Archive | April, 2012

In the Middle of it all

30 Apr

I took my first business trip to “the Continent” recently. I know snobby people on the east coast of the U.S. refer to Europe as “the Continent”, but when you live on a smallish island on the edge of Europe, a trip to the mainland is literally a trip to the Continent.

My associate Eddie and I went to Italy for four days to check on the progress of the pilot travel-retail program I am managing. Below is a picture of Eddie and me at a cafe in Milan enjoying the sun.

I’d love to say that the above photo is representative of the trip, but frankly it was just a quick moment in between appointments in a very busy schedule – it was possibly the only time we stopped during the day at all to sit and soak up the Italian ambiance. Mainly we were running around airports all day and talking to employees about the training programs our company developed and deployed while trying to observe interactions on the shop floor to see if the training was actually improving service etc.

For the most part our trip looked more like the following picture:

This was the only picture I took inside the airport because they generally don’t like you taking pictures in the security-restricted areas. I snapped this one in a hallway somewhere without anyone noticing.

The Italian police have a lot of guns, more even than the Americans I think, so trying to get our passes and get through security was very interesting. Especially when the tin of mints fell out of my jacket pocket as we were getting screened and made a lot of noise and scattered mints everywhere all over the floor of the security area. Mints are very slippery when you step on them, and they were everywhere – complete chaos reigned for a brief while. Eddie said he was having flashes of the movie Midnight Express and visions of me getting shot or locked up or something unpleasant (I’ll have to watch that movie to see what he was worried about).

But so you know what we were actually going at all these different airports, I downloaded a photo from the company website of what a typical shop looks like…you’ve probably been in one that looks just like it. This one is from Mexico, but they all look pretty similar – at least that’s the idea. Anyway, these are the people we are “developing”:

I love this project because I like travel, I like solving puzzles and I like luxury products. It will certainly keep me entertained for a while – at least until we train up all 13,000 of the staff.

In Italy, we managed to visit 17 shops in 4 days and aside from the excitement getting through airport security, the most exciting parts of the trip were trying to make extremely tight connections on various forms of transit between locations. Here’s a photo of us in the Milan train station on our way from one place to another.

I love how picturesque the grand old train stations of Europe are. As we were scrambling to figure out what track the train to Rome was on, I snapped the below picture of the platforms. So scenic. So busy. So late.

Now that the project pilot has gone well in Italy, it will soon be time to start rolling it out to the next locations. I should have some interesting trips along the way.

Below is a google map I made of a select few of the key hubs we will be implementing the program in. This summer we should be doing one dot of each color (the yellow one in the middle of the Atlantic represents the cruise line – I don’t think we’ll get to that one until later when I figure out how to handle the fact that the locations are always moving):

It is important to point out that on the map above, I am currently situated in the perfect place: Ireland is pretty much right in the middle of it all: just about as close to San Francisco as it is to Shanghai- both of which are on our list.

Country Life

28 Apr

When we decided to move from SF to Ireland 8 months ago, one of our major goals was to get the girls a little extra space and a bit more of a rural experience. It seems we have exceeded our expectations.

The ever-present outlooks over the scenic green hills of County Clare are enhanced by the frequent presence of various animals, including the cows in the fields and the rabbits on our deck.

Every morning the girls feed their rabbits and clean out the bedding in the hutch. Mary noticed however, that the cows from the neighboring field were also starting to gather at the fence pretty regularly where Grace was known to hang out trying to pet them. She said “Grace, what are you doing to those cows? They seem to be looking for you.”

Grace says “They’re not cows, they’re bullocks mom. And I sing to them and tell them stories.”

So the other day, I said “Grace, take me down to the fence so I can get a picture of you talking to the cows.” She just grabs a bag, stuffs it with grass and calls to them from the fenceline.

The cows come over to Grace, and she feeds them and talks to them. She wouldn’t sing to them in front of me though. Apparently that’s just for her and the cows…I mean bullocks.

I think the girls are getting that rural experience.

My Little Millionaire

26 Apr

One major factor in our decision to come to Ireland was the reputation of the education system here and the Irish schools have impressed us greatly.  This is in part because the teachers we have are passionate, positive and encouraging.

Tara loves reading and her teacher not only noticed this but took steps to encourage her and actually use her to motivate the rest of her class.  Based on the passion of Tara and one of her friends, Mr. Corry started a special advanced reading program for his class and Tara achieved the status of “Millionaire” with over a million words read.

The kids read a book, and take an online comprehension test to check and see if they actually read it, or are just bluffing.  Each book on the list has a word count and they all add up.  Tara got a million very quickly.

Mr. Corry posted this achievement on his blog here.  We are all very proud of Tara, but I’m also proud of Mr. Corry for keeping a blog, supporting his students and being such a great teacher.

Communion Day

24 Apr

We had a great day for the First Communion with lots and lots of blue sky and big puffy white clouds that weren’t dropping much rain.  We also got a great parking space right on O’Connell St. across from the church and I got a great picture of the three girls walking ahead of me to the church.

We were also early enough to have Grace pose for a quick picture at the “Hands of God” sculpture outside the church. This turned out to be a good thing since after the mass the place was mobbed and we’d never have gotten a good photo.  I like the picture because it looks really surreal with the big hand and the tiny hotel and the gorgeous first communionite standing in the middle.

Inside the church, Grace took her assigned seat and waited patiently with the most intesne look of concentration on her face.  I think she was a bit nervous about carrying the flowers up to the altar.

She did a great job with the flowers and walked them up slowly and purposefully.  I personally was impressed that besides the flowers, one of the other offertory gifts was a Hurley brought to the altar to represent…actually I can’t remember what it represented…but if you don’t know about Hurling, it is the most insane field sport I know of and you play it with a stick called a Hurley – I’m sure I’ll write about it sometime.

Anyway, another notable thing about the ceremony were the dresses on the traveller girls in the class.  The tradition among the itinerant families is to go waaaaaaay over the top on the first communion celebrations and the little girls wear dresses that make wedding dresses look like casual-wear.  A friend of mine told me about a girl at her daughter’s ceremony whose dress had lights inside it that the parents clicked on with a remote control at the moment she recieved the host for the first time.  Wow.

So after the mass, I was taking a picture of Grace on the altar and I was lucky enough to get a great shot of the amazing dress on the girl behind her – it didn’t light up, but it was certainly impressive enough….not to mind the six inch high tiara.

But all the girls in the class were proud of their dresses and Grace’s was one of the finest there.  She had the added bonus of having had it sent from San Francisco from her Grandmother so it was both beautiful and exotic.  Having the same dress as someone else was a concern Grace didn’t have to worry about.

After mass we went home as quickly as we could to get everything ready for the guests to arrive back for a little party.  The picture below is a quiet moment I captured of Grace waiting for her friends to arrive and looking out the office window (yes, our house has a dedicated office in it – how sweet is that!). 

Soon enough everyone arrived and while we waited for the elaborate Crown Roast provided by Kevin Leyden (butcher extraordinaire), we set the kids onto the Taco Bar which Grace had requested as the ultimate favorite party food.  Below, Jim Lyons looks on in wonder as the kids tuck into the Mexican assembly line.

While the kids ate Tacos, the parents enjoyed the incredible Roast and the creamy Salmon Wellington that Mary had created as well as the world famous Cornflake Potatoes from Madeleine Lyons that have been known to bring visitors from as far away as San Francisco to marvel at their incredibleness.

After food, the rabbits were a big hit with the younger crowd and everyone enjoyed running around the backyard palying all sorts of games.  Below it looks like Jack is about to tag someone with the ball.  You’re it!

In the end, we managed to drag the kids in from the garden with the promise of a cake from O’Connor’s Bakery which has got to be the best bakery in Ennis.  Awesome cake.  Grace couldn’t even pose for the picture she was so busy picking bits off it and stuffing them in her mouth.

If the first communion was this good, I can’t wait for the next.

Market Day

23 Apr

We had a lot of preparation to do before the Communion celebration because we decided to have it at our house instead of at a hotel or a restaurant or something. Luckily, Ennis is a great market town and we headed in on the Saturday prior to the Communion to get prepared.

I love the way the streets and alleys of Ennis wind their way through the town and even underneath some of the buildings like this one pictured above. This makes parking on the edges of town and walking in amongst the shops very convenient as well as fun and picturesque.

In one shop I noticed two beanbag chairs next to each other that were the same colors as Grace’s outfit. I told her that if she lay down on them we might not be able to see her. Below is a picture of her trying not to be noticed.

But all messing aside, we actually had some business to attend to and part of that required a visit to our butcher. Yes, I’ve put a possesive adjective in front of the word “butcher” because there are several butchers in town but we go to this one because the husband and wife who run it are super nice and they took the time to get to know us and our tastes and preferences. Consequently we call in to them every week.

The quality is consistently good, and they always know where their meat comes from – and it comes from local Irish farms. The Leydens also run great package specials for €20 that will give you enough meat for a family of four (like ours) for the entire week – which is a great deal.

Above is a picture of Mary discussing how she wants her crown roast of lamb configured for the Communion. The Leydens came through in spades and produced the most amazing lamb constructions for the big day.

Eco-party

21 Apr

Even though Grace had her First Holy Communion today, I realized I hadn’t yet written about her birthday party! So while I download photos of the communion from my phone, I’ll quickly post about the birthday.

For this, I have to give massive credit to Mary for completely maximising the idea of cross-collaborating for mutual benefit.  In other words: why organize a party yourself when someone else is already doing it…in this case the Imeco Farm.

The Imeco Farm is a property on the north shore of the Shannon Estuary in Clarecastle, County Clare.  Their mission is to educate people, through example and hands-on teaching, in various methods of energy independence and Eco-friendliness. They also have a lot of animals and a bouncy castle and the weekend of Grace’s party they had face painters and a treasure hunt organized!

After getting properly decorated, the girls went visiting with animals such as the rabbits (pictured here) and loads of lizards, snakes and other various reptiles (not pictured).

There was a good bit of rain on the day, but in between showers, Tara led the younger girls on the treasure hunt.  This consisted of running around the property looking for sequentially numbered signs and writing down a letter of the alphabet written on them.  At the end of the hunt you have spelled something to bring back to the Imeco Farmers for a prize.  Great activity. 

The first few numbers were right in the main farm area amongst the buildings, but the higher numbers got farther and farther away. 

We ended up trekking through fields with ponies, goats, baby lambs, and chickens in them.  The kids had a blast petting and feeding every living creature along the way – and it was getting to be a long way.

The final number in the hunt was up on a levee along the edge of the River Shannon which was a solid fifteen minute walk from the main farm buildings. 

The clouds were starting to look more and more threatening and I was glad we got the final number and were headed back for our prize.  (the winning word was “Guinea Pigs”)

We made it back to the farm buildings for cake just as the skies opened up with the most torrential downpour you could imagine.  It turned out to be a perfect party: everyone had a great time, the Imeco farm did the planning and cleanup and the kids (and parents) went home happy.

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Big Day

21 Apr

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Today is the big day. My little First Communionite was dressed and ready to go before anyone else was out of their pyjamas. More to come later.

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