Archive | January, 2012

New Author in the Family

28 Jan

Coming from a long literary tradition including both her grandfathers and her aunt, the eldest daughter of the youngest generation has produced a completed manuscript for her first book entitled “Ash”.

Many of you may have already heard that Tara has been writing a book, she started it in the spring of last year and I recall sending out (against Tara’s wishes) a few sample pages to a couple people for their review. But even if you didn’t hear when she started the project, I wanted to take a moment and express my absolute pride that she has reached the end of the writing phase of her first full length book. Well, maybe novella, but still, for a 10 year old that’s a pretty major achievement.

the author gets a first look at the printed manuscript

The story in its current state stretches over 80 pages (typed by the author herself over the course of the past nine months). I can’t wait for her to self-publish it, but it may take us a little time to get it ready. I don’t know if she will put illustrations in or not.

But in any case, we now enter the editing phase where she cleans up some of the formatting and punctuation. She may find a couple of places to smooth out the prose, but overall it needs very little changing.

Proud, proud parent of a 10 year old authoress.

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The Sky’s the Limit

26 Jan

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the skies here are the most amazing visual delight. 

I actually think that if I were a really good painter and I were to reproduce what I see on a regular basis, part of the painting would look like I’d just made up the clouds and light out of some 18th century pastoral fantasy landscape, and then other parts of it would look like I’d made some kind of mistake and tried to smudge it out.

the colors are better in real life...but what can you do?

In any case, the skies here are always changing and almost always full of unique beauty.  And as I type this, I can hear a little voice in my head with a really rough Dublin accent saying “D’ya hear dat? Da fookin’ yank luvs da wedder”. 

This morning as I dropped the girls to school on my way to the Irish Chamber Orchestra (whose new website I midwifed) the sunrise was blasting the most amazing golden light onto the puffy clouds and the clear blue dawn behind them was astounding.  I took the picture above (don’t worry, I stopped the car to do it) but my iPhone doesn’t really capture the magnificence of the colors.  You’ll get the idea though.

Yes, on a morning like today I have to say I do love the weather here.  It lifts my heart and fuels my soul.

Viva Patata!

24 Jan

Two food related things to talk about today:
   1. The Irish and Potatoes
   2. Mexican Food

Regarding potatoes: it would seem that there is a level of appreciation for potatoes here that I have only begun to be aware of. 

The other day I was going to the shop and Mary asked me to get her some “oven chips” which are essentially frozen potatoes prepared so that you can put them in the oven and produce “chips” (aka French Fries – but better because they use the right kind of frying oil/lard here). 

Anyway, I got what I thought were the right thing but turned out to be “Frying Chips” instead of “Oven Chips”.  Fast forward to me saying “we really should eat up that big bag of chips in the freezer since it is taking up a lot of space” and Mary says something like “you go ahead and cook them, they’re Fryer chips, not oven chips”.  I’m like “they’re frozen potatoes, what could possibly be the problem?!?” and Mary is like “you really don’t understand the Irish and potatoes do you…”

significantly different? we'll find out....

Then I recall a moment around Christmas when Jim comes in with a bag of potatoes that are smallish brown-skinned potatoes and says that these are the best potatoes around and that they came from such and such and he plucks a few out for us to cook up for the mashed potato dish.   As I’m peeling them we realize I’ll need some more and I go to the bag and take a number out and wash them and have them lined up for peeling.  Then Jim passes by and says something like “I don’t think we’ll need that many in the mash” and puts a couple of the unpeeled ones back in the bag.  I remember thinkng that I’ve never seen him worry about having too many mashed potatoes but I shrugged and never thought of it again. 

Until I roasted a couple of those potatoes and realized that their goodness was wasted in the mash.  They were excellent mashed, but roasted they were perfection.  I started to realize the subtleties of potatoes that I’ve never really appreciated before. 

I know we have like a thousand types of potatoes in California, but the application of different potatoes to different dishes here reaches a level of cuisinery that I could only compare to the level of appreciation some have for Oysters, or even wine. 

I still haven’t cooked the “fryer chips” yet, but I”m sure I will learn something interesting when I do.

In the meantime, my San Francisco girls and I are all missing our local San Francisco cuisine: Mexican Food.  Given the level of food sophistication achieved in Ireland during the boom of the “Celtic Tiger” it still amazes me how little representation Mexican food has here.

Going in to this adventure I knew I was going to miss Mexican here the way I did when I lived in Paris, but I figured there would be a little better access to the requisite ingredients here…..Wrong.

Anyway, today in desperation I bought something called “Fajita Sauce”.  Turns out this is what I’ve known all my life as “Salsa”.  Yaaaayyyy!!!!!

fajita = mexican

Can you say Taco Tuesday?  Well, technically Burrito Tuesday because I couldn’t find Taco shells, but did get Flour Tortillas (thank you universally accepted Ceasar Chicken Wrap) and the correct spices for ground beef and we had a very successful Mexican dinner. 

That should last us for a while anyway.

Do you believe in Fairies?

18 Jan

There is a story that the famous Irish writer W B Yeats once asked an old farmer in Sligo if he believed in fairies. “I do not,” said the man, “What do you take me for? What kind of ignorant fecker would believe in the Little People? Believe in witches and goblins and leprechauns? Go on outta that. Don’t be ridiculous. I do not believe in them. Not at all…”. There was a pause. “But they’re there,” the man concluded.

looks like a nice place for a rest....

This is the kind of contradiction that I still find in Ireland these days.  People will swear up and down that they don’t believe in fairies or magic but then they’ll tell you something like “oh but careful walking down that road at night there’s a fairy ring in the field there that you wouldn’t want to wander into”.  I have to forceably close my mouth sometimes I’m so shocked by the casualness of these kinds of comments.

Then the other day I mentioned this kind of stuff to a friend of mine and he said “Of course you know about the fairy bush they had to build the bypass around right?”.  Uh….no….I didn’t….

The biggest recent public works project in the area we live in was the construction of a major freeway that cost something like €100m and everyone just calls “The Bypass” – I guess because it “bypasses” all the towns and cuts through the countryside to get you quickly and straight from one place to the next.  The  project was completed before I arrived here in September, but wasn’t even started the previous time I was here….so it must have happened sometime in the past few years.

Anyway, there is a Whitethorn tree, or Hawthorne tree which is apparently supposed to be a resting place for the Kerry Fairies when they travel to Galway.   A farmer saw “white fairy blood” on the tree once and that seems to be pretty conclusive evidence for everyone.

I was also told that as the bypass construction was being undertaken, one of the workers’ chainsaw broke when he tried to cut a branch and nobody would touch the tree after that.  The €100m project was deemed less important than the fairy tree and was re-designed to allow for its presence.

Totally awesome!  And there’s some great news articles about it: Read the New York Times Article

"...and we'll store the pixie dust over there by the petrol station"

The 12 Posts of Christmas No 12: New Year, New Cars

16 Jan

Ok, this will be the last of the Christmas posts, although frankly, it’s more of a New Year post.  But cars are on my mind lately for two reasons:

1.I just took the DTT (Drivers Theory Test) and passed with, as the fellow said: “farty outta farty” in other words “40 out of 40” or 100%.  Woo hoo! 

2. New year means new license plates to look for.

The thing about Irish license plates is that the first two numbers represent the year the car was made and the second set of letters represent the County where the car is from.   Here’s the license plate of Jim’s Volvo that he’s been letting us drive around (legally on my tourist license thank you very much until I get a local license)

So as the new year arrives, children will begin looking excitedly on the roads for the first sighting of the “12s”.  What I’ve also noticed is that suddenly (and not surprisingly) there are significantly more “11”s on the road from all the last minute end-of-the-year deals that were made.

The info on the license plates here means that anyone who looks at your car can tell a few things about you instantly and the license plate becomes a matter of status based on what year your car is and where it’s from, even how low the number is meaning that you bought it early in the year versus later in the year.

Thus you hear things like “things must be tough in the whatever business, he’s still driving that 98″ or “you don’t see many cars higher than 08 around wherever” or “the party was very posh, the parking lot was full of 10 Ds”.

“D” in the middle of the license plate means you’re from Dublin (or at least the car is).  The “D” would have a bit more status in most places than a license plate from, let’s say, Monaghan for instance (unless you happen to be in Monaghan).   And of course the year gives instant status.

The make of the car is, of course, important, but interestingly enough, it would seem the year is almost more important than the make.  For instance, it seems that an 07 Toyota would have a higher status level than a 02 Mercedes, although a Mercedes would obviously have more status than a Toyota of the same year.  Unless the Toyota was from Dublin and the Mercedes was from Offaly or something, in which case the location might be worth a year or two in status level.

The last interesting thing about the license plates here is that although the County of origin is represented by the letters in the middle of the plate, the full name of the County shows at the top of the plate only in the original Irish.  I find myself trying to figure out the counties from the letters and the Irish name.  This is not nearly as easy as you might think, since Dublin is a represented by the letter “D” on the plates, but the Irish name for it is: “Baile Átha Cliath” (BALL-ya A-ha CLEE-ya) – go figure.  I never would have figured that out if someone hadn’t told me.  But to my credit I did figure out Tipperary without asking anyone.  

So in the spirit of the new year, here is a new thing for my blog: a game! 

See if you can match the letter code for the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland with their County name in English and Irish (the 6 counties of Northern Ireland use the British license plate system):

Code County or City Irish name
1. WD AA. Cavan A. Luimneach
2. WX BB. Clare B. Liatroim
3. G CC. Westmeath C. Cill Dara
4. WW DD. Longford D. Corcaigh
5. CW EE. Louth E. Ceatharlach
6. LD FF. Meath F. An Cabhán
7. CN GG. Dublin G. An Lú
8. MH HH. Carlow H. Baile Átha Cliath
9. KY II. Kerry I. Muineachán
10. DL JJ. Kilkenny J. Uíbh Fhailí
11. MO KK. Kildare K. Ros Comáin
12. RN LL. Wicklow L. An Clár
13. OY MM. Cork M. An Mhí
14. MN NN. Donegal N. Ciarraí
15. LS OO. Galway O. Cill Mhantáin
16. KE PP. Laois P. An Longfort
17. D QQ. Leitrim Q. Sligeach
18. WH RR. Wexford R. Laois
19. KK SS. Limerick S. Dún na nGall
20. LM TT. Mayo T. An Iarmhí
21. CE UU. Monaghan U. Cill Chainnigh
22. LH VV. Waterford V. Gaillimh
23. C WW. Roscommon W. Loch Garman
24. LK XX. Sligo X. Maigh Eo
25. TN YY. Tipperary Y. Tiobraid Árann
26. SO ZZ. Offaly Z. Port Láirge

I’ll post the answers in a day or two if nobody posts them before me!

The 12 Posts of Christmas No.11 – The Burren

15 Jan

After all the festivities of Christmas, Wren Day, etc. it was great for us to get out of the big city (Ennis pop. 24,000) to the coast of Galway Bay at the Lyons’ place in New Quay (pop. about 250).

Our friends from the midlands came down for a couple nights and we all had a blast.  The weather was cool but not terrible and there was lots of time spent trying to trap rabbits in the backyard above the house.

The Burren is great for the walks through the hills and the incredible stone landscapes.  One of my favorite features are the lacy stone walls that cross over the hills dividing one stony field from another stony field.  The walls are unusual because they are only one stone width thick and yet they weather hundreds of years without falling over in the gale force weather that frequently pounds the shores here at the edge of the Atlantic.

Their lacey consistency is a trademark of the single width stone and many people have told me that they are built this way so the wind can get through them and not knock them down.  This visit, Joe told me that the walls are built this way because they typically fence in sheep.  Sheep are curious Joe says, and if they can’t see the other side of the fence they will push the stone wall over to get through.  Apparently cattle don’t care, or they can see over them or something, but sheep would knock them over if they couldn’t see through them.

In any case, we had a great time walking the hills and the kids got to explore the ruins of Tobar Phadraig (Patrick’s well) and put some more wishes on the wishing tree.  This time I actually took a photo of Pat and a bunch of letters next to him carved into the well.  We couldn’t make out any of the words except “Tobar” (well) but it looks like a pretty old inscription.

could Patrick really be an alien?

 Maybe next time we go, I’ll find out what this thing really says.

The 12 Posts of Christmas No.10 – Wedding

15 Jan

I have to say that one of the other highlights of the Christmas break was Paddy Quin’s wedding reception at the Old Ground Hotel.  Because both Paddy and his new wife are comitted rowers and members of Saint Michael’s rowing club, there were a lot of rowers there. 

This event was the first time in Ireland that I have ever felt like I wasn’t the largest guy in the room.  In fact, not only were there a lot of huge rowing-sized guys there, there were quite a few women there that were my size too.  The rowers brought in a bunch of the club oars and made a sort of arch for the couple to walk under as they entered the scene.

I guess I wasn't the only one with a cameraphone

A great event, and a lot of great people.  Perfect way to spend the day after the day after Christmas.

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