Archive | June, 2012

Summer Hols

30 Jun

That’s a word I hadn’t heard before….Hols.  Apparently when vacation comes around, it becomes too difficult to say three syllable words like Holidays.   Nonetheless, the kids are out for summer break now. 

Yesterday as we drove to school in the morning, the girls and I busted out a rousing rendition of the theme song from the Phineas and Ferb cartoon.  Why?  Here’s why:

The lyrics are perfect, so if you don’t have a broadband connection to watch the video on or you just can’t understand the words, here they are (the girls know them by heart):

There’s 104 days of summer vacation, then school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem for our generation is finding a good way to spend it

Like maybe building a rocket, or fighting a mummy, or climbing up the eiffel tower
Discovering something that doesn’t exist, or giving a monkey a shower

Surfing tidal waves, creating a nanobot, or locating Frankenstein’s brain
Finding a dodo bird, painting a continent, or driving our sister insane

As you can see there’s a whole lot of stuff to do before school starts this fall
So stick with us cause Phineas and Ferb are gonna do it all

Anyway, that’s the song the girls and I sang and bounced up and down to all the way to the last day of school.  And here’s what they looked like when Mary and I went to pick them up afterwards to kick off the Summer Hols:

The particular significance to this moment goes well beyond simply being the last day of school.  The reality is that when we moved to Ireland last Summer we said we would commit to going for a single year and we’d evaluate how it was going at the end of the school year and decide if we were coming back or not.

Most people said “there’s no way you’ll come back after only a year” and we firmly replied that we wouldn’t commit to staying any longer than the school year.  So while it hasn’t been a complete year here yet, the school year is our main marker and we have quickly gotten to that Evaluation point we said we’d get to.

Between the school, the job, the house, the lifestyle and the general pervasive sense of peace and joy we are experiencing here, it looks like we’ll be here longer than our original commitment.  How long?  Who knows?  Who knows anything these days, but I know it’s been one heck of a great school year for the girls. 

Here’s what they looked like on the first day, way back last August:

The more things change, the more they stay the same.


Street Legal

25 Jun

I got my “Tax Disc” the other day.  Mary says to me “You’re not seriously going to write about this on the blog?”, and I’m like “This is interesting to me, the way the Irish do this stuff…”  She yawned.

But I tell Mary, “a Tax Disc entry could be entertaining…it sounds like a Frisbee for accountants or something” .  Unfortunately, it’s just a piece of round paper that you display on your car’s windshield to prove you paid the “Road Tax”.

And you don’t mess around with stuff like this in Ireland because the police set up roadblocks all over the place to check on you.  At first, I thought there was something serious going on, like an accident or someone digging a ditch, but no, just a totalitarian-police-state-style shakedown in progress. 

I suppose people are used to this here what with “The Troubles” and all, but in the states I only ever saw this kind of roadblock on Memorial Day weekend or one of the major three-day-drinking-and-bbq-ing  holidays.   Here I get stopped at least twice a month.

The first time I experienced this, I made the mistake of rolling my window down politely and the Garda asked me was I here on my holidays, who owned the car, had I been drinking, and all the other “probing-for-a-reason-to-haul-me-in-or-fine-me” questions.  When he asked to see my license, I gave him my California license because I’m still on the “learner permit” in Ireland and that doesn’t allow me to go on the Motorway like my U.S. one does.  He looked at it and told me to watch myself and let me go.  Whew.

Now I’ve mastered the art of looking bored, nodding and giving them the finger-lift salute so they know I know what I’m doing and they just wave me through.


But now that I’ve figured out the whole Road Tax thing, I also understand that the ubiquitous presence of all these tiny little fuel-efficient cars on the road has nothing to do with being green and environmentally conscious…it’s a tax thing! 

They calculate the amount of tax you pay based on the size of your engine.   Smaller engines are much cheaper, so they become more desirable and more accepted and automakers make more of them and the virtuous cycle really can start from regulation…and gestapo tactics.

In the end though, you get a society that thinks a BMW mini is an oversized, overpowered extravagence….for example look at the substitute family car Mary had last week….I couldn’t believe they actually got four doors onto it!

Gracious Living

17 Jun

Today’s blog post is dedicated to Grace who spent the better part of the weekend skating/roller-blading around outside in the dry and mostly sunny Irish summer weather.
The house is set on a sloped lot and one part of the driveway goes in front of the house and another goes behind it, which means there are some flat parts, some gently sloping parts, and some steep parts….great for skating around.

At one point, Grace took a short break from skating to play with the rabbits who had been temporarily relocated to a patch of lawn behind the house and given a small penned area to run free in.

After playing with the rabbits for a few minutes, she went back to skating and if you haven’t heard Grace singing in her opera voice, this clip captures it all because I asked her to be Graceful and she busted out the operatic falsetto. Priceless.

If you wondered what our life is like in Ireland, these moments are pretty typical. Pretty nice.

Kilmacduagh, take two-ah

8 Jun

We went back to the ruins of the old abbey at Kilmacduagh the other day – the one with the Leaning Tower of County Galway.  I hadn’t been there since I stumbled upon it in February while lost on the drive from Gort to Kinvarra.

Anyway, it wasn’t a particularly nice day, but it wasn’t raining or otherwise unpleasant either. A very Irish sort of weather: overcast, cool, dry, calm, but gray. I’ve heard it described as “a fine soft day”.

We had a gift voucher for a hotel in Gort called the Lady Gregory and we decided it would be a good day to take the kids there for lunch and a little cultural visit the old abbey.  It was built by Saint Colman, and although he might not have anything to do with Colman’s Mustard, given my affinity for spicy food I feel an affinity for this place.

(angle of tower’s lean is exaggerated in this photo)

Kilmacduagh isn’t really near anything and it certainly isn’t on the way from anywhere to anywhere else. If you were going to Kinvarra, there are better ways to get there than to go from Gort – and vice versa. Which would explain why there was nobody there but doesn’t explain why this is the best preserved example of 7th century Round Towers in Ireland.

Upon close investigation, we determined in a completely non-scientific way that the lean of the round tower at Kilmacduagh is not nearly as lean-y as Pisa despite the bragging the locals may do. It is, however, about twice as old and will probably last twice as long.

What I like about these old sites is that when they built the round tower well over a thousand years ago, there was already a pre-patrician church there (ahem…that’s geek-speak for “older than Saint Patrick”). The small ancient chapel on the site doesn’t have an age but they say it’s older than the rest of the ruins which puts it pretty darn close to the days when Christ was just another carpenter from the suburbs. The Irish really got into the old Christian game pretty early.

Grace was the only one brave enough to walk among the dead people in the old church floor. Actually, Mary and I probably would have walked around in there with her, but we didn’t want to climb over the gate to get inside. Tara climbed over, but didn’t go anywhere because it was a little creepy and I think she was worried that she might be breaking the law or something by climbing in.

I looked at these pictures and reminisced about the time in my youth when I lay on the grave of Rob Roy in Scotland alongside my mom and sister and we all pretended to be dead and my dad memorialized it with a photo which I made into a puzzle which is in storage back in San Francisco now. It must be genetic that my family and I misbehave around ancient graves.

Oh well, we are once more responsible for injecting memories into the fertile minds of our children. Lots of fun.

Slice of Heaven

5 Jun

We had a heat wave the other day.  No, seriously.

It was well into the 80’s – or as they measure things here the 30’s. 

In any case, it was Mary’s birthday and tropical hot so we headed out to the beach…along with the rest of the country.

In our case, the beach we headed out to was White Strand which is close to Spanish Point – great story about an armada ship that foundered on the rocks and the spaniards managed to survive the wreck and swim to shore only to get hung by the folks in the village…so much for Irish hospitality.

But we set out from the beach on a walk along the coast.  It was like walking through someone’s fantasy of what heaven would be like.

I made grace stop for a second so I could photograph the endless fields of flowers.  The grass was so soft and seamlessly smooth that Grace took off her shoes and ran barefoot toward the horizon.

We were walking out from the actual beach to find a special place that Mary remembered from her childhood.  The memory was of a swimming pool that had been carved into the limestone shelves along the shore at the base of the cliffs.

It should have been right where she remembered it to be…decades earlier.  But it wasn’t.  The walk was so wonderful though that nobody cared if we ever found the natural pool carved into the rocks.  But we kept looking anyway.

When we got to the farthest reaches of the point, we could see back toward White Strand, and around toward Miltown Malbay.  At this point we realized that the pool wasn’t going to be where Mary thought it was and we decided to set up and have our picnic right there.

The perfect beach picnic has no sand in it, and this one even came with natural backrests.  And Mary never gave up hope of finding the swiming pool from her past.  So I found a few bars of signal for my phone and called her dad who had brought her there in the first place. 

We did finally find the secret natural pool with the help of Mary’s dad and a couple of locals we met on the grassy path.  We found a couple of kids there swimming and only Grace and I braved the icy water which was still dangerously cold in spite of the warm weather.

But my battery died so I didn’t get any photos.  I imagine that maybe in 30 years, Tara and Grace will wander around on these magical hills looking for the same secret swimming pool.

Happy birthday Mary.

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