Thursday, September 6, 2012

Rock Sailing with Giants

Anyone who has ever taken a vacation knows how hard it is to see and do all the things on the adventure list. This is true when living abroad for a year. There are so many places and experiences. The longer you stay, the longer the list gets. And this has been the dilemma Zach and I find ourselves in with 360 days of our year spent.

One place we really really really wanted to go all along was Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. Varying factors kept us away (butt-loads of homework, a disparaging neighbor who swore that it was total shite and not worth the trip, etc etc). But finally, we looked at our bucket-list and asked ourselves, what would be honestly regret not doing (besides not visiting Connemara?) and the answer was: experiencing the Causeway. So we booked same-day train and bus tickets and fled early one morning while the streets were still dark.

We went even though the weather report predicted horrible downpours and thunderstorms (with red lightning according to icons)! We went even though it meant more than ten hours in transit. We went because  some places just call to you from afar. You see pictures in magazines or in those extra-luscious, extra-large coffee table books and your heart and fingertips purr with the thought of traveling there. Giant's Causeway certainly called to me, and Zach is always the eager explorer or anywhere strange, unusual, and stunning.

We arrived almost awake after snoozing on the myriad trains and buses. The sun was shining. Not from behind a vast bank of clouds which is usually the case for a "sunny" day in Ireland, but actually shining clear of obstruction. (And there was certainly no red lightning anywhere in sight.) The sky was blue...not gray. The ocean was a jewel. And the Causeway was amazing! We trekked up and down the stair-step octagonal stones columns marveling at how a gush of volcanic goo could solidify into something that really looked man-made. It really made us stop and think about all the odd things stone does in Ireland. From the melted rock landscapes of the Burren to the dash-marked pillars of the ogham stones now mostly confined to museums--rocks are the most amazing yet most underrated spectacle of the whole island!

Even though we were dressed for freezing monsoons, we stripped down or folded up as best we could to play away the day in the hot sun. Zach went so far as to climb some of the taller columns. He lost his grip at one point and came sliding down fast. It gave me quite a scare, but he was not seriously injured. He managed to keep leaning forward and land on his feet, rather than topple back on to the craggy carpet below. Whew!

After that, we marched up winding cliff-side paths to take our picture under the towering columns known as the Organ Pipes. We set out on trails which meandered the very tip-tops of the rugged cliffs, where very few tourists actually go. We stood on the very edge of a cliff, clasped hands, and threw our arms in the air, letting the breezes blow us back, and in that whooshing moment, we stared all the way out to the horizon and pretended our promontory was the helm of a mighty ship, sailing fast and sure over the tossing and tumbling seas.

The illusion was fantastic and no doubt aided by our over-active writers' imaginations! We backed away from the edge of the cliff feeling breathless and exhilarated.

It was only after all this adrenaline and wonderment wore off did we realize that Zach's back had suffered a bit of twisting spasm during his fall. His sciatic nerve was awakened and roaring like the dragon you expect to find roaming the rocks at the Causeway (led on a leash by a Giant, perhaps). Fortunately it was time to go, so he could at least spend the next five or six hours resting up on one wheeled vehicle or another, but it was a long wait before he could get home to a hot shower and a soothing back rub à la Jenny.     

In the end we were so glad we went! No, more than that. We were plum tickled! Sure, there were still places to on our must-see list that weren't getting checked off, but we knew we could and would see them "one day" just as we saw the Causeway one day.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Popping Down to Cork

Our entire year in Ireland, we've wanted to visit Cork (both city and county), that much-talked-of region of  coastal beauty at the south of the island. We had incentive to go even before we arrived here last August -- someone, recognizing our love of good beer, had recommended the Franciscan Well brewpub to us. Our landlords talk about it in glowing terms every time they escape on a short holiday to "sigh... Cork." (Aine likes the people, Dos the ocean - though he warned us about Cork city.)

So finally, in the midst of a dissertation and a portfolio and all the final month wrap-up stuff, we decided it was about time to check it out. We had the extra incentive of our resumed beer book project, which requires us to interview some brewers and taste as many brews as we possibly can. (It's a rough gig.)

We shipped out (trained out?) the morning of the 7th. The train ride is pretty painless - just under 3 hours, direct. We schlepped out to our B&B on the west side of the city, right near the University campus... and it was, I won't like, kind of a sketchy establishment. Not like someone was going to haunt us in our sleep... but like we weren't entirely sure the floor in the bathroom would remain a floor for much longer, and we didn't want to leave the laptop in the room.

Fortunately for us, we didn't spend all our time in the room! We were outside as much as possible, I think, because it turns out that summer in Ireland has been hiding in Cork all along. We got to check out the English Market, the bustling (and very European-feeling) conglomerate of butchers, bakers, cheese makers, produce hawkers, and confectioners. (Yum!) We did a bit of walking around, and my general impression of Cork is that it's surprisingly artsy, considering how run down parts of it feel (I guess that means it's artsy without being pretentious?); it has more of a street art culture than Dublin, I think, and there's tons of galleries and music opportunities. (The downside? A whole lot of it smells like trash.) Of course we eventually ended up at the Franciscan. (Maybe Cork is just sketchy in general. We wouldn't have walked down this particular street if we didn't know what awaited at the other end. At least it didn't smell like garbage...) The beers were scrumptious, the beer garden was chill... and it was a good day all around.

The next morning, Jenny called it quits. Not on the trip -- but on the B&B. She found a much nicer B&B just a bit up the road for the same exact price, and we were able to relocate that very morning. (I think it was the shower that did her in. It would have done me in too, had I been the one to shower first.) This Wednesday was dedicated largely to a trip north to Mitchelstown, a small-ish town at the foot of the Ballyhoura "Mountains" and the home of Eight Degrees Brewing, a microbrewery run by an Aussie and a Kiwi. We spent over an hour chatting with them, and they were immensely generous with their time and their thoughts. (Their beer is truly scrumptious, too. If you ever see it, drink it!) They chatted so long with us that we talked right through our intended bus back to Cork - no big deal, as that allowed us to have dinner in town and wait for the next (and last) bus back to the city. We ate a remarkable and memorable meal at the Marketplace - ratatouille-stuffed bell peppers! - and then made it out to our bus stop with plenty of time to spare.

More than plenty of time, apparently. Because at 8:40, the bus didn't show. At 9:00, it still hadn't shown. By 9:30, I was back in the restaurant asking after alternate ways back to Cork, and Jenny was preparing to lie down in front of the bus if it happened to show and threatened to leave without me. These people were remarkably sweet. After they finished arguing about whether the bus was more likely to leave early or be an hour late (no decision), they called cabs to check prices, they called friends to see if anyone was headed to Cork (or wanted to do so for less than the cost of a cab), they contemplated everything short of building us a Wright-brothers-style airplane.

Finally, the bus DID show. (Over an hour late.) Grumble grumble grumble. Needless to say, we were so pleased to have a luxurious room waiting us. (Thank you, Jenny!)

Thursday was our day trip down to Kinsale, the Dos-endorsed coastal town. Summer was hiding from Kinsale that day, but even so it's a wonderful little place, full of narrow winding streets with unique coffee shops and bookshops and art shops. We took an hour boat tour of the harbor, sitting on the top deck at the very front where we couldn't hear the taped tour explanations over the speakers but could take some great pictures and tell our own stories about the landscape, the ruins along the bluffs, the cormorants soaring across the calm surface of the sea. We visited the Kinsale Crystal store, the only place in the world that sells the crystal deep-cut in the back room of the shop. Anna, half of the husband-wife team that run the place, chatted with us for ages about the crystal, about Ireland, about my five-finger shoes, and anything else we found in common. We ended up buying a small crystal bowl for ourselves (it's an heirloom!) and were very pleased with it.

We snacked throughout the day, but after our shopping we sat and had a wonderful picnic lunch (anyone who's eaten breakfast at an Irish B&B knows that lunch happens about 4:00 in the afternoon). Then after we headed back to Cork, we went once again to the Franciscan - not even for the beers so much as for the wood-oven pizza they cook up every Thursday night! And ohhh man, was it good. In my experience, some wood-oven pizzas get cooked too thin or charred too crunchy in spots. These guys did it right - the crust was thin and crisp and yet still bready, the fresh mozzarella was sooo yummy... and it was the perfect accompaniment to our playing pigs in the outdoor patio!

The trip was kind of a whirlwind - but even though Friday was our last day, it wasn't over yet! That morning, we walked for a good while through the campus of University College Cork. Of course it's not as ancient and manicured as Trinity's campus - but it is infinitely greener, with a great combination of trimmed lawns and wild-seeming woodlands. They have an actual river running through campus, and what must be one of the largest collections of Ogham stones in the world on public display! (Ogham is the ancient Irish method of writing; it's kind of like a vertical system of tally marks along a line. It also looks like a bunch of birds sitting on a telephone wire!) Then we took a walk down to St. Fin Barre's cathedral, whose three spires defined our daily walks to and from the B&Bs. We had to take in the English Market one more time - and this time we treated ourselves to some of the best ice cream we've ever tasted. Then we had one more interview - this one with Shane, the owner of the Franciscan, who was so kind as to sit with us for a while before his pub opened for the day.

That left us just enough time to go back to the campus and lounge about for an hour or so - the day begged for it, and for the first time in ages we were able to lie back on the grass, stare at the clouds through the fractal branches of a tree, and just enjoy breathing. What a perfect end to a wonderful trip!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Night at the Theatah

On August 2, Jenny and I had the extreme pleasure of once more visiting the theater in this most theater-influenced of cities!

Staying to see this play was a serious factor in our decision-making process waaaaay back when we were deciding when to return to 'Merka. It wasn't just any play -- it's Sean O'Casey's "The Plough and the Stars," a story about the regular people of Dublin set during the failed uprising of 1916. (When it was first performed at the famous Abbey Theatre, it caused riots. Not just throwing-tomatoes-at-the-stage kind of mayhem. I mean genuine riots. That's how revolutionary and controversial it was.) And it wasn't in just any theater -- it was scheduled for the Abbey stage, that very same place where the riots occurred nearly eighty years ago!

Well, we were in for a slight disappointment. Some time after we purchased our tickets, the Abbey announced that it had to undergo renovations of some kind, and the play would be moved to the relatively nearby OReilly Theatre. The move really was a bummer for us; yes, we got to see a play at the Peacock, the Abbey's experimental stage, for Jenny's birthday last October. But this was O'Casey, darnit!

Of course, once we got right down to it, the play was still a treat for us. We made a proper date night out of it, dining first at Messrs. Maguire at a table overlooking O'Connell Bridge and the River Liffey. We were decked out; Jenny looked stunning in her black dress, and I had my dashing Irish tweed coat (which I didn't get to wear, this being one of Dublin's three days of summer). A kind theatergoer took our picture outside before the show:

The stage was intriguing -- rather than the complete walls of the apartment where both the first and final act were set, we saw the doors and the metal girders. The bones of the building really emphasized the vicarious glimpse we were getting into this home, the side of the Easter Rising that history books and popular imagination fail to talk about. As far as we could tell, the play was excellent. (I say as far as we could tell because all the actors were proficient in their inner-Dublin accents; even a year here has not fully prepared us for every turn of phrase or every unique intonation!) A couple of the actors stood out from the rest, especially the man who played Fluther -- his presence stole the show, as far as we were concerned.

It may not have been the night we dreamed of months and months ago, but in its own way, our night at the theater was still magical, and I for one am glad we stuck around to experience it!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sunset Days

Well the sun is setting as I write this, but the sun is also setting on our time abroad. We've written endlessly. Word after word. Page after page. I've clambered deep into spider's webs, and blown glass bubble-dreams. I've walked the mean streets with hard-boiled detectives who hold hands with lady-monsters. Meanwhile, Zach has looked roadkill in the eye and walked away wiser. He's delved deep into the candy-coated wonders of temptations. He's even acquired some fresh saddle-sores wrangling matters of the heart in the good ol' west. And busy as we are, we've decided to add a new project to our never-ending must-do list: we're going to co-author a book on Irish microbreweries. We see it as one more rope to cinch down the sails of this windjammer we're riding, a zesty little vessel we like to call our lives as writers! And yet...(patient sunset, I have not forgotten thee)...

And yet, three weeks are all that we have left to finish up our portfolios and dissertations. To see all the sights. Eat all the delights. We've had such a marvelous adventure, made such amazing new friends.

But this is by no means our sayonara blog post from the island. Just a quick little note to let everyone know our wonderlust burns bright as ever. We've had a return trip to Waterford to interview Gráinne Walsh, master (madam?) brewer at Metalman Brewery. Coming up is an extended jaunt to Cork, then a mad-dash to Giant's Causeway, and you'll want to check back in for our write-up of the Ukulele Hooley!

As always, thanks for reading and enjoy those last dog-days of summer! We sure are.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wimbledon 2012 (Pt. 2)

The pre-dawn portion of Wimbledon Pt. 2 was much the same as the pre-dawn portion of Wimbledon Pt. 1: zombie-ritual and semi-conscious stumbling. Our taxi driver to the grounds was much chattier this day, however, so he forced us to remain awake (one part conversing to three parts accent-riddling). I'd say we arrived within five minutes of the exact same time as the day before, and yet--and yet!--we were two hundred numbers further up in the queue. We could only presume that fewer people had camped the night before; after all, we were now into the second round of the singles tourney, which meant fewer overall matches. Could we get Centre Court tickets with our improved position? We knew we'd find out -- in about five hours!

We were less fortunate in our queue-buddy selection, which is not to say they were terrible; they just weren't as convivial and friendly as Faye and Tom, the good folks from Oz, had been. In fairness, we weren't as convivial either; we attempted napping. Despite the cold hard ground, if we'd had a blanket over top of us, I'm convinced we would have succeeded.

Knowing what kind of wait to expect made the morning proceed overall much quicker. We bought a newspaper from a rolling cart to see the day's lineups, sipped more coffee, munched our breakfast-in-a-bag, and chatted the hours away. When wristband time came around, our options were once again limited to Courts 1 and 2. Which made sense -- the queue was overwhelmed with folks sporting RF gear (not, as I so foolishly supposed the first day, "Republic of France," but "Roger Federer" -- who, I must say, has a very well designed logo), and the Fed was appearing on Centre Court that day. Ah, well -- Court 1 had plenty of matchups we were excited to see, anyway!

Same as before, Court 1 play didn't begin until 1:00, so we had a good hour and a half of match play on the outer courts before finding our reserved seats. We shuffled on down to Court 3, where one of Jenny's favorite upstarts from last year, a German girl named Sabine Lisicki, was taking on Jovanovski. We cheered our hearts out for the peppy German -- I think in equal parts appreciation of her sense of humor, her perma-smile, her real (and not stilt-like) legs, her whoops-equivalent squeal when she made a boo-boo, and her hustle around the court. Perhaps we shouldn't root for her; after all, she does have a tendency to give us stress-attacks and make games go much closer than they should be. (This match went three sets, though Lisicki was clearly dominant; in the fourth round, she handled Maria Sharapova easily -- oh what fun THAT was to watch! -- then beat herself in another three-setter against Kerber.) But root we did, and in the process I found a tennis player to be my favorite. The game is wholly different when you're pulling for a specific player in the tourney (I'm a surrogate Federer fan, thanks to Jenny!) and not just picking a favorite in each match.

After the match, we clamored out of the bleachers and around to the players' exit. Jenny identified the right door, and we got there just in time to catch Lisicki leaving. I had our program and a Sharpie in hand, and I got her autograph! Not only that, I got to have a (very brief) exchange with her -- auf Deutsch! I was busy watching her sign the program, so I didn't see her face; but Jenny says that she lit up hearing someone speak her native language. Talk about a highlight of the tournament!

The way the Lisicki match was drawn out, we had nearly missed all of the first match on Court 1. But we weren't about to leave it! Besides, it was a match we didn't particularly care about. The second one on 1, however, was a must-see -- the completion of the Roddick/Baker match from the day before. The crowd still grew boisterous behind their native Jamie, but in the end Roddick pulled off a victory. We had to be proud for our countryman!

Then the infamous Rain Delay swooped down over the skies of ol' SW19. The rain wasn't too unbearable -- we sat outside for much of it -- but it was enough for them to pull out the court covers. All in all, the delay wasn't too long, and as soon as it wrapped up we welcomed Maria Sharapova (the then-world number one) and Tsvetana Pironkova to the court. Pironkova was a feisty little thing, and we cheered her on mightily (neither one of us being big Sharapova fans). She gave the #1 a good run for her money, but we sensed that she got nervous when she was actually close to winning the first set; ultimately she lost it, and was down 3-1 when they called the night for darkness.

(Side note: you don't get to see this much on TV, but Sharapova has the strangest rituals. I wonder if she in fact has OCD. I mean for real -- not the sort of mildly compulsive behavior about which we always jokingly say, "That's just my OCD." And not the sort of routine that many athletes like to utilize. Fascinating to watch.)

Exhausted, damp, and thoroughly reluctant to leave, we took our final pictures in front of the standings board. Then we joined the throng filing through the gates of the AELTC, wandered up the street, and hailed a cab outside of the mayhem. I was converted from "tennis appreciator" to "tennis fan," and I now know how Jenny feels sitting with me during a baseball game -- the sport truly is more fascinating, the more you understand it.

I could hardly think of a more fitting end to a first (and second) Wimbledon experience than falling straight into bed. I was asleep before my knees finished buckling!

Thank you, Jenny, for sharing such an enlightening and thrilling sporting experience with me!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Jolly Holiday: Wimbledon 2012 (Pt. 1)

Oohhh, it's a jolly holiday in England which is where Zach and I spent the last week. Specifically, we journeyed to Wimbledon to see the Tennis Championships! I attended my first Wimbledon Championship tournament back in 1998 and have been raving about it ever since. It was a dream come true to finally get to share the magic and wonderment of the whole experience with my best friend, fellow-writer, muse, and confidant: Zach! Thus it was a natural decision to go once more while living abroad (because traveling from Ireland to England is cheaper and quicker than from New Mexico).

Attending Wimbledon requires patience. First you must endure the hours-long queue for tickets. That's right, get in line! Wimbledon has a tradition (er, rather lots of them) that they will not sell their tickets online before the tournament. You can enter a lottery to win tickets, and if you're are friends with someone rich and famous, they can give you a free ticket or two, but for the rest of us (Proles, plebians, peasants), there's the queue.

Used to be one could queue at about 4 a.m. just outside the grounds in a long line that wound its way through the surrounding neighborhood. Nowadays, the queue starts in a park near the tennis grounds, so campers come way in advance and hold their spots. And for good reason too. The first 500 tickets are for the legendary, mythical Centre Court, the next 500 for Court No. 1, and then a bunch for Court No. 2. Admittedly, I was tempted to go rent a couple of sleeping bags, but fortunately for Zach, my tennis-mania knows a few bounds. So (unfortunately for Zach) we got up at 3:00 a.m., performed in our sleepy-zombie state some ritual not unlike dressing and caught a cab bound for the All England Lawn and Tennis Club.

We guesstimated that there were only about sixty early morning people between us and the overnight campers, which is to say, there were only sixty people crazier than we were. Two people only slightly less crazy took up their spots behind us and we became fast-friends in queue terms. Faye, from Perth Australia, introduced herself as an annual Wimbledon attendee, while Tom--a youngster like us who was also, coincidentally from Australia--was attending for the first time, like Zach. But the Honorary Stewards keep the lines in order and keep up the moral. They come by in their fine suits and Panama hats with jolly announcements and pleasant conversation about tennis and the weather. It is everything a line should be in the civilized world, and the British would have it no other way.

Zach and I found out from our queue-buddies that even though we were the 1,099th and 1100th persons in the actual line, we could still be in contention for Centre Court tickets as many of the campers were students who could only afford the ground passes. So, we anxiously waited, dozed, chatted, waited, read the morning paper, waited, bought some coffee from one of the nearby burger stands erected to feed the queue of dedicated fans...and yes, waited some more. Just before nine, the wristband distributors worked their way down the line. We could hear them way off in the distance calling out "Centre Court! Who wants Centre Court?" But by the time they reached our section of the line, they had only Court 1 and 2 bands. We gladly took our bands for Court 1, which boasts its own fine array of celebrity players destined for outstanding matches (as does any other court at Wimbledon). But I did so want Zach to experience the grandeur of Centre Court.

As it turns out the grandeur of the grounds themselves was enough. I was overwhelmed with nostalgia, while Zach was all-amazement at how vast the tennis center is, with its many cafes, courts, stadiums, trees, fountains, and celebrity tennis legends who walk among the masses hauling their own massive racket bags on their way to courts. Yes, they just walk in and among the crowds. (The more unfortunate players have been known to get accidentally knocked down by eager, young fans racing across the grounds to land a seat at a smaller court. I'm not naming names, but there may have been a young girl in 1998 who literally plowed into a player, and who felt mortified after the fact.)

Although we had reserved seats on Court 1, play did not start there until 1:00 p.m., leaving us to roam all the outer courts where limited seats are open to anyone quick enough to nab them. Nab we did, for a bit of gentlemen's doubles, which is fast-paced nuanced tennis not often aired on television, but well worth the watch! Then we were off to Court 1 where we were delighted to find Faye seated next to us! We enjoyed  a match there, then scuttled back to Court 15 for ladies' doubles, then back to Court 1 for the rest of the day.

Cheering for the underdogs became our modus operandi. First we dug in as the few and the brave to cheer on Wimbledon first-time players Michael Russell and Donald Young (both from the U.S.). Then we cheered on Mona Barthel in her match against Vera Zvonereva, not just because she was German but also because we was the low-ranked seed in the match. We applauded Nadia Petrova and her partner Maria Kirilenko because even in the high-pressured moments of an intense doubles match, they giggled and had fun (and won in the end). We even managed to get their autographs afterwords. We cheered as long as we could for poor Lleyton Hewitt, who was no match for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (now playing in the semi-final against Andy Murray as I write this!). And we made our voices heard for poor Andy Roddick who had the misfortune of playing one of Britain's young hopefuls. Their match was incredible. Forget nail-biting. This one drove you knuckle-biting, it was so close point for point. They wound up having to suspend play once darkness and a bit of rain set in, but we resolved to get up early the next day and see the end of it (unless we nabbed Centre Court tickets...).

But for more on our second day at Wimbledon and the conclusion of our adventures in England, you'll have to switch over to Zach's post.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Full-contact egg races and a slice of Obamamania

This past weekend, Jenny and I road-tripped to the Irish midlands with our friend and fellow writer Eimear Ryan. She's a long-time fixture on the Moneygall camogie* team, and for as much as she downplays their quality of play, we gathered that a) Eimear is really good, and b) Eimear's team is really good. And not just in the way some of my slow-pitch softball teams were good.

*Camogie is the women's version of hurling, a traditional Gaelic sport. Think hockey on grass mixed with handball and an egg-race, and you won't be far off.

We met Eimear on Saturday evening, and she very kindly drove us to Moneygall. (Actually, Eimear lives in the finger of County Tipperary that extends into County Offaly just outside of Moneygall. Same thing, for our purposes.) Her house is lovely, and so was the family dwelling there.

After a brief pit-stop at the Ryan stronghold, Connor (Eimear's big brother) taxied the three of us into the town proper. Set the stage: Moneygall is a teeny-tiny town with one main street, and no one had heard of it until Barack and Michelle visited it in May of 2011. Our friend and host Eimear just happens to have grown up there. It has precisely two pubs, as far as we could tell, and they are right across the street from one another. The larger of the two is more or less what you expect out of an Irish pub. The smaller one is exceptional, and we wrote about it on our beer blog over here. (Here's the link to Adventures in Al"brew"querque.)

Moving right on ahead, after Julia Hayes, we went across the street to Ollie Hayes. (Eimear swears that not everyone in Moneygall is related.) Like much of the Moneygall strip, Ollie Hayes is steeped in Obamamania. The front is graced with a picture of the President emerging from the pub, and inside, Obama memorabilia lines the walls -- T-shirts, campaign posters, and loads of photographs. This pub even made the news back in Albuquerque, so of course they're proud of the attention! There's even a bust of Obama, and I must say, he looks quite dashing in a fedora. (There used to be a cardboard cutout of the President, too; it now resides up the street in the cafe.)

We didn't stay out too late. Eimear did have to sleep for her match, after all. We had a bit of a lie-in before breakfast, then Eimear took off for the game. Eimear's lovely mother (Berr -- my spelling could be off; it's short for Bernadette) gave us the grander tour of Moneygall by car, including the entire main street and then winding off into the beautiful soft hills to the church, which contains the records that reveal Obama's Irish lineage. (On the sign outside the church, we also found a tie to Circleville, Ohio -- my family's tiny hometown! Obama's great-great-great-great grandfather's brother filed a will in the courthouse there. It left a plot of land to Obama's ancestors and was the reason they left Ireland for the USA in the first place.)

Then we made it just in time for the camogie match. I can't say that we truly understand the game now, but we know how score is kept, and we know that the Irish must beat the self-preservation instinct out of their children while very young! Someone could easily lose a finger in these stick-thrashing melees! Now I see why Eimear comes to class with more bruises than a vampire slayer. Moneygall staved off a late Douglas comeback to win and advance to the semis of the Munster League. What did I say? Impressive!

Berr then took Jenny and me to the Obama Cafe up the street while we waited for Eimear to wrap up the postgame rituals. We had a delicious cup of coffee and a muffin while admiring the sheer amount of Obama swag. (The cafe was meant to be open for the presidential visit; complications meant that it opened about a month late. Oh well -- it seems to be thriving!) We then did our souvenir shopping there and just up the street, at the same souvenir shop where the Obamas took care of their own gifts. Once we finished, Berr took us a couple doors further down to the ancestral home of the Kearney's, Obama's forebears. The house has been opened to the public, and they've done a tastefully small display chronicling both Obama's heritage and his 2011 visit.

We reconvened with a showered and victorious Eimear, who drove us to the next town of Nenagh for a scrumptious dinner at an Italian restaurant. We were stuffed, and happy, and very satisfied with all we had packed into our day trip. Eimear was continuing on to Galway for a holiday with her folks, so she dropped us off at the bus stop. Jenny and I dozed our way back to Dublin, excited to post our pictures and share our Moneygall tales with all of you.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Kara and Scott's Excellent Dublin-ture

This morning, my little sister Kara and her boyfriend Scott flew out of Dublin Terminal 1 (the scary one -- it's a hybrid '70s-office and Soviet prison) on their way back to Denmark. They won't like reading that some of us *cough cough* were still asleep when their plane took off... but I'm proud of them for making it here and back again!

Time for the recap.

They arrived in Dublin on the evening of Tuesday the 5th, their third consecutive day of travel. Kara was wired, and Scott was dragging! We got them into town, they checked into their hostel, and then we conducted our first Host Responsibility and got them fed -- at our usual watering hole, the Porterhouse. What troopers, they made it until late that evening before crashing.

Wednesday, we conducted Host Responsibility the Second and took them underground -- to the crypts of St. Michan's Church! Every one of our visitors has now descended into the depths of the Dublin soil, and with no more visitors planned, we can give away the secret now. (Didn't we do a great job keeping it on the down low -- or the QT, as they say here -- for all our guests? We're not the only ones staying mum about it -- this is the best-kept secret in Dublin.) They got to experience the tour of the ancient crypts, given by the best tour guide in town, culminating in the freakiest experience of the entire trip... shaking hands with a mummy! Yup, after examining the mummified toenails of a nun, you get to step into a crypt and touch the mummified finger of an 800-year-old crusader for luck. (The mummy gets 15% of our lottery winnings.)

Then we traipsed down to Phoenix Park for the Dublin Zoo. Jenny and I had not yet been either, so it was a new experience for all of us! The zoo is quite lovely, and very manageable in an afternoon. Some of the highlights included being about ten inches from a pacing tiger, tingling as the gray wolves roamed the grassy hills at feeding time, gasping as two sea lions wrassled over fish scraps, standing level with giraffe heads and realizing they are almost as large as a person, discovering a baby gorilla in the arms of its mother, enjoying the playtime habits of lemurs, and struggling to get a face shot of a red panda!

Thursday was Scott's birthday, and their one true experience of Dublin rainfall. The good downpours didn't come until afternoon, so in true teenage disregard for our suggestion (a true Irish Host Responsibility if ever there was one!) that they dress in layers and bring a raincoat, they got soaked on their way to Sandycove. We cut Scott a garbage bag to keep his torso dry, and I took them on a walk down the stormy Sandycove boardwalk. The tide was as high as ever I've seen it! We set out for Teddy's ice cream stand, which is often open on even the worst of days, but on this day it was unsurprisingly closed -- hardly no one but us was crazy committed enough to be outside. So we headed back to a spaghetti dinner -- a fortuitous choice, because it turned out to be Scott's favorite meal for his birthday! That evening, I had a reading to attend, so Kara and Scott dried off before meeting us afterward, and we showed them to the Dublin Ghost Bus tour, their birthday excursion. Jenny and I did not join them, though they assured us it was well worth it. We'll have to take their advice later this summer!

Friday, Kara and Scott wanted to hang on their own, so they did the wax museum and the national museum, as well as revisiting the Porterhouse (see? it's not just us!). Saturday, we all met up to go further down the coast to Bray, where we spent hours poring over the rocky beach, collecting rocks and skipping stones. One seal swam close to shore and became quite intrigued by our activities. It constantly poked its head out, stared at us, then dipped back under before swimming maybe thirty feet further down and repeating the process! We climbed up part of the Bray Head for some stellar views of the wide-open ocean and the flocks of various birds. Kara found the prettiest snail shell any of us had ever seen, but its occupant still lived, so she made sure it got tucked safely away in a cluster of plants. While we ate lunch, a seagull pooped right on Scott's bandanna! But the day worked out well for him, because he finally got his Teddy's ice cream cone on our way back to the train.

Sunday was another Sandycove day, only this time the tide was out, so these two little billy goats could explore the granite landscape along the coastline. Kara filled her pockets with seashells, and Scott found every living creature possible in the tide pools. He navigated the whole length of coast without falling or getting wet -- until he was about three feet away from returning to dry land, when the goat got gruff and slipped! He was a little banged up, but managed the rest of the trip just fine. (It gave me a rebuttal for when he would call us old -- I wasn't the one gimping, after all!) We then walked into Dalkey. We saw more seals by the harbor nearest our house, then continued into Dalkey proper, where we each enjoyed a pint in one of Bono's favorite haunts.

Monday, Kara and Scott took the wonderful tour of the Hill of Tara and Newgrange -- the same one Jenny took me on for my birthday. I'm sure they have plenty of pictures from the day, because the weather was perfect for taking in the long-range sights from atop the hill! We met them afterward and took a walk down to St. Stephens before hitting one of Kara's must-do stops: dinner at Captain America's! We all splurged on burgers and shakes (except for Scott and his pizza), and Kara got her souvenir t-shirt and lots of good pictures under the neon signs out front. Then we were all STUFFED, so we took a wonderfully leisurely walk the long way around to Dublin Castle and the Dubh Linn gardens. The evening was cool yet delightfully so, and we had a wonderfully relaxing time meandering around the premises. Then, as the time wore on, we wandered down to O'Donoghue's, one of the best sites in town for trad music sessions that aren't the least bit twee. We arrived early enough for seats, and the musicians started right away upon showing up. They played some standards that we could sing and clap along to, and the singer dug just how much he could get Jenny and me laughing and into it. We had a real treat, too, in that two women were also Finnish folk singers who contributed their lovely harmonies to the evening!

On Tuesday, Jenny had homework to do, so I played tour guide solo. We visited the Trinity Long Room library first. While the Book of Kells is the big promotion, we all loved the Long Room itself more -- the ever-comforting scents of old leather and vanilla that come with books of a certain age. The visit was even more exciting than normal -- aside from the proclamation of Irish independence and Synge's portable typewriter, they have on display their edition of Shakespeare's first folio! (Book nerds FTW!) We poked around the rest of Trinity campus, including a walk by Oscar Wilde's birth home, before we took the jogging streets down to Wilde's more famous growing-up home. Kara posed with the smirking statue of ol' Oscar! Then we went to the Natural History Museum, one of Scott's biggest requests, to admire the collection of Victorian fetish -- no, not that one. The one where they liked to collect, preserve, and display dead animals! The collection is indeed impressive, if a bit densely morbid. My favorite display was that comparing a human skeleton to those of a chimp, an orangutan, and a gorilla -- possibly because none of them were posed in realistic ways, and none of them still had skin and fur still attached! There was everything from Irish deer, to all the birds of Ireland, to sharks and whale-skeletons and a baby zebra. For lunch, we chilled in St. Stephen's Green, and then we took care of a bit of souvenir shopping before coming home to a delicious dinner of ham, rice, beets, and potatoes. (Well, it was delicious for most of us -- we learned that Scott does not like beets. But at least now he's tried them!)

Wednesday was sadly our final day together. But we made the most of it! Kara and Scott tried to check out the Iveagh Gardens, which were tragically closed off for a wedding or some such event. They came back to Sandycove for one more day of beach combing and rock traversing, this time without injury (serious or otherwise). (Kara did get a little wet, though...) There were even more crabs and shrimp this time! Then after a hearty Hawaiian pizza dinner, we took them for the traditional send-off: drinks and pigs at the Fitzgerald, just up the street from us. We were all getting tired, but were determined to enjoy the evening, which I think we all did. As evening crawled under a blanket, we knew we had to say goodnight or risk the kiddos missing their train back to town. So we hugged goodnight, wished everyone safe travels, and waved goodbye the whole way down the street, knowing that it's just over two months until we'd see each other again!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Post for Barb

This is a very special post for Barb, holding down the cookie-fort back in New Mexico!

We knew she would have wanted to be at the launch of A Thoroughly Good Blue, so we made darn sure to take some video of Zach reading from his work "In the Haus of Broken Toys." His story is but one in an anthology of work showcasing his classmates at Trinity. Zach edited the volume and spent endless hours toiling on it (along with his managing editor, Katie McDermott).

So, Barb, this post's for you! Please enjoy the video (although the sound quality is not as good as the podcast recording) and some of the picture (below)!

Zach signs his first autograph (he would sign several more before the night was over)!

Tincture Tinkers!

One on of our trips to Dublin, we crossed the river to take the folks down into the crypts of St. Michan's Church (where you can actually shake hands with a Crusader!!!). Well, as you an imagine, the shock of such an event deserves (requires?) a shot of whiskey, so we went literally next door to the Jameson Distillery.

Now, Zach and I are huge fans of craft beer, but we admittedly know very little about whiskey or scotch. The tour of Jameson was educational (even though it starts with a super-corny 20-minute movie set in the 1700s). Guided and much more personalized than the Guinness tour, Jameson offers intriguing period tableaux vivants where the workers and famous cats of the distillery are seen going about their chores. (The cats, in case you're wondering, caught the rats trying to eat the grains intended for whiskey brewing.) Jameson even had on display a fun billboard showcasing all the nicknames of their coopers (the guys who hand-crafted the barrels where the whiskey would age). Guinness has a cooperage exhibit, but they certainly don't go into the names of their coopers. It's not about the little people, I'm afraid.

After the tour, Zach and mom were selected to learn how to be whiskey tasters. Whiskey tasting is a lot like wine tasting (swish it around the glass, inhale all the aromas, admire luster and glow and color), except that in whiskey tasting, you have to sip upon the liquefied fires of Hades. Hooooaaahhhh!

On mom and dad's almost-last-night, we took them up the mountain to Johnny Fox's, which offers a three-course meal and late-night traditional Irish music and dancing! They call it a Hooly Night. Our landlord warned us it would be a bit "twee," by which she meant twee-diddely-eye-dee-do (a.k.a. "touristy"). Twee or not, the Hooly was a blast! The musicians doubled as comedians and the Irish dancers tapped their way into our sentimental hearts.

Here are the photos (you see, what happens at the Hooly, does not stay at the Hooly)!

Beach Combing

One of the best things about living on the coast (at least for displaced desert-dwellers) is the chance to comb the beaches for its nautical treasures.

My parents both come from an Arizona mining town. My dad worked for a mining and smelting company for years. They continue to live in the midst of New Mexico's southern mining district. All of this combines to make my folks innate rock-hounds. I inherited their love for geologic wonder, and Zach shares this passion with gusto!

 So, needless to say, while my parents vacationed in Ireland, we spent a lot of time on the many beaches and coastlines, doing lots of beach combing! Shells, sea glass, chips and bits of who-knows-what-it-was-before-the-water-had-her-way-with-it!

 Here are some photos from our sandy sojourns!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Guest Post: The Adventures of Sam and Frodo

My parents have so far enjoyed/survived their first full week in Ireland. We've taken them to Glendalough, to Dublin, and to Waterford. We've roamed the piers and combed the beaches. My mother has probably acquired an illegal amount of shells and sea glass--enough to make the customs agent call the heritage office, I'll bet. 

They were sitting around our place checking email the other day when it struck me: my parents are like Hobbits! Anyone who saw them reading my sister's updates about their garden and their cat back home would have recognized the halfling's wistful yearning for home and hearth. Yes, they are in a foreign country for the first time in their lives (if you don't count Mexico), and yes, they are having a lovely time (especially if you count singing Johnny Cash tunes on the Dart with a group of raucous rugby-boys), but just like Sam and Frodo in Rivendell, they can't wait to be home. 

Today, they made their own fun in Dalkey village as Zach and I caught up on school work. And my mom has graciously accepted to do a guest-post on our blog! So without further ado, here's her chronicle of Hobbits in Dalkey.

We left the Prancing Pony in Sandycove today on our own. We went with Gandolph's directions and some from the inn keeper. We did a 10-mile walk to the shire of Dalkey and its castle. We were invited by the Lady and Lord of the castle to come in. The archer, Rupert, also gave us a tour of the Castle showing us the defenses on the keep and how to handle a long bow and cross bow. we were also schooled in other defenses of the murder hole where you pour boiling urine on the invading horde and drop rocks on their heads. 

"Guard the Loo" is what you say when you pour water down the loo so the people on the street know to move out of the way.

Anthony was treated to having his tooth pulled by the Lady of the Castle and also a blood-letting (not really!). It was all pretend but they showed us what life was like in the 1600's. 

We then ventured to the coast in Dalkey Bay next to Dalkey Island where you went if you were prisoner of the court. Currently there are only ferral goats, hares, and rats living on the island.

Now, I think we'll have a bit of a "lie-in" as we are two very tired Hobbits!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Gotta' Have a Sparkly?

Those who grew up loving Robert O'Brien's Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH, will surely remember the clutzy, love-eager crow, Jeremy, who's all about adorning his love-nest, should he one day meet that very special bird. All Jeremy wants is the "sparkly" Mrs. Frisby wears.

Well in honor of sparkly-lovers everywhere (which my mom and I are), we took a very educational day-trip out to Waterford to tour the House of Waterford Crystal Factory. We also went, in part, because I am researching glass for a creative nonfiction book I'd like to write for young readers.

Waterford was a lovely little city, with colorful Georgian houses (cereal boxes, as I like to call them). There would have been a wealth of Viking sites and history to enjoy (Waterford was reportedly Ireland's oldest Viking settlement), but we were on a tight time budget. Taking the earliest train out of Dublin, we arrived after 11 a.m. and would have to be back at the train station by 4:30 p.m. So, we scurried down the riverfront through freezing cold winds, stopping only momentarily at a 10th century Viking tower.

The factory tour was spectacular, though it had its flaws. There was a very silly "intro" in a dark room with lots of screens and mirrors where a montage of crystal imagery and fireworks disoriented us, then the two guides broke the really big group into two small groups. The small groups were still not quite small enough, so there was often much jockeying for good viewing positions, but it was on the cutting room floor that we were set free to wander between the different cutting stations and actually talk with the workers. One artisan actually let me stand behind him so I could see what it looked like as the cutting wheel chewed through the crystal.

The four of us (mom, dad, me, and Zach) were so engrossed that we fell far behind our tour group and missed out on a lot of the goings'on of the polishing and carving floor (oops).

Being on the floor and actually seeing the glass blowers pull out the molten glob and blow lava-bubbles with it...standing beside a cutter as he sliced intricate designs into the the delicate surface of the those are memorable experiences! And it made for one of the best tours of a facility I have ever been too! (So much better than Guinness Storehouse, where you don't actually see any brewing, just the endless deification of the company.)

After the tour, we braved the cold streets to find some grub before our train left. Unfortunately, what none of the tourist guide books tell you about Waterford is that nearly every eatery, carvery, and cafe shuts down from about 1-5 on Saturdays. Insert whatever reason you can think of for this anomaly here:..... Okay, so we sent mom and dad on to the train station and Zach and I raced through the streets until we found a pizzeria still open.

Why the urgent and dire-seeming hunt for food? Had all that glass slicing awakened our most primal instincts? No, just mine and Zach's finely developed instincts about traveling to Dublin late in the day. We knew we'd get back to Dublin Heuston Station in the evening and be nowhere near eateries. We'd have to take the Luas tram to any part of town where food exists, or else get all the way back to Sandycove and start making dinner. That could be as late as 9 p.m.! So to avoid a grumpy train ride where we fought like wolves over the last granola bar, Zach and I sprinted back to the station with warm paninis!

We got there just in time for the train, and as you'll see from the pictures, we ate, discussed the day's plunder, and rested in what I think may have been the good ol' Viking way! (Zzzzzzzzz.....)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Galway, Part 2: Lots of Stones

The inspiring experience with Al and Sinead over, we trekked up the hill to Aillwee Cave, a quirky (and much more heavily promoted than the bird walk) attraction in the Burren.

I'll admit right up front that childhood visits to Carlsbad Caverns has ruined both Jenny and me for other caves; the tour guide for this one didn't help the case, either. He was not happy to be working, and led us and a group of a dozen or so others through the cave at a rapid clip, flipping on lights in each new section and going through the limestone formations by rote. (You could call it the bare-bones tour, especially because in the cave are real bear bones! Of course, Jenny and I didn't get to see them... because we walked right past them before the guide bothered to say anything -- and no going back for us!)

These biases aside, Aillwee Cave is still a fascinating bit of geology. It's carved right through the solid limestone that comprises nearly all of the Burren; an ancient underground river carved a perfectly semicircular roof through the whole cave, and then went bonkers eking out other crevasses and chambers. The limestone is particularly suited to little stalactites and stalagmites, as the calcium components in it will practically leak out. Very lovely, if brief -- but don't worry, Carlsbad!

We must have been feeling pretty confident in my driving abilities, because rather than head straight back to Galway, we opted to continue several kilometers into the Burren to find the Poulnabrone portal tomb. Think one of the Stonehenge structures with a deeper entryway. We lucked out completely -- for a chunk of time, we were the only tourists there! In this karst land of melted tombstones (for so Jenny decided the limestone looked, and she's right), filled with clints and grikes (what are those? Look at our pictures and learn!), we felt transported back 5000 or 6000 years... and could not imagine who would have managed to live in this barren and windswept rock shelf!

Yet live people do... and cows, too. Never underestimate the cattle of the Burren. Real men eat stone-fed beef.

If we thought life in the Burren would be difficult, we were in for a real treat the next day when we took a ferry out to Inis Mor (pronounced IN-ish more), the largest of the three Aran Islands. We took a bus from Galway to the ferry docks and sailed out to the islands visible in the distance. The sea was calm, and surprisingly the air out on the open was warmer than on windy land! On the island, we met our pre-arranged tour guide at his van. Oliver was his name; Patrick Oliver, but he said that everybody on the island was named Patrick, so he went by his middle name. His family has lived on Inis Mor for seven generations! He drove us around, stopping at every scenic place to point out the landscape and the features of the island. (The island, I should say, is not by any means large; seeing it all by car in 2 hours was more than doable, and that includes our little stops!)

Our favorite stop by far was at Dun Aengus, the ancient circle fort atop the hill. What we didn't know was that the fort loomed atop a sharp cliff that slices into the ocean some 300 feet below! We could have laid there for hours, peering down over the edge, lulled by the distant sounds of crashing surf and seagulls far below. (Once again, I say: to the pictures!)

The next day we had the e-book launch of A Thoroughly Good Blue, so we decided to take it somewhat easy. We walked further out of the Galway city center than we had yet ventured, and we had a lovely (if windswept) walk along the beach, discovering different seashells than we find "back home" on the east coast. When the sun would come out, the water looked nearly Caribbean in its clearness, with white (limestone) sand and tropical hues of rich light blue and sea green. What a treat!

We enjoyed a great square meal in one of the city center pubs before getting ready for The Launch. The event could have gone wrong in so many ways, but thanks to some last-minute organizing it went off nearly hitch-less! Nuala Ni Chonchuir, an Irish writer, said some lovely things about our writing, and the readings all went wonderfully well! We celebrated with my classmates until a respectable hour (I'm definitely one of the "old farts" in my class), and then crashed back at the B&B. (For the final night, we were put in a properly-placed room upstairs. Oh, to wake without the sounds of the morning kitchen staff!)

The next morning we took the train back to D-town: tired, exhilarated, and educated. Which means that a wonderful time was had by all.

Galway, Part 1: Two Birds

[Note: I'm writing this post in June; we were in Galway at the end of April. We thought and talked so much about our time out there that I thought I had written a post. Nope, turns out there's just pictures. We're posting it with an April date just to keep things chronological.]

We'd figured long ago that we would get out to Galway and the rest of the central west coast during our Irish year. Then my class scheduled a launch of our writing anthology (the e-book version, at least) at the Cúirt literary festival in Galway, and we thought we might as well extend the visit to see more of the area. Kill two birds with one stone, as it were.

Actually, there were two birds, and there were lots of stones. I'm proud to say that the one did not slay the other.

We arrived Wednesday afternoon and got checked in to our B&B. (I swear the location of the room was meant for a broom closet, which they expanded before putting in windows and a bathroom!) Jenny, who after ten months around Dublin still doesn't know which way the ground is, took immediately to the layout of Galway as if she had ancestral instincts or some such knack. I, on the other hand, felt like Winnie the Pooh going in circles and always returning to the sand pit. So suffice it to say that Jenny was the official navigator.

Jenny had booked our next day's excitement ahead of time, in a magical place called The Burren, so we went about figuring out our transport. The promises buses weren't running in the month of April (don't ask), so we ended up renting a car.

Now, neither of us had ever driven a right-hand-drive automobile on the wrong side of the road. Suffice it to say that Jenny continued her excellent navigating, I only Mario-Karted off the curb once, and we were both assured by our possession of an Invincibility Star. (Read: full-coverage insurance. The Avis guy said, "You could bring back the car in a different shape altogether, if you wanted to. [Beat.] Please don't.")

The Burren was as amazing as promised. No -- more so. We arrived in plenty of time to the Burren Bird of Prey Centre, where the kindliest of men, a guy named Jim, took us falconing. (!!!!!!) While our Harris hawks were being brought out, we got to walk around and visit the other birds (see pictures), including a cat-like raven and a barn owl who flirted incessantly with us. Then Jim introduced us to Al and Sinead, two siblings just over a year old, and incredibly beautiful birds.

I can pretty well guarantee that I can't now do the experience justice. For me, the most thrilling part of the falconry lesson was the interaction with these two birds. Harris hawks are wonderfully social, which is why they're good for one-timers and novices; they don't require the same building of trust that other hawks and falcons do. Even so, one bad move and the trust is forever broken. We donned our thick leather gloves on our left hands, and the hawks perched there, eyeing us up and getting familiar with us. (They're not as heavy as I expected. About two pounds each.)

Then Jim led us into the light forest surrounding the Centre, and he taught us how best to let the birds loose, how to call them back (answer: with raw meat), and how much to feed them (it's a balance between keeping them interested in coming back, and not feeding them so much that they can't/won't fly); what sort of conditions were suitable (it was a windy day, so we stayed in the tree cover lest the birds get blown away from us) and how they navigate (surprisingly close to the ground, using the trees -- and us -- for cover); how to ensure a safe landing for both bird and person (arm straight out to the side) and what to do when both birds go for the same piece of meat (try to retract the arm so neither gets it; otherwise, you'll get a hawk-fight on your arm -- which we sure did).

Jenny and I were both shocked at how the birds swooped over the forest floor, and how they landed on our arms -- always swooping upward, never landing downward. We both had expected the pouncing bird of prey image that you'll see in drawings and bad tattoos. Yet we've been watching birds ever since, and almost all of them will try to land by flying up. Pretty cool! We also never expected hawks to be ground-hunters; apparently, bugs constitute a fair bit of their diet, and these birds (particularly Sinead) would tear at the turf with their talons, pulling up clumps of dirt and smashing them apart by stomping on them.

Al was the smaller of the two birds, which is typical with males, and therefore lower down in the pecking order. Yet he would constantly pick on Sinead, try to steal her food and land on her perch and torment her when he didn't get his way. A couple times, his sister had to re-establish her dominance. One of these times ended up with a wrestling match on the ground. When the birds were still, sitting back on their tailfeathers with their wings spread out around them, they almost looked like two figures lounging in facing armchairs. Then they would resume fighting -- primarily by planting their talons squarely on the other's chest and kicking. Jim let them duke it out for a while, then when Sinead appeared to have asserted herself, he stepped in and separated them. They were like two dogs in the same pack fighting, though -- neither was injured. They knew just how hard to peck and kick without actually inflicting damage!

Al might have been a pesky little brat. Sinead was an equally pesky, slightly larger brat. She would get her mind set on some object -- usually a piece of branch, or a small log -- and refuse to let it go. Watching Jim try to coax one piece of wood in particular from her was hysterical. He would get it from her grasp, and quicker than quick she would have it back again! He finally distracted her with food while simultaneously taking and hiding the stick... and even then, I wasn't convinced she wouldn't show up with it again later!

I could talk about these birds for hours. Believe it or not, there were many other parts of the trip, too. I'll get to those in another post very soon. (Do go look at the pictures here, if you want the visuals!)

UPDATE: Part 2 is here for your reading pleasure.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Karsks, Hawks, and the Land of (melted) Tombstones

We will have a full post on this soon, but just for visual delight, we wanted to upload our pictures from:
Falconry 101 (Zach and Jenny learn to handle Harris Hawks)
Ailwee Cave (spelunking in under 15 minutes)
Poulnabrone (a portal tomb dating back 5,000 years)
Galway (the most adorable and quintessential of Irish far)
Inis Mor (the largest of the Aran Islands) a.k.a. The Land of Melted Tombstones

Enjoy the pictures!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Bloomin' Sun is Out

With campus looking oh-so beautiful, there was nothing for it, but to sit outside and read. Well, Zach got to enjoy that. I had a meeting with my dissertation advisor, but I did manage to take these pictures on my way inside!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Awesome Auspices

Just a heads up about the awesome events appearing on our calendar for next week: Zach's program is putting out an anthologized collection of their writing and the ebook version is being launched in Galway late next week.

We'll be traveling out to Galway and seeing some sights in the days just before the launch. Exciting stops on our itinerary include:
  • The city of Galway itself, a sort of literary capital in Ireland 
  • Coole Park, once the home of Lady Augusta Gregory, now a 405-hectare nature reserve! 
  • The Burren, a natural wonder showcasing some of the most amazing mixtures of Ireland's topography. From limestone mountains to megalithic tombs, this stop is sure stun! 
  • Ailwee Cave, a fascinating underworld of chasms, tunnels, and honeycomb chambers (think Carlsbad Caverns, without the bats) 
We're also making arrangements to participate in a beginner falconry event, whereby we go into the hazel wood forests of the Burren and learn to summon a trained hawk to perch on our arm, fly away, retrieve things, and return.

With all this excitement on the horizon, be sure to check back for pictures and posts-aplenty.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A "Wilde" Visitor

The day after Zach's happy-travelin' family departed for America, Zach and I played host to another visitor: Gianna May! I met Gianna when she came to work for me in the front office of the Honors Program at UNM. Now, if ever a manager wants proof that she was not a tyrannical jerk, an overseas visit from a former employee surely qualifies.

Gianna has spent the opening months of 2012 attending the University of Leeds in England on a semester-abroad trip. She added Ireland to her list of places to see during her month-long spring break (American students reading this are no doubt bellowing that they want/deserve/need a month-long spring break)!

She arrived in Sandycove bright and early on a Monday. Zach was stuck in class, but I was free to take Gianna south to walk the legendary Bray head, a pathway meandering along the steep cliffs between Bray and Greystones. Before hopping on the DART, we checked the online tourist maps, which assured us the path ended in or near Greystones city center, which seemed the perfect place for us to have lunch and then head back for dinner back home. What is that saying about the best of plans...?

The day could not have been more lusciously sunny! We strolled along the pebbly beach of Bray and then made our way up the steep hillside to the cliffs. At one point, I spotted a trail leading into an irresistibly mysterious and Byronically romantic thicket of gorse (the yellow-blossomed scrub brush you see all over the island). Gianna made for an all-too willing adventure accomplice! I was once her fearless leader in the work place, after all. What could be the harm in following me now, right? (If my mother is reading this right now, she's already sighing and remembering the time I got myself lost in the Apache National Forest in Arizona...)

We schlepped uphill, bent in half to traverse the trail through the low-hanging gorse boughs, and eventually emerged in a clearing. To our relief, we saw other humans on the trails up ahead. Those trails wound ever-upward until we arrived at the craggy bald top of the cliffs. We took some stunning photos, saw open pastures where wild horses roamed, and looked out on a seascape that took away what little breath we had left. Getting down to the main trail was a challenge. Our feet were tired. Our bellies were empty, but for the paltry snacks I had packed. And our water supply was half-consumed.

At last Gianna and I found what looked like a prominent and frequently traveled path that we believed would take us back to the cliff-walk and then on to Greystones. It didn't. It did take us through farms and fields. We had to climb a few fences and ignore a few "no trespassing" signs, until we arrived at an actual cluster of houses and a genuine (paved) road. Making a random guess, I chose to turn left. Turns out I was right to do so. I think. After a half-mile, we did pass the endpoint of the cliff-walk (where we would have emerged had I not diverted us through the gorse). But this was not in Greystones city center, as the maps suggested. We walked and walked until we found a grocery store where one of the employees pointed us to the bus route that would get us to Greystones proper (some 20 minutes away!!!).

We boarded the bus and told the driver to please let us off near the DART station in the city center. He kindly agreed to and then unkindly forgot. It wasn't until we were in Kilcoole that discovered us, like stowaways. So, long story short, we DID make it back to Sandycove. Gianna seemed very forgiving of the fact that I nearly got us lost and/or starved/dehydrated to death!

The next day of her visit, Zach and I both had class, so Gianna boarded a tour bus bound for the Hill of Tara and Newgrange. We recommended this trip, having done it already for Zach's birthday back in September. We reconnected with Gianna later that evening and got to hear about what a great time she had over dinner.

Wednesday was finally a time for all three of us to check out Dublin. We took Gianna to see the secret wonders and horrors of St. Michen's Church. You should have seen this budding historian's eyes light up when they took us underground to see...(but wait, I can't spoil the surprise for my parents...). Then we wandered the scenic quays, enjoyed the Winding Staircase bookshop, saw the sites along O'Connell, then on to Trinity to see the Long Room library and Book of Kells.

We were then bound for seeing Oscar Wilde's House, which Gianna was looking forward to (Wilde being one of her favorite authors). Sadly, we found that they no longer do tours of the house. To make up for it, we stopped off at the park across the street which as a statue of Wilde sprawled in what can only be described as pimp-style on a huge boulder. Gianna scaled this boulder like it was a jungle-gym in order to pose for pictures beside her idol. We also read aloud many of Wilde's famous quotes collected on nearby sculpture installations. (Of particular delight was the one about how it becomes increasingly impossible to live up to the standards of one's blue China tea set.)

With the four and five o'clock hours swiftly approaching (threatening to shut down all the other points of interest on our itinerary), we scuttled off to the National Museums to see the bog bodies on display. Besides those macabre marvels, we saw the stunning collections of weapons, artifacts, and gold jewelry taken from various hordes from around the island. We then stopped in some shops for a bit of souvenir shopping, wandered through the famous Temple Bar district, stopping in at the best, new candy shop in Dublin (Aunt Nellie's) before circling back to the Porterhouse where a few of Zach's classmates joined us just after dinner for the traditional "last night in Dublin" celebration!

Eventually, we made it home so that Gianna would catch a few winks before taking a very early cab to the port where a ferry awaited to shepherd her to the next portion of her traveling adventures (which I believe was Wales and London)! It was so wonderful to have her visit and we so very glad I did not get her killed somewhere between Bray, Greystones, and Kilcoole.    

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Dingle Hoppers

While a delegation of my folks (Father, Sister Kaci, Sister Aja, Sister Ali, and Friend Natalie -- a regular ecclesiastical troupe) were visiting us in mid-March, we all took off for a three-night stay on one of the western fingers of Ireland. Dad had originally hoped to road-trip over most of the island during the week here, but cautionary suggestions from us and a firm smack upside the head from reality reminded him that if he wanted to see anything but the wrong side of the road, he'd be wise to pick a single mid-week destination and stick with it.

So Dingle Peninsula it was! And what a beautiful choice, too. (Check out our Dingle Photo Album) The Five Faithful Followers braved the hazards of right-hand drive, and Jenny and I took the train and bus there. (See Jenny's last post for a description of the Southwestern-esque views.) Night fell as we arrived in the town of Dingle and joined the rest of the fam at the Alpine House B&B. We did a bit of dusky wandering, discovered that much of Dingle doesn't open on Tuesday evenings unless it's tourist season (which is decidedly not mid-March), and ended up dining in an excellent jazz and pizza joint. The entire place felt like it was lit by blue and black candles, and the French proprietor started quizzing us on the artists once Jenny pegged Django. Pizza was great, music was groovin', and the Dingle Hop had begun. (I even got a compliment for pronouncing properly the French wine I ordered! But I'm really surprised Zach has not shared here the long-winded topic of dinner conversation, which had everyone reduced to tears of hilarity... Well, if he won't blow the lid off this one, I suppose I can't.)

The next morning the Clerical Quintet went horse(pony)back riding, and Jenny and I stayed behind in the hotel to do some writing (grad students are cursed that blessed. I mean blessed). That afternoon, Jenny, Natalie, and the Sisters Three went shopping (and they spoke not a word of it to me hence), and Dad and I holed up in the renowned, National-Geographic'd, half-leatherman's and shoe shop and half pub called Dick Mack's. This was such a great atmosphere for a pint -- rooms behind/within/upon rooms, wood older than Dick Mack himself, a coal fire, and Sean, the artist-in-residence. Dad and Sean got to talking about priorities in life and the very meaning of existence. It was a trip.

That night, reunited, we enjoyed dinner in a different pub (apparently Wednesday nights are better for opening than Tuesdays) before shifting down to O'Sullivan's for the only live music we could find in town. I'll be honest, the ladies playing sounded lovely, but it was far from the best trad music Jenny and I have heard here. (When the Sligo festival is the point of comparison, I suppose we're ruined.) The fam all seemed to enjoy themselves, though, and we got to try the local brew -- Tom Crean's Lager. This beer was actually as creamy as its name almost suggests, which I never expected from a lager. The combination was pleasantly enjoyable. Heck, we were tickled just to find a craft beer!

If only we knew what awaited us the next night. But first, we had to brave the Great Slea Head Drive of Fog, Frustration, and Near Doom. (The Friars Fünf thought that the drive was perilous; Jenny and I figured Grendel's descendant was just waiting behind some damp boulder to tear our arms from our bodies as reparation.) Despite the view-blocking fog, the drive around the peninsula awed and oohed us. (Pictures of several stops on this tour will be on the pics page!) That afternoon, folks were just about Dingled out. There was much napping, until high time for Dad and me to go get a pint at Foxy John's. "Who needs shoes?" Foxy John's says. "We've got beer, hardware, and all your bicycling needs!" That's right: this pub felt like half bar, half your grandpa's garage. Jenny swapped out with Dad at one point, so that Dad could go wake up the Cinco Sisters (by this point, Natalie was pretty much another sibling). We had dinner at the Canteen, highly recommended by the barkeep at Dick Mack's.

The food was ohhh so good. I've been craving pork and applesauce ever since. But this place really promoted the Irish craft beers... which we didn't even know existed. I swear they didn't. I had an Eight Degrees porter, Jenny had the richest, sweetest hard cider, and the night was beautiful.

After we peeled ourselves out of the Canteen, we went back to the jazzy pizza joint for some live tango-jazz and a glass of wine to wind down the night. Our favorite French proprietor was in absentia, but still, his establishment provided the perfect wind-down to a relaxing and adventurous Dingle getaway. (Thanks for making it happen, Dad!)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rachel Sermanni at Whelan's Upstairs, March 9

Several months ago, Jenny and I went to see Elvis Costello at Sligo Live. If you read the post about our trip to Sligo, you may remember that we were absolutely stunned by the musical talent of Costello's opening act, a young Scottish woman named Rachel Sermanni.

When we caught word that Sermanni was going to put on a show here in Dublin, of course we jumped all over the chance to buy tickets. We'd purchased her first EP at the Sligo concert, and while it's lovely, it's far from representative of this girl's range. She's a true live performer, and in case she never makes it over the pond (though we really think she could be huge), we wanted to take the chance to see her sing one more time.

The show was at Whelan's Upstairs, which is just the upstairs portion of Whelan's, a decent-sized and apparently pretty well-known bar and performance space. It's got an old and half-renovated feel to it (apparently the current owners took over partway through a renovation, and rather than keep the place shut to finish, they decided to open anyway and have live music every night). We'd never been there before, so we didn't know what to expect. Seedy bar? Standing-room-only rock and roll room? Rows of folding chairs?

We were, to say the least, surprised to see the show would be held in a fairly small room, the stage all of six inches off the ground, with the audience seated at eight or ten low candlelit tables and the rest perched on stools in the back of the room. The crowd couldn't have been more than fifty or sixty people. The walls were brick, you could hear traffic through the window and the bar crowd through the opposite wall -- and yet, all of that only added to the charm and the ambiance.

This was the kind of place in which, if the musicians ever hit the big-time, you'd be proud to say you saw them when.

Jenny and I had eaten dinner at Messrs Maguire on the Liffey quays beforehand, and while we were less-than-enthused about the beer (not that it was bad -- it was, as Jenny said, "paint-by-number beers" -- and at least it was one of the rare brewpubs here), the meal had been good. We wanted to take the evening light, so we ordered our ciders, sat at a table right at the front and just stage right of center, and enjoyed the feel of a true date night. (Hey, dinner, a candlelit show, and me wearing a jacket counts as one hell of a date night!)

The opening act, another young Scottish musician, was a perfectly decent singer and keyboardist. I'll be honest, though, I've already forgotten his name; his voice had those high, frail, sappy qualities to them that seem to be "in" now and for the past couple years, but that will probably be out of fashion by 2014. Rachel Sermanni came on -- performing solo this time, without the ladies who had accompanied her in Sligo -- and despite seeming so tiny and so young, she commanded the stage and our attention.

I'll link to the videos below, so you can see for yourself. (These videos are probably about a third of the total show -- there were a few songs, like the one called something like "I Have a Girl," that I wish I could have captured.) Sermanni has impressive range -- of volume, of soulfulness, of fingerwork on the guitar, of songwriting styles. She showed off much of her talents, and did a fair bit of chatting between songs. (Who knew she was so hilarious? Jenny found her hysterical -- listen for her laughter on a couple of the tracks on YouTube.)

The Fog


a pirate song

the burger-van song (our new favorite)


On the way out, we absolutely did NOT peel a poster off the notice board, roll it up, slip it out, and hang it on our door at home. We'd be awesome if we had, though.

And Rachel, if you should ever read this: Please put out a full-length album or four. They'd do you so much more justice than a four-song EP.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Into the Crypts and Through the Looking Glass

(I'm hoping Zach will get on and post about how awesome Rachel Sermanni's show was, but we did get some recordings up on our Live wEIRe link, so check 'em out in the meantime.)

Monday morning, we took Randy, Kaci, Aja, Ali, and Natalie for a whirlwind tour of Dublin. (For those who don't know, that list comprises a portion of Zach's sisters except for Randy and Natalie).

Our first stop, after strolling the Quays (pronounced keys) along the River Liffey, was St. Michen's church, which was said to have inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula. It is also one of Dublin's best kept sightseeing stops. The tour guide was hilarious! He took us down into the burial crypts under the church to see mummies in open coffins. Some of the mummies were 800-900 years old. Not ancient Egypt, but a no less gory experience! Other crypts had skulls lining the floor. Others had caskets piled on caskets--some of which had broken open, leaving a severed leg and foot for us to gawk at! The tour guide also allowed us to enter one of the chambers with the mummies and we touched the hand of a Crusader for good luck! If you've never touched the rotting appendages of a mummy...all I can say is geeeyyaaaahhhhggggggg. Creepy!

After that we wandered the uh, well, wonders of O'Connell Street: the Writer's Museum and Centre, Garden of Remembrance complete with a statue of the Children of Lir, the Abbey Theater, and the General Post Office. We also stopped and gave appropriate oohh's and aww's to the stiffy on the Liffey or the stiletto in the ghetto: the giant millennium needle erected during Ireland's boom years.

We trickled down to Trinity College where we showed them around the campus a bit and then whisked them into the Long Room (ancient library), which is always a happy place for a couple of bookworms like me and Zach. With class and homework still in progress, we had to let our family guests peel off and tour St. Stephen's Green, Marrion Square and other such wonders on their own, but we did meet up again to dine at Porterhouse in the Temple Bar district. It was a great night after a great day!

Yesterday, we traveled to Dingle. Zach and I had to go by train because we still had classes and such, while Randy and the girls drove across the island!

While traversing the landscape Zach noticed something spectacular: how similar some of the hilly scenes and houses were to New Mexico. Even the yellow scrub brush looks like our coppery creosote. I suddenly realized that what might have attracted us to Ireland was its bizarre similarity to our homeland. Where we have sand, they have grass, but otherwise, it is a bald, barren, and lonely landscape with miles and miles to go. For just a moment I realized we had stepped through the looking glass!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Whelan's and Family Visit Extravaganza!

Tonight, Zach and I are headed in to Dublin to see Rachel Sermanni play at Whelan's Pub.

Rachel, as many readers know, charmed us back in October when she opened for Elvis Costello at the Sligo Live Music Festival. She gave a great show, and proved herself to be a powerfully hypnotic singer. I always think that she sings the way some people embroider thread, for the way she works her voice back and forth through the air, intricately designing sounds and textures.

With any luck we'll put up a post and share some video clips from the performance. (You can always check out our video feeds by clicking on the Live wEIRe--like live wire--link over on the right panel of this blog.)

As for the venue, I think we're in for a treat there as well. Where Whelan's now sits has been the site of a pub of one kind or another since 1772. Since 1999, according to their website, Whelan's has been nurturing local artists and international performers. They keep it rockin' seven nights a week!

By this time Sunday we should be welcoming a large delegation of Zach's family to Ireland. His dad, Randy, three (of four) sisters, and one sister's chum fly in to Dublin late Sunday morning and should arrive to Sandycove by early afternoon. We can't wait to show them around or little village!

Monday, we'll go sightseeing around Dublin and the rest of the week promises to be full of adventures and explorations of other parts of the island. Which of course means more travel posts and lots of eye-boggling pictures!

Until then, keep your whistles wet and your boots dry, in all fairness like.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Adventures in Rivendell

This time of year in Ireland is that magical period called Reading Week, when students don't have to go to class and get to screw around by tootling all over the continent really far ahead on their schoolwork for the rest of the term.

Jenny and I are two of the only people on the island treating reading week at face value. We've been doing so much reading and writing and catching up and trying to get ahead that we wonder how we ever do this with silly classes and stuff in the way.

But we promised ourselves that, no matter how much work was staring us down, we would get out of town for part of the week. We tossed around several more remote locations, and then we recalled the recommendations of several native-Irish friends.

So Glendalough it was.

The pronunciation varies depending on who you talk to (some say Glendalock and others Glendalow) (some even say Glenda-lahhhhhcccchhh, which much phlegm), but across the board, everyone agreed that it was one of the most beautiful places in Ireland, and ultimately very close and accessible.

Accessible might be debatable--it's not reachable by train or public bus, and requires at least two legs of journey no matter how you slice it (we took the train and a cab there, a private bus and the DART home)--but the beauty was absolutely understated.

We were truly stunned, and yet we felt right at home, nestled between mountains (for you Albuquerque folks, =decently big hills) and a whole range of spruce, rowan, birch, and other trees. Glendalough is part of the giant Wicklow national park, and we feared that this portion of it would be too large to see in a day. Not so -- we took pretty much the whole thing in during one afternoon, and we dallied and lingered and soaked it all up much more leisurely than many folks. Jenny is the master of capturing the majesty and the nuance of places like this, so I'll leave the real descriptions to her and tackle the itinerary myself. (My comments are in italics, just like on our old beer blog. I've restricted my gushing descriptions to a poem at the end of the post.)

Since pictures are worth a thousand words, enjoy the slideshow before reading on:

Right behind the visitor's center is a cemetery and ancient monastic settlement. While none of the remaining structures are this old, monks first moved in during the 6th century! Still standing are several buildings without roofs (and varying amounts of walls), like the old cathedral, part of a monastery, and part of a house. Then there's the classic Irish tower. And the cemetery is who knows how old. Of the dozens (hundreds?) of legible headstones, several date as far back as the late 1700s, but then many standing rocks are so eroded as to be blank. And who knows how many people are buried among the others without markers?

History nerds buffs though we are, we were really itchin' to get to the nature bits. The two lakes (Glendalough means "glen of two lakes") are fed by a number of streams, most prominently the [Jenny help me out here! (She shrugs with a giant question mark floating overhead)]. The water in the lakes and most of the streams is dark, yet absolutely clear.

Along the path, several little rivulets come trickling down the hill. One caused a noticeable, if small, waterfall, and we joked that maybe this was the waterfall we had heard so much about. (It wasn't.) We ate our picnic lunch by the second lake.
Here's video from the lake, showing just how tranquil it was:

Then we explored a truly surreal pine tree before climbing the hill next to the real waterfall.

Atop the hill, where two creeks join together before tumbling down to the lakes below, Jenny and I lingered among the moss, the trees, the pine cones, the clovers, and the constant rush of mountain water. We even crossed over by jumping on stones to get to the triangular dell in the middle of the fork!

The walk back was just as beautiful, and completely different, because the sun's new angle cast the whole landscape into a new dimension. When we got to the visitor's center, we decided to treat ourselves--so we visited the hotel next to the monastic site (ah, tourism) and had coffee with a "brownie" (=light chocolate cake) and mint chocolate chip ice cream on top!

Then we got to be kids. Like, completely and totally kids. In the adjacent grass field was a typical grass maze-looking thing (a snaking path in a circular pattern cut into the grass). We chased each other through it. We played tag. We played follow-the-leader. We spun around in circles until we made our heads hurt! That's when we remembered that our bodies are grown up, even if our spirits aren't always.

The sun was dipping behind the mountains by this time, though it wouldn't officially set for another hour or two. We boarded the bus, stayed cuddled up as we caught the train in Bray just in time, and disembarked in Dalkey instead of Sandycove. On purpose, mind you--we wanted to continue the day's adventure by walking home from the opposite side!

Collected Impressions of Glendalough
by the feral minds of Jenny and Zach 

The deep fissures of the valley, 
etched by the finger of some God, 
as easily as a child might scrape tunnels through mud. 
We looked across the flat, rippling belly of the lake 
to where the mountains spread like thighs in the distance. 
We find a tree standing not on a central trunk, 
but on a pillar of dark, flowing tresses.
The branches dip 
like the branches on a candelabras.
For the moment, we alight.

(Credit for the phrase and concept of "feral minds" belongs to V.B. Price)