Archive | May, 2012

How Green is Your Valley?

31 May

I discovered that there’s a house on the other side of that crazy half-tower ruin in the middle of the farmer’s field that I posted about in April.  How cool is that? To have a castle ruin in your backyard? I totally want this.

there’s two sides to every story…

Here’s how I discovered this house: driving to the dump.

Here’s why this is interesting: coming from Northern California, I figured I was pretty ecologically sensitive having been surrounded all my life by Berkeley-Marin-hippie-radical-anti-war-whale-hugging-sandal-wearing-eco-zealots.  What I never understood is that in the U.S. it is hard to really grasp why protecting the environment is important because there is just so darn much of it there.  But here in Ireland it is natural to protect the land because every square inch of it has been carved up and divided and 100% populated before anyone ever said the words “United States of America”.

Consequently there’s a whole lot of recycling going on.  Here’s what our laundry room/mud room looks like:

…and yes, those are shopping bags that we actually shop with

I know from my travels how pervasive the recycling culture is in Europe, but here in Ireland we’ve taken it to a new level.  The garbage service is quite expensive and it works by weight while recycling is free or cheap and limitless.  We take our glass down regularly because there’s a “bottle bank” near the gym.  All the other recyclables go in nice tidy bins (pictured above).

Consequently, we only have a small little kitchen bin for landfill-able waste products and it takes us more than two weeks to fill up this tiny thing!  (the smaller green one is for composting)

I’ve actually amazed myself that we create so little actual waste that I only get to go to the dump once a month with a single bag of landfill and a trunkful of recycling. 

“do I need a membership for this country club?”

I say “get to go” when I talk about heading to the dump because the drive out to Inagh is so beautiful and there are so many amazing houses along the way, plus a pitch-and-putt golf course to stop at with the girls and “work on our short game”.  Plus, the dump itself doesn’t even look like a dump, it’s surrounded by forests and I actually think they take the waste somewhere else because it doesn’t even smell…hopefully they don’t sink it in the ocean or something.


Saint Kee?

28 May

I never told you about Kilkee. We actually did get there the other weekend after we visited Saint Imy’s shrine in Kilimer (remember…”kil”+”imer” = church of Imy?…I wonder if there’s a Saint Kee somewhere…anyway…).

Mary’s friend Anne has a place right on the strand where you can watch the world walk by and you can send the kids to the beach and supervise them from the convenience of the front porch. See below photo of the three dots on the beach representing Tara, Grace and their friend.

It was a gorgeous Irish day which means that there was plenty of sun between the formidable clouds blowing in off the chilly Atlantic. As the afternoon went on, the clouds got thicker, but the sand still held the warmth of the sun and the girls were as happy as clams (and almost as sandy) playing on the beach.

But from a spectator’s point of view, it was getting a bit cool and I looked up to the top of the wall and snapped a picture of Mary looking down at us with the clouds rolling past behind her head. She was there to watch her friend lead the charge into the frigid waters for the first swim of the season.

It wasn’t much of a charge into the water since all the young ones stopped at the icy depth of their ankles. Anne plunged onward into a full swim and finally managed to convince the girls it was possible to enjoy water at this temperature. I got a video of the four of them trying to body surf the ripples that lapped the shore. I think the screaming is more joy than pain but it’s hard to tell.

It was a great day and I can’t wait to go back, maybe the water will be warm enough for me later this summer.

water view

25 May

One good thing about being a rower is that it gives me an opportunity to see things that non-rowers usually don’t.  Often these things happen very early in the morning when the water is calm.

The other day I was up at dawn which is very very early these days what with the northerly latitude and all.  As I was driving on the bypass headed out from Ennis over to O’Briensbridge for the Limerick Regatta I looked off to my left and saw the ruins of the Clare Abbey rising out of the misty fields with the light hitting them in the most magical way. 

So I took a picture of it.

Now, anyone who was up at that time could have seen the same view, but I think most people driving the bypass at that hour are probably either still partially asleep or eager to get where they are going and might actually miss it. 

When I arrived in to O’Briensbridge for the racing, I parked in the village and walked down the river to the launching dock and took another most magical photo of the calm and glorious view that rowing exposed me to.

There is, however, a darker side to all this “I get to see things most people don’t see” stuff.  Being in Ireland in the midst of an economic depression means a lot of psychological depression is happening too and rowing in the middle of Limerick city shows this to me in the form of the Civil Defense boats that dragged the river pretty much every weekend from January through March looking for “missing” people that might have gone missing right around the Sarsfield Bridge.

The longer days and warmer weather seem to have lifted people’s spirits a bit and the search and rescue folks are getting a little breather on the missing people searches.

And I’ve finally managed to get used to the funny rowing terms they use over here like bow side” and “stroke side” insteady of “starboard” and “port” or “easy all” instead of “weigh nuff” and “backstops” instead of “at the finish” and…now that I think of it, maybe the American terms are a little funnier.

Here’s a video I managed to take while we were tying in on the water, and you can hear the cox telling us to start from “backstops” here just before I throw the phone into the hold.

New Normal?

19 May

I don’t know if it’s writers block or some other reason that I’ve gone six days without a post here.  In any case it’s freaking me out a little.

My fear is that I’ve settled into some kind of complacency where I’m so used to the everyday patterns of going to work, coming home, mowing the lawn, being a suburban dad etc. etc. that I no longer notice with wonder the amazing uniqueness of my surroundings – that I no longer find the witty observances of cultural frisson to fill my blog.

The most exciting thing I have to write about this week is Lucky the Cat eating a bird under the kitchen table.

Lucky thoughtfully ponders the fragility of life after consuming one

Actually, Lucky’s newest kill wasn’t the most exciting event this week.  Grace had a dance show at Glor which is the big performing arts center in Ennis.

Unfortunately I have no pictures of her because it was a kid’s show and they don’t allow photography at it in case someone is some kind of a pervert or something…..or they just want you to buy the DVD they are selling of the show afterwards (not that I’m cynical).

The Roundabout as Metaphor

14 May

You gotta love a place that has roads without names, towns with names that change, and yet every roundabout has a distinctive name and lots of signage from whatever direction you enter.

Among the roundabouts on my route to work is The Rocky Road Roundabout. I feel a particular affinity for this roundabout because as a child my mother used to bring us to Edy’s Ice Cream Parlour where Rocky Road ice cream was invented in the throes of the Great Depression as an attempt to lift people’s spirits.

So every morning as I pass around the Rocky Road Roundabout I think of the state of Ireland’s economy and how fitting it is that the statue in the middle of the roundabout is of Icarus with his great waxen wings about to fall from the sky – a victim of his hubris. When they built this roundabout in the middle of the booming Celtic Tiger I doubt they meant to predict where the Irish Icaruses (Icarii?) would land.

I salute him as I pass and give thanks that we have found so much support and opportunity here while 14% of the country have no work and so many (50,000 people each year which is over 1%) are forced to leave the country in search of jobs.

We are enjoying being here, but it is most surely a tough time in this country and we are aware every day of our own friends and others we don’t know who are struggling down the rockiest of life’s roads.

African Heat in Ireland

12 May

Having grown up in California, I’m used to the hot spicy food that is characteristic of its proximity to Mexico. Oh how I miss the mouth-searing salsas and chile infused asadas.

But more than just the Mexican spices, within the cosmopolitan cuisinery of California I learned to appreciate the curious qualities of burn-inducing spices from other food cultures such as China and India and I am finding it hard to adjust to the lack of hot spices here in Ireland.

Oh yes, there are plenty of Chinese restaurants, and lots of Indian places and the grocery stores stock plenty of ethnic foods and ingredients. BUT THEY JUST DON”T DO HOT SPICES HERE!!! Even the “hot” Indian food here isn’t really “Berkeley Indian” hot. (In my opinion Patak’s is the only store brand here I’ve found that has a “hot” even close to being hot)

Through much seeking however , I have discovered something I never really came across in California: African hot peppers. As different as the peppers are from Mexico to China, and China to India, they are just as different – and just as hot – when you head to Africa.

The other day at the grocery store Lidl, I found a small container with a variety of hot peppers in it and I eagerly brought them home to make my own spicy sauce. I diced one up and began to sautee it in a pan. As the fumes hit my eyes, the tears came forth and I thought to myself “This is good, finally a nice, hot, chile pepper”.

Then I started coughing, and my airways actually started to burn. I was like “maybe I’m getting soft from all the non-spicy food here”. But as I continued to cook the pepper, the air became more and more difficult to tolerate and I was coughing/sputtering/crying so badly I actually had to leave the kitchen.

The powerful hot pepper heat had beaten me and I couldn’t actually go back in the kitchen for about a half hour without serious discomfort. The sauce turned out awesome (and suitably hot) and the pepper turned out to be African.

Fatalii peppers are appropriately named….

Thanks to the proximity Ireland has to Africa and the recent immigration of numerous Nigerians and other African people here, Ireland has finally gotten a little African heat in its spices. I am now a complete addict to Nando’s Extra Hot Peri-peri sauce which is apparently made from an African pepper called…you guessed it…Peri-peri. I put it on nearly everything I can, but I’m staying away from the Lidl peppers these days.

Imy of Killimer

10 May

A little background here: last October I noticed a banner in the church referring to a “Saint Imy” who I had never heard of. A little poking around proved that pretty much nobody else had either.

Since then, I have been quietly researching and trying to figure out who she was and what she did that was so Saintly. The only productive result I could find online was a small dot on a “Points of Interest” map in a town called Killimer on the Southern Coast of County Clare. So when Mary’s friend invited us to Kilrush on Sunday I set a course through Killimer to find out what was at that dot.

We almost missed it. The road follows the coastline and affords views of the wide Shannon estuary and glimpses of the ancient monastary and round tower on Scattery Island (founded by local Saint Senan – one of St. Patrick’s “12 Apostles of Ireland). But in between stretches of scenery and a few scattered houses, we blasted past a small whitewashed shrine with a cross on top and Mary screeched the car to a halt so we could see if this was the “point of interest” we sought.

Inside the shrine we encountered a lovely statue of a Saintly looking woman and a plaque on the wall next to her that told me more in two sentences than I had learned in hours of research and countless conversations with pious people.

The best info I previously got was stuff like “oh yeah, Imy, she’s one of the local Saints, but that’s all I know” or “I knew a couple of girls named Imy from around Kilrush”. But nobody could tell me anything about teh actual Saint until this:

It isn’t much of a description – and frankly I wasn’t sure if it meant she was Senan’s sibling or a nun. But it gave me something to go on and some more research revealed that St. Senan’s sister was also called Ibie which probably means some transcriber had a cold when he told his scribe to write “Imy”.

But, Ibie was also called Imer sometimes which I should have figured out because I knew “Cil” meant church and towns with “Kil” at the beginning were always the “Church of Someone” so looking for Imy in Killimer should have been a clue…oh well, I guess I’m not DaVinci code material.

If I was more like that Tom Hanks character in the Dan Brown movies, I might be able to figure out who is buried under the unmarked headstone built into the wall around Imy’s shrine. I’m pretty sure it’s not Imy because legend has it that she wanted to be buried on Scattery Island but women weren’t allowed there so her brother Senan buried her under the sands at low tide so she could be on the island but not on the land.

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