* yes, there should be FIVE sets of boots but Allen ignored my advice to get adequate rain gear...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Trim Castle

We visited Trim Castle today in a very Irish drizzle to shower.  The children took it in turns to express their lack of team spirit so I missed a good bit of both what the tour guide was saying and reading the placards.  Since this is a far from rare occurrence, we've started springing for the 50 cent visitor's guides put out by the Office of Public works.  We can then later find out what it is that we saw and wholeheartedly endorse this strategy if you find yourself touristing with children.

The thing that keeps knocking me in the face is the saying about how "100 years is old to an American and 100 miles is far to an Englishman."  This church from the 1700s (I think) would be considered highly historic in an American town.

These shops are built on the doorstep of a 11th century castle.

I saw cross country practice next to the ruins of a medieval Abbey.

N R 1771
This graffiti from inside the keep is older than the Constitution and was written AFTER the castle was re-built 3 (or maybe 4) times, hosted 15th century Parliaments, and was abandoned to Cromwell's army in 1649.
Cambell 1743

Obviously, the best part of a castle is jumping on the drainage grate.

While touring, the big kids lead the way...

while Noah brings up the rear.

We had to wait for about 30 minutes, huddled under the trim gate which used to be where they pulled up the drawbridge, for the official tour of The Keep to begin.  Megan and I decided to venture out and I couldn't help but imagine what an incredible backdrop the ruins of the Barbican Gate would be for a small wedding.  I keep being surprised we don't see more bridal photo shoots at all these picturesque castle ruins but I suppose I can understand why outdoor shoots are rather rare in Ireland.

I did get to listen to the tour in the chapel.  These were 2 openings to keep the holy water.  After it was used, there were drains that made their way to the outside of the castle walls where they then drained down the walls to return to the earth- the only acceptable disposal of holy water.  Interestingly, the clergy would accompany their lords in battle.  However, they were not allowed to draw blood.  So, they were only allowed to use clubs and maces.  Inflicting death via concussion was apparently fine according to the powers that be.

I've got gadgets and gizmos aplenty...*

Sorry for 2 tech posts in a row.  Trim Castle is coming next with plenty of misty Ireland images!

I have come to a whole new level of appreciation of my electronic gadgets in Ireland- especially my iPhone.  I don't actually use it to make calls since I don't have the international thingy that makes it work here.  Also, iPhones have a tendency to get stolen in Dublin.  Allen had his taken in the first few days we were here.  Someone in need of quick cash (often a person addicted to something) whizzes around on a bike and plucks phones out of people's hands- even while they are talking on them.  They then take it to someone else who wipes the phone and sells it.  So, Allen and I both have fairly cheap phones that we use for actual phone calls.  Anywho...

I didn't bring any paper books to Ireland. (gasp!)  Before we moved, I checked to be sure I could use the Dublin library system and planned to just borrow books.  But, I haven't been terribly impressed by the library system here or, more precisely, the librarians.  Never have I had so many encounters with people working at libraries that make you keenly aware that they are in fact civil servants rather than people who want nothing more than to unite you with the perfect book.  Using the local library tends to make me more homesick than just about anything else.

Luckily, since we are still residents of Blacksburg, I can check out e-books from our library back home.  They have a fairly good collection and it's growing by the month.  I also downloaded the free kindle app so I can buy books from Amazon.

I already really appreciated my phone as a book while I was rocking and nursing Noah- it's much easier to hold a phone than an actual book and no page turning to distract the baby!  But, it's been even more helpful over here since Noah is sleeping in our room.  An eReader means that I can read in bed without waking him.  Plus, any book I buy can come home with us without me worrying about weight restrictions, etc.  I'm getting a kindle for Christmas and can't wait!

The second thing I have really found helpful while abroad is twitter.  I can manage to read 140 characters while also caring for 3 young children.  I have it set up as basically a personalized news service through some fairly selective "following."  This allows me to keep up with what's happening in the US and even Blacksburg without wading through a bunch of newspaper homepages or a clunky rss feed with all sorts of poorly formatted news that I'm not interested in.  The very short nature of tweets makes it easy to skim and I can still click a link to read a full story.

A few follow suggestions for those that are twitter unsure :-)

The only news feed I follow is the BBC World service.  I've found this especially helpful with the political races heating up.  But, since it is the world coverage I also get links to bits and pieces of news all over the world.  It's not enough if you're a political junkie but tends to be as much information as I can really process at this stage of my life.  It's a strategy worth considering if you want to stay informed but not overly informed and one that I had already started employing back in the US.

The town of Blacksburg isn't unique in using twitter.  I subscribe to their feed and stay up on the biggest happenings.  When we live there, it lets me know where there will be road closures and the like.

I adore tweets by Neil deGrasse Tyson.  He's an astrophysicist with a magpie mind who is always putting out little science nuggets.  He is totally worth following!  I also follow a few museums.  The Air and Space is always sending out "on this day" sorts of things and the other Smithsonians will often link to unusual or interesting collections and the like.

A fair number of countries have national twitter accounts that are curated for a week by different people.  It's a fun way to find out what's happening in everyday life around the world.

*It's from the Little Mermaid

Keep them busy!

One of the things that we have struggled with a bit is the combination of not really knowing anyone, rain, and limited space so the children have been playing on the iPad quite a bit.  I tend to be pretty picky about what I'm willing to let the children play and I know the quest for decent iPad apps for the under 5 set is eternal so I thought I would share our top 5 picks.  FYI, Charlie is 6, Megan is 4, and Noah just turned 2.

First is anything by Shoe the Goose.  We have cookie doodle and donut doodle and the children spend ages playing them.  The children can pick from all sorts of dough, cookie cutters or types of donuts to decorate.  Or, they can make them from scratch, cracking eggs, shaking salt, cutting butter and then baking or frying before making them lovely.  Noah took a little while to get the hang of making them from scratch but can now do the whole process independently from start to finish.  The older children caught on right away.

Another family favorite is Robot Lab by Toca Boca.  The children build a robot and then fly it around a maze to collect stars.  At the end of the maze, it's wisked away by a giant magnet.  Noah does well with the robot building but the maze section is usually a joint effort between Noah and one of the older children.  It's a great way to allow your children to play collaboratively.

Farm School and Earth School are both put out by Yateland games.  Farm School is a great choice for under 3s- Noah loves it.  It has a bunch of very simple matching and find the animal games.  Earth School is better for slightly older children.  Children play a series of games that progress from the big bang through the evolution of dinosaurs- FYI this isn't a great pick if you are a strict creationist.

Make Me Music by FeeFiFoFun is a simple app where the children can "play" all manner of instruments varying from digeridoos to pots and pans.  It sounds like it would be misery on a parent's ears but it's not bad at all.  The children can even save their compositions and send them off to their grandmother.

Finally, a tie in the least likely contender category.  Both Spanish Cards by eFlash and Cula Caint are basic language flashcard apps.  You would think they would be the dullest "games" ever but the children actually really like them.  Spanish is, um, Spanish and Cula Caint is Irish.  The first several times, Noah kept arguing with the iPad about what a "bus" or whatever was called but he eventually came around.  The children pick a category (transportation is a favorite), touch the screen and a voice says the word in Spanish or Irish.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Come on over, come on over, baby.

Now that I've gotten some Christina (or if you prefer some Rosemary) stuck in your head...

I get a lot of comments about how jealous people are of me.  To be honest, I'm jealous of me!  Well, except for the last couple of days where it's been around 7 (45') and pouring.  It's supposed to clear today due to the "fresh to gale force" breezes.  So.

I think Ireland makes a great tourist destination for Americans especially if you've always dreamed of going to Europe but cost and language have held you back.

  • In my experience, Ireland is a European country that really likes Americans.  This is a country with a long memory which mostly works to our advantage.  Among other things- we both fought our way out of colonialism and the US was the first country to establish diplomatic ties with Ireland.  America is still a land of prosperity and opportunity where young people think about going to start a wonderful new life (Friends is popular here)
  • The Irish tend to be astoundingly friendly, helpful and kind- unless they are driving and then a friend summed it up best.  "Well, if a driver actually hits you he would definitely be in trouble."  Generally, though, they exhibit a depth of good grace while you figure out which one is the correct coin; they tell you the best place to get a pint; or they take your picture in front of a statue/building/scenic view.  
  • The country is around the size of West Virginia so you can actually see a pretty big hunk of it in a week or so- especially if you take some of the great rail tours. 
  •  The costs in Dublin are a little higher than in my small town but aren't out of line for big cities.  I find most of them reasonably commensurate with New York city pricing.  Plus, the Euro is on the weak side of the dollar at the moment.  
  • Being lost is a part of the local culture and won't mark you for a mugging.  Dublin is over a 1000 years old and the layout of the city shows it.  The only place I've been with more odd twists, turns, and alleys that don't go anywhere is Cairo which is, notably, even older.  The streets and "corners" (it's rare to find a 90' angle here) aren't terribly well marked, the bus schedule is considered to be fairly inscrutable and the local rail system only posts the final destination for the trains.  This means that anyone who isn't hyperlocal is often slightly lost.  I get asked regularly what the next stop is and how to find XYZ street by people who are clearly native.  Bus drivers, train staff, and locals on the street would find it odd if they didn't get asked for help.
  • The fare to Ireland is not a pittance but it's not completely out of reach if you plan and save up- think once every 10 years sort of trip rather than never in this lifetime.  It looks like a fare of around $800 is pretty achievable and it occasionally dips into the 700s.  That's more than a week at Disney (for one person) but not that much more and about the same if you fly to Florida rather than drive.  It runs neck and neck with prices for flights to Hawaii and I'm reasonably certain hotels and food are a lot less expensive here.  I get the impression that Ireland will be pushing for more flights (and perhaps a drop in prices?) for the next year or so in anticipation of The Gathering  If you don't ever take a vacation, maybe now is the time to start.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder!
Dream big and pack an extra sweater!

and maybe some long underwear

yes, even in July


Monday, September 24, 2012

Care Packages

My mother likes to send care packages about once a month.  The list of things that she can send for the children is endless but she is desperate for something she can send to Allen and me.  The children want fairly simple things like band aids with characters they recognize, special paper napkins to put in their lunch (all I can find are the standard sort), and clothing that is theoretically available in Dublin but difficult for me to access with travel and knowledge restrictions.  Allen and I are mostly embracing that this is a year of NEW.  This is our one chance to easily access sticky toffee pudding, freshly baked soda bread, and slightly odd yogurts.  A care package is really intended to be a little slice of home; of what you miss but the thing is that what I miss isn't easy to package up.

I miss knowing the things you don't even think about; knowing how to write the date- here it is d/m/y; knowing where to go to buy pretty much anything; knowing if I take Noah to the doctor or the chemist for his diaper rash; knowing which is the dime and which is the penny and which is, in fact, 2 euros.

I miss the appliances that make my housewifely role so much simpler- my rice cooker, stand mixer, slow cooker, salad spinner, and an oven with a reasonably accurate thermometer; 

Today was 8 C (45F) with pouring rain and wind.  By the time I had made the 20 minute walk to get Noah, 15 to get the big kids and then another 15 minute walk to get us all home, it was clear that I really should have invested in a fisherman's slicker when I got those rain boots.  On days like this, I miss my car even though preschool pickup becomes a Darwinian masterpiece and a bubble bath would have been heaven.

We can't figure out why the house is always cold.  I finally bought a thermometer so we could be more systematic about turning on the heat only to discover that the house feels cold when it is 70 degrees.  The only thing we can figure is that it has something to do with the damp.  I searched google for insight since my only real experience with humidity is with the opposite problem to find that there is little scientific consensus on the issue of damp cold.  The best I could find was here and even then it is muddled.  With my decidedly limited science background (I ran into the welcoming bosom of the social sciences as soon as they would have me), I have come down in the heat transfer camp i.e. water transfers heat more efficiently than air and so it's like the air is sweating for you which is really less than helpful when that wasn't really what your body wanted.

I miss the familiar and the cultural knowledge.  I'm forever having to ask about how various holidays are celebrated and how things are taught.  The constant translation from Irish to English which seems so innocuous until you read the school supplies list.

I miss streets laid out in a grid or something approaching it.  I miss street signs and well marked anything.

I miss take-out that isn't breaded and fried.  I got a vegetarian gyro in an attempt to skip the breaded and fried only to get what I think was fried breading.

I miss the diversity you find in the US.  I hadn't really realized how varied we are until coming here.  Most of the population looks vaguely similar in a way you don't find in the US.  For a while I thought I must be exaggerating or mistaken but every time I would look around and think, "Oh, there's a difference in hair; style; coloring; anything," I would then realize that the person was speaking a foreign language.  Other cultures are most certainly represented but you don't see that complete mish mash that you find in America.  The on-line grocery store has the doritos classified as Mexican food.

I kept finding it odd to see military trucks wandering through what is very much a residential neighborhood.  We aren't terribly near any bases although a UNIT (which I always thought was made up by the Dr. Who writers) training base is the next county over.  But then Allen pointed out that the country is roughly the same size as West Virginia.  If you are going to support and train a reasonably sized force there just aren't that many places for them to go.

I mostly really enjoy this opportunity to try all manner of new things but I do miss things, just not things that can be sent in a box.  Sorry, mom.

A Rose by Any Other Name...

Pictures from the National Botanic Gardens because this is a trifle dry!

When we named our children we consulted the Social Security name index.  We wanted names that were familiar enough that the children wouldn't be forever being asked to repeat their names. We went with the most standard spelling so they wouldn't forever be asked to spell them- at least their first names, there isn't much to be done about MacKenzie.  We wanted names that weren't too terribly popular.  Rebecca (Becky) was ranked 17th for my birth year.  One notable middle school biology class found my teacher being faced with 5 Becky's.  I also subjected each name to the Supreme Court Justice/plumber test.  The name or a variant had to sound appropriate for both vocations- Charles/Chuck  Megan/Meg/Madge Noah and, umm, Noah...

As an aside, my advice to parents looking to give a unique name is to make it the middle name.  If your child becomes a rock god, Xandirkke will be fabulous but they might rather have Frank on their medical licence.

"Charles" had hung out in the top 100 for the last 100 years, ranking 60 for Charlie's birth year.  "Megan" didn't hit the top 100 until 1975 but made a fast rise hanging out around 10 starting in 1984.  It started falling, rather precipitously, in popularity in 2003 and ranked at 100 for Megan's birth year.  We went a little wild with Noah but I was really attached to the name for unknown reason.  "Noah" hit the top 100 in 1995 but had a meteoric rise and ranked 7th for his birth year- 5th this year.  The big difference between Noah's 7th and my 17th is that the US is now significantly more diverse.  So, even the most popular names wind up being given to a smaller percentage of the population.  Somehow, I have yet to encounter another Noah in his classes at church or mother's morning out.

This all changed when we moved to Dublin.  "Charlie" (not Charles) is ranked 10th in popularity in the UK for his birth year (I couldn't find a good source for Ireland).  Charlie is one of 3 in his class of 32 children.  His teacher made a valiant effort to get him to go by Charles with no luck.  "Megan" is 15th for her birth year.  She's the only 1 in her class but it appears that there is at least 1 "Megan" per grade level.  "Noah" had an even more meteoric rise in the UK and flew up to 18th for his birth year.  So much for our common but not too popular plan...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pretty, Funny, Happy, Real

round button chicken


We cross over the Dodder River via the Londonbridge (makes me hum every time I see the name) and it is heavily populated with swans.  It's one of those small things that always reminds me I'm not in Blacksburg anymore.

We tried to visit Malahide Castle but it was still closed.  The path to the castle takes you though a lovely wooded area.


Megan has always looked at Noah with great favor as he was obviously destined to be her minion.  They played "baby school" yesterday.  Noah patiently sat on the couch with her while she read him a story.  From the IKEA catalogue.  She told an extended saga about a fork that had fallen off his planet and got lost.  He had many adventures in the lighting and bedding sections until he finally and joyfully reunited with spoon, knife, and plate in housewares.


While we didn't get to see the castle, Malahide had a wonderful playground.  I find European playgrounds a little confusing.  While I sometimes feel quite coddled with public campaigns about proper dishtowel hygiene, reminders to look painted right into the crosswalks, and ubiquitous high visibility vests.  But then the playgrounds have all manner of equipment you don't see much at all in the US.  There are high climbing structures, enormous slides, teeter toters, spinny things and, at Malahide, zip lines!  I'm afraid the pictures aren't the very best.  Noah kept attempting to run headlong into their path.

The younger child area had this fantastic sand play area with child powered backhoes, pulley systems and chutes. 

You also see a lot of group play items.  This was an awesome bicycle setup.


This is the rear view from the upper story of the house.  The big spaceship looking thing is the Aviva Stadium.  On the plus side, they only have a big event once or twice a month, concerts have to finish up by 11 pm, and Irish windows are well built so the kids can still sleep reasonably well with their sound machines.  On the down side, the concerts are LOUD so even with good windows and sound machines, the kids are still a little cranky the next day.  So far we have been treated to Madonna and Lady Gaga (Lady Gaga fans freaked out the Garda way more than Madonna's) as well as the Navy/Notre Dame game (I think the football fans were the drunkest of the lot but the Garda adored them).  Dublin does a good job of blocking off the driveways, street sweeping, and foot traffic management but I think that there is a very good reason that the Aviva stadium has provided bribes grants to just about every project in the area.

Monday, September 17, 2012

This and That, The Second

The popular media focuses on slightly different topics in Ireland.  I watched a documentary about Kate Middleton.  I learned that, Kate, generally accepted as really, really attractive, well put together, and future Queen, was rated a 2-3 out of 10 by her male middle school classmates.  I have to remember this to pass along to Megan when she is at a low ebb.  I also learned that Nigella Lawson is 52.  If I can be half as fabulous as she is, I have nothing to fear about growing older.  I've also been watching 2 good documentaries I recommend if they make it over to the US-  The British is the history of the UK in 7 hours.  It's pretty interesting although they mostly have actors doing random color commentary  interviews where it seems like it would be more appropriate to have historians, sociologists and the like.  But, the meat of the show provides plenty of factual information.  The other is The Vikings which (shocker!) covers the history of the Vikings from 3000 BC.  The presenter has a luscious Scottish accent if somewhat unfortunate hair and it's chock full of quite well presented information.

Netflix only just rolled out in Ireland this year.  They had a similar dvd by mail service that rolled out a few years earlier called LoveFilm but I get the impression it wasn't all that great until Amazon bought it out last year.  Various rights issues seem to be big here regarding US studios so being able to carry films from Miramax, etc, is a big deal.  While netflix and redbox completely ran video stores into the ground in the US, video rental places are still ubiquitous here.

In addition to video rental stores, I also see a lot of independent book stores and all manner of record stores.  It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years.  We use Amazon UK.  It's not quite the same as having a site specific to Ireland- some merchants don't ship to or charge a lot extra to ship to Ireland but a fair number of things are available with free shipping, etc.  Amazon UK has been around since 1998 but the contrast between what is available via the US site and the UK site is pretty striking.  I have gotten the impression that the UK site is growing at a pretty good clip but if you are used to the magic of subscribe and save for all manner of household goods, it's a bit of a transition.  On-line shopping in general doesn't seem to be as popular here, on-line grocery shopping aside.  It's a challenge to find Irish shops on-line, even as a basic webpage to find out things like hours and prices.

An Irish friend and I talked a bit about how the Irish don't tend to be early adopters.  The flip side of that is that they then completely leapfrog various stages of technology because when they do finally start using something, it's already undergone it's beta test in other countries (often the US).  For instance, credit cards here all have a microchip rather that the magnetic strip you see in the US.  The chip is significantly harder to copy than the strip and doesn't wear the way the strip does.  Merchants stick your card into a handheld reader and then you input a pin rather than a signature- skipping over the forgery issue.

I will never feel quite the same about the US mail service.  It is generally acknowledged by the locals that the Irish mail service is less than reliable.  You are likely to get your mail eventually but the road is winding.  For instance, my mother sent a package to us.  We had just started wondering if we should start investing what might have happened to it when our landlord/neighbor came by.  We live at 1 O'Connell Gardens.  The package had apparently gone to 10 O'Connell gardens.  An important note is that since it went through customs, etc, it had the regular handwritten address but also an official form with the little blocks.  Plus, my mom was an elementary school teacher for years.  To mistake the 1 O' for a 10 takes some rather significant negligence.  Not recognizing our name, she gave it back to the postman and asked our landlady (living at 1A) about it.  When I showed up at the post office, explaining the saga and that I didn't have the claim slip OR Irish id but I did have a Virginia driver's licence, neither the post man not people in line found the whole story at all unusual.  Dublin is considered pretty advanced in Irish mail service since it uses post codes.  The rest of Ireland looks at them askance as a suspicious Imperial Britain sort of thing.  At the same time, I get the impression that one can routinely address something to Mary Smith The Pink House Sligo and it will get there without any trouble.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Pretty, Funny, Happy Real

round button chicken

I'm still at the "why do we not have a fainting couch" stage of recovery so, today will be a happy and a real.  Hopefully, next week will find me up for the full compliment!


Charlie yawning, about 1 week old

Charlie turned 6 on September 7th.  Allen's birthday is September 11th so Charlie was Allen's birthday gift for a couple of years.  Charlie was actually born 3 weeks to the day before his due date which was a shock- who ever hears of a first baby coming early?  Plus, you know how when someone's water breaks on tv and it's this big, dramatic event and that never really happens?  Yeah, that happened, too.  Luckily, I was at home.  As an added bonus, we also had water.  5 weeks before, we discovered that our well was tainted and that the only real solution was to tap into the city water system.  36 hours before my water broke, we were finally hooked in.  The house was a disaster as I was in the process of both catching up on 5 weeks of regular cleaning plus having to run every piece of clothing through non-tainted, lightly bleached water and every dish through the full hot cycle of the dishwasher.  I couldn't exactly putter about, waiting for labor to really get going what with the dramatic issue- I couldn't even put away the cleaning supplies I had just dragged out from under the sink!  Thanks for cleaning up while we were in the hospital, mom! Anyway, on to the present...

A fun time was had by all with a celebratory meal of BLTs, salad and cupcakes.


This is the programmable thermostat for our house.  Since the nights have started getting into the single (Celsius) digits and the days are starting to hang out below 12 the house can get a bit chilly.  Our strategy thus far has been to turn the heater on manually for an hour at a time.  This has it's drawbacks, though.  Once the heater is on, if the clouds suddenly part and the house starts warming up, there's no way to turn the heat off.  Plus, I'm never really sure how cold the house actually is so I have to go by the inexact science of watching to be sure Noah's lips aren't turning blue and that my toes aren't going numb.  And, if I happen to be doing some baking, the kitchen can be quite comfortable while the family room is frigid.  One could argue that we could invest in a thermometer but that's just crazy talk.

So, I asked Allen if we could venture to set the thermostat.  I assumed it was like the US version where you set a temperature and the heater magically maintains it.  Instead, you set it to come on for periods of time i.e. you want heat (and hot water) for washing up around 6pm and then in the morning around 7 to make getting out of bed not seem like such an impossible feat .  Theoretically, the temperature is monitored at the individual radiators.  Does this seem like an idiotic method to anyone else?


Luckily, the first day of school fell the day Noah started recovering from the toddler plague and the day before I got sick with strep.  As an added bonus, Megan and Charlie didn't appear to get either.

Charlie and Megan are attending a primary school affiliated with the Church of Ireland.  This mostly seems to mean that they have chapel time occasionally (once or twice a month) and a small amount of religious instruction- mostly covering the basic principals of telling the truth, kindness and the like.  It's a somewhat bigger deal when they are a little older and we would have investigated things a little more if they were older but there is only so much that can be done with 4 and 5 year olds regarding religious instruction if you are also trying to get in Irish language, reading, math and everything else.  The other big impact of the schools having religious affiliation is that they will be writing letters to Santa and can acknowledge Christmas and Easter.

The day is somewhat shorter than the US school day, at least for children in infants (4 and 5 year olds).  Megan is in junior infants and Charlie is in senior infants.  The instructional day goes from 8:50-1:10 with 30 minutes for lunch and there is also some outdoor play time in there.  The day is an hour longer for the older children.  The class sizes are large, running around 30 children per class.  But, it sounds like extra teachers do come in during reading instruction and that sort of thing.  The emphasis seems to also be more firmly on play.  There is significantly less communication between the school and parents than you get in the US.  Fliers, notes, emails and texts are infrequent- you might find something in their backpack once a week.  Open houses are next week- 3 weeks into the school year.  But, the children's teachers are readily available before and after school.  We live less than 1/2 a mile from the school and have an enjoyable 10 minute walk to and from each day, complete with crossing guard.  The children stay together all the time and mostly stay in the classroom for all activities with the same teacher, including eating at their desks for lunch.  A different teacher occasionally cycles in- Charlie has a dancing teacher on Thursdays and Megan has a sports teacher once a week and they do go to a whole school assembly in the morning and have library time on Mondays.

So far, things seem to be going fairly well.  Megan adores her teacher, requesting a ponytail so she can look just like Mrs. McConnell.  She chatters non-stop about school on our way home, skips to school in the morning, and barely glances at me as she sails into her classroom.  On the first day, I walked Charlie into his room and came back to Megan's to check on her.  Megan said a very firm "Good bye, Mommy" and gave me a look clearly stating that she had Things To Do and what was I still doing hanging around.

Charlie has had a bit more of a wobbly start.  He does regularly tell me that every day is getting a little bit better and that he is ok with giving it another try the next day.  He has stopped crying before we leave and at drop off and even had a smile for the principal on Friday.  The first few days he could only tell me something about the day that wasn't too bad.  Now, he can tell me something that was good or fun about the day.  It has really worked to his advantage to be a senior infant.  When he attempted kindergarten last fall, his teacher was managing 20 children who had all never been in a formal school setting.  While not all of the children in senior infants are quite up to expert level, everyone except for Charlie has had some experience attending school.  This means that Charlie's teacher has been able to really focus on him during the higher stress transition times- like when he first comes into the room.  This and the way that they generally stay together in the same room with the same teacher (his US school had them marching all over the school for art, PE, lunch, etc) has really aided the transition.  They both also have really enjoyed the opportunity to experience new things.  The only thing I have really not been crazy about is that Charlie has homework Monday-Thursday.  I don't mind reading with him or even practicing his flashcards but the math worksheets have been a bit pointless so far.  I'm hoping that they will improve with time.  I'm also planning on trying some new strategies.  I think Charlie would really enjoy using a timer.  It really is about 15 minutes worth of work but when you are 6, that can seem like a mountain.  I think if I set a timer for 10-15 minutes, the break on the horizon might do the trick.

Noah was very, very cross that he didn't get to start school with the big kids.  He spent a solid 15 minutes trying to climb back into his stroller demanding to go to school.  Luckily for him (and me), he started up his Mother's Morning Out the next Monday.  He attends a Montessori-ish program on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings from 9-12:30 and is in heaven over it.  He is full of stories about his adventures and often rehashes them for me as he's falling asleep- "Miss Lisa read story.  Noah paint.  Noah drive cars.  Noah eat cheese for lunch.  Maybe do a puzzle tomorrow."  He spends a good 15 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday trying to convince me he should go to school on Tuesday and Thursday as well.  The timing works well for drop off with the walk from St Matt's to Tir Na Nog but we are often left at a loose end between 12:30 and 1:10- for some reason especially on the days that it is raining.  I'm still working on a solution for that one.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Seeing the G. P.

Irish streptococcus bacterium are made of stern stuff.  Undaunted by my tonsil-less state, they said a Hail Mary and went for it.  They really made a go of it and I got soooo sick.  Of course, it happened on a Friday and, of course, it happened right after Noah had this high fever/congestion/typical toddler plague sort of thing.  By the time I figured out that I didn't have toddler plague and that, in fact, you CAN get strep throat without tonsils (having not faced the issue in the 10 years they've been gone), it was Sunday.

You can see a doctor in Dublin on the weekend.  But, it's complicated, especially when you haven't navigated the health system before.  It would involve walking and trains and unknown wait times and a very feverish and miserable me.  Wikipedia was very reassuring on the issue, steadfastly citing that the antibiotics would only shave about 16 hours from the length of the illness.  My fever was under control.  I was miserable but not miserable enough to face the unknown when the Ringsend Primary Care Center (my educator roots showed- for the longest time I thought that meant it was a day care center for primary school aged children) would be open and easily reachable on Monday morning.

By Sunday night, I realized that the writer of the wikipedia article really underestimated the whole "lessening of severity of symptoms" thing that antibiotics offer the strep throat sufferer.

On Monday morning, Allen took on the socialized medicine system for me.  The children all got dropped off at school and he called the Primary Care Center to see if he could make an appointment.  We were prepared to be told I would have to wait a couple of days; go to Accident and Emergency; fill out reams of paperwork; generally come against a wall of bureaucracy.  In fact, I'm pretty sure the call lasted less than 5 minutes.  At the end of it, Allen had me registered with the GP (General Practitioner), a firm answer on the cost of the visit and how to pay (50 Euro, cash), and an appointment for less than an hour later.

When we got there I was ready for a cavernous waiting room and number system similar to what you might find in a DMV.  Allen came armed with government paperwork, ready to fill out the sheaf of forms US medical care has made standard.  Allen told the receptionist we were there and she showed us to a bank of 12 chairs (maybe less).  There was no clipboard, no forms, no taking of insurance or payment information, no nurse/gatekeepers.  Periodically a nice looking man would poke his head out the door and call someone into an office.  After about 10 minutes and 2 other people, the man called my name.  Imagine my surprise when the man was actually the GP.  He asked what was wrong, entered all the information into his computer himself, took my temperature, patted me on the hand and generally behaved in a manner that made you think he actually had the time to enjoy practicing medicine.  He was efficient but not rushed.  When we had to figure out what various medicines were called in the US and Ireland, it was ok.  The whole thing took about 10 minutes.  He gave me my prescriptions and took the 50 Euros and we were done.  I was tucked back in bed less than 2 hours from the time I left it.  If we had been covered under the Irish health care plan, Allen thinks that there still would have been a charge but it would have been much less.

Allen got the prescriptions filled at the pharmacy down the street without fuss in less than 5 minutes for about 15 Euro each.  One prescription was clarithomycin, which I now know as the hallucinogenic antibiotic.  It took me a while to figure out what was going on since I was also on codine but, at least if I haven't eaten for 4-5 days, it sends me on a wild ride.  Happily, once I started eating, (about 2 days later) it still makes me dizzy but at least I'm not wandering the strawberry fields.

I was in tremendous pain and the pain reliever discussion with the GP was interesting.  Codine is given without nearly the rigamorole in the US.  You can get migraine medications with small amounts (12 mg- maybe 15?) of codine over the counter although I think you do have to request it- it's not just out.  I was prescribed 60 tablets of tylenol with 30 mg of codine- known in the US as tylenol3.  This is the same thing I got for my c-sections and then I got 30 and needed them all.  With this infection, I used fewer than 10.  The GP clearly knew he was giving me more than I would need but that didn't seem to be a concern.  I get the impression you would never see the codine hoarding you might find in the US- saving a pill or two for a bad migraine or awful cramps.  When I told him that percocet is far too strong for me, he didn't know what that was and looked it up.  He was clearly surprised that you would ever give that as a routine prescription- even post-operatively- with the comment "That's far too strong for almost anyone."  In the US, I've had tylenol3, percocet, and vicodin all prescribed post-operatively and all treated as roughly the same.  From experience, percocet and vicodin are a world apart from tylenol- anything that makes Facebook too cognitively challenging is just too strong in my book.

Allen and I talked a bit about if I might have wound up less sick if I had been in the US; if the issue was the delay in antibiotics.  Upon further reflection, I don't really think it would have made that much difference.  My US doctor's office has walk-in hours only on weekends and only on Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon.  I didn't know I needed to go to the doctor until at least late Saturday afternoon- prior to that I thought I likely had the flu and there isn't much a doctor can do for that.  So, I would have gone to the walk-in clinic on Sunday afternoon and started antibiotics about 12 hours sooner.  But, along with the earlier antibiotics, there would have also been a lot of additional stress on my body.  You always wait for at least an hour in the waiting room for weekend walk-ins and often 2 or even 3 hours.  There is the phalanx of people I would have to pass through before even getting to the back- check in ladies, nurses, etc- each requiring me to repeat symptoms, etc even though I was quite contagious and speaking was quite painful.  I would have waited in an exam room for another 30 minutes to an hour (These are walk-in numbers, mind.  Weekday appointments are more efficient but much harder to get.)  There likely would have been a strep test, probably blood work and perhaps discussion of admission to the hospital. When I finally left, I would then likely have to wait another 30 minutes for my prescription to be filled. I would finally fall back into bed about 4-5 hours after I left it.  If I waited until Monday to try to get an appointment, I likely would have gotten a morning one with the severity of my symptoms but it would be a "work in" and probably result in an hour or more in waiting rooms and whatnot.  The phone call to get the appointment would have included 5-15 minutes of hold time - the appointment line is always swamped on Monday mornings.  Any of those things would have involved co-pays.  My US doctor is kind and compassionate and efficient as well but is always a little stressed and harried- clearly being asked to cram in more appointments than she really should.