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

Friday, May 24, 2013

What I'm Looking Forward To...

While I have really enjoyed my time in Ireland there are some things I look forward to enjoying upon our return to the US.

Seasonal Weather

While I don't relish the looming specter of a month or 2 of temperatures and humidity over 80, it will be nice to feel reasonably confident that I will go a full 3 months not wondering if it was wise to pack away the parkas.  At the same time, it's nice to know that at some point, I will need to pull them out.  I like the structure the gradual march of the seasons provides.  Ireland has roughly the same weather every day for 6-9 months.  It then has pretty much the same weather with highs about 20 degrees warmer.  I never realized quite how wearing really boring weather is.  There is a reason that Irish weatherman write poetry rather than forecasts.

It took me 6 weeks to figure out
this is a toast rack.
I wonder if they are the Irish version
 of a toaster oven as wedding gift?
Access to a car

A lot of the time, I have appreciated being forced to rely on walking or public transportation.  However, there have been more "Man up" talks than I am really comfortable giving to a 4 and 6 year old.  To wit: car travel seems appropriate when it is sleeting, when it is hailing, or when there is freezing rain.  This sums up a good hunk of January and February and pretty much every day of March.  Also, car travel for even short distances seems reasonable when running a 103' fever, when recovering from stomach flu, or when you are 6 and recovering from the stomach flu but have to come along with your mom to pick up your siblings.  Also, a car is handy when transporting 3 children and 36 cupcakes to school in a country where it apparently hails all year with no warning.

Knowing how to safely cross the road.

I still get nearly run down by an unexpected bus about once a week even though the crosswalks are all emblazoned with "look left."  Apparently the socialist nanny state is no match for a dyslexic crossing the road.

Georgian Houses look alike.
This made it difficult for drunken Georgian Lords
 to find their way into the correct home.
A clever, clever girl introduced the colorful door.
Looking at the sky and knowing what it means, weatherwise.

I never realized what a visceral connection I feel towards the weather.  It's this knowledge of the environment that creeps in over the years.  It gives you a certain feeling of security that if you can't control the weather, you at least know what it will be for the near future.  When I look up at the sky in the US (or even in Canada), I feel a modicum of confidence that I can tell you if it's likely to rain in the next hour.  I know the warning signs for when to turn on a radio.  I can hazard a guess about if we should try for a picnic for lunch.  I am completely adrift in terms of climatology awareness in Ireland.  To my credit, I don't seem to be alone in my confusion.  Ireland is a small island and seems to be at the mercy of at least a couple of pretty strong jet stream looking things based on the daily radar pictures.  It also has all manner of winds blowing off of the Irish Sea and Atlantic Ocean.  It makes for a swirly, unpredictable mess.  The upshot is that you can be confident that there will be precipitation pretty much every day.  It will also be windy.  Anything else is a crapshoot no matter how good your technology or modeling.  As a friend told me, the weather predictions on the west coast consist of looking out towards the islands.  If you can see the islands, it will soon rain.  If you can't see the islands, it's raining.

Knowing where to buy things

I am looking forward to walking into a store and not having to ask if they sell x, y, z here.  As an added bonus, I will likely know the correct name for the item.

Guerilla knitting in Belfast

Grocery shopping

There is a magical wonder to the Tesco man showing up once a week with tubs of groceries for me to unload into the cabinets.  But, there is also a big downside.  The grocery store I can get to on foot has a very limited selection so if I happen to forget to order something at all obscure, I'm stuck.  And, obscure means black beans or pizza sauce or non-orange juice among other things.  You also run the risk of the dread "out of stock with no suitable substitute" note.  Sometimes it makes sense and sometimes you are told that they were out of carrots or, my personal favorite, potatoes.  An Irish grocery store is out of potatoes.  There were simply no potatoes to be had In The Entire Store... in IRELAND.  I have to do a fair bit of fancy footwork, dinner-wise every couple of weeks to make up for oversights, out of stock, etc.  I also tend to rely on my grocery shopping as inspiration.  I do a weekly menu plan and build a shopping list from it.  (I love this free printable one)  But, I also will switch things up a bit to allow for unexpected sales and specials or if various produce is or isn't looking especially good.  Since I have my menu right in front of me, it's easy to see what can be switched up and what can't.  On-line grocery shopping has made both shopping the sales and switching up the meals a challenge.  And, most of the produce shopping is with a wish and a prayer that nothing will be too terribly under ripe or overly bruised.  Since I'm not as familiar with the growing cycle here, I have a hard time figuring out how to shop in season.  And, I'm never really sure what size I'm ordering.  This has resulted in awesomely large mayo containers and minuscule pieces of cheese.  Quick, how many grams does your ketchup weigh?  No cheating!

This is the weather report for June, July, and August.
(assuming it's a warm June)
My appliances

A primary role in my life is keeping our household in a state acceptable to the Department of Health.  I also keep us all fed.  These two jobs require tools and the quality of the tool matters.  I can make do with all manner of things and, yes, I am quite aware that my great grandparents made do with far less.  But, that was then and this is now and I just want a vacuum cleaner that doesn't make me question the existence of a loving God.  I miss having an oven that cooks things pretty much the same way every time.  I miss a washing machine that never asks me to fish puke bits out of the drain holes.  I miss a dryer that dries things.  I miss my slow cooker, stand mixer, food processor, and rice cooker.  I can now say with confidence that those things I worried were simply wasting valuable space in my kitchen are, in fact, vital to my happiness as The Fairly Adequate Homemaker.  While I am so pleased to know that you can, in fact, cream butter and sugar with a potato masher, I would far rather let an infernal contraption take that task on.

The weather guys try to spice up the reports.
Bubble Baths

Dublin has at least 2 Lush stores.  I can't figure out why.  As far as I can tell, no one ever really takes a good tub soak.  To have a good bath, you need a solid, overgrown, almost obscene US water heater.  The on a timer, energy conserving jobs just won't do it.  And, really, on this one point, I totally pity the Irish.  If there is any climate that begs for ready bubble bath access, it's a damp and chilly one.  On a related note, I am anxiously anticipating getting to wash my hands with a faucet where the hot and cold water mix.  What can I say?  I dream BIG!

They have a lot of different lovely ways to say
"We just... have No Idea"
Somewhere there is a special bar
for people attempting to forecast Irish weather.
FYI- Met Eireann did the forecast for DDay
(apparently quite well)

I understand that by many standards we are in a perfectly reasonable, nay, might I even hazard GENEROUS space but I am a personal space wuss.  I think I can do a small house with young children or a small yard with young children but I can't do both.  And, while tile and hardwood make for easy clean-up the noise level is unreal.  I desperately long for the day when I can chase them all outside and Not Hear Them unless they put some effort into it.  I want to have the option to divide and conquer.  I want to carry the laundry basket without being concerned I'm about to take out a table and 2 children.

Ireland is a lovely adventure but there's no place like where you're used to.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

What I'll miss

A sign you don't see in the US
We have about 6 weeks left in Ireland and I've started getting questions about what I'll miss.  In truth, I'll be glad to be going back home but there are a number of things I wish were the case back home.

I'll miss the little community school.

We walk to and from school every day.  It takes about 10 minutes and I think there is nothing quite so likely to set children up for a good day as a freewheeling scooter ride, saying hello to their friends and getting some wiggles out before the day begins.  By the time the children are 9 or so, they are easily able to do the walk on their own and it's a nice beginning independence sort of step.  The children start at the school at age 4 and leave around age 12 with each grade having one class.  By the end of their time at St Matt's, the children know one another as well as their own siblings and the staff can't help but know every child's unique ins and outs.  The classes stay together all day, generally in their classroom with just the one teacher.  You don't see all the marching about the building that you get in the US nor the constant parade of adults.  The day is a more sensible 8:30-1 for the 4 and 5 year olds and 8:30-2 for the older ones so there is plenty of time for play in the afternoons even after homework and after school activities.  Breaks also tend to be significantly less disruptive to the school routine with periodic breaks of 1-2 weeks and then 2 months in the summer without a bunch of half days or sporadic mid-week days off.

I'll miss the people.

In my experience, the Irish are some of the most welcoming, community oriented people I have ever come across.  They would like to know about you, your story, how they can help you and if you'd like another pint.  They would like to commiserate with you and tell you all about themselves.  They would like to give you directions and figure out exactly how Mrs. McGillis and McKenna are related.  They would like to loan you a mixer and invite you to tea.  If you ever need a fail safe guest for your next dinner party, befriend an Irishman.  It's not all wine and roses but there is always good chat.

Another sign you don't see in the US.

I'll miss the acceptance of the progression of life.

Ireland is sort of an odd mishmash of ancient and modern sensibilities.  It is a Catholic country by it's constitution and the influence of the ancient church is still quite strong.  Families still tend to live quite close to one another and it's is typical for grandparents to watch the children while the middle generation works.  At the same time, you're starting to see rather a lot of fathers being responsible for the children during the day.  I'm not an economist nor sociologist but from some questioning of friends my understanding is that a lot of men were in trades that traditionally have allowed them to support a family but with the economic downturn, their wives, working office jobs to help the ends meet have been able to hang on to their positions more successfully than the tradesmen can find work.  My understanding is that a lot of fathers would rather be the primary wage earner but that pragmatics rule.

I have found Ireland to be the most family friendly culture we visited with babies and young children considered to simply be a part of life- not overly fawned over but also not frowned over.  Strollers are lifted onto buses and subways cars.  Pedestrians keep a weather eye out for scooters and bikes and wobbly toddlers.  At the same time, it's common to see elderly women out for a stroll with their chums.  Television has the teenybopper melodramas but you also see a reasonable smattering of the 30-50 crowd.  Adults of all ages are expected to go to the pub and attend sporting events and concerts.  Life, in all it's iterations, is welcome in Ireland.

Yeats hangs out at our Square
I'll miss the walking.

It will be a struggle to get anywhere near 10,000 steps a day when we return to Blacksburg.  While the post office and grocery store are technically within walking distance, sidewalks are lacking.  I will have to drive the children to school.  In Ireland, I hit over 8,000 steps just by dropping the children off at their 2 schools.  On days I also run, I'm easily at 12,000 steps by the end of the day.  Daily activity hasn't been this effortless since college when I walked all over creation for class.

I'll miss the customer service.

Irish shopkeepers are of the firm opinion that the only way to survive a struggling economy is to offer excellent customer service.  Not only that, they are always trying to be sure you get the best deal to ensure your loyalty.  At the grocery store, I was in the check out line and actually had an employee spot a box of tea on the belt, tell me that there was a much better price on a different brand, take the other tea box back and reappear with the cheaper version all before the cashier finished ringing me up.  The pharmacy employees are always having to wander about the shop with me to try and figure out what the Irish version of the US medication is.  The hardware store guys give me directions to all over town and know me by name.  The grocery check out lady told me that I should by x, y, and z at this store or that to get a much better deal.  If the Irish economy collapses, it won't be for lack of effort on the mom and pop front.

Baby carrots that look like... carrots
I'll miss the food.

Being an agrarian island, finding locally produced food is no problem.  High fructose corn syrup is unknown here.  Most food colorings are plant based rather than chemical.  Baby carrots look like baby carrots.  I haven't actually toured a farm but we regularly drive past them.  The chicken parts are normal sizes and the beef doesn't taste like it hung out on a feed lot.  I see more people wandering the streets eating apples or chugging milk than I see eating chips/crisps or chugging soda.

Child on a public zip line!
I'll miss feeling like my body is a normal size and shape.

There doesn't seem to be quite the wild careening regarding weight that we see in the US.  The women on the billboards and on TV (at least those originating in Ireland) seem to be the lower end of pretty normal rather than the low end of cosmetically enhanced twig.  The women I encounter in daily life are generally on the spectrum of "healthy."  The same goes for most of the men.  People here stay moderately active up into their quite senior years and their bodies show it.  People walk to get from place to place and they don't mess around.  I'm pretty sure that the average walking speed in Dublin is around an 11 minute mile which makes a lot of sense when you consider the weather.  I see clutches of elderly women making their stately way down the block to do their shop or visit the post office.  Men will get together to play football or rugby.  At the same time, I see women with a little tummy on them and a bit of wiggle in their booty.  A body that has clearly produced a child or two seems to still be in the realm of attractive.  I have even been given the once over a couple of times!  It all combines to make it a lot easier to focus on a goal of staying healthy and active rather than a number on the scale or, since I have yet to figure out what size I am in UK measures, a dress size.  :-)

Another Child On A Zip Line
Does no one think of the children?
I'll miss the playgrounds.

Europe knows how to build a playground.  There are ziplines and all manner of climbing apparatus that tower far too high to ever be allowed in a US playground.  But, most of all, they tend to have these enchanting paths.  There are holes in the fence lining up with holes in hedges where the bushes were pruned by adult hands at some point and then the path further trampled and maintained by a 100 little hands and feet.  The branches ask to be climbed.  Fairy parties beg to be had.  Cool and dark adventure beckons.  They are irresistible!  And, a wonderful way to be sure that even the most citified of city kids enjoys the allure of the forest.

I'll miss the sense of history.

I'm not of Irish heritage but I am clearly Western European and I'm confident in saying I'm also of strong Celtic descent.  I've always enjoyed European history- especially the stuff before about 1600.  Pre-1600 Europe is distinctly my history.  It's also history I feel like I can really firmly grasp.  It's old enough to feel very different but familiar enough to not feel completely unrelatable.  This is where my ancestors learned to structure larger social groups and government.  They established the basic rights of man via the Magna Carta.  They developed a concept of the afterlife, spirituality and then organized religion... a couple of times, actually.  This is where my people learned about cultivation and where the beginnings of my dietary staples became cultivated staples.  I walk on soil that people I share a sizable hunk of dna with, have walked for centuries or even millenia.  When I walk past the church, the butcher, the grocer, the pharmacist, the next church and then over the bridge I know that this is the same path, past the same basic things that people walked on and past before English as we know it was spoken.  That's history.

I have come to the opinion that Ireland is perhaps the ideal place to get an initial taste of living abroad.  Things are different enough that you always know you are somewhere new while not being so very different as to be paralysing.  There is a bit of a language barrier but it's surmountable.  The people in Ireland are fond of Americans and are interested enough in our goings on that you still feel you aren't completely adrift of how it goes back home.  The social conventions and structure are reasonably familiar and the people are, generally, quite forgiving of lapses.  While I'm ready to go home, I've had a lovely time.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Happy Birthday, Megan!

Color me beklempt!  Megan is 5!

In the words of mothers everywhere...  How did this possibly happen?

Only yesterday, she was giving me a hearty kick in the kidneys!  She also had an extra special talent for kicking some mystery spot that never failed to set off contractions.  Happily, the doctor assured me that they were "non-productive."

When Noah was born, there was commentary about how very sad it would be that Megan had only brothers and how this would impair her development as a fragile flower of womanhood.  I replied that based on current data, Megan was most likely to punch someone on her brother's behalf.

It took ages for her hair to grow but it was worth the wait!  It's the lovely chestnut curls I always hoped for when I was growing up.  Her grandmother got very determined one day and pulled off pigtails shortly after she turned 3.

Megan's favorite place in the world is Myrtle Beach.  Allen is part of the Hilton Honors program so every summer, we stay there.  It's incredibly well set-up for families of young children with a quite nice water park on the property in addition to pools and then the beach is just down the back steps.  She has plans to open a bisketti restaurant where she will offer an option of sauce or no sauce or with a meatball and salad.  She will also have in-house daycare so her children can come to the restaurant with her.  She plans to frequently vacation to Belfast so she can visit the W5 museum.

You may notice that she wears a patch in some pictures.  She uses Patch Pals.  While she would rather not wear a patch, they create as little strife as could possibly occur with patching and Megan views them as yet another fashion accessory in her arsenal.  Somewhere around 2 months gestation there was a blood vessel in her left eye that should have gone away but instead hung around.  It supplies too much nutrition to the cornea and caused a cataract.  It's an extremely rare occurrence and is one of those "it just happens" sort of things.  If we let things alone, her brain would gradually begin to pay attention to the information that eye gave less and less, pruning off neurons and nerves until the left eye simply stopped working at all.  By forcing her brain to use her left eye, we are staving off "lazy eye."  She'll likely always need glasses but will probably stop patching around age 8, when the brain becomes more set in it's ways.

If I were to have picked a child to handle such a thing, it would have been Megan.  She handles the questions with cheerful spunk, explaining to all who ask about her cataract, her "silly eye," and how her eyes have to exercise.  She meets the curious stares (and, no, it's not the children who stare) with a friendly grin.  She is a child who dresses with imagination; the patches are just part of the milieu.  

Megan has an exuberant curiosity that is a teacher's delight.  She is determined and brave and clever and passionate and is not daunted by most any limitation be it vision, size or sex, finding a way over, through, or around any obstacle that meets her fancy.

Happy Birthday to the Princess of Books!

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Island of Teeny Tinies

After even a couple of years off the Island of Teeny Tinies, you remember the cute outfits, the baby snuggles, the tiny toes, and the exciting firsts and your forget the full contact sport which is mothering when you only have very littles.  I can't speak specifically about anyone else's experience but I don't think mine was especially unique and I want to remember.  I want to remember just how hard those first years are so that I can be of better support to others.

I saw a therapist after having Charlie to check in on whether I might have post partum depression.  Her assessment was that I was depressed but in no way in need of clinical intervention.  I was just really tired.  Charlie slept in 25-45 minute intervals for his first 3 months of life stretching to maybe an hour by 6 months of age. (yes, we tried that)  You get a little weird when you haven't met a REM cycle in 6 months.

None of the 3 was a sleeper but the thing that struck me as we rolled through Noah's infancy was that while I was frustrated and tired and overwhelmed I had a tool that made all the difference... The tool of perspective.  I had personally experienced a baby who Would Not Sleep and had seen the other side.  I had that to cling to when I was most despondent about the idea that I would never, ever, sleep for 6 hours in a row, ever again.

This happens over and over as my children grow a bit older.  I have personal experience that one day I really will have no knowledge of the state of Noah's bowels.  I will one day, be able to tell Noah to get dressed and he will.  One day, Noah will wake up in the morning and not have a temper tantrum due to the fact it's not Saturday.

The thing that drove me most crazy as a very new mother was the way that other mothers would tell me that it doesn't really get any easier nor do you have any more time to yourself.  As a not so new mom, I can tell you that's a lie.  Our culture values "busy" and sacrifice and persecution and "I'm so stressed."  That's what those moms bought into.  I don't.  I found the issue is not so much pockets of "me time" or pursuits of your interests as it is pockets of choice.  When you only have tinies, your choices are oh, so, limited.  I came across a housekeeping tip that if you are in a time of clutter, it's vital to have at least clear surface for your eyes to "land;" a little bay of tranquility.  When you are on the Island of Teeny Tinies, that bay doesn't exist.  When they are ALL tiny, they are ALL in crisis, All The Time.  They have no perspective, you have no perspective, everyone is new to the game.  You can, perhaps, sneak very small bits of your interests into your day but it's rarely really what you chose so much as what you managed.  You can read a book while you rock the baby but it has to be a book you can hold while rocking as well as one you can follow on 3 hours of broken sleep.

Figuring out how to put in those pockets of your interests takes time and support and seriously, if you have 3 under 4, it's not happening.  It becomes that one more thing that someone told you, you should be doing.  You haven't learned all the tricks.  You don't have the resource of older children.  You don't have the advantage of having a bigger child you can count on to let you know things are going south downstairs.  It's hard.  A mom of just tinies has it hard.  It's grueling.  It's full-on.  It's a steep learning curve.  And most of us lack the social resources that might make it palatable.

Yes, there are still times that it's hard with older ones or even older ones mixed with tinies.  But, it's not hard in the same way.  The learning curve is leveling out.  While there are still daily crises, they don't generally occur more than once an hour.  I have a lot more choices about what must be responded to and then what my response will be.  Sure, there are times blood is drawn and the wrath of mommy comes down upon your head, swiftly and surely.  But, saying "I'm hungry" is a very different sort of thing than a baby desperately howling from the car seat for completely unknown reasons and you lacking the experience and perspective to have any real idea what to do about it.  If nothing else, I slept for 7 hours In A Row last night.

The thing about perspective was that when I was slogging through the very hard beginning bit, it was easy to lose all sight of why I had ever decided to do this.  Motherhood did not look like I had envisioned it.  I am a Protestant, we don't do the whole vocation thing.  It was hard.  I was exhausted.  Everyone was crying.  And the end game was unclear and that just made it so much harder.  There seemed to be no point other than that there was really no way out other than through.  I wish I had had an understanding of just why it needed to be so hard when I was in the thick of it.

The thing that I'm slowly coming to understand is that there was point.  Motherhood is transformational.  In the beginning the transformation is dramatic and violent and forms the larger shape of things.  I was pushed to physical limits I would never have encountered had I not been given the children I was.  I was taught selflessness.  I was taught to believe in myself and my own instincts.  I was taught to draw boundaries even while making them more porous.  I had to learn to think for myself.  I grew closer to God and deepened my understanding of man's relationship with the divine.  My body was broken and my blood shed so that someone could experience the mortal plane.

And, yes, motherhood continues to be transformational but the process is becoming more gentle.  The shape has been forged.  The hard lines drawn.  I am moving into a time where my children are becoming a slow, small, persistent force against my human frailties.  While one mom characterized this as losing her selfishness, I characterize it more as simply growing.

As my children become older, they become a more finely hewn mirror, showing me where I can perfect myself.  I have often found myself sneaking a cookie only to ask myself why I love my children enough to deny them excessive sugar but not myself.  My children absorb so much love and parenting that it spills back out onto me.  I learn to take care of myself as I take care of them.

So, what I'm really saying is that the words from moms who have been there to take care of yourself either by going beyond what you once were or finding her again, were written with the advantage of hind-sight.  We forget just how very hard it is when you are on the Island of Teeny Tinies.  Remind us so that we can be a better servant to you and our daughters in turn.  We offer the dual assurance that yes, there is a point and more importantly,

it gets easier.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Giant's Causeway

Last summer, Allen had to go to some meetings in Belfast.  We decided to make a trip of it and had to find something for me to do with the children that was close to the train station, self contained and would keep us occupied for several hours.  We settled on the W5 children's museum and it was a fabulous stroke of luck.  Megan adored it so much that we promised her a return trip in May for her birthday. 

Noah, not Megan, she was exploring
the wonderful world of pulleys with her father
All you really need to know is that they have a water table... room, really.  With balls.  And ramps.  And a screw.  Where you can build damns.  And!  Send Balls Down Ramps via (loud) PNEUMATIC TUBES!

The next day, we set off for the Giant's Causeway...

The Giant's Causeway is an odd confluence of the wonders of geology.  (I bet you don't get to read that often!)  Because I ran directly into the comforting bosom of the Social Sciences as soon as Vanderbilt would let me, I quote directly from wikipedia...

Some 50 to 60 million years ago,[5] during the Paleogene period, Antrim was subject to intense volcanic activity, when highly fluid molten basalt intruded through chalk beds to form an extensive lava plateau. As the lava cooled rapidly, contraction occurred. Horizontal contraction fractured in a similar way to drying mud, with the cracks propagating down as the mass cooled, leaving pillarlike structures, which are also fractured horizontally into "biscuits". In many cases the horizontal fracture has resulted in a bottom face that is convex while the upper face of the lower segment is concave, producing what are called "ball and socket" joints. The size of the columns is primarily determined by the speed at which lava from a volcanic eruption cools.[6] The extensive fracture network produced the distinctive columns seen today. The basalts were originally part of a great volcanic plateau called the Thulean Plateau which formed during the Paleogene period.[7]
 The Irish, being The Irish, came up with their own interesting legend behind the rocks involving giants and outwitting rather than out fighting.  In a nutshell, Finn MacCool, who is a hero with supernatural abilities who wears a size 26 shoe (he left one on the beach) but who isn't a giant, needs to battle a Scot who is a giant.  Giants apparently don't like to get their feet wet so Finn builds a causeway for him to come over.  When Finn realizes the size of the giant, he pretends to be a baby (at his wife's suggestion) and when the giant sees the size of the "baby" he makes the logical deductions about the size of the father and runs away.  As I have said, the Irish don't win by having the biggest muscles...

I told Allen that I knew had been in Ireland for a sufficient amount of time when I looked at the cliffs and thought, "Why isn't there a castle?"  The Irish coast is a defensive marvel.  It's full of straight drops, hidden hazards, and rocky shores.  I can understand why the Vikings finally really got a toehold in Dublin.  It contains the most invasion friendly beach I have yet seen in Ireland.  Of course, I guess the difficulty lies in the fact that once you have finally managed to land, you are presented with lovely rolling hills that rather lend themselves more to agriculture than defense.  But, I'm not much of a student of military history.  I can say with some confidence, that I totally would have built a castle on the cliffs of the Giant's Causeway.  Building next to sheer cliffs, abutting some nice pasture land seems like the way to go.  To give credit, we did see quite an extensive castle ruin a little further down the coast.  Plus, The Windy Gap which comes between the two sides of the cove (?) (I'm also not a geographer) has the highest wind speeds of all of Ireland.

My mother tells me that I used to be completely transfixed by watching smoke come out of chimneys.  I feel the same way about waves now.  Given an opportunity and reasonably pleasant weather and no children needing minding, I could sit and watch them break on rocky coasts for ages.  I don't feel quite the same way about sandy beaches.  There just aren't as many possibilities on a nice, flat, stretch.  Luckily, Ireland has my back.

There is a long history of locals providing guided tours of the area and you can still get them from National Trust employees.  But, they also offer wearable audio guides.  It's pretty much an ultra-sturdy iPod.  The really handy thing is that they have a tour especially made for children walking on the path where they do learn about the geology but there is also a stronger focus on the legends related to what the children are seeing.  Megan and Charlie both really enjoyed getting to be in change of their Very Own Tour.  Noah also listened to the audio much better than I was expecting but also found it to be an excellent camera phone.  He took pictures of whales, sharks, sea lions, and star fish.  Sadly, he was the only one to spot any of them.  I take pictures with my phone but Allen uses a proper camera.  It takes him a while to post his pictures because he tends to be quite picky about what he will post.  But, the picky pays off.  You can see his pics on his flickr stream under the username mackenab.

The National Trust has also put together an app where you can pretend to be Finn building the causeway.  I wasn't blown away but if you have kids and you want to teach them a little about Irish culture with a touch of geology thrown in, it's worth a look.