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!