and our good friends here and we were missing those people that weren’t here with us, whether they were in Heaven, California or elsewhere.

But anyway, when Grace and Tara came home from school with letters written to Santa, Grace had written: What I want for Christmas: 1. My dog Angel from San Francisco; 2. My Guinea Pigs from San Francisco 3. My Friend Georgia from San Francisco; 4. My Friend Michael from San Francisco; and 5. A pony.

There was a lot of explaining to Grace that Santa wasn’t really an international taxi service and that ponies didn’t fit in his Sleigh. Grace pointed out that in the “Little House on the Prairie” books the family got two horses from Santa. She’s tough. Fortunately enough, her best friend Zoe showed up from San Francisco and more than made up for any other friends Grace was missing. Plus, Zoe’s (extraordinarily generous) grandmother bought tickets to see Santa at Bunratty for Zoe, Grace, Tara and two adults.

If you don’t know about Bunratty, it is a fantastic old castle right near us that they have restored it and they host these traditional dinners where don’t give you forks or spoons, they only give you a knife to eat with (or fight with) just like in the old day and there are singers and glasses of mead and all sorts of old-timey stuff.

if head downriver you could get here from St. Michael's Rowing Club

theoretically, I could row here from St. Michael's , it's just downriver

While the castle is pretty cool on its own, next door they have recreated a whole 18th century Irish village as authentically as they could. (I’m going to have to send this blog to the Irish tourism board and see if they’ll hire me!). But seriously, the village is really great for the kids and we’ve taken the girls there several times, but at Christmas they turn it into Santa’s village, decorate it like a winter wonderland, light it up, and there are all sorts of people in costumes, both vintage/traditional and north-pole-ish.

We had a great day, and we got a great picture of the girls with Santa too! Santa’s house was pretty good, but the illusion wasn’t perfect: as we walk in Grace points to one of Santa’s helpers and says “She’s not a real Elf! She’s my teacher!” Yep, Grace’s part-time teacher moolights at Christmas as one of Santa’s helpers…I guess underpaying teachers is a global problem, not just a U.S. thing.

And I haven’t even told you about unwrapping the actual presents yet….oh well, this post is long enough for now.

The 12 Posts of Christmas No.3: Church

30 Dec

It is pretty much taken for granted here that you go to mass on Christmas.  Some people go because they like the traditions, some like the singing, some go because they are expected to, some go because they only go once a year and this is the day, and some actually go because they go every Sunday.  But *everyone* goes for Christmas mass, I mean everyone….I actually think that non-Christians might even go – it’s THAT big here. 

Consequently though, on Christmas, mass attendance is waaaaay up, and to make sure everyone can get their dose of God, all sorts of new mass times appear in every church: there’s a 9:00pm mass the night before, as well as the famed “Midnight Mass” which is full of swaying worshippers because all the pubs close down just before it – actually *everything* closes completely here for Christmas, even the Chinese restaurants and Jewish delis….hahahaha I’m just kidding, I don’t think there are any Jewish delis here…I’ll have to look into that.

We went to the 10:30am Mass on Christmas morning at the Cathedral.  That gave us enough time to absorb the Santa presents, and get dressed and to mass and back in time for everything else we had on for the day.  I don’t think I ever posted the exterior of the church so here’s what it looks like on the outside:

It’s pretty old.  But one of my favorite things about the Cathedral here is that on the inside they have a modern painting that I guessed was Mary just from the context, but I finally tracked down the artist’s website and it turns out that the painting is called “The Annunciation” which, for those who don’t know, is when the virgin Mary found out that she was going to be the mother of God.   Pretty heavy. 

This painting reminded me of another religious painting that I loved to look at in Paris at the Musee d’Orsay of the disciples Peter and Paul running to the tomb of Jesus after hearing that he had risen from the dead. 

one of my favorite paintings by Eugene Bernand

What I love about both these paintings is that the facial expressions in them are so rich and complex, you really start to think about what these people would have been going through at that moment in the bible story – a lot of really complicated emotions to say the least. 

How freaked out do you think Mary must have been: unmarried? pregnant? being visited by an Angel? that she was going to have a baby that wasn’t her fiancee’s? and that this was supposed to be the son of God?  Pretty hard info to swallow I’d imagine.

I love this painting of the Annunciation because it really makes you think about exactly how twisted Mary must have thought the whole situation was, and how hard it must have been for her to deal with all that.  These kinds of things are what I think about when I am at mass.

But getting back to the original idea of this post, there we were at the Cathedral for the 10:30am mass Christmas morning.   The place was standing-room-only and we had arrived just seconds before mass was to start so – as the saying aptly goes – there waren’t any room at the inn for us. 

Fortunately enough though, there was a separate little chapel at the back with about six pews in it and enough room in the last row for the four of us to squeeze into it.  We couldn’t see the main chapel, but we could hear the mass going on, and we could watch the furtive eyes of the gypsy woman in front of us and her children as they inventoried all the ladies purses around them.   I found out recently that the Roma Gypsies aren’t genetically related to the Irish Travellers even though a lot of cultural similarities exist and a lot of people think they are decended from one or the other.   The Travellers tend to be very religious and very Catholic, but I’m not sure how Christian the Gypsies are, the ones at our mass didn’t seem all that devout frankly.

As it turns out, we were not only sitting with the Gypsies, we were right next to my favorite Saint, the mysterious Saint Imy, so I took a picture of Mary there in the back row next to Imy.

I still haven’t figured out anything more about who Imy was or why she was so Saintly, but I noticed that on the side of the statue’s base is a name and a phone number, so I think I have a lead to follow in my search for resolution to this puzzle. 

for a good story call….

But in the meantime, I’ll use the next post to finish getting through the story of our Christmas.

The 12 Posts of Christmas No.2: The Walls Have Ears

29 Dec

Before I continue the story of our Irish Christmas day, I feel I should mention a little about the buildup to the big event.

As we grow older, time seems to go faster, weeks fly by, days tick off the clock, vacations feel like they are over before we’ve left.  I’m guessing that as I get even older, the years will start melting away too like the weeks do now. 

Conversely, for the kids, the days leading up to Christmas feel nearly interminable. 

The waiting all started with the Late Late Toy Show early in the month and got more painful each day until the kids were nearly falling around the place asking how many more days hours minutes were left until Christmas Eve.  While we were feeling the rush and pressure of upcoming events, the children remind us of the bittersweet pleasure of anticipation.

dropping from the eaves

I took this picture of Grace’s legs dangling through the spiral stairs because I thought it was so typical of the way the two girls would lurk around behind walls and doors listening for any clue as to what they were getting and whether or not Santa was real or whether he was really – as Grace put it in her letter – “my Mam or my Dad”.

They are at the age where they are under serious pressure from their peers to give up their belief in Santa.  Tara said the other day that she was embarassed to tell her friends that she still believed in Santa because none of her friends did and she didn’t want them to make fun of her.

I had to tell her that beliefs were often very personal, and that it was sadly common for groups of people to take comfort in their beliefs by antagonizing those who believed differently.  I told her that there was no shame in keeping her beliefs to herself, that Santa fell under the category of religion and that she should be tolerant of others beliefs and that she could hope for, but not expect, others to be tolerant of hers. 

Then she asked me point blank if Santa was real.  How do you answer that?  I kept to the religious tack and simply said “Santa is a matter of faith, and nobody could ever prove whether he was real or not, one just had to look in one’s heart”.  

Now that Christmas is over, I haven’t asked her if she still believes in Santa.  She hasn’t asked again.

On The First Day of Christmas…

28 Dec

Let me start by saying that  Christmas day in Ireland was everything I’d hoped it would be.  It is a much more intense day here than in the states and I attribute this to the fact that they don’t have Thanksgiving to detract from the family-gathering aspects, and they have a much deeper connection to the religious aspects of the holiday.  But they also have all the commercial, blinky-light, shiny-toy aspects too, so it is a very very big deal here.

As far as the twelve days goes, I’m not actually sure when they technically start – whether it is before Christmas day or on it – but I seem to recall that they start on the 25th and end on Jan 6th with “Little Christmas” or “The Feast of the Epiphany” which is one of my favorites because I like to say the word “Epiphany”.

the bucket of coal was already there before Santa came....

For my purposes, Christmas is Christmas Day and it happens on the 25th and begins around 9:00am with the sound of the door to our living room creaking open very quietly as the girls sneak in to see if Santa came.  Mary and I have been awake for a while wondering how the girls could sleep so late on Christmas morning.  It could have something to do with the fact that anything before 8:00am appears to be the “Middle of the Freaking Night” since it is pitch black out until the sun rises at 8:45am.  

So in the early minutes of dawn, the girls snuck in quietly to the living room and Mary and I are in our adjacent bedroom listening for them to start squealing with delight or trying to open packages or something – but no, nothing – just the slight sounds of some more sneaking.   They snuck right past the presents, over to our open door and very quietly, they closed it so as not to wake us up before they indulged themselves in Santa’s bounty.  We thought this was very funny, so we stiffled our own giggles and listened through the closed door to the forthcoming glee-squeals and investigation of presents.  Only a couple short minutes later, the girls finally burst in through the door with Santa’s gifts gathered in their arms to announce the arrival of Christmas.

As if by magic, or some mystical connection to the Late Late Toy Show, Santa had brought them the items they had seen on the show and had asked him for – some kind of clothing-designing sytem and some dolls to dress up etc.  They immediately set out on the floor with the pens to sketch out their dress designs and implement them.  I was rather impressed with Tara’s first efforts.

Tara’s Winter Collection 2012….Ready to Wear?

And we haven’t even gotten near the Christmas tree yet…that’s a whole other story.  Stay tuned.

T’was the night before….

25 Dec

There have been so many small details to remember about this Christmas season, it will be hard to get them all into the blog but I will do my best over the next few days to catch up with myself.  In the meantime, I will keep tonight short:

As I write, it is very late at night on Christmas Eve. The girls went to bed eagerly, but well past their normal bedtimes and there has been no sign of them since.  Which is pretty good, considering their frequent “I need a glass of water” or “she’s not letting me fall asleep” trips downstairs after they’ve been put to bed.

No, tonight was Christmas eve, so there were preparations made for Santa’s arrival, and nobody stirred from out of their bed.

Grace wore the reindeer-antler headband all night long.

The table laid out next to the fireplace to welcome Santa contained two pieces of an Irish chocolate bar called “wispa” – incidentally, quite fluffy and delicious – and a small glass of “Famous Grouse” Scotch whiskey…I know, I know, it should have been Jameson or something Irish, but we work with what we’ve got.

The table also contained notes from each of the girls to Santa.  Tara’s note explained the chocolate by saying we were completely out of cookies (actually she said “biscuits” which is what the Irish call cookies.  Grace asked Santa if he was “my Mam or my Dad” – gotta love the Irish spelling of “mom”. 

So Santa arrived well after the girls were asleep, and drank the whiskey, ate most of the chocolate, delivered presents, and wrote notes back to each of the girls…in one of which he apologized for the mess Rudolph made of the apple and left on the fireplace hearth……hmmph..Reindeers.

Don't worry about the Whiskey, Rudolph will steer.

I’ll let you know about Christmas day as soon as the dust settles.  In the meantime, if you have a fast connection and want to see a video of the town we live in, the following video was made by a group of merchants in the town, shot on the main streets- which are just a little wider than my arms can reach – and completely captures the magical feeling of Christmas in Ennis.   (although, if you are watching the video with someone who is from Ennis, you will have to ignore all the “oh, look there’s Mickey!” and “isn’t that Andrea?” stuff)

Anyway, here it is, and as they say here: “Happy Christmas”

No biz like it…

20 Dec

After years of working in Interactive Media I made the natural transition to…Real Estate? and now here I am half way around the world involved in another equally similar industry: Performing Arts.  I suppose the theme is something like: take a product, figure it out, sell it, make it better, sell more.  The Irish Chamber Orchestra is a fun new (to me) product to work with and I’m having a blast trying to get more butts on more seats.

The Orchestra has just finished performing its holiday concerts in both Limerick and Dublin, and as their marketing consultant I was on full absorb mode trying to pick up as much as I could about what we were doing, where we were doing it, who was involved and how effective it was. 

they had to expand the stage to get all 60 singers on...

These two recent events were my first concerts as a behind-the-scenes type person so it was fascinating to me to see the machinery in action and how it both holds up where you didn’t expect, and breaks down where you didn’t imagine it could, and in the end, it is just like they say: The Show Goes On.

Frankly, it seemed to me like the level of unexpected hassle and surprising challenges was pretty low.  The preparation and execution of the concert and the many many moving parts all seemed pretty smooth.  The pieces were flawless and the audiences stood up for a long time clapping at the end, so I know it all went over well.

There was however, a problem getting the security at the RDS (Royal Dublin Society) Concert Hall to let the orchestra in, and there was a problem getting the heat on in the frosty hall, and that was because the heating system makes too much noise and would impact the performance (our orchestra manager says the RDS boiler groans at an “A”)

The audience enjoyed the show (although many people did pick up their coats from the coat check at the interval), I enjoyed the show too and the process surrounding it, but the Irish Times reviewer gave a fairly snotty review that came out today: Click Here For The Snotty Irish Times Review

I guess I’ll have to work on him a little for the next gig – more wine at the pre-concert reception maybe or a kick in the shins.

Nontheless, Mary and I took the train to Dublin and got to spend a little time together visiting friends, catching up with Donald and Siofra – who miraculously got a babysitter to cover their 6 kids – and Bob and Rose who I haven’t seen in years and now have four kids of their own who I met for the first time.  Wow!  Time flies don’t it!

And Mary’s good friend Ronin came to the concert too and although I was working and couldn’t catch up with him, I know he and Mary had a great time at dinner beforehand so it was all good. 

slightly warmer than the RDS Concert Hall

It’s great to have an excuse to get out of town for the weekend and relax, even if the relaxation is interspersed with bouts of intense work.  Can’t wait for the next show in Feb! Can you say “Happy Valentine’s Day”?

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