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Archive for September, 2011

weekend trip to connemara

A couple of weekends ago, we rented a car and spent some time in Connemara. Connemara is the region just north and west of Galway, a combination of rugged coastal inlets and fog-drenched mountains (not unlike a miniature version of Glencoe in Scotland). You can see the region on the map here on Anna’s lap in the passenger seat of the car:

We got the rental car first thing Saturday morning and started driving a little east to get to our first stop: Brigit’s Garden. If you didn’t bother to click on that link, what you need to know is:

Brigit’s Garden takes you on a magical journey through the sacred spiral of the seasons into the heart of Celtic heritage and mythology, making it one of the truly outstanding environmental and cultural heritage centres in Ireland.  Themed on the Celtic seasonal festivals, Brigit’s Garden is widely regarded as one of the most spectacular gardens in Ireland set within 11 acres of native woodland & wildflower meadows.

Sounds pretty hokey and new-agey, right? Well, yeah, it was to a certain extent. It kind of skirted the line of being too twee, yet still managed to be interesting and fun. It was definitely a hit with the girls. Here is Strummer underneath the willow entrance to the gardens:

And here is Strummer at the beginning of the Gardens with the map in her hand, so you get an idea of the overall layout and schtick:

The number she is standing next to corresponds to one of the many art pieces that were spread throughout the Gardens. Here are the girls next to one of our favorite pieces (David, they’d like you to do a similar piece, OK?):

And here they are in one of the hanging chairs in, I believe, the spring section of the Garden:

In addition to having sections divided up according to the four seasons, there was also a replica passage tomb (very cool), a real fairy ring, a replica of an ancient thatched roof dwelling. In one section, there was a “wish tree.” Both girls hung their wishes on it:

Barrow: "I wish to be a cowgirl when I grow up"

Strummer's wish: "A tree for my garden"

After a delicious snack in the cafe, we headed out and the cashier gave us a tip to visit nearby Aughnanure Castle. It turned out to be a fantastic recommendation. To get there, we walked down a forest path that ran alongside a stream that was the blackest water I had ever seen. It was really striking. And then, suddenly, behind the trees the castle tower loomed ahead:

Here we are heading over the drawbridge. This photo gives you a better (though less romantic) idea of what the castle looks like:

We were able to tour around inside the castle, which was way cool:

After checking out the dungeon (located in the side of the castle wall between the second and third floors), the girls got to frolic on the lawn.

We then headed into the mountain section of Connemara, which was absolutely gorgeous. I didn’t want to take any photos and certainly didn’t want to post any, because they simply can’t do the area justice (just like the photos we posted of Glencoe and the Isle of Skye were pitiful attempts to convey the sublime). Anna was more insistent about trying to capture the moment, though I do like how the fence is warped in this one:

We then bounced over to see the famous Kylemore Abbey. The structure was built over a hundred years ago for the son of an insanely wealthy industrialist. It is ridonkulously big, conjuring up images of NC’s own Biltmore Estate.

To the right of the Abbey in this picture (just beyond the frame) is the miniature chapel he built after his beloved wife died while they were vacationing on the Nile. Here is Barrow inside the chapel, trying out some of the things she has learned at school, where religious education is part of the national curriculum:

This one is especially for Didi.

I think the highlight of the tour there were the huge Victorian gardens the guy had built. Again, this is one small corner of what were really massive gardens (that, in their time, rivaled the Kew Gardens in London).

Soon after we had entered the walled gardens, sheets of pouring rain came racing across the hills. But did that dampen our spirits? Nay, I say.

We then continued on to Clifden, checked into our B&B, and headed back into town for dinner at a local pub. There was an international arts festival going on that weekend in Clifden, but we were at the pub right during the break between two musical performances, so we didn’t get to hear anything. But that was OK, we got back to the B&B and the girls warmed themselves in front of the peat fire:

After putting the girls to bed, Anna and I had a jar of Jamesons in front of the peat fire as well, and then collapsed into bed. The next day we got up and walked down to the sea. This is me atop a heather and thistle- covered rock along the shore:

Unfortunately, the drive back to Galway wasn’t as full of fun and the photogenic as the day before had been. In fact, we were all a little bit cranky. But overall, it was a very nice adventure. Connemara is probably our favorite place in Ireland so far. And, as you may have guessed, the girls can’t wait to get back to Brigit’s Garden.

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parade report

Well, Barrow the majorette marched through the Galway Oyster Parade like a champ.

My photos are pretty poor, as Strummer and I fairly raced alongside the parade, trying to keep up, and trying to get a good angle on Barrow, who was right up front and center, but behind a taller pom-pom girl:

We kept up with them as they sprinted through shop street to Eyre Square, where they met up with the Northern Ireland Friendship brass band (which rocked),

At Eyre Square, they stopped to rest,

then played for some dignitaries, saw the Mayor slurp an oyster and declare the festival begun, joined up with some cool dragon-thingies …

…and then marched all they way back to the Spanish Arch and around Merchants Street up to the square again!

that's awesome principal mr. gallagher on the left

That’s where Strum and I eventually lost them:  we up and went back to the school where we were to meet Barrow.  Man, those Claddagh School kids were on their little feet, standing or marching, for 2 hours!   What troopers!  They got crisps and juice at the end, and the warm praise of their teachers and principal. And after lunch and rest-time, I took the girls out for dessert first…

vanilla

mango

… then much-beloved miso soup and sushi for supper…

… and some play-time in the sunshine.

Barrow is tired today, and her little shoulder muscles are sore (!) from all the rah-rah.  Meanwhile, Strummer is healing from a bruise on the cheek, which she received when, while goofing around (as usual), she walked into a concrete window-frame on our way to the Spanish Arch to play in the sun.

Aww, she's even smiley when she's sad!

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Parade

Just FYI, K is in Dublin, but the Grrrls and I are sticking around Galway so that Barrow can march with her school in the Galway Oyster Festival Parade tomorrow morning.  She is a “majorette” and gets to shake pom-poms and wear a cool suit and white hat as they boogie down the street to the band ripping out some tunes on the penny whistles, accordions, and xylophones.  For a good sense of what it’s all about, check out this “flash” slideshow of the school band’s performance last St. Patrick’s Day. The songs are some that they’ll be performing, and apologies now for how much “Absolutely Everybody” will sear itself into your ears for the next several hours:

school parade

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Arthur Guinness Day

Today is the birthday of Arthur Guinness, the founder of Guinness Brewery. He was born in 1759. So on this day at 17:59 (5:59 pm), everyone in Ireland (and the world) is expected to raise a pint of Guinness to toast the good man.

Now, it should be noted that this “tradition” is a marketing scheme that was invented three years ago by Guinness Brewery to sell more beer. And it should also be noted that Guinness is no longer an Irish company, but is now owned by Diageo, a mega-corporation in the UK that also owns, among other things Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Jose Cuervo and Baileys. And, yes, since the creation of this “tradition” three years ago, Diageo has laid off hundreds of workers at the Guinness brewery here in Ireland. But, nonetheless, Arthur Guinness Day has become wildly successful as people (especially in the 18-25 age bracket) fill up town squares across the country to raise a pint.

So we braved the crowds down to the Latin Quarter here in Galway so the girls could witness the spectacle. And here it is:

Cheers, Mr. Guinness

(and I will actually be touring the Guinness Brewery in Dublin tomorrow).

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Aran Islands

Just for kicks, this is a co-authored post, and we’re playing beat-the-clock to see if we can finish before my computer battery dies.  This font is Anna.  This is Kevin.  The student program had scheduled its first excursion last Sunday — to the Aran Islands just beyond the mouth of Galway Bay — but the gale weather forced us to reschedule it for this Thursday. So the girls skipped school and we all bundled onto a ferry, out to the islands. The girls debuted their new hats, which they are modeling here on the ferry wharf while the students snap photos of them:

Kevin and his students, along with Thomas the guide, rented bikes to ride across the island from the little harbor town of Killronen to Dun Aengus, the 3000+ year old fort (there really isn’t much else on the island, except houses and a thousand miles of stone walls (literally), as you shall see). Here are the students heading up hill and out of town:

And here they are about halfway across the island, during a brief break. It was about a 2.5 mile ride and it took about 40 minutes.

Anna and the girls took a minibus, because we’re princesses.  It was a red mini-bus, with a jovial driver who gave us lots of photo ops and  delivered cool tidbits about the island, like the fact that the local economy is about 60% fishing, 40% tourism, and that most of the Aran sweaters are made overseas now, and that you cannot build a house on Aran unless you’re from there (though you can buy a place, like this one, for about 200,000 euros):

Here’s another pretty place: I took a photo of it for Pa, so he could see the artichokes blooming by the front wall:

We saw some amazing scenery.  This Connemara pony had a particularly nice view:

On the way, we got to frolic amid the ruins of an old church:

B & S, photo by Mommy

Rocky bits & gravestones, photo by S.

Mommy, photo by S.

… but the real highlight was the hike up to Dun Aengus.  It was a long walk, and Barrow kept up like a trooper.  Strum had a bit of help…

sometimes ...an "up please" from Daddy

as well as regular assistance from the awesome students!

We were very fortunate to have decent weather, as the views from the hike up were quite stunning. This view is exceptionally good because of the subject matter:

From the top, you can take in the entirety of the island. This is looking east, back towards the mainland. Killronnen is off to the upper left.

We were led up to Dun Aengus by our own guide, Padraic. Here he is explaining the rocky terrain and sordid details about the islands’ history to the students (and to Barrow, in the foreground).

And here is Strummer, not exactly listening to the guided tour, but definitely enjoying the attention and affection of the students.

Anna insisted I include this photo of myself. I will only point out that I am wearing the fleece jacket I picked up for only 10 euros. Given the chilly wind, it was an excellent purchase.

And now for the money shots. Well, not exactly. You see, Dun Aengus is a horse-shoe shaped fort. Which means it has several layers of walls in a U. The open end of the U is… wait for it… a stomach-wrenching, bowel-shaking 300+ foot wall. With the winds whipping around the top, it feels like you’re in the middle of an invisible pillow fight. You have to get down on your stomach to scoot to the edge to peer down (or you get blown over and die). There was no way I was going anywhere near the edge (and don’t worry, the girls stayed well far away from the edge). Of course, the students all tempted death. I could barely stand to watch.

aerial view swiped from the interwebs

Seriously.  I determined at that moment that our girls will *NEVER* study abroad.  Who knows what kind of craziness they’ll be allowed to engage in? 

After walking back and absorbing some more of the beauty, 

… we returned the bikes — but not before the girls got a chance to go for a spin.  Grannies, zoom in and note how Barrow’s face completely transforms into her Baby-Barrow face, she is in such glee:

Then we  did some scarf/sweater shopping and absorbed a bit of dinner, 

… before boarding the ferry for home.   If you look closely at the photo below, you can perceive the exact moment when Barrow’s immune system, heroic and strong for one month now, finally succumbed to head cold #1:  

Meanwhile, Strum (who has strong sea-legs) loved looking out the window of the ferry in her chic eyewear, which is giving the world a bit more detail, I imagine…

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the mundane

Well, I don’t really have much to blog about. I went to a hardcore show last night, but I don’t have any pictures to share from it. But I did get to meet some people and got my foot in the door of the Galway punk scene.

In other news, we suffered gale weather conditions the past few days. We were scheduled to go out to the Aran Islands with my students on Sunday, but cancelled due to the impending weather conditions. It wasn’t really bad until Sunday night, when the 40+ mph winds hit. This building is usually really airtight, but you could hear the wind whistling outside. Here is a photo out the window from yesterday morning, but it really doesn’t capture what was going on: strong gusts of wind with sheets of rain racing each other up the river:

Fortunately, neither girl was blown away on their walk to school. But it was touch-and-go with Strummer as she walked across the street. The day before, come kayakers were shooting down that waterfall. They’d paddle a 100 yards up the river, climb out, plop themselves into the canal, shoot out the waterfall, and then do it all over again for about 15-20 minutes:

Barrow was riveted.  And here is her painting of the scene from out of our window. Not too shabby.

And here is a random photo of her from last week when she and I went out for tea and milk after school. She wanted me to take a photo of her milk mustache. (note the cute Claddagh School emblem on her school uniform)

For the first week-and-half, Strummer got out at 12:30 which meant that sometimes I would go pick Barrow up at 2:30, and she and I would go for a special treat, just the two of us. Now that Strummer is going full-days, I’m going to miss those special little afternoons with Barrow. And, as one would guess, Strummer both loves being a big girl who gets to go school for a full-day like Barrow, and is completely exhausted at the end of the day. Yesterday, she came home and immediately fell asleep. And speaking of the little squirt, here she is during our pub lunch last Sunday (right before she stuck her napkin in her mouth and started making silly faces):

And finally, here is a photo from this afternoon when we walked the couple of blocks to get to the harbor playground, which is, of course, next to the harbor. Yes, our life is this picturesque all of the time.

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back to school

The grannies are restless, so time for another blog post.

This one is the long-overdue one about the girls starting school.  But first, an aside:

I have a tendency to take a long series of photos rather than just one snap (digital photography is certainly to blame), and it can be hard to choose which to keep and which to post.  Kind of like when I try to do anything, really:  making soup?  Must look at 15 recipes, ponder, putter, synthesize, then start chopping celery and onions.  Starting a new article? Don’t get me started.  Blog entries?  … but I digress.    Cousin Laurel made a .gif (animation) of some pix K posted on another blog,  so I thought I’d try a couple this time, to make the most of my flutter-shutter problem.

Strummer explains her drawing (some fairies, inspired by a library book)

So the girls had walked all over Galway, they had conquered the city’s parks, they had read library books, they had drawn and painted their hearts out, they had tapped most of our small apartment’s creative possibilites (playing school, playing restaurant, doing headstands, playing tea parties, playing rock band — by putting their slippers on their hands and banging them together…).  By the last week of August, the girls were REALLY ready for school to start.  We were too.

The Claddagh School. It's much warmer/fuzzier than it may seem in this photo.

Now, starting a new school year is always stressful.  These two are starting a new school, in  a new town, in a new country, in separate classes, even — to some degree — in a new language.  Somebody should really call social services on us.  We visited the school a week early, which helped a lot.  We love the vibe and the teachers and the principal.    But still, we were so nervous, hoping the girls would be ok, but really having no idea how it would go.

Poor Kevin had to get up at 4:45 and go to the airport to meet his incoming students who were arriving the same day as the girls’ first day of school.  So I was in charge of drop-off.  At 6:50 am the first day of school, I awoke to this sight:

Both girls, totally dressed, ready to go.

After *I* got ready, we headed off.  They were so excited and happy.  Strummer even brought a little present for her teacher: two seashells and a drawing, which she’s clutching in a box in this photo:

Strummer, first day at Claddagh preschool

The drop-off was really fine: Strummer was completely nonplussed.  Barrow was unsettled by the crowd (they corral all the kids into the gym — why? why?!) where they must hang out, then line up and the teacher leads them to class.  But the teacher was great, took her up to the front of the line and integrated her with some other girls, and she was good.

That left me with what seemed like an eternity to fill (it was 3 1/2 hours).  I wandered around, gave Kevin a play-by-play over the phone, and then found a coffee shop with a harbor view and ordered some poached eggs on spinach.

This is what my Freedom Brunch looked like. Bliss.

Pick up confirmed that the first day was great for both girls.  Strummer was bestickered and well intact —

And Kevin was home in time for us to go back for Barrow, who was very happy to see us, as she came running down the ramp, and broke into a spontaneous dance with Daddy:

 

With Barrow still in her uniform, and Strum in her streetwear…

 

…we all went out for ice cream and a cuppa  to celebrate, though Kevin was still fretting over a couple of student flight complications (thanks, Hurricane Irene) — not fun.

For the first 1 1/2 weeks of school, Strummer got out early — at 12:30, so we developed a nice routine: I would pick her up, we would have some lunch and maybe a rest, then go back to get Barrow at 2:30.

1. walk home (try to have snack in hand)

2. walk up 4 flights to apt. door

3. lunch with view

4. nap (if time!) before walking to get Barrow

I’ll miss that little window of Strummertime next week when they both start going till 2:30, but then, it’s good to have some grown-up time, too.  We get to do things like work on our scholarship…

K unlocking door to his office (f'real), located in cellblock R. But he likes it.

… or other worthwhile pursuits:

K practicing punk-whistle. Photo by Barrow.

Meanwhile, Barrow has continued to thrive.  She has adjusted extremely well to both work —

She has a TON of homework every night!

In the middle of her weekly chapter-book, B. strikes the pre-teen reading pose early.

— and play …

still a monkey (at the University quad)

The girls also miss each other during the day, so they love to come home, put on their *own* awesome clothes, and hang out.  Actually, they usually just disappear downstairs in their room, playing, for about 1-2 hours every day after school.  (And yes, those are glasses on Strumbelina.  Recent issue for astigmatism.  We’re sort of easing her into them.)

 

Oh, and they still play dress-up and come to eat at the “restaurant” upstairs, where I am the head chef and Kevin is the maitre’d.

gif make

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