It’s a long way to Tipperary

My mother left yesterday, and again I am reminded why living abroad for all its excitement is hard. I am not sure when I will see her next. We had such a whirlwind visit of road trips and I wanted to write this post before autumn gets swallowed up by the holidays and it is the end of the year.

We have officially entered what I call “the drift:” the original term of Sascha’s contract is up, and yet we are still in Ireland for various reasons, mostly summed up as it is much easier to stay put until work forces the next relocation. Not that it’s a complaint. When I’m healthy, I love Ireland. It is an absolutely beautiful place to live and I know we are so lucky.  It is complicated to be without a plan, but we have so many opportunities we might never have otherwise.

One of those opportunities was the chance to meet my late grandmother’s first cousin and family, who live about 2 hours from Dublin. So two weeks ago, when Sascha was in NYC and my mother was here, we packed up the Micra and strapped in the boys and hit the road to meet our Irish relatives.

I don’t know if we would have gone to the Killaloe/Ballina area were it not for the family, but I am so glad we did. The area is rich in history, with Killaloe being the birth place of Brian Boru, the last high king. Killaloe and Ballina are villages opposite each other on the River Shannon, which forms a watery border between the counties of Tipperary and Clare. They are connected by a stone bridge, which is over 300 years old. I mostly have iPhone snaps, so the quality isn’t amazing compared to our new camera, but at least you have some idea.

The village of Killaloe

The bridge is too narrow to allow two-way traffic so a light at either end regulates the flow.  The river here is wider than the Liffey and it empties into Lough Derg, the biggest lake in the Republic of Ireland. Rimming the lake are the Slieve Bernagh Mountains (Co. Clare) and the Arra Mountains (Co. Tipperary).

Top picture is a plaque on the bridge looking toward Lough Derg that commemorates four men shot by Auxiliaries in 1920. The middle picture shows Killaloe Bridge, with some of the original arches from over three hundred years ago.

We passed under the bridge on the boat tour. It being off-season, we were the only people on board, so James let the boys (and me) drive the boat. G really grabbed the wheel and enthusiastically turned it back and forth, so the boat fishtailed a bit. I actually got a bit nervous that while the captain took our photo G would run us aground.

A rare picture of the four of us!

We met Michael, his sister Nellie, and his wife, Nancy, at our hotel on our first night and then we made a plan to visit them at the farm the following day. My mother had not seen Michael and Nancy since the 70s, when they visited the U.S. before I was born. She remembers having them over for a barbecue but they didn’t want to eat corn on the cob. They called it “horse food.”

Apparently, after I went back to the room to put the boys to bed, my mom got excited about the potential for a secret smoke. Michael invited her out for a smoke, but she was disappointed to discover it was a pipe, not cigarettes. “Well, I’d’ve given you a pull or two,” he said.

Because the farm is not on the GPS, we were to meet Michael at a place called “The Lookout.” Around this vast lake, you might imagine there are many lookouts, and we spent some time driving on the wrong side of the lake before I figured it out. We did enjoy the unplanned tour of the Clare County side of Lough Derg and were grateful for Michael’s patience.

Michael. Some islands in Lough Derg are visible in the background

Michael took us down to the graveyard where his grandfather and father are buried. Over the years, it had been neglected and he and some other volunteers did a lot of work to restore the grounds and they even won awards for it. It is a beautiful and peaceful place, resting at the bottom of a graceful green slope to the shores of the lake.

Nancy and some other women planted many of the flowers in the foreground of the first photo. Michael helped restore the ironwork on the church ruins.

This is the grave of Michael’s grandfather, who was my mother’s grand uncle

After walking the wet grounds of the graveyard, everyone’s feet were soaked. At the house they had a fire going in the sitting room and we were happy to take our shoes off. Out in the country, Nancy says, it seems like things never really dry.

Michael, my mom, Nancy, and Nellie

The house they live in is a new house built around the original two-room home where seven children were raised, including my great grandmother. Michael’s son now runs the thriving dairy farm.

The boys were mad for the tractors. Millie the dog was mad for them

I really enjoyed spending time with them.

“Oh to be young again,” Nancy said to me when I looked at her wedding photos. “Some years really make all the difference, don’t they?”

Michael and Nancy recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. I love the confetti on his shoulder

Nancy told me she would have done things differently if she could go back.

Like what? I asked.

I would have traveled, she said.

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Hello from Dunmore East

Today began our planned holiday, so of course that means we found ourselves running to an emergency vet appointment, and Sascha sitting on top of our toy car trying to get the lid of the luggage carrier to close. (Sashi is fine, but she had an infected cut, possibly from a rumble with a lane cat. Also, to those of you who think my cat is a bitch, the vet said “there’s something royal about her.” So there. She can’t help being superior.)

We are in the “sunniest corner” of Ireland and it was beautiful when we finally arrived. Here’s to summer vacations (with no wi-fi). What are your plans?

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London calling

With twin toddlers, planning is usually the way to go. But the risk is that it can be too easy to plan ourselves right out of something. When we have time to stop and think about it, why on earth would we go anywhere? That’s pretty much what happened with us going to London. When the idea first surfaced, the logistics seemed too daunting and exhausting to squeeze in two weeks before.

But with less than 24 hours of preparation time, some whim overtook us and we decided to just go. We didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to see some family and friends that were going to be there. Last minute plans were quickly arranged. We rented a flat that would have two pack ‘n plays. Booked tickets. Cat sitter arranged. Messages left and emails sent.

Yes! We can do this.  We are still spontaneous, fun people! This is part of the adventure of living abroad!

The Olympic Rings hanging from the Tower Bridge

These exciting thoughts lasted about five minutes, or until I decided to check the weather forecast in London: rain Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and then maybe some clear skies on Sunday, when we were to leave. I took Sudafed and slept terribly.

So when we got off the plane in London and it was not raining, I was hugely relieved. It was also about ten degrees warmer. Athletes were already arriving; we could see them weaving through the airport traffic in their brightly colored team uniforms like ribbons. Good thing now that the boys are 2.5 years old, we’ve also had some endurance training.

After scoping out the nearest playground and getting some food, we walked over to the Southbank area for sound check.

Approaching Southbank Centre with Big Ben and the London Eye in the background

C watched the amazing drummer, Will Calhoun, and said, “I want to do that.” (Will gave them signed drumsticks, that, you guessed it, we’ve since taken away until they have an actual drum to hit.) Sascha was thrilled to see Oumou Sangare again, after working with her on “Throw Down Your Heart” years ago. Much, much later we were able to get to the theater to see the last twenty minutes of Oumou and Bela’s fantastic show. The entire audience was out of their seats, spilling into the aisles, and dancing.

Sascha, Oumou, and Bela

The next morning we hung out with B in the lobby of his hotel until the cars taking them to the airport arrived. We said goodbye and hit the town at 8:30am.

The very first time I came to Europe, I came through London.  I was twenty years old and had an enormous backpack strapped to me like a tortoise shell. I met C and V in Paddington Station as we waited for our train bound for the same study abroad program. I remember the countryside rising in green hills that filled the train windows, and the feeling that the wide world was opening up, the world of places I had only read about. When the boys yelled “Ben!” as if greeting an old friend when they spotted the famous clock tower, I hope on some level, they have that feeling, too. The world of the “London Taxi” book was coming to life for them, so vividly that when we had to take a van to fit the four of us, our luggage, and the double stroller, they were pissed: “It not a London taxi,” they sniffed.

I crashed for a few hours on Friday morning while Sascha took them by Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace. The highlight of their trip (and I’m certain, their lives so far) was seeing a helicopter land in the road, right across from the playground.

C and her two daughters in St. James Park

C has recently returned to London and later we met up with her.

We enjoyed it until the sky suddenly grew dark and a wind started tossing the trees. I knew the wind meant business. We did not have a good, nearby indoor plan for our four kids. Instead we spent a very long time under a canopy of trees on Birdcage Walk, hoping it would pass soon.

When it finally did stop raining, we walked what seemed like an impossible distance (at least for the legs of the 5-and-under-crowd and their meandering attention spans), to the Tate Britain.

Tearing up the Tate

By the time we arrived at the museum, it was well past dinner and the kids were starting to lose it. We ate over-priced, mediocre museum cafe food and did not look at a single painting. I recommend the museums in London highly, just not as destination dining.

Saturday we hit the Jubilee Gardens and we went back down to the Southbank, which had a Festival of the World going on.  We had brunch with old family friends of Sascha’s, Camille and Schuyla. It was sunny and we were ecstatic.

Brunch with Camille and Schuyla.

We wore short-sleeves. I know most of the U.S. has been struggling with heat waves and drought, but here has been a real lack of summer, and it’s a hard thing to get used to.

The boys were not interested in the London Eye, so we took a river cruise down to the Tower of London. Boat rides, we learned one rainy day in Paris, are a godsend.  We can sight see, sit down, and keep the boys interested all at once.

Tower of London

In the late afternoon, we met another friend in Holland Park, where we found a peacock literally strutting for peanuts. Another mom was kind enough to share some with the boys so they could feed it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a peacock that close.

Finally, we hopped into a taxi (yes, a London taxi) to meet our California friends. By happy coincidence, they were vacationing in London with their children. We had not seen each other since the boys were just a few weeks old. The Eagle was a great little pub with a huge enclosed back garden, and kids were running all over. It was the first time we were able to sit back and enjoy a pint and sort of have an adult conversation, as our boys ran off with their kids and played.

She’s going to make a great babysitter

Los Angeles in London

Unintentionally, this also became a trip to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. In the preceding week, we had both pretty much forgotten our approaching anniversary. In a fit of optimism (and remembrance), we made reservations at Galvin La Chapelle, a very fancy London restaurant, for Saturday night. But after being out with the kids all day (following some brutally early morning wake-ups), I had already eaten a burger at 6pm. We didn’t get to our 9:15pm reservation until about 10pm. We declined starters, ate our entrees, and then discussed how delicious it would be to just go home. Sleep was better than Michelin-rated desserts, at least at that moment. The waitress was worried, in a restaurant with Cuban cigars for after dinner and a gourmand tasting menu: Was everything alright? But that is five years of marriage and almost eleven years of being together: just as happy to get the check, duck into a taxi, and collapse into bed.

Sunday we made it over to Notting Hill, where a friend let us drop off our bags and then we walked together through the beautiful neighborhood to Hyde Park. It was actually hot outside. I think somewhere in high 70s, maybe even 80s.

The Princess Diana Memorial Playground is as good as everyone says, and now I understand why there can be a huge queue. Again we were lucky: we got there before there was a wait. I think we only saw a small portion of it (and had yummy
ice cream cones from the cafe).

Not a cloud in the sky

There was a massive sandpit area with a beached pirate ship. The adventure playgrounds in Dublin are amazing, but for some reason I have yet to find a playground in Ireland with a sandpit. There is nothing my sons enjoy more than digging in sand.

It was so hot (!) that most unprepared parents just stripped their kids down to diapers so they could play in the water and sand.

Teepee playscape

After the park, we only had time to change out of sandy clothes and then get to the airport. We were lucky with the weather and the chance to spend time with so many friends and family.

The flight back was the first plane ride where no one cried. (Not even us.)

Daytripping to Hill of Tara & Newgrange: Part 2

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After visiting the Hill of Tara, we traveled closer to the River Boyne, which was an important prehistoric trade route and whose valley was (and still is) rich with abundant farmland. Horses grazed on its banks; the Irish honey I … Continue reading

One more plane ride

I’m back in CT and got to spend my mom’s birthday with her. As she pointed out, this is the third year in a row, completely unplanned.

I have shin splints from the two mornings I did Jennifer’s 6-mile walk with her in Winston-Salem. We got a lot of good talking in over 12 miles and it helped clear my head of the jet lag. This is the first major exercise I’ve had besides the hike last Friday with Bela & Abby. When I get back, I need to prioritize exercise somehow. Also, last night was the first night the jet lag was starting to go away, which is really great, considering I go back tomorrow night.

I spent a long time catching up with Ron on Wed. I’m not sure when I’ll get to see him again. We worked out that the last time we saw each other was the book release party in NYC in March 2009. Since Dublin has an Innocence Project, I want to see if I can get them over for a speaking engagement. I really want the boys to meet him.

Sascha is doing wonderfully, all things considered. Two work days for him were pretty much vanquished by flash fevers: first G, then yesterday C. Today Sascha took C to the doctor and he has bad tonsillitis. Murphy’s Law, or something: he was the sickest he had ever been last summer with roseola when Sascha was out of the country. Hopefully, the antibiotics will do their work soon.

C was thrilled to see me on Skype Monday, but today he turned away.  I expect a bit of attitude when I get back. G has been acting out. Today he is at daycare by himself, and apparently doing well.  Maybe some time apart from each other is good?

It was good for me. I compartmentalized. I spoke to adults and had clean clothes on at all times. According to this article, if I could work part-time consistently, I’d be happier and healthier. Then again, most part-time working moms I know don’t have the consistency, especially if you had any non-traditional career path. Like me, they have sudden work opportunities that send them frantically searching for childcare, a way that laundry might do itself (if you leave it long enough, maybe the organisms thriving in it would get up and start walking around?), and figuring out logistics with a military-like precision. It also requires a very understanding spouse.

 

Hello world!

Me starting a blog feels a little like my mom talking about technology, as in:

MOM: I know what Facepage is.

ME: Um, actually, it’s Facebook.

MOM: Whatever.

Welcome to 2007, right? Bear with me. One day, I will learn CSS. Until then, I will swear under my breath and generally feel like my Gram trying to figure out the ATM.

I was never particularly excited about living in public. I was a late, late adopter of Facebook and in all honesty, still don’t love it. Blogging always felt like leaving your journal out for anyone to read, which seemed mad to me. Why would anyone do that? My thoughts are already quite loud, as my husband tells me, when I stare into the darkness beside him at night. So why would I invite anyone in to watch my mental gymnastics? And why would anyone care?

We keep moving, and with the two wonder boys I had in January 2010, I am a terrible keeper-in-toucher. Emails that require more than a simple response slide far, far down in my inbox, because I hope that one day, I will have time to sit down and compose a proper reply to far-flung friends. I recognize now that this is the same deluded optimism that makes parenting so hard. I keep expecting or hoping for something different than what actually is (e.g., my children will not suffer from the terrible twos because I have sleep-trained them; or, my children will love vegetables when they get to table foods because I pureed all their first foods from organic sources myself and froze them in BPA-free containers). This delusion has also carried over into my desire for a stable home, as in whenever we visit a place, I look at the real estate ads and declare, “We could totally live here!”  In fact, we even bought two houses in our gap year in a quaint Connecticut seaside town and essentially returned them.

But you out there, reading this, know how much you have meant to us on our switchbacking (L.A.-NYC-L.A.-NYC-L.A.-CT) journey. We could not have guessed that our next leap would be out of the country, and farther away from all of you who have helped us feel at home where ever we were. I can only hope this blog helps us keep in touch, and doesn’t mortify me or my children in a few years.

The hope in moving abroad is that your life becomes larger, but of course at some point the loneliness comes, too. So the other part of this starting a blog thing is that it seems marginally better than talking to myself while my husband is at his new job and I await the cat’s ok to enter the country.