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29 Jul

I’ve reached the point in expat development where I use the word “home” indiscriminately to refer to both where I am originally from in the U.S. and where I currently live in Ireland.  This can be confusing to people – including myself.

If you follow this blog regularly (or are related to me) you will have noticed that I haven’t posted for a while because I’ve been home in California for the summer.

Sundeck

Yesterday we arrived home to Ireland to much tail wagging and breakfast and started the melancholy process of unpacking and re-establishing the ordinary rhythms of life.

Friday and Luna

I will try to post some of the memories from our summer here soon along with my reflections on them.  But one little chuckle I had as we drove to the San Francisco airport Saturday morning on our way to Ireland was that it seemed to me the city hid itself from us under a blanket of fog as if to obscure its spectacular beauty and ease the pain of our departure.  I thought, “thanks SF, for not making it harder to leave”.

Leaving SF

Rugby Central

13 May

I hadn’t realised how huge the Rugby scene was in Limerick even after I witnessed the epic “40 phases of play” the Munster team pulled off in the Heinekin Cup opener of 2011 (which I wrote about here).  But after I started working and rowing there, if I had been in any doubt about the connection Limerick has to Rugby, it was erased the other day when I drove through a roundabout on the southern side of town and saw signs for three different clubs all in the same place!

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Murrisk-y business

15 Jan

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After Christmas, we set out on a road trip around Ireland. First stop was Westport, Co. Mayo, where Mary’s dad is from. The photo above is of Murrisk Abbey which is the ruin of an ancient church where Mary’s dad’s grandmother met his wife for the first time – at the altar on the day of their wedding.
Not so long ago, the small communities on the 365 individual islands in Clew Bay still arranged the marriage of their children to families on neighbouring islands.
I was told that the two fathers had met at a fair in Louisberg on the mainland and the deal was done – thus Edward O’Malley, from Clare Island (descendant of Grace the Pirate) met and married his wife all on the same day.
When I was there the wind was blowing the rain horizontally off the bay so hard that each drop felt like a needle on my face. Mary stayed in the car while I took the picture with the epic mountain Croagh Patrick in the background (I had to climb around on top of the old sagging graves in the cemetery to get this angle). I walked back to the car leaning into the gale force wind at no less than a 25 degree angle – all in all a great experience.

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.

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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.

Ode to Shannon

24 Mar

One great thing about the School the girls go to here is that a phenomenally energetic and devoted woman named Cathy Desmond runs a music program there for the children. Recently she organized for them to give a concert at Shannon Airport. The sheer amount of kids there was astounding – and a tribute to all her hard work.

I drove to the airport on my lunch break to see the show and I was late and in a hurry when I had to slow down to thread my way through a gaggle of scruffy protesters who were demonstrating against the U.S. military’s use of Shannon airport as a refueling and logistical hub for soldiers on their way in and out of various combat deployments around the world.

It’s true that the U.S. military does have a large presence at the Shannon Airport. In fact, every time we’ve flown in and out it seems like we run into American soldiers on the way in or out of the states. If you talk to them you will be amazed at what they are giving up to do what they are doing. No matter your politics, your heart will go out to these young men and women and wish them the very best of luck and safety whatever their missions.

Below is a picture of Grace on one of our trips chatting with some soldiers in Shannon in the bar where the Irish Coffee was invented before it’s importation to the Buena Vista Bar in San Francisco from whence it swept the U.S. with it’s astounding popularity.

I remember one of these soldiers asked me how old Grace was and I told him she was just under three. His eyes got a bit moist as he told me that his daughter was the same age and he hadn’t seen her in two years. He was on his way home and I couldn’t imagine having missed all those moments with my own little girl.

But Shannon is different now. There are less and less military flights through here because the U.S. military is doing less and less abroad. On the other hand, most passenger airlines have been hit hard by the recession and almost all have stopped flying out of Shannon in favor of consolidating operations in Dublin.

The airport today is a ghost of its former self, the terminal is quiet, the parking lots are nearly empty and the cavernous departure hall had so little going on that the they let the kids take up the whole place in the middle of the day for a concert. The airport manager introduced the little musicians and pleaded to the parents to fly out of Shannon on their next trip if they had a choice.

Fairly ironic I thought that the protesters outside who were probably there during the workday becuase they didn’t have jobs were protesting the only customer left keeping the airport and the countless airline industry workers employed. After the military leaves Shannon, there will be more out-of-work people to join the demonstration, but they’ll have find a different place to go.

In the meantime, the kids had a blast playing and won’t have thought about the greater significance of why they were allowed to fill such a huge empty space.

I’ll be sad if they close the airport completely because so much history has taken place there, both globally and personally.

Liscannor

19 Feb

So the girls had this past week off school for some kind of Winter Break. The break started with Mary and Grainne taking all the kids to Grainne’s place in Liscannor.
Liscannor is the next town up the coast from Lahinch toward “The Cliffs of Moher”. Lahinch has a golf course that is Ireland’s version of Pebble Beach. Actually, scratch that…Pebble Beach is like America’s version of the golf course at Lahinch.
I tell you about Lahinch because it is a gorgeous Coastal resort with epic world-class golf that people travel to from all over the world.
Liscannor is the town next door which is one step more posh – who wants to live on the 17 mile drive anyway?

apparently there's a rabbit sanctuary in the field below

I drove down from Dublin Sunday morning after the Irish Chamber Orchestra concert and met up with the gang. The house is beautifully set on the outskirts of the town amongst rolling green fields that give way to the steel coolness of the Atlantic Ocean.
The place is rather newly built, and you can see from the photo above that the design from the outside fits well within the constraints of the surrounding typical Irish houses. From the inside however it has all the right sensibilities of a contemporary Coastal home and the girls were well settled into vacation mode by the time I arrived.

It was afternoon by the time I arrived, and the sun was low in the sky – actually, at this latitude in the winter the sun is always low in the sky, even at noon – but the key point is that it was a gaaaargeous sunny afternoon.

Not wanting to waste a minute of the beautiful day I set out to take the short walk to the beach and gather as many of the kids along as wanted to join.
I found Cayla and Grace down at the bottom of the field trying to lure rabbits out of their homes.

hard to get them both in the same frame...

The three of us set off for the beach and it was so pretty outside I kept trying to get a nice picture of the girls amidst the scenic rural beauty. But they were so full of energy, like little colts, that I could hardly get the two of them into the same frame with the camera.

They were so happy to be free that even walking they were moving at a jogger’s pace. Their distance ahead of me did give me the chance to capture this picture of them in the afternoon glow walking down the road to the beach.

I finally caught up with the girls at the beach where they had the decency to wait for me before charging off into the low tide looking for periwinkles amd other collectable lifeforms in the resulting pools.

Liscannor is a couple of kilometres from the Cliffs of Moher and when the hills rise off the beach here you can see the start of the kind of terrain that evolves into the cliffs around the other side of the hill.

I honestly don’t think the girls noticed the scenery since they were so intent on finding shiny shells and objects of interest in the sand and stone shoreline. At least I got a few photos to jog their memories later.

A couple days later, I noticed Grace with her hand in her pocket fidgeting around with something and I said “What’ve you got in your pocket” thinking it must be some candy or some such contraband. She pulled out the most amazing collection of tiny yellow and purple shells.

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