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

Friday, October 26, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Welcome if you found the blog via the Christmas card.  If you are wondering why, exactly, you got a Christmas card before Halloween...

For about 10 years I made all our Christmas cards by hand.  We sent out around 125 every year.  To make this work, I got in the habit of ordering supplies no later than Halloween and generally aimed to have supplies BY then.  I tried to have them made by Thanksgiving and mailed shortly after.

I pulled this off with baby Charlie.  I managed with baby Megan.  Card designs got a little simpler.  I came to the conclusion that a handmade card meant that the inside personal notes could be on the brief side.

Then we had Noah.

3 children is apparently my limit for 125 handmade cards.

Christmas of 2010 saw us send out our first photo card- everyone wants to see pictures of the baby anyway.  I stuck with the Halloween/Thanksgiving plan which worked well.

Fall 2011 saw me wake up in a panic for 3 consecutive nights about not having a family picture for the Christmas cards.  I decided this was a clear indicator that the time had come to cry uncle on Christmas cards.

That brings us to this year.  I've done that Halloween order deadline thing for 12 years now.  It's sort of a deep habit at this point.  Tinyprints offers a shipping option where they print the addresses on the envelopes, slap the stamp on and mail your cards directly to the recipients.  This is really handy when you are facing international postage x93.  Kudos, also, on their very prompt service.  They were efficient last time but were positively meteoric this time.  I guess demand for Christmas cards isn't so high in October.

Merry Christmas is pretty much the same as Happy All Saint's Day, right?

Happy, Funny, Pretty and Real

round button chicken


We visited the Decorative Arts and History National Museum of Ireland last weekend.  The children enjoyed it more than I expected since it was mostly vast displays of objects.  Their favorite was the working inards of the large steeple clock.  The children watched the huge pendulum, weights and gears and immediately decided they we really must get a grandfather clock of our own.  The museum is housed in a refurbished barracks so they had a whole drill field to express their wild exuberance while I figured out lunch.


 Charlie lost his first tooth last week.  He got a note from Taffy MacToothy of the Council of Irish Tooth Fairies.  Taffy may not have thought through the fact that she now has to come up with something useful and interesting to do with 59 more teeth.

Pretty & Real
Dublin, early October

The Dublin fall just doesn't feel right when the Appalachians are your benchmark.  

Dublin, late October

Some of the trees are changing but then we also have some trees and gardens still looking positively August-ish.  

Dublin, late October

You know how some years the leaves turn that halfhearted yellow and some just go straight to brown or even fall while they are still green?  That seems to be the way of it every year, here, and I am assured that this is a lovely fall.  It's pretty.  But, it's nothing compared to the Blue Ridge.

It makes a mountain girl homesick (no, I never thought of myself as a mountain girl before but I will say that it seems strange to look around and not only not see brilliant trees but also not see foothills)  The jewels are scarce and the flames are dim.  It's nice to not have the specter of being snowed in for days looming but I do miss the beauty of the fall.  Ireland excels at verdant but lets it fade with a dirge rather than with an anthem.
I have my brother taking pictures of the view I miss to be posted soon (it's been foggy).  But for now, this will give you an idea.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Knowth and Newgrange

waiting to go into Newgrange

hills, dales and streams surrounding
Knowth and Newgrange share the odd trait of being both ideal and completely unsuitable for touring with young children.  Both involve quite a bit in the way of wide open spaces suitable for running around in.  Knowth even has a child sized secret tunnel.  But, if you actually want to have any idea what you are looking at, you need to be able to listen to rather lengthy explanations by tour guides.  Or, in our case, buy the 50 cent visitors' guide and find out what everyone else was listening to while you tore off over hill and dale.

central and little mounds
This is the sort of site I really enjoy.  The history of the place is palpable.  This is where we started to come together as people.  We started to have concrete ideas about the afterlife and how to honor it.  We were at the precipice between the straightforward connection with the land and a more metaphysical connection with the greater cycle of life and death; the season of plenty and season of scarcity; dark and light.  We developed the skills to settle and farm rather than chase our food.  We grouped together in large enough settlements to require leaders and permanent structures.  We added beauty to our lives.  We started being a civilization.

some of the kerbstones
Knowth's chambers line up with and the kerbstones are shown to best advantage at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes (so we were lucky we happened to go in October).  Newgrange is oriented toward the winter solstice.  There doesn't seem to be a major monument to the summer solstice.  I feel like I can readily grasp how that could come about.  As I watch the daylight dwindling, I can feel that mild primal panic that the light is forever leaving us.  The days are currently shrinking at the breakneck pace of 4 minutes a day.  By December 22, the day will be a meager 7 and a half hours long.  I would be marking the time until the light triumphed as well.  But, I can also see how in the very long days of plenty (17 hours on June 22) it seems that the light could never fail.  Plus, you have already done all you could to ensure a good crop and got all the souls where they should be back in the spring.  {to add context longest:shortest in Virginia is 9hr 39min:14hr 40min}

main cairn at Knowth
storage tunnel

Knowth consists of a massive dirt mound (cairn) with a stone base and carefully aligned passageways with other largish mounds surrounding it.  The site was likely used for burial rituals and probably some other religious rituals as well.  It's about 5,000 years old making it older than the pyramids AND stonehenge. The kerbstones that line the base of the mounds are just as old meaning that they were carved during the neolithic period with only simple tools of stone.  There are also remains of a circular timber monument along the lines of stonehenge built around 2500 BC.

hiding from invaders
and out the other side!
Knowth was completely abandoned for 2000 years or so for unknown reasons.  Once it got re-occupied in the early Christian era (around 400 AD) it was generally used for military purposes.  By this time, the kerbstones and tunnel entrances were mostly covered with dirt and grass and the old religion had come and gone so the spritual significance seems to have been lost.  It was surrounded by a moat and various tunnels were built to use for both storage and escape.  It eventually became the royal seat of the Kings of Northern Brega and they eventually ascended to the position of High King.  The Normans weren't fans of anyone else being King of Ireland.  So, they overthrew the King and gave the land to the Cistercians since no one trumped The Church.  The land has mostly been used for small-scale farming ever since.

Newgrange is the winter solstice site.  It has somewhat similar features and history (stone circle, given to the Cistercians) but also has a narrow passage that is illuminated only by the winter solstice sunrise.  Newgrange remained a sacred site or at least undisturbed due to superstition well into the Christian era.  Presently, only about 20 members of the public for the 5 days that surround the winter solstice to be in the passage to witness it.  People are selected by lottery.  However, a tour guide takes groups in and you get to experience a faux-solstice via the guide extinguishing all the lights and then turning on special lights that mimic the sunrise.  I found the roof of the chamber the most interesting aspect.  It's carefully stacked stone that soars above your head and it has stayed stable for thousands of years.

There are all manner of theories and what not for how neolithic peoples came by all this knowledge.  It makes for a rather intriguing trip down the rabbit hole.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Since I sort like to start with a song... I was reading this blog post about how to improve a bad day and I thought about the importance of a good soundtrack.  When I am confronted, yet again, with my family's demand to have dinner (seriously, I just fed them YESTERDAY!), I turn to my "Hey" playlist.  Might I suggest it the next time you find yourself struggling?

Mat Kearney Hey Mama

Michael Franti & Spearhead Say Hey

Train Hey, Soul Sister

And the outlier...

Freestylers Weekend Song

This year is an odd mishmash of extremes.  I veer between complete interpersonal immersion to being alone in a way I never felt in the US.  I'm mostly embracing this.  I call it "my year of no committees."  While I don't recommend a life devoid of service to others, it is nice to have a year long hiatus.  I am not bringing over a meal, finding a speaker, and/or emotionally blackmailing anyone into volunteering for anything.  Although, I suspect I am about to take on the nursery at church- a leopard can only get rid of so many spots...

What am I doing with myself, then?  Well, Allen and I are getting sucked into NCIS.  They are showing seasons 1-8 in syndication in the evenings so we're catching up with the backstory and season 9 shows on Friday nights.  I think we start season 10 (the current season) in January.

I also decided to figure out my personality once and for all by taking 6 Myers-Briggsy sort of personality tests.  People said that they didn't tend to be very accurate so I thought I would cross check and with only 15-40 questions they are quick.  Interestingly, I got the same thing on all of them- INFJ.  For those with a burning curiosity, I am only slightly introverted but quite solid on the sensing and judging components.  This neatly explains why I like people so much but find them so exhausting.  According to one summary, Shirley MacLean and Jesus were also INFJs.  But, of course!  Because when people are searching for ways to describe me Shirley and Jesus are always the first things to come to mind.  Although, I have to say, wouldn't you assume Jesus was an extrovert?

I've been getting to watch Dr. Who in a timely manner.  This is a mixed blessing as it was always sort of nice to watch them in a big gulp but the anticipation is fun, as well.  I'm torn on who is most crushworthy:
Rory as Centurion

Doctor Who #11
Rory who goes from nothing special to 2000 year old Centurion of unsurpassed loyalty, y'know, as you do.  He also gets some of the best romantic lines written for a television character.


The Doctor who is the smartest and, even more importantly, the most clever, man in the room pretty much always.  I always have loved a geek.

Allen is of course, the best of both worlds being both brilliant and loyal.  He also has the plus of NOT being fictional...

in the Red Pyramid
Sharing about living in Egypt reminded me of a funny story.  The Egyptian man on the street tends to not have the highest opinion of American women's morals.  This is quite understandable when you remember that the main exposure they have to "typical" American women is Beverly Hills, 90210.  The main defense you can employ against attention that is getting a bit too intense is a wedding band.  My friend, Jennifer, came to visit us.  Since she was unmarried, Allen loaned her a ring to wear when we were out and about.  At one point in the Souk, a man started hitting on Jennifer and we explained that she was married.  I had already explained that she was a friend.  With the absence of a second American man, the vendor made some assumptions getting a big smile on his face and proclaiming Allen a "Lucky, lucky man!"  I remind Allen of how very lucky he is on a regular basis.  :-)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Take me down to the little white church...

by Little Big Town- I've been listening to a lot of country since our move.  I think music must be one of those things you hang on to.  Anyway...

Allen was a visiting professor once before at the Arab Academy for Science and Technology.  It was a short course and before we had children.  We lived in a dorm in Alexandria, Egypt for 6 weeks and then traveled around for another week before going home.  It was an interesting experience and we did get a strong taste of Egypt but it was certainly not as immersive an experience as this one.  We were escorted by students or faculty a fair amount of the time and got good advice the rest.  I wore long skirts and head scarves as much as possible off campus to avoid attracting too much attention but no amount of "protective coloring" was going to fool anyone for long.  Assimilation wasn't really an option.  Everything was just too radically different and we didn't have enough time.  

In Ireland, we are largely able to blend in.  Most everything is at least somewhat different to how it is in the US but it's similar enough to be a stretch rather than a cliff.  While I expected us to run into various walls, I hadn't expected the main one to be finding a church.  We really like the church we attend in the US and weren't expecting to find a perfect match here but thought we had sufficiently broad enough expectations to find one without great difficulty.  We were mostly looking for an entry into community and the additional structure going to church on Sunday brings.  I have regularly attended services in the United Methodist, LDS, Baha'i, and Lutheran faiths so it seemed like this shouldn't be all that hard.

The thing I hadn't really thought through was that we are Methodists going to a Catholic country in Europe. While Methodists are ubiquitous in the US, they are a rare breed in Ireland.  It's fairly common for various Protestant denominations to unite here.  The combination of Irish independence and a general severe downturn in church attendance making it rough going.  I've also apparently gotten rather more opinionated about some tenets of my faith since college- notably that children should be able to take communion.  The US branch of the United Methodist Church takes a love all, serve all perspective that I embrace.  You can read more here.  This is apparently at odds with a fair number of Irish Protestant churches.  While I certainly expect different rules in different denominations (i.e. I wouldn't wander into a Catholic church expecting to take the Eucharist) I assumed that Methodists and Presbyterians were pretty much the same the world over.

We finally landed at Abbey Street Methodist.  It is unlike any other church I've attended but somehow seems completely comfortable.  It's an odd mishmash of very traditional and very not.  The sanctuary has plaques memorializing Very Important members from the early 1800s, stained glass, a large cross, and a once grand building.  At a rough estimate, about 75% of the congregation is international.  The praise team features a man who is from the Indian subcontinent who plays harmonica to contemporary Christian songs (something I never thought I'd see) as well as another who plays guitar and interjects heartfelt prayers between and among the verses.  I don't think any of the praise team speaks English as their first language.  Their bravery to not only speak but sing in front of a congregation in a foreign language is impressive.  We regularly have groups from various cultures sing songs in their native language.  Songs and prayers are kept fairly simple and are projected onto a screen at the front.  It is about as far from the clean cut WASP comfort zone as you can get.  But, the battered hymnals, fading grandeur, and warm smiles speak to us and make us feel at home.

Monday, October 15, 2012

peace and the still, small voice

Today I am venturing far afield from pictures of my kids frolicking amongst the ruins.

I am the guest blogger at The Smitten Word writing about hearing Holy Spirit whispers in the din of life with littles.

To quote Suzannah:

At the smitten word, we celebrate grace, dabble in poetry, and write love letters to the broken, beautiful Church. We're passionate about justice and issues affecting womenMothering,culture, and natural living round out the menu.

I always enjoy spending a little time with her and hope you will, too!  :-)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

pretty, funny, happy, real

round button chicken


It's time to change up the flowers here.  The pansies and geraniums are still going strong but the window box impatients, stock, lobelia, and petunias have finally given up the fight.  I had to begun to consider just doing a nice, avant guard cultural statement with nursery six packs but we finally got a fairly pleasant afternoon where everyone was in a quite good mood so a-planting we did!  The major winter window box plants here are cyclamen, pansies, and tiny evergreens- boxwoods and the like.  Of course, the day after we got this done, I picked up 2 more six packs and some anemone, paperwhite, and crocus blubs/corms which will sit in an artful arrangement for another 2 weeks.  :-)


This is me at Newgrange.  I apparently look pretty Irish.  I'm actually quite solidly Scots and English- at least based on the highly reliable source of last names.  Based on a couple of my uncles and a close connection to sailing, I'm also betting on some Scandinavian hanging about in deep background.  But, they do all share a pretty close gene pool, so, here we are.  Anyway, this means I spend a fair amount of my time completely confused.  With no visual cue to remind people that I'm not actually from around here, they forget to modify their speech.  Generally, people with pretty heavy Irish accents are really kind about the issue of intelligibility.  They tend to be aware that even their fellow Irishmen may have trouble following them and make a conscious effort to slow their speech as long as they know you need them to.  But, if you look Irish...  I keep having this overwhelming desire to run over to the many international nannies I see at the park and say "I have no idea how to tell which one is the 1 Euro and which is the 2, either!  I don't know which train to take to get anywhere!  Take me in!"  It's a new experience, but really eye opening.

The kids run into similar difficulties at school.  Charlie came home excitedly telling us that Ms Swanton told him that they "only needed to wear jumpers in the yard."  When asked what she meant he said "I don't know!"


It took a year or so but Allen and I finally figured out that I am a much better mother if I take a Sabbath.    I need a block of 2-4 hours a week where I am alone doing things that pretty much only directly benefit me.  I read, I watch True Blood, I drink a cup of tea while it is still hot.  I often sneak in a bit of laundry, grocery ordering, etc but it's mostly time just for myself.  I get the impression this is what happens for other mothers during nap time.  Around here, nap time (no longer in existence) is instead known as "why mommy drinks."  My children are many wonderful things, sleepers is not one of them.

In the US, we often got a babysitter for a few hours on the weekend to facilitate this but we don't have those resources here.  So, Allen takes the kids out and about on Sunday afternoons when we aren't touring about and the weather is decent.  The big thing they do is go to the zoo.  We got a family pass for the year and I think it may have been the best investment EVARRR.


This is my very sad coffee cup. (artfully backlit at model's request)

You know how pinterest is bursting at the seams with pumpkin everything right now?  Everyone is sipping their pumpkin lattes and eating pumpkin bread and all manner of apple products.  Not so much, here.  There is rumor of pumpkin spice lattes at one of the Starbucks but I have yet to lay eyes on one.  I don't usually get them too often.  The way they stain everything bright orange slightly freaks me out.  But there are also no pumpkin displays at the grocery store; no pumpkin candles at Yankee Candle; there are no overwhelming apple and cinnamon scents wafting about.  I have a plan involving combining various scented tarts to make a counterfeit American fall I'm putting into place this weekend.

To add insult to injury, not only is my mug bereft of synthetic pumpkin, it also doesn't get any cream either.  Refrigeration seems to be treated as more a suggestion here, even by the grocery stores.  This is fine in many cases but it means that my cream goes bad before I can possibly make it through a halfpint.  So, milk it is.  Rich, creamy, overflavored coffee will have to wait until we get back to the US.  Until then, I will have to console myself with thickly buttered, freshly made soda bread...